pouring vodka into martini glass

Is Whey Vodka Really Different from Regular Vodka?

Vodka is the top selling spirit in the U.S., and in the top five internationally, for good reason. The clear, usually flavorless alcohol blends with so many mixers to make an astounding variety of cocktails, from espresso martinis to tart lemon drops and fruity appletinis. Traditional distillers start their journey to the vodka bottle with a mix of grains and yeast that ferments into alcohol which is then purified until it’s clear and neutral in flavor. However, it’s perfectly possible to add yeast to other starch-containing liquids. In fact, among our list of some of the most popular vodkas, you’ll find some made with grape and corn, and others use potatoes or sugar beets as the base. The distillation process removes most of the flavor molecules from the starting mash, so they all end as the clear liquid we know well.

One interesting and less well-known style of vodka starts on the dairy side of the farm rather than in the fields. Whey vodka is the product of fermenting the natural milk sugars that remain in whey, a by-product of cheese making. Mark Simmonds, the founder and master blender of New Zealand’s Broken Shed whey vodka distillery says the process uses “very specific yeast that has tight tolerances to ferment the lactose.” It’s not an easy process, but New Zealand has a lot of dairy farms and plenty of whey.

Finding your whey with vodka

espresso martini made with whey vodka

Broken Shed Vodka

If you want to learn more about whey vodka, the best “whey” is to taste it for yourself. As of 2020, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, regulators of the definition of vodka, updated the statute from the previous requirement to be tasteless to allow for distinctive character and color. And distinctive character is exactly what you’ll find in whey-based vodka. Although the spirit is crystal clear, the flavor imparted from the milk sugars gives a soft note, almost like butterscotch, to the aftertaste. There’s also no burn, as in most grain vodkas. And as craft distilleries learn the craft of upcycling the cast-off liquid, there is a growing choice of whey vodkas, too.

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After trying an icy cold sip for yourself, consider adding it into your favorite cocktails. England’s Black Cow whey vodka made our list of the best vodkas to use in espresso martinis for its creamy mouthfeel. You’ll find the milky notes would also blend well with a classic white Russian and also round out any bitter lemon notes in your lemon drop for a smooth and silky finish. The mild aftertaste of the fermented milk sugars makes a pleasant change from the harsh bite you may think of with some vodkas.

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