Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. For dairy farmer Jason Barber, it was a creative means to diversify the produce from his herd. Who knew that it would become one of the most unique products in the world of spirits?
Jason christened his creation Black Cow Vodka, a spirit that is made entirely from milk. The liquid is crystal clear, and yet uniquely smooth and creamy – it is something that has to be seen and tasted to be believed.
Since its introduction, Black Cow Vodka has garnered media attention as well as a following back in the United Kingdom, and is even served at Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s restaurants. While in Singapore, chef and owner Ryan Clift of The Tippling Club, and acclaimed mixologists Dave Koh of Bar Stories and Jeff Ho of Jekyll & Hyde use it in their recipes and signature concoctions. The unusually smooth and creamy character makes it perfect for cocktails, enhancing the taste of other ingredients in surprising ways.
East Wind Imports is the local distributor in Singapore and as of now, Singapore is the only country outside of the United Kingdom and Ibiza, Spain where Black Cow products are sold locally.
Milking it for all it’s worth
Jason hit upon the idea to make vodka out of milk from a television documentary on the nomadic Tuva people of Siberia. The Tuva people have been making a vodka-like spirit from yak’s milk known as airan for centuries. It’s a common practice in Central Asia, and as such, there are many variations of the theme. They go by different names depending on the source of milk. For example, koumiss (or airag) is made from a mare’s milk, while kephir is made from camel’s milk.
The method for making Black Cow Vodka is a little more sophisticated, and as the only producers of pure milk vodka, Jason understandably, prefers to keep certain processes secret. In general, after the cows are milked, the fresh milk is separated into curds and whey. The curds are used to make Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar Cheese and the whey is fermented into a beer via a special yeast. The yeast converts natural sugars present in the milk into alcohol. The milky beer is then distilled, and the distillate subjected to a secret blending process. The resulting vodka is then triple-filtered with carbon from coconut shell, finished, and hand bottled. It takes about 20 days to produce a 600-bottle batch.
Jason still makes everything on-site at his dairy farm in Beaminster, Dorset, in the South West of England, and he has no intentions to change that anytime soon. “We have no thoughts of making the vodka anywhere other than here,” he says.
Pride of Dorset
Jason comes from a family of dairy farmers, a pedigree that stretches back to 1833. He also has a farm in Somerset. When Jason started on his vodka adventure in 2007, he had 250 cows. At the moment the number is still 250, but he has plans to increase his herd to 270 in the next two years.
“On that number of cows (250) I produce 2,000,000 litres and I can produce plenty of vodka from that. So for the meantime we will keep producing vodka in small batches – I just make it more often,” he says. Jason also has since switched to crossbred cows that have more sugar in their milk. He didn’t wave away the idea of using milk from other farms, but he has no intention of outsourcing the actual production of vodka.
Jason’s schedule is a little tighter now that he’s occupied in the middle of the day by the production of Black Cow. Despite the relative cult success of Black Cow Vodka, Jason still considers himself a dairy farmer. “I have dairy farming in my blood and our family have been dairy farmers for over 200 years so it’s going to be hard to remove that. It’s just a little more diluted now with vodka – and still no hangover!”
I’m doing grate, but I could be cheddar
Who doesn’t fancy a bit of cheese? Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar is made from the same milk that is used to make Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka, and is available in Singapore in a 200g truckle. It’s a pale yellow farmhouse cheddar, encapsulated in a layer of eye-catching black wax.
Black Cow describes this cheddar to have a smooth texture with the occasional crystal crunch that gives way to the perfectly mature, sweet, nutty flavour. The cheese and the vodka complement one another in a rather unusual but unique pairing, and it’s recommended to try Black Cow Vodka served with ice and with some chunks of Black Cow Cheddar. “When eaten and drunk together it’s like two old friends coming together and they just compliment each other so well,” Jason says.
Black Cow Vodka (700ml) retails for S$104, while Black Cow Cheddar Cheese retails for S$22.90. For the list of retail outlets and bars, click here. The retail outlets stock both products, but bars mostly stock just the vodka. At this point of time we understand that the Tippling Club serves both.