The Atlantic has published a bit of a provocative piece written by Clay Risen on the art of micro-distilling, a made-up word for people running off small batches of alcohol in limited production settings. We used to call these types of people moonshiners, but that was back in the day when we still had a bit of grace in the language. Alas…
The Atlantic piece is a comeback to a story published recently in the New York Times by Tony Cecchini, trumpeting these so-called micro-distillers as being on the vanguard of quality (curiously, Mr. Cecchini calls his piece “Just Don’t Call it Moonshine”). Mr. Risen takes the controversial tack that the quality of whiskey coming out of these boutique moonshiners is sub-par. Cutting to the chase, I quote the heart of the article:
I have yet to sample a craft whiskey that comes close even to Jim Beam’s most basic offering, the four-year-old White Label, let alone its small-batch bourbons like Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, or Booker’s.
The point makes a great deal of sense to me, given that the art of distillation would seem a bit difficult to master and those that have the skill are generally “in the family” – learning the lore first-hand by apprenticing with a master of the art. Further, most bourbon’s are blended from a large number of barrels of varying ages until the correct flavor is presented (even my personal favorite Maker’s Mark is made this way). The micro-distiller will not have this luxury.
Anyway, I encourage you to read both pieces to get a flavor of the discussion.