How have you seen craft spirits grow in the past few years?
BC: “There have been countless pages printed on the growth of craft spirits over the last several years, and they have all painted a similar picture. A growing premium and super premium spirit market, strong local consumer loyalty and demand, as well as an ever increasing number new spirits producers and brands. We have also seen a significant uptick in the number of mergers and acquisitions on the producer and wholesaler side of the industry. Inevitably we are also starting to see a few distillers close their doors as they face difficult decisions. It’s far from any sort of doom and gloom scenario, but a healthy industry needs to be aware that not every operation is ultimately successful, and we can do a lot as a community to improve the chances of everyone we work with.”
Artisan Spirits plays a role in the ACSA Craft Spirits Judging Competition. How did this year’s event go?
BC: “The 2018 competition moved to the fall of 2017. That wasn’t the only change. It moved locale, traveling to District Distilling in Washington, D.C. Previously, ACSA, held the event at Huber’s Starlight Farm and Distillery. Ted and Dana Huber spoiled the competition with their amazing location and hugely helpful team. District posed a host of challenges such as a smaller venue, a two-story building layout, and hard daily deadlines. Yet, everything progressed smoothly. A talented group of volunteers and judges came together to make sure the event was a success.”
The Barrel Mill is a major part of ACSA’s Convention in Pittsburgh, what do you enjoy about going to conventions and/or vendor trade?
RH: “We enjoy going to the trade shows to catch up with customers/friends other vendors and meet people and companies that are new to the industry.”
Where do you think craft spirits journalism is headed? Do you think it’s following the same trajectory as, say craft beer writing, or is it on a separate path?
BC: “The convoluted answer is yes and no. It’s fair to say a lot of spirits journalism has followed the path of craft beer, but the big difference is that there were already a fair number of consumer spirits publications that existed prior to the craft revolution. Most of those publications have wisely started to embrace craft and cover them more predominantly, especially as those spirits continue to win awards and recognition internationally. In addition, technology has changed the landscape with a larger focus on blogs, podcasts, and individual content producers. I think these digital journalists will continue to have a big impact, specifically on the consumer side of the industry.“
Barrels are used across the different styles of alcohol. What are some of the differences when working with distilleries, breweries, or even wineries/cideries?
RH: “For most spirits, charred barrels are the way to go. Beer, wine, and cider tend to do better in toasted barrels, which give off more subtle notes and don’t overpower the fruit and other ingredients. Barrel alternatives like our Infusion Spiral are much more prevalent in wine and beer but are catching on quickly with distilleries, like our good customer Blue Ridge Distilling/ Defiant American Single Malt, who produces a fine whisky which never touches a barrel.”
What do you see as some of the challenges facing US craft distilleries?
HK: “One of the biggest challenges for the majority of craft distillers is cash flow. There are over 1,300 active craft distillers that we labeled small craft distillers with less than 10,000 proof gallons removed from bond per year. At an average volume of 566 cases per year, it’s difficult to generate a positive cash flow. Growth is imperative for these players. Another challenge for all players is about the word “craft”. It is not being protected and can be used by pretty much anybody for almost anything. The risk here is that the average consumer might get oversaturated by craft-like products. Ultimately every craft distiller has to contemplate innovation that goes beyond the word ‘craft’.”
What are some trends or topics in the industry that you’re excited to cover in Artisan Spirits?
BC: “I’m a massive nerd at heart, so I get giddy whenever we have the opportunity to cover anything in-depth and technical. The nature of being a trade-side publication gives me the opportunity to call up literal geniuses in the distilling world and pepper them with my inane questions. It’s really the dream job! Specifically I enjoy topics of fermentation science, unique ingredients, and aging and maturation techniques. We are also excited to work with a large number of lawyers and regulators who help us share information on the sometimes archaic laws that vary from state to state.”
Are there any trends going on in barrels that you’re excited about? Specific barrels that are more popular right now or any techniques that are interesting?
RH: “Smaller than standard (53 gallon) cooperage is our specialty. The greater surface area to volume ratio allows our customers to put a great product on the market in far less time. Solera aging is really interesting and finishing in different barrels (i.e. sherry barrels) and the use of barrel alternatives–like French oak spiral–has shown really positive results.”
You were awarded the 2017 ACSA Achievement Award at last year’s ACSA Convention in Nashville. How did it feel to be recognized with the award?
HK: “Over the years, my team and I have spent a lot of time with ACSA members and have a high appreciation and admiration for all of them. Seeing these craft spirits entrepreneurs work alongside each other and build such an effective industry association has been truly inspirational for me, especially being an entrepreneur myself. Being recognized by the ACSA for the work we have done to support the industry is a great honor.”