So today there’s whiskey coming romColorado (Stranahan’s), Iowa (Templeton)and Virginia (Wasmund’s); gin made inIdaho (Bardenay), Oregon (Aviation), Ken-tucky (Corsair Artisan) and Pennsylvania(Bluecoat); rum rom Massachusetts (Tri-ple Eight) and Tennessee (Prichards); andvodka, it seems, rom everywhere. Only re-cently has micro-distiller success story Tito’sHandmade rom Texas exploded, surpassing250,000 cases in 2008, up rom only 58,000in 2004, according to Beverage InormationGroup data. Most small distillers put outonly a raction o Tito’s volume, but the pos-sibilities, say observers, are unlimited.It’s been a hard road since Prohibitionand Repeal. Twenty-some years ago, only ahandul o modern crat distillers, like JorgRup at St. George Spirits and Ansley Coaleand Hubert Germain-Robin at Germain-Robin, were taking their chances at the still.As Clear Creek’s Stephen McCarthy, whoollowed soon ater, remembers, “We justcame out o the bushes then, inspired in mycase by the little Oregon wineries that wereshowing such promise. I thought i theycould do it, so could I.”Rup and Coale went on to jointly cre-ate Hangar One’s widely respected avoredvodkas, while the Germain-Robin Calior-nia brandies are still considered equal orsuperior to many more expensive Cognacs.McCarthy’s Oregon-made pear
eau de vie
and liqueurs are served at many fne diningrestaurants. But aside rom Fritz Maytag, thepioneer Anchor Steam crat brewer whostarted making his own gin and whiskey in1993, ew new distillers jumped on board.Yet in the last ew years, the same im-pulse that gave rise to the start–up o smallproduction American wines in the 1970sand micro-brewers in the 1980s has encour-aged start–up distillers. In some cases theyconvinced legislatures to lower the entrybarriers or them, and soon the race was on.
The Real Thing
As some o these distillers started up, nu-merous entrepreneurs simultaneously eyedthe vodka market and fgured they could dobetter. Some buy bulk vodka and redistill oradd avor, while others have their recipescustom- made by industrial distillers. ToKevin Settles, owner o the three-unit Ida-ho restaurant-distillery Bardenay, they don’tcount as crat distillers. “For someone who’srectiying by saying their product is hand-crated is a bunch o hooey – that’s like say-ing you made a scratch cake that came roma Betty Crocker box,” he points out.Settles has a point, but good productscan come rom neutral grain spirit producedelsewhere – or instance, by law all gin mak-ers in England must start with someoneelse’s distilled spirit. And some say the at-tention entrepreneurs have attracted helpssmall distillers. As long as the products arewell made, it will only continue to do so.Either way, or retailers, carrying at leastsome o the new handmade products is a no-brainer, says Stephanie Moreno, spirit buyer orAstor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan, whichhas expanded its range o artisan products.“We’re happy to promote and supportthem,” notes Moreno. “They’re a bit o ahand sell, but in some cases they alreadyhave a ollowing. I think perhaps some o the‘buy local’ movement is sinking in and somepeople like to support an American distillerthat doesn’t have the dollar o the big guys.”Retailers depend on Internet sales andwhatever local ollowing the products haveestablished, but all the better i distillers trav-el and promote their own product, she says.
In Their Best Interest
Making a consumer connection is essentialto success, say industry veterans. “Major in-dustrial players can put out million dollar ad-vertising campaigns which the smaller guysobviously can’t,” says Scott Leopold o Col-orado-based Leopold Brothers. “But i youcan open a bottle in ront o someone roma crat distiller that they may not have triedbeore you’re lowering the barrier and creat-ing a level playing feld. They otherwise maynot be willing to spend $35 on a bottle roma distiller they never heard o beore.”For Tuthilltown, its products are cur-rently sold in seven states and Europe, and“everything we put in a bottle gets sold,”says Gable Erenzo, distiller and brand am-bassador or the company. Hudson BabyBourbon, made rom local heirloom corn
Hudson Four GrainBourbon combinesNew York corn, rye,wheat and mulledbarleyThe stills atClear Creek Distillery,Portland, OR
In the last few years,the same impulse thatgave rise to the start-up of small productionAmerican wines in the1970
and micro-brewersin the 1980
has encour-aged start-up distillers.