The craft distillery scene in Portland is so massive that it even has its own guild, started with seed money from the state of Oregon. For me, having come from a Pennsylvania, a state (er, Commonwealth), with punitive liquor laws, to see Portland’s magical guild of micro-distilleries and state-funded togetherness threw me for a loop. Really? The state is helping someone sell booze and treating the distilling process as an art? Not the liquor control board I know.
Oregon isn’t the only state with guilds for artisinal distillers, but they certainly appear to be the best organized and most articulate about their mission–to bring their craft liquor to as many people as possible. Their branding is hip, well-considered and well-placed, which gives them a craft edge with the brand credibility of a major.
What strikes me as uniquely Portland about the distillers and their guild is their willingness to work as a collective of companies even though they have potentially competing products. The global liquor conglomerates don’t usually do this. They tend to have one line each of whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila and maybe a few bourbons or different price point lines of one spirit.
It’s an industry with cutthroat competition at its very core (think of the fact that the prohibition era incubated organized crime as we know it). However, this ragtag group of distillers all just want to get along, bonding over their passion for the craft. OK, it might not be as touchy-feely as all that. In working together, the distillers hope to get bulk buying power, more visibility and the ability to reach a broader customer base.
This is a smart move. The aforementioned global conglomerates all have ginormous operating and marketing budgets and can take out consecutive ads on the back of Rolling Stone (not cheap).In reality, as individual brands, these micro-distillers (or at least the best of them) may as well roll over to Beam Global now and all of the craft will go out of the relationship.
This brave new world of spirits leaves me with a challenge. I have to try them all! How? It will be a job of work but I will muscle through it.