Last summer, I asked social science researchers at my alma mater, Kansas State University, to help answer the question, What is Craft? in the Craft Whiskey and Spirits industry.
At its most fundamental level, Indiana Small Batch was created to support independent, craft spirits makers and retailers in Indiana. Short of an existential crisis, I wanted to spend time to explore what craft means to those inside and outside the industry; what makes craft, craft?; and what makes something decidedly not craft?
To get started to answer these questions and others like it, one anthropology student from K-State, Peter, graciously decided to take on the herculean task of surveying this question through a research method called, ethnography. Imagine an American social scientist living in Papua New Guinea for a year in order to gain insight and to begin to understand how a remote village or tribal culture functions in day to day life? Peter's idea was to attempt to explore the craft industry as an outsider in order to offer a brief ethnographic sketch of craft through interviews and experiences that he was able to create during the summer of 2021.
Peter's project came up with some truly fantastic anecdotal descriptions of craft from both insiders and outsiders to the industry. In particular, Peter offered a working definition of craft as it pertains to the whiskey and spirits industry that is beautiful and elegant and unlike other, more technical definitions that have developed over the last ten years:
In the distilling business, the term "Craft" refers to any liquor for which the human element is an especially prominent part of the production process. This can manifest in several ways, including intense focus on quality of product, independence from larger producers, or particularly strong connection to local culture or history.
In particular, Peter's working definition of craft identifies craft not necessarily by the chemical process, quantity, or ingredients involved in its production, but rather by something he calls, "the human element." What makes craft, craft, in this sense, is not how the whiskey is made, but by whom is it made and why!
I'm proud of this project. Not only does Peter's sketch better inform how we do business, but it serves as a terrific guide post for how we make decisions to do business in the future: appreciating the human element in every craft, independent brand we carry.
There are still more pieces of the puzzle to consider. But please check out Peter's final 2021 paper here and sound off in the comments or send us a note if you'd like to engage with these questions further.