Is Whiskey the Next Wine?

The Bourbon Still at Ranger Creek in San Antonio Texas

I’ve been reading a lot about the Artisan Whiskey movement lately.  It seems like almost every state has some sort of Artisnal Spirits industry that is in some stage of development.  This all came to a head today when I read that Texas is thinking of putting together their own Bourbon Trail like the original in Kentucky.  Jim and I have had the opportunity to sample some of these artisnal whiskeys and bourbons, and they all seem to be “inspired” to one degree or another.

A couple of months ago I posted about making plans during vacations to visit artisan distillery’s.  This has all come together in my mind to the conclusion that Whiskey is getting more and more like wine…

The wine industry has had their act together for a long time and is very well established in the US.  But when I was a child, the only wines that were available (or at least the only ones you heard about ) were from California.  Today it seems like all 50 states have some sort of wine industry, and regional differences are celebrated and enjoyed.

I think the Whiskey industry is where the wine industry was 20 years ago.  The vast majority of wines were grown and made in California and there were a few upstarts in Washington and Oregon, and a few local wineries scattered around the states.  This reflects the Whiskey industry today.

Today the majority of whiskeys that are distilled in Kentucky and Tennessee, and new startups in Texas, Colorado, and New York, with a smattering of other artisan distilleries in about half the states.

Now if we flash forward 20 years, I believe we will see a much more robust whiskey industry in this country with several states having a firm grasp on Whiskey (Looking at you Texas and Colorado), with every state having an artisan distillery industry, and maybe one day a Spirits Route that you can travel (by charter) and sample numerous craft distilled spirits.

Maybe this is just a pipedream, but I think it is a movement that will gain in strength and popularity.  I dream of the day when we have to plant oak to make barrels and we all have access to great spirits, whether they be craft whiskeys, bourbons, single malts, or others like Rum, Brandy, and Vodka.

Of course this will take legislative changes and it will require a lifting of the ban on home distilling in this country.  After all most craft breweries started with people home brewing.  So get to it Legislatures!  I want my Idaho Whiskey Trail!

Let us know your thoughts.  Are there any craft distilleries that you love?  What has been your impression of the Artisan Spirits movement in the US?  Let us know in the comments.  And as usual Keep in Good Spirits, and Keep the Good Spirits in Ya!



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24 Comments on “Is Whiskey the Next Wine?”

  1. February 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    I am bias, but I like my whiskey and bourbon from Kentucky. It would be cool to see the differences though that come out in the flavor.

    • Don
      February 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

      I hear you, tradition is a great thing. But Jim and I have recently had some great (yes really great) whiskeys from New Holland Brewing in Michigan. I know they don’t have the branch water that is naturally filtered and mineralized like the distilleries in Kentucky, but They do make some great whiskey, that is undeniable. So I think that tradition is great and needs to be respected, but why not mix it up a bit, could be fun. 🙂

      • February 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

        I think it goes beyond tradition – yes artisanal distillers are not bound by strict standards like those the Scotch Whisky Association imposes on its distillers (beyond the simple mash-bill and new barrel rules for bourbon). But the really exciting thing for me here – and in this I think whisky is indeed closer to wine than craft brewing – is the opportunity for real terroir forming in American whiskies.

        It’s a great thing that so many of these local distilleries are coming up alongside the locavore food movement. So we could see single malts, bourbons and straight whiskies that use grain, water and wood all from the local area producing really unique and distinct flavors.

        It also offers a competitive advantage in that many scotches are decisively moving away from any conception of terroir – peated Speysides, centrally located warehouses for aging, etc.

        • Don
          February 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

          That was one of the comments I made to my brother Jim. He sees wine as connected to the place but not whiskey, where nothing could be further from the truth. I think the Localvore movement is alove and well in the artisnal spirits industry, and I only see that trend continuing and strengthening.

  2. February 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I think whiskey is more like craft beer actually. Authentic wine production requires estate-grown grapes; the materials for the drink come from the region where the wine is produced. This isn’t true for craft brewers, who source their ingredients from around the world (Victory uses mostly German hops and barley for instance). I think whiskey is the same way – unconstrained by regional growing conditions.

    Wine-making states are judged by their soil and climate, where beer (and whiskey) making states are mostly judged by the quality of their product.

    In the case of wine it’s agricultural – beer and whiskey are more legislative.

    • Don
      February 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Silly, Silly Man! For Whiskey and Bourbon in particular it has been about the water, which keeps you tied to a place much like soil and grapes. Also they do not outsource their ingredients, but proudly announce that the grains are grown locally under certain soil conditions, etc. It is not as well known, but it is just as agrarian as wine.

  3. February 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I’m all for it! Where are the petitions to sign? Not only would “spirit trails” help the artisan spirits industry (both in sales and image) but just think what it could do for the local cab/limo outfits too! :^)

    Speaking of Colorado whiskey, what distillery(ies) are you speaking of? I’m heading to Fort Collins, Estes Park and maybe Boulder this summer. Aside from craft beer usual suspects, would I find any distilleries around those parts?

    • Alex
      February 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      Try visiting Stranahan’s or Leopold Brothers in Denver, if you can. Breckenridge just opened a new distillery as well, although I haven’t tried their stuff yet. I’m not so sure about Boulder and Ft. Collins, but I’m sure that they have some small distilleries too!

      • February 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

        Not going to make it to Denver, Alex. A quick look on the Interwebs for Colorado Whiskey only pulls the two distilleries you mentioned. I guess at the very least I could pick up some special bottles if I see anything interesting at a liquor store while there.

        • Don
          February 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

          Chad, those are the only two “whiskey” distilleries in Co, but there are a bunch of Artisan Spirits being distilled. I would check that on Google! 😉

      • Alex
        February 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

        Fair enough, but Boulder and Denver are only 30 mins. apart and Stranahan’s is right off of I-25. If you’re in Boulder, it is certainly worth the trip. They even have an adjoining bar/restaurant.

        I’ve been dying to check out the new brewery in Fort Collins called Funkwerks. They specialize in Belgian saisons and I’ve been hearing good things.

      • February 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

        Alex, I really got into Saisons last summer. Suspect I’ll be doing the same this. I’ll definitely stop by Funkwerks and check them out! Thanks for the tip.

      • Rick
        February 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

        Check out Boulder Distillery. They’re a family company making a nice nice set of spirits. Their claim to fame is 303 Vodka, but I’m partial to their whiskey. Enjoy Boulder, it is great!

    • Don
      February 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      Many of the breweries actually have a distilling component to them. This would be the first place to check. Also Stranahans in Denver makes a great whiskey. Finally, I went to Koenig winery a while back across the way from Hell’s Canyon and St Chappelle and they make both Vodka and Brandy, but they are not allowed to give samples. This is the problem! It’s a real thing Chad. We need to get it fixed!

      • February 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

        Yup, we’ve been going to Koenig every year for some time, Don. They’re making some damn fine fruit brandy. I get a bottle there every year.

        Yeah, the spirits samples thing is a tough hurdle. Only way around it would be to get a liquor license and charge a nominal fee for samples, I guess. Which isn’t a bad idea. Wonder why they don’t do that?

        • Don
          February 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

          Chad, I’ll bet there is some sort of rule about drinking on the premises its distilled at. Wait a minute, that doesn’t work, or BarDeNay wouldn’t work like it is. I don’t know why they don’t do that…Lazy, maybe?

  4. February 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Would this make one less likely to end up in the doghouse after imbibing too much?

    Just wondering… historically speaking.

    • Don
      February 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      Organized group drinking always adds to acceptability of stumbling…Or so I’d like to think.

  5. February 1, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Great article Don. You couldn’t be more on the money.


    Wes Henderson
    Louisville Distilling Company
    Angel’s Envy Bourbon

  6. February 2, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I’ve watched the craft distillery market with both anticipation and caution. Some of the conversation about craft ranges from pioneering spirit (no pun) to profiteers; and both may be accurate to some degree. A criticism that I hear and read is the issue of sourcing in order for a distillery to enter the market all the while distilling their own make for future distribution. In some cases, there’s a good degree of creativity going on like in the case of High West with their release of BouRye, the blending of two different whiskey mashbills. Just because a craft distillery sources from someplace like LDI isn’t a negative in my opinion but simply a way to leverage new/aged distillate in order to get up and running and begin the cash flow.

    My anticipation for craft distilleries is that they bring a flexibility and creativity to the American whiskey market. For instance, American Single Malt whiskey; where is it except as a few small batch offerings? It will be very interesting to see if the craft whiskey market parallel’s the path that craft beer followed over the years.

    • Don
      February 2, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      Greg, I remember reading (for all intents and purposes) an argument between Chuck Cowdery and the master distiller over at Templeton Rye in Iowa about this very sourcing issuue. Some of the details are sketchy, but it seems the argument stemmed from the fact that Templeton Rye was infact sourcing its rye from, I believe, a heaven Hill Distillery and claiming it as their own. Chuck called them out on this and an argument ensued. My understanding is that NOW Templeton Rye is 100% sourced in Iowa, so there should be little controversary any more, but you are correct, in the first few years of a startup you really cannot be 100% sure who’s whiskey you are drinking. I always thought that many of these artisnal whiskeys would attach themselves to a brewery, or make other artisnal spirits like in the case of New Holland, that don’t need aging, and thus could begin the cash flow, while new make aged.

      • February 2, 2011 at 11:03 am #

        As a whiskey enthusiast, I don’t care where they get their whiskey. I’m more interested in taste than provenance. The criticism of Templeton may/may not have been accurate but I’ll say that the same criticism wasn’t unique to Templeton; I’ve seen comments made about other craft distillers. To criticize a craft distiller would force one to criticize Diageo or Pernod Ricard as they also source from LDI (the largest distilled spirits plant in the world….and I bet most folks have probably never heard of them)

    • February 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

      You really need to get your hands on McCarthy’s Peated Oregon Single Malt from Clear Creek. Really great stuff. Along with Stranahan’s Batch 49 I think it’s probably the best American whiskey (non bourbon and/or rye).

  7. August 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I definitely notice more of an appreciation in small batch whiskey happening in San Francisco. I hear more discussion and understanding of whiskey particularly with young people when i’m at bars out here. It’s on the up-and-up. To be “the next wine” is probably a bit too ambitious, however. In my opinion, wine will always be more of a crowd pleaser and easily understood by folks.

    In terms of specific craft distilleries, I’m liking Charbay’s recent “R5” – distilled straight from Racer 5 IPA, also from California.

    It would be great to start seeing distillery trails, like we already have with Napa and Sonoma. Not sure what that requires legislation-wise, but I’d be all over it 🙂

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