Whisky Advocate

Thinking Small

May 5th, 2010

Here’s a sneak peak of my editorial in the next issue of Malt Advocate magazine, which will be released June 1st. There’s an incredible craft distilling movement taking place right now, which is very exciting. We think it’s great, and we are committed to promoting their efforts. My editorial explains some of the steps we are taking.

Thinking Small

How many distilleries do you think are making whiskey in the U.S.? If you’re guessing about a dozen or so, you would be correct—if you only counted the well-established bourbon distilleries, located primarily in Kentucky.

Actually, the last time I checked, there are close to 50 distilleries making whiskey here. The vast majority of them didn’t even exist a decade ago.

Yes, there is a whisky renaissance going on right now—not just here in the U.S., but around the globe. Call it what you want—craft distilling, microdistilling, artisan distilling—it all means the same thing: relatively small distilleries that are beginning to release hand-crafted, young (almost entirely less than 10 years old), creative whiskeys.

This new craft distilling movement reminds me so much of the craft brewing movement over the past few decades. At one time, we had only a handful of large breweries, making very similar beers (mostly lightly-flavored pilsners). The smaller craft brewers took the styles and traditions from other brewing nations and put their own spin on them. They made (and still are making) beers that transcended styles, limited only by the imagination of the brewer.

The same thing is happening right now in craft distilling. While it’s true that some distillers, like Anchor, are taking a very traditional approach to the whiskeys they make, many are experimenting with new distillation techniques, different types of grain, and a vast array of barrels for aging. The cool thing is that most of these whiskeys are just coming to market—and they will continue to do so for the years and decades to come.

Sure, there have been (and will continue to be) inferior products put on the market, just as there were twenty years ago with craft brewing. Eventually, the craft distilling movement will mature. The bad apples will be weeded out, and the highest quality whiskeys will continue to thrive and grow—some eventually competing with the established bourbon distilleries—similar to the way Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, and other brewers are doing now within the beer industry.

I think we have done a decent job over the years writing about this burgeoning craft distilling movement in Malt Advocate, but it’s not enough. So, beginning with this issue, we have established two new sections.

First, we now have a craft distilling column that will feature different writers in each issue. Our inaugural installment is written by Dave Pickerell, former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, who is now consulting to the craft distilling industry. It’s a great overview, and discusses topics like terroir (usually not considered in traditional bourbon distilleries, because they are all relatively close to each other).

The second enhancement to Malt Advocate is a new listing of all the craft distillers making whiskey, which will appear in every issue. Now you can keep track of who they are and where they are. This is important because, unlike the big distillers, this new breed of craft distillers are located across the U.S. If your travels take you near one, you might want to stop in and take a tour.

Sometimes, to think big, you have to think small, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. The craft distilling movement is very exciting, we’re embracing it, and we’re giving you a front row seat to the show.

No Responses to “Thinking Small”

  1. brian bradley (brian47126) says:

    Just having a list of the new distilleries will be incredible–Thank you! I can’t wait to see this new section in the magazine.

  2. Steffen Bräuner says:

    I made this google map of american distilleries, a few of the positions I am not sure is right, or haven’t located yet (Texas!) and a few I am not sure is real (Charles Medley f.ex)

    any help and corrections is welcome


  3. Tanguy says:

    You can add Garrison Brothers Distillery (Bourbon) in Hye Texas, 50 miles South West of Austin

  4. smellmyskunk says:

    This sounds great. I am really looking forward to reading the new column and seeing the list of craft distillers. Thanks.

  5. Elliott Fishbein says:

    I think what you are doing is exceptional. i would ask you to include as much information about them so we can reach out and talk to them.(e-mail,phone,etc)

  6. Joe M says:

    Good stuff, John. Really looking forward to learning more.

  7. Louis says:

    The craft distilleries are definitely a new frontier for whisky lovers, and also keep the big boys on their toes. It is fascinating to see American single malt whiskies (and just would something three grain, mostly corn, sour mash, column distilled, from Europe be called?) The next time it comes down to plunking down $50 for a bottle of 12 year old single malt scotch, I just might go for the craft distillery product.

  8. Mark says:

    Good moves, John. It makes excellent sense for MA to play a role in the development of craft distilling in the U.S. I think by implication these decisions show you have the interests of whisky drinkers in mind. Thanks!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      “Good moves” is my thought exactly, Mark.

      John, a while back you wrote of your quest to keep Malt Advocate relevant. Here, you doing something great in that department– stronger ties with up-and-comers who don’t have the resources to promote themselves on a large scale is the way for your business to go. One might say you’re putting the “advocate” in Malt Advocate.

      The general business model of publication with ads is allright– readers working for publishers by joing identifiable audiences for advertisements– but there are other ways to get money from whisky lovers. Whisky lovers hunger for more community between eachother and eachother, eachother and producers, eachother and reviewers. A sense of being a part of a big whisky thing. An enhanced feeling of purpose as one sips a new whisky for the first time. Not every business is well positioned to offer these things, but yours are.

  9. Sku says:

    Great additions. John, you’ve always been a big supporter of craft distilling and your blog is one of the main places to learn about new craft releases. I’m really looking forward to the craft distilling column.

    Last year, I was looking for a complete list of American whiskey distillers and couldn’t find one that was helpful. The lists that did exist didn’t seem to differentiate between distilleries that were putting out their own whiskey and those that were putting out product made by other distillers, and even listed some distilleries that didn’t have any product at all (and some that didn’t seem to have much more than a website and a good idea).

    As a result, I put together a list of all American whiskey distillers and brands on my blog with the idea that I would keep it updated. My thinking was that if you saw a bottle of whiskey on the shelf, you could go to the list and figure out who made it. Keeping it up to date has been a major task, with new micros and brands emerging all the time, I’ve literally had to update the thing at least twice per month. Anyway, I’m glad to see that someone actually in the industry is taking this on, and I’ll look forward to your regular listings.

    Here’s the list, if you’re interested:

    • sam k says:


      Awesome list, and I’ve now added your blog to my faves. Even though you’re on the other coast, I like your content (e.g. Katz’s v Langer’s) and will now look forward to Whiskey Wednesdays!

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Great list – Of course things are changing fast – Add Solas in Omaha to your list -will say more about it elsewhere.

      • Sku says:

        Thanks for the tip BJ. I’ll check it out. I only add a distillery when I have some confirmation that they are making whiskey and an idea of what kind of whiskey.

    • Steffen Bräuner says:

      Great List. I’ll have to go through it in the weekend to see if I missed some on my map


  10. Adam says:

    Bill Owens: ADI – American Distilling Institute

  11. John Hansell says:

    Glad to hear that everyone likes the idea. We’re getting the info from the American Distilling Institute who is keeping track of the new distilleries making whiskey.

  12. JC Skinner says:

    Well done for paying tribute to the small people, John.
    I have to say, I’d love to see a comprehensive list of global artisan whiskey distillers. I hope you don’t intend to restrict your remit to America, amazing though developments there have been in recent times?
    There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Europe at the moment – in France, Holland, Germany, Austria and a load of other places too.

  13. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Hi John,
    It’s good to see Malt Advocate advocating the new pioneers.
    I enjoyed “The “North East Corner” of Crafters at the Chicago Fest. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary.
    Our rather young festival (2 years going on three) in Madison,Wisconsin has always tried to exhibit both America’s established distillers and the new pups.
    We have a few in Wisconsin that we are quite proud of.
    By the way Bill Owens who also was there during the birth of craft brewing,has been an important contributor with “artisan” or small scale distilling.
    His list at ADI was very helpful in the first year of our festival.
    I’m glad you carry his book,”the Art of Distilling Whisky and Other Spirits”. I picked one up as well as the wee heavy “Bottled History” by Ian Macilwain, both have great pics and are enjoyable reading.
    I also second JC Skinner’s suggestion about including the less known pioneer distillers of Europe and the rest of the world.
    Thanks again for all that you bring to the world of spirits!
    Mike Dereszynski

  14. MrTH says:

    Fab! Hope you won’t limit this to US craft distillers. (There you go, a mandate for more work.)

  15. John Hansell says:

    I agree that there are wonderful things going on globally, but we’ll start with the US and take it from there.

  16. H.Diaz says:

    McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt, at 3 years of age, will go toe-to-toe with many of your favorite Islay malts. Track one down. Check it out. $50 well spent here in Austin, TX. Go USA.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Of course McCarthy’s uses imported, peat-fire dried, scottish barley– which is also half the bill of Amrut’s most popular, Fusion. There’s nothing wrong with that and I like McCarthy’s plenty, but– When will people will start finding other ways to smoke dry their grains?

      • H.Diaz says:

        That’s a good point, Red. I read about that on their website last year – using imported barley.

      • Steffen Bräuner says:

        Brewers did long time ago. Also people using smoke to flavour meat, cheese etc.

        Beech, Cedar wood etc.. Never figured out if Mackmyra used juniper as flavour or as an addition to their peat

        The tastes is quite different from peat smoke


      • Mark says:

        I’m intrigued by Wasmund’s: “At Copper Fox Distillery, we are the only distillery in North America to hand malt our own barley, and the only distillery on the planet to use apple and cherry wood smoke to flavor the malted barley.”

        Isn’t it the rye in which the cherry comes through so clearly? I tasted one at World of Whiskies that seemed perfect for Manhattans. You wouldn’t even need the maraschino.

      • MrTH says:

        To be perfectly picky, no one dries malt with peat. Kilns use hot air generated some other way–Balvenie’s, for one, uses coal–and peat smoke is allowed to drift in to flavor the malt. I don’t think you could control the drying process effectively using a peat fire as your primary heat source.

        You can spice beer with other things than hops, too, and it’s done…but it’s hops (and peat) for the most part, because that seems to be what works best.

        • Steffen Bräuner says:

          Laphroaig, Bowmore, Springbank, Highland Park who has their own floor maltings actually do use peat to fire those kilns. They might mix it with coal to control the quantity of ppm


          • B.J. Reed says:

            They also use coke to continue the smoking process but coke does not any additional peat the the barley

  17. B.J. Reed says:

    As I mentioned Solas is a new micro distillery here in Omaha – The owner went to Scotland and decided to use Glenrothes as his model and had Forsythe build exact replicas 1/2 the size of Glenrothes Stills and he integrated these stills with a column still so that Solas could, with the switch of a lever or two move from producing white spirit (Gin/Vodka) to making Whisky. Bill Lumsden visited in early March and was fascinated with the configuration and was very impressed with their new make spirit. In two to three years we will begin to taste the whisky itself.

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