While whisky and – more recently – gin are at the forefront of the Scottish drinks industry, the folks at Ogilvy Vodka are breaking the mould. This family-run business has taken diversification to a whole other level, producing a new vodka made sustainably and ethically from Scottish potatoes.
Brewed on Hatton of Ogilvy Farm in Angus, just two miles from Glamis Castle, Ogilvy Spirits is owned and run by husband and wife team, Graeme and Caroline Jarron. Their farm, which consists of potatoes, cereals and beef cattle, has been in the family for four generations now and Graeme’s parents continue to be a large part of the current enterprise.
The farm has found a new life, however, with the use of seemingly imperfect potatoes to make an environmentally sustainable Scottish Vodka.
“We hope to pass Ogilvy on to the future generations of the family, this is probably the most radical diversification on the farm by any of the generations of the family to date, but we hope Ogilvy will continue to grow and be here for many years to come.”
Both Caroline and Graeme were becoming more and more frustrated with the growing waste of potatoes that ’weren’t good enough’ for supermarkets. Concerned about the environmental impact of this food waste, the two of them hit upon the genius idea to use these unwanted potatoes in their new vodka venture.
With Graeme’s background in farming and Caroline’s design expertise, they formed the perfect partnership to move forward with the product. There was just one problem – neither of them had any knowledge of the distilling process.
So, where to start? Enter Heriot-Watt University, the only University in the UK with a course on brewing and distilling, who helped the couple with the exciting initial trials of their vodka. This was vital to the development of Ogilvy. Having backgrounds in different industries, Caroline and Graeme needed the expertise of Heriot Watt to help create their product.
“There is a wealth of knowledge in Scotland about distilling, so we have great expertise here to call on to develop new spirits. We are also fortunate to have a strong agricultural industry that allows us to grow many of the ingredients needed for these spirits.”
Abhi was a PHD student at Heriot-Watt when conducted the early trials for Ogilvy. He wanted to produce a vodka that was more akin to whisky both in the way that you drink it and the flavour and taste that could be created from the base ingredient. He also designed their unique still and brought some critical ideas to the production process, all adding to the flavour of the inherently Scottish product.
Following Scotland’s trend for being a nation of innovation, Ogilvy’s uniqueness is bolstered by the fact that only around 5% of the world’s vodka is made from potatoes, making a much smoother, creamier vodka than the usual grain-based drinks. When Caroline and Graeme’s Ogilvy Spirits adventure began, there was only one potato vodka in the UK, making theirs the first in Scotland. Their journey to set themselves apart from traditional vodka and create a spirit that could be enjoyed in the same way as a good whisky, has garnered public interest in the brand. People have been interested to learn about the diversification process, which has led to the opening of a Visitor Centre in March 2019, where Caroline and Graeme now offer tours of the distillery.
Ogilvy’s unique practices don’t end with spuds as their main ingredient. Since day one they’ve been committed to sustainability and the fact that their business sprouted from a dissatisfaction with the amount of food waste coming from the farm, speaks to both Caroline and Graeme’s love of their Scottish surroundings. The result is impressive, with every part of the brewing process being put to use. From the potatoes being used to make the vodka, to the leftover pot ale or ‘coo’s booze’, to their glass rather than ceramic bottles, Ogilvy’s economy is fully circular. The business is so economically sustainable that Zero Waste Scotland have previously used them as a case study.
“Scotland is well placed to be more sustainable in the production of drinks. At Ogilvy we talk about food meters rather than food miles as we grow everything for our vodka on our own farm. We have taken a sustainable approach from day one, as we recognise the importance of looking after our land and environment. We see no reason why others cannot follow a similar path with their spirits too.”
Ogilvy believe they have a responsibility to Scotland’s natural landscape and consider carefully everything they do to minimise their impact on the environment. They have worked towards an in-depth understanding of their fields and the soil and water that they have at their farm, with it all being carefully monitored to ensure the best potatoes possible to make top quality vodka. At Ogilvy, there’s no mass production, only class production.
And it’s not only Scotland’s landscape which has had an impact on the growth of Ogilvy Spirits, but it’s diverse food and drinks industry which Caroline cites as an inspiration to her and Graeme. She believes that you need to take a leap of faith to find a solution to an issue that has caused problems. She also credits some of Ogilvy’s success, to sharing their experiences with other companies and producers, finding common ground with those who have faced similar hurdles and finding ways to overcome them together.
“There is a lot of innovation in Scotland and people are very resourceful. There are many people in Scotland who recognise that we can’t just rely on what we’ve always done and need to find new ways of being innovative to move with the times. We’re good at utilising the resources that we have and finding new ways to use them.”
That being said, Ogilvy don’t just make vodka but now have a range of drinks, cocktails and liqueurs made in their fully sustainable environment in Scotland’s rolling fields. Finally, we asked Caroline how she would describe Scotland to someone who has never been here before?
“Scotland is a diverse tapestry of beautiful varying landscapes, castles and history and also modern-day innovations. Food and drink is at the heart of a lot of these experiences, and no trip to Scotland is complete without sampling the delicacies.”
So if you’re looking to try one of those delicacies, you best make it an Ogilvy.