Lesson 4: Craft vs. Crafty

In North America, craft beer is ubiquitous and local distillers are also carving out their niche in the craft spirits world. As consumers, we want to support local craft products, but why? What does it mean to be a craft brewery or craft distillery?

Microbrewers make beer in single batches to ensure that each recipe is achieving the most desirable characteristics of that one beer. By contrast, macrobrewers almost always make a high gravity beer where alcohol content is elevated (closer to that of wine) and then is cut with water until desired alcohol level is reached. A high alcohol brew is referred to as a “wort stream” and can be further processed to make more than one brand of beer. The result is that macro brews tend to be less malty from being diluted and more estery (fruity) from the higher alcohol/sugar content.

Much like craft beer, craft spirits are also prepared in small batches. Traditionally, and in modern craft distillation, the fermented liquid is heated and then boiled off. The first part of the process involves boiling off the heads, or the harsh chemicals, then the hearts, the principal ingredients or desirable liquor, and finally the leftovers, known as the tails. By making small batches, microbrewers are able to assess the quality of every batch. On the other hand, mass producers have developed continuous distillation, where the fermented liquid is introduced into the system at the same rate as it is boiled off, and can continue as a rolling process.

Micro industries are often negatively defined in terms of what they are not, but they are so much more than “not the big guys”. Craft breweries and distilleries are independently owned and operated, where owners are often involved in every stage of the brewing or distillation process. Local, homegrown products are incorporated as much as possible, and making a quality product is always of primary importance. Buying craft beer and spirits not only supports local markets, but also shows an appreciation for quality and craftsmanship achieved by microbreweries and small batch distilleries.