New Zealand is home to many premium spirits companies but perhaps the newest is tapping into a market in its early infancy.
Tauranga based sheep milk spirits company The White Sheep Co, which makes gin, vodka and a liqueur, began selling its unusual spirits at the beginning of this year and, so far says the response has been great.
READ MORE: • Sheep milk vodka - NZ's answer to Mexico's tequila?
Founder Sam Brown is gearing up to send the product overseas. He is hoping Japan and South Korea, along with other countries in Eastern Europe will be fans.
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) customer director Craig Armstrong says this country has never seen a product quite as unique as this in the spirits industry - it's a product tapping into emerging markets - the sheep milk and spirits.
The White Sheep Co has perhaps hit the jackpot tapping into both.
This country's spirits industry is tipped for 30 per cent growth year on year this year, according to Nielsen, and sheep milk exports are in their infancy, so much show that sheep milk formula only began being sent offshore in December.
Exports of sheep milk formula totalled $2.4m in the four months to March, according to Stats NZ.
"Sheep milk is a very, very early stage and start-up industry. We're probably only in the processes of opening up exports for pure sheep milk powder and products," says Armstrong.
A handful of New Zealand companies are experimenting with sheep milk, hoping to tap into a potentially lucrative market throughout Asia.
Landcorp, the country's largest farmer, has made yoghurt and ice cream products from the ewe milk and last year invested in a Hamilton drying plant, which is expected to deliver $129 million in export returns annually.
The state-owned enterprise, which trades under the name of Pamu, a few years ago said sheep milk was an "exciting" niche product and more environmentally sustainable as it uses less water and creates less run-off than cow dairying. More recently it has also focused its efforts on deer milk.
Sheep milk is higher in total solids than cow or goat milk, and contains more minerals and vitamins.
Interestingly, the base for most alcohols is ethanol, derived from whey, a byproduct of the milk production process.
Armstrong says New Zealand has a untapped potential for lots of different flavours and fragrances of alcohol, from fruit, honey, different herbs and botanicals.
"We drink a much more varied palette than our parents did; they were either beer drinkers or wine drinkers... we've got a hugely more rounded drinking palette and that's only going to continue to develop."
He says New Zealand alcohol beverages are "better at a premium market" but the challenge for small producers is understanding channels to the market.
For example, he says it would be hard for The White Sheep Co to get its product stocked into premium bars in big cities and markets; where they would do well.
"Be very unique, leverage that New Zealand brand; we're a very clean, natural environment and we have some of the best water in the world, and with the dairy industry's ethanol, whey, as a base, those three things and some unique flavours and fragrances that makes a very good product."
[Sheep milk] is a very niche ingredient in the industry and I think this story is a classic example of how in New Zealand we have many more untapped opportunities for value creation.
Armstrong says New Zealand spirits producers had a very good reputation for packaging and great bottle design.
Scapegrace, formerly known as Rogue Society, and East Imperial had successfully broken into major markets and bars.
"Others, Lighthouse Gin, Broken Shed, South, they are all doing a good job at taking what is a very niche spirit product and slowly starting to gain a reputation and be focused on exporting out of New Zealand," Armstrong says.
"Within our primary product industry, doesn't matter whether its dairy, the fruit industry, alcohol, it's about going from volume to value - [sheep milk] is a very niche ingredient in the industry and I think this story is a classic example of how in New Zealand we have many more untapped opportunities for value creation."