Thanks to the beer industry many of us are familiar with the terms ‘craft breweries’ and ‘craft beers.’ Well I have a new one for you — ‘craft distillery’. You guessed it, craft liquors. Small production craft distilleries have been popping up around the country like Walmarts in the last several years. In fact, just 50 distilleries were in operation in 2005. By 2012, 250 were operating across 45 states, according to the American Distilling Institute. And what constitutes a ‘craft distillery’? There is no set national production cap, but in general these establishments are keeping their production under 100,000 gallons annually. In comparison, big production companies like Bacardi produce 100,000 gallons daily.
The popularity around many craft brands is due to their use of unexpected ingredients and unique flavors. Dogfish Head Spirits — recognize that name from the beer side? — use raisins, maple syrup and roasted chicory in their spirit production. OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka from Middle West Spirits (the distillery I had the pleasure of visiting) use local wildflower honey and organic, single-source vanilla beans to create a flavor that really is ah-maz-ing. The tough part here for craft distilleries — unlike the beer industry — the big boys of the liquor games create fantastic products. It is truly hard to compete with the Maker’s Marks and Grey Goose’s (should that be geese?) of the world.
With the good always comes the bad … I must tell you some critics are coming down on craft distilleries claiming they some are producing a so-so product to keep up with demand. Making a craft beer takes far less time then producing a spirit — if the demand for a beer suddenly sky rockets, they can easily change up their system to produce more beer to meet the demand. But if you are producing a liquor that needs aging, a bourbon or whiskey perhaps, you cannot simply speed up production without hurting the end result. Some critics fear that craft distilleries are bending under the pressure of demand.
I understand the concern behind this, but it does not mean it is happening across the board. Do let that stop you froming trying this new American trend. Many distilleries offer tours or samples if you visit their location. Try that. Or talk to friends. Look online for recommendations and reviews. And to get you started, here are a few of our favorites so far:
Middle West Spirits (try the OYO Honey Vanilla Vodka)
Philadelphia Distilling (try the American Blue Coat Gin)
Louisville Distilling Company (gotta have the Angel’s Envy Bourbon — a real deal Kentucky bourbon)