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You say potato, I say vodka
May 18, 2010 4:04 AM   Subscribe

In March a little known potato vodka made in the UK by a Herefordshire farmer, William Chase, won best in class at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition [warning: PDF]. Chase was 20 when he bought his father’s 75-acre farm, in 1984 with a £200,000 loan from the bank. This is his second venture: in his first, he bucked the trend and told supermarket giant Tesco to get lost when they wanted to sell his potato chips.

Chase is partly interesting because he's are rare success of a business that successfully fought back against supermarket dominance: he has said that he started to make potato chips after his margins as a potato farmer were virtually wiped out by supermarket demands for low prices.

But perhaps it is the same old, same old... Chase has sold his potato chip business to private equity. Tyrells crisps are sold in Tesco's rivals. And underlying the ethos of some of the UK's best known "homespun" brands big business and private equity is increasingly getting into fresh and ethical food, buying up Green and Blacks, Innocent, and Dorset Cereals, amongst others.
posted by MuffinMan (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
A really good potato vodka has a beautiful texture to it, viscous and satiny, and a neutral, inoffensive, yet not absent, flavor. It's like grappa, where the genius is in the quality of the ingredients, the composition of the mash and careful distillation, not the aging, like it is with brandies and whiskeys.

Very different from grain vodkas, which to be told, are pretty much industrial grade ethanol designed to disappear into sugar syrup and fruit juice, even at the high end. (There's a reason Smirnoff keeps winning blind taste tests.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:33 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Chips? The gecko calls them "crisps". I thought chips were freedom fries.
posted by surplus at 4:46 AM on May 18, 2010


I just came in here to say that, surplus.

Interesting post, thanks. It's good to see a smallish farmer fight back against industrial food production.
posted by nevercalm at 5:09 AM on May 18, 2010


csa! c!s!a! C!S!A!

and fuck that little gecko.
posted by msconduct at 5:10 AM on May 18, 2010


To visit chasedistillery.co.uk you need to be of legal drinking age in the country you live in.
posted by three blind mice at 5:17 AM on May 18, 2010


Which supermarkets sell Tyrells crisps now? I'm only aware of Waitrose. Selling to them is nothing like the mill stone that selling to Tescos is.

And Innocent is now majority owned by Coca-Cola? Aw crap...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:31 AM on May 18, 2010


I suspect he's gone with the name "chips" because Tyrells are very similar in appearance and taste to Kettle Chips, which started in the US. Tyrells are very good, too, so I'm glad to see the company doing well. Might see if I can find this vodka somewhere...
posted by ZsigE at 5:31 AM on May 18, 2010


Sainsbury's sell Tyrells as well now.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:34 AM on May 18, 2010


I could have sworn that the early packaging on the Tyrell's used to say 'potato crisps' rather than 'potato chips'. Maybe there was a change when the business was sold to Langholm Capital (who also own Dorset Cereals, as per MuffinMan's links).
Here's an overview of who owns what in the organic industry (hasn't been updated with the Kraft takeover of Cadburys yet).
posted by SyntacticSugar at 5:39 AM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Parsnip chips? Where can you buy these in the US?
posted by emhutchinson at 6:50 AM on May 18, 2010


But perhaps it is the same old, same old... Chase has sold his potato chip business to private equity. Tyrells crisps are sold in Tesco's rivals. And underlying the ethos of some of the UK's best known "homespun" brands big business and private equity is increasingly getting into fresh and ethical food, buying up Green and Blacks, Innocent, and Dorset Cereals, amongst others.

I can't believe that growth in, and allocation of financial capital to "fresh and ethical" foods is viewed as some kind of bad news.
posted by grobstein at 7:09 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


emhutchinson, Terra has a mix that includes parsnip. I have no idea if they are evil as a company, but I do buy their Yukon Gold chips on occasion.
posted by ecurtz at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2010


I don't think that the San Francisco World Spirits Competition understands the concept of a medals competition.
posted by CaseyB at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2010


Haven't tried the man's vodka, but his chips are pretty delicious, if a bit pricey. Say what you will about English cuisine, I respect a country that makes meat-flavored chips.
posted by mkultra at 7:24 AM on May 18, 2010


Why did he need a 200k loan to buy the farm from his father? Why didn't Daddy just give his boy the farm?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:31 AM on May 18, 2010


Add Tyrell's to the list of great small/eco/socially responsible businesses taken over by the Corporatocracy. See also: Burt's Bees, Liquid-Plumr, Pine-Sol and Armor All = Clorox.

I'm not saying that the founders of these great businesses aren't entitled to cash in when the opportunity presents itself after all those many years of hard work and barely scraping by in many instances. What gripes me is the degree to which the purchasing mega-corps go to hide their name from any connection with these products. The loyal following that the founders developed over many years, in large part, because of consumer desire to support a truly eco/green/sustainable/socially responsible business making a good product is then duped into continuing to think that's what they're still doing. It needn't be a zero-sum game; sometimes there is a way to cash out and still stay true to your founding principles.
posted by webhund at 8:17 AM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that growth in, and allocation of financial capital to "fresh and ethical" foods is viewed as some kind of bad news.

my skepticism comes in the 'ethical' portion of 'fresh & ethical.' there's a difference between growing/processing/distributing things at the local level & taking that on as a corporate acquisition where 'fresh' = chemical processing & 'ethical' becomes meaningless.
posted by msconduct at 8:36 AM on May 18, 2010


Costco (in the UK, at least) also does big buckets of Tyrrells crisps (possibly considerably cheaper than the small packs, can't recall the price).

Do I get extra pedant points for being the first to spell Tyrrells correctly?

And what hideously obvious mistake have I inevitably made to nullify them?
posted by titus-g at 8:59 AM on May 18, 2010


And what hideously obvious mistake have I inevitably made to nullify them?

Your fly is open.
posted by kersplunk at 9:10 AM on May 18, 2010


I respect a country that makes meat-flavored chips.

Oh my gosh, you don't have these in America? And there was me thinking that the US led the world in deliciously wrong food.
posted by ninebelow at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2010


ninebelow: Oh my gosh, you don't have these in America?

No, supermarkets here are plagued by noxious flavors like "Cool Ranch" and "Nacho Cheese". The closest we come is, I suppose, BBQ.
posted by mkultra at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2010


Well thanks for ruining Innocent and Dorset for me... Oh well,
posted by yoHighness at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2010


supermarkets here are plagued by noxious flavors like "Cool Ranch" and "Nacho Cheese".

It always amazes me how dull American crisps are. They're bland and in massive bags, whereas the UK versions are more normally in small bags and much more strongly flavoured.

The biggest brand is probably Walkers, who are actaully now the local outpost of Frito-Lay but seem to have retained their quirkiness. They're currently heavily pushing an unofficial World Cup line of flavours, including American Cheeseburger, Australian BBQ Kangaroo and Italian Spaghetti Bolognese. Previous efforts include Onion Bhaji and Chili & Chocolate.

Of course none of them taste like their namesakes, just as the more common ones like Streak and Onion flavour don't, but at least they taste of something more than plastic cheese.

But back to Tyrrells - the crisps are pretty good, never tried the Vodka. The parsnip crisps are absolutely superb, the beetroot ones less so. Didn't know they'd sold out to "the man", but at least my favourite brand (Seabrooks) are still family owned and churning our ludicrously salty creations and Wasabi madness.
posted by samworm at 12:10 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


And packets of crisps are sold in little bags over the bar in the U.K., perfect for when you get a hunger for chicken-and-mustard or shrimp.

*sniffle* You know, I miss England.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2010


> Parsnip chips? Where can you buy these in the US?

They're even better home made!
posted by ceri richard at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2010


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