This Whiskey Is Made With Invasive Crabs, and It’s a Hit

Steven Grasse, founder of Tamworth Distilling, is recognized as one of the 2023 "Food & Wine" Drinks Innovators of the Year.

Steven Grasse

Courtesy of Quaker City Mercantile

A prodigious little hunter, the green crab arrived in the U.S. in the 1800s on the hulls of European ships in New England, reproducing with abandon and demolishing local shellfish populations. For 200 years, only winter’s killing freeze kept the crabs in check — then climate change stopped the ice from forming.

What’s a concerned marine biologist to do? For University of New Hampshire’s Gabriela Bradt, one answer came from an unlikely partner: Tamworth Distilling. There, distiller Will Robinson boils the crustaceans down to their crabby essence and blends that with bourbon and crab-boil spices for a whiskey called Crab Trapper. It shows how “this untapped resource could be lucrative if we create the markets for it,” as Bradt says.

A gutsy move, but a distiller can be gutsy when his boss is Steven Grasse. “We’ve had a beaver-gland-flavored whiskey, a turkey-flavored one, a smoked-venison one,” says Robinson. “Steve is as creative as they come.”

See all of Food & Wine Drinks Innovators of the Year 2023

“I live to create things,” Grasse agrees. A whiskey aged in barrels topped with dunce caps to funnel divine energy into the juice, an upcoming spirit involving snails, and a gin that’s applied like a perfume are among his latest creations. “The point is to experiment and see how far we can go,” he says. “We take our silliness very seriously.”

Founder of the Philadelphia agency Quaker City Mercantile, Grasse is the marketer who, in 1999, dreamed up Hendrick’s Gin. He imagined for it “this incredibly complex, creative world” where “the real and the surreal coexist in playful harmony,” says the spirit’s master distiller, Lesley Gracie. When he then sold the brand for a pile of money, he launched Tamworth Distilling, a laboratory for his brainstorms. “We make 55 different products. It’s Willy Wonka,” says Grasse. But quality is key. Take Crab Trapper. “It’s attention-getting, but it’s made really well. If we’re going to make a whiskey using invasive crabs, it’d better be good.”

The good extends to Tamworth’s larger mission, which is to revitalize a community. “The village of Tamworth was dying,” says Grasse, who spent childhood summers in New Hampshire. “I thought, if we build this distillery, then we’ll attract younger people to stay and work, and pay them a living wage and pay farmers for crops consistently. It’s a virtuous cycle.” Tamworth employs a staff of 23 and supports local suppliers. Grasse hopes to spread this model of sustainable distilling to other locales: “It’s my message to billionaires: Call me. We can save the world with alcohol.” 

Bottles to Buy

Tamworth Garden Damson Plum Flavored Gin ($55)

An herbaceous, fruity sipper, this plum spirit strikes a balance between syrupy sloe and flowery pink gins.

House of Tamworth Crab Trapper ($65)

This whiskey takes you on a journey, from its lemony scent to its warming attack and saline mid-palate, to a back end that delivers, yes, a crabby funk. It would be awesome in a whiskey-based riff on the Bloody Caesar.

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