When searching for a way to diversify their farm, Tim and Tan Spittle found a unique, and seemingly untouched avenue to explore: Sheep’s milk vodka.

“We knew about the cow’s milk vodkas and obviously researched sheep’s milk and wondered why there weren’t many people doing that sort of thing,” Tanya said.

After three to four years of research and development, they launched Blacklion Vodka in 2021 – becoming the first sheep’s milk vodka in Europe. No less than one year later, they had won multiple international awards.

“You’re not going to think about milk when you’re drinking it,” Tim told Agriland. “It doesn’t have a milky taste at all.”

It’s a little creamy he said, with “slight” notes of vanilla and a long aftertaste. “It is a sipping vodka rather than a bottle of fire that’s just going down your throat. It’s a real quality drink,” he said.

The couple, which run a large sheep farm in the Cotswolds, don’t just use any old sheep’s milk for the drink – they have dedicated “vodka sheep”.

“We cross two breeds,” Tim explained. “We cross a Swiss breed which is a Valais and we cross it with a commercial milker.”

The farm in its entirety normally has about 600 sheep. The ‘vodka sheep’ are kept in small groups and are milked, producing about 1L/ewe/day.

“It’s a small batch, super premium product,” Tim reiterated.

Making sheep’s milk vodka

The curds from the milk go to a friend of the couple who makes cheese, leaving them with the whey that they turn into vodka.

“With cheese making, obviously the separation of whey occurs,” Tim explained.

“Curds going off to make a nice sheep’s cheese; the whey is redundant, typically a waste product, a byproduct of that process, and it seems such a shame to not use those wonderful, tangible sugars.

“That’s what you can use to ferment and distill just as you would do with potatoes or grain, making a mash or beer-type solution; that is what you use to distill and make a spirit.”

They chose to make a vodka because they believe the vodka market is “just about to evolve” and that the gin market is “pretty saturated”. They also wanted it to be an artisian, small batch, premium product.

“Just because we’re farming doesn’t mean to say that that we should be in any way rough and ready,” Tim said.

Source: Blacklion Vodka via Instagram

“There’s a lot of good farm products out there and we think we should sit it at the very best end of the market.”

Blacklion Vodka is available in 20cl and 70cl bottles, and can be purchased online, or at various small shops listed on the company’s website – including Clarkson’s Farm star Jeremy Clarkson’s well-known Diddly Squat farm shop.

Farm diversification

The vodka venture started out, as mentioned, as a way to diversify the farm – which is something that the Spittles believe is really important.

And it’s not their only diversification move; around ten years ago, they converted old cattle barns and now have an “urban-style gym” – Freestyle360 – on the farm with a few hundred members, Tanya, who has a background in marketing, said.

“That helps subsidise our farming really,” Tim added. 

He believes that what’s holding other farms back from diversifying is time and money, but also the “inclination and possibly some of the skills to do other things which they’d be very good at”.

“I think farmers should be supported more in the diversification,” he said.

“We found that when we diversify, it’s never supported as we hope we’d want to be from things like planning and other areas – they should be.”