Snow Leopard Vodka founder Stephen Sparrow is the kind of guy who can inspire others even through an email. His contagious passion and energy leap up from his lines. It’s almost as if you were sitting with him in a bar, sipping on a drink – a Snow Leopard Vodka Conservation Martini perhaps – and hearing him personally tell the story of how he came face to face with a wild snow leopard.
“I was with Koustubh and Orjan, two SLT researchers. We were about 100 yards from a fresh ibex carcass, on top of a high ridge, thinking the snow leopard that must have killed the ibex might still be near.
“Orjan started to climb down the ledge, and I had my camera trained on the area where the carcass was, hoping the cat might be hiding there… and then, to our total surprise, a snow leopard came out of a small cave a mere two metres below us! He attempted to live up to his moniker of “the ghost of the mountains” by disappearing over the ledge; but in the process, he literally almost bumped into Koustubh.
“The cat turned and then “lolloped” rather than sprinted up the valley and out of sight. Having rather hastily readjusted my camera’s focus to 4 metres rather than 100 metres I had the super privilege of taking a photo of “Aztai”, one of the cats we had historically monitored, with a hand held camera. I know it’s an old cliché, but words don’t really do justice to the experience, it was a combination of great exhilaration but also wonderful calm and peacefulness.”
Long before his meeting with Aztai, Stephen Sparrow had resolved to invest his boundless energy into saving these endangered cats.
Pairing his entrepreneurial talent with his passion for wildlife, he founded Snow Leopard Vodka, a premium spirit whose proceeds would go to conservation projects. Riding his bicycle from door to door, Stephen tirelessly sold bottle after bottle of his boutique vodka to bars and restaurants, slowly growing its reputation.
The next step: growing the brand
9 years and over $185,000 in donations later, he’s ready for Snow Leopard Vodka to take the next step and become a global brand – thanks to a new partnership with the Edrington Group, one of the world’s leading drinks companies. “Edrington is really invested in Snow Leopard Vodka, from the very top down”, Stephen says. “Equally important, they have philanthropy and good causes flowing through their veins.”
In fact, Edrington is owned by a charitable trust and is the largest contributor to charities in its homeland, Scotland, and also donates to charities around the world.
“They’re the kind of partner we need to massively grow the business from where we are now to reach our conservation goals”, Stephen says. His own commitment to snow leopards and their namesake spirit will continue as well:
“I have a lifelong commitment to snow leopard conservation. I hope we’ll have reached a tipping point in the brand’s growth in five years or so. Once we’ve secured the long term business success of Snow Leopard Vodka, I’d like to devote more time to being involved in the snow leopard conservation work itself – just continuing to help.”
Helping however he can
It was this desire to help that brought Stephen to Mongolia – and face to face with Aztai – this spring.
A couple of months earlier, Stephen had heard that Mongolia had been hit by the “Dzud”, an exceptionally cold winter that occurs once every decade or so. He found out that many families in the Snow Leopard Trust partner communities in Tost had lost most of their livestock, and decided to help. “I put on a fundraiser in London and managed to raise $15,000 for a disaster relief fund”, Stephen recalls.
The affected families, who had been able to replace their livestock thanks to Stephen’s help, wanted to say thank you, so they invited him to visit them in Tost. Stephen decided to travel to Mongolia at his own expense and honor the invitation – and also spend some time volunteering in the field with Orjan and Koustubh.
There, he had his encounter with Aztai – ”a huge privilege”, as he calls it. A well-deserved reward, one might add.
A cold drink when the work is done
As much as Stephen enjoyed working in the field, one thing was missing: “Chilled glasses and ice don’t really feature out in the field with the scientists, so we all looked forward to enjoying a delicious Snow Leopard cocktail back in the city once the field work was done”, he admits.
“Personally, I love drinking Snow Leopard Vodka in a dry martini, garnished with rosemary; what we call a ‘Conservation Martini’. Another favorite of mine – and of Prince Harry’s, too – is the Bagheera.
Take a tall glass, add a muddled slice of lemon, a spoonful of crushed ice, a teaspoon of Pastis, a good dash of chilled Snow Leopard Vodka and a layer of basil leaves, then top that off with Ginger Beer.”
Sounds like a royal pleasure indeed.
Learn more about Snow Leopard Vodka