Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: It's a Marvelous Night for Some Moonshine

It turned out that last week's post on moonshine/new make/white dog, came at a serendipitous time. The same day my post went up, the New York Times published a story on the topic and Highland Park announced that they would start selling new make spirit. Days later, Dr. Whisky weighed in against the trend toward new make, and John Hansell opened the topic for discussion among his commenters. It's clearly the hot topic of the moment.

In another great whiskey commentary, Chuck Cowdery told his readers to curb their enthusiasm about the new craft distilleries, arguing that their product is not yet up to the standard of their prices or marketing.

I have to say, I'm torn on this issue. As usual, everything Chuck says is absolutely correct (and Chuck was recently a judge at the American Distilling Institute's whiskey competition in which 65 craft whiskeys competed, so he knows from whence he speaks). I do want to encourage microdistillers, but most of their whiskeys (with exceptions like Charbay and Old Potrero) have not been up to snuff so far. I also think some of them are hurting their brand by releasing premature spirits at exorbitant prices, though I sympathize with their needing to turn a quick buck.

Also, to all of those who compare the microdistillery movement to the craft brewery movement that began in the 1990s, there is one big fat distinction. In the '90s, most American major brewery beers were terrible. Americans were drinking watered down lagers. The craft breweries introduced flavor to beer. In whiskey, the big American distilleries make fabulous products. You can't compare Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace today to Bud, Miller and Coors in the '90s. The craft distilleries are doing some interesting things, but no more so than the big kids in Kentucky and Tennessee. The story of the craft distilleries isn't David and Goliath, it's David and Picasso.

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