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Exclusive: Waste-to-liquor startup Wheyward raising $1.5M

Photo: Courtesy of Wheyward Spirit

Liquor startup Wheyward Spirit is raising a $1.5 million seed round to grow its production and customers, founder and CEO Emily Darchuk tells Axios.

Why it matters: The company's ambitions show that investors see green in the circular economy, where companies use waste to make products.

Details: The company, based in Portland, Ore., and founded in 2018, has so far been funded by angel investors including Gary Hirshberg, the founder of organic yogurt giant Stonyfield Farm.

  • The round will help Wheyward Spirit grow its production and customers after launching its second spirit, a whisky-style aged barrel liquor called Wheyskey, in May. Its first product is a clear liquor that's sold in Whole Foods in some regions.
  • Darchuk, a food scientist with a background in the food and beverage sectors, said her aha moment came when cheesemakers reached out to her with concerns about what to do with their whey waste. She described whey as highly nutritious, clean and mild.
  • The company to date has collected 1.5 million pounds of whey to process into its spirits.

Big picture: Wheyward Spirit is trying to define a new category in a traditionally hard-to-break-into sector with a dairy waste that not many people know much about.

  • The liquor industry is also dominated by a handful of conglomerates, and some investors have vice clauses that preclude investments in alcohol.
  • But for Darchuk each bottle sold is an opportunity at education, a conversation and a chance to tell a story about circular dairy systems.
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