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Do you know your craft distilling from your small batch distilling? Your limited release from your limited edition? Yeah, I didn’t think so, it can be a murky world of terminology to navigate, and that does my head in.
The root of this problem? Big distillers and the lack of a standardised view on what the term craft distilling means.
Is it sub-50,000 litres?
Is it sub-100,000 litres?
Is it measured by bottle volume?
The term ‘craft’ lacks definition nowadays, both in numbers and perception.
Hailing from the craft brewing phenomenon in the United States, craft distilling has taken off big time globally with hundred of distilleries popping up across the world for gin, vodka and whisky amongst others.
But the term ‘craft distilling’ means nothing now.
It once heralded the notion that whereas 75 million litres of grain spirit are distilled at Girvan each year for example, craft distilling was all about small batch production where each ‘edition’ could potentially be markedly different than the last and there was a more ‘hands-on’ aspect to the production.
This perception has been built up by the ad men and brand guys to falsely represent the input at each part of the distilling process at large brands as much as at smaller brands.
Think Glenturret and the hand operations through the distillery.
Think The Macallan and the intense effort put into the selection of the oak.
Think Balvenie and their cooperage.
Think Highland Park and the floor malting turned by hand.
But they are not ‘craft distilling’ brands, they are big brands and operate as big brands should.
When I asked Dan, the CEO of the new Virginia Distillery about craft distilling he told me:
No mention of craft in what we do or on our site, the term has been so overused and ruined over the years.
One thing we are trying to do with our distillery, more relevant now Andrew has joined us, is get back to the single malt distillery how it used to exist. Diageo buy up and mechanise whisky where we want to create it as it should be.
It is going to be a manual process the whole way, someone walking through each stage and being present, no computers running the thing. There will be mistakes, sure, but it shows the labour of love.
Ironically as our society moves forward and relies more on tech at each stage, people are turning away from that and looking for more genuine craft.
Personally, as I reflect on this whole thing I don’t think its got to the point yet where there will be consumer backlash based on terminology but there needs to be a greater, industry-wide education to increase consumer understanding.
I wonder if there could be an industry-wide agreement on what constitutes small batch, what constitutes limited edition and what constitutes craft distilling.