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Diageo defends its ‘craft’ Bourbon credentials

Diageo has defended its right to market its products as “craft spirits”, arguing that “not all small distilleries are craft, and not all craft distilleries are small”.

Diageo has defended its right to play in the “craft” whiskey sector, despite being the world’s biggest drinks group

The UK drinks giant experienced criticism when it launched its Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company – a programme which bottles “forgotten whiskies” and markets the product under a new identity.

Upon the launch of the programme late last year, Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America, declared to investors at a conference: “We’re going to be the number one craft distiller in North American whiskey in the US. Why? Because we have the whiskies.”

Although there is no binding legal definition of craft whiskey in the US, a number of commentators argued that whiskey owned by a company such as Diageo – the world’s largest alcoholic drinks group – could not be constituted as craft.

However Ewan Moran, master of whiskey for Orphan Barrel, told The Spirits Business that the “conversations and debates” surrounding craft were what made the sector “so interesting”.

“As for what is or isn’t a ‘craft spirit’, that’s up for debate and can vary across categories such as single malts and Bourbons,” he said.

“Everyone has their own opinion and should have the right to voice it, just like all those in the business have the right to be creative and innovative with the products they sell.

“Craft is about artisanship, passion, experience, great liquid, great products. Not all small distilleries are craft, and not all craft distilleries are small.

Moran added that he believes the lack of official definition in the craft sector is a “good thing” and that the “best parts of distilling have always been flexibility and innovation”.

He also said that while Orphan Barrel was not directly working with other craft whiskey distillers, then project could lead the project to work with “dozens of other distilleries around the world”.

Three whiskeys have so-far been released through the Orphan Barrel programme – Barterhouse, Old Blowhard and, most recently, Rhetoric.

The Spirits Business recently reported that two noted US craft distillers, Lance Winters from St George Spirits, and Chip Tate from Balcones, do not believe an official, legal definition for craft spirits would not be “beneficial to the sector”.

For a more comprehensive overview of issues surrounding the production of craft spirits, see the July issue of The Spirits Business.

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