Monday, July 21, 2014

There Is a Difference Between 'Craft' and 'Crafty'


As reported by Amy Hopkins in The Spirits Business last week, Diageo North America president Larry Schwartz recently declared to investors at a conference: “We’re going to be the number one craft distiller in North American whiskey in the US. Why? Because we have the whiskies.”

Schwartz was talking about the Orphan Barrels program, which so far consists of three bourbons called Old Blowhard, Barterhouse, and Rhetoric. Diageo calls them 'craft.' Others have called them "an insult to American whiskeys and the people who drink them."

The person Hopkins calls "Ewan Moran" is probably Ewan Morgan, who takes the ball from Schwartz. "Craft is about artisanship, passion, experience, great liquid, great products," he says. Okay, except 'artisan' is just a synonym for 'craft,' while 'passion' and 'experience' sound nice but they're just vague platitudes. Even absent an agreed definition, 'craft' has to be more than a vague label you can stick on just about anything.

Or does it? For marketing purposes, words such as 'craft' are best left to the consumer's imagination, because like 'small batch' and 'produced by,' the consumer is likely to believe they mean more than they really do.

Morgan is absolutely right about one thing when he says, "not all small distilleries are craft."

The American Distilling Institute (ADI) begs to differ. It defines 'craft spirits' as "the products of an independently-owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,000 cases, where the product is physically distilled and bottled on site."

In other words, "not you, Diageo."

But 'craft' has to mean more than just 'small,' doesn't it? ADI's problem, of course, is that so many of its members are fakes. Take a look at its pathetic joke of a craft self-certification system. Diageo probably loves it since it's based on the principle of "It's craft because I say it is."

To muddy the waters further, a California company called Craft Distillers Inc. (CD), has trademarked the term 'Craft Distillers.' Earlier this year they filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the young movement's other trade association, the American Craft Distillers Association (ACDA). ACDA put on its tough guy face at first, then became the ACSA (American Craft Spirits Association).

Can a large distiller be craft? Probably, but Orphan Barrels isn't because there is nothing even remotely craft about the offering.

Craft is about things made, not necessarily from scratch, but where an artisan affects some kind of transformation. For something to be 'craft,' an artisan must conceive and execute an idea, and it must be a production idea, not a marketing one. The 'craft' performed must directly impact the product, not merely the packaging and promotion of it. Orphan Barrels is a marketing idea, not a product idea. The product itself consists of nothing more than several large batches of leftovers.

Too harsh? Consider the facts. No one has claimed that United Distillers, the Diageo predecessor company that made all the whiskey, intended 26 or 20 years ago to make these products, nor that it did anything special then or along the way to the specific whiskey that became these products. It was standard production of the Bernheim Distillery, from before and after it closed and was rebuilt. It is simply whiskey they couldn't find any other use for until now.

There's a name for that -- 'Closeout' maybe? 'Bargain Bin'? 'Final Liquidation'? -- but it's definitely not 'craft.' Saying the Orphan Barrels aren't craft doesn't mean they're bad whiskey. They may be great whiskey, they're just not 'craft' if 'craft' is to be anything other than a meaningless marketing term du jour.

The producers most recognized for their craft whiskeys -- Balcones, Koval, Corsair, Few, Dry Fly -- do it with innovation, originality, and creativity. They do things that haven't been done before and create products unlike anything you've ever tasted before. That's what the consumer wants from 'craft,' but perhaps Lance Winters (St. George) is right when he says, "putting a binding definition on what craft is, would be like putting a binding legal definition on what art is." Consumers have to stay skeptical and always ask producers who call their products 'craft,' "where's the craft?" It's a question we've been asking here since 2008.

21 comments:

Martin Duffy said...

Totally agree with you on this Chuck.

Justin Victor said...

I love the designation "close out". Seems a much more accurate description of what this really is. I hope more US whiskey drinkers wake up and see that Diageo treats bourbon like the red headed step child of their portfolio.

MCPO TJZ said...

Craft, hand crafted, small batch, special reserve and so on. So much lingo to try to one up each other.

FrankDell said...

Crafty, perhaps, but not craft.

Guy L. Smith said...

Chuck...

Try to not let your antipathy for Diageo get totally confuse your use of the English language. What you write is just silly. You are suggesting (actually you are saying) that the folks that made Orphan Barfrel whiskies (whiskys) were not artisans. That's like saying George Dickel or Lem Motlow were not artisans. Stop being so silly. It just cheapens the artisanal use of the English language when you craft such nonsense. Just enjoy the good craft whisk(e)y!

Cheers!

guy

Guy L. Smith
Executive Vice President
Diageo (and the George Dickel Distilling Company...as fine a craft distiller as anyone can find!)

Chuck Cowdery said...

I understand the argument, Guy, and using that logic Budweiser is artisan-made beer. Certainly no one is saying your products aren't high quality, but if 'craft' is supposed to distinguish something from something else, then what is on the other side of the ledger?

Lew Bryson said...

Not getting into the "what's craft" debate, because I see how productive that's been over in "craft" brewing, but...Really, Guy? George Dickel was not, so far as I know, any kind of artisan. He didn't make the whiskey, he sold it, he branded it. The people AT George Dickel today, you could make a case that they're making craft whiskey. But George himself? Don't think so. It's important to keep the facts separated from the fiction, the people separated from the brand.

Chuck Cowdery said...

As for my 'antipathy' toward Diageo, Guy, I'm not the one who called your prized line 'Orphan Barfrel.' Freudian slip?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Also, since we're talking about words, the plural of 'whisky' is 'whiskies.' The plural of 'whiskey' is 'whiskeys.'

I know, 'silly,' right?

Guy L. Smith said...

You keep making my point!

Chuck Cowdery said...

And you mine. Who says we can't get along?

Barturtle said...

Lem Motlow and George Dickel were "artisans"? I thought they were a bookkeeper and a retail merchant, respectively.

While I'm sure there are a number of creative accounting types who would consider bookkeeping an "art", I'm not sure it's artisanal.

Edwin Vargas said...

Guy, you should leave the written word to your PR Department. Orphan Barrels' whiskey was produced by fine distillers and distilling is a craft but Orphan Barrel is not a craft distiller and, in fact, you distilled nothing. Your insight into logical argument is astoundingly myopic and it is the type if rhetoric (pun intended) that the whiskey drinking public holds against your company. Back away from the keyboard.

Ed Vargas

DavindeK said...

Best comment I ever heard on craft came from a local farmer selling multi-coloured heritage tomatoes in a church parking lot. She spoke disdainfully of her customers, saying they clean their ears with artisanal q-tips. Lamenting, perhaps, that they no longer settle for beefsteak or cherry.

Warren Bobrow said...

There will be a massive shake out like the McCarthy era of television and motion pictures where anyone who dares to speak out against BIG CORPORATIONS will be blacklisted...

The big dogs will have sued all the real craft distillers out of existence through their heavy handed lawsuits.

Remember what Pusser's Rum did to the bar formerly known as Painkiller in NYC if you think that all is kindness and gentleness when it comes to our skewed industry...

Anonymous said...

Is 'antipathy' the next Orphan Barrel release?

buffdaddy7533 said...

I aspire to become an artisian
craft whiskey taster. Is there such a dictionary in print? I feel that the likes of Murray & his Biblical disciples could use a bit of pointing up as well as Diageo!

Craft Beverage Association said...

Help define what CRAFT does mean or should mean -- for spirits, wine and beer.

We already have over 200 surveys from top producers and need a few hundred more.

http://bevlaw.com/craft-survey.php

I really hope Chuck has submitted one because his view would be invaluable. Also, his readers should be pretty astute, too. We are trying to get industry-only views for now.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I usually don't accept comments with URLs in them, but I know these guys and they are legit.

Jack Robertiello said...

Someone wiser than I had the perfect estimation of the opinion regarding "craft" as presented by the gentleman from Diageo, I think: "When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

Anonymous said...

"Craft" = that which will make [us] boatloads of money (even tho' we've gotten it all from MGP).