Food & Drink The British have perfected potato vodka – and the...

The British have perfected potato vodka – and the best bottles to buy

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The potato has been transformed into many delicious things, from thrice-cooked chips to air-fried hasselbacks, but arguably the tuber in liquid form is the most impressive. Namely, potato vodka – a spirit that rose to prominence in 18th century Poland (and which many still associate with Eastern Europe), but with which the UK is currently proving to be best in show.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its humble status, the potato is an obvious choice for distillation. Vodka can be made from any fermentable ingredient, from grain to grapes, and while distilling with the spud has certain stodgy production challenges, its high levels of starch provide convertible (and therefore covetable) sugars for fermentation.

The Polish understood this before many others. While their traditional choice remains a crisp and peppery rye-based vodka, they’ve proved the most successful potato distillers over the centuries, showcasing its distinctively rich, oily and smoother profile.

It’s fair to say that early Polish forays into this spirit weren’t entirely discerning, encouraging a certain amount of scorn from sipping snobs. In the 18th century, distillers were most interested in yield, and as the potato became cheaper than grain, the variety of potato mattered little provided it was easy to cultivate. Back then, it was often haphazardly distilled, resulting in a harsh spirit, but with today’s producers being more considered in their choice of potato, this variety of vodka has earned its luxury label.

When the Polish Chopin Potato Vodka (40%, £32.95 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange) launched in the early 1990s, it was not only a statement of intent for improving potato vodkas, it also became a marker for the entire luxury spirits market. Four-times distilled, using locally sourced produce, it is one of the subtler potato vodkas, slightly crisper than most, but with a hint of creamed potato on the finish.

The Swedes, too, have a potable potato heritage that stems from similarly humble roots. There, the early 20th century state ownership of alcohol resulted in mass-produced rough-and-ready spirit. But today, standards are much higher, and the glorious Karlsson’s Gold (40%, £29.86 for 70cl, Master of Malt) is one of the best around. Created by former Absolut Vodka pioneers, including blender Börje Karlsson, it is incredibly smooth and sweet, using seven varieties of potato.

But right now, the UK is top of the crops. Our King Edwards are one of the best varieties in the world and our distillers have been creating rich and full spirits from this tasty tuber. And when it comes to the recent revolution, much of the credit should be given to the potato farmer William Chase, in Herefordshire.

Chase’s story might be familiar: he revolutionised the luxury-snack market with Tyrrell’s crisps in 2002, and then in 2008 put the potatoes to use in Chase Vodka (40%, £22 for 70cl, The Bar). A complex spirit, rich but still strong on crisp pepper notes and a hint of aniseed, it remains a fine benchmark in the micro-distilling revolution of the mid-Noughties. His success inspired other British distillers to embrace the potato, and many are now producing a refined and discerning drink from it.

The Royal Mash distillery trades on its terroir, claiming a specific potato style can make all the difference to the vodka’s taste. The Jersey-based distiller now supplies Marks & Spencer with its Jersey Royal Potato Vodka (40%, £30 for 70cl, M&S Foodhall), which is made, as the name suggests, from potatoes complete with an EU Protected Designation of Origin status. They certainly impart a full and oily profile to the vodka, and while you sip, you can pat yourself on the back, since the distiller uses oversized Jersey Royals, saving more than 3,000 tons of them from being discarded.

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Indeed, all of Britain’s finest potato vodkas deserve considered sipping. Chill them a little and serve neat or over ice with food, as the Polish do. They’re perfect as an aperitif, paired with smoked foods, Polish charcuterie, oily fish such as herring, and pickled vegetables. They also work in spirit-forward cocktails, particularly a martini. The creamy texture of potato vodka makes it perfect for this simple stirred drink: enjoy 25ml vodka with 5ml dry vermouth and a touch of brine with an olive garnish.

Best of British: homegrown spirits to seek out

Portobello Road British Potato Vodka

40%, £24.50 for 70cl, The Distillery

The distillery on Portobello Road, in London, has form as one of the most innovative spirit creators, thanks to the influence of drinks don Jake Burger. This vodka is gloriously full, viscous and creamy, with character enhanced by a round of distillation in a copper still. Dip into its British Asparagus Vodka, too (£24.50 for 70cl, The Distillery), which delivers a slightly nuttier flavour with asparagus steeped in the potato vodka.

Tattie Bogle Vodka, Arbikie Distillery

43%, £39 for 70cl, Arbikie

Naming their vodka after potato scarecrows, the team here are huge advocates of the field-to-glass approach and use Maris Piper and Cultra potatoes harvested from the family farm, batch distilled in copper stills. The vodka is smooth and very slightly nutty and peppery, with a distinct mash-like potato finish.

Ogilvy Vodka

40%, £32 for 50cl, Ogilvy Spirits

Another farm-produced spirit, this time from the Jarron family at their Hatton of Ogilvy Farm, in Angus, Scotland. The Polish word “wodka” translates as “little water”, so it seems apt that you can buy this in an aluminium bottle and reuse it as a water bottle (though they do recommend removing the label when using it to rehydrate in public). Another smooth spirit with the sweetness more on the vegetal side.

Edwards 1902 Vodka

40%, £34.94 for 70cl, Master of Malt

It’s all about the King Edward here, a potato named in honour of Edward VII’s 1902 coronation and one of the oldest surviving varieties in Europe. Lincolnshire potato farmer Richard Arundel supplies the produce, while distiller Matthew Hamilton, son of a potato business owner, is known as “Spud”. Their drink is rich and smooth, but with a light fruitiness not so apparent in the other styles.


Tom Sandham is one half of the Thinking Drinkers (thinkingdrinkers.com), currently touring their critically acclaimed theatrical tasting shows around the UK.

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