Sourced spirits are fine, but don't call them craft

Some years ago, sitting in a breakout session at the American Distilling Institute convention in Seattle, listening to an industry shill drone on about revenue and margins, it was hard to imagine there was once a time when producers made things for entirely different reasons. They were economical, to be sure, but they weren't based around ‘how much cash can be sucked out of this venture before we liquidate?’. In those days, that person usually got left in the sun for their bones to bleach.

The first thing any craft spirit acolyte should know is that there are labels out there who are marketing sourced spirits. Whether sourcing neutral grain spirits as the base for another product or simply buying aged whiskey in bulk, the economics behind the practice are the same. Sourced spirits are readily available, buying them is much cheaper than capitalizing a true production facility, and they can be sold at a very high margin with a little creative marketing i.e. labeling them as ‘craft’.

There are many places on the internet where you can go to read about why that is wrong, mostly relating to the fact its illegal. The U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau requires that location of distillation be included on any spirit label; failure to do so, truthfully, will likely result in a lawsuit. But that doesn't absolve anyone of the responsibility to actually read it.

The other fact is that some of these producers using sourced spirits make really exceptional stuff. Whistle Pig, a Vermont label built upon imported Canadian whiskey, has received significant praise. The continued success of Templeton Rye in the face of disgrace is itself testament to its perceived flavor and quality. And if that is all you are basing your decision on, there is no reason not to drink it.

However, if your intent is to support something else, like your local economy or slow food, then supporting producers who make use of sourced spirits is counter-productive. Either way, the decision ultimately rests with you.

Fortunately, for those of us who strive to support companies that are working to change the spirits marketplace, and perhaps the world, there are lots of options, often right in our own backyard. Honest, hard-working producers like Wood’s High Mountain Distillery and TOPO Spirits whose business motivations and practices look beyond the bottom line. Companies whose owners are leaders in their communities and who have made difficult and substantial effort to do it right.

Our recommendation is to seek out and buy craft spirits from one of them. As always, MicroShiner is here to help you make the connection.

Cobey Williamson