DID YOU KNOW THAT A SPIRIT CAN START ITS LIFE AS AN ARTWORK ? THIS IS WHY WE INTERVIEWED THEO LIGTHART WHO WILL TELL US ABOUT IT, ABOUT CRAFT, AND MUCH MORE - PART 2
Dear curious reader,
Thank you for your patience.Here is part 2 of the interview of Theo Ligthart. We discuss new trends involving less ABV, Destille Berlin and craft, its possible meanings, definitions and threats. Enjoy !
What would say to someone who want to start a career as a distiller?
It depends very much. I know a couple of young people who started in a very traditional way like doing an apprenticeship as a distiller. And I think if you do that this traditional handcraft education then you can basically pick a job where you want. The industry is in need of good distillers. It depends if you want to start your own distillery, this is something you should try but you have to come up with good idea and good product, it is not an easy market. Because wine is something people can drink everyday, spirits is special. People don't buy expensive bottle often. So you need high quality.
Do you think that high quality is enough to exist in the spirits industry, even though there is a major trend towards less alcohol or no alcohol in spirits at all? What or how do you think spirits producers should react to this trend?
Well, I think there is one trend that helps producers like me a lot, this is that people are drinking less but drink better. They drink less alcohol but they are more aware of what kind of alcohol they drink. It’s good for premium products and also something hard for the German market because all those mid-size distilleries were producing for decades as cheap as possible, trying to sell as cheap as possible. They have a hard time to re invent themselves, but for premium products it is not a bad time. (...)
So you do not feel more competition?
People are living much healthier now, but there is still room for quality products. So I think this is a good thing for good products.
That makes me think again as I mentioned the less alcohol or no alcohol trends, that makes me think about the trend that consider new drug legalization in different countries as being a threat for the alcohol industry. What do you think about it ?
I mean statistics say that people are drinking less for sure. But they also say that people spend more money on alcohol. So if you have invested in quality… you’re in good shape.
And with your Kollektiv Freimeister, this is the idea right, to invest into quality right? But is craft spirits always of good quality ?
I have to tell you why I’m asking this this way.
What interested me when I discovered your collective is one sentence in your statement actually: I liked that you remind people how the market is biased, behind a myriad of alcohol brands, there are actually very few corporations, and they hide the smaller producers. I liked that you reminded your audience about it because big brands like Diageo or PR they also do premium craft spirits but they are far from small-scale / hand-made!
So you, as a collective, how do you cope with them using the word craft? Why do you keep using the word?
The term craft we defined it quite precisely for our festival: no pesticide, hand crafted, not owned by big corporations. (...)
This is something you see very much. In the biomarkets even. A lot of beer big brand are trying to fake craft. But it does not work.
In the end people are smart enough to tell the difference. I don't worry too much.
It is difficult, of course. Every trend is very fast adopted by big companies (...) this big corporation which are trying to profit of certain trends but it is really hard for them to give authenticity.
Is it not a problem? There is no perversion of craft?
I guess we will see how the term craft will develop. We use it for the festival but I do not use it for Freimeister Kollektiv for example. For the festival we use it to make it easier to understand for the people who are not so much into the spirits world. But at the same time with experts, I would not use it so much.
What would you use?
It is really hard. In Germany for instance, we see it at the festival very much, which is also something I saw working with small distilleries. You have some kind of trendy craft producers, even those who are sitting in their advertising agency and have great visual concept for a new gin brand but who have no clue about distilling and basically buy some mediocre gin and bottled it in good looking bottles, and they call it craft. At the same time in Germany, around here, you have thousand of small distilleries, not all of them are producing great products but some do, and this, since several generations. You have a tradition, which was just not so present in the medias for a couple of years, but this is interesting because we do find this knowledge, this old knowledge about spirits production, here. (...)
So in your definition of craft, it seems it has more to do with a notion of scale? Does that mean that if you want to do craft, you have to limit yourself?
That’s always a problem but there are simple, physical limits to producing high quality spirits. It’s different if you heat up a still of 100 or 150 liters for a fruit brandy as if you scale it to 2000 liters. The whole process of the mash will not be the same, You would not be able to get the same quality out of it. That was the idea with the collective, instead of being able to scale to a certain industrial level why not creating an umbrella brand for small producers and offering bigger varieties of products instead of having one or two products and trying to scale it up.
Don’t you think it can become frustrating to limit one's ambitions, in terms of making a product accessible to a greater number of people?
Yes. You have to accept to limit your production. In Germany you have this limitation, the law is changing now, but most of the small fruit brandy producers until now, cannot produce mot than 300 liters of pure alcohol. The law is changing a bit but no one will be able to produce unlimited amounts.
So anyhow this legal situation is like a good way to define or preserve what craft is?
It depends also of the kind of product you are producing. It you produce, if you distill grain spirits like whisky producers, the whole distilling process is not limited to a small pot still, you see it with Scottish producers, they do have bigger pot stills than fruit brandy producers, and it is unlimited.
Fruit brandy it is limited by the quality of the ingredients you need.
We are always questioning the term craft and where does it make sense and where it is just pure nostalgia, a sentimental idea of people living in the city, who think that everything small, or everything which as a long tradition is better than before. Which is not true. I thin the spirits are better now.
If I talk to fruit brandy producers, and they tell me how their parents worked, (...) they still see themselves as a new generation because they do things differently, they focus more on quality, they have a completely different approach to the way they prepare the fruits, how they separate the tails and heart of the run, etc. Not everything that is traditional is better, because this is traditional.