Local Food Movement is One Thing, But Local Booze May Be Another

I for one am a rabid fan and enthusiast of artisan and locally made foods. I live in one of the more exemplary corridors for this movement (NYC/Hudson Valley) and am at the receiving end of some of finest cheeses, breads, confections, and meats around, and have, as a result, lost much of my love (and allegiance) for many of the mass-produced industrialized food offerings (even the organic and fair-trade items). To put it quite simply (with a few exceptions) they never taste quite as good or inspiring as something that could be got from one of the many local producers in the immediate area. As far as food production goes, as a general rule, industrialized food is usually cheaper and more accessible, but where it pleases economically, it most always falters in taste.

But liquor is often another story.

A few weeks ago I accompanied another journalist friend of mine on a tour of North East micro-distilleries (these are small facilities that, unlike the big booze behemoths, create, distill, and bottle their own vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, etc) and had a chance to liberally sample many great spirits that the region have to offer. In conversation with my friend (who was researching and writing a piece for The New York Times) as well as a few of the local distillers, the subject of some of the more successful and industrial competitors came into the conversation. I just assumed that every micro-distiller would be dismissive, if not disdainful, of some of the more corporate product out there. I was wrong. While none of these distillers aim to specifically recreate Jim Beam or Smirinoff (at least admittedly) many spoke of these products with regard and respect, if not envy. How could this be? Isn’t small and local always better and far more individually characteristic than that swill occupying space on every late-nite liquor store shelf from here to Tucson?

So it seems that experience and heritage have something to do with the mix (or the mash, in this case). As Clay Risen wrote for The Atlantic (as a sort of polite rejoinder to the previously mentioned NY Times piece), “The reason the big guys keep turning out great products is that most of them began as craft products, long before “craft” was popular. Eventually the industry merged, and outside corporations took over. But these new owners recognized the importance of quality in a way that never occurred in brewing or meat processing…” So unlike most corporate takeovers, that emphasize bottom line over quality, many of these big distillery giants saw that quality and consistency was key to the liquors success. Also, there is the small fact that unlike brewing beer, distilling and aging whiskey takes decades to master.

Some would argue that these liquor giants stay in business, not because their product is exemplary, but because they rely upon cheap and tawdry marketing to get their product on shelves and down the gullets of booze-hounds that don’t know any better. This is probably the case for 80% of what is out there, but there are those heritage producers (Old Forester, Smirinoff, Tanqueray) that continue to produce something almost enviable with unyielding consistency. This is not to say that the many craft distillers that dot the local landscape are not producing amazing spirits (their strengths are their ability to experiment, tinker, and tweak perfection), in fact many are. But this may just be a case where the smaller is better orthodoxy is not always applicable.


Borg Drone
Past Member 4 years ago


Elisa F.
Elisa F5 years ago

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson7 years ago


Gordana Roljic
Gordana Roljic7 years ago

local or global? use both to eat best...

Jane R.
Jane R7 years ago

So? Wasn't worth reading.

Dawn M.
Dawn M7 years ago

Don't we all (except for Lloyd H, apparently) have "Think globally, Drink locally" t-shirts?

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G7 years ago

Empowerment, brew your own, from your own organic produce!

Trish K.
Trish K8 years ago

So where did you go and what did you taste ? Did you try the maple vodka in Vermont ?

Walter G.
Walter G8 years ago

Now I know what my son is doing with our bath tub . . .

Novinha L.
.8 years ago

...srsly ;)