2023 is the American Distilling Institute’s 20th anniversary. Like all big birthdays, it inspired a little bit of taking stock.

I mean that quite literally. To assemble the craft distilling timeline in this issue, I delved through the full backstock of ADI images from the past 20 years. Those archives were jam-packed with compelling images and videos of the early days of American craft distilling, complete with turtlenecks, aviator frames, and cow-catcher mustaches in abundance.

The word “transformative” feels very overused, but the last 20 years truly have been transformative for American craft distilling — and, by extension, ADI. In 2004, a few dozen producers and suppliers representing nearly the entire domestic craft distilling industry gathered in Alameda for the first ADI conference. Everyone could fit in a single room. Breakout sessions took place in the parking lot. This summer, thousands will descend on The Mirage in Las Vegas for ADI’s 20th annual conference.

Over that time, craft distilling has come of age. An industry that was once mainly scrappy, entrepreneurial owner-operators has grown to support a small but growing community of professional distillers for the first time in this country since before Prohibition. They’re equipped with technical expertise those early distillers could only dream of, yet they’re still pushing forward. Founded in 2018, the Distilling Research Grant is a key way ADI supports the industry’s remarkable thirst for knowledge. In this issue, 2022 grantees report on their original research on how to best manage ethyl carbamate in bourbon production, whether distillers in dry regions can use salty ocean water in fermentation, and the sensory impacts of different bacterial cultures in rum.

Marketing and sales have also become more sophisticated. In 2003, many distillery tasting rooms felt like drinking in a friend’s garage. Today, they’re immersive sensory experiences enticing visitors from around the world. Dr. Zachary Cole, assistant professor and program director of the hospitality and tourism management program at Flagler College, delves into how to create experiences engaging each of the five senses for truly memorable tasting room visits. And Doug Hall, founder of the Eureka! Ranch International and Brain Brew Custom WHISKeY, describes how to transform your tasting room into a market research laboratory delivering critical insights that can guide product development.

If the last 20 years (and the renewed trendiness of aviator frames) have taught us anything, it’s that the only constant is change. I can’t wait to see the changes the next 20 years will surely bring.


Margarett Waterbury

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Margarett Waterbury is the editor of Distiller Magazine. Based in Portland, Oregon, she covers drinks, food, and culture for national and international press. She is the former managing editor of Edible Portland, as well as the cofounder and former managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, an award-winning whiskey website twice recognized as Website of the Year by the International Whisky Competition. In 2017, Margarett won the Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year award from the Spirits Journal. She received fellowships for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in 2017 and 2019. Her first book, Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland’s Whiskies (Sterling), came out in 2020.