Craft Distilling: a Manifesto

Craft Distilling, Micro Distilleries, Artisan...What does it really mean? Depends who you ask. My vision of a craft distilling movement is one that seeks to innovate and shake the roots of a very standardized industry. Creating products from scratch, developing interesting and unique flavor combinations from a range of ingredients. Sadly, save for a few enterprising distilleries, most of what is considered “craft” or “micro” in today’s industry is anything but. Imagine if Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, or Sierra Nevada tried to launch a craft beer movement on the premise of recreating Budweiser. What would be the point? It’s a well-established brand and recipe.Yet, still, how many “craft” distilleries can you name that have introduced yet another Bourbon? Bourbon, by its very definition, leaves little room for innovation. That’s not to say there aren’t distilleries out there exploiting these opportunities. My fellow distillers over at Watershed, here in Columbus, introduced what I believe to be the first Bourbon to include Spelt in the mashbill. I know of a handful of other bourbons using alternative grains in addition to the required 51% corn but most are pretty standardized. Beyond that, most are sourced. Very few distilleries are actually producing their own Bourbon. Why is that? It’s hard to compete with Kentucky’s four million plus barrels currently aging. At the end of the day though, if you want Bourbon, you’d be hard pressed to pass up a deal like Evan Williams, Four Roses or Wild Turkey. They all run at least half the price of most micro distilleries’ Bourbon.Why does it seem no one can get over the current trend that is Bourbon? I love the stuff, and have from my first sip. But there’s a whole world of options out there. Whiskey is just the start. Beyond whiskey is a limitless world of fermentables, botanicals and endless combinations. Not all need be new either. From long lost Apertifs to old world distilling techniques applied to modern spirits, the game is wide open and just waiting for people to step up. There are a handful of you out there, I can’t wait to see more! Cheers!Chad KesslerChief Distiller451 Spirits