Jason Barber is one of the co-founders of Black Cow Vodka, claiming to be the world’s first vodka made purely out of cow’s milk. Originally a farmer from West Dorset, whose family has been involved in the dairy business since 1833, he created the craft vodka after 3 years of experimentation with different ingredients and yeast strains. He was kind enough to spare some time to chat with Inside the Cask.
Inside the Cask: Hi Jason, you are a West Dorset dairy farmer and the creator of Black Cow Vodka, but how did it all start? Where did the interest in drinks initially come from?
I have been living in West Dorset all my life and come from a family of 3rd generation cheese makers, the Barber Family.
My interest in drinks is purely from a relationship perspective – I love getting to know people and there is no better way than getting to know people over a drink!
As a farmer, you have to get up early and follow the seasons. Farm to table isn’t a fashionable concept to me – it’s the way we go about our daily lives and is ingrained in my behaviour – it’s the only way I know how to operate.
Inside the Cask: Most people will probably not think of milk when they think of vodka, so how did this come about for you? What does the job entail apart from sampling some very smooth vodka?
As I mentioned, I do not waste any raw materials – and, coupled with the necessity to be up early on the farm, I favour white spirits. I have always loved vodka, and I set about to produce the smoothest vodka possible – from the rich, raw ingredient I have available – milk. It occurred to me later that Genghis Khan was one of the first to pose the question, ‘Can you make alcohol out of milk’ and I decided to try it out for myself!
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about Black Cow Vodka and what makes it so special?
Undoubtedly, what makes Black Cow so special is its raw material, grass grazed cow’s milk. It makes for a uniquely smooth vodka totally unlike any others on the market – I am very proud of the fact I produce the World’s First Pure Milk Vodka.
As an aside, in these times of mass consumption and environmental concerns, it makes absolute sense to me to use every available raw material and put it to good use. I personally can’t think of a better use than a deliciously smooth and clean, pure milk vodka.
Inside the cask: What is the process for making Black Cow Vodka from milk?
The milk is separated, with the curd making our award-winning Cheddar, and the whey is fermented into a special milk beer. This is then distilled, and triple filtered into this smooth, creamy, clean tasting vodka.
Inside the Cask: Vodka remains a large and popular drinks category. Any up and coming trends or brands to watch out for in the category?
The reason people like vodka is because it is so universal. The majority of popular cocktails are made using vodka and all of the large multi-nationals have at least one vodka in their portfolio. I think there is opportunity to challenging the status quo – by producing a liquid that is so inherently different to all other vodkas on the market. Trends come and go, I’m told by the marketing department that flavoured vodka, low abv and low calorie cocktails are the way forward – but to be honest, I just focus on making the best vodka I can, Black Cow, and I enjoy it!
Inside the Cask: In your view, what are the opportunities and challenges for the Vodka category at the moment?
Many of the large, well known vodkas on the market are owned by large, global, multi-national companies. As vodka is such a large category in every country around the world, it makes for a very competitive business. I see the opportunity for Black Cow firstly as a deliciously smooth, excellent tasting liquid. In my opinion, no other vodka is as smooth as no other vodka uses a smooth raw ingredient, such as milk. Second the that, it is inherently sustainable. I use the whey, left over from the milk after the cheese making process – nothing goes to waste.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your personal background? What else are you passionate about?
Farming is my number one, life-long passion. West Dorset and the beautiful surrounding countryside and being frugal with our environmental raw materials.
Inside the Cask: What would be your advice for anyone else wanting to work in the drinks industry?
I admire anyone that follows their passion – but my advice would be to choose a good team around you.
Inside the Cask: What surprised you most about working in the drinks industry?
Probably how friendly and supportive most people are. Being a farmer, I was quite used to an isolated life day to day, so with Black Cow I very much enjoy having more interaction with barmen. I visit local trade shows often and when I am out and about sampling Black Cow everyone loves it, especially accompanied by our Black Cow vintage cheddar.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job? Anything that you would like to share that not many people would know about you?
Without a doubt it is sampling all the great drinks bartenders make – there is a huge talent out there, which I don’t think gets the right level of recognition. Second to that, it’s probably enjoying oysters and Black Cow and Olerod in Beaminster.