The pandemic has had a major impact on consumer behaviour and craft spirits, as people shifted their purchasing from on-premise to off-premise. This was beneficial for craft distillers, as they were already well-prepared with an online presence and pricing that kept them out of the 'well' system. This allowed them to pivot quickly and take advantage of the increased demand for craft spirits, and as a result, many have become successful. Transcript: "How do I think the pandemic has impacted consumer behavior and interest in craft spirits? Well, in a major way. So we were lucky enough that we were already on sort of the digital wavelength of the consumer out there and that we were playing with social media quite a bit, including podcasts and virtual tastings and things of that nature before the pandemic ever hit, which put our distillery in a very unique position to be ready for the pandemic, which very much so shifted new product purchases from being on-premise driven, in other words, you try it at the bar, you like it, you buy it, take it home, to being off-premise driven. In other words, you're bored, you're at home, you're trying to avoid getting COVID, you can't go out in the public until you go to the liquor store, you buy a bottle, you go to the distillery, you buy a bottle, you bring it home and you drink it. We were already set up for that because of our premiumization with our process, as well as our pricing in the marketplace, which kept us out of the well system at most bars or most of those traditional cocktail places that you would find a new product at. But because we were able to back up what we were doing with our online presence, we were ready to go. All the way up until now, this exact moment, the pandemic, you know, it may have dropped off a little bit as far as if people were still doing podcasts, listening to that much digital media, etc. But it didn't go back to what it was pre-COVID. That crowd is still there and that is specifically the crowd for Kraft Distillers. I will even say we would not be where we're at if it were not for the pandemic. Truthfully, it made us successful."
Home distillers have had a major influence on my approach to crafting unique flavors and experiences, as they are incredibly educated and constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to distilling. I take inspiration from their willingness to experiment with different types of equipment, yeasts, and traditional spirits to come up with something new and exciting. Transcript: "So how have home distillers influenced your approach to crafting unique flavors and experiences? Well, as a home distiller myself, I'm constantly, constantly researching home distilling, craft distilling, historic distilling, etc. And I try to take the best of all those worlds and put them together into my own methodologies. One of the things I can say about home distillers, especially the newest crop of home distillers in the past decade or so, is that they are incredibly, incredibly educated. Well educated on the history of distilling, methodology of distilling, and across the board with different types of spirits. They're constantly pushing the envelopes, they're constantly looking for new equipment. Or as really history would have it, new old equipment. Equipment that hasn't really been used for distilling spirits in quite some time or is used very rarely. Those are the sort of things that I try to put into my own practice, or the things that I see that home distillers are doing that really push the envelope of what can be done with particular traditional spirits. And sometimes those traditional particular spirits are actually made using these particular types of equipment. As well, home distillers are open to using different types of yeast. This is something that does not get discussed all that often in Scotland or America or Ireland. You know, home distillers are all about playing around with crossing the boundaries. Why not use a brandy yeast for whiskey? Why not use kvike yeast for a brandy, right? There's all kinds of cool things that can be done there. Those are the sort of things that I take from the home distillers approach to distilling and work in the my craft every single day, both at my distillery and in my hobby, trying to further the art of distillation via the One Piece of Time Distilling Institute and the Distillers Talk podcast."
Home distillers and other distillers have had a big influence on the recent boom in absinthe interest in true belt epoch style absinthe. They helped to develop and share old technical manuals, distiller notes, and unique American spins on absinthe that we are yet to see in the US marketplace. Home distillers are now pushing for the introduction of unique absinthe based on true Swiss and French traditions into the US industry. Transcript: "Can you give an example of a recent development that was inspired by home distillers or other distillers? Absolutely 100%. The recent boom in absinthe interest in true belt epoch style absinthe was brought on in the late 90s and early 2000s by a group of very intrepid absinthe tours who were also home distillers. This was at a time when literature about true absinthe was very hard to find and finding samples of pre-ban absinthe was almost impossible unless you had the right connections in France. These guys went out of their way to dive into absinthe as deep as what they could, find old technical manuals, find old distillers notes, share those amongst one another and really start to redevelop what absinthe had been in the belt epoch. To add to this they also started to put some American spins on absinthe. You know something that we still haven't seen really necessarily show up in the US marketplace but it is certainly coming I can promise you that and there are a number of brands that I've worked with that are working towards that. That's probably the biggest example of a flavor or an experience that was developed or inspired by home distillers or other distillers right. This sort of resurrection of these long lost distilling techniques that no commercial distiller was going to put their time or effort into and it's still developing now even 23 years later into something that's going to be very unique. If you think about it absinthe is really the only botanical spirit that has not been Americanized. We Americanized gin, we Americanized aquavit but we haven't hit absinthe hardly at all really. It's not the only one but the only one of the three major ones that we haven't done that with and it's home distillers that are really pushing that. This next crop of home distillers that are going into the legal industry themselves they're going to start introducing those unique and really cool absinthe that are based on true Swiss and French traditions of absinthe and what absinthe was and what it can and will be in the United States."
At Spirits of French Lick, they use a combination of Fleischmann's bread yeast and a brandy yeast to achieve the desired flavor balance in their whiskey. The Fleischmann's yeast is used first to bring out the grain flavors, while the brandy yeast is added later to add fruity notes. The brandy yeast is also highly attenuated, meaning it will take over quickly and produce a high-quality spirit. Transcript: "I'd love to hear a little bit more about co-pitching yeast like timing and order high ester and then a high attenuation neutral. So it just depends on what you're trying to do. So for me here at Spirits of French Lick the way that we do is we co-pitch two different yeast. We really don't even co-pitch. We pitch one one day and one the second day that have two different sort of flavor profiles to them. So day one we're using what originally was Fleischmann's bread yeast that we've been propagating ourselves now for four or five years. It's sort of become its own monster and it brings all those grain forward profiles out in the whiskey that we want. We let that go for about 24 hours the next day we'll actually fill the second half that fermenter. So we do 600 gallons one day 600 gallons a second day. The second day then we'll pitch one of three different brandy yeast and the reason for that is we're trying to pull those fruity flavors to the to the forefront there. So what we want is a balance of what the raw grain itself is which is what Fleischmann's yeast is great at doing. It's a bread yeast so it's gonna pull all those bread like flavors to the forefront right all those baked bread flavors maybe even a little bit of that doughiness etc. It's gonna pull that to the forefront and then that brandy yeast is gonna kick in and all three of the brandy yeast that we happen to use for our whiskeys are all very highly attenuated. They're very competitive they're killer yeast and they will take over that bread yeast and start to bring a lot of those more fruity profiles to the forefront in particular and that's what gives us that sort of blend and balance that we're looking for with raw material fermentation and distillation being 50% and 50% being maturation coming from the barrel but we have to have that white base spirit with the fruitiness and that breadiness to it."
Yes, spirits can age in a bottle just like wine. If it has access to oxygen, the molecules will be altered which changes the flavor profile of the spirit. Additionally, pot still distilled spirits go through a shock when bottled and need time to open up. This is why producers often let their spirits bottle condition for weeks before being released to the market. Transcript: "So do spirits age in a bottle like wine? Well this is an interesting question for multiple reasons. A, yes if you have a cork in the bottle that is able to get air in through it. So in other words, non-synthetic cork. That air is able to get into the bottle and therefore you get some micro-oxidization of the alcohol over time within the bottle which changes some of the molecules that you're going to taste in the flavor profile of that particular spirit. Secondarily, there's another factor that does happen specifically with pot still distillation like what you see behind me which is currently running at the moment. So that other thing that happens is that much like wine, once you filter that spirit and you bottle it, it goes through a little bit of a shock. In other words, everything tastes just a little bit off. So even from a producer's perspective, we have to be very conscientious of how that's going to play when someone opens up the bottle of whiskey and or brandy that we were making. And once we bottle everything, we will actually let it bottle condition for a few weeks before it ever hits the marketplace in order for that shock to sort of go away. The other thing that's very important to remember about pot distilled spirits, and this is only sort of ancillary to the question at hand, but they need a chance to open up. So when you open that bottle and you pour that spirit, let it set for a few minutes before you take a drink of it and off-gas just a little bit. But yes, spirits can age in the bottle or the carboy or glass or stainless or wood as long as they have access to oxygen. It does change things. It's not the same as maturation. It's different."
Home distillers producing unique spirits, US made agave spirits, and the Americanization of absinthe making are all underappreciated trends that will have massive consequences in the future. Transcript: "So what's an underappreciated trend today that you think will have massive consequences in the future? Well relating to the distilled spirits industry, I can think of two of them that I harp on quite often. One is the number of home distillers that are currently producing outstanding spirits in their out buildings, basements, kitchens, etc. and playing around with unique ingredients that the big distillers and the craft distillers have not caught on to yet using unique equipment that we also have not caught on to yet. They're going to change the face of craft distilling back to a regional sort of thing that's all about an expanded palette and very much related to agriculture and food and experiential sort of things. Secondarily I think that US made agave spirits now I'm not talking people who are going to make agave and say this is our version of tequila or our version of mezcal but I'm talking people who will actually take agave nectar syrup and or if they can actually get a hold of actual agave and ferment it and use it as a base for a tribute for other spirits. I think that there's a lot of growth there for craft distillers to play off of a lot of unique and interesting combinations with various grains and or fruits and or various botanicals that can be played with and I see that segment growing quite a bit even though right now it looks trendy quote-unquote I do think that it has some real levity to it once it grows into its own thing. I'm gonna add one more in there the Americanization of absinthe. Making absinthe in a traditional way but putting an American spin on it much like we did gin as craft distillers."