In the UK, it’s even bigger business; CGA Strategy figures show that in the 12 months to April 2017, the Craft Beer sector of the UK beer industry grew by 23%. Beer, it seems, is booming.
But what do we mean by ‘Craft’ Beer? Well much like in Spirits production, the term alludes to the level of knowledge, passion and skill that goes into production. It implies time, too; years spent perfecting recipes, trialling batches, tweaking, improving, perfecting.
The Gin industry has learned from the best. From experimenting with flavours and new production methods to unusual ingredients, trying new things is the key to having stand-out in a crowded market.
Craft Beer producers have been experimenting with brewing for years - particularly in the United States, where the Craft Beer movement was born in the late 1970s out of the rise in homebrewing culture to recapture the disappearing styles of traditional, international beer styles. By the end of the decade, there were just 44 brewing companies as businesses merged and consolidated. As of early 2018, more than 6,000 breweries are responsible for the beer brands available in the U.S.
The story is somewhat different within the Gin industry; instead of category growth bringing about frustrations with homogeneous flavours, the Gin-aissance has led to a huge breadth of flavour, with experimentation still on the rise due to the flexibility of the drink. Afterall, Gin, in essence (and we’re talking real basics here), is spirit + juniper + other flavours. With more Spirits makers looking for more unusual botanicals to add to their Gin to give them stand-out, plus a consumer-led desire for ‘craft’, it was only a matter of time before the two worlds collided.
Recently, there’s been a bit of a surge in the number of breweries crossing over into the world of distillation. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our favourites across the globe. We’ll start with America, where Craft Brewing began.
The Anchor Brewing Co., in San Francisco, started experimenting with distilling spirits in 1993 when owner Fritz Maytag - the man who sparked the Craft Beer movement with his purchase of the brewery in 1965 - set up the Anchor Distilling Co. It worked, and the spirits arm of the business became so successful that Anchor Distilling (which rebranded in February to Hotaling & Co.) is now a completely separate entity to the Brewing Co. The company is credited with creating the first American Craft Gin after Prohibition. It’s called Junípero Gin and you can still buy it today. Since 2010, the former Anchor Distilling Co. has grown 500%, owing its success to the thirst for premium Craft spirits amongst American consumers.
Another successful brewery-cum-distillery is Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. In June 1995, Sam & Mariah Calagione opened the state’s first brewpub and smallest commercial brewery in America, with the aim of bringing original beer and food to the locals. Brewing on such a small scale allowed them to be creative, and to this say, they’re still motivated by nonconformity, spontaneity and experimentation.
Fast-forward to 2002, when the folks at Dogfish Head started experimenting with distilling. In fact, they were the first to blur the lines between Gin and beer, distilling hops in their Whole Leaf Gin. In 2015, Dogfish Head officially launched its distillery, producing scratch-made spirits which use the same ingredients that go into their beer.
But Dogfish Head aren’t the only producer to mix brewing with distilling; across the pond you’ll find a number of craft breweries venturing into the world of spirits. Leeds-based Northern Monk brewery launched its ‘black hop Gin’ in 2016 as a collaboration with mead-brewers and Gin-distillers Zymurgorium. The Gin, named Infirmarian, is a ‘deconstruction of a black IPA in Gin form’ and yep, you guessed it, it’s black in colour, too. Laced with simcoe, citra and mosaic hops as well as grapefruit, juniper and licorice, this is a Gin that only a craft brewery could make.
The Wild Beer Co., based in the South West of England, was launched in 2012 after two friends spotted a gap in the market, and felt the desire to create something ‘wildly different’. Famed for their unusual beers and flavour experimentation, the company began producing spirits in late 2017.
First up was Sleeping Lemons Gin, which incorporates the sherbet tang of their preserved lemon beer (of the same name) into the Gin. Next came Shnoodlepip Gin; named after one of Wild Beer Co.’s most unique beers, Shnoodlepip is a red wine barrel-aged sour saison brewed with pink peppercorns, hibiscus and passionfruit. To create the Gin, they deconstructed the flavours and built them all back into the Gin.
Not satisfied with Gin production alone, The Wild Beer Co. launched the Spirit of Pogo; the result of distilling their Pogo beer (a pale ale brewed with orange zest, passion fruit and guava) on 70 year old copper stills from France. The beer was distilled to 63% before being cut back to 42.5%. There’s no juniper, so it’s not technically a Gin, but boy is it tasty.
Finally, there’s LoneWolf, the BrewDog backed company which wants to reclaim craftsmanship, believing that too many companies use the term for poor marketing and don’t have the goods to back it up. But the good news for Gin-lovers is that these guys definitely do.
Launched in 2016 with a desire to create craft spirits by putting craftsmanship at the heart of everything they do, the LoneWolf team creates everything from scratch, under one roof, with a disapproving howl to those who bulk-buy industrial alcohol, add botanicals, and - in their words - ‘have the temerity to label it craft’. Whether it’s their Gin or Vodka, LoneWolf spirits are produced by hand, in small batches, under one roof and the watchful eye of master distiller Steven Kersley, who painstakingly trialled 130 different recipes before settling on the perfect Gin.
Of all the many similarities between craft brewers and craft distillers, the one that really stands out is the desire to create something; to originate, design, devise, build, mold, develop and craft.
Any Gin and beer crossovers we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.