Tim and Tan Spittle, farmers based in the Cotswolds, have found a unique and untapped avenue for diversifying their farm – sheep’s milk vodka. After researching the market, they discovered that there were very few people producing vodka from sheep’s milk. Intrigued by the potential, they spent three to four years conducting research and development before launching Blacklion Vodka in 2021. It quickly became the first sheep’s milk vodka in Europe and within a year, it had already won multiple international awards.
Despite being made from sheep’s milk, Tim assures that Blacklion Vodka doesn’t have a milky taste. Instead, it has a creamy texture with subtle notes of vanilla and a long aftertaste. Tim describes it as a sipping vodka, emphasizing its quality and craftsmanship. The couple, who run a large sheep farm, have dedicated specific sheep, known as “vodka sheep,” for the production of the vodka. These sheep are crossbreeds of a Swiss breed called Valais and a commercial milker. The farm normally has around 600 sheep, and the vodka sheep are kept in small groups and milked, producing approximately 1 liter of milk per ewe per day.
The process of making sheep’s milk vodka involves separating the curds from the milk, which are then used to make cheese. The Spittles give the whey, which is typically considered a waste product, to a friend who makes cheese. They then use this whey to ferment and distill, similar to the process used for potatoes or grain. According to Tim, they chose to make vodka because they believe the vodka market is on the verge of evolving, while the gin market is already saturated. They wanted Blacklion Vodka to be an artisanal, small-batch, premium product that stands out in the market.
The couple’s commitment to quality extends to the packaging and distribution of Blacklion Vodka. It is available in 20cl and 70cl bottles and can be purchased online or at various small shops listed on the company’s website. One notable shop where it can be found is Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat farm shop, made famous by the TV show “Clarkson’s Farm.”
The venture into vodka production is just one example of the Spittles’ commitment to farm diversification. Around ten years ago, they converted old cattle barns into an urban-style gym called Freestyle360. With a few hundred members, the gym helps subsidize their farming activities. Tim believes that time, money, and skills are the main factors that hold farmers back from diversifying. He advocates for more support from planning and other areas to encourage farmers to explore new avenues.
In conclusion, Tim and Tan Spittle have successfully diversified their farm by producing sheep’s milk vodka. Their dedication to creating a high-quality product has paid off, with Blacklion Vodka winning international awards within its first year. The Spittles’ commitment to farm diversification extends beyond vodka production, as they have also established an urban-style gym on their farm. They hope that their success will inspire other farmers to explore new ventures and receive more support in their diversification efforts.