Green crab whiskey: Alumnus saves marine life one bottle at a time

Green crab whiskey: Alumnus saves marine life one bottle at a time

H ow can we help diminish the effects of the invasive European Green Crab species that have disrupted marine life along the northeast Atlantic coastlines?  

Will Robinson's creation.
Will Robinson's creation.

Bottle them.

“Green crabs are an invasive species in New Hampshire and other parts of the East Coast,” Will Robinson, ’12, said. “In these areas, there have been big programs that encourage people to eat them.”

As a product developer with Tamworth Distillery in New Hampshire, Robinson decided to make Crab Trapper® whiskey out of these pesky predators. He perfected the idea with the help of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Sea Grant, which paired him with Biologist Dr. Gabriela Bradt.

“The program helped me do some preliminary research on using green crabs as a food source, working with the FDA on approval and sourcing crabs,” he said. “Our owners were looking to use a wild ingredient.”

Tamworth Distillery sees itself as a test kitchen in the liquor world. Some of Robinson’s products have sold across the globe.

“Part of what we do is experiment by finding unique ways of doing things that have not been done before by using distinctive ingredients that have not been used before,” he said. “So, I have a lot of creative freedom in my job.”

According to Tamworth Distillery’s publicists, the total hit count for the stories about its Crab Trapper® whiskey is in the billions. One such news story by Forbes delves more into curbing the green crab population. Robinson also appeared on NBC Nightly News and was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR).

To make Crab Trapper®, Robinson starts with a four-year-old bourbon reserve. He obtains, cleans, processes, boils and slow simmers green crabs, until they’re thoroughly cooked. He separates the liquid from the solids to reserve this crab stock. Then, he fortifies the mixture with the company’s neutral-grain spirit.

There's a lot of chemistry and math involved with this process. We have to make decisions based on our own taste and smell. We hope that transfers well, because smell and taste are very subjective. The entire process is fascinating, challenging and fun to me.
– Will Robinson

What sets Tamworth Distillery apart from others are several laboratory glass vacuum stills that allow Robinson to distill the product under a vacuum. The process lowers the temperature of the liquid to preserve delicate flavor and aroma molecules. 

“I work under a flavor chemist,” he said. “We make our own botanical infusions. The resulting distillate carries over the aromas and flavors from the infusion. Then we compound that distillate and blend it with whiskey.”

To curb the crab flavor, Robinson also makes a spice blend distillate that contains coriander, mustard seed, dill seed, bay leaf, paprika, allspice, clove and cinnamon. The result is mixed with the bourbon base and pure White Mountains water to obtain the desired alcohol content.

“It’s a very intense process,” Robinson said. “We do everything by hand here and are very craft oriented. It's wonderful to work as a creator in this industry.” 

Will Robinson is beside a pot still in Tamworth Distillery.
Will Robinson is beside a pot still in Tamworth Distillery.

Green crabs first emigrated from Europe in the ballast of merchant ships over 200 years ago. Colder water temperatures once kept their numbers low, but now that estuaries aren't freezing, green crab numbers are exploding. Each crab can consume up to 40 scallops, oysters and other types of crab in a day. These little green interlopers are having a disastrous effect on New England’s ecosystems and local seafood industries.

Making Crab Trapper® is one way Robinson and the company are innovating and helping the environment.

“It's really interesting to discover a new product,” he said. “We work with a lot of ingredients in ways that have never been done before. I'm always researching. I could find absolutely nothing on anyone who's ever tried to distill the essence out of a crab. So, it was new ground.”

He began working on Crab Trapper® in January and had a working blend completed by April.

Robinson enjoys learning new things in his profession.

“There's a lot of chemistry and math involved with this process,” he said. “We have to make decisions based on our own taste and smell. We hope that transfers well, because smell and taste are very subjective. The entire process is fascinating, challenging and fun to me.”

He uses his master’s degree in outdoor education administration from Georgia College & State University daily. But, it was Georgia College’s interdisciplinary approach—exemplified in classes with Dr. Lee Gillis, chair of the Department of Psychological Science and Dr. Jude Hirsch, former chair of the Department of Kinesiology—that really set the bar for Robinson’s work at Tamworth Distillery.

“We learned to work with others closely and have self-awareness, group awareness and situational awareness,” Robinson said. “When you're taught to lead a group of individuals into a risky environment, there are a lot of things you have to cover. I found that many of those skills we learned are directly transferrable to the real world.”