Distilled Spirits Has A New Category It’s Called Craft Spirits


I recall an old TV show that involved one of the contestants saying one word and another would reflexively respond with the first word that came into their mind. Playing along, what comes to mind if someone says -“craft”? Probably farthest from your mind would be “Spirits”. It did not take long for ‘craft’ being a new category that designates premium small batch beers. So why not have a new custom handmade ‘Craft Spirits’ category? Distillers are challenged by consumers to develop new spirits that are unique, fun, exciting and out of the ordinary; something that the big brands are not equipped to distill efficiently.

Many people do not realize the task required in making a hand-crafted spirit. Distilling, different that other fermentation processes, comes from a two-step process whereby the first involves traditional fermentation followed by distillation. The distillation process is what makes the spirit because after fermentation, that product (mash) must be turned into a vapor and then the vapor cooled to make condensation. Once condensed into a liquid you now have 180 proof alcohols; the base for all whiskeys and gins etc.

There may be many starting points for making the raw spirit: corn, barley, rye, even potatoes; anything that is a starch which yeast can interact with to start converting sugars into alcohol. The real crafting of distilled spirits comes in the form of how the raw alcohol liquid is formulated into a distinctive brand. For example come crafting decisions involve what kind of barrel is used and how much charring went into the barrel and how long the spirit is aged. With Gin a distiller is concerned with juniper berries and in Scotch whiskey there is peat involved in adding a certain flavor.

Distilled spirits consumption is on the rise while beer is dropping off over the last few years. According to Distilled Spirits Council, spirits consumption in the U.S. in 2014 was up 2%. In terms of revenue, spirits sales are up 6.4% points since 2000. This represents 35.2% of the total alcohol consumption. Beer is still number one.

Complexity of the spirits market does not seem to diminish the enthusiast from wanting to start a small craft distillery. Spirit distilling is not the same as beer or wine; beer and wine may be produced at home. An aficionado of spirits cannot buy some copper, make a still and start making their own whiskey or brandy. No one can legally make any spirits for consumption in America without a permit from the Federal Government (TTB), although George Washington made whiskey-so much for progress.

Always interested the changing dynamics of alcoholic beverages, especially the craft side of the wine, beer and spirits, I have found more spirits showing up at wine tasting events. Recently, I received a promotional guide that listed craft breweries and a couple of craft spirits producers. I decided that it would be interesting to explore that side of the industry at the source. Unannounced I showed up at a local distiller and ask them to show me the process of making whiskey and what were some of the processes that make craft spirits. The trick seems to be to make quality product with unique twist in formulating. Unique is defined by such processes as aromas and tastes that come from special applications of woods, fruit and herbs.

Distilling hand-crafted spirits is a passion. And a successful effort means distillers must constantly be experimenting with different styles of spirits so they can always be innovative.

Starting up a distillery operation is not easy. One distillery I visited, said it took about a year getting the necessary approvals: TTB (Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau), federal license, recipe and label design approval (that took 8 months alone), state and county building, health and fire permits.

“Thanks to our distributor, our products are now available at some of the finest locations in Northern and Southern Nevada,” says Katey Baumann-Co Founder at Verdi Local Distillery. “But it has been the culmination of a couple of years of hard work.”

To build a successful brand the hard part, in addition to ensuring product quality, it requires getting the brand in front of the growing population of people who enjoy all aspects of consuming crafted spirits. Some refer to premium wine as a “sipping wine” and carrying that thought/definition over to spirits, only tasting a spirit will confirm that it is a “sipping spirit”. “It is hard to get in front of the consumer and let them hear your story and experience the products without them visiting the distillery.” Tastings are required in the wine industry and the same is true with spirit sales.

A project a new local distiller is developing involves unique woods. For example, they have an experiment underway that involves Ponderosa Pine wood for a new whiskey. They are working with local breweries to develop whiskies that incorporate beer flavors. Even a Nevada grown grape grappa defines the extremes craft distillers go through to be innovative.

I have always been intrigued with the wine and beer making process and the science behind the products. I became interested in the craft distilling business because I found some great tasting regional products. One distiller has a whiskey with a hint of lemon, an orange peel/Nevada juniper gin and a garlic flavored whiskey that goes with their signature Bloody Mary mix. The signature product is the Apple Cinnamon Whiskey, which is very nice.

My style in approaching any alcoholic product is for it to add flavor enjoyment, to make smelling the product interesting, relaxation, enjoy conviviality and exploration. However the most fun of all is to know the people that made the product. That just makes the whole experience of consuming the spirit rewarding. That’s why I like wine and beer tastings and now I have found a new appreciation of spirits.

If the reader is looking for a quaint town, super friendly people, great new spirits not found anywhere else, head for Verdi, NV. In 2014 there were approximately 350 craft distillers in the U.S. Probably, there will be 500 in 2015. Even if you don’t imbibe you will find the process of making spirits interesting.


Source by Steven Lay