What’s in a Word? THE CURRENT VALUE OF “CRAFT” WRITTEN BY CHRIS LOZIER
espite countless conversations between distillers, distributors, retailers and regulators, there is still no universally accepted definition of “craft” distilling. The discussion is constantly evolving, but regardless of the outcome consumers are already defining the term themselves without an industry consensus. Some states have their own definitions but they vary. On a national level the American Distilling Institute (ADI) has a definition, but the Distilled Spirits Council (The Council) and the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) do not. “There is a handful of members who may want that definitive definition, but ACSA and the founding board members purposefully do not define craft for the industry allowing the consumers to define what craft is,” explains ACSA’s executive director, Margie Lehrman. ACSA has membership criteria and a code of ethics that distillers must satisfy to join, which Lehrman says consumers can trust as a sign that they are truthful and compliant with their local distilling laws and definitions. From there, ACSA believes consumers will choose for themselves. Calling a spirit “craft” often means much more than just making something by
hand or with skill as the word is defined in the dictionary. Craft does not necessarily mean better, but it does have meaning, and many large labels have adopted the term as a result. That is why ADI felt a definition was important, and their decision has been loudly supported by their membership. Just three years old, their Craft Certification Program has accepted 2,117 craft spirits from 435 distilleries, demonstrating the value many distillers see in the term. “They’re seeing encroachment on the word ‘craft’ everywhere so they really need some kind of haven to protect the marketing value of their identity,” explains ADI’s Andrew Faulkner. ADI’s definition is very similar to the Brewers Association’s definition of craft beer. They require the business to be independently owned with less than 25 percent DSP ownership or control by “alcoholic beverage industry members who are not themselves craft distillers,” and they cap production at 100,000 proof gallons a year. As a comparison, ACSA allows members to produce up to 750,000 proof gallons and the Council allows their Small Distiller Affiliate members up to 200,000 proof
gallons per year, though neither association defines distillers above or below their line as craft or not craft. ADI’s choice to include size in their definition is a point of contention, though. While they do not point any fingers, their volume ceiling excludes larger makers, and some argue that many larger distillers are in fact craft because their methodologies are careful and authentic. Faulkner understands what they are saying, but he says there is often a confusion between craftsmanship and craft. “I think there’s a lot of very fine crafting that goes into some of the Scotch whiskies that are produced by very large corporations,” he explains. “But people don’t think of craft as being some guy running a very large factory distillery, even if he’s an independent. They think of an individual entrepreneur that is paying close attention to each batch of spirits that he or she makes.” Defining craft has two important implications: licensing/business practices and marketing value. Some states grant more privileges to distillers they define as craft and that value is appreciated, but the greatest value is the marketing potential. That is why Faulkner says the definition WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
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