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Invasive crabs used to make whiskey in New Hampshire

Green crabs are invasive pests that arrived on merchant boats in the United States from Europe in the 19th century and have spread across the eastern U.S., particularly in New England. Since females can produce over 175,000 eggs over their lifetime, this species can rapidly overwhelm the environments in which they live, causing much damage to local ecosystems.

To help reducing their numbers, Tamworth Distilling, a New Hampshire distillery specializing in a variety of spirits, has found a surprising and innovative solution: they started to use crabs to produce green, crab-flavored whiskey.

“They are probably one of the most successful invasive species that we have in North America, at least in the marine world,” said Gabriela Brandt, a marine biologist and fisheries expert at the University of New Hampshire. “They can eat about 40 mussels a day, just one crab. And so you multiply that by a bazillion, and you have no more clams.”

According to Will Robinson, the distillery’s product developer, in order to make the “Crab Trapper” whiskey, the crabs are initially cleaned and prepared just like the crabs used for cooking. After creating a crab stock, the experts are distilling it using a vacuum still (a glass machine allowing for precise temperature control) and further mix it with spices such as mustard seeds, coriander, and cinnamon. In a final step, this substance is combined with a rich bourbon base. 

“It looks like a crazy piece of laboratory equipment,” Robinson said. “It preserves the flavor and aroma molecules that would get destroyed if we were to boil it. People are going to hear crab whiskey, and I’d venture to say three-quarters of them are going to go, ‘No, absolutely not.’ But if you can get them to taste it, they totally change their tune for the most part.” 

Since each bottle of whiskey contains about a pound of green crabs, one distillery alone will not make much of a dent in their enormous population. However, this creative initiative can help raise awareness about these pests and the magnitude of the damage they are causing, and perhaps give rise to other creative attempts to reduce their numbers.

In Professor Brand’s opinion, the whiskey is just the “hook” to get people informed. “And the more people hear about it, then we get more and more people who might have a really great, innovative idea that we haven’t touched upon,” she concluded.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer   

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