Dyed in the Wool

A new UK vodka from the English countryside launches in Miami

Last month Lucky Cat, Gordon Ramsay’s new restaurant in Miami Beach, received some special visitors. Amid the velvet booths, Art Deco light fixtures, and sultry atmosphere, the couple behind the world’s first commercially available sheep’s milk vodka introduced their spirit to the U.S. market.

In 2018, Tim Spittle and his wife Tanya Spittle faced the prospect of losing their second-generation sheep farm. Tim had grown up on the farm tending sheep with his father and grandfather and couldn’t imagine the loss. Then, when the couple was sipping vodka tonics on vacation in Spain, they figured out how to save the farm. “We both had a light bulb moment where we wondered, ‘Can we make vodka from sheep’s milk?’” says Tim.

The Spittles had heard about cow’s milk vodkas before but knew there was no sheep’s milk vodka on the market. So, when they got home, they began working out the logistics. The Spittles were already partnered with a local cheese maker who milked their sheep in return for the curds. When cheese is made from milk, 20 percent is separated into the curd; the other 80 percent is whey, a sugar-rich liquid that remains after the milk is curdled and strained. The Spittles thought to ferment it into vodka. 

 

Blacklion Vodka officially launched in the U.K. and Europe in 2021, and in 2022, it won Best International Vodka at the ADI International Spirits Competition. Along the way, it became a favorite of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. The Spittles say that’s because of its sweet, creamy taste, with notes of toffee and caramel – and because of its unique origin.

The Spittles have just over 2,000 sheep on their farm in England’s Cotswolds. Many are commercial British dairy sheep and Swiss Valais Blacknose sheep. A cross between the two produced Black Lion sheep, which Tim says produce a higher quality milk. Blacklion Vodka came to Miami as part its nationwide “Flockstars” tour to increase U.S. brand awareness. “For us, Miami is this wonderful machine of hospitality. You have the best restaurants, the world’s best hotels, the best bars, so it’s a big thing for us to be here,” says Tim. “It’s great visibility for the brand.”

The company kicked off its tour with the Black Cat cocktail, made in collaboration with Lucky Cat, followed by a party at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens where it showcased its vodka – along with two of the sheep.

Blacklion Vodka is currently expanding operations to the U.S. to better tap into one of the largest vodka-drinking markets in the world. And they’re bringing the sheep with them…at least the embryos. Last year, the company bought a farm and distillery in Kentucky to produce their vodka, but due to livestock importation restrictions, the Spittles couldn’t ship their sheep. Instead, they imported Swiss Valais Blacknose embryos for implantation into 40 selected Dorset Sheep. 

Tim and Tanya Spittle on their UK farm where they breed Black Lion sheep 

In March, the first batch of Black Lion Sheep was born in the Kentucky farm/distillery which will start producing vodka next year. Until then, everything will be imported. With a combined twenty employees in the UK and the U.S., the company sold several thousand cases last year – a fraction of its potential in the U.S. “We’re currently in Florida,” says Tim. “But in the next three years, when we become fully operational, I imagine we’ll be much bigger.”

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