Tossing around hopes and dreams of opening a distillery, but no clue where to start? The Hayward-based American Distilling Institute (ADI) is the go-to trade organization for information on everything from copper stills to dealing with the industry's infamous red tape. The ADI online chat room is also where you're first likely to hear of the struggles of craft distilleries such as Integrity Spirits in Portland, which unfortunately announced last week on ADI that the distillery is for sale.
ADI founder Bill Owens keeps a running tab on the growing number of craft distilleries in the U.S., which he says has been increasing steadily by as much as thirty new distilleries a year despite recent setbacks in the artisan distilling market.
Even just getting into the spirits business isn't as easy as wine and beer, which by comparison are easy to swallow. "It's not so much the Fed or state [regulations] that are the problem," says Owens. "The local fire department or city planning department will stop [aspiring distillers] dead."
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Add to it that aspiring distillers can't legally distill practice batches of rum at home before taking the business plunge (though making infusions like limoncello with a store-bought base spirit for personal consumption is legal), and it's little wonder that craft distilling hasn't caught on like craft brewing and wine making -- both perfectly legit Saturday afternoon pastimes should you care to make a few test batches fore investing your life savings in a new business.
"There's not even a university course on distilling you can take," says Owens, adding that even still, moonshiners are not easily deterred. "What's making the difference is the books and information out there on how to build a still, how to get a license, how to find that knowledge that you need to start a distillery. These people who are just starting out have a lot to learn, not just how to distill their product, but how to run a business."
Through the ADI, Owens offers e-learning courses and several books on distilling, including Modern Moonshine Techniques and the Craft of Whiskey Distilling. Those who are serious about commercial distilling can pony up the big bucks for one of Owens' week-long, hands-on workshops (the next will be held in December). Or you can simply sign up for ADI's member forum to receive email updates on the latest topics posted by members. You'll get daily emails on issues ranging from specific federal and state regulatory snafus (permits, taxes, etc.), ingredients (Does hard water affect vodka's flavor?), supplies (Is anyone else using a 100-year-old stone grinder for their grain having residue issues?), as well as random queries (What's the best solution for chapped hands due to the drying effects of high-proof alcohol?).
For those aspiring distillers in the market for 1,100 liter stainless steel tanks from Monrovia-based Greenbar Collective, producer of Crusoe Rums and Tru Vodkas (which has undergone a recent expansion into all organic, eco-friendly products), Owens has some advice. "Whiskey and moonshine are the next hot categories," he says. "And you've got to be green in what you're doing now. There's another generation out there, and that's what they want."