“Milk drunk” — it’s not just for babies anymore.
TMK Creamery, the family-owned and operated farmstead dairy located just outside of Canby on Dryland Road, has completed construction of the first-known farmstead distillery and creamery operation in the country, upcycling whey byproducts from the cheese-making process into a top-shelf vodka they’ve dubbed “Cowcohol.”
TMK partnered with Ryan Kliewer, a good friend and owner of Hurricane Distillation Systems, to design and build a custom whey still, then perfected the art of turning whey into vodka over a two-year period of trial and error.
To solve challenges in processing whey, while also creating an efficient small footprint still, TMK founder Todd Koch and Kliewer ultimately developed the world’s first continuous whey still that can operate 24 hours a day.
Each pound of cheese can produce up to nine pounds of whey — a byproduct packed with protein and amino acids that is coveted in large quantities by industrial producers of nutrient powders and supplements (not to mention Little Miss Muffet) — but not one that would ordinarily be of much use to small, craft operations like TMK.
But, with a special yeast blend and the proprietary distilling method perfected by Kliewer and the Kochs, TMK is able to turn that whey into something truly unique.
“We’re able to create one more product from that same gallon of milk,” Koch said. “We feel like we’re getting everything we possibly can from that initial raw resource.”
Sustainability has long been more than a buzzword at TMK, which for years has worked with local breweries to source spent grains to feed their cows — all of which are named and referred to as the farm’s “Cowlebrities.”
Most cheese plants discard their leftover whey or resell it to third-party producers, which carry additional costs for the consumer and impacts for the environment.
Not so at TMK, where the whey is processed and distilled just a few short steps from the milking parlor and creamery. And vodka is not the only product made from the whey: TMK also uses it for a vanilla extract and hand sanitizer.
Sustainable never tasted — or smelled — so good!
While most consumers would give TMK’s whey-based vodka a try based on pure novelty alone, they should be credited for going the extra step and actually turning out a premium spirit.
Mashed.com named Cowcohol one of its “30 Best Top Shelf Vodkas,” saying it “walks a brilliant line between having one of the best gimmicks in the alcohol industry and turning out an excellent product” and calling it “one of the creamiest vodkas on the market.”
“Although there’s no doubt that many people bought Cowcohol because of its unconventional ingredients, it’s no exaggeration to say that vodka enthusiasts will fall in love at first taste,” food and beverage writer Elizabeth Lavis wrote on the site.
“Cowcohol might be a little odd, but it’s got all of the flavors of your traditional high-end vodka, plus a beautiful satiny finish that will make you believe in moo-ricles.”
TMK is dedicated to bridging the gap between urban and rural families by providing remarkable experiences that deliver a transparent look at farmstead cheese-making and sustainably upcycling useful byproducts into creative offerings like ice cream, vanilla extract and Cowcohol.
TMK began a registered Holstein dairy program 30 years ago when Todd Koch, then in middle school, bought his first Holstein heifer. In 2017, TMK built a state-of-the-art commercial creamery and began making farmstead cheese, which is produced from milk collected on the same farm where the cheese is produced.
TMK also grows the alfalfa and grass it feed its cows.
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