Potato grower Richard Arundel, from Naburn near York, entered the vodka marketplace last year with the Edwards 1902 brand which is named from the variety of potato he uses - the King Edward.
Richard, who is a founder member of potato marketing business AKP (Arundel Kerr Produce), said the decision to go into vodka production had been in his mind for around seven years and for a number of reasons had been a long time coming, but finally during 2020 the time had been right.
“I’ve always enjoyed vodka and wanted to go into vodka production, because I knew we had the quality, but there had always been more pressing projects in other areas of the business, but finally we had everybody we needed together and it was the right time.”
As well as his love of the spirit, Richard said he also wanted to launch his own premium brand and add value to his company’s produce.
“That was my key driver, but it’s also a little more glamorous too and fits with my passion for fine food and drink.
“We were able to take on the right fermentation and distillation equipment thanks to Joe Henderson, a great personal friend who funded it.”
Creating the mash - that includes water, potatoes and crushed malted barley - is the first step before adding the yeast and Richard’s team has its own approach to their potato vodka production as they use just one variety of potato rather than a blend.
“Rather like single malt whisky is made from just one single variety of malt, we do the same with one potato variety,” Richard said.
“It is all about converting the sugars and starch, fermenting and then distilling. When we researched and tasted other potato vodka we had seen that blends of potatoes were being used with a bit of King Edward in the mix to help the taste.
“Our tastings showed us that purely using the King Edward created a far better product.”
Richard said it was also about having the right team creating the product.
“We have excellent microbiologist Matthew Hamilton, who is our head distiller, as well as our operations director Ben Mordue who runs the distillery.”
Edwards 1902 has received accolades including the Silver Spirit award in the International Wine & Spirit Competition and an international Great Taste Award last year, which commended the vodka on its “silky smooth taste”.
Richard said the awards were a particular boost after launching at a difficult time.
“We launched in March last year, which wasn’t great timing as the country fell into lockdown and the hospitality sector was shut down.
“But we ended the year on a high with a number of awards, some fantastic recommendations and a real boost in sales on the run-up to Christmas.”
Richard’s experience in the potato trade began as a teenager when he would help his father David sell potatoes and vegetables on his market stalls at Hull and Grimsby and supply potatoes to fish and chip shops. He said his dad was “a grafter”.
“Dad was a potato trader and my uncle Robin ran the home farm in Lincolnshire. Dad dealt with the wholesale side of the produce, which was his passion.
“He’d be at Grimsby for 5am, pushing barrow loads of produce up back alleys and he always valued his customers, saying ‘the customer was king’.
“He knew them all and loved his Tuesday and Friday market days. That’s where I learned about how important it is to know the people you are supplying.”
David died suddenly at the age of 44, when Richard was 18.
The family farm at Donna Nook, near the coastal nature reserve, is now run by his cousin Stuart, and Richard said the seals are a great visitor attraction.
He said he didn’t know what his father’s thoughts would be about turning potatoes into vodka but thought he would have looked at anything that was well received.
The seeds for AKP were sown when Richard took part in an agricultural marketing course in 1997, having studied business and finance with French and Spanish at university in Newcastle and Hull.
“I felt languages would be useful given the greater opportunities with the EU. I then took on a graduate role with JSR in Southburn and had seven great years trading pigs, potatoes and cereals.”
He met Bruce Kerr on the marketing course and the two of them pulled together five large potato producers predominantly in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire to market 50,000 tonnes of potatoes, providing key customers with year round continuity of supply. AKP began growing its own potatoes in 2007.
Richard said this came about as potato growing became more of a specialist operation and has led to another new strand to the farming business that will launch this year.
“Growing seed potatoes is the final piece in our jigsaw,” he said.
“Currently, a huge proportion of the seed market in the UK is supplied by Holland and our customers would prefer to buy local and we have identified the Yorkshire Wolds as the right kind of soil to grow seed potatoes.”
With the new venture getting underway, there are also plans to expand the Edwards 1902 range.
A new coffee liqueur has been released and Richard said that a flavoured range of vodkas would also be added.
They are also working towards getting Edwards 1902 into supermarkets and will be looking forward to introducing the brand to the hospitality sector once it opens up again.