A while ago, we wrote about gin made from cow’s milk, so when we heard about vodka made from sheep’s whey, we knew it was right up our alley. Ryan Hartshorn was recently named Tasmania’s 2017 Young Innovator of the Year after successfully turning whey, a waste by-product from his family’s sheep’s milk cheesery, into a spectacular vodka.
He began experimenting with distillation three years ago after purchasing an ornamental still on eBay, wanting to try something different without leaving his family’s business, Grandvewe Cheeses. He told The Weekly Times that he “was ready to quit and move on, do something different, but family businesses are very difficult to just quit… there is that element of feeling like you’re stuck.”
Instead, Hartshorn decided to start his own business that involved using his family’s cheese business and taught himself how to convert sheep whey into alcohol. The first bottle of Hartshorn Distillery’s Sheep Whey Vodka was sold in April 2015, and two years later, the vodka is more profitable for the family than any of their cheese products. They’ve even expanded the line to include gin, an “American Oaked” whey vodka and a vanilla whey liqueur.
Hartshorn uses his secretive cheesemaking process to split the lactose from whey into its component sugars, which are then fermented, distilled and infused with native Australian plants like wattleseed and sweet vernal grass.
According to Grandvewe’s website, each bottle is hand-sprayed a matte black, and the label is hand-written and signed by Hartshorn himself. The vodka is produced in small batches, and has a “creamy sweet nose, velvet body and a smooth attitude to finish.” The product page also emphasizes flavors of brown sugar, fresh pear, golden apple and mineral freshness. It’s designed to drink straight at room temperature, or as a vodka martini.
Hartshorn isn’t the only family member with booze on the brain – his mother, Diane, originally had plans for small-scale wine production. The vineyard that came with their land was raised off the ground so the sheep could roam under the vines, removing weeds and fertilizing the grapes. Though the vines are no longer around, the dairy sheep have become the primary focus of this enterprise, according to Good Food.
Grandvewe’s original sheep whey vodka won Champion Vodka of Australia at the 2017 World Vodka Awards in London, as well as Australian Beverage of the Year.
One lucky visitor, Adam Liaw, reports that the gin is a “surprising” drink: full-bodied, clean, and supportive of the added aromatics. He added that “to an average visitor stopping in at Grandvewe’s tasting room for a sheep milk latte, a nip of whey vodka, or a cheese board – it might appear that all the butter churning, cheesemaking, farming and distilling is just a sprawl of diverse activities…In reality, it’s a series of deliberate and logical steps, and that agility, innovation, and creativity is the blueprint for a very successful modern family business.”
Whether you like your martinis with vodka or gin, we love an innovation that can actually stand up to all the hype!