Inside: Corporate Social Responsibility is a strong characteristic of the Dairy Distillery who make delicious spirits using the sugar in waste milk whey from dairy production.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) means that companies have a social network with high environmental standards, social standards and economic policies that make people feel good about them because they look out for the customer. Dairy Distillery is definitely a company that exemplifies CSR. Let’s look at the Dairy Distillery, its unique products and how it exemplifies environmental and social sustainability at a time when we need these characteristics the most.
Alcohol from Milk is an Ancient Practice
Most of us have been drinking milk since we were toddlers. Its packed with nutrients, protein and good fat. If you’re lucky to have ancestors that came from small groups of people who farmed animals and drank their milk, you likely carry the genes to break down lactose. Many of us can’t and drinking milk creates digestive distress. For those of us lucky enough to carry the genes to break down lactose, dairy remains an enjoyable pleasure in adulthood.
Lactose is the sugar in milk. It doesn’t really make milk taste super sweet but the lactose in milk is a sugar none the less. Where would anyone get the idea to make alcohol from milk? How about from the Mongolians.
Wild horses of Central Asia were tamed by the Botai people of modern-day Kazakhstan over five thousand years ago. These guys learned to ferment the milk of their horses into a delicious, slightly boozy drink. Unlike cow’s milk, horse milk a lot more lactose. High levels of lactose give it laxative qualities meaning…you guessed it….heavy bouts of diarrhea. The fermented variety changes the lactose into other stuff including alcohol. A win-win situation for the Mongols. Depending on the process they used, the amount of alcohol varied meaning they could make a low alcohol but nutritious drink for the kids and a slightly higher alcoholic version for themselves minus the digestive problems.
Kumis is still made by fermenting raw unpasteurized mare’s milk over the course of hours or days, often while stirring or churning. Their technique hasn’t changed much over 2000 years. In the case of Kumis, fermentation is begun by lactobacilli bacteria. The bacteria acidify the milk, while yeasts turn it into a carbonated and mildly alcoholic drink.
A Sweet Partnership between a Distiller and a University
The Dairy Distillery in Almonte, Ontario does not produce a mildly alcoholic beverage. Their unique process produces a premium vodka. This company is the proud distiller of Vodkow, made from milk permeate which is milk without the fat and protein. There is little use for this permeate so it is dumped by dairy producers. How Dairy Distillery ferments the lactose in their raw material is through a guarded process. Omid McDonald is the founder of this distillery. Omid’s dad is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Ottawa. Most yeast is not genetically designed to efficiently convert lactose to ethanol. The Dairy Distillery worked closely with researchers at the University of Ottawa to create a yeast optimally suited to making spirits from dairy.
Fermenting lactose can be quite complex. So McDonald first worked with a researcher at the University of Ottawa and their biology department. There, they spent a year finding a yeast that would do the job to break down the lactose and convert it into alcohol.— Audrey Schmitz
Parmalat Dairy in Winchester, Ontario makes filtered milk, butter, yogurt and cheese. It creates over 100,000 litres of milk permeate daily. That milk whey still contains 20 grams per litre of lactose and riboflavin, a B vitamin necessary for normal cell growth and function. Dairy Distillery gets a delivery of 15,000 litres of this milk permeate twice monthly which means 30,000 litres less per month is thrown out. This dairy waste product which would otherwise add to the biological load ending up in the environment is distilled into a delicious vodka. Definitely a win-win situation.
A milk tanker pulls up to the distillery with the milk permeate chilled to 5ºC. It is then pumped into their fermenters, heated up and mixed with their very special yeast. The yeast works very quickly and, after three days, has fermented all of the lactose, says McDonald. — Progressive Dairy Canada
Smooth Spirits from Cows
Milk sugar produces a clean, smooth and naturally gluten-free spirit. Before the research partnership between the University of Ottawa and the Dairy Distillery, creating spirits from milk sugar was and still is not popular. Creating spirits from dairy was an expensive process.
Because of the special yeast and the fact that they use a waste product from the dairy industry, the Dairy Distillery is able to produce a quality spirit at a great price. Believe me when I tell you it is delicious! And look at its unique features:
- it is made from a gluten-free raw material – milk
- because the permeate contains a natural source of riboflavin, their products will retain some of that vitamin
My husband and I can attest to the exceptional flavor of their vodka, Vodkow. It is extremely smooth and that slight caramel flavor makes it great on its own. My preference is creating the White Russian – Vodkow, Kahlua and cream is a great way to suffer through social isolation. As well, their Cream Liqueurs are a huge favorite. Specialty coffees with both the original Cream and the Maple Cream are fan favorites in our home as a sipper or in coffee. I purchased a lot of product during our tour in January, 2020. And I have purchased on-line through their website. Their product is packaged very well and delivery through our local post office has been seamless every time.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The Dairy Distillery has been creating a local network around Almonte, Ontario and neighboring districts. Participating in local corporate networks is a stand-out way they display corporate social responsibility. They are exchanging waste products, creating integrated marketing strategies and fostering sustainable business practices. It is an immensely green, sustainable practice. Waste products from some companies become the raw materials for the production of product for others:
- Dairy Distillery recently created a chocolate cream liqueur using waste material from Hummingbird Chocolate
- they are working on a coffee flavored cream liqueur using waste material from Equator Coffee with its roastery located in Almonte
- a seasonal product, maple-flavored cream liqueur, made with syrup from Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush located near Pakenham, west of Ottawa was recently released
- their waste product, the nutrient rich dead yeast resulting from the fermentation process, is used as a fertilizer for local farmland and so like the permeate they use from dairy, it is diverted from the waste stream; the biological load to nearby waterways is greatly reduced
More Green, Sustainable Practices is Socially Responsible
Parmalat creates a tremendous amount of milk permeate waste….over 300.000 litres daily. That much biological waste dumped into the environment contributes to the eutrophication of water bodies. Milk whey is a great food source for algae. More food, more algae. Algal blooms create great green mats on water bodies. They use up oxygen in the water meaning there is less oxygen for fish and other aquatic organisms.
The Dairy Distillery uses only a fraction of that waste material in its fermentation process. But it wants to do more to reduce the biological load of this waster material on the environment as well as creating another revenue stream. They have empty land behind their distillery building. As a next step, they are planning on creating a bio-fuel plant that will use the rest of the waste milk permeate to create bio-fuel. Right now, valuable farm land is utilized to grow corn for bio-fuel manufacture. Using corn to make fuel means that corn prices increase for feed and food production. Creating bio-fuel with biological waste such as milk permeate, stabilizes corn prices. It is an incredibly sustainable practice.
Being Carbon Neutral
The Dairy Distillery has half the carbon footprint of traditional vodka makers. It is a carbon neutral company to boot. Here’s how they do it:
- the raw ingredient is a waste product from a company that makes and distributes your milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products
- their unique bottles, used to contain their delicious product, are made of 50% less glass – the making of glass contributes heavily to a company’s carbon footprint so….less glass means a lower carbon footprint
- using lactose means there are less steps involved in the fermentation process; grain and potato normally used to make vodka are mostly starch so the starch must be converted to sugar and that takes energy
- that grain and potato must be mixed with water before the process of creating traditional vodka can begin; milk permeate is delivered in liquid form so no water needs to be added for fermentation to happen
- they are one of the few distilleries in Canada to publish their carbon footprint assessment
- although they produced 48.4 tonnes of carbon in 2019,
- “Our sustainable ingredients, energy efficient production and lighter packaging combine to give Vodkow a naturally low carbon footprint. Since the main ingredient is a waste product, it has no carbon intensity associated with it. Lower production energy and a lighter bottle further reduce its carbon footprint. These advantages make it economical for us to buy offsets to make every bottle of Vodkow carbon neutral. We selected Tree Canada’s “Grow Clean Air” program that plants trees guaranteed to sequester carbon for 30 years.” — Dairy Distillery
Helping the Vulnerable During Covid 19
If the above doesn’t say enough about this company’s corporate social responsibility then its actions during the Covid 19 Pandemic speak volumes. Many distilleries in North America have contributed to the shortage of sanitizer during this pandemic. The Dairy Distillery has stepped up to the plate in this regard also:
1,000 litres of hand sanitizer is on the way to @OttawaHospital. Many of us on the team have been helped by this great institution, so it’s an honour to contribute. To help us respond to sanitizer requests please go to https://t.co/f3U4Ee9r41. #covid19 #flattenthecurve pic.twitter.com/CS76aThn1N
— Dairy Distillery (@DairyDistillery) March 26, 2020
We went on a great tour of the Dairy Distillery in January of 2020. Jonny was an amazing tour guide and gave us a super long tour. He was patient with all of my questions and I had so many. I highly recommend you take a tour. A trip to the Ottawa, Ontario area would not be complete without a tour of the Dairy Distillery facilities. While you’re in Almonte you could also visit some of the other great foodie destinations located nearby. Take a look at the map above that pins the Dairy Distillery as well as some other delectable locations.
As part of my Covid 19 survival plan, I added an order from them of my favorite products and one to try. We had plenty of Vodkow but were completely out of our favorite Vodkow cream. They also had some limited edition Vodkow Maple Cream using maple syrup from Fulton’s Maple Farm nearby. I am happy to report the Maple Cream is a hit. I’ve included two of my favorite recipes below. Enjoy and please visit the Dairy Distillery when in Ontario. It is so very worth the visit!
If you like to travel to destinations that have a conservation or other science focus check out these posts on Science Alcove:
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