Thinking SmallMay 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.
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.