Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

How a pas­sion for na­ture con­ser­va­tion brought a pre­mium vodka to life

Stephen spar­row has al­ways had a strong love of na­ture. Like most of us, the English­man fed his pas­sion through travel; he even worked as a sa­fari guide in East Africa dur­ing his hol­i­days while at­tend­ing law school. How­ever, a life-chang­ing dis­cov­ery on a trip to the Hi­malayas switched him from pas­sive na­ture lover to en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist; he re­turned home to found and run an or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to con­serv­ing an en­dan­gered species, the snow leop­ard. When he strug­gled to find the funds nec­es­sary, he found the so­lu­tion at the bot­tom of a bot­tle.

“I learnt about the ex­is­tence of the snow leop­ard 10 years ago when I was trav­el­ling in the Hi­malayas,” Spar­row says. “I found out that there are only 5,000 left in the world liv­ing in Cen­tral Asian coun­tries.” Af­ter re­turn­ing to the UK, he es­tab­lished a Bri­tish branch of the Us-based Snow Leop­ard Trust, which he found was do­ing amaz­ing work, with staff in China, In­dia, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Mon­go­lia and Pak­istan im­ple­ment­ing sus­tain­able con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes. But he faced a fun­da­men­tal dif­fi­culty— lack of funds.

“I needed to find a way of fund­ing the Snow Leop­ard Trust UK, and my piggy bank wasn’t that flush. I wasn’t go­ing to last 10 sec­onds in Gold­man Sachs. So how could I fund it?” The an­swer came from an un­ex­pected place. “I had worked in the drinks in­dus­try, so I thought, how could I use my busi­ness skills to make some money?”

Af­ter start­ing his work­ing life as a solic­i­tor, Spar­row had switched gears and en­tered the world of life­style brands, work­ing at Jaguar and then Al­lied Domecq, the pro­ducer of such mid-level brands as Beefeater gin, Mal­ibu rum and Stolich­naya vodka. He hit on the idea of cre­at­ing a spir­its brand to solve the prob­lem, but to

sus­tain a brand as well as raise funds for snow leop­ard con­ser­va­tion, Spar­row de­cided he needed to cre­ate a pre­mium prod­uct.

“I came up with mak­ing a vodka from spelt grain, be­cause spelt is the old­est grain on the planet,” he says. “It’s five times more ex­pen­sive, but it’s the purest type of grain, which means you don’t need pes­ti­cides be­cause the very thick sheath keeps off pests. That’s how you get this lovely taste.” Also, Snow Leop­ard Vodka is made in Poland, which boasts the long­est his­tory of vodka pro­duc­tion. The wa­ter used in it is drawn from an arte­sian well in Lublin and char­coal­fil­tered to rid it of any im­pu­ri­ties. The end re­sult is an ex­cel­lent vodka that pos­sesses a fresh, flo­ral nose, says Spar­row.

Fif­teen per cent of pro­ceeds from Snow Leop­ard Vodka, whose celebrity fans in­clude Kate Moss, Mario Testino and Vivi­enne West­wood, goes to the Snow Leop­ard Trust. Since it was cre­ated in 2005, the vodka has helped fund nu­mer­ous con­ser­va­tion projects, from eco-ed­u­ca­tion camps for chil­dren to sci­en­tific re­search. But most of the money goes to­wards pro­vid­ing live­stock in­surance to poor, no­madic herders who live in snow leop­ard habi­tats. The herders present one of the big­gest threats to the an­i­mals.

“When herders lose live­stock to a car­ni­vore at­tack,” Spar­row ex­plains, “they put a trap down and kill the snow leop­ard in ret­ri­bu­tion. They do this to pro­tect their liveli­hood.” The trust has worked to pro­vide in­surance to herders so they re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion for an­i­mals lost to snow leop­ards, thereby re­duc­ing the mo­ti­va­tion to kill the preda­tors.

An­other pro­gramme in­volves train­ing the women of herd­ing com­mu­ni­ties to spin the fleeces of their live­stock into yarn, rather than just sell the fleeces. Yarn fetches about three times as much money as a fleece. In re­turn for the train­ing, the com­mu­ni­ties prom­ise to pro­tect the snow leop­ards in the ter­ri­to­ries they share.

The vodka brand, which is now in Edring­ton’s lux­ury spir­its port­fo­lio, quickly be­came a hit and drew a celebrity fol­low­ing. Stella Mc­cart­ney fre­quently or­ders it for her par­ties, and it was the only spirit that Peter Phillips, the son of Bri­tain’s Princess Anne, served at his wed­ding in 2008. Even Prince Wil­liam has been pho­tographed en­joy­ing Snow Leop­ard. “If it’s good enough for Prince Wil­liam, then I guess it’s good enough for most of us,” Spar­row says.

And it’s just been launched in Hong Kong, so or­der a bot­tle or 10 and savour the knowl­edge that you’re help­ing to save an en­dan­gered species with ev­ery sip.

on the prowl Only about 5,000 snow leop­ards are left in the wild

call of the wild Stephen Spar­row; Pink Pan­ther cock­tails made with Snow Leop­ard vodka; guests party hard at Snow Leop­ard’s launch in Hong Kong in Au­gust

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