Next Bar Craze: Craft Spirits?

Written by Craig LaBan for The Philadelphia Inquirer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Philadelphia has already staked its

Robert Cassell, left, of Philadelphia Distilling, and James Yoakum of Cooper River Distillery are at the local vanguard of what may be a new wave of craft spirits, following similar vogues in coffee and beer.

claim as a player in the national craft beer movement, with dozens of local brewers producing top-notch beer.


Could the newest wave in artisan drink rolling our way from the West Coast – the craft spirit movement – be the next obsession to slake Philly’s thirst with potent shots of white corn “Shine” and “Petty’s Island Rum”?

It just might, if Rob Cassell of Philadelphia Distilling and James Yoakum of Cooper River Distillers realize their dreams.

They are among the few so far in our region to enter this relatively young industry, but they’re hardly alone on the national stage. That was as clear as strong moonshine this week in Portland, where an annual conference organized by the American Distilling Institute (ADI) drew more than 500 people. They gathered to network and educate themselves on everything from Portland’s thriving local spirit scene to the fine points of apple brandy, and to attend lectures like “The Magic of Enzymes.”

“We’re at the beginning of a national renaissance in artisan spirits,” said ADI founder Bill Owens, who has watched the number of small craft distillers grow nationwide over the last eight years from 68 to 264 in 38 states, with 25 percent growth each year. Such companies produce fewer than 65,000 proof gallons a year, and, despite the uptick in distillers, they still account for less than 1 percent of the multibillion-dollar liquor industry.

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