Beaver-flavored bourbon latest creation of top shelf Tamworth distiller
By MARK HAYWARD New Hampshire Union Leader
Maine has its lobsters.
Vermont has its maple syrup.
And New Hampshire has its ... beaver musk.
A specialty Granite State distillery on Monday launched its latest craft spirit — Eau De Musc, a high-end, 88-proof bourbon flavored in part by the scent oils found in the castor sacs of New Hampshire beavers.
The beaver booze is distilled by Tamworth Distilling and Mercantile, which with products such as a spruce-tip gin and a tumeric cordial, is always looking for unique means to accent its spirits.
“It’s aromatic, very distinct. It’s leathery, rich, slightly fruity in a non-traditional sense. With the whiskey, it really works in quite well,” said Matt Power, one of the two distillers at Tamworth.
The substance is castoreum, the beaver-specific scent that has ended up in everything from natural foods to fruit flavorings to cigarettes, said Anton Kaska, the New Hampshire trapper who supplied the dried castorerum to the distillery.
The Food and Drug Administration lists castoreum as a “generally recognized as safe” food additive, and manufacturers refer to it as a “natural flavor” when it is used to extend and enhance flavors in foods, Kaska said.
“I’m sure you’ve had castoreum, you just didn’t know it. When you eat something good and you see ‘natural flavors,’ a lot of time you can thank a trapper,” he said.
Beavers use the substance to mark their territories, he said. In fact, castoreum has been the subject of enough urban legend, food paranoia and animal rights websites — where it is at times referred to as beaver-butt secretions — that it has earned an entry in the myth-busting website snopes.com. Snopes said such negative claims are overblown, the substance is safe and it is rarely found in food nowadays.
Power said the castoreum symbolizes Tamworth Distilling’s efforts to use natural New Hampshire ingredients as much as possible for its spirits. Distillers are toying with goat milk and insects for future products, he said.
Power said he ran across castoreum when looking through the FDA list of approved additives.
The castoreum from a single beaver would be enough for multiple barrels of whiskey, said Steve Grasse, who opened Tamworth Distillery four years ago. Their single run for Eau De Musc involved fewer than 1,000 bottles.
The bottle features an image of a beaver on a log. The state’s motto — Live Free or Die — is in block letters underneath the distillery’s name.
Eau De Musc is sold in a 200 milliliter bottle (normal “fifths” are 750 milliliters) for $65. Using the National Institute of Health’s standard of 1.5 fluid ounces per shot, a single bottle holds about 4.5 shots.
Grasse attributes the price to the “labor intensive” process of mixing the whiskey and the rare availability of castoreum. The whiskey is sold at the Tamworth Distillery, Art in the Age in Philadelphia and, later this month, at the online retailer Warehouse Wines & Spirits.
Beaver trapper Kaska said he is frequently hired by southern New Hampshire landowners and local governments when humans intrude upon beaver habitat, often with new housing.
In the last three years, the price of a beaver pelt has plummeted to $12 or less; he said the castoreum from two beavers amounts to about a pound once dried and frozen. A pound of castoreum goes for $72.
“It’s a wise use of a renewable resource,” said Kaska, who teaches trapping for New Hampshire Fish and Game and runs a company, Borealis Traders of New England.