While conventional wisdom claims that we can’t drink our problems away, a new distillery launched by University of Oregon alum Emily Darchuk might be doing just that. The Wheyward Spirit founder is turning whey into liquor.
It’s no secret that we Americans love our cheese. In 2017 alone, American producers churned out (pun intended) 5 metric tons. We ogle cheese boards on Instagram, explore beer and cheese pairings, and plan Cheese Trail road trips.
However, there is a side effect to all this cheese consumption. Each pound of cheese yields nine pounds of leftover whey. 1.4 billion pounds of surplus cheese are scattered in warehouses across the US, setting the highest record in history. Coupled with high American consumption, this cheese excess means that dairy farmers are left with mounting levels of whey with limited disposal options.
While larger farms can sell their whey to industrial buyers, many small-scale producers don’t generate enough to interest them. The nutrient-rich whey is an excellent fertilizer, but too much can pollute local waterways and kill aquatic life, ensuring that dispersal is heavily regulated. Pigs thrive on the stuff, and many farms convert whey to protein powder. However, since these methods require additional facilities beyond the capabilities of smaller operations, the dairy community has to get creative.
Enter Wheyward Spirit. “We take this nutrient-rich whey to ferment and distill into our ultra-premium spirit,” Darchuk said in an interview with Forbes. Including fermentation, distillation, and bottling, the entire process takes a mere two weeks, a relatively short term compared to grain-based alcohols.
Enjoy this liquor on its own, or to replace vodka in your evening cocktail. “As people want products that are unique and want to avoid sugary mixers, I wanted something that could be just as good neat as it is in a mixed drink. It’s bold yet delicate and can really stand on its own as a sippable spirit,” said Darchuk.
Whether you want to shrink your environmental impact or you enjoy unique beverages, snag yourself a bottle next time you’re at the liquor store. Liquor might not solve our problems, but it’s worth a shot.