Houston craft distillery waits to come of age

Tucked in the back of an unremarkable business park in northwest Houston, the Whitmeyer brothers are cooking whiskey.

A 55-gallon still is bubbling and a clear alcohol condenses through copper tubing and streams into a pitcher. After it cools, the brothers will pour it into charred oak barrels and stack them against the wall for years to come, letting the wood mellow the alcohol and turn it amber.

The Whitmeyer family operates the first legal distillery in Harris County since Prohibition, creating another product that Houstonians can “buy local.” They are also part of a burgeoning national movement to bring back the local distillery.

The success of craft spirits, though, has brought competition from faux-craft businesses: big distillers pretending to be small distillers, marketing professionals selling mass-produced liquor in fancy bottles and aficionados who purchase the best barrels from large distillers and then bottle them with clever names.

How much you care where your liquor is made has a lot do with why you drink. If you’re looking for the cheapest spirit for your fruit punch, then the price tag is all you need to read. But if you want to support a local business trying to make a unique product, then the fine print on the back of the bottle matters.

Federal labelling requirements only confuse the issue. There is no definition of "craft spirit" or "small-batch" and when it comes to the liquor's origin, the regulation says a spirit should name the state where it was distilled, unless the inspecting agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms waives the requirement, which happens frequently.
August 12, 2014
Houston Chronicle