The word is brouhaha:

a noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something. Example:
If you're reading this, you've probably heard the brouhaha over the Daily Beast article where Eric Felten claims that most craft whiskys are being mass-produced in a mega-factory in Indiana.

Now that artisan is dead, craft has become the operative buzzword which all companies great and small want to co-opt. Diageo–the world's largest liquor company–defends its craft credentials. Pernod Ricard is staking its claim as locavore.

Truthfully, who can blame them? As Wilt Chamberlain once famously said "nobody roots for Goliath."



Lawyers from both David and Goliath's camps are publicly fighting for a legal definition of craft–one which they can exploit to their side's benefit. Consumers are left confused, bewildered, and ultimately, feeling taken advantage of.I am not here to attempt to define what craft is. If that is ever done, it will be by persons far smarter than myself.

I am here to define what craft is not.

Before the advent of public education, people learned a trade through the apprenticeship model. An apprentice would begin to study with a master in their mid-teens, and continue into their early twenties. It was not until you took on your own students that you could claim mastery yourself. By this method, generations of skills were handed from one to the next–you honed your craft–based on a simple principle:

You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by doing something over and over again, learning as you go. Greatness, is a process. As Aristotle said, we are what we do repeatedly.

To conduct focus groups in an attempt to determine consumer trends, hire marketing teams to design a package and fabricate a story, commission chemists to combine flavorants and colorants in creation of a formula, and then hire factories to mass-produce a product, is good business.

What it is not, is craft.


The word is crafty:

clever at achieving one's aims by indirect or deceitful methods. Example:
Their story might be a flaming crock of shit, but their business model sure is crafty.

For a time in my early twenties, I was a professional sound designer. Using the best equipment available at the time, I made digital recordings of acoustic instruments, to be replayed through digital samplers. What I discovered was: while you can create a perfect digital recording of the vibration of brass that occurs when you strike a single key on a piano, the harmonic frequencies created when you strike several keys, combined with their resonance inside a particular wooden case, is impossible to reproduce.

This is why we go see live music: all of the tiny imperfections; the organized chaos, the randomness of creation in the moment. This is why you can never digitally recreate Neil Peart's drum solo in YYZ; you remove the magic of spontaneity.

I invoke these musical examples because ultimately craft distillers see themselves as artists, their distillate being their art. Sure, you could start off with a concept, hire food scientists to chemically analyze and then reverse engineer a liquor. But what makes small batch production special is the tiny inconsistencies from batch to batch that give a product character; the miraculous way one bale of wheat may differ ever so slightly from the next, or how actual botanicals play and dance with each other in a way that chemical compounds can only imitate.

Remove these tiny fluctuations, and the end result is sterile perfection.


This is not to grant craft producers license to be inconsistent. It is also not to say that, as a craft brand begins to succeed, it will not adopt streamlined production methods that allow it to keep pace with volume. It doesn't mean giant liquor companies don't produce terrific products, or acknowledge whether any of this actually matters to Joe Consumer.

It is to say, at the end of the day–if nothing else–craft is not dishonest or deceptive about what goes into a bottle.

* Published after conversing with Darcy S. O'Neil, who understands the chemistry of alcohol and flavor in ways I can only dream about.

JFB 2014