A company needs to be concocting truly noteworthy beverages to be noticed in the premium drinks market nowadays. One drinks company that is most definitely forging a path of its own is The Sweet Potato Spirit Company. The company’s range encompasses some unorthodox beverages, from its SP vodka, a smooth spirit that impressed drinks industry experts when it was initially unveiled, to its gins, ‘moonshines’ and a growing portfolio of liqueurs – and the plaudits and accolades continue to come in thick and fast.
“We have been on market for just two years,” explains Garry Smith, founding director of The Sweet Potato Spirit Company. “And there’s been a fantastic reception, both in terms of the public and stockist reaction and also third party accolades. For example, we won the World Food Innovation Award for Best New Artisan Beverage in 2016 for the range. Every single one of our current 10 lines is a recipient of at least one medal in a recognised world spirit competition – some are multiple award-winners as we’ve entered them into multiple competitions. Our Moonshines walked away from the World Spirit Awards with three golds. That type of information we put on POS material and the like – it’s of great use to our retailers.”
It goes without saying that interests are initially piqued by the peculiar prospect of sweet potato being used as the base ingredient for a drink. It makes perfect sense, though, when consumers consider that if regular potato is used to produce vodka, why can’t sweet potato serve the same purpose?
Just as the master moonshiners did with corn mash years ago, the company takes the smooth and rich flesh of the sweet potato and uses it to bolster a heady mixture of botanicals and spices to craft a range of sweet potato spirits and liqueurs. “Sweet potato gives the drink a fuller, rounder flavour and an exceptionally smooth finish,” explains Garry. “The characteristics vary from drink to drink; some have a slightly savoury finish whereas the liqueurs have a delicious natural sweetness. The signature characteristics are big bold flavours and an exceptionally smooth finish.”
The sweet potatoes themselves are sourced from the company’s own farms in North Carolina in the US. For the other ingredients – like the apples in the Toffee Apple Moonshine and the oranges in the Orange Gin Liqueur – The Sweet Potato Spirit Company pays the same meticulous attention to sourcing, only choosing the best quality produce to feature. “We source English produce wherever possible for our other ingredients,” says Garry. “For example, we source exceptional English raspberries for our Raspberry Gin Liqueur.”
Although the sweet potato aspect is turning heads, it’s the distinctive and premium flavours that are really captivating consumers. “The drinks are extremely versatile because the flavours are bold but balanced,” says Garry. “They’re not overpowering in any single way. For instance, many of the chocolate drinks on the market are too sweet and the chilli-fronted products too hot for some palates, so with our Chocolate Moonshine with Chilli we made sure that it’s obviously chocolate when you smell it, but it has just enough chilli to take the edge off the sweetness of the chocolate. All of our drinks have a very bold and distinctive nose, so there’s no mistaking what’s in them. Our Toffee Apple Moonshine, for example, has a massive crème brûlée-esque aroma.”
A new year often heralds new beginnings, and never one to rest on its laurels, The Sweet Potato Spirit Company is set to release an exciting range of gin liqueurs. The flavours include Raspberry Gin Liqueur, Lavender Gin Liqueur and Orange Gin Liqueur. The company was prompted to develop the new gin liqueurs in response to a strong demand for its coveted Plum Gin. “The Plum Gin has been exceptionally successful where people want an easier drinking style of gin, but don’t necessarily want something that’s as sweet as a typical sloe gin,” Garry tells us. “The new Gin Liqueurs are easy-drinking styles but not overly sweet – the reason why they’re not overly sweet is because they’re all made using fresh product rather than artificial flavours.”
Garry stresses that it’s not just the Plum Gin that’s built a strong fan base, with each option garnering admirers in their own right. “Popularity depends very much on the audience,” he says. “What’s popular at one event or venue differs at another; there’s something to suit the vast majority of palates.”
The gins are created adhering to the same craft distilled methods as the company’s other creations. Using techniques passed down over the years, the spirits and liqueurs are made following methods that pack as much flavour into the product while retaining as much refined smoothness as possible. The percentage of alcohol in each sweet potato spirit was determined not in an arbitrary manner, but because it was the precise amount that held together the intense ensemble of flavours the creators wanted to accomplish.
The speciality credentials of the drink lends itself well to the fine food industry, and an appeal of the brand is that although its sweet potato USP makes it appear niche, the range can feature in both spirit and liqueur categories. “They sell exceptionally well where they are helped by the element of handsell – when retailers can truly understand the product,” explains Garry. “We actively support all of our stockists with things like point of sale materials, sales aid and training and events – we’re developing further resources to do that even better in the coming year. We support our accounts in just the same fashion, whether they’re a distributor’s account or a direct account. For instance, one of our distributors can have a customer that is hosting a particular event or has a unique requirement, and we will support this directly even though it’s a distributor account.”
Garry implores retailers to get creative when introducing The Sweet Potato Spirit Co.’s range to customers. The company’s Instagram account and official website features a number of recipes and are a great resource for inspiration. “At one of our outdoor events last summer, we realised that one of the things the Pink Marshmallow Moonshine goes particularly well with is coconut water,” he says, “so we bought a load of coconuts with ring pulls and served them with the coconut water and Marshmallow Moonshine, and presented them with a sprinkling of marshmallows and a little fan perched on top.”