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March 14, 2023

Food & Wine recognizes Philly spirit maker behind crab-infused whiskey

Steven Grasse, founder of the local ad agency Quaker City Mercantile and New Hampshire's Tamworth Distilling, was named a Drinks Innovator of the Year

Food & Drink Whiskey
Crab Trapper Whiskey @tamworth_distilling/Instagram

Crab Trapper is a whiskey infused with boiled crab from New Hampshire's Tamworth Distillery, founded by Philadelphia advertising executive and spirit maker Steven Grasse. Food & Wine named him among it 2023 Drinks Innovators of the Year.

Boiled crab and whiskey might sound like a queasy combo, but it takes a special kind of innovator to pair the two together and help the environment in the process.

Food & Wine has named Steven Grasse, the Philadelphia advertising executive and owner of New Hampshire's Tamworth Distilling, a 2023 Drinks Innovator of the Year for his unusual Crab Trapper whiskey. 

Grasse, 58, has been a branding guru and small-batch distiller in the spirits world for more than two decades through his Quaker City Mercantile agency in Old City. His most notable branding concoctions are Hendrick's Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. Art in the Age, his spirits and bottle shop at 116 N 3rd St., has been a local gem for years due to its selection and tasting room. And as a brand builder, Grasse's creative team has worked with big players like Guinness and Miller High Life.

The Souderton native founded Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire in 2015, specializing in some very bold flavor choices for its infused drinks. They've done venison whiskey, roasted turkey whiskey, corpse flower brandy and a whiskey infused with castoreum, the vanilla-scented anal excretion that beavers use to mark territory.

But last year, Tamworth Distilling garnered extra attention for Crab Trapper, which blends boiled green crab with a bourbon base, spices, corn and hints of coriander, bay, maple and vanilla oak.

The idea for the Crab Trapper came from a partnership with University of New Hampshire marine biologist Gabriela Bradt, who worked with the distiller on a way to do something useful with green crabs. The invasive species, one of the world's most prodigious, arrived in the U.S. on cargo ships from England in the 1800s and has disrupted the ecosystem of native shellfish ever since.

Boiling these critters in the service of revelry makes sense if you can get people past the idea of crab-infused liquor. It takes a master marketer like Grasse, who compares it to a Low Country Boil, to make the drink appealing. 

"The crab is present lightly on the nose, accompanied by coriander and bay to smooth out any high notes," the product description says.

Grasse, who has also authored several books, told Food & Wine that Tamworth Distilling's innovation will continue next with a snail spirit and a gin that will be applied like perfume.