A Modest Proposal on How to Define Craft Distilling Through Information

Disclosures, Good Writing, and Consumer Education vs. Rules and Guidelines
By Christopher Carlsson,

This piece is a result of a long discussion on what defines craft distillation (at a bar, with distillers, of course) and after a full day of us all watching more lying, obfuscation, and innuendo by numerous products and their representatives who knowingly or unknowingly were trying to pass off mass-produced commercial products as handmade or craft at a liquor store tradeshow, I decided to write this up.

Given all the recent controversy on what is, or what is not, a “craft” or “handmade spirit” and all the attempts to spin definitions to fit all sorts of operations for various partisan or financial reasons; has given rise to creative, if not outright bogus representations or implications based on non-disclosure, and/or hiding origins, ownership, or provenance of spirits being sold. This proposal is an attempt to cut through some of the smoke and mirrors that are rife in the industry now.
Rather than depend on regulations, guidelines, labeling, and fairy stories, I propose we use information and disclosure to inform people about craft distilling and how a distillery and its products can be defined or identified as craft.

Below is a list of questions or talking points to ask yourself and use – listing them on your website, company information handouts, or other PR materials to inform and promote your company and products to the public.

These questions or talking points will rapidly distinguish a real craft operation (or degree of craft at least) from the Potemkin village type operations that cannot answer these questions. They should be used by both the industry to write better profiles and also be asked of distillers by consumers, journalists, and authors and should be answered as fully as possible to show what you are about.
Now some of these questions may seem like they border on proprietary information, but most of the information outlined here can be found through public records or direct observation, at least in terms of equipment, so why not be forthcoming and educational on most points?
The information will be useful to not only distilling geeks but also fans of your products so they can talk more knowledgeably about your products and exactly how they came to be. This information could be in the body of a handout or website or could be placed in a separate area or link so as not to make your initial piece too wordy. Suggested titles- Geeky Details, Under the Hood, TMI, What Makes Us Craft, Our Craft Credentials, etc.

Materials – Are you farm to flask or tree to bottle? Do you grow your own raw material?
Is your feedstock grown locally, or at least in your state? What percentage is it of the total?
Water – Source, and characteristics, e.g., reverse osmosis, well water, limestone, deep aquifer, glacial melt, lakes or tap water.

Processing – Do you process your feedstock yourself as in malt, grind, press, macerate, or otherwise prepare.

Fermentation – Do you ferment material in-house? If so – fermentation time? special yeasts? music played? agitation? special sugars, or unique aspects to your fermentation?
or do you buy already fermented products, e.g., beer or wine type material, and distill it? What types, origins, abv, etc.

Still – Manufacturer, Size, Type Pot, Column, Pot Column Hybrid, Alembic, Charentais, etc., etc.,), Material (copper, wood, and or stainless? In the case of column types, number of plates, height, etc., in the case of pot stills: Lyne arms, shape, reflux, thumpers, etc.) type of firing (gas, coal, or wood direct flame, steam, electric, water bath, oil bath, etc… Any other points that make your distillation equipment interesting or unique is illuminating and appreciated.

Distillation Methods – Any unique points?
Hand Bottling or Automated Line?
Hand-applied labels?

Aging: Barrels used for aging, different finishes? Length of time, type of storage/warehouse

Capacity or current production (preferably in bottles – not cases or gallons)

Any and All Natural/Green/Environmentally Friendly Points
Organic, natural, non-GMO, or local material? Direct from the grower?, Fair Trade
Feedstock recycling for reuse by farmers or others for feed, composting,recycled into kitchen or bakery  etc.,
Waste heat recycling for preheating, heating building, gardens, ponds, etc.,
Heads and tails Recycling as in burning in patio heaters, donating for cleaning, etc.,
Recycled glass or paper for bottling and labels? Ink (organic?), Percentages?
Any recycling programs for bottles or other waste products?

Employment – How many?, Local ?, Minority, women, veterans etc.? Training programs?. Compensation (minimum wage, health insurance, etc.)

Economic Impact – How many people do you directly employ, how many other people do you spend money with – especially locally, and what percentage? Considering label and graphics, printing, sales, advertising, freight, legal, etc., etc.) Overall, how much do you put in/spend in the local economy (10, 30, 50,100-mile radius etc. )

What’s Your Story?
Who are you?
Why do you do this?
Relatives, Friends work there?
Funding/Capitalization (Life savings, house, credit cards, bank, grants, (if you think it adds to your story or adds sympathy/empathy)
Ownership/Principal Investors – Do you own and operate the distillery ?, Do family members? Workers CoOp? etc.,
Startup Challenges
Human Interest
Children and Pets ? ( Pictures and Stories)
Charitable Causes/Donations
Do you have tours or invite people ( especially industry people) to the facility to learn more?
Do you have handouts, visual aids, or AV materials both for tours and talks outside the distillery?
Do you reach out to the local community and tell them what you do?
And while pictures are worth thousands of words, hard information with pictures is even better!
Don’t depend on truth in labeling – depend on truth in disclosure and information.
And no, we did not come up with point systems so you could pull rank on each other. You can do that by yourselves.