There’s an intriguing new player in Almonte’s thriving food and drink maker scene. In addition to the small town’s roster of chocolatiers, coffee roasters, doughnut makers, craft brewers and more, Dairy Distillery is now producing a unique beverage called Vodkow. Packaged in classic milk bottles, it’s set to take Ontario by storm in 2019. Company founder and CEO Omid McDonald talks to Ottawa At Home about what sparked his passion project.
What made you want to start a distillery? I’m an engineer and an innovator. I wanted to solve some problems, especially how to help the dairy industry deal with the by-product of milk filtration, called permeate. It’s what is left behind after the fats and proteins are taken out of milk to make things such as ice cream, cheese and butter. The other interesting problem, which some people at the University of Ottawa have helped us with, was finding a yeast that will completely digest the lactose (milk sugar) in permeate to create alcohol.
Why did you feel there was room for more players in the craft distillery scene in Ontario? We are about five years behind the craft spirits explosion that’s taking place in the United States. It’s exciting that people who do enjoy craft spirits want to meet the makers; they love coming in here and talking with our director of operations, Neil McCarten, about how our distillery works. When we reach full capacity we plan to produce 200,000 litres of Vodkow per year, which is a small step towards meeting Canadians’ annual demand for 50 million litres of vodka.
How do farmers benefit from your operation? Currently, local dairy farmers pay for the disposal of 200,000 litres of permeate each day through the blended milk price. By June, we’ll be taking 30,000 litres per week from the Parmalat facility in Winchester, reducing their disposal costs. We also have some dairy farmers who have invested in our company, so they’ll reap rewards as we grow our operation.
You built a gorgeous new structure for your facility—why? We looked for an existing building to renovate, but couldn’t find one that was suitable. The all-glass façade allows us to showcase our beautiful German-made copper stills, and the huge wooden beams that support our steeply pitched roof are eye-catching as well. We like to think the barn-like shape is reflective of the local dairy industry and of the Almonte area in general, where we are enjoying being part of such a supportive and welcoming community.
Can you describe Vodkow? Because it is created from a cleaner sugar, it has a really pure taste. It’s gluten-free and the distilling process removes every molecule of lactose. We invited local restauranteurs and bartenders in for a blind tasting and the majority found it extremely smooth and flavourful compared to other vodka-style products. It has a slight creaminess with notes of caramel and vanilla sweetness at the finish.
Where can people purchase Vodkow? Right now they can come to the distillery in Almonte, or order online and we’ll ship it. By this spring it will be available in select LCBO locations, including some in Eastern Ontario.
Do you have plans to make any additional products? We are currently doing research on cream liqueur. Cream is natural given our heritage and a 100% dairy-based cream liqueur has never been done before.
How is Vodkow best enjoyed? With its nice neutral flavour, many people find it perfectly sippable on ice (which is rare even for a craft vodka), but it also lends itself well to all kinds of cocktails, particularly White Russians. Our many repeat customers tell us that while it was the novelty of our product that brought them in at first, it is the exceptional flavour that brings them back.