The most surprising thing about whiskey made with beaver butts is how good it tastes.
To be clear, there isn’t actual beaver meat in Eau de Musc, the newest curiosity released by Philly spirits purveyor Art in the Age, available starting Saturday, June 16.
What Art in the Age founder and booze provocateur Steven Grasse has mixed into his latest creation is castoreum. Once a popular flavoring agent for sweets and candies, castoreum is extracted from a small sac beneath beavers’ tails — the animals use it to mark their territory.
These days, the FDA-approved natural flavoring substance is mostly used as a perfume fixative, if it’s used at all. The beaver population isn’t what it was in 19th century America, so it’s no longer a common industrial ingredient.
But in Maine, where Grasse has set up Tamworth Distilling, there’s a beaver overpopulation problem. Out of pure curiosity, he hooked up with a local trapper who humanely captures the critters, and offered to buy the castor sacs to try them out.
Go figure, it worked. A sampling of Eau de Musc revealed a spirit that’s smooth, rich and mellow, with a totally unique flavor.
Starting with the nose, the liquid distinguishes itself from other whiskies. For one, it’s incredibly pungent. As soon as you crack the bottle, a scent comes curling out with impressively far-reaching tentacles. It’s not exactly perfume-like — there’s no cloying sweetness — but instead more like what you’d get if you took your grandmother’s favorite purse and somehow made cologne out of it.
Instead of being earthy, which you might guess from its provenance near the backside of a forest rodent, the first taste of Eau de Musc is mellow and almost fruity. It drinks more like a wine than most whiskies, with a heavy plum flavor at the center and a very light finish.
The slight frutiness comes in part from the castoreum itself, but also from the rest of Grasse’s recipe, which includes birch oil, raspberries and Canadian snakeroot, a woody spice similar to ginger.
Distillates from all of those ingredients were added to Tamworth’s two-year-aged Chocorua Bourbon at the proofing stage, and the result was packaged in a very limited, one-off bottling. There are less than 200 of these babies available in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
If you score one of them — and at $65 for 200 ml, it’s no frivolous purchase — you’ll get to taste the intriguing result for yourself.
Or maybe you know a certain dad with an affinity for brown spirits and a desire to explore culinary boundaries? This certainly avoids the trope of another tie for Father’s Day — which is a pretty great excuse for the splurgey spend.
For now, Eau de Musc is only available to purchase at Art in the Age’s Old City storefront at 116 N. 3rd St., between Arch and Race. Here’s to future beaver butt whiskey cheers/