During microwbrewing's first wave in the 1990s large brewers like Budweiser and Miller made a quick move to get in on the act. They started new macro-batch beers and made them look like microbrews with new names and quirky labels. They charged a little less than microbrews but a little more than standard beer, then filled their coffers with gold.
The same thing is happening in micro-distilling, except this time it's sort of the other way around. Micro-distillers are using macro-distilled product and selling it as small batch. How's that? Well, it turns out after you put the alcohol percentage, the category of spirit and some warnings to pregnant women on the label, you can pretty much say anything you want. You don't even have to say you didn't distill it but you can still call yourself a distiller. Buy a vat of clear distillate from Smirnoff, run it through your filter, put it in your apothecary bottle: voila, instant artisan.
There's no law against it and frankly, I don't think there should be. You've got to expect a certain amount of these shenanigans when people have essentially been given a license to sell drugs. The better distillers will come forward because they explain what they do and you can taste the difference. It's just important to keep your eyes clear and ask questions. One question might be what's the benefit of small batch distillation in the first place?
This news comes on the heels of learning about Bruichladdich, the resurrected Islay scotch maker (Islay being the Scottish island famous for its peaty, smokey scotches). From the New Yorker:
“all its barley is sent to a huge malting plant in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, which returns malt with a specified amount of peat smoke.”
Pretty much sounds like the liquid smoke version of Scotch to me. Drinkers, keep vigilant.