Why you should care
Because surely this counts as one of your five-a-day … right?
It was the bottle that caught my eye as I strolled into a Welsh liquor store: slender, topped with a wax-stopper. On the label: “Pink Marshmallow Moonshine.” Made with a base of sweet potatoes, no less. I was intrigued.
Flavored spirits — think vanilla vodka and ginger gins — might be yawn-inducingly common nowadays, and even knocking up booze from sweet potatoes is nothing new. After all, “the Japanese have been making imojochu [sweet potato shochu] for ages,” says Rebecca DeVaney, sommelier and spirits specialist based in Phoenix. But turning sweet potatoes into moonshine — no longer a mere relic of Prohibition-era America — and serving it up with flavors like Chocolate Chili? Only the U.K.–based Sweet Potato Spirit Company is doing that.
Smith’s personal sweet potato, orange and ginger soup recipe eventually inspired the Orangecello, one of the company’s flavored gin liqueurs.
Reminiscent of candied yams, the tooth-tingling Pink Marshmallow Moonshine is like Thanksgiving in a bottle. And the Toffee Apple Moonshine, which tastes like bonfires and blanket scarves, evokes autumnal childhood memories — albeit in a 22 percent proof. It’s the “real toffee” that makes it so sweet, head hooch honcho Garry Smith tells me over the phone. And while the company claims to use all-natural flavorings (rather than artificial, “insipid, almost sickly” sweet ones, he notes), the jury’s still out on how they managed to so accurately replicate the essence of two supersweet treats.
And a tasting note: The sweetness does not come from the sweet potatoes themselves — it’s all from the flavoring, which also allows the spirits to hold their own with mixers such as coconut water, Smith adds. However, the chocolate and chili combo fell flat for me — chocolate flavors really need a creamier base than a clear moonshine.
Smith says the idea came about thanks to a light-bulb-moment conversation with a waitress who asked whether making booze with sweet potatoes was even possible. He’d been in the sweet potato import and export business for years, trying to encourage consumers to experiment with the orange root vegetable beyond the ol’ Hobbit-esque approach of boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew — including his own foray into making sweet potato chips.
The first distillation attempts “didn’t work,” Smith explains — sweet potatoes aren’t actually potatoes, so the established potato-based methodology needed some tweaking — but in 2015, the Sweet Potato Spirit Co. became the first U.K. company to small-batch distill sweet potato drinks in copper stills. Things came far more organically with the flavors. For example, Smith’s personal sweet potato, orange and ginger soup recipe eventually inspired the Orangecello, one of the company’s flavored-gin liqueurs. In addition to the moonshine lineup (one plain, three flavored), the Sweet Potato Spirit Co. also produces flavored gins, fruity liqueurs, spiced rum and a vodka — all from sweet potatoes.
The bad news? Even with all that fruit and veg content, these spirits won’t help you hit your five-a-day targets, DeVaney tells me, before noting that actually, “everything in their product lineup is technically a flavored vodka.” (For what it’s worth, Smith refutes this assertion, noting that “vodka at first distillation has to come off the still at 96 percent ABV to be defined as a vodka,” a process the Sweet Potato Spirit Co. only adheres to when making, naturally, their vodka.)
But hey, who’s sipping a moonshine for the health benefits?
Sweet Potato Spirit Co. spirits are only available and shipped in the U.K. A 50cl bottle costs between £20 and £30.