The spirit of circularity
Scottish businesses have been at the forefront of the circular economy in recent years, and Ogilvy Spirits has been particularly innovative in this regard, turning waste potatoes into vodka, as Imogen Benson reports.
With strict supermarket standards only accepting potatoes of the highest quality, Graeme Jarron and Caroline Bruce-Jarron, of Ogilvy Farm in Hatton, Angus, sought a means of putting their low-grade potatoes to better use. Turning to vodka distillation, the Jarrons have embraced the circular economy, innovatively transforming their food waste into an award-winning, high value product – Ogilvy Spirits.
Rejected by retailers for being misshapen or blemished, Ogilvy’s low-grade potatoes, which constitute an average of 15 per cent of the farm’s overall crop, were previously used for cattle feed, bringing no real financial value to the business.
“We were frustrated with supermarkets dictating what’s acceptable and not acceptable,” Bruce-Jarron explains. Taking matters into their own hands, vodka production has allowed the business to maintain full control of its produce. Bruce-Jarron continues: “We can use everything – whether the potatoes are too big or too small, a bit ugly, if they have a cut in them – everything is suitable for the vodka, so it’s a great way to utilise them all.”
The idea for Ogilvy Spirits first came about in 2013, when the Jarrons got in touch with distillers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh for advice on how to create vodka from their secondary potatoes.
“Initially we weren’t sure if our potatoes would lend themselves to vodka, being in Scotland and having quite a wet climate, as you need potatoes with a high dry matter content to make vodka. We approached Heriot-Watt University, where they run a Brewing and Distillery Course, and from that we found out that we’d be able to do it.”
With help from researchers at the University, the Jarrons built their own distillery, trialling twenty different prototypes before finally launching their unique Scottish spirit in January 2015. Since then, Ogilvy Spirits has been producing around 10,000 bottles of vodka a year, saving almost two tonnes of potatoes from going to waste each week.
From crop to bottle, everything is done on-site at the family farm. Once the potatoes have been harvested, they are thoroughly washed, skins left on, and then loaded into a mincer, creating a mashed potato mixture which is pressure-cooked to gelatinise the starch. After enzymes, yeast and nutrients are added, the mixture is left to ferment for four to five days, before being distilled twice to achieve a high level of purity. The vodka is then passed through a charcoal filtration system, and then ‘polished’ through a one- micron sheet filter to produce the final product.
The unique flavour of Ogilvy Vodka makes it stand out from other spirits on the market. “People are often surprised that it’s vodka,” Bruce-Jarron says, “Potatoes give it a smoothness that you don’t tend to get with grain based vodka, so potatoes are a definite advantage.
“People have taken very well to it because it’s got a distinct flavour. Often vodka is quite neutral but quite harsh tasting, so that’s where the variety of potato comes into play. We use Maris Piper which has got quite a nutty taste to it, but we also caramelise the potato which adds a sweetness to the flavour as well.”
Bruce-Jarron stresses that sustainability is at the heart of their business, pointing out that Ogilvy Spirits has drawn upon the principles of the circular economy by ensuring that no by-products go to waste: “As our business uses a waste product we didn’t want to create any more waste. We’ve been very conscious to be as sustainable as we can with our process.”
Pot ale, for example, which is produced as a result of the distilling process and contains proteins, sugars and minerals, is added to the silage to use for cattle feed. Known as the ‘coos booze’, the recycling of pot ale has wider nutritional benefits for the farm, reducing the need for nitrogen fertiliser when the manure is spread on the soil.
“We also have the methanol that comes off as a by-product from the potatoes, so we use this in the lawn mowers on the farm so that it’s not wasted. Any residual liquid that’s left at the end gets spread onto the weed beds in the field, so it all works its way back into the land where the potatoes are grown.
“All of our electricity comes from the solar panels on top of the distillery and our cooling water comes from our pond at the back of the farm.”
Ogilvy Spirits has caught the attention of Zero Waste Scotland, which has promoted the company as a prime example of a circular business practice.
“They’ve been very supportive of everything we’ve been doing,” Bruce-Jarron says, explaining that Ogilvy plans to work closely with Zero Waste Scotland on their longer-term goal to install a biomass boiler. “We love in due course to change over from steam to biomass as the technology advances, and we’ll certainly call upon their expertise at that stage.”
Ogilvy Spirits has also been approached by other companies who want to learn from their circular economy model. “We’ve given some pointers to other businesses. I think the fact that we do everything from scratch with our own potatoes is where we set ourselves apart from a lot of the other spirits that are around at the moment.
“Everything we do is very honest, genuine and authentic, whereas there is a bit of misconception about how some of these other spirits are coming to be.”
To showcase the unique process, Ogilvy has recently opened a visitor center. “We’ve always said that there’s nothing for us to hide behind so it’s nice to bring people to the farm and the distillery and show them what we do,” states Bruce-Jarron.
Expanding on its popularity in the UK, Ogilvy Spirits is now looking to tap into export markets, with business in the Middle East – and hopefully America – on the horizon. “Scotland as a brand has a lot of strengths but I think the fact we are doing vodka is something quite different, so we’re trying to tap into other markets,” Bruce-Jarron explains.
Epitomising the circular economy, Ogilvy Spirits stands as a testament to the value of waste, with the business successfully transforming their secondary spuds into a profitable, award- winning product.