View Full Version : American Microdistilleries

10-21-2003, 08:36
Following up on my post in the "Looking forward, looking back" thread:

There was some speculation as to the viability of microdistilling in the America.
Microdistilling in the US is taking off rather nicely. I have a few
thoughts on whether it will survive and flourish.

1) The microbreweries had legions of homebrewers doing R&D, and freely
publishing the results. Microdistillers are not so lucky.

2) Beer can go from idea to sellable product on a timescale of months
(or even weeks...), and the production process can be tweaked to
improve the product, again on a timescale of months. Microdistillers
are not so lucky, having to wait years for the final product.

3) Large distilleries have lots of leeway in the vatting stage, and
can generally find a place for each barrel within their multitude of labels.
Microdistillers are not so lucky.

4) Microdistillers need to have the patience to wait until they have a good
product before they release anything... and this might be difficult, seeing
as how they are going to really need cash flow as soon as possible. They need
to make a good name for themselves, and for the microdistilling industry
as a whole, so putting out quality is important... they can't just bottle
what's in the pipeline no matter what it tastes like.

I'm not trying to be pessimistic, but there are really a lot of hurdles
(especially bureaucratic) that microdistillers have to overcome, which
were not such a big deal for microbrewers.

That said, I'm rather pleased at the current crop of microdistillers.
Here's a list that was compiled on the malts-l mailing list in August.
It probably needs updating, but was current at the time. Not all of
these microdistillers currently make whiskey (the ones that do are marked),
but I have a feeling that many of them will eventually make whiskey,
and thus are worth watching, and discussing. I would be surprised if,
for instance, dogfish didn't eventually make a whiskey, although they'll
tell you right now that they have no plans for any.


Ransom cellars : www.ransomspirits.com (http://www.ransomspirits.com)
Hood River Distillers : www.hrdspirits.com (http://www.hrdspirits.com)
McMenamins (Edgefield) : www.mcmenamins.com (http://www.mcmenamins.com) Whiskey
Bendistillery : www.bendistillery.com (http://www.bendistillery.com)
Brandy Peak : www.brandypeak.com (http://www.brandypeak.com)
Clear Creek : www.clearcreekdistillery.com (http://www.clearcreekdistillery.com) Whiskey


Anchor Brewing (Old Potrero) : www.anchorbrewing.com (http://www.anchorbrewing.com) Whiskey
Charbay : www.charbay.com (http://www.charbay.com) Whiskey
St. James : www.saintjamesspirits.com (http://www.saintjamesspirits.com) Whisky
St. George : www.stgeorgespirits.com (http://www.stgeorgespirits.com) Whiskey
Osocalis : www.osocalis.com (http://www.osocalis.com)
Essential Spirits : www.essentialspirits.com (http://www.essentialspirits.com)
Carneros Alembic Brandy (RMS) : Closed


McKendric (Texas) : www.mckendricwhiskey.com (http://www.mckendricwhiskey.com) Whiskey
Bardenay (Idaho) : www.bardenay.com (http://www.bardenay.com)
Conecuh Ridge (Alabama) : www.crbrands.com (http://www.crbrands.com) Whiskey
Colorado Distilling (Colorado) : www.coloradowhisky.com (http://www.coloradowhisky.com) Closed?
Black Star Farms (Michigan) : www.blackstarfarms.com (http://www.blackstarfarms.com)
Dogfish Head (Deleware) : www.dogfish.com (http://www.dogfish.com)
Virginia Lightning (Virginia) : www.vafb.com/magazines/2002/jan/0102_28.htm (http://www.vafb.com/magazines/2002/jan/0102_28.htm) Whiskey?
WV Distilling (West Virginia) : www.mountainmoonshine.com (http://www.mountainmoonshine.com) Whiskey
Warwich Valley (New York) : www.wvwinery.com (http://www.wvwinery.com)
Heart of the Vineyard (Michigan) : www.heartofthevineyard.com (http://www.heartofthevineyard.com)
Koenig (Idaho) : www.koenigdistillery.com (http://www.koenigdistillery.com)
Triple Eight (Rhode Island) : www.tripleeightdistillery.com (http://www.tripleeightdistillery.com)

Tim Dellinger

10-21-2003, 11:07
Tim, thanks for the listing. I've been looking for something like this for a quite a while.

You make some good points about the challenges facing microdistilleries. In regards to Conecuh Ridge, I'm surprised it has gotten off to such a great start. When I first started reading about Clyde May's plans, I thought it would be a long shot at best. I figured the red tape he would encounter with Alabama's ABC would keep his whiskey from becoming a reality for many long years. But I guess the potential Conecuh Ridge holds for a big, new source of state revenue allowed it to quickly hit the shelves.

Here's the latest on this story:
Possible Conecuh Ridge Distillery Site (http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/2003/08/07/business/6696124.htm)

Looks like the Birmingham area may be CR's new headquarters.


10-21-2003, 15:48
I won't get too excited about American microdistilleries until I see one in Kentucky or Tennessee and see a name like Beam attached to it. Most of these distillers come from a wine-making and, hence, brandy-making background. The typical product is an unaged fruit spirit. As Fritz Maytag has learned, it is possible to make an interesting spirit and one which can legally be called whiskey without it bearing any ressemblance to anything we would recognize as American Whiskey. These distillers may produce some interesting and even tasty beverages, but I don't think they're really pushing the envelope re American Whiskey or are even operating in that arena. It's a sideshow, really.

That said, thanks a bunch for the listing. I had no idea there were so many.

10-22-2003, 10:17
Great List.
I think I'll contact a few of these operations and see if they'll share their experience. Many of us are aware of a still in Bardstown that has a ton of history and is owned by a big name whiskey family. All they really need is money and a decent business plan.

10-22-2003, 19:37
Tim: Thanks for this most informative post. Question: What should I make of the dead links? Distiller gone belly up this very week? In any event, I learned a lot surfing your links. Many thanks. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif

10-23-2003, 17:20
>I won't get too excited about American microdistilleries until I see one in
>Kentucky or Tennessee and see a name like Beam attached to it.

I'd like to see a few of those, too. My offer of $500 for capitalization
still stands!

>Most of these distillers come from a wine-making and, hence, brandy-making

It is true that many of them are distilleries that were added on to existing
alcohol-producing businesses (breweries and wineries looking to
do new things), but that's to be expected. It's infinitely easier to
start a distillery as an adjuct to an already-profitable business
with pre-existing customers and a name for yourself.

>The typical product is an unaged fruit spirit.

I completely disagree with you assessment.
Counting up the above distilleries, twelve of them age spirits in oak
barrels. Some of it is rum, some of it is brandy, and some of it is
whiskey, but that's a lot of people learning to age things in oak
Looking instead at the number who make whiskey: I count eleven.
Most of those have product on the shelf right now available for purchase.

>These distillers may produce some interesting and even tasty beverages, but
>I don't think they're really pushing the envelope re American Whiskey or are
>even operating in that arena. It's a sideshow, really.

The one criticism that can be made about American microdistillers is
too many of them are trying to emulate scotch. That much is true.
And they pretty much openly admit it. But to accuse them of not pushing
the envelope? They are innovating at every step of the process.
Beech and alder smoked grains, hops as part of the mashbill, a variety
of pot-stills, aging in all types of oak barrels (new, used, French,
charred, uncharred), aging over different types of wood chips (apple,
mesquite, oak). I can hardly think of a variable they aren't tweaking!

Tim Dellinger

10-23-2003, 17:29
>Question: What should I make of the dead links? Distiller gone belly up
>this very week?

Well, the list was compiled this summer, so a few of the links are dead.
I know tht Triple Eight can now be found at
McMenamin's Edgefield Distillery can be seen at
and some of the others are slow-loading and dead sometimes, but work
just fine other times.

I think the Colorado one is dead in the water, but I've heard about
another one starting up in Colorado.

Mostly what should make of any small business's internet presence
(especially if it is feeble or nonexistant) is that most people don't
really care so much about web pages, and in any case, running a small
business is hard enough, and so keeping an updated webpage is a luxury
that most probably don't have time for.

Thanks to all who responded to my post! I'm glad you guys enjoyed
surfing around to the various distilleries.

Tim Dellinger

10-24-2003, 18:31
Your points are very well taken and reflect your more up-to-date knowledge of a small but dynamic part of the American alcohol scene. I suspect, though, that if you limited your list to whiskies aged even two years or more, it would shrink considerably.

The tendancy to make a scotch-like product may result in part from the advantages of using a wort instead of a mash in a pot still. Also, brewers turned distillers already feel more comfortable working with a wort.

10-25-2003, 17:16
Thanks for the post, very interesting.

I wouldn't call Old Potrero micro distilled, not with Fritz Maytag's millions backing it up.

And, I agree with you on the hurdles faced by micro distillers. Probably just too much unfavorable economics to overcome. I think the most likely path to more, good whiskey is for the established distillers to offer more small batch and single barrel whiskey.

Regards, jimbo