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Vodkow uses byproduct that would normally be thrown out. Photo: CC, MaxPixel. Edits: Rame Abdulkader.

Almonte-based company creating vodka from milk

“So I thought cow vodka. Stunning!” That probably wasn’t the initial conversation that led to the establishment of Dairy Distillery but hey, we can dream. The Almonte based distillery has begun producing vodka using by-products of the dairy industry.

Dairy Distillery began production at the end of 2018, according to owner and University of Ottawa grad Omid McDonald. After a successful partnership with the U of O, the company is  now able to use difficult-to-ferment milk sugars to produce “Vodkow.”

The process used to create Vodkow begins with milk permeate, which is simply regular cow’s “milk but without the fat and proteins,” says McDonald. This permeate is a by-product from the production of dairy products like ice cream and is rarely used by the dairy industry. The permeate used to create Vodkow is sourced from the Parmalat plant in Winchester, Ontario.

Lactose, the type of sugar used to create Vodkow, can be difficult to ferment. Most of the yeast commonly used to produce commercial alcohol products can’t ferment it. That’s why you see beers with labels calling them “Lactose” or “Milkshake” — the lactose sugar gives the beers a sweetness that won’t be fermented out by added yeast.

The problem of finding effective yeast able to ferment the permeate is what sparked Dairy Distillery’s partnership with the U of O’s biology department. McDonald turned to the University of Ottawa for help after graduating in Software Engineering and growing up in Sandy Hill.  

According to McDonald the process of developing a yeast capable of fermenting the lactose effectively took about a year, beginning in 2017. This year-long partnership to discover a useable yeast with the biology department was led by Dr. Alexandre Poulain and biology student Jessica Gaudet.

Gaudet began working on the project as an undergraduate and is currently a Master’s student continuing to do research and work on milk fermentation. Her research now focuses on making the production process more efficient, and she works part-time at the distillery.

McDonald says the company is looking to moo-ve forward to expand operations and discover what else can be accomplished with milk permeate.