Before earning her MBA and founding Wheyward Spirit in Eugene, Oregon, Emily Darchuk worked for almost 10 years as a product developer in the food and beverage industry. Learning about the distillation process early on in her career, Darchuk used her knowledge and skill to develop Wheyward Spirit, a premium, “farm-to-flask” spirit made using excess artisan whey.
A smooth liquor perfect for sipping or mixing, Wheyward Spirit helps to prevent food waste and, according to published research from Darchuk’s alma mater, Oregon State University, has a smaller ecological footprint than similar grain-based spirits.
Sip Northwest recently caught up with Darchuk to learn more about Wheyward Spirit and its mission to change the way people think about spirits.
1) How did the idea for Wheyward Spirit come about?
The catalyst to start Wheyward Spirit was taking a break in my career to get my MBA. The concept is something I had been thinking about for a while beforehand and the short window of the program gave me the push to make it happen.
When creating a whey-based spirit, there are clear problem and value statements due to issues with whey in the dairy industry. I had the technical skills to develop something delicious and the opportunity to make a difference through business.
Starting Wheyward Spirit when I did also opened a lot of doors to many amazing mentorships that helped support me through the process. I am always appreciative of hearing others’ journeys in creating their business because for it to be successful it has to come from a place of passion and creativity, which is inspiring.
Long story short, it was the right time for this type of product, I was in the right place in life, and through some small wins the universe said go — so I went!
2) What does “Farm-to-Flask” mean?
Farm-to-Flask means our spirit is created with our special recipe directly from scratch and from raw materials, not pre-purchased ethanol.
Our spirit is grain free, but we are also supporters of other artisan spirits that follow a grain-to-glass or farm-to-flask philosophy of production. Doing it this way is a lot harder and takes a lot longer — especially at the start — but it is worth it for us and our customers.
Our farm-to-flask philosophy created a spirit that is really remarkable. It’s a white spirit with flavor and smoothness that can be savored straight. Wheyward Spirit’s beautiful and versatile flavor allows it to stand on its own or to replace the vodka or gin in your favorite cocktail to give it a bespoke twist.
3) Where did you learn about distilling?
Before getting my MBA, I earned my undergraduate and master’s degree in food science and worked for nearly a decade as a product developer in the food and beverage industry. As a developer, I created unique formulas and then worked through the commercialization process in many different types of facilities across the country.
That experience has given me a solid background in operations and adaptability in how I view commercialization. I brought a lot of my background in product development and fermentation — along with a healthy dose of curiosity and creativity — into my approach with distillation.
To learn more about distillation early on, I took short courses and met with other distillers and got grants to run trials. I continue to learn more and more every day and really enjoy meeting other distillers with technical backgrounds who are taking creative approaches to their craft.
4) What are you doing differently to change the way people look at spirits?
One of our mottos is that Wheyward Spirit provides: “A unique experience for the adventurous spirit.” Our spirit and story are so different, and it’s a way to connect people to their food chain and actually learn more about the full process of creating a distilled spirit beyond the physical still.
Through our product, many people who only gravitate to dark spirits can now appreciate a flavorful white spirit. It also introduces the concept of circular economies and deeply connecting people to their distilled spirits in an authentically different… whey.