The craft distilling movement is still very much in its infancy. The consumer still has not whole-heartedly adopted craft distilled spirits.
If the craft distilling movement is to succeed, the quality of craft products will have to be top shelf. I hear many people comparing the craft distilling movement to the craft beer movement that got underway in earnest in the late 1980s. I hear the argument that the craft distilling movement has nowhere to go but up.
I do not agree entirely.
In the late 1980s, beer consisted of offerings from Molsons, LaBatts, Bud, Coors and the like. The craft beers that burst onto the scene were unique, unusual and tasted way different than anything the consumer was used to. Before long, the consumer adopted these unique offerings and became quite savvy. Soon enough consumers were asking how many IBU bittering units were in their IPAs. Soon enough consumers were evaluating the taste profiles of their stouts and porters much like a wine afficionado would dissect a fine wine.
Today, when one looks across the distilled spirits spectrum, there is nothing necessarily wrong with Alberta Premium Rye Whisky, nothing terribly horrible about Grey Goose Vodka and nothing amiss with all those Bourbons and Single Malt Scotches. If the craft movement is to succeed, craft distillers will have to create products that are as good as the commercial products on offer today and certainly more unique.
This leaves zero margin for poor tasting products from the craft scene.
I recently tasted a product called French Laundry Vodka from Sperling Distillery in Regina, Saskatchewan. To be perfectly blunt, I would be comfortable using this product to clean the carburetor on my lawn mower engine. I also sampled their Ole Jed’s Moonshine. I am not sure who Ole Jed was, but if this was his recipe, he is probably blind and impotent by now. This Moonshine was horrid! At one of my recent Workshops held at Urban Distilleries in Kelowna, BC I offered the class samples of Old Order Vodka from Old Order Distilling in Penticton, BC. Never have I seen an entire class of people all recoil in horror at the same instant. This Vodka was paint stripper to be quite blunt. This product should not even be on the store shelves it is that bad. Strangely enough, both Old Order Distilling and Sperling Distillery are running stills made by German firm Mueller. I am not sure if there is something wrong with Mueller stills or if the Mueller technical rep failed to properly train the distillers. I have extended an offer to both distilleries to work with them through a couple distillation runs to try to identify the problems. To date, neither have responded.
I have come under fire for posting these blunt posts in which I single out products based on their poor quality. But – I stand by what I do. If the craft movement is to grow strong legs and survive, there can be zero margin for poor quality. All it will take to damage the craft movement is a few distillers who insist on making bad product. Rumors will abound. The fragile consumer will revert back to his ‘go-to’ commercial brands that he is comfortable with.
We either stand together….or we fail together….