From bottom to rock: invasive crabs become whiskey

CONCORD, NH (AP) — Want a touch of crab in your whiskey?

A New Hampshire distillery has come up with its latest brew called “Crab Trapper” — whiskey flavored with invasive green crabs.

Tamworth Distilling, a maker of artisan spirits, isn’t afraid to push the boundaries with unexpected flavors. In the past, the distillery produced a whiskey with beaver secretions castor bags† Last year it was turkey during the holiday season and before that, the notoriously pungent smell of durian.

The company said the body of this peculiar concoction has hints of maple, vanilla oak, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. And no, you don’t get crab legs in the drink.

WHY DO THE COMPANY CHOOSE GREEN CRABS?

In search of a fresh taste, Tamworth Distilling looked to the sea. Distiller Matt Power said the company learned about the problems caused by the invasive green crabs from Gabriela Bradt of the University of New Hampshire Extension.

The crabs, which arrived on ships from Europe in the mid-1800s and landed on Cape Cod, have taken the region by storm. These saucer-sized crustaceans of a cloudy green color have decimated the area’s marine ecosystem, surpassing native species for food and shelter.

Bradt, a fishery expansion specialist, said the crabs are “so numerous that they have really impacted shellfish habitats and fisheries because they are also voracious predators.” A prime example, she said, was the mussel shell fishery, which has suffered millions from dollars in losses.

HOW DO YOU MAKE CRAB WHISKEY?

The crabs, caught off the New Hampshire coast by fisherman Dwight Souther, are taken to the distillery, where they are boiled to produce what Power called “a hearty crab stock.” Power said the broth is fortified with alcohol and then goes through a distillation process that separates the crab’s funky smells from the more inviting aromas.

The goal, Power said, is to get rid of the odors he compared to tidal flats, and leave behind those reminiscent of “the sea breeze on a warm day at the coast.” Next, the distillery adds a corn and spice blend that contains coriander, cinnamon, bay leaf, and mustard seeds. That blend is then added to a barrel of the distillery’s bourbon that has matured for several years.

HOW DOES THE WHISKEY TASTES?

The company said the body of this peculiar concoction has hints of maple and vanilla oak and ends with heavier notes of cloves, cinnamon and allspice. What it doesn’t have is something that might be associated with a crab dinner: Although the distillery uses about a pound of crabs for every bottle of whiskey, you won’t get crabmeat, shells, or claws with your shot.

The distillery’s sales manager, Jillian Anderson, said the whiskey, which is available locally, at Philadelphia’s Art in the Age and online, has grown in popularity. In the distillery’s tasting room, Anderson said, customers were intrigued but a little hesitant until they learned the story behind the whiskey.

CAN THIS WHISKEY REMOVE THESE INVASIVE CRABS?

The short answer is no. As Power mentioned, they would have to significantly increase their whiskey production to make a dent in green crab numbers. But other efforts are underway to address the crab threat.

For the past six years, Bradt has said that the… NH Green Crab Project has worked to come up with uses for the crabs that are similar to fishing for soft-shell blue crabs, such as using the green crabs as bait, compost and adding them to the menu of local seafood restaurants.

Some places, including Ipswich, Massachusetts, have a bounty program that pays fishermen to clear the crabs from the estuaries. But Bradt acknowledged that until those efforts reach a much larger scale, they’re unlikely to have a significant impact on crab numbers.

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