The Indie Spirits Expo, Sept. 30 at the Chicago Hilton & Tower was as fine a place as any to learn a bit about the world of distilled drink.
Further expos are held in Boston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and New York, and co-producer and buddy-o-mine Marty Duffy said the event has grown in seven years to featuring 400 brands in 2014.
It’s for people who like their innovative drink, Duffy said.
It’s also a growing niche in a very big industry. According to the US Drink Conference and the Beverage Information Group in 2012 there were 434 craft distilleries, 2,075 craft breweries and 7,345 local wineries in the United States when alcohol sales in this country were approaching $200 billion.
As for the imported part of that mix, things Irish on display at the Expo included product from the Teeling Whiskey Company, which brand rep Christine Delany noted is building the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years.
It’s a part of a boom back in Ireland for its whiskey.
These links – from Shanken News Daily, The Independent, Business Week, and The Spirits Business – should get you up to speed.
Uisce Beatha means water of life and is the term from which we get the word whiskey, or whisky if you’re a Scot.
Uisce Beatha also is a new brand that was first bottled earlier this year, “using liquid from ‘confidential’ sources according to this piece from The Spirits Business (http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2014/03/uisce-beatha-irish-whiskey-launches-in-sweden/).
It took a gold medal at this year’s Los Angeles International Craft Spirits Competition (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/ca-rok-drinks-whiskey-idUSnPn8Pqqd3+90+PRN20140521).
Speaking of things Los Angeles, Greenbar (http://www.lamag.com/liquidlablog/l-s-first-craft-distillery-now-open-tours/), that city’s first craft distillery, was at the expo, too, offering samples of all sorts of spirits from its portfolio.
Billing itself as an eco-friendly company, Greenbar’s brochure states it only uses organic ingredients, lightweight bottles, and plants one tree for each bottle it sells.
“One cocktail with 2 oz on any Greenbar spirits makes you carbon negative for the day,” the brochure states.
Hmm. If I got drunk enough, I could make up for a lot of my less-than-Earth-friendly behavior, I guess.
True stories and fables
Such authenticity and the stories behind the labels are what craft places have to offer in the crowded marketplace, said Monique Huston, Elite Spirits Portfolio Manager, Stoller/Glazer one of the country’s largest beverage distributors.
Huston was part of panel of women working in the spirits world hosted by TimeOut Chicago Restaurant & Bars Editor Amy Cavanaugh. Here’s what Cavanaugh liked at the expo:
The consensus of the panel was things are getting better for women in this business. Still Kelly Kniewell, CIO for Fresh Coast Distributor, joked about not being able to grow a beard, given the amount of fanciful facial hair on display at the expo.
To their point, in the ballroom holding the expo, two women dressed as Little Red Riding Hood hawked samples of William Wolf Pecan Spirits – and lots of hipsters sported beard and mustaches right out of the 19th century.
Oddly, though, that aforementioned panel seemed not too concerned about the lack of a true story from an ascending Midwestern brand. Catchers of the lies of Templeton Rye have been pointing out the bogus claims made by Templeton, a company those in the know say has some fine-tasting product.
Templeton’s mularkey has included implying it’s made in Iowa using a Prohibition era recipe and some nonsense about raising “whiskey pigs” who eat the mash left in the process for yummier pork. Distillers and brewers of all sorts for a long time have been giving such biowaste to farmers to feed livestock – with no resultant effect on the taste of meat.
Oh. By the way, Templeton’s recipe comes from a plant in Indiana where it’s actually distilled.
Sonat Birnecker Hart, owner and cofounder of Chicago’s Koval Distillery with her husband, said she was annoyed by the Templeton matter. But she also claimed that Koval works with five places that offer distillery tours when the bulk of their product is made elsewhere.
Here’s what the Chicago Reader had to say about the matter, Sept. 26:
From the Whiskey Reviewer, July 18, was this:
From The Daily Beast, July 28:
And the Denver Post, Sept. 28, points out the most liquor is made at factories, not in quaint little boutique distilleries:
This is not to say everyone is in on the act. Recent Eats blog keeps track of where American whiskeys actually are distilled:
And there are 20 independent distilleries in Illinois now.
Of course, Illinois also is a big agricultural state, and as this BBC story (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18360315) notes, “many American vodkas contribute little to the actual manufacturing – they merely purchase 95 percent ethyl alcohol from industrial giants like Archer Daniels Midland or Midwest Grain Processors, add water, and filter the product to varying degrees.”
Enter Weekly Standard editor Victorino Matus ( http://www.vicmatus.com/), author of
Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America, who was at the expo signing his book.
Matus noted that vodka account for more than a third of all sales in the United States in the spirits category, with a good deal of vodka marketing and advertising – and types like Skinnygirl and unnaturally flavored styles – aimed at women.
As this Wall Street Journal review (http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-vodka-by-victorino-matus-1403899543) of Matus; book points out, “Haters will still say there’s no craft in vodka, that it’s an industrial product. But Mr. Matus convinced me there’s true craft here—it’s just that the craftsmen are not so much the distillers as the marketers and advertisers. Vodka didn’t conquer America; America conquered vodka.”
Pass the Smirnoff.