The History of Craft Distilling

craft distillingmarket 2011The origins of Craft Distilling in America began in 1982, in California with Germain—Robin and Jaxon Keys Winery (also known as Jepson Spirits) and since then has continued on an upward climb. As of 2000, there were approximately 24 craft distillers across the country, 52 in 2005 and around 600 today. This information, along with a projected growth and history of craft distilling can be found in The US Craft Distillers Market: 2011 and Beyond©, written by Michael Kinstlick of Coppersea Distilling.

In his manifesto, Kinstlick chronicles the different components, including geography, political influences and craft product type that have helped the industry take root in America and begin to flourish since the days of prohibition.

In the early 19th Century, before the enactment of prohibition, there was reported to be well over a thousand legally operating distillers in America. Even before prohibition, small distilleries were shrinking thanks to mass marketing and industrialization, among other factors. In the decades to following the 18th Amendment, the craft businesses was virtually destroyed.

A major trend among new enactments into distilling was the introduction of specialized distillers, often featuring only one kind of product. Charted in the manifesto, 46% of distillers nationwide are single product distribution. 40% are making two products and only 14% making a wide range of products. But number of distilleries in the late 19th Century overshadows the significant distinctions in the market.

An important part of the craft distillery past and future exists in the distinct categories that determine the differences between distillers, something every craft producer should know about. The primary distinction, as stated in the manifesto, is categorized as Grain (registered distilleries), Fruit distilleries, and Molasses distilleries. A secondary distinction, within the Grain distilleries, is by production size.

“Larger” and “Smaller” distilleries are annually categorized by the number of bushels they use daily. “Larger” category includes 60–100 bushels/day up to 500+, while the “Smaller” category includes distilleries in usage rages of 5—10 up to 40–60.

Along with size and annual production, a key factor for new distillers, as with much of everything, is legislation. According to The US Craft Distillers ‘trigger moments’, sudden acts that make the craft business run smoother, such as by the passing of certain laws. Kinstlick’s own company, Coppersea Distilling, was made significantly easier to come together thanks to the passing of the 2007 Farm Distillery Act. Because of this, the number of distilleries in New York went from 5 in 2007 to 20 in 2011. Of course, all these statistics pertains to legal distillers. Illicit distilling and distribution existed well before prohibition, and after having a reduction during the years following the ban, rose again during the 1950’s, where it then declined in the 1980’s and began to rise again in the mid 1990’s.

Perhaps the most important part of Kinstlick’s paper is the charts, and how they chronicle the rise and lag of distillers throughout the better part of America’s history and compare the progress and growth expectancies. 15 highly researched and excellent graphed charts illustrate the resilience of the craft distillers business. As stated by  Kinstlick’s, the craft distillers market is closely following the model of the wineries and breweries, and, on this model, is expected to add upwards of 1000 distilleries in the next ten years. The prophesied addition to the industries is an exciting venture just coming into its golden age and it’s urged that every distiller should make the time to check out this paper.