You may have noticed the bottles in the shop looking tall and magnificent like towering skyscrapers. Once the wax seal is cracked the spirit that embraces you is tantalising and smooth with the delightful caress of aromas and flavours. A spirit made from a sweet potato you may ask? In this week’s blog we meet Garry Smith the Founding Director to discover more.
The Sweet Potato Spirit Co. started its life as growers, importers and exporters. Their trade, farming sweet potatoes in the warm, humid and subtropical climate of North Carolina. Alas as you can imagine the UK’s climate just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to growing sweet potatoes.
The seed that planted the idea behind The Sweet Potato Spirit Co. came when Garry was on a business trip to the farm. While having breakfast with a colleague in a typical deep south eatery the waitress came to take the order. Being acquainted with the colleague and what they do she said to him ‘I know you can make spirits like vodka from standard potatoes but can you make it from sweet potatoes?’. That was the moment the idea was born.
When Garry returned to the UK he conducted research into if it was possible to produce spirits from sweet potatoes. “I found there was a traditional Japanese drink that had its roots in the 1600s that was made in part from sweet potatoes” Garry discovered. After that he set out to find the best way to do that. “In my naivety I thought that all I needed to do was to take the potato methodology for creating a spirit, swap that for a sweet potato and away we go”. Unfortunately that after trial and error he discovered that it didn’t work. It took two and a half years before they could create a spirit.
Sweet potato is very tricky to distill, and like every great producer they keep the method slightly under-wraps. Garry with a chuckle says “we use some very clever twists and techniques to get the most out of it”.
Garry is very passionate about the product he has produced “we have created a broad range, with styles to suit every taste”. He also adds that “the sweet potato creates an exceptionally smooth spirit, especially for their abv. Even the London Dry, which is currently the strongest at 45% makes a wonderful sipping gin and a fantastic martini”. All the spirits are easy drinking in style but are also packed full of flavour. While remaining refined, well balanced with integrated elements it gives the drinks great complexity. This is down to the sweet potato with its creaminess and rich mouthfeel.
During the production process they cut the heads and tails from the spirit in exact quantities due to the endless trial and error. If you have too many heads in the spirit it leaves you with a nasty chemical element and very strong alcohol burn. Garry says “we cut all the heads, unlike many mass produced spirits who use it to boost the yield so they can sell it at a lower cost”.
If you have a drink that has too many tails in it the spirit can have a metallic taste. They again cut that but getting the point where they can extract some of the flavours you can get from the cut point. From what I have tasted I can tell you that they have got it just right!
The Sweet Potato Company is slightly different in concept to a lot of other producers. Garry adds “everything is done from scratch, the vodka comes off the still at 96.5% abv. The moonshine we take off at a lower abv, like a whisky, which gives the spirit different flavours characteristics”.
All of the rum is produced in England but is quite unique in the way that it is made. Produced using a traditional spiced rum methodology but distilling sweet potatoes in the second distillation alongside Venezuelan sugar cane molasses.
They have just introduced a spiced gin into the range which has recently won a gold medal at the World Spirit Awards. It is inspired by a trip Garry took to India “I was blown away by the spices, flavours and vibrancy of the food and people that you find along the 1,288km Krishna River”. This fantastic gin blends itself well in a normal gin and tonic but for those with a creative flair it also makes a fantastic mojito if you sub it for the rum!
The moonshine spirits are a nod to their farming heritage in North Carolina. In that particular area of the US, bourbon is a particular favourite. Garry suggests “because of the abv when we take the moonshine off the still it has flavour elements that would appeal to whisky drinkers. With the different flavour elements we introduce it acts as a gateway into the world of whisky”. Garry also mentioned that they have begun aging the spirit in oak barrels “the experiments have shown outstanding results, hopefully we can release some bottles in the future”.
The Sweet Potato Spirit Co. are always pushing for the use of fresh natural flavours in their drinks. Garry adds “I love how unique it can make the bottlings. For example the seasonality of the plums adds different colour and flavour depending on the time of the year and which variety of plum are at their best”.
The company was founded in 2016 with an original range of four spirits. Soon after they were already award winning, picking up a World Food Innovation Award for best new artisan beverage for the range. From then they have introduced more drinks to the range that have gone on to win multiple awards which can be seen below.
All of their products apart from the Honey Moonshine are 100% vegan, gluten and allergen free. You can find a great selection of them on our website and in store. With such a vast range, I am sure you can find a tipple to tantalise your tastebuds!