Low carbon ethanol made from dairy
Dairy Distillery founder Omid McDonald is an eclectic serial entrepreneur whose past start-ups range from medical devices to software for DJs. He became enamored with distilling while visiting a micro-distillery in Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t long until Omid started making moonshine in his basement with a copper pot still he hand built. In 2016, Omid was talking to his cousin, Neal McCarten, who just returned from a visit to his uncle Jim Nelson’s dairy farm. Jim described how a dairy by-product was being dumped and Omid wondered if it could be turned into alcohol. So began the story of Dairy Distillery.
A Sea of Lactose
People are drinking less fluid milk but are eating more cheese and yogurt. This shift has created a surplus of lactose in the form of dairy by-products such as whey and milk permeate. While there are some high value uses for lactose in food and pharmaceutical production, these applications can’t come close to consuming the lactose produced annually. For this reason most whey and milk permeate is used for low value animal feed or discarded.
Powering cars with whey
During the oil crisis of the 1970s, several ethanol plants in the United States were built to convert whey into ethanol for transport fuel. As the oil crises subsided, these plants couldn’t compete with high volume corn ethanol producers and were decommissioned. Since then, many dairy processors in North America have invested heavily in dryers to facilitate the shipping of milk/whey permeate to China for animal feed.
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in biofuels to help fight climate change. Biofuels are made from the sugars found in agricultural products that are part of a carbon cycle. In a carbon cycle, CO2 from the atmosphere is incorporated into plant sugars which can then be fermented into ethanol.. When the ethanol is burnt as a transportation fuel, the carbon that originally came from the atmosphere is then released back into the environment. This contrasts with burning gasoline which releases sequestered carbon (oil). Biofuels are added to gasoline to lower the carbon footprint of the transportation fuel. To encourage the use of biofuels, governments are providing financial incentives that are directly proportional to the amount of carbon emissions they reduce.
Dairy Distillery started with the idea of making vodka from waste milk sugar (lactose) but we needed a feedstock. We found a source of lactose from a local dairy processor that makes ultra filtered milk, a high protein milk used in cheese and yogurt production. The by-product of ultra filtered milk production is a lactose rich liquid called milk permeate. We commissioned the University of Ottawa to develop a method to transform milk permeate into alcohol. With success in the lab, we built a state-of-the art distillery in Almonte, Ontario where, to date, we’ve repurposed 1,285,700 kg of milk permeate.
When we started Dairy Distillery, we couldn’t call our spirit a vodka since Canadian regulations required vodka to be made from grain or potato, so we called our vodka Vodkow. People love the name and we now use Vodkow brand for all of our spirits. Vodkow has attracted a legion of fans who like the creamier mouthfeel and touch of sweetness. We also use Vodkow to make a line of lactose-free cream liqueurs.
Pivoting during COVID
When we realized the large multinational manufacturers couldn’t supply hand sanitizer to our local hospitals, charity organizations and businesses, we immediately pivoted to make sanitizer with our lactose alcohol. We launched a “buy one to give one” program that enabled the donation of 25,000 bottles of sanitizer to frontline groups. Recognizing our contribution, the Ontario government granted us $500,000 to expand our production of sanitizer. Click here to learn more about Dairy Distillery hand sanitizer.
To help us improve our spirits production in Almonte, we hired David Geros who previously worked designing fermentation and distillation systems for a cellulosic ethanol facility. Dave started working on the business model and design of a high volume fuel ethanol plant using the process we perfected at our distillery in Almonte. He discovered that ethanol made using our process has half the carbon footprint of traditional corn ethanol. This lower carbon intensity makes it eligible for significantly more carbon credits than traditional ethanol. The financial return and carbon footprint reduction of a Dairy Distillery lactose ethanol plant is an attractive option for dairy processors.Announcing our first project with Michigan Milk Producers Association
Dairy Distillery has built a state-of-the-art micro distillery in Almonte. A reflection of our dairy heritage and modern outlook, our distillery building is a perfect union of agricultural and contemporary design. A 30-foot pitched roof supported by gorgeous Douglas Fir timbers creates a stunning workspace for the crafting of fine spirits. Our German made copper Christian Carl stills are proudly displayed in our all glass front facade. Consistent with environmental mission, the distillery uses the latest conservation technology including radiant floors, heat exchangers and water reclamation.
Retail Store and Sampling
Come sample Vodkow at the Dairy Distillery retail store. Our store features the full Vodkow line of products, Vodkow apparel and curated gifts made by local artisans.
Mon-Thurs: 10am - 4pm
Fri: 10am - 7pm
Sat: 11am - 7pm
Sun: 11am - 6pm
Interested in learning how Vodkow is made? Come take a guided tour of Dairy Distillery. You’ll be taken through the distillery and shown how the magic is made. Tours include tasting of all available products (including ahead of production creations - when available). Tours are available on Saturdays every 30 min, from 11am - 4:30pm.
Come enjoy a cocktail at the Vodkow bar. The copper bar and maple tables gifted to us from our friends at Fulton’s can seat up to 15 people. Every month, artwork from a different local artist is displayed. Over 10 Vodkow cocktails are served along with non-alcoholic options. The Vodkow bar is open year-round on Saturdays.
We’ve partnered with PuraVida to provide delicious food to accompany a Vodkow cocktail. Seating for groups up to 30 people is available on our outdoor covered patio. Enjoy a game of cornhole, giant sized tic tac toe or dice on our manicured lawn.
The Vodkow Bar Patio is open May 1st through Oct 31st.