Hub Beverage and our craft spirits distillery partners present at a large number of festivals, private events and in-store tastings every year. These are great opportunities to try products before purchasing to an entire bottle.
Please check the Hub Beverage page on Facebook to find an event near you — and bring friends!
The craft spirits market in the US is young and growing quickly. Starting from next to nothing ten years ago, craft spirits were 2.2% of the spirits market in 2015 (using the broad ACSA definition). That same year there were almost 1300 craft spirit producers, which has been growing at a 16% compound annual growth rate since 2007. Some of those newly issued distilled spirits plant (DSP) permit holders may not have started production or may not have product ready to sell, but those are still some impressive numbers.
That kind of growth is fantastic for producers, distributors and retailers — and consumers who now have more opportunities to go beyond well-known national brands and try more locally produced artisan brands. It also raises the obvious question of what exactly makes something a craft spirit?
Craft brewers got a much earlier start and growth picked up in 1976 after a tax cut on the first 60,000 barrels sold, as long as the brewery produced fewer than 2 million barrels a year. The market took off again after going mainstream in the 1900s when The New York Times and others started publishing stories about microbreweries.
Looking back, craft beers in the 1990s looked a lot like the craft spirits market of today as craft beer was also about 2% of total sales back then, today it’s around 12% of total beer sales and growing.
Those of us drinking beer in those earlier days could have pretty easily identified what was craft or not. But it wasn’t until 2005 that the newly formed Brewers Association defined a craft brewer as (1) an independent company, (2) making two million barrels or less, and (3) using traditional ingredients and methods. That definition was updated in 2014 – with lots of controversy – to six million barrels and there’s more “flexibility” on ingredients. (add link)
The most well known definition of the emerging craft spirits market comes from the American Distilling Institute (ADI), which looks to have used the Brewers Association as inspiration. The ADI’s definition is sure to be debated and modified over time too, and there’s already a separate certification for craft blenders. But this ADI certification of craft distilled spirits is a start:
Another way to identify craft spirits is to rely on your common sense and your gut and, to paraphrase the late US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “to know it when you see it.”
The emphasis is on authenticity and craft. We humans have a historical and innate sense of when something is made by a craftsman or craftswoman. We can see and appreciate craftsmen’s direct involvement in the creation and production, a combination of art and science, of the final product. We can sense that something is lovingly and carefully handmade, and that it embodies the maker and where it was made – what the French call terroir. This is just as true with today’s craft spirits as it is with cheese, coffee and wine.
So use all your senses and your knowledge, explore and try new things, and enjoy yourself. At a time when everyone is increasingly aware of the dangers of over imbibing, there’s no better time to make what you do choose to drink really count!
Our next tasting of craft spirits from across New England will be on August 25th at The Urban Grape. We’ll be offering tastes of four very different spirits and a few cocktails that highlight them. (Tip: Join our mailing list to be the first to hear about new tasting events.)
Appalachian Gap in Middlebury, VT, created Mythic Gin as a rendition of an 18th century style of gin in which the flavor of the grain used in the mash forms the backbone of its complex yet clean flavors of juniper, balsam fir, and the citrus and spice notes of eleven natural botanicals.
Papilio, also by Appalachian Gap, is made from Mexican Blue Agave and Vermont Maple Syrup, fermented together and then distilled. It’s a wonderfully clean tequila-style spirit with a maple finish. Works well neat, mixed with a little triple sec, in a margarita, and more. The first agave spirit made in Vermont.
Liquid Riot is popular brewer and distiller in Portland, ME, who makes Bierschnaps, a high proof spirit made from beer, traditionally hailing from the Bavarian region of Germany. There are notes of malted grains and the floral, citrusy essence of hops, and its rested in used barrels, where it takes on a golden hue and subtle oak flavors.
Fernet Michaud, also from Liquid Riot, is an organic spirit infused with a proprietary blend of 23 botanicals, roots and herbs. Then it’s laid to rest in used Maine Blueberry Wine barrels for 5 months. The result is deliciously complex, minty, bittersweet and very herbal.
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The number of small distilleries in America grew from around 500 to over 2,000 in just six years. Over the same six years the largest distilleries lost 2.3% points of market share. These government-reported data confirm the quick emergence of craft spirits, who are following in the footsteps of craft brewers.
Craft spirits first took off in California, Colorado and Texas but growth has spread across the US. There now 118 distilled spirits producers (DSP) permit holders across New England and another 163 in New York. Almost all of them are small and started within the last 10 years.
Consumers are noticing and asking for craft spirits, and liquors stores and restaurants are responding. More liquor stores are allocating shelf space to craft spirits, just as they starting doing for craft beers in the 1990s. “I recognize and appreciate the quality and passion that these products represent,” says Larry Venezia, General Manager at Giles Wine and Spirits in Woburn, MA, “and looking forward I feel that this will be an important segment of our business.”
The number of small distilleries grew 265% from 2010 to 2016 to a total of 2050. Growth slowed 2016, but that was after 27% growth in 2015, 29% growth in 2014, and 35% growth in 2013. The 2016 data include 113 producers who sold 10,000 to 100,000 proof gallons, 1,628 producers who sold under 10,000 proof gallons, and 309 producers who are just getting started and/or still aging spirits and haven’t reported any sales.
Depending on your definition of craft spirits producers that number could be whittled down or boosted. For example, the American Distilling Institute also has a 100,000 proof gallon annual sales cap, and also requires that craft producers not be controlled by a larger distiller, or buy from a larger distiller. The American Craft Spirits Association is more flexible and sets the cap at 750,000 proof gallons.
Forage in Cambridge, MA, is a farm-to-table restaurant that puts a modern twist on classic dishes with a focus on local ingredients. “Our guests appreciate food that comes from their surrounding community and now we can do the same behind the bar,” says Joe Choiniere, Bar Manager. “It definitely adds to the experience when we can introduce guests to a unique, delicious local gin or whiskey.”
Craft spirits producers grew their market share from just 0.5% of volume in 2010 to 1.5% of volume in 2016. With craft spirits mostly on the premium to super premium end of the spectrum, their share of total sales revenues will be even higher.
The largest producers saw their market share move in the opposite directly, falling from 98.5% of the market volume to 96.2%. The balance of the volume went to medium sized producers who sell between 100,000 and 750,000 proof gallons a year.
The alcohol business is highly regulated and taxed in most countries, and the regulator in the US is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Every distillery, no matter how small, must have a license from the TTB. Every distillery, no matter how small, is required to file regular reports and pay federal excise taxes.
The TTB publishes some of these data and they provide insights into the American spirits business. One is the TTB’s reports is on taxable removals by beverage spirits producers, which includes the number proof gallons that producers and bottlers removed from their plant for sale or export. The same TTB report also breaks the totals down by size of the producer and includes the total number of producers.
Note: Updated in July 2017 with TTB data for 2016.
The Local Craft Spirits Festival is being held on October 15th in Cambridge! This is the Sustainable Business Network’s annual fall event promoting local craft spirits, brews and artisan beverages — and Hub Beverage partners Appalachian Gap, Liquid Riot and Wiggly Bridge will be there!
The festival is a great opportunity to meet the makers behind these (and more) New England distilleries, participate in cocktail demos, enjoy local food, and help choose Boston’s best local craft mixologist. You’ll also be contributing to a good cause — the Local Craft Spirits Festival is a major annual fundraiser for the Annual Boston Local Food Festival, considered New England’s largest one day Farmers’ Market and a celebration of local food.
Mark your calendars and buy your tickets today!
Hub Beverage is a fully licensed Massachusetts wholesaler!
We spent months traveling across New England and meeting our many craft spirit producers. They can be found in the culinary hotspot of Portland, tucked into the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Mountains of Vermont, down the Atlantic coast to Connecticut, and everywhere in between. These craftsmen, craftswomen and entrepreneurs are putting their unique touch on traditional spirit categories, and they’re pursuing the great American tradition of breaking a few rules to create new categories.
A number of these craft spirit distillers and producers are founding members of Hub Beverage’s portfolio and we’re very proud to represent them in Massachusetts! Please be sure to stop by and say hello whenever you’re in the neighborhood.
Of course you should also look for these and other craft spirits to be increasingly available in the Boston metro area. Ask for them in your favorite bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Contact us if you want help finding any products we distribute or if you’re interested in having us distribute your products. Subscribe to our mailing list to be the first to learn when new products are available and what new tastings are announced.