THE humble potatoes grown on Roy Clarke’s farm are about to embark on an enterprising journey from the field to premium bottled vodka.

Roy’s son, Iain, 41, says: “It’s a hugely exciting and challenging time. In my opinion, vodka made from potatoes is so much smoother and has much more character and flavour than the typical grain vodka.”

Iain fulfilled a long-standing ambition to join his brother, Robert, and their dad, Roy on the family’s St Osyth holding, Blackwater Farm, after being made redundant from an accountancy firm last May.

The first and only member of his family to go to university, he followed a career in the City, but is now looking forward to using his skills to develop a new business, Maser Clarke Distilling.

Tendring Council has granted planning permission to build a micro-distillery on the farm and now Iain is seeking three investors to help him reach the £1.7million he needs to fund the project.

It already has the backing of several other investors and funding from the East of England Development Agency, the EU and Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England.

It takes two weeks to produce the vodka from scratch and Iain hopes the first bottle will be ready in about a year’s time.

Iain says he got the idea when the famility was discussing ways to expand the farming business.

He explains: “We didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket and just expand on what dad was doing.

“We wanted to find another tangent to supplement the farm income. We needed to find a business with commercial potential and which used our skills. We thought about a fish and chip shop, or manufacturing crisps.

“Then my brother’s wife mentioned vodka. As her family name is Maser, we used it in the company name.

“Producing vodka from potatoes is nothing new, but we will be the only disillery doing it in East Anglia.”

One other British distillery produces vodka from potatoes and the quality of its products has won awards at international festivals.

That company’s head distiller, Jamie Baxter, is now working with Iain and Maser Clarke Distilling.

The company’s potato vodka will be very different from the mass-produced spirit guzzled by weekend clubbers.

Iain’s aim is to develop a high end spirit, produced by an ethical company which uses renewable energy sources where possible, sources ingredients locally and is committed to the UK for production. It will also support charities, have fair pay and encourage responsible drinking and pricing.

Iain says: “We will be one of a handful of UK distillers who do the whole process, from growing the raw materials – in our case potatoes – through mashing, fermenting, stripping, distilling, chilling to bottling, all on the farm.

“Now that’s authenticity and provenance. We want to distinguish ourselves from most of the competition.”

Iain’s family certainly has a povenance when it comes to farming. It has farmed at Blackwater Farm for 100 years, after moving from Tollesbury.

His brother Robert, 43, says: “It took them two days by horse and cart with all their belongings to get here.”

At the time the family worked for another farmer, but over the years it took over and expanded its own smallholding over the years.

Dad, Roy, worked eight acres of land and the farm has since grown to 220 acres, 120 of which the family owns. In total it grows 180 acres of potatoes and 40 acres of cereals.

The distillery will not even affect the existing potato business, since the raw ingredient for the vodka will be outsized potatoes normally sent for animal feed.

It takes 7kgs of potatoes to produce one 70cl bottle of vodka. The distillery, which will employ six people, including Iain, will eventually be able to produce as many as 6,000 bottles a year, though Iain thinks it will take about four years to reach full capacity.

The distillery will also make other clear spirits such as gin, and the Clarke family enterprise also hopes to make it something of a tourist attraction, too.

Robert already runs successful holiday cottages from the farm and Iain is keen to squeeze tourism potential from new distillery in the same way as Scotland’s whisky distilleries do.

He adds: “My dad was quite sceptical about the distillery idea from the start.

“I think he was anticipating his son would get a proper job in the City after a while, but I am quite focussed, just as he can be.”