Today’s Times has a whole long thing about New York’s growing collection of craft distillers, small-time hooch houses that the story frames as Davids to Goliaths like Jim Beam, Absolut, etc. The owners are primarily a bunch of guys — well, the owners appear to all be guys, so read into that what you will — who have decided to reject whatever previous careers they had (a doctor! a graphic designer!) to follow their distillation dreams. In an industry run by a handful of huge companies, all these guys are trying to do is put out some high-quality, handcrafted booze! Sounds like it’s working.
Their products are variously described in the story as “beautifully soft,” “astonishing,” “audacious,” “odd,” and “serious.” And while the story focuses on distilleries in New York, they’re popping up everywhere: According to the senior vice-president of the Distilled Spiritis Council of the United States, the number of distilleries in this country has gone from 24 in 2001 to 220 now. (In fact, some of our favorite vodka is made at a tiny distillery in Pittsburgh.)
But is this stuff necessarily better than the big brands, or just different? In our own experience, small-batch brands can range from very good to very, very bad and exceedingly overpriced. At least when you buy a bottle of Tanqueray or Jack Daniels, you know what you’re gonna get. But sometimes the rough-around-the-edges quality of the small-label stuff is appealing. We’re honestly torn!
Interestingly, the line that separates these two worlds is quickly blurring: William Grant & Sons — which controls brands like Hendricks, Stolichinaya, and the Balvenie — recently made a deal to be the sole distributor of the Hudson Whiskey line that’s put out by Tuthilltown Sprirts, one of New York’s first post-prohibition distilleries.
But what do you think? Are the small brands any good? Is it worth it to support small businesses even if you risk getting an inferior product? Or is their stuff actually better than the big brands?