Some people have just totally written off vodka as a category, because they’ve had a bad experience with it. “It’s fun surprising people,” says Omid McDonald, who gave us a tour of the Dairy Distillery in Almonte, Ontario. That’s where he set up shop to produce Vodkow, an innovative milk-based vodka and eco-enterprise.
“We’ve done blind taste-testing where thirty restaurateurs and bartenders taste Vodkow and four other brands… and we creamed the other ones,” says McDonald. To make his point, he lines up a taste test of Vodkow vs. Tito’s Handmade, the top-selling corn-based vodka in North America. Everybody in our tour group (four people) agreed the taste and the fragrance of Vodkow was a clear win. There’s no smell of milk—just a natural hint of vanilla—and Vodkow is notably smoother than corn-based vodkas. Nobody shuddered. It actually tastes wonderful!
Vodkow is made from 100% milk permeate, a dairy byproduct which is left over when skim milk gets concentrated for shipping. Companies often dispose of it because they have no use for milk permeate, however the Dairy Distillery puts it to good use. Their vodka is essentially fermented lactose and regionally-sourced Lanark Pure Spring Water.
Dairy producers are not allowed to dump the lactose byproduct directly into the environment because it’s a pollutant in water which kills aquatic life. So Canadian dairy farmers have to pay for the disposal by investing money into waste treatment systems. While the folks at Almonte’s Dairy Distillery are all too happy to take that off their hands. Fermenting away the lactose with a specialized yeast developed by University of Ottawa biologists, the Dairy Distillery operation is in fact a groundbreaking eco-enterprise. They’re saving the earth; and saving a fair amount of money for everyone involved.
“Our mission is to rid the world of this waste product, by getting people to drink vodka made from it,” says McDonald, founder of the Dairy Distillery. “It’s happened with rum, in that they now produce molasses to make rum, which is kind of funny—it’s no longer a byproduct.”
“If we became as popular as Tito’s… we would solve the problem.”
McDonald told us national and international expansion is possible. In the future, McDonald wants to see a Dairy Distillery everywhere in world this milk byproduct is being wasted. “If we can do this with milk permeate… and if we became as popular as Tito’s… we would solve the problem. There would be no more waste.”
“We’ve got support from the Canadian Dairy Commission, which regulates the dairy industry in Canada at the federal level. They provided funding for the research on this. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario have been extremely supportive as well.”
On our tour of the space, Omid mentioned how at first they sought after an old church for sale in Almonte—and their product was to be called Holy Cow Vodka.
However, Omid, his dad David McDonald, and their business partner Neal McCarten went ahead and built the Dairy Distillery by hand. Just off Ottawa Street, near Equator Coffee Roasters, is where you’ll see their new place. The shop, which opened in November 2018, has a beautiful glass facade to show off the copper machinery, and McDonald says there’s plenty of room for expansion inside. “We’ve been selling very well from here at the storefront since November, but this summer we got into the LCBO and we’re now in 50 LCBO stores.”
The Dairy Distillery is located at 34 Industrial Drive in Almonte, Ontario. Visit dairydistillery.com for opening hours. Vodkow is available online, at the bottle shop, and in select LCBO stores. A bottle costs $36 and shipping anywhere in Canada is free on online orders over $50.