Whisk(e)y Wisdom

CONSUMER ALERT: “Craft” and “Small Batch” Doesn’t Mean Quality Whiskey


Are you curious or offended by that title? I hope curious. It’s not my intention to offend anyone, though I will risk it to talk about this subject. So what am I talking about? I’ll tell you what I’m not talking about. I’m not saying “craft” and “small batch” means poor quality whiskey. I’m also not saying those words mean high-quality whiskey. What I am saying is that the words “craft” and “small batch” don’t have anything to do with describing quality. What do those words describe then? Size…kind of but not really.

When describing a distillery, we naturally think the word “craft” means a small operation. But the fact of the matter is, on the federal level, there are no production restrictions for the term “craft.” As far as the feds are concerned you’re either a distillery or you’re not. There are some state regulations regarding the output of craft distilleries, but it varies from state to state. So this term is relative and doesn’t really mean much regarding quantity, and has absolutely no bearing on quality.

“But wait,” you might be thinking. “What about craft whiskey? Isn’t that describing a process?” No, it’s not. As much as we’d like it to be true, there are no production standards that have to be followed to use the word “craft.” There’s also no quality level that must be met to use the word. In short, it means nothing.

Now, what about small batch? If a whiskey is made in small batches that must mean it’s better, right? First of all, why would it mean that? And secondly, it’s describing amount not quality, but it doesn’t even do a good job of that. The term “small batch” has no legal definition. That means anyone can use it however they like. It could mean one barrel, or it could mean a thousand barrels. “Small batch” means nothing.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m seeing words and phrases thrown around the whiskey industry like they inherently mean quality products deserving a high price. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of self-proclaimed “craft distilleries” making delicious whiskey in “small batches” selling at fair value. But, there are some who aren’t making such a great product and charging more than they’re worth. How do you know if a small batch craft whiskey is worth the money? The same way you know if any whiskey is worth the money. You try it! This is where I recommend sampling a whiskey at a bar or pub before you commit to buying a whole bottle.

Here’s the point: I want you to be an informed consumer. I want you to spend your money on the whiskey in the bottle, not the words on the label. And I want you to enjoy life and prosper for all your days.


— Zac Smith