Wheyward Spirit is about mixing more than a tasty tonic, said Emily Darchuk, creator of a whey-based alcohol that uses the liquid byproduct of making dairy products for a sustainable sip.
“We’re doing things differently for the right reasons in creating a flavorful spirit that’s good enough to sip straight, but it’s also taking a circular economy approach in how we’re producing it and how we’re communicating to really push sustainability and thoughtful production,” said Darchuk, founder of Wheyward Spirit, a member of the 2020 Dairy Farmers of America’s CoLAB accelerator in Kansas City.
Whey is the liquid byproduct of making cheese and other dairy products. It is highly nutritious and contains protein, water, sugar (lactose) and minerals. Cheese production results in “sweet whey”, while yogurt and cottage cheese produces “acid whey.” Wheyward Spirit currently source from sweet whey which is the majority of whey produced within the US.
Click here to learn more about Wheyward Spirit and its mission.
Previously a food scientist in the dairy and natural food industries, Portland-based Darchuk was able to pinpoint the wasted potential of whey in farming processes and establish it as a high-quality ingredient, she said.
“The only reason it was going to waste was supply-chain pinpoint — there just wasn’t a market for it. I figured I could add value to that by taking my product development and food science skills and actually make something really flavorful and delicious,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to give consumers like me who care about [sustainability a product] and push the spirit and dairy industry to be more sustainable by creating an outlet for it.”
The pun in “Wheyward Spirit” was intentional as the company works to differentiate itself from other industry contemporaries by traveling off the well-trodden path, she added.
Calling in for DFA’s CoLAB accelerator — a remote experience so far this year because of COVID-19 — from Oregon has proved to be a “constant adaptation,” but Darchuk is pushing through for the day the team finally gets to arrive in Kansas City, she said.
“I think it’s a really interesting time to bring this company to market — there’s been a lot of pivots and a lot of adaptations but I’m just thrilled that it’s continuing on in the safest and most functional way for everyone,” she said. “We’re going to be able to reach Kansas City with online sales to start and we’d love to be there [in person]. I think it’s a great market and a great city.”
Though normal networking has proved challenging via online classes, the 2020 CoLab cohort has put forth a conscious effort to build relationships with each other even with the unconventional format, she said.
“Normally you’re in a cohort session and when there’s a five-minute break you can turn to the person next to you and have a chat, and touch, feel, or taste everyone’s product, but now we’re just in a big meeting space and then it’s about taking the time for those relationships in any way you can because everyone’s so busy,” she added. “They’ve done a good job about having overlap and check-ins — it would’ve been great to be in person for a lot of the elements of it, but again, I’m happy the program continues. It’s been the right call for everyone’s well being in that effort to be able to pivot the program.”
Click here to read more about DFA’s 2020 CoLab cohort, which runs through July.
Being selected for the cohort in early 2020 was a “thrill to be recognized,” said Darchuk, noting the company’s initial goals were gaining access to the dairy industry to be able to tackle the related environmental issues.
“We’re thrilled to have any support we can get in our mission because we think it’s beneficial for both the industry and the consumer. We’re trying to make a difference with every bottle we sell,” she said. “It’s been so great so far with this cohort and there is a lot of focus on sustainability issues so we are happy to be a part of it. We hope there’s continued synergies.”
Like most businesses, Wheyward Spirit was forced to adjust to find new pathways to continue operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, noting the company has adopted effective changes to be able reach consumers in 31 states in coming months.
“We were really hopeful and had a lot of support from restaurants and bars despite them taking the brunt of COVID and we’ve had to pivot quite a bit as a company to help still support that community but also find some new ways to market,” Darchuk said. “I think everyone’s had to be flexible and nimble and entrepreneurial. We’re happy to be on the other side of it.”
“We’re excited to share, and we’re excited for people to help support the change we’re trying to bring,” she said. “I think the big thing is welcoming people to join our herd both online and then also sample our product because it is so good.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.