When you visit farms in the West Dorset countryside, it’s not unusual to see instances of creativity and innovation bringing together. What would you think to discover the sole vodka made from cow’s milk? We meet the pioneers behind this trailblazer…
“West Dorset is an excellent area to explore It’s a beautiful, gentle landscape. However, a lot of visitors drive by us, or towards Cornwall and there’s plenty to do in the area.” Paul Archard (aka “Archie”), co-founder of Black Cow Vodka, is situated in the custom-designed Bar and kitchen adjoining the distillery in Childhay. He casually reminisces about the amazing cheese, cured meat, and wine producers from the renowned agricultural region, the thriving art scene, the local makers of knives, and “amazing things out of metal.” But what is the project he’s working on alongside his dairy farmer friend, Jason Barber? “We set out to make the world’s best vodka, that’s what we set out to do, basically,” Jason tells Jason. “And we’re pretty much there, to be honest.”
Black Cow Distillery Bar + Kitchen
WHEN WHEY IS NOT A WASTE PRODUCT
Jason’s family has produced Cheddar cheddar since the year 1833, making the Barbers one of the oldest Cheddar cheese makers around the globe. The cows I have are milked twice daily as I offer the dairy to family members members,” Jason explains. Jason. “They want the protein [the curds] to make the cheese, and we want the lactose [from the whey] because it’s the sugar that makes the alcohol.” They say they’ve created one of the most eco-friendly vodkas available considering whey’s status as a waste item. “Typically, whey is a rather forgotten-about product,” Archie says. Archie. “Especially in the United States.
The Italians are the best at utilizing the whey. We feed it to animals. What we’ve done is obtained a byproduct that is almost worthless of cheese production and transformed it into something amazing.”
The whey is brewed with yeast that is specially designed to convert lactose into alcohol. The resulting milky beverage is made into a pot known as Ermintrude (named in honor of the cow in the TV program The Magic Roundabout), followed by blending and triple-filtration to produce the softest, smoothest, and pure vodka. The realization that they didn’t require water to make it was a breakthrough in terms of texture as well as taste. “There’s a real lack of minerality,” Archie says. Archie, “It’s incredibly soft. It has a creamy feel and this is because everything in the bottle is made directly from milk.”
The fact that it doesn’t require water is a major advancement… This product feels extremely soft. It has a creamy texture, and this is because everything comes from milk.
The distillery is where magic occurs.
Although it was initially difficult to get their distilling permit (“When we spoke to HMRC they were unsure what to do about the issue,” Archie adds Archie), They give credit to “maverick” Julian Temperley from Somerset Cider Brandy Company (see page 84) who secured the first-ever license for cider distilling in the UK to open the way and breaking the monopoly held by larger distilleries. The first bottles that contained Black Cow Vodka were sold in May 2012; then, it was a matter of getting bartenders and distributors to buy into the brand. “When we first went to the bars, there were probably about 12 vodkas on the back bars,” Jason says. Jason. “Now there’s five or six that you can find: an rye one along with a wheat and milk one and a rye. It’s now all about the raw material, and I’d like to think we have something to do with the development of that.” It’s sold now throughout 17 different countries. “Once we get people to try it, they’re normally converted to it,” Archie says. Archie. “We have a very good conversion rate.”
Everybody makes Espresso Martini with liqueur Kahlua or Tia Maria, but we do not – yet, you still get the perfect Espresso Martini that has that ideal head.
THE FOODIES’ VODKA
“What’s grown together will go together. The ethos behind their suggestion of pairing their milk vodka made from pure milk with cheese. “We really see ourselves as the foodie’s vodka of choice, and it’s a great thing to have with food,” Archie adds. Archie. “In Poland and Russia, people are of the opinion that they can drink vodka with shots. They do, but they’ve always had little bits of food, be it dried fish or nuts. One of the most delicious items is cheese. Jason’s family crafted this fantastic Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar that we offer in Fortnum & Mason. It’s great with a touch of Jarlsberg or even a touch of Brie or Stilton or whatever. It is also great with seafood. It’s fantastic with oysters, and it’s fantastic together with prosciutto.”
They’ve expanded into a sustainable production of English Strawberries Vodka (launched in the summer of 2019) in addition to a Christmas Spirit that locked-down Brits much loved during the cold winter months. Bartenders are especially impressed by the purity in the flavor of their original vodka, which is able to hold delicate flavors very well. “Everyone makes Espresso Martinis with liqueur – Kahlua or Tia Maria – we don’t,” Archie says. Archie. “The reason they do this is to sweeten it and they desire it to froth which is why it has the head of a Guinness. If we simply pour into maple syrup and create an espresso, we combine them with vodka into a shaker and you’ll get the perfect Espresso Martini that has the perfect head that resembles a Guinness and it holds because of mineral content within the drinking water. Restaurants are enthralled by it since they don’t need to shell out for the shot of the liqueur which means they earn an increase in profit in addition.”
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
The team was not able to host tours of distilleries during the lockdown of COVID-19 in Britain. There’s always a range of idyllic, tranquil activities for food and drink people. “We’d go out on the farm and take you around the cows,” Jason explains. Jason. “Have plenty of drinks, see a bit of the countryside.”
The acclaimed restauranteur and chef from the area, Mark Hix, is also a frequent patron of Black Cow Bar + Kitchen. Black Cow Bar + Kitchen has designed the three-course meal that is an integral part of the Distillery Experience, which also includes a cocktail-making workshop along with the distillery tour. “Mark puts a recipe together for us with locally sourced food,” Archie says. Archie. “We blend the vodka and the cheese. We have hand-picked scallops from the bay, or people are shooting rabbits, or picking up mushrooms.”
Whatever comes next, Archie and Jason remain innovating as they have always been in particular in cocktails. “I would love to do a Gorgonzola cheese wash martini with a pear infusion,” Jason says. Jason. “Do you believe that the world is prepared to take on this? We can do it.”
Although Archie acknowledges that Archie and Jason “always like to think quite big,” even with their passion and ambition, neither of them could have imagined the result of a casual conversation in 2002 with one dairy employee, Jozef. Jason was asking Jozef’s opinion about their most recent distilling experiment and water de vogue: “he’s Polish, so I told him, “Hey Jozef, what do you think about when you make vodka? Is it the national drink of Poland? He replied, ‘Anything with sugar.’ Then I said, wait a minute, there’s sugar in milk. the milk.” Archie remembers the two of them gazing at the window of the kitchen, which was Jason’s grass-fed herd of 250 dairy cows. “We took one look at those lovely ladies, and I looked at Jason and saw a lightbulb go on over his head.” It took a lot of time and experimentation in order to come up with an exclusive product, an alcohol that’s not only made from milk but produced entirely out of it.