The craft/artisanal/local movement has had an impact on the way consumers shop and which products they look for on the shelf or, just as likely now, at the local farmer’s market or specialty shop. Craft brewing is no doubt part of that and now craft distilling is making waves as well.
Craft brewers have taken notice and some have expanded their operations to also include distilling, creating small batch gins, vodkas, whiskeys and rums. Bill Owens, founder and president of the American Distilling Institute, believes that the future is in combined operations of craft brewing and distilling. “The craft industry has grown to 10 percent of beer production in America,” he says. “Now, along comes the distilling industry.”
Rogue Ales, based in Newport, Ore., has been distilling under Rogue Spirits since 2003, creating small batch spirits that are artisan-distilled in traditional handcrafted copper pot stills. The brewery’s first distillery was opened inside its Portland Flanders St. Pub and was the first rum distillery in the state of Oregon, according to the company. The distillery produces dark and hazelnut spice rums from 100 percent Hawaiian cane sugar. Rogue opened a second distillery in Newport, Ore., Rogue House of Spirits, in 2006. It’s a distillery pub, one of the first in the country, the brewery says, and produces rum, vodka, gin and whiskey.
“What we saw then [in 2003], was what we still see today,” says Brett Joyce, president of Rogue. “There is no reason in my opinion why the emergence of the renaissance of craft beer can’t be the same in craft spirits.”
While there are a lot of similarities in brewing beer and distilling spirits, there are a lot of differences as well depending on what kind of spirit you are distilling.
“It’s in the same family, but it’s a distant cousin perhaps,” says Joyce of the two production methods.
Rogue uses a five-step distilling process: 1. The fermented wash (which can be fruits, grains or vegetables that can be used to produce alcohol) is pumped into the pot still. That is heated converting the alcohol in the wash into vapor. 2. The vapor then travels into the head of the pot still and into the chiller condenser. 3. Cold water in the chiller condenser brings the alcohol’s temperature down and converts it back into liquid. 4. The proof of the alcohol is then measured after it travels from the chiller condenser to the graduated cylinder. 5. The alcohol is passed through a charcoal filter to remove impurities and then bottled.
Anchor Brewers & Distillers, LLC took a cue from its beer lineup and introduced last year Hophead, vodka made from two types of hops from Washington’s Yakima Valley.
Keith Greggor, co-owner and CEO of Anchor Brewers & Distillers, LLC, based in San Francisco, Calif., believes that having both a brewery and a distillery makes the company a stronger one. “We see a lot of connections in the consumer’s mind and the trade’s mind between artisanal spirits and craft beers,” says Greggor. Anchor Brewers & Distillers, LLC is a merger between Anchor Brewing Co., Anchor Distilling Co., Berry Bros. & Rudd and Preiss Imports.
The company’s production focus remains on beer at the moment, but Greggor says he sees it shifting over the next few years. In fact, the company recently announced it would open a new facility at Pier 48 in San Francisco as part of the Mission Rock Development Project that would quadruple production.
Sam McNulty, founder of The Market Garden Brewery & Distillery in Cleveland, Ohio, also is investing in the craft spirit trend. McNulty, who owns a number of bars and restaurants in the city, recently opened Market Garden Brewery & Distillery, which is a celebration of local beer, he says. Market Garden brewed over 40 different styles of beer over the past year and a half and also features other local craft beers. While Market Garden isn’t commercially brewing or distilling at the moment, this eatery plans to get into that business with a 43,000-square-foot building that sits on an acre of land.
McNulty says he plans to open 25th Street Spirits. He has an 80-gallon copper pot still in place, and with the expansion has the potential to brew 50,000 to 70,000 gallons of beer a year.
“Brewing and distilling go hand in hand,” he says.
Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., makers of Newport Storm, and its distilling counterpart Newport Distilling Co., focus on making rum because of the long Rhode Island rum-making tradition.
Taylor Butzbach, public relations and trade events manager for the company, says, “We wanted to specifically make rum because Newport was rich with rum history.” The company began distilling around 2007 and makes Thomas Tew Rum. The brand recently expanded its distribution and is now sold in its home state of Rhode Island, along with Florida, Washington D.C. and Maryland. It uses the same yeast it uses for its Hurricane Amber Ale as it does for its rum. Also, the company is able to use one of its four beer fermenters for spirits during the winter months, notes Butzbach.
Hand in hand indeed.