“Great vodka for good.”

It’s a catchy slogan, but one whose significance might not be immediately clear. Lots of brands like to associate themselves with charities and various other philanthropic pursuits, and we wouldn’t blame the savvy, ethical consumer for being a bit cynical about most of them—it seems like more often than not, any donations of money or employee time amount to little more than token PR moves.

Every once in a while, though, a company comes along that is so foundationally linked to the cause it supports that even the most jaded among us have to take notice. Snow Leopard Vodka, a London-based spirit brand whose entire business is built around raising funds to protect its endangered namesake, seems to be just such an organization.

The Cat


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to see why the snow leopard is the subject of passionate conservation efforts. Aside from the subjective attraction—it’s truly a beautiful, charismatic animal—its population is critically threatened. Their already dwindling numbers decrease every year due to poaching and habitat loss.

Snow Leopard’s founder, Stephen Sparrow, is acutely aware of this. “In 2005, I was traveling in the Himalaya, and I learned of the existence of the snow leopard and how endangered they were. There are estimated to be only 5,000 remaining in the wild and with that in mind, I wanted to do something to help.

“So, I combined my business background and love of wildlife together and came up with the idea of creating a quality vodka, calling it Snow Leopard, and then giving fifteen percent of the brand’s profits to the conservation work of the Snow Leopard Trust.”

The Man


When Sparrow refers to his “business background,” it’s not that of your typical spirits exec. “I did a number of things before venturing into the spirits industry,” he says, “and I only really had a year’s experience with it before setting up Snow Leopard.”

Originally trained as a lawyer, he went on to spend six years working for a Formula One racing team (Jackie Stewart’s, the legendary “Flying Scot”), eventually making his way into the position of business development director. From there, he transitioned into the spirits industry as the Global VP of Sponsorship for Allied Domecq, a fairly massive British spirit and wine company that was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2005.

Though the trajectory of Sparrow’s career is certainly an unconventional one, his commitment to environmental stewardship didn’t come out of nowhere. “Before creating SLV, I used to work as a safari guide in East Africa during university and law school summer vacations. I’ve always had a great deal of passion for the natural world and wildlife conservation.” Creating a spirit brand with ethical convictions was the natural, albeit unorthodox, conclusion.

The Vodka


Photo: The Vodka Guy

In addition to its philanthropic principles, Snow Leopard has managed to make quite a name for itself thanks to the unique characteristics of its flagship vodka. What sets it apart from its competitors is its base grain, spelt. While that might not sound like a particularly sexy ingredient, Sparrow is quick to get to work convincing people otherwise.

“We wanted to use an ingredient that was really exceptional, because the only way a small, independent company like ours could take on the big brands was by having a superior product. I live in Notting Hill in London, and found out about spelt when a friend of mine brought a loaf of it around to my flat for lunch.

“Spelt is five times more expensive than rye and winter wheat, as it has a lower yield and it also has to go through an extra de-husking process. But, of course, that tough husk protects the grain from outside pollutants, meaning there’s no need to use pesticides or fertilizers, and it also retains all of its nutrients and flavor.”

The Distillery

The vodka itself is produced at the Polmos Lublin distillery outside of Warsaw, Poland. When asked why he chose that location, Sparrow exclaims, “Poland has been making vodka for over 600 years, longer than Russia! And Snow Leopard’s master distiller there, Joanna Dawidowicz, has been making award-winning vodkas for over 30 years.”

Since she started working with Snow Leopard, Dawidowicz has been able to add one more to that list of award-winners. Their vodka garnered a gold medal from the 2014 International Spirits Challenge, and 93 points (also considered a gold medal) from the ever-difficult-to-please Beverage Testing Institute in 2011—no small feat in such a saturated market.

Sparrow attributes that success to both Dawidowicz’s talent as a distiller and the vodka’s atypical grain base. “Snow Leopard is made using a state-of-the-art continuous column still, and it’s six-times distilled with water drawn from an artesian well on-site at the distillery. We cherry-pick the best spelt crops around Europe each year, at the moment they just happen to be from Poland as well.

“The resulting profile has notes of peppery spice, creamy vanilla, and a subtle nutty flavor, and a clean, fresh, and above all smooth finish.” While that kind of lyrical waxing can be easy to dismiss as mere marketing fluff, this really is an impressive vodka. Snow Leopard has proven that they can hold their own with more than their charitable endeavors as a draw.

The Big Picture


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When asked whether he had considered branching out into other spirit categories, it was apparent that Sparrow has always prioritized the welfare of the animals over expanding his brand portfolio.

“Year in and year out, the main focus is to continue to donate fifteen percent of the proceeds directly to snow leopard conservation efforts. The ultimate objective is to hopefully sell enough of our vodka that its namesake can survive in the wild. Once we’ve fully grasped that long-term business goal, to raise one million dollars a year for the Snow Leopard Trust, I’d like to devote more time to being personally involved in the conservation work.”

It’s a refreshing attitude, and one that seems to be growing more prevalent in the industry with the rise of small, locally-focused, environmentally-conscious craft distilleries around the world. Ethics are cool again, and Sparrow and his team at Snow Leopard are leading the charge.


All Photos: Snow Leopard Vodka, unless otherwise attributed 

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1 Comment

  • Jay H says:

    Those cats look amazing. And the vodka is good as well. Bevvy invites other spirit fans to join us in donating to this great cause.

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