Green crabs are taking over the shores of New England, depleting shellfish reserves and disturbing marine ecosystems at a steady pace. One solution? Drink and eat them.
Will Robinson, a distiller at Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile, joins us to talk about their new green crab-flavored whiskey. Also with us is Alisha Lumea, a founding board member of the nonprofit GreenCrab.org who also does marketing for Wulf's Fish, a wholesale fish company in Boston.
On the overpopulation of green crabs:
Alisha Lumea: "Unfortunately, it is [as bad as it sounds]. They are an incredibly invasive species. They are voracious predators. A single green crab can eat 40 juvenile softshell clams in a day. And they reproduce at a really high rate. They compete with native shellfish of all kinds from clams, oysters, mussels. So it really is quite a problem. It's a problem commercially for clam harvesters, for our oyster farmers who are fighting them daily, trying to keep them out of their cages and bring in their harvest. And they destroy the environment as well."
On why we are suddenly having a green crab problem:
Lumea: "The problem relates to ocean temperatures. You know, while they didn't have much as far as native predators, they had cold ocean temperatures that would kill off juvenile green crabs. So it wasn't so long ago that, you know, somewhere like Ipswich, those estuaries, they would really freeze solid for a good part of the winter to the point where people could go out in ice fish... There was really those hard, hard winters [that] we're not getting any more. And that was really our control mechanism since they've been here in the 19th century."
On why we should be drinking green crabs:
Will Robinson: "Well, in my previous career I actually an environmental educator. I worked at an environmental education center on Lake Winnipesaukee here in New Hampshire. And we did a lot of focus on invasive species. So my specialty wasn't necessarily the marine environment, but I was very familiar with it... And so the programs that have been started in [affected] areas, encourage people to consume them, it's just kind of the natural next step. The more awareness we have and the more people we can get consuming them, maybe we can put a dent in these populations before they really are wrecking our ecosystems."
On making green crab flavored whiskey:
Robinson: "We, unlike a lot of distilleries around, we use a...highly advanced technological process called vacuum distilling. So we have some lab-grade glass stills that are able to operate under vacuum. And what that does is it allows us to distill aromas and flavors that might be destroyed under heat in a normal still, because you can boil those at a lower temperature under vacuum."
"So I make a crab stock from the crabs and then remove the solids while I clean them and make a stock just as if I was going to cook them and serve them... And then preserve the liquid, remove the solids, and I fortify that with some of our neutral grain spirit, which is kind of like a vodka. It's like our base spirit that we make to make gins and vodkas and those type of things. And then we distill it in the Rotovap — that is what the vacuum still is called. And the distillate then is blended in with a four-year-old reserve whiskey — bourbon reserve, corn-based whiskey."
This segment aired on July 21, 2022.