Artisan and Craft- These are the two trendiest words at the moment when it comes to alcohol. But what exactly is a craft product and how do we define it? More importantly, how important is it to you the drinker, if your beverage is craft or not?
For most people, we imagine a craft beverage as a drink made in some mysterious facility by equally special people who only care about small volume production, unique ingredients and love for what they do. We probably imagine that they spend their days foraging hills for unique ingredients like Angelica root, buchu and kapokbos (wild rosemary). They distill their products with saltwater from an ocean cave or from an ancient spring high in some unknown sacred mountain.
In reality, all the above are true… to some extent. Traditionally, a craft product is made by one individual entity - sourcing its own grain or fruits and then distilling, fermenting, blending and bottling. Others purchase what we call Neutral Grain Spirits – a base neutral alcohol that you then infuse with impressive botanicals to produce magic in a bottle.
So, do we define craft simply by volume or a producer having control of the entire process from grain sourcing to bottling? Does that even make a difference? What matters most to consumers? Is it the story behind the production or does taste trump all else? Truth be told, the definition remains ambiguous!
In my opinion a craft product is driven by a botanical terroir that yields unique flavour profiles. This is often supported by a great brand story and innovative packaging. Craft products be it beer, cider or spirits seek to serve a niche market, those seeking variety and differentiation. Most craft products cater to localized tastes and probably don’t anticipate their products being exported and becoming a global phenomenon. But as we have seen worldwide with the gin explosion, success breeds growth. The demand and growth for these products means that brands need to meet the demand for fresh original flavours and premium quality. That means ultimately producing more. But this is not a compromise in quality, you can still do small batch production, but just a lot more than what you used to do.
As we ride the boozy wave of all things craft - beer, gin and rum, we do wonder what’s next? Just as fine wine ages over time, other aged alcohols become more refined as they spend time in an oak barrel. Imagine sipping a spirit that has all the gin characteristics but has subtle whisky like notes like wood and vanilla and candied toffee apples.
The future of craft is bright, there is no end in sight. The important thing at the end of the day is to drink what you enjoy.
Explore local craft brands and fall in love with more than the liquid but the story behind the brand. There is no bad craft, there is just some craft that is better than others.