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New Products Feature Scourge of the Coast, Green Crabs

Creativity comes in many forms. Some of us fiddle with paint and paper, others make music or whittle duck decoys. And some of us truly think outside of the box. The distillers at Tamworth Distilling in Tamworth, New Hampshire, certainly do. They decided to take a nuisance crustacean, the invasive green crab, and make a fine whiskey with it.

Will Robinson, the product developer at Tamworth Distilling, learned from University of New Hampshire researchers just how pernicious green crabs had become in that state. The small crabs are ferocious predators. Warmer winters and a lack of scouring ice have allowed the tiny terrors to decimate soft shell clam beds throughout New England. Some towns hand pick or use netting to keep the crabs from devouring juvenile clams each year but even so, the scourge continues unabated.

So Tamworth Distillery, already known for such unusual liquors as Graverobber Unholy Rye and Bird of Courage Roasted Turkey Whiskey, created Crab Trapper Whiskey.

Green crab-flavored whiskey might be an acquired taste. Tamworth Distillery photo.

According to Robinson, approximately one pound of green crabs goes into every bottle of Crab Trapper. First the crabs are cleaned and steamed. Then they are made into a crab stock. The stock is distilled using a vacuum still, which allows for precise temperature control. The distillate is mixed with a specific blend of spices and then combined with a four-year-old bourbon base.

The taste of Crab Trapper Whiskey? According to the company’s web site, “The crab is present lightly on the nose, accompanied by coriander and bay to smooth out any high notes. The body carries hints of the maple and vanilla oak notes lent from the full-bodied base. The spirit finishes with heavier notes of clove, cinnamon, and allspice, leaving a light, pleasant spice on the palate.”

If whiskey is not your thing, you might prefer a new fish sauce. Maine chef Ali Waks Adams thinks that her green crab-based fish sauce might help keep the Maine population in check. Five years ago, when she was working with Marissa McMahan, from the non-profit Manomet, and University of Maine food scientists on ideas for using green crabs as food items, she remembered the unique flavor of fish sauce. Fish sauce is used widely in Thai and other Asian cuisines. It is a pungent, salty liquid brimming with the elusive umami flavor loved by chefs. Good fish sauces are made from a mixture of fish and salt that has been allowed to ferment for up to two years.

Photo courtesy of the Portland Press Herald.

Waks Adams was curious if the green crabs could possibly make a good, Maine-made fish sauce. With a $83,000 grant from Maine Sea Grant, she and her colleagues have mixed hundreds of pounds of frozen green crabs with salt, packed the mixtures into fermenting crocks, and stored them at various temperatures. They’ve sent small amounts of their resulting green crab sauces to 20 chefs and fish sauce aficionados throughout the Northeast.

Responses to the sauce have been positive, from “very fishy” to a “crab/ocean-forward flavor experience” according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald. Stay tuned for other green crab-based products on a grocery shelf in the near future!

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