What makes an artisan spirit?

Artisan or craft processes are free of regulations. This is unlike wine where producers need to meet strict criteria for their wines to be AOC. So we need to turn to the original meaning of artisan and artisanal to answer this question.

Artisanal: produced in limited quantities by an artisan through the use of traditional methods”

Artisan: a worker who practices a trade or handicraft, a CRAFTSPERSON

That’s why artisan and craft are interchangeable and describe the same thing.

But it takes more than just ‘traditional methods’ to make an artisan spirit. So relying on this criteria only doesn’t pain the full picture.

For example, what about small gin producers who use rotovap machines [link out to an explanation] or cold distillation processes? These are modern methods. Or what about producers who use control and monitor their traditional pot stills with spectrometers and computers?

Here’s how they’re both artisanal even if first impressions point to the opposite answer. In the first case, the master distiller is still responsible for overseeing the production at each stage. His only tool to check the liquid meets their standard is still his taste, regardless of the modern distillation process. In the second case the master distiller’s task is more to set and maintain the standard and let the machine and the rest of the workforce synergically do the work.

Both producers have three things in common:

  • they use raw ingredients only
  • they keep mechanised processes to a minimum
  • the master distiller relies on his taste and expertise to maintain consistency and quality of the spirit and to make sure it matches the flavour profile

When spirits production is industrial, a spectrometer controlled by AI manages the whole head and tails cutting process. Meanwhile, it’s still humans who taste spirits and make changes throughout the process, from fermentation or distillation to ageing and bottling.

That’s what makes an artisan spirit.

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