The idea of single estate gin might sound rather peculiar to some. Brandy, perhaps, or champagne, but gin, surely that’s just a bit far-fetched?
Such a concept, however, is something that has been championed by Herefordshire farmer William Chase since 2007.
Finding his margins increasingly squeezed by supermarkets and looking for alternative income streams, Chase had already made a great success of the Tyrrells crisp brand before he sold a majority stake to focus more extensively on his distilling ambitions.
His two sons are also part of this family business, with the older, Harry, focusing on the farming side of things while James takes on the rather less muddy role of marketing and brand ambassadorship.
‘The family’s been farming for four generations,’ says James Chase, ‘and in the past we’d have focused primarily on potatoes and apples for making cider.’
Chase gin, vodka and liqueurs
Today, much of the farm’s produce is destined for the distillery – hence the concept of the single estate – with products now including gin, vodka and liqueurs.
While Chase was one of the first craft-based distillers on the scene, gin has enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade with the number of small-batch distilleries in the UK now standing in excess of 200.
It’s been a transformation from the days when a few big brands dominated the scene and has helped the spirit overcome the lingering image of William Hogarth’s Gin Lane – the 18th-century artist’s critique on how cheap alcohol ruined the lives of the poor in Georgian England.
The concept of gin may have moved on since then, but James points out that most distillers will buy in a neutral grain spirit to form the basis of their product. That’s not the case at Chase, however, where the spirit is produced from scratch.
‘We use our vodkas as the base to our gins,’ he adds. ‘That’s something that a lot of people don’t realise – that vodka can be the base for gin.’
Juniper, apples and elderflowers
Chase’s major products include GB gin – robust, infused with juniper and perfect with tonic, suggests James – and its Elegant 48 gin, a more complex creation that features apples and elderflowers added to its still in the distillation process and which forms the basis of a first-rate martini.
Adds James: ‘We’ve also branched out into liqueurs made from elderflowers, blackcurrants, raspberries – all depending on whether we get a good crop of a particular fruit. It isn’t something we want to do too much of, though – we don’t want to be seen as a jack of all trades.’ He adds that the company is proud of its long association with Herefordshire.
‘We see part of our role as promoting the county,’ he says. ‘Our distillery tours are becoming really popular and we’re very pleased that is encouraging people to visit the region. It’s always been a bit of a forgotten county that’s not really on the way to anywhere, but it’s got a lot to offer.’
Part of that offering is food and drink – some of the brewery’s leftovers go to feeding the farm’s herd of pedigree Hereford cattle, which in turn provide steaks for visitors to the family’s nearby Verzon House Hotel.
The Running Horse pub
Chase is also showcasing Herefordshire produce in the capital, points out James. ‘We needed an office in London so we decided we should take on a pub – which has become something of a personal project of mine. Its run as a separate business to the distillery and it’s been really useful as a place to host supper clubs and to showcase our spirits. We also stock plenty of Herefordshire ciders.’
It wasn’t just any property that James took on. He bought the Running Horse, the oldest pub in Mayfair, which first opened its doors in 1738, overseeing the modernisation of the building and its reopening in autumn 2013.
As befits an entrepreneurial business with an eye on expansion, Chase is also planning the launch of a whisky brand. ‘The product has already been ageing for seven years,’ says James.
‘We’ve got some fantastic former bourbon and sherry casks and now we’re just waiting to come up with the right blend. We’re not under any pressure to rush it out, so we’re going to take our time and come up with something that’s really good.’