“Waste is not waste; it is just a gap in the food system,” according to the Wheyward Spirit website. 

Hagenow ashley
Editorial Intern / Progressive Dairy
Ashley Hagenow is studying agricultural communication and marketing at the University of Minnesota .

Focusing on versatility, quality and flavor, Wheyward Spirit is giving upcycled whey its highest and best use as a sustainable spirit. While other spirits are made from agave, sugarcane or grain, this new spirit harnesses the sweet, smooth qualities of whey to create an end product with hints of oak, vanilla cream and warm spice. Wanting to do something about the whey waste she noticed in the supply chain, founder and CEO Emily Darchuk was motivated to positively impact the food industry and local communities. 

“There was no connection to sources or where things come from,” Darchuk says. “We wanted to have an agricultural story and permission to have flavor connecting you to where the food comes from."

Interest in problem-solving

Darchuk earned her bachelor of science in food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign. She then attended Oregon State University to pursue her master's in food science and technology, followed by her MBA in innovation and entrepreneurship from the University of Oregon Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. Needless to say, Darchuk enjoys solving problems and serving tangible needs through science. 

“I leaned into product development and commercialization,” Darchuk says. “How do you commercialize? How do you grow the food and make it simple for that consumer?” 


In her role now, Darchuk is thankful for completing her thesis on milk hauling, which included swabbing milk tankers on the hottest days of the summer. This industry-relevant experience serves her well, as Darchuk orders her own tankers and appreciates how things get from the farm to the distiller and eventually to the consumer. 

Darchuk saw an opportunity to create a company and product to help solve problems. As innovation continues to move from large companies to small start-ups, Darchuk wanted the chance to contribute. 

“I wanted to share an authentic story of why people do what they do,” Darchuk says. “I wanted to create a product I have always dreamt of and I wanted to pursue whey as a problem-solver.”

Creating a category 

Officially launched to market in fall 2020, Wheyward Spirit has created a category for specialty spirits without adding flavors, citric flavors or other additives. There are only a handful of whey-based spirit producers in the world, and Darchuk is proud of the product’s focus on fermentation and flavor. 

“It’s been a long journey of science and figuring out how to build it through good old-fashioned fermentation and distillation,” Darchuk says. “We are creating authentic flavor.”

The main office is located in Portland, Oregon, with all production in Sonoma County, California. The company was founded in 2017 with extensive research and development for the product leading up to its launch. 

Neither a gin, whiskey, vodka or rum, Wheyward Spirit is seen as an 80-proof base spirit for use in a wide variety of cocktail recipes. Describing the flavor of the product, Darchuk says she wants people to trust their palate and taste the difference. 

“I think it is a beautiful hybrid between ultra-premium blanco tequila and vodka,” Darchuk says. “You use all five senses with the product, and we want people to be fully engaged with what they are consuming.”


The handcrafted spirit made from upcycled whey is used as a base spirit in a variety of cocktail recipes. Photo courtesy of Wheyward Spirit and JMG Public Relations. 

Converting whey into specialty spirits

Currently, all whey used in the product is sourced from California. For every 1 pound of cheese produced, there are 9 pounds remaining in whey. The process of creating spirits from whey is one that requires different systems working together. 

“We work with producers to capture whey, arrange the milk tankers and take that to our distillery,” Darchuk says. “Then we ferment the whey and focus on flavor and all the elements that go into it. We are not stripping all flavor out – the flavors we create during fermentation stay in there.”

By the end of 2022, Darchuk expects the company to hit 1 million pounds of whey converted into spirits. With the goal of continuing to scale bigger through national distributors and corporate events, Darchuk hopes to expand partnerships in the industry.

“I want to find advocates in food and agriculture who walk the walk and talk the talk,” Darchuk says. “We want people supporting our product that represent the hard work that goes into it.”

Building the herd

From the company’s website, products are sold to 39 states, with store sales in Oregon, California and Nebraska. With the goal of expanding, Darchuk focuses on building relationships with dairy manufacturers and producers through being a good partner and steward of the resources used.

“For us, it is putting ourselves in their shoes. Their core business is making cheese, so we want to emulate that,” Darchuk says. “We understand not only the opportunity within a plant but the limitations. Through creative problem-solving, you have to be willing to go in person, walk the line, ask questions and help be a creative problem-solver upfront so that everything else downstream is easy.”

Wheyward Spirit is the first alcoholic beverage unanimously approved by the California Milk Advisory Board. Darchuk recognizes that many dairy companies, whether a farm, manufacturing facility or checkoff organization, are the keystone of many communities. One campaign, “One to savor, one to share,” allows more producers and those involved in the dairy industry to try the product.

“We do a big thing – free shipping on two bottles,” Darchuk says. “Many people know those who are producers and other people in the industry, so it helps to spread the message in the community.”

Key partnerships formed in the dairy and food industries have helped establish a market for Darchuk. The Upcycled Food Association, the USDA and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture are just a few supporters of the “long hair don’t care” mentality of the brand. She also collaborated with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to bring back the Dublin Mudslide flavor.

“For the Ben and Jerry’s collaboration, that was the first time they have ever let another cow on their packaging,” Darchuk says. “We want to reach people across the country and are excited to lean in with retailers and tell stories through merchandisers.”

Entrepreneurial spirit 

As for what gets Darchuk out of bed in the morning, the answer is simple. 

“Seeing the opportunity and knowing it is there,” Darchuk says. “The beautiful thing with entrepreneurship and a volatile world is that amazing things happen and you get to connect with amazing people.”

Darchuk is also very grateful to have the opportunity to do what she loves. 

“Seeing how far things have come through conversations, having appreciation for the producer and realizing waste is not waste,” Darchuk says. “That gets us excited for the future.”