Britain’s dairy spirits trend hits Toronto with Black Cow vodka

In the UK, it's known as Pure Milk Vodka. And trust us: it's delicious


The marriage of milk and hard liquor is no longer limited to retro cocktails. I’m pretty certain the Dude would be stoked.

Black Cow, a dairy-derived spirit from England’s West Dorset, an area known for its cheese and other lacteous delights, hit the LCBO last month, where it retails for $50.20. Trademarked as Pure Milk Vodka in the UK, here it’s labelled “spirit drink” because only neutral distillates made from grain and potatoes count as vodka in Canada.

Though there’s a criminal overabundance of immoderately branded and thoroughly forgettable neutral spirits stocked at provincial liquor depots, Black Cow’s quality backs up what might otherwise be brushed off as yet another marketing shtick.

Extremely clean, with a subtle nose of vanilla and marzipan, Black Cow also has a rich texture. Fellow Polskas and other advocates of potato vodka will appreciate its mellow, mouth-coating qualities sipping it on ice is a little like tucking your tongue into a California King-sized marshmallow nest.

“It still has the wonderful utility of any super-premium vodka. It’s just different enough, without becoming something else entirely,” says Paul Archard, who co-founded Black Cow with pal Jason Barber, a member of the oldest cheddar-producing family in England. (The delirium-grade 15-month-old cheddar they produce under the Black Cow label, classily encased in black wax, is available at the St. Lawrence Market.)

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Milk might sound like an offbeat base for beverage alcohol, but there’s a deep tradition of milk booze in the Eurasian steppes, where kefir’s weird cousin, kumis, has been fermented from mares’ milk since the days of Genghis Khan. Mongolians sip a similar ferment called airag and its rustic distillate, arkhi, which I’m told is an acquired taste not dissimilar to an OG yet obscure Scottish whey spirit called blaand (which I suspect is anything but).

Locally, whey spirits aren’t as esoteric as you might think. Bob’s Super Smooth Spirit, produced by a dairy farmer in New Zealand and imported and bottled by Black Fly in London, Ontario, was released in the LCBO last year. Toronto indie distillery Yongehurst recently made a spirit out of leftover whey from Monforte Dairy in Stratford. The viscous non-vodka, which tasted vaguely like vanilla yogurt, was produced as a one-off for Trashed & Wasted, an event held early last March to promote food waste awareness.

Though Yongehurst has no plan to distill another batch, its foray highlights the sustainable benefits of distilling with whey, which is produced in abundance during cheese- and yogurt-making and is often discarded despite being packed with protein and other nutrients.

As more whey-based spirits pop up, vodka-makers will make the inevitable “lactose-free” claims. Don’t give in to that typical marketing madness: a study conducted by the European Food Safety Authority deems it “highly unlikely” (aka upside of impossible) for lactose, like gluten, to survive the distillation process.

drinks@nowtoronto.com | @S_Parns

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