A mission to make New Zealand its own iconic beverage inspired Whangamata’s Sam Brown to start The White Sheep Co – a business that turns sheep milk into alcohol.
The idea came to Sam while overseas, when his international group of friends were making a toast with each country’s signature drink.
“We drank whisky for a Scottish friend and tequila for Mexico, which got me thinking – NZ doesn’t have an iconic spirit,” says Sam.
He returned to NZ in 2012 to his career in international trade, with the idea stuck in his mind. Unfazed by not having a background in agriculture, he began brainstorming how to master an iconic Kiwi taste using plants and herbs.
After ongoing research, including with Massey University in Palmerston North that specialises in the dairy industry and food technology, Sam learned that milk could be turned into alcohol – and decided to use sheep milk for his Kiwi twist.
Within its first year of operating, The White Sheep Co’s two starter products, the Sheep Milk Vodka and the Sheep Milk Honey Gin, won multiple awards at both the 2019 NZ Food Awards and the NZ Spirit Awards. Since then Sheep Milk Cream Liqueur and Sheep Milk Soaps have been added to the brand’s line-up.
Sam describes the flavour of his alcohol – much like concept itself – as “unusual”. “The undertone of the vodka is buttery, creamy and delicate, which is quite different to traditional vodka that can be tasteless or even harsh depending on the quality.
“People often comment the gin is not unlike a fine whisky taste-wise because of the honey.
“Both can be drunk on their own, or made into a cocktail just like regular gin and vodka. One of my favorites is using the vodka to make a sheep-expresso martini.”
The sheep milk is sourced from Central North Island farms and fermented for 12 days, before being distilled in an “old-school” copper still into a full strength spirit. Every batch takes two to three weeks to make.
“Having a longer fermentation process means that the sheep milk flavour carries over into the end product,” says Sam.
“Mainstream brands tend to distill their alcohol multiple times so the result is around 90 per cent alcohol, which strips away the flavour.”
The White Sheep Co’s online store delivers nationwide, and products are available at duty-free outlets at Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown airports.
Sam has already sent small batches to the US and Asia and is looking to export larger volumes overseas.