One of the most annoying aspects of craft distilling is how so many people who enjoy what a label makes have no idea exactly how much actual craft there is to it. The blending of science and art is unreal. There is still a large segment of whiskey drinkers out there that believe a distillery is only a scaled-up version of a still set up some toothless redneck hiding in the hills has going. They’re thinking of bathtub gin and moonshine that makes people go blind and not quality spirits. As we know, the distilling process and running a distillery is more like a chemistry lab at CERN.
Even Simple Things are Challenging
Even the seemingly simple things can take a turn for the difficult. Not only does meddling with a step in the distilling process entails a strong inclination to get it right, but there is also making sure that said meddling is handled in a way that makes the TTB happy. Sometimes, this stumps even the experts. One common trend that millennial whiskey drinkers are taking to is a sweeter bottle of hooch. No problem. Let’s experiment with adding certain sugars to the distillate. Can’t be that hard, right?
You would think, but no. It can get hard real quick. Adding extra ingredients isn’t done casually. If things were still just Bubba and Paw on the ridge, they could pour it in, and see what happened. Craft distilleries have more to consider than pure curiosity. There is product quality and consistency to think about, and no one with an ounce of common sense will take a blind risk like that with tens of thousands of product or more. Besides, if the end result proves a good seller, they will want to replicate their success. There is also the TTB paperwork. They want to know the proof, they want it measured accurately, and they want to know how a distiller arrived at that number.
Dropping the proof is relatively simple if that's all you want to do. All it takes to move the proof from 140 to 70 is adding the right amount of deionized water. Throwing in the sugar or other raw ingredient changes things. Something that most people don’t know about a spirit’s proof is that close doesn’t cut it in the TTB’s eyes. The proof must be exact as possible. Calculating proof with a wildcard ingredient added in now involves some complicated math and a high degree of technical know-how, or some rather expensive testing equipment.
Experts in anything will always have the problem of people who see them in action thinking that what they do is easy. For the expert distiller, it might be easy…thanks to decades of dedication to the craft and a deep-seated passion for learning and mastering all aspects of making spirits. All most people experience is taking a drink and maybe reading the about page from their favorite brand’s website. Perhaps they took a tour and got a hint of the Herculean effort and skill involved with distilling. More than a few will never get it though, but they pay the bills. So keep it looking comfortable, and give them what they want. Allow the rest to provide you with the love and understanding you deserve for what you do.