There's been a lot of talk lately about craft distillers across the country who are or aren't making all their own booze — in essence, marketing brands rather than true distillers that buy booze from somewhere else and sell it. A recent article brings this discussion out in full (see article HERE). Being at the forefront of the craft distilling movement, I feel like I have a unique perspective to share. I've heard all kinds of perspectives from within the industry. Guys as authoritative as Dave Pickerell (former Master Distiller at Maker's Mark) readily acknowledge that it's basically the only intelligent, economical way to get started in the business (listen to his appearance on the podcast UnderMyHost HERE).
For example, let’s say you were starting a restaurant and wanted to serve your own home-grown vegetables. You wouldn't open it — pay all the utilities, the insurance, a full staff, etc. — only to not serve food for the first five years as you waited for your garden to come in. You'd buy your vegetables from somewhere else while you waited.
I for one, can fully understand and appreciate the strangling constraints of a tiny start-up budget. You can't even begin to compete if you can't stay alive long enough to do so. Craft distilling is unique. Its closest relative, craft brewing, is even fundamentally different in one key aspect: time.
A talented craft brewer (many of which we have here in St. Louis) can brew a beer in weeks that could rival or beat anything even the biggest global brewery could produce. However, with craft distilling, the enormous barriers to entry, time and money, are more significant. Even if the distiller creates a great spirit, there is no real shortcut to aging it appropriately to properly showcase the spirit.
I know firsthand how expensive and resource consuming it is to even distill a barrel's worth of whiskey — and then to intentionally set it aside for months, years even, before you see the first dime returned upon the investment (and that’s if it's good). And all that damn time, the greedy angels are taking their share! So I understand why a distillery would go that route. And I personally don't feel appropriate to judge them for that. I'd rather judge whether or not I enjoy their spirits. And I think there are good, quality spirits being made in this fashion.
I've said from the beginning that my goal is to create a lasting distillery that my children will run one day, and their children after them. A distillery St. Louis can be proud of. And I'm proud to say that I distill, barrel, age, and bottle everything in house. Come on by and see for yourself!