Here’s something to toast: A sippable alcohol made from liquid whey.
For every 10 pounds of milk a cheesemaker brings in, nine pounds will remain as whey, explains Emily Darchuk. The recent University of Oregon grad has been turning that “liquid gold” into a unique spirit that compares to vodka. Darchuk plans to bring the product to market in 2019, selling bottles of Wheyward Spirit to the masses.
Liquid whey is a huge logistical burden for many cheesemakers and can be an environmental hazard for local communities if it’s spread on fields as fertilizer. Billions of pounds of whey are produced in the U.S. each year, and researchers have been looking at a number of ways to deal with it.
“We take this nutrient-rich whey to ferment and distill into our ultra premium spirit,” Darchuk explains. “It produces a spirit with a uniquely velvety smooth finish and a sippable flavor.”
From “farm-to-flask” process takes about two weeks including fermentation, distillation and bottling.
Every bottle of Wheyward Spirit will help prevent food waste, Darchuk says, and has been shown to have a lower carbon and water footprint than an equivalent grain-based spirit, according to published research from Oregon State University. “Our process of production is different but conceptually the impact of the waste stream utilization is the same.”
Darchuk, the CEO of Wheyward Spirit, received a master’s in food science at Oregon State University and recently graduated with an M.B.A. from University of Oregon. She’s also running the startup out of Oregon.
Wheyward Spirit was recognized as a standout company in 2018 by the Cascadia CleanTech Accelerator program and featured at a related VertueLab Impact Summit held in Portland.
The startup is building partnerships with a few local dairy companies. “Long term, we hope to have the biggest impact possible,” she said.
The initial launch in 2019 will be of a specialty spirit which can be used like vodka and has the same alcohol content. Darchuk says calling her spirit vodka would require more distillation and remove many of the flavor notes that make the product unique.
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.
Bottles of Wheyward Spirit will sell for around $40, varying from state-to-state.
“We are pre-production but have run an industrial trial,” according to the CEO. “We have been able to get a lot of feedback from people hearing our concept and tasting our prototype through these competitions and from networking with experts within the industry. People are really taken aback at how different and smooth the product is.
“Currently, Wheyward Spirit is a privately owned and funded business. We have received a few grants and awards to help with development and looking at a seed round next year.”
The drink is further described as having aromatic hints of vanilla cream, warm spice and pear.
The goal is to scale up to a national brand, Darchuk says, making a dent in food waste and changing the way people look at spirits.