Two cents from Tito
You know what they say about opinions. Since everyone is talking about what is craft distilling, I thought I would throw in my two cents worth. I, Tito Beveridge, believe the pot still distillation process, like that of single malt scotches and French cognacs, is the cornerstone of craft spirits production, period.
Distilling in a pot still is the way spirits were made until around the American Civil War. In my opinion, it is the craft pot still process and not the number of pot stills or volume which makes you craft (handmade).
When I started my distillery 20 years ago, I had seen boutique wineries and micro breweries start up in the United States. My idea was to go back to the old ways of making spirits, using a pot still, and doing head and tail cuts, tasting the juice. I called this a micro distillery because it was a return to the artisanal time honored method of distilling, going back to the 1400’s.
It took me more than a decade to convince the distributors that the craft idea was viable around the United States. The idea was always that craft equals a pot still.
There were no investors back then, in the beginning I had to get a wine distributor because there were no spirits distributors who would take me on. There was no craft spirits industry. Mind you I was on the shelf before Chopin, Belvedere or Grey Goose came out with fancy see through painted bottles. So much for overnight success.
People said making Tito’s Handmade Vodka in a pot still was stupid, that it was just marketing. Maybe my taste buds are different from other folks but I taste a big difference in my juice after I do proper head and tail cuts in my pot stills. I can’t stand head and tail. As a self taught distiller I think I must have poisoned myself because I can taste the very slightest amount of head or tail in spirits and it ruins the experience for me. I like clean well made spirits, and a pot still affords that to me.
People can say craft is less than a certain amount of cases. They can make a self serving organization that you have to pay $2500 to them in order to officially be craft. My cousins did this in the Texas longhorn business. You had to pay them to have your longhorns registered. It’s a good moneymaker if you can get away with it.
Competitors will attempt to define you out of a category that you inspired and developed for years. Even if you blazed a trail for them. That to me is human nature, not very friendly, but human nature.
Me personally, I still believe that if you don’t cook in a pot still, taste it, make your cuts correctly, and put out a tasty product that is enjoyable, then, to me, it isn’t craft. After all, it is what’s in the bottle that is important and really, all the marketing in the world doesn’t make it taste good.
That being said, I am smart enough after 2 decades of fighting against foreign multinational liquor companies and their shelf space and distributor mindshare to know that what I call “the American Craft Spirits Movement” will get further down the road if we American spirit producers all stick together rather than fight each other.
I haven’t sold out or partnered with any big liquor companies unlike other craft brands. I still cook all my juice in pot stills and bottle it all in the same place I always have. I’m even ok with people buying whiskey and doing cool experiments in different woods, or making infusions or using wood chips. I like variety and I believe the consumer does too and if that isn’t craft spirits then it sure is crafty spirits.
I’m not lobbying to make “craft” only made in a pot still (even though, if you ask me, craft is cooking in a pot still, something we do each and everyday at Tito’s Handmade Vodka.) I’m just saying we should all hold hands, be inclusive, and keep the American Craft Spirits Movement going down the trail. We have a good thing going. Let’s not mess it up, but rather, let’s support variety, quality and each other. In the end, the consumer will decide what she or he wants to drink based on their own taste buds and personal experience.