Craft Distilling Origins

This is the first Seelbach's blog post. It seemed appropriate to talk about the origins of Craft Distilling in the US for the first post. We have a rich distilling history in the United States. But, every distillery (or any booze for that matter) revolves around prohibition. Before prohibition, there were around 2,000 distilleries across the country. That all shut down in 1920 with the commencement of Prohibition. Only six distilleries survived Prohibition under the guise of making "medicinal whiskey". Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and America was free to drink again. 
For the most part, large distilleries were able to pick up where they left off. Craft distillers took a real hit. It was 50 years before the first craft distillery produced spirits again in the US.
In 1982, the craft distilling movement began with the entry of Germain-Robin and Jaxon Keys Winery (Jepson Brandy). Two other distilleries joined them the following year. St. George Spirits and Charbay Distillery were craft distilleries three and four. There is a little disagreement on the exact order of entry into craft distilling. But, we can agree that these four distilleries paved the way for the craft movement we see today.
As you can see in the graph below, distillery consolidation started before Prohibition. The number of distilleries was on a steady decline for decades before the law was enacted. Most of these distillers were small farm or micro distilleries. The distilleries produced less than 30 gallons a day. The majority of the distilleries were Fruit or Grain distilleries. I (mistakenly) thought bourbon led the American distilling industry. It is America's native spirit after all.
The first craft distilleries post-Prohibition were Brandy producers. These distillers used the vineyards and orchards on the west coast. Hubert Germain-Robin used a mix of Colombard, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling & Zinfandel. Aside from Colombard, these were non-traditional brandy grapes. Germain-Robin brandies competed with the French brandies at competition. No one questioned the varietal selection after that. Jaxon Keys Winery (Jepson Brandy) uses estate grown traditional French Colombard grapes. Over at St. George Spirits Jörg Rupf distilled eau de vie from a mix of California fruits. Charbay Distillery, produced Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Cognac style Brandy.
As craft distilling continues to grow it's interesting to see where it came from. The influence of wine and California Wineries is all over the craft distilling movement. In fact, it was the Alembic still, not the pot still or column still, that laid the ground work!

For additional reading, check out these articles:

If you'd like to taste Brandy from the oldest independent craft distillery in the US check out our Jepson offerings. The Jepson Signature Reserve is probably the oldest craft spirits release on the market. It's a 20-25 year blended Brandy. The Jepson Rare Brandy is impressive in it's own right at 5-7 years old.

1 comment

  • And now Germain-Robin is owned by Gallo (sigh). I should probably check out the Jepson.


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