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Still Life: The Resurgence of Craft Bourbon

Still Life: The Resurgence of Craft Bourbon

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Still Life: The Resurgence of Craft Bourbon

145 Seiten
1 Stunde
Jul 1, 2017


The art of creating and consuming bourbon is exploding. Today you will find craft bourbon distilleries in all 50 states. As mixologists and distillers find the space, market and financial success to fully explore their trade, the world is taking notice.

It’s in the middle of this expanding industry that author Carla Carlton takes the time to connect all the dots for you, the bourbon enthusiast. She concisely maps out the seeds of the newest trends and shows why certain classic bourbon brands and bottles have grown while others have been washed away.

This special edition e-only book is a wonderful and informative read on its own and is also the perfect chaser to Carlton’s Barrel Strength Bourbon, now out in bookstores and online everywhere.
Jul 1, 2017

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Still Life - Carla Harris Carlton



IN THE EARLY 1930s, a pickup truck pulled up to a small cabin near the Western Kentucky town of Golden Pond just as the sun was rising, and a man climbed in. He carried with him a pump gas blowtorch, a soldering iron, and some copper sheets. The driver took the man to a small clearing deep in the woods, let him out, and drove away.

That evening, the driver returned, collected the man, and took him home. And so it went for the rest of that week. On the last evening, the man smiled and revealed the results of his handiwork: a copper moonshine still, ready to be fired up. Rectangular and flat-bottomed, the wagon-bed still would be easy to dismantle and throw into the back of the truck on short notice—an important feature when government revenue agents could show up at any time.

During the dark days of Prohibition and even after, when hard liquor was hard to come by, Casey Jones’s moonshine was in high demand—but it was his still-building skill that was most prized. By some accounts, he crafted as many as 150 stills over the years. It’s said that he even built one across the Cumberland River from the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville.

Arlon Casey Jones: a man and his still (Photo: Chad Carlton)

My grandfather was probably one of the biggest still builders in Golden Pond there ever was, says Arlon Casey Jones. Everybody wanted him to build their stills if they could get him.

Eventually, though, the feds got him instead. He spent two years in prison in Virginia and then lived with Arlon’s family for a time. He never talked much about his past with his grandson, but Arlon heard tales from cousins who had also run moonshine—and had also done time. (Arlon’s father, Robert Jones, escaped prison only by joining the Marines.)

Decades later, Arlon Casey Jones is running his own copper moonshine still in Western Kentucky. He built it himself, patterning it after the last still his grandfather ever made, and he uses the old family recipe. He even took Casey as a middle name.

Thirsty travelers follow a winding driveway off a two-lane road on the outskirts of Hopkinsville to a small, unassuming building next to his house, where they can have a sip of ’shine—maybe straight off the still, if they’re lucky—and buy a bottle or two. But there’s one big difference between this Casey Jones operation and his grandfather’s: Arlon Casey Jones’s distillery is completely legal.

Today, it’s not the quest for the unattainable that draws consumers to small operations like Casey Jones Distillery—it’s the thirst for something new and different. And a rapidly growing number of entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity to make their own spirits and reclaim a part of distilling history that Prohibition nearly wiped out.

{ Just A SIP }

Before Prohibition, there were 183 operating distilleries in Kentucky; fewer than half survived.

In early America, just about every farming family distilled its extra grain, often using the resulting spirits as a form of money. As the country became more industrialized, small commercial distilleries became the norm. Prohibition closed all but six, which were allowed to produce medicinal spirits. At that point, moonshiners were the only craft distillers—although, since most of them sold high-octane spirits right off the still, their customers would probably dispute the use of the term craft. Many small distilleries never reopened following Repeal. Others consolidated and acquired the rights to use the brand names of many of the former operations. Eventually, almost all distilled spirits were produced by high-volume mega-distillers.

Ironically, it was these mega-distillers that helped get the little guys back into the business. In the 1990s, to lure drinkers back to the brown spirits that had fallen from favor, major distillers created the super-premium category: limited-edition bourbons at higher prices. The success of this marketing effort opened the door for entrepreneurs to produce low-volume, high-priced spirits that liquor stores and bars would stock.

You might hear them called craft distillers, or microdistillers, or artisanal distillers. But those are all just different names for the same thing: independent, small-scale spirits-making enterprises. And their numbers have increased by more than 1,000% in the past decade.

Microdistillers Pour It On

IN 2003, WHEN Bill Owens founded the American Distilling Institute (ADI), a trade group, there were 68 microdistilleries in America. Now there are about 1,300, and hundreds more are under construction.

There is no official definition for craft distillery. The ADI says a craft distiller is one whose annual sales are less than 100,000 proof gallons. (A proof gallon, which is used to calculate taxes owed, is 1 liquid gallon of spirits that is 50% alcohol at 60°F.) Under the membership rules of the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), another trade group, membership levels begin with those who produce up to 1,000 proof gallons per year and are capped at 750,001 proof gallons.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA), a nonprofit membership group that has promoted and protected that state’s bourbon industry for more than 130 years, voted in 2010 to change its bylaws to add craft distillers and defines them by barrel inventory. There are now two tiers of craft membership: introductory (100 barrels or fewer in inventory) and established (100–10,000 barrels). A standard bourbon barrel holds 53 gallons. For comparison, a large distillery, like Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky, has the capacity to produce 1,000 barrels per day.

That first year there were six craft members in the KDA; by early 2017, there were 23. Add in Willett Distillery, which in 2015 moved up to the proof category (10,000–24,999 barrels), the seven large-scale heritage members (such as Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Wild Turkey), and the Distilled Spirits Epicenter (an educational distillery), and the KDA had 33 members, by far the most since Prohibition was repealed. Dozens more craft distilleries are planned or under construction in the state.

{ Just A SIP }

Almost 400 Distilled Spirits Permits (DSPs) were issued in 2015 alone by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

But while Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s supply of bourbon, when it comes to the number of craft distilleries, the crazy thing is, we’re eleventh in the country, says Eric Gregory, president of the KDA. Some states are at almost 200. Among the states ahead of Kentucky are California, Washington, and Oregon, where craft breweries really took off in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The craft-distilling movement may be growing even faster. The national market share of spirits made by

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