Beaver Booze: The creation of castoreum whiskey

Over time, I've been labeled many things. A conservation advocate, outspoken trapper, "critter guy" and all-around local literary smart-ass. When I'm not shaking things up regionally with wildlife management topics, I also tend to fancy myself a self-proclaimed whisky connoisseur. In my early days you could find me on any given weekend night playing the part of a typical college student; kicking back processed hops, barley, and Jim Beam cocktails whilst singing along to a Bob Seger tune on the jukebox. I even had my own cocktail at the local "watering hole" aptly dubbed "The Trapper's Tea". With partying days long gone I'm now accustomed to nursing the occasional modest glass of fine Islay Scotch, prepared neat in a sturdy rocks glass. Its not a drink for the sake of a buzz - each sip is a journey in which a man can sit back and contemplate many of life's intricate meanings with the earthly flavors of peat, smoke and brine. I do, however, still dabble with the occasional bourbon when the mood strikes - which brings me to New Hampshire's most recent local creation: Eau De Musc.

A result of the ever-intuitive and creative minds at the Tamworth Distillery, Eau De Musc pairs flavors like birch oil and wild ginger with the wildest of ingredients: beaver castor. Yes, you read that right - a beaver gland infused spirit. Imagine my surprise when my two worlds suddenly collided into one exquisite presentation. 


It Takes A Trapper

I recall my first nuisance beaver trapping job many years ago, which found me waist deep in a man-made fire pond tucked away on a rural secondary road in southern New Hampshire. Beaver trappers were in demand, and it was the most direct route to paying off my student loans as a soon-to-be college grad. One lone beaver had gone right to work felling trees across the roadway and increasing the size of the pond to include three neighboring (and unwilling) property owners. I made a promise to myself before getting into the "trapping business" that I'd try to use every part of every creature I trapped, and the first 60lb aquatic rodent I acquired would be no exception.

I processed that beaver accordingly as I do other beavers I trap. The pelt is skinned, fleshed and tanned for garment use. The back-straps, hindquarters and other cuts of meat turned into a fine jerky, stew, or ground for chili. The tail leather utilized for knife or axe sheaths. There's also two scent glands at the back end of the beaver which hold marketable value - the castor sacs. Within these sacs is castoreum, which is used as an animal lure, flavoring in food products, an additive in commercial perfumes, and now as a base note for a well crafted spirit. One overzealous nick of the castor pods with a skinning knife will open up an aroma of gamey vanilla or cinnamon-like essence. These glands are utilized by the beaver as a scent for territory marking. Beavers are one of the most territorial critters on the planet, and the rodent's crafted mounds of mud and leaves found on the shoreline spritzed with this scent secretion is the first warning to impeding beavers that the area has been claimed.

A collection of frozen beaver castor pods accumulated over multiple trapping seasons.

Trapping often gets the reputation of being a financially driven activity. Especially with regard to the market value of a fur pelt. While pelt value is certainly a component of regulated trapping activities, a new breed of locavore is sweeping the Northeast, and the nation. These folks are not as interested in hunting & trapping for a fur pelt or nuisance management, but more so for the chance to live, eat, and experience locally from the land. Its the ultimate stand on "living green", and the craftsmen at New Hampshire's Tamworth Distillery have found a way to incorporate this aspect into their product line. The distillery has expressed repeatedly on their website that no beavers were taken solely for the purpose of making this whiskey - an important aspect to keep in mind. The creators of Eau De Musc have simply stumbled upon an underused by-product of wildlife control, sourcing their castor glands from a local trapper who's services are required for managing an ever-growing beaver population in the Northeast. The distillery has seized the opportunity of utilizing a renewable, natural New Hampshire resource, and paired a key fixture of the North Woods with an exceptional whiskey taste. 

Being that the epicenter of this distilling intrigue is right in my backyard, I visited the distillery in person to get a front row seat (and glass) to what Tamworth Distillery champions as "the rarest whiskey in the world".


The Review

(Image courtesy Tamworth Distillery & Mercantile)

In the glass, this whiskey has a nice light copper coloring. The nose is slightly woody, with hints of fruit. On the palette, I'm immediately taken to the woods, with strong hints of fir, maple and soft woods melded into that oak barrel essence I've come to love and admire in my bourbons. The finish is more wood and earthy tones, with a slight ending whip of ginger bite. Frankly, as someone who is well versed in the flavor of the beev, I wouldn't guess beaver castor was a featured ingredient in this recipe. But there is definitely something different within the matrix of this spirit; something earthy, rich, and organic that I otherwise wouldn't be able to put my finger on. The castor notes are present, but ever so subtle. For those interested in the novelty of a whiskey spiked with beaver castor, Eau De Musc has you covered. For others simply drawn to a high quality whiskey, this one shouldn't leave you disappointed. This spirit works well as a nightcap after a long day on the trapline or deer camp, but can equally pass as a well respected addition to the inner-city bar scene. 

The staff at Tamworth Distillery live by the locavore mindset with a slogan they've dubbed the "scratch made promise". Just when the last of us "die-hard New Hampshire Yanks" had given up on safeguarding our traditional ways from being completely sullied by tourists and transplants, the folks at the Tamworth Distillery show there's plenty of old-world New England still alive and well in the Northeast. As for my feelings towards the product, this Yankee trapper may be in the minority of those who would readily partake in beaver gland consumption; but then again, a true New England native has never been too concerned with what others may think.


Leave it to Beaver!

The excitement and media attention over Eau De Musc's release hasn't been met without minor criticism. Those with an aversion to beaver extracts being used for a drinking spirit should bear in mind that Tamworth Distilling is utilizing a by-product, rather than accumulating beavers strictly to flavor a drink. The distiller hooked up with fellow NH trapper Anton Kaska, who, (like yours truly) traps nuisance beaver for a myriad of clientele including landowners, municipalities, road agents, and conservation organizations. Regulated beaver trapping will continue to be a societal need as habitat loss and expansion of the human populous encroaches on tracts of wooded landscape. Massachusetts for example, banned the practice of beaver trapping in the 1990's, amid protests from animal protectionist groups. The state's beaver population skyrocketed from 18,000 to almost 55,000 in a mere two years. Massachusetts has since reduced restrictions on the ban, and beaver trapping resumes. Thanks to people who felt they were "doing the right thing", a natural resource was subsequently reduced to a pest. Personally, if I'm going to trap something, I want to make sure I utilize as much of the animal as possible, and the novelty bottled in Eau De Musc pays respectable homage to the crafty sub-aquatic rat.

I tip my hat to the folks over at the Tamworth Distillery for having the creative fortitude to put together such a uniquely crafted whiskey. And kudos to fellow NH trapper Anton Kaska for supplying the goods! Eau De Musc captures the true perseverance of Yankee ingenuity, and reminds us all that amazing flavors exist in rural places - even when its at the bottom of a swamp, or in this case, a beaver's backside!

(Image courtesy Tamworth Distillery & Mercantille)

(Image courtesy Tamworth Distillery & Mercantille)