Vast, complex and esoteric, the world of “Artisanal Spirits” is often overshadowed by powerful mainstream brands. What happened with the Micro-brewery movement a decade ago, when micro-beers exploded, the same is happening with Micro-Distillers making their own spirits, which includes bourbon, gin, vodka and whiskey, just to name a few.
Since the first century, the world has had a love affair with spirits. According to the author of the ‘Spirits Journal’, F. Paul Pacult, North Americans have been making spirits for the past three hundred and seventy years. During that period of time, distillers have embraced homemade spirits. Large distillation houses have come and gone. The same is true with the smaller, craft houses as well. However, today, an artisanal spirits revolution is taking place. The craft spirits revolution celebrates local authenticity. The number of ‘craft distillers’ has grown in the past 13 years, from 26 craft distilleries in 2000 to 50 distilleries in 2005 and to a suggested 350-400 distilleries in 2013.
Interestingly, the habits of spirits consumers have taken on many of the positive traits of wine consumers, who tend to be fearless in adventuring into the “new and different.” The growth rate in numbers of new distilleries justifies the hype the industry is receiving so it looks like the ‘craft movement’ is here to stay.
All generations have a segment that is seeking the new and different. This is a market segment that is seeking a qualitative difference not just the latest “flavor”. This is important news not just for the trendy cocktail lounge but for the corner retailer as well. The consumer who is seeking Artisanal spirits is a person on a mission of discovery. Their tastes are wide ranging and their interests are broad. This consumer may have a favorite beverage but seeks to find a unique spirit and often “collects” bottlings and enjoys “sharing” with friends. There is also a segment who is the “home mixologist”. This person is looking for the unique spirit to help them create their next concoction and share with their peers.
What does all this mean to the neighborhood retailer of local bar? This trend spells opportunity for new business and increased profits. By developing an Artisanal Spirits section, you are creating an added dimension to your business and providing another way to “up sell” your customers. In the retail dimension, it is often hard to stop the “regular” customer from his normal routine and by having a specialty section; you can slow this person down and have a dialog with him thus create the upsell opportunity. Additionally, when the word gets out that you have a unique collection of different spirits, this will now become a “draw” for your store; helping to bring in new customers. This opportunity for the upsell brings in more dollars and more profits and often ends up providing the biggest “rings” in the store. In the local pub scene word spreads faster and more excitement can be created by the bar staff. Most on premise accounts share customers whether they realize this or not. Having a unique selection of spirits can set you apart and help to increase your market share. Hotels, “white tablecloth” restaurants or private clubs all benefit from a first class selection of Artisanal spirits; further setting you apart from your competition.
Consumers are more experimental today. They are less brand loyal; although they recognize major brands and their qualitative differences, they are more willing to try something different. Just as having a specialty drink menu allows for more profitable sales, a Craft Spirits sections provide the opportunity for additional profits. Anytime you can move a customer up from the “well” or up from their “regular” selection, you can increase your profits. I have never seen a spirits shop or bar named “The Salvation Army”! I am pretty sure all are “for profit” businesses!
Here at Southern Wine & Spirit we are proud to acknowledge and showcase the finest of our authentic craft and small batch spirits. The brands and products featured in this section are quite unique, all having been made with passion, and many hailing from family-owned micro-distilleries that have embraced “grain-to-bottle” approaches to produce their spirits. They commonly use organic ingredients, employ innovative distillation techniques and accentuate the importance of terroir. They are challenging and changing the face of our industry one sip at a time. All too often, such brands of quality go unnoticed, lacking advocates in the market. From the hidden traditional gems or trailblazing newcomers, we are now pleased to shine a spotlight and give these brands an opportunity to be seen to an audience of craft spirit purveyors who can, in turn, present them with intelligence and finesse to their discerning consumers. We have broken down each category for you and are proud to acknowledge their presence in alphabetical order.
Apéritifs were traditionally vermouth or apéritif wine fortified by herbs and spices. As that combination was believed to be an appetite stimulant, it was traditionally served before meals. As it evolved, various versions of wine and spices were referred to as apéritifs and slowly other alcoholic based beverages, including spirits, were served before meals, blurring the definition of the apéritif. To this day some wine and spirit-based products refer to themselves as being “an apéritif.” The simplest definition in today’s world is: any alcoholic beverage consumed before dining.
A barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. The name derives from the French Bourbon dynasty, although it is disputed whether its namesake Kentucky county or New Orleans street is the source of the whiskey's name. It has been produced since the 18th century, although the name "Bourbon" was not applied until the 1850s and the Kentucky etymology was not advanced until the 1870s. While it may be made anywhere in the United States, it is strongly associated with the American South in general, and Kentucky in particular.
A spirit produced by distilling wine, Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume (70–120 US proof) and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are colored with caramel coloring to imitate the effect of aging, and some brandies are produced using a combination of both aging and coloring. Brandy is also produced from fermented fruits other than grapes, but these products are typically named eaux-de-vie, especially in French. In some countries, fruit flavoring or some other flavoring may be added to a spirit that is called "brandy".
A distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. Also known as aguardente, pinga, caninha or other names, it is the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil. Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail.
An apple brandy from the French region of Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie), Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples, of which there are over 200 named varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apples, which are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as the Rambault variety), or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), the latter being inedible. The fruit is harvested (either by hand or mechanically) and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into eau de vie. After two years aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes.
Named after the town of Cognac in France, is a variety of brandy. It is produced in the wine-growing region surrounding the town from which it takes its name, in the French Departements of Charente and Charente-Maritime. For a distilled brandy to bear the name Cognac, an Appellation d'origine contrôlée, its production methods must meet certain legal requirements. In particular, it must be made from specified grapes, of which Ugni blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is the one most widely used. The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years.
cordials & liquers:
An alcoholic beverage made from a distilled spirit that has been flavored with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers or nuts and bottled with added sugar or other sweetener. Liqueurs are typically quite sweet and usually not aged for long after the ingredients are mixed, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry. In parts of the United States, liqueurs may also be called cordials or schnapps, while in large parts of the British Commonwealth, cordial means a concentrated non-alcoholic fruit syrup that is diluted to taste and consumed as a non-carbonated soft drink.
During the 1600s, a Dutch physician named Franciscus De Le Boë Sylvius originally invented gin. Hoping to discover a cure for stomach and kidney ailments he found that juniper berry oil worked well as a diuretic, however it was fairly unpalatable. The solution, Dr. Sylvius discovered, came by adding some juniper oil to a neutral distilled spirit—the result would be the introduction of the first gin, which the doctor called “genever.” Today, gin is produced around the world, and is one of the most versatile white spirits used in making an array of cocktails. While juniper is the dominant flavor in gin, variations in style can be attributed to the quality and purity of the base spirit used, such as grains, molasses or sugar beets.
An alcoholic beverage, a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume (70 to 120 US proof). The flavor of grappa, like that of wine, depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process. Made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (i.e., the pomace) left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes, it was originally made to prevent waste by using these leftovers.
Enthusiasts of agave spirits have made the native Oaxacan spirit the fastest growing segment of the category. Consumers seem to be inexorably drawn to mezcal's authenticity, diversity and limitless range of flavors. These are indeed the glory days for mezcal. There are currently more high quality mezcals being marketed in the United States than ever before. Tequila aficionados seem particularly drawn to these artisanal spirits, perhaps because it connects them to the people in
the small towns where they are produced.
A colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. Pisco was developed by Spanish settlers in the 16th century as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain.
Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean in 1493 and it took root rather well in the tropical paradise. To this day, some of the best rums come from the Caribbean Islands, though rums are produced around the world—the majority of which comes from fermented molasses, cane syrup, or cane juice. There are no regulations governing how rum is distilled and so it is possible that producers single-, double-, or triple-distill. Fueling the rum category today is the resurgence of handcrafted silver rums. In response to the cocktail boom, contemporary distillers have released full-bodied versions of their silver rums, which mixologists now use to enhance the taste and texture of their drinks. Stocking one or more of these stellar clear rums on the backbar has become a must. Growing in popularity as well is the trend of sipping old rums after dinner as one would a brandy.
Scotch whisky, often simply called "Scotch", is malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland. It must be made in a manner specified by law. All Scotch whisky was originally made from malt barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: (1) Single malt Scotch whisky - (2) single grain Scotch whisky - (3) blended malt Scotch whisky (formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt") - (4) blended grain Scotch whisky (5) blended Scotch whisky. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Any age statement on a bottle of Scotch whisky, expressed in numerical form, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed-age whisky.
A distilled beverage native to Korea. It is usually consumed neat. Most brands of soju are made in South Korea. It is traditionally made from rice, wheat, barley, but modern producers of soju use supplements or even replace rice with other starches, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca. Soju is clear and colorless. Its alcohol content varies from about 16.7%, to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV).
A distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco. Tequila is a maturing category. As consumers grow more discerning, distillers are responding by releasing the best and brightest their craft can produce. Steadily increasing sales confirm that consumers have developed a taste for the good stuff. Five mega-trends within the category shed light on the near future of Tequila: (1) Double-Barreled Tequilas — In an effort to infuse their aged marques with new and exciting flavors, tequila producers are increasingly finishing them in different types of wood, such as French Limousin oak, Cognac casks, sherry butts and ex-Bordeaux barrels. (2) Elevated Proofs — A number of brands are being marketed with elevated concentrations of alcohol. The higher the proof, the less water is used to dilute the tequila when it comes off the still. The result is a more flavorful spirit. (3) Single-Barrel Tequilas — Single-barrel whiskeys have become standard offerings. Any spirit that’s drawn from one barrel and not blended with other barrels is something to be savored. It’s an experience to be enjoyed and not forgotten. (4) Terroir — Distillers are now stressing the growing conditions of their agaves. Terroir greatly affects the quality and flavor of the finished tequila. (5) Organic — The thought of drinking tequila made from pesticide-treated agaves makes it easy to appreciate the commercial appeal of FDA certified organic tequilas.
The first vodkas very likely came from Russia and Poland in the twelfth century A.D., distilled from potatoes and beets. Vodka is the world’s most popular spirit. It can be produced from potatoes, grapes, grains, even molasses or just about any fermentable agricultural product is capable of producing vodka. The spirit’s versatility makes it an ideal agent for the craft cocktail landscape as boutique and artisan vodkas are on the rise as much as flavored vodkas, fueling a passionate fan-base and offering an array of options to bartenders and mixologists.
A type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, made generally of charred white oak. The thing about North American craft whisk(e)y is that it’s young, fresh and the distillers are still figuring out what they do and don’t like. That’s why each batch can taste drastically different. One year it might boast some ripe citrus, while the next year it’s heavy on the caramel and spice. When patrons see a big brand name on a cocktail list, they’re buying the brand. When they see a craft brand cocktail they are most likely buying it to find the flavors that enhance a craft whiskey. Craft whiskey—white and unaged or small batch aged—are exciting discoveries on their own, but each distinct flavor profile is a cocktail muse.
sws artisanal portfolio:
Please take a moment to review our full “Artisanal” portfolio in our “Spirits Product Listing” section of this magazine and contact your SWS Sales Representative for more details. Need a couple of craft cocktail ideas? Check out the next page for eight unique cocktails to try on your patrons.