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New Hampshire-made whiskey flavored with a beaver’s rear end

  • Eau de Musc. Courtesy of Tamworth Distillery



Monitor staff
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Using secretions from the rear end of a beaver to make food taste better and perfume smell better is no longer an industry secret, now that Tamworth Distillery has trumpeted a new line of bourbon flavored with the product, which is known as castoreum.

Use of castoreum, especially in perfume, dates back many decades but is not usually heralded and has sometimes led to short-lived public health concerns, as cited by the debunking site Snopes.com in a 2013 report.

But the new release by Tamworth Distillery called Eau de Musc is not so shy. It has a drawing of a beaver and the words “castoreum flavored whiskey” right on the label.

The company’s press material says it discovered castoreum on a list of safe food additives and decided to experiment with it: “The sac excretion exhibits bright and fruit qualities (raspberry) and rich leathery notes along with creamy vanilla aroma. ... The result is a rich, full bodied 2-year bourbon that bolsters a vanillic nose and fruity, floral finish – a medley of charming flavors that are sure to impress.”

The company’s announcement of this 88 proof liquor has drawn a host of attention, which presumably was the idea.

Castoreum is derived from the secretion of scent glands located near the anus of the American beaver that the animal uses to mark its territory by rubbing its rear end against trees, rocks and the ground. When processed with alcohol, castoreum becomes a waxy product that is said to have a smell and taste reminiscent of vanilla.

This is not as unusual a process as it may sound. The products of scent glands from several animals, most notably the civet, have long been collected and used in the perfume industry and in foods.

The use of castoreum has faded in recent decades, replaced by synthetic alternatives because of the cost and complexity of gathering it, which requires manually squeezing the scent glands. Snopes.com cited Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, an industry standard, to say that just 292 pounds of it was consumed in the U.S. annually.

Anton Kaska, a trapper who teaches trapping for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and says he is often hired to remove troublesome beavers, provided Tamworth Distillery with the castoreum. He told the Union-Leader that its sale was a welcome extra source of income, since the price of beaver pelts has fallen in recent years.

North American Fur Auctions, a firm that deals with the sale of material caught by trappers, says that “castor sacs are located between the pelvis bones of both male and female beaver” and can be cut out of the animal then dried and, if necessary for storage and shipping, frozen.

The Food and Drug Administration categorizes castoreum as “generally regarded as safe” for human consumption, a sweeping category that applies to all products which have a history of use and show no evidence of harm, even without rigorous testing.

A 2007 study in the International Journal of Toxicology stated: “A long historical use of castoreum extract as a flavoring and fragrance ingredient has resulted in no reports of human adverse reactions. On the basis of this information, low-level, long-term exposure to castoreum extract does not pose a health risk.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)