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ReynoldsStrong

The next Craft Distillery to hang with the big boys?...

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ReynoldsStrong   
ReynoldsStrong

I'll start by saying I'm not a huge fan of craft whiskey - mostly, because they either source their stuff from someone else, or because they don't have a ton of consistency in their product, or because nothing seems to make it past 2-4 years (or to even be aged at all) because they don't have the capital to put out long-aged stock.

That said, are you guys seeing a few craft distilleries with the potential to become a major distillery in the next decade or so?

I've seen some interesting things from Anchor, Willett (now that they are making their own), Old Potrero, FEW, and some others, but I'm not privy enough to have any clue if any of these (or others) have a shot at mass production and becoming one of the next big distilleries, capable of producing a ton of quality stock, with consistency and aged in the 8-12 year range?

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smokinjoe   
smokinjoe

Well, I'd retitle your thread, The FIRST Craft Distillery To Hang With the Big Boys?... ;)

I think they all have a long, long, looooong way to go. At least with bourbon offerings, at least. Decades, even. "Interesting" is possible more quickly, but that's as far as I go.

That said, I have my eye on a couple: Willett, Smooth Ambler, Tate and Co., and Tom's Foolery all are on my radar. But, that's about it. I would have included Balcones here at one time, but the loss of their MD and questionable goings on there don't give me much confidence anymore. Personally, I think Willett will be first to hit me with something that I really enjoy, as I did like their own 2yr rye. They seem more poised to produce in the numbers that it will take for consistency.

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squire   
squire

What distinguished early distillers like the Dants, Beams and Overholts is not just that they made good whisky, but that they made it consistently.

Most anyone can learn to distill in the same sense most can learn to brew beer or make bread. As for the new crop of distillers Joe is correct, it will be a very long time before we can confidently say any of them are getting it right.

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sku   
sku

I would add High West to the list. They are mostly selling sourced whiskey now but they have been distilling for a long time so they've got to have a lot aging. Plus they just built a new distillery with expanded capacity.

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fozzy71   
fozzy71

Our local distillery Valentine has outgrown their first location and is working on a new, bigger production facility already. They have some pics on their Facebook page. I obviously wouldn't call them hanging with the big boys yet but it's nice to see them growing.

They started out with Gin and Vodka while their bourbon was aging ib big barrels to 4+ years and I really enjoyed the 2 bottles I have had. At $40 it isn't something I like to buy often but I do enjoy it when I have a bottle. This reminds me, I saw one of their older style bottles at a shop I need to go back and see if it is still there.

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ramblinman   
ramblinman

I'm not convinced that becoming a major distiller is even possible with the current economic realities.

But I think there is a place for the smaller guys to be successful on their own terms and produce a product that people like at a fair price and occupy a unique niche in the market. Stranahans comes to mind. Willet 2 year rye was mighty fine though and they might sneak up on us.

Edited by ramblinman

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ReynoldsStrong   
ReynoldsStrong
What distinguished early distillers like the Dants, Beams and Overholts is not just that they made good whisky, but that they made it consistently.

Most anyone can learn to distill in the same sense most can learn to brew beer or make bread. As for the new crop of distillers Joe is correct, it will be a very long time before we can confidently say any of them are getting it right.

What if one of these guys goes out and gets a major MD or foreman from one of these historic families?

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ReynoldsStrong   
ReynoldsStrong

I would agree with Willett btw. I really like their 2 yr, and hopefully, maybe, once they start only putting out their own stuff in abother 10 years, then maybe they'll be less secretive about what's actually going in their stuff.

Would Makers Mark be considered the first "new" company to break in w the big boys?

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Lost Pollito   
Lost Pollito

Don't forget Michter's. They ran the first distillation yesterday. Beautiful distillery.

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squire   
squire
What if one of these guys goes out and gets a major MD or foreman from one of these historic families?

The Popcorn Sutton group just hired Master Distiller John Lunn away from the Geo. Dickel distillery.

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tanstaafl2   
tanstaafl2
I would add High West to the list. They are mostly selling sourced whiskey now but they have been distilling for a long time so they've got to have a lot aging. Plus they just built a new distillery with expanded capacity.

I know David Perkins is starting to talk about his own rye being ready for release pretty soon. Other than the Valley Tan oat whiskey he has not released a lot of his own distillate that I am aware of (although based on what we tasted that may be changing fairly soon). The new distillery is beautiful and has the potential for a fairly large capacity but it currently only has one of the four stills in place that he hopes to eventually have (or 2 of the 8 since each set up is an independent large pot still and a smaller column still)

I think if any of the current craft distillers, how ever one wants to define that (Anything that is not one of these 12 from the 8 main companies I suppose works as well as anything.), looks like they might be starting to break out from the pack there is a good chance a big distiller or beverage conglomerate will snap them up. That might provided the resources to try to move into the ranks of a big distillery in the distant future. Depending of course on whether whiskey stays trendy.

Or at least doesn't suffer a fiery crash... :bigeyes:

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Zeke   
Zeke

Howdy!

Well up here in Canada, 40 Creek got bought by Campari. And Hudson Babt Bourbon got bought by William Grant & Sons. My guess is that is how the next craft distiller is going to join the "big" boys. Via Mergers and Acquisitions, just like it is happening in beer.

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kjbeggs   
kjbeggs

Well, if you mean "Hang with the big boys" in terms of quality, I'd say we've seen some very good stuff come out of Balcones. Smooth Ambler and High West have put out some great products as well, but time will tell on what their own distillate will be like.

I don't know if anyone will ever be able to grow to what the true Big Boys are in terms of volume and product lines though.

As Joe said, the recent upheaval at Balcones has me worried about their future (though they do still seem to be turning out good product), i don't feel confident they won't just end up sold to one of the big dogs.

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Paddy   
Paddy

I'll echo what some have already mentioned. Willett probably has the best shot of going both big and consistent. I've also got a sentimental iron in the fire for Limestone Branch. We shall see how the 'new' money and acquisition of the Yellowstone label plays out there. They've already got the other thing going for them...they are operated by two Beam's.

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VAGentleman   
VAGentleman

Finger Lakes has been putting out some decent stuff. I'll be keeping an eye on their stuff as it ages more

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smokinjoe   
smokinjoe

Bourbon is obviously hot now, is considered the "big boy" whiskey, and a lot of micros aspire to be in that space. I think many of them mistakenly look at producing bourbon as some sort of badge of honor, and as "proof" that they are quality, legitimate, distillers. But, I often wonder if they would be better off to not look to board that train, and simply stick with other liquors and whiskies. I'm just not sure there is anything they can effectively bring to the bourbon party that the macro distilleries don't, can't, and won't do better. Perhaps their smaller size and hands on approach would allow them to shine in these alternative liquor/whiskey areas to a much greater degree than with bourbon. It doesn't mean they're not good, or even possibly great distillers. Many of them obviously are. It's just a matter of how and where they should direct their talents and resources, and where they have an opportunity to make their mark in the business. Honestly, as I look at the original micros I listed earlier in this thread (and I'll add Leopold Bros. to that list, BTW), I'm not so interested in their potential to make good bourbon, but rather their potential to make great "other" stuff.

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Paddy   
Paddy

^^^Great point Joe!^^^

Maybe...a four grain, or the finishing angle and/or a new/unique rye wouldn't be a bad point of focus...but, the bottom line reality is that the majors are already hitting homers (and it's going to be hard to kick them out of our starting lineups).

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willmohawk5   
willmohawk5

There's something to be said about buying Kentucky bourbon made in KY. The history behind it and all. No craft distillery can replicate that and it's water and climate.

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squire   
squire

Gotta admit, Kentucky has the name. Indiana is so close yet so far away.

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flahute   
flahute

What Joe said a couple posts up is right on and is what I've been thinking. The craft distillers have a lot of fans who equate quality to being locally produced, small batch, "hands on" etc. We all know this works with beer as compared to the majors but does not translate the same to whiskey in which age and aging environment play such a big role. That is where the majors shine and because they're so established, they can put out a quality 12 year old whiskey for $25. No craft distiller can do that at that price point so it's going to be hard for them to compete on a price to quality ratio. It's not to say they won't put out a fine product but eventually people will learn and won't be as willing to pay $50 for 2-3 year old whiskey. My hope is that as more fully aged and mature bourbon comes online from the craft distillers and as they get more established and on sound financial footing that prices will normalize and they'll come off as less of a risk to try.

Ones that I'm interested in have mostly already been mentioned: High West, Smooth Ambler, Willett, Leopold, and Tom's Foolery. They seem to be set up well to provide quality.

I'm also very interested in a local - Woodinville Whiskey - who were mentored by Dave Pickerell (and unlike Whistle Pig, do all of their own distilling). Woodinville's first run of 5yr old bourbon comes out in 3 weeks. The proof will be in the pudding as they say.

Edited by flahute

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fozzy71   
fozzy71

I hope woodinville lands in MI, that looks very promising.

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squire   
squire

The proof is in the tasting and those notes will circle around the web quicker than I can type this. A word about craft beers thought, for me there have been some real disappointments there as I've found a number that were not as well crafted as the mass produced adjunct lagers. Just more hops and a whopping price increase.

Something I don't hear mentioned much, which is the business model of these craft brewers/distillers who for the most part wish to grow large enough to enterain hefty buy out offers from the majors.

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willmohawk5   
willmohawk5

You cannot compare craft beer competing with the majors with craft bourbon competing with the majors.

The majors of beer are shit watered down corn syrup fizzy yellow water. There isn't a standard of beer for one. Major beer is mass produced, low in alcohol and just piss poor. Craft beer uses real ingredients, real hops not rice, and the process is much more complex than macrobeer. That's why craft beer took off. It's easier. Because macro is such crap.

It's the other way around in bourbon. The big players have been around forever and they know what they're doing. You can't just throw money at a still and replicate what took over 100 years to perfect. Let's not forget these craft bourbons are expensive. Yet most of them aren't as good as bottles that cost less than $35 from the tried and true KY distilleries.

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squire   
squire

Actually I was comparing the competency of one to the other. The point of my post though was the business model involved.

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Tony Santana   
Tony Santana

Seems like two very different models to me. In the beer world, in America at least, you've got Bud and Miller/Coors, and then everyone else. All the craft beers put together are putting a serious dent in the big boys' market share, but they're still the clear leaders. But many beer drinkers prefer the quality of the craft beers (I hesitate to say most beer drinkers, since Bud and Miller/Coors obviously have their loyalists, and as mentioned before, the clear majority of the market between the two of them), so the big boys are trying to emulate the crafts to some extent. They still make their core products in mass quantities, but are putting out their own "craft-ish" expressions and/or buying up the more successful craft brewers.

With bourbon, you've got more "big boys" - Beam, Jack, WT, BT, HH, MM, Woodford - and they're competing with each other far more than they're competing with the craft distillers. Craft distillers, while numerous, still aren't putting a major dent in the big boys' market share. And there aren't a significant number of bourbon drinkers who will say they prefer the craft distillers' product to the product of the major distillers.

The one thing that's comparable between the craft brewers and the craft distillers - their product is pricier. With the former, you're generally getting a better product for that increase in price - making it more palatable for the consumer to pay more for that product and thus overall increasing the crafts' market share. With distillers? We can quibble about possible exceptions, but in general, you're not getting the bang for your buck. Beer drinkers who prefer craft beer are sticking with the crafts if they can afford it. Bourbon drinkers may try a craft product out of curiosity or the novelty, but it rarely becomes their "go-to".

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