What is Craft Distilling and why does it matter?

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Being the first craft[1] distillery in Cyprus we need to explain what a “craft” distillery is. Ιn Cyprus, the term “craft ” distilling is a relatively new one, even though many wine producers have been “craft” distilling zivania (the local unaged grape brandy) at their homes for centuries. So, is “craft” distilling another marketing buzzword to justify higher prices for something that people already have been doing in their homes for centuries, or is there a real connection between craft distilling and high-quality spirits?

Looking for a credible answer, one may come across the craft distillery definition given by the oldest craft distiller’s association in the world, the American Distilling Institute. The ADI says that a certified craft distillery has to:

– Distill in-house: The spirit must have been run through a still by a certified craft producer, and the TTB-approved label must state “Distilled By” followed by the name of the distillery. (this first point has to do with honesty, which may or may not, describe any type of business.)

– Be independently-Owned: Less than 25% of the craft distillery (distilled spirits plant or DSP) is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by alcoholic beverage industry members who are not themselves craft distillers. (this has to do with true ownership, in the sense that no big distillery can call itself craft distillery, again highlighting honesty.)

– Be Small-Scale: Maximum annual sales are less than 100,000 proof gallons ~ 378,000 liters @ 50% alcohol. (this third point underlines size/capacity which ultimately varies from country to country according to its population size, e.g. for Cyprus standards, 378,000 liters of 50% or 676,000 70cl bottles of 40% ABV is an enormous capacity, so it’s all relative!)

– Have Hands-on Production: Craft distillers produce spirits that reflect the vision of their principal distillers using any combination of traditional or innovative techniques including fermenting, distilling, re-distilling, blending, infusing or, warehousing. (Hands-on production, relatively small scale, and personal by reflecting the vision of the distiller, does not explain or justify quality standards because the vision may not necessarily be about quality.)

So hardly any luck there! Let’s try another craft distiller’s association, The American Craft Spirits Association which defines a craft distillery as follows:

  • A distillery who values the importance of transparency in distilling, and remains forthcoming regarding their use of ingredients, their distilling location, and process, bottling location and process, and the aging process.
  • A distillery that produces fewer than 750,000 gallons annually.
  • A distillery that directly or indirectly holds an ownership interest of less than 50% of the DSP.

Once again, the definition here offers very little to explain how “craft” distilling and high-quality spirits are connected. The capacity is almost double the one specified by the ADI so once again craft distilling and capacity are all irrelevant concepts. It’s obvious that capacity does not determine quality but nonetheless, they do highlight again the need for transparency and honesty.

Since no one will spell it out, and everyone emphasizes the need for honesty more than the need for quality assurance, we are openly sharing our own vision and layout our own criteria of what craft distilling is all about and this is what values Aristides Distilling stands for. With over 12 years of active service in the craft distilling business and with 3 ADI recognitions for excellence, we are still solely focused on creating quality spirits! This is what we do, this is what we know how to do and this is how we are set up. We do it by centering on the tastes and aromas of our local raw ingredients, which are part of the beautiful nature of Cyprus.

Why local? We believe that our spirits should reflect on our local raw ingredients. Cyprus’ abundant sunshine and rich volcanic soil are an exceptional combination that contributes to the character of the botanicals, herbs, grains, plants, and fruit that grow on the island. These wonderful and unique qualities are captured in our spirits.

Why are raw ingredients important? We believe that distilling begins in the field where the raw ingredients grow. Great tasting raw ingredients make great-tasting spirits, it’s as simple as that! This is why we have partnered with local producers that share our vision of excellence in quality.

Does batch size matter? The answer is NO. We produce in the batch size we can manage, control, and influence, so size is irrelevant to us.

Is distillation control important? YES, we are on top of the entire distillation procedure, from processing raw ingredients, fermenting, and distilling to aging and bottling. We believe that if you are not in control of the entire process then you leave things to chance and the problem with chance is that it does NOT produce great tasting spirits ALL the time.

Dedication, is it important? YES, that’s how we overcome challenges along with our know-how but more importantly with our dedication to the mission of producing the best tasting spirits we can possibly make. This is our guideline and our principle.

What about tradition and innovation? We don’t believe that tradition and innovation cannot be combined. We respect tradition but at the same time, it’s the technology that we have adopted that allows us to record and process big amounts of information that simply cannot be done with pen and paper. Tradition cannot control fermentation temperatures or vapor speeds two out of a hundred and more variables that need to be controlled to make great tasting spirits. On the other hand, tradition offers a vision of excellence as well as a deep-seated appreciation for our Cypriot heritage!

Is transparency important? YES, we believe transparency is extremely important! Everyone has the right to know and understand what goes into their drink. Here at Aristides Distilling, our door is always open to anyone who wants to visit and see our facilities. We will explain how we make our products, and why we make them the way we do!

The concept of volume dictating “craft” status is not a valid criterion. “Craft spirits” for us is about control over the process, not about the amount produced. What matters at the end of the day is producing top-quality spirits with transparency and this is where we stand!
– Aris Aristidou

[1] Craft distilling is also known as artisan distilling, micro distilling or boutique distillery