When faced with an overabundance of certain crops, it’s easy to find inspiration for culinary delights or other practical uses. A lemon tree drooping with fruit is key for limoncello, while a robust apple harvest gives one the opportunity to create a crisp hard cider. The challenge arises when the excess is not a cultivated crop but rather an invasive species wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems.
Invasive species are organisms that have proliferated to unsustainable levels in environments where they do not naturally belong. Often introduced inadvertently by human activities, these species can hitchhike on the hulls of boats or escape from poorly controlled agricultural practices. Once established, they disrupt the delicate balance of ecosystems and can cause irreparable harm to native species and habitats.
Distilleries have emerged as unexpected champions in the fight against invasive species, offering innovative solutions that promote environmental conservation. By harnessing their expertise and craftsmanship, these distilleries have found a way to transform unwanted plants and creatures into unique, flavorful spirits. In doing so, they not only raise awareness about the invasive species issue but also provide much-needed financial support for initiatives aimed at eradication and ecological restoration.
Consider the case of invasive green crabs found in Maryland’s coastal bays and the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. These voracious crustaceans wreak havoc on the local ecosystem, decimating native oyster populations and disrupting the delicate balance of the marine environment. While the obvious solution might be to encourage their consumption, creating a market for green crabs has proven challenging. However, Tamworth Distilling has experimented using these invasive crustaceans to produce a distinctive crab-infused spirit. The Crab Trapper whiskey is made with a bourbon base steeped with a crab, corn, and spice blend mixture that provides a flavor reminiscent of a crab boil.
Sangfroid Distilling, based in Maryland, has tackled the problem of trifoliate oranges, an invasive species originally from China. Trifoliate orange trees were once planted as ornamentals, and are now considered invasive throughout parts of the Eastern and Southern U.S. These bitter oranges, inedible for humans and mostly consumed by deer, presented a unique challenge. However, by infusing their gin with the citrus essence of these oranges, Sangfroid has crafted a drier and crisper gin that pays homage to the classic London dry style.
Across the world, In Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa, a craft distillery is turning invasive water hyacinths into gin to raise awareness about the environmental impact caused by the plant. The water hyacinths choke out other aquatic species, but Philip Peach, a construction worker, and emerging spirits entrepreneur created an invasive water hyacinth-infused craft gin called Green Monster. Proceeds from gin sales support the Bronkhorstspruit Catchment Forum, which works to remove invasive species from the local dam.
These distilleries are collaborating with environmental groups and local communities not only to produce exceptional spirits but also contribute to the preservation of ecosystems. While spirits made from invasive species may not solve this persistent problem, it represents an encouraging step towards a solution and also brings public awareness to the issue. As we savor the fruits of their labor, let us toast to a future where conversation and craftsmanship intertwine.