Size doesn’t always matter—at least when it comes to the quality of liquor brands.
It’s a message master distiller and Liquor.com advisory board member Allen Katz is adamant about. That sentiment might seem like an easy-drinking no-brainer: If it’s good, it’s good, right? But many consumers and bartenders equate smaller brands with higher quality “craft” products.
“The truth is, unlike in the wine and beer worlds where most of the big brands are making what is agreed upon to be inferior product, in the distilled spirits world the big brands make products of exceeding quality and craftsmanship,” says Katz, the co-founder of the boutique New York Distilling Company in Brooklyn. “Anyone that says that Craig Beam at Heaven Hill or Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey or Fred Noe at Jim Beam don’t make craft products, in my opinion, doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.”
Of course, part of the issue likely stems from bartenders and drinkers “often equating smaller scale [or ‘boutique’] products with craft [or ‘top-quality’] products.” The word “craft” is so often used to market small brands that the term has almost become synonymous with “boutique.”
“There’s nothing wrong with buying some juice, putting a label on it and selling it from a business standpoint,” says Katz. “But that doesn’t make it a “craft” or artisan product.”
So, why does the industry often favor small brands if big brands can be equally good? Katz’s take: When a smaller brand that’s favored by bartenders attains a bigger following of drinkers, “sometimes the bartending community will look away from it simply as a way to try things that are new,” which helps encourage new products, big and small. “Innovation is exciting. It’s not always good, but it’s often exciting.”
How then do you determine the quality of a spirit if you can’t gauge it by the size of distillery or the amount produced each year?
“Whether you’re a small brand like mine or a large brand, it’s paramount to give information on how the product is made and what it’s made from,” says Katz. “But you also have to tell people why it’s made a certain way. You have to tell everyone what’s going on in the bottle.”
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