He also happens to be quite an accomplished photojournalist, a skill that he says doesn't always work in his favor in today's hyper-paranoid world. "As a man in my 70s, I can't go to Disneyland to take photographs anymore; everyone is suspicious of me," he says. These days, Owens documents copper pot stills on the distillery-driven road trips he takes every few years.
We chatted with Owens just before he left California on Aug. 15 for a cross-country tour for over two months. Get the interview after the jump, and then be sure to check out the American Distilling Institute's latest publication releases.
Squid Ink: A road trip?
Bill Owens: This will be my fourth trip across the country. Believe it or not, Elton John's agent bought $30,000 worth of [my photography] prints out of the blue. So basically, I'm going on Elton John's dime.
SI: That's hilarious. And a long time on the road.
BO: I'm used to it by now. I travel with my own pillow. You can travel with about $100 a day still, really, if you're careful. Motels run about $60, gas $30 or $40; all you need is a little food. Panera, Subway, eating at friends' houses. It doesn't have to be expensive.
SI: So why a road trip?
BO: Well, I drive across the country and back meeting distillers, to see what's going on with them and to promote them. I also visit some vendors who advertise with us, and one or two brewpubs. It's always very interesting.
SI: No doubt you meet some great folks.
BO: Oh yes. I really love the guys who have distilling in their DNA; they wake up one day and they want to do it. They have to do it. On the other end you have the businessmen, the pure distillery-owner types, and they're interesting, too. As the president of the [American Distilling] Institute, it's fun to see what people want right now in the industry.
SI: What are craft distillers interested in these days?
BO: Now they all want it to be legal to sell [their spirits] on site.
SI: In a tasting room, like a brewery or winery can do in many states.