Show Me the Whey

April 8, 2022

A novel way to dispose of whey.

I’ve known for a while that whey, a byproduct of making cheese and other fermented dairy foods, is a particular problem to dispose of. It can be spread on fields as fertilizer – if you can find enough interested farmers within shipping distance of your cheese plant. You can dry it into whey protein concentrate, if you have enough of the right kind of it. If you’re a smaller operation or you happen to be dealing with high-acid whey, the kind that is generated by processing Greek yogurt, tough noogies.

But I never knew until now that you could make booze out of the stuff.

It’s mostly water but has enough lactose to feed the bacteria that produce alcohol. Apparently there are several outfits that distill liquor out of whey. One of them, Wheyward Spirit, is based in California. Founded in 2017, its signature product is called just “whey spirit.” (Others use whey-derived alcohol as a base for vodka or gin.) It’s not cheap; a 750ml bottle will run you about $55. But Wheyward Spirit’s founder, Emily Darchuk, told CNN that “it’s that next movement in sustainable food.”

Wheyward Spirit will get something of a cross-marketing boost from Ben & Jerry’s, the Unilever ice cream brand. Ben & Jerry’s has brought back Dublin Mudslide, a flavor discontinued in 2007, described as “Irish cream ice cream with chocolate chocolate chip cookies and coffee fudge swirls.” Only this time, the liquor component will be Wheyward Spirit.

I’m not sure how appealing this concept will be to ice-cream lovers, even socially conscious ones like the B&J crowd. But what interests me in a perverse way is that B&J is also producing dairy-free ice cream.

Could whey spirit be used to flavor dairy-free ice cream? Probably not, but it’s a fun concept to think about – if only to contemplate the various heads that would explode.