For those willing to pause long enough to look beyond the sensationalism and pessimistic oratory of mainstream media, it is easy to see we are in the midst of a truly exciting time. The world is smaller than ever before, and we are, in many ways, more connected than ever. Machines have nearly eliminated the need to toil constantly for our basic existence, leaving us time to luxuriate in an unprecedented era of edible, artistic, and cultural bounty. It isn’t a leap to imagine a rather swift transition to one of those leisure-filled technological utopias of mid-20th Century science fiction.
The current resurgence of craft culture is, most assuredly, a consequence of this prosperity. But what makes it remarkable is that it is also absolutely essential in our ability to leverage our present cornucopia into a stable, sustainable society.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was almost no such thing as unemployment. A person could literally not afford to be idle; if they were, they starved. Only the very young, wealthy or infirm were afforded the luxury of leisure, and even they to but a small extent.
Technology, over the past two centuries, has utterly transformed this paradigm, to the point that, today, one can find perfectly able-bodied people whose time is spent wholly engaged in leisure. In civilized nations of the world, which account for most, even the hardest working among us spend but a fraction of our lives at life-sustaining labor.
This, however, comes at a cost. Our system of centralized, petroleum based, macro production has created an excess of available labor. It has also equated consistency and abundance with quality. Micro production and craft culture is a societal rebuke to this phenomenon, as well as our best conduit to a lasting, secure economy.
The economy of the world is nearing a state of maturation, after which growth will largely be confined to reallocation among analogous points of interest. There is only so much wheat to make so much whiskey, and only so many people in the world to drink it; in other words, there is an absolute upper threshold for production that is limited by consumption. Soon the market will reach a point of saturation, when the only potential for growth will be confined to shifting market share between similar products. Or in simpler terms, the only variance will be whether the drink of choice is whiskey or beer.
At such a point, further division of labor becomes meaningless, and in fact counterproductive. The rebirth of craft is a function of our nearing this point. We have become so efficient at fulfilling our basic needs that people have begun to regress, to reverse the division of labor. They are once again making things by hand, simply because they have too much time on them.
Decrease in growth is aberrant to the modern economic cognos, but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of. Zero growth economies have existed throughout human history, many for much longer than our current growth based model. That is not to say that a transition to one won’t have its challenges; it most certainly will. But every great leap forward has been spurred by the need to overcome some difficulty or another, and this is no different.
So what does this have to do with craft spirits?
What this means to craft spirits is that they are not a trend, or a flight of fancy, or a passing fad that will ultimately be absorbed by the mainstream. It is an entirely new way of doing business, one rooted in classic methodology yet predicated upon the potential created by the contemporary. The wildly successful model of fossil fueled and automated macro production has given us a platform from which to recapture the most enviable facets of tribal living, the bonds of community and interdependence, while retaining the leisure time afforded by technological advancement, even leveraging that luxuriant asset into the meaningful Pursuit of Quality.
To borrow a quote from Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant war opus - These are great days we're living, bros!