What is a Distillery?

Do you ever wonder where your alcohol is made? Well, this is a common question and just as big of a misconception. Tons of people think that your hard liquor is made in a brewery just like beer. While you wouldn’t be far off to assume this, it isn’t the case. While breweries brew beer, distilleries make hard alcohol.

What does a distillery do?

The process of distillation is similar to that of brewing beer; they combine their grains, yeast and water. The grain breaks down, starches turn into sugars, then it all eventually becomes alcohol with the help of yeast and enzymes. From here, things take a split between the beer and distilled alcohols; for spirits, yeast and sugar are drained. The remaining liquid is then poured into a still. The alcohol gets vaporized as its boiling point is lower than water, and that condensation is collected and cooled, which creates what we know as drinkable spirits. There’s a few more steps that go into distilling a spirit than brewing beer, and this makes the process a bit more dangerous and costly (mainly due to the heat distilleries produce when compared to a brewery and the safety measures needed to keep everybody protected from danger).

Alcohol comes from a distillery, obviously. What kinds? All of them, well, most. Vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, and whiskey are all produced here. Even some beers can be found in these operations, but not usually. The process is pretty similar for the aforementioned alcohols but with subtle differences. Generally speaking, spirits have their mash prepared, then they’re fermented, distilled, aged, blended, and bottled. Does that mean all alcohol is the same? Not really. Although they share a similar process, they all have subtle but key differences, like whiskey needing to be aged whereas vodka not so much. Some don’t even need to be distilled; wines, mead, and obviously beer refrain from this process.

During the pandemic when every industry was hit hard with layoffs, forced shutdowns, and all operations slowed to a screeching stop, some distilleries simply adapted to the market’s needs by producing hand sanitizer!

Craft vs Commercial:

We live in a unique time in history. Choices are everywhere and they could be impacted by many outside factors, so much so that “over-choosing” is a thing and we could simply walk away empty handed. Nowadays, we need not only choose from the large format producers of alcoholic spirits like our beloved Captain Morgans or Crown Royals, the little guy is finding his voice too! Craft distilleries and small batch operations are cropping up everywhere, most of which priding themselves with local ingredients and a taste that could only be found in its area.

Distilleries can be either large, medium, or small productions. Craft, otherwise known as “micro” distilleries produce on a much smaller scale than their Jack Daniels counterparts. The term “micro” may sound a bit misleading however; these operations could be around a $1.5 million endeavor for the facility alone. Still, compared to a larger commercial distillery who might produce up to 750,000 cases annually, 60% of craft distillers sell less than 2,500 yearly. It can take years for these smaller batch producers to see profit, and a lot of them are in hardship due to the global shutdowns. That said, try and show some love to craft products anytime they pop up on your local liquor store shelves, or request them when you’re grabbing a drink out on the town.

Craft Distillery Culture:

It’s no secret that drinking alcohol isn’t a practical need of society, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay away from civilization, nor has it. In fact, fermented goods have been around for a very long time! Our ancestors used to ferment fruits, grains, and veggies to keep them from spoiling. They even did the same with drinks to keep themselves from getting sick. On the flipside of saying it’s not needed, alcohol is a great way to keep things fresh.

In modern times, drinking and craft distilleries in particular play a huge role in local markets. They serve as a novel way to both sample the local taste and experience the region. We could always count on the heavy hitters in the spirits industry to deliver a consistent product, but you should look to locals, crafts, and small batch distributors if you want something new and exclusive tasting. Supporting a craft distillery usually means backing your neighbors and giving back to the community around you. It could also represent specific regions and their flavor palettes that large format operations simply can’t cater to.

In Conclusion:

A distillery is much more than a place where alcohol is made. It’s an homage to the heritage of the people it embodies. It represents the land it was made from in both flavor profiles and culture alike. Distilleries, especially craft or local productions should see the support of its people and the curious drinkers of the world. So show some love, spread the word, and simply grab a drink.


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