The Shifting Tide of Craft Alcohol

Only recently can you hear someone raving about a small distributed, premium papaya infused tart IPA they just had. It’s always the third topic while conversing with Californians, right after they tell you that they’re vegan and that they “can’t even escape traffic on the hiking trails.” But we shouldn’t poke fun at them, at least for the beer part, because more than ever younger generations are attentive to knowing their alcohol isn’t mass produced and isn’t owned by a conglomerate of foreign owners.

The stereotypical Californian’s weekend

Though big beer brands hold a majority of the sales, craft beer has elbowed out a fair 12.7 percent of the market. Some optimistically forecast craft could own 25 percent. Yet after years of double-digit growth, this year it’s slumped to 5 percent. Before you hop-fiends start reaching for the tissue, understand most analyst say it merely represents a maturing market.

Beer companies aren’t the only ones carefully examining these stats. For years craft distilleries have been closely eyeing this market. After seeing the craft beer boom, craft distilleries are opening meteorically. Similar to craft beer they hold a small percentage of the liquor marketplace, but they hope the same people enjoying craft beer would also enjoy craft spirits.

For some distilleries this wishful thinking has worked out. One example is Bert Beveridge and his famous company Tito’s Vodka. Though no longer considered a micro distillery, it originated just the same. Its humble beginnings started with distilling vodka in two tanks that originally were used for Dr. Pepper. He even cooked corn into alcohol with a turkey fryer. The two things that led to Beveridge’s success was promoting his vodka as handmade and having a limited distribution. Which spoke true to its home state of Texas and eventually led to the 2.5 billion dollar success it is today.

Tito’s Vodka is no longer a micro distillery because they make beyond Texas’ mandated amount to be considered “micro.” For every Tito’s there are dozens of micro-distilleries that follow their state regulated preconditions on considering themselves micro. The defining factor is how many gallons a distillery makes in a year, but because there’s isn’t a federally mandated amount the exact number varies amongst states.

Unlike micro breweries, micro distilleries are just beginning their expansion into American markets. With more than 1,589 micro distilleries in the United States they are growing at a 20.8% rate compared to the year before. Sales peaked at only 3 billion dollars in 2016, but that was a 25% percent increase from 2015. It’s only expected to keeping going up.

That increase almost parallels the daft increase in unicorn related objects last year. From Starbucks’ “Unicorn Frappuccino” which is what I’d guess Oompa Loompa barf looks like. To the glitter infused “Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur”–something tells me it isn’t craft.

What I’m trying to get at is if you’ve always stuck to your craft beers or artisanal wines this is the time to be a little adventurous. Try some craft spirits out. You’ll probably find something you like. And please, let’s stop it with this unicorn ridiculousness.

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