Rather than waste quality wheat, the Ramsbury Estate dreamt up a way to use it... by making a rather special vodka

NOTHING, but nothing goes to waste on the Ramsbury Estate.

Barley is promptly harvested, shovelled and ferried off to its brewery to be malted and fermented into golden ale. The game roaming the grounds and vegetables sprouting in the kitchen gardens are rustled up into a feast at its country inn The Bell. It is all part of the 19,000 acre estate’s nifty frugal philosophy.

So when perfectly good wheat went to spare, there was nothing for it but to dream up a way to put it to use. The estate's answer? Vodka.

After three years spent pondering the mammoth endeavour (producing vodka without a distillery is rather tricky), two raising said distillery and rebuilding a state-of-the-art brewery while they were at it, the team set to work on a unique “English recipe”, distinct from any other spirit peddled at home and abroad.

Ramsbury Vodka enjoyed a high profile launch at the BBC Good Food Show last winter and was swiftly handpicked by Fortnum & Mason as its vodka of choice at Somerset House's Ice Rink. Since then the sweet spirit is slowly but surely establishing itself as a firm contender on the drinks market.

"Making vodka just made good sense," explains Rambsury head of sales and marketing Marc Hitchens. “The idea is that everything we do here compliments everything else on the estate whether it's our smokehouse, the brewery or distillery. That's how the whole operation works.”

In true Ramsbury style every stage of production is "powered' by the North Wiltshire estate, which is owned by Swedish billionaire and H&M owner Stefan Persson.

Wood from the grounds is chipped, put through a biomass boiler - which heats up both the brewery and distillery. Kennet Valley water is pumped from a borehole and blended with the freshly harvested wheat. The mixture is then processed through a pump which separates the wheat from the dirty water. All spent grain is fed back to the cattle - one way or another every stage of the process has a purpose - while the remaining water is filtered through a wetland reed system until clean.

"Being fully sustainable makes good business sense," says Marc. "People think that's terribly modern but that's exactly what farming businesses were doing 200 years ago."

The final concoction fine-tuned the Ramsbury team dedicated six months to achieving a top-notch bottle design. From the embossed metal lid inspired by “typically English” shotgun plates to the unusually rotund bottle shape, no time or expense was spared. That being said, it's not all about looks, Marc insists.

“We don't just want to produce premium products that rely only on fancy labels. They have to have a taste of Ramsbury. Customers can see through the gimmicks; you have to offer something different. Every bottle’s heritage is traceable back to its single field of origin thanks to a code on the label.”

A 70cl bottle will set connoisseurs back £40. Keeping production relatively small and exclusive (last year only 1,000 bottles were released before Christmas) comes at a cost.

Despite its surprisingly high alcohol content - 43% when the average vodka is 40% - the spirit is easy on the tongue proving that a big ABV does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with throat-burn.

"A lot of people expect that horrible burn in their throat but with ours you don't get that. With our vodka the taste comes from the weight rather than the heat which is unusual. The liquid is held in the stills longer so it locks in the flavour. We don't rush it. We have all the time in the world. It's amazing actually how many people come here say they're not a big vodka fan and become converts," smiles Marc.

Achieving a sweet yet delicate aroma was key. Contrary to popular bias, vodka was never meant to be a "colourless, tasteless" spirit; which is why Ramsbury settled on Horatio wheat, known for its vanilla and caramel undertones once distilled.

"Traditionally vodka is colourless and tasteless but it's meant to have a taste. Here you can taste the vanilla flavour of the wheat," he adds. “We chose it because we wanted our vodka to have a distinct character. People can mix it if they want to but the absolute best way to taste the profile is cold and neat.”

Still shy of its first anniversary, the spirit is making waves in the industry and has already been hailed for its “distinctive and enigmatic character, with a broader range of characteristics than certain other vodkas in the deluxe sector" by leading spirits expert Ian Wisniewski.

The distillery is planning to produce seasonal limited edition flavoured vodkas and currently toying with the idea of infusing its signature spirit with rhubarb and gooseberry.

For now though the team is eagerly awaiting the results of the “Oscars of spirits”, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition where Ramsbury Vodka is up against no fewer than 1,850 other labels from across the globe. Win or lose though Ramsbury has no intention to expand or compete with huge players like Absolut or Grey Goose. Mass production is not and will never be the end goal.

“It was never meant to be a high volume product,” shrugs Marc. “Otherwise it would become mainstream and that's not what we want. It's very much hand-crafted and if it's not made in small batches it's not hand-crafted anymore. But if we win it would really mark us out. It would not just be us saying it tastes great but the best judges in the Harold saying they liked it, that it represents true English craftsmanship.”

To order Ramsbury Vodka go to www.ramsbury.com.