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From Sprotbrough, with love – by Adam Kay

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They make vodka just outside Doncaster now, y’know. I visited and wrote about Brittains Vodka for Concept For Life, a Regional Magazine Company publication.

Picture: Adam Kay / Regional Magazine Company

Glug, glug, hic. Mine’s a vodka, please.

I’m not alone in preferring this particular tipple, either. The spirit is one of the world’s most popular alcoholic drinks, with only beer and wine being more frequently quaffed. It seems that when it comes to vodka, we just can’t get enough.

The drink is most commonly associated with Russia, or at least the so-called ‘vodka belt’ countries of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. But the beverage is being made closer to home too. In fact, thanks to the success of one small company, there’s an unlikely new vodka capital of the UK – Sprotbrough.

The company in question – Brittains – was formed around five years ago by farmer John Raper and his wife Fiona. How did the business start?

“I’ve made drinks for donkey’s years,” says John. “I had some vodka, and my friends Richard and Judy Brittain, of Eastfield Farm in Tickhill, had some leftover raspberries. Richard rang me up one day and said: ‘Are you interested in doing some raspberry vodka?’”

Using Richard’s raspberries and a recipe developed in the Raper’s Sprotbrough kitchen, Fiona made a batch of flavoured vodka. The booze was a big hit with their friends – so much so that they decided to take the next step and produce it commercially.

John set up a company – named after his fruit-supplying friend – which he runs today with business partner Mark Appleyard. What role does Fiona play? John laughs: “She keeps me sane!”

For the first two years of operation, the business was run from the Brittain’s Tickhill farm. Now, to meet ever-increasing demand, the company has a facility in Newcastle, as well as a small team of staff who help with packaging and administration. “We were doing about 100 litres a year – I think now we’re doing 20,000 litres,” says John.

It’s not just the company that’s expanded, either. Since their original raspberry liquor, they’ve played around with their vodka, adding a range of different flavour combinations and reducing the alcohol content from 37.5 per cent to 21 per cent. They currently sell 11 different flavours, from cherry to butterscotch and even coconut.

“Our two most popular are strawberry and rhubarb, and chocolate and chilli,” says John. “I’ve got the best job in the world – I taste everything!”

John may be head taster, but he’s generous enough to let me sample a couple of the vodkas too. The strawberry and rhubarb has a warm, smooth flavour, with a tangy aftertaste. The chocolate has a strong cocoa aroma which hits you as soon as you put your nose in the glass – and the taste is equally delicious when the liquid reaches your lips, too. I’m no sommelier (or whatever the spirit equivalent is – vodkonnoisseur, perhaps?), but in my opinion they’re great. Glug, hic.

Of course, not all of Brittains’ flavour experiments have been so successful. “Some were absolutely terrible,” admits John. “I did blackcurrant, which didn’t work because it’s full of acid.”

John tells me he has plans for another three flavour combinations to add to the Brittains range – although he’s keeping schtum about what exactly they are. “If I tell you, the whole world will start making them before me!”

A lot of Brittains business is done via the internet – online sales have seen their vodka shipped as far afield as Switzerland and the US. They also supply to Andrew Pern’s The Star Inn at Harome – a restaurant which was awarded a Michelin star in 2008.

Most new Brittains customers, however, are found at food festivals and trade shows around the country, where John and his team are regulars. “We’ve been to Leeds, Sheffield, Harrogate, York, Ripley Castle…up and down the country,” he says. “We get a very good response – we’re meeting thousands of people a year.”

For every thousand of these converts to the Brittains cause, there are sure to be thousands more as the business moves forward. The company’s humble beginnings haven’t been left behind just yet – my chat with John takes place at his village home (where most of the business’s affairs are still dealt with), and is momentarily disturbed by the arrival of his two dogs who pad around our feet as we talk. But Brittains is growing by the day – and John feels it will only keep on getting bigger.

“I think there’s a great future for Brittains,” he says. “I’m hoping to open a franchise – get it all over the country, and hopefully see if we can get it out of the country as well.”

A Sprotbrough spirit taking over the world? I’ll drink to that. In fact, make it a double. Hic.

The Full Article is available on Adam Kay’s Website

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