Rebirth of the distiller

Distillers are the latest to join the renaissance that wine, beer, olives, chocolate and several other food groups have experienced in recent years.

The American Distilling Institute started in 2003 and has grown from 86 to 900 attendees at its member meetings as the industry picks up steam. It educates new and experienced distillers about the legal and logistical aspects of the industry.

There are about 532 distilleries in the United States today. The ADI recently established a formal definition for Certified Craft Distiller: an independently owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,500 cases where the product is physically distilled and bottled on site.

There’s a lot of growth happening in the distilling industry, with about 320 craft distillers nationwide and 1,000 expected to be open by 2015, said Pennfield Jensen, executive director of the American Craft Distillers Association.

The growth trend is following closely on what craft brewing has experienced.

“If you were to look at the two from the same historical perspective, where craft brewing was at its early stages and about the point craft distilling is now, the data points are statistically identical,” Jensen said.

The ACDA is a nonprofit trade association that assists distillers with legislative issues, brand development, marketing and distribution.

The Distilling Council of the United States, which mainly serves the major distillers, started a craft affiliate arm in 2010 because of the growing popularity of craft distilling. There are now 76 affiliate members in 29 states, said Frank Coleman, senior vice president.

Even a decade ago, there were just two dozen distillers in the United States, and most were mid-sized or large players.

“You had this very interesting consumer interest in distilled spirits that expanded over the course of the last decade,” Coleman said. “At the same time, you had this whole trend in American society about things local and flavor, the explosion of interest in different kinds of flavors in all kinds of food and beverage products.”

Consumers now desire more authenticity and heritage in their spirits, according to Coleman.

The American distilling tradition goes back to George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon, and was shaped by the melting pot of immigrant cultures in the United States.

Prohibition contributed to a loss of interest in distilling for about 70 years after it was repealed. The industry is only now beginning to grow again, Coleman said.

“Other than craft brewing, you’ve seen spirits take a very large chunk of market share back from the large beer producers,” he said.

Craft beers, imports, and whiskey are growing rapidly among consumers craving flavor and uniqueness.

“The highest priced products are growing the most rapidly, which suggests that consumers view the product as an affordable luxury, even in difficult times,” Coleman said.

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