Helping The Environment, One Martini At A Time

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Helping The Environment, One Martini At A Time

If you need another reason to drink vodka, we’re here to help: Oregon State University researchers have concluded it can be good for the environment.

Before you reach for the bottle, let’s explain. It turns out that one of the many things you can distill to make vodka is whey, the watery leftover of the cheesemaking process. We didn’t know it either, but milk-based vodka has been around for at least a decade. Libation expert Camper English recently turned up at least a half-dozen brands, from England’s Dorset region to Vermont to Tasmania, and the trend seems to be growing.

Big dairies convert whey into protein powder, but that’s too expensive for small farmers and artisanal creameries. But if they just dump it, Oregon State studies found, the high nutrient level can promote algae production in streams and lower water oxygen levels, among other eco-unfriendly impacts.

The answer? You guessed it.

“Even though some energy is required to transform whey into vodka, there is still a huge environmental gain by not disposing of it through waste streams,” said Lisbeth Goddik, a professor of food science and technology at OSU.

She and colleague Paul Hughes of the school’s Fermentation Science Program are researching how different kinds of whey can produce spirits with varying flavors. Most American whey is either “sweet” – from making cheddar, mozzarella or Swiss cheeses – or “acid,” the byproduct of cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.

“Both types of whey ferment and distill beautifully,” said Hughes, who says the OSU research is drawing great interest in the dairy world.

And how does it taste? Black Cow, the English version, promises “an exceptionally smooth vodka with a unique creamy character.” Bob’s Super Smooth Vodka, from Canada, proclaims it’s “whey smoother.”

You knew those puns were coming. Mr. English, who runs a blog called Alcademics, couldn’t resist, either.

“I guess these milk-derived vodkas are the wheyve of the future,” he wrote.