Makers vs Fakers

Craft distilling is exploding in the U.S., which is resulting in more and more new products on the shelves at your favorite liquor stores. Some of these products are exciting, authentic, and delicious. However, if you take notice and look more closely, many of these products are inauthentic in their claims and sold under false pretenses. What you might think is a local, craft distilled whiskey might actually be mass produced by a large industrial factory in Indiana.

This misrepresentation is happening in Texas right now. While you might see over a dozen products labeled as “Texas Whiskey” on the shelf, only a small number are actually made in Texas. Scotch whisky has strict rules that regulate its production, and the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 also recently updated these rules to include labeling, advertising and packaging. Until we have something similar, consumers that care about this subject should educate themselves.

So how do you tell the makers from the fakers? When you see a spirit labeled as “Texas Whiskey”, how do you know if it was actually made in Texas or sourced from out of state? While there’s still not one easy answer, following these guidelines will make you an educated shopper. While Ranger Creek makes all of our Texas whiskey, we don’t believe that sourcing whiskey from another company is inherently bad. The problem comes with misrepresenting sourced whiskey as hand crafted and local. Use these guidelines to tell the difference.

1. The Label

The label is your best source for truth. Spirits labels have to be approved through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a federal agency that oversees the certificates of label approval required for all spirits prior to interstate commerce. Since a federal regulator scrutinizes every word on a whiskey label, the verbiage on the label really matters. Look for the words “Distilled by”. Usually it’s in small print on the back. “Distilled by” means that the company actually distilled the product. If you see the words “Produced by”, “Manufactured by”, “Bottled by”, “Filled by”, “Blended by”, or any others, those are red flags. The only term approved by the TTB for those that actually make their stuff is “Distilled”. Although the label is your best resource, companies and regulators do sometimes make mistakes, so it’s not fool proof. Some of the distillery names have been blacked out for the sake of discretion.

Fakers

“Bottled by” is a red flag.

“Produced and bottled” is NOT “distilled”, even if it was done with care.

“Blended and bottled” means alcohol is purchased from others. Note that the Go Texan logo can be (and often is) used on inauthentic Texas whiskeys.

“Produced and bottled” again.

Here’s a non-Texas example. “Hand bottled” does NOT mean “hand crafted”.

Another non-Texas example, the same “Produced and bottled” term.
Makers

“Distilled and bottled by” means they made it.

“Cooked, distilled, barreled, and bottled”. No doubt that this is authentic.

“Fermented, distilled, matured, and bottled”. Also no doubt that this is actually made in Texas.

2. The Timeline

If a 1-2 year old distillery is putting out a 5-6 year old whiskey, that’s a HUGE red flag. It’s also really common. Any new distillery that automatically has really old whiskey on the market has to be sourcing it. If you have a question, do some digging on the company’s website to find out when they started distilling.

3. The Price Point

If you see a typical 750 ml bottle of Texas whiskey for $25, it’s sourced. Craft distilleries are almost all new, which means we’re still small. We also typically use premium ingredients and do almost everything by hand. For instance, all of the corn we use in our Texas bourbon is Texas corn. Texas corn is typically more expensive than non-Texas corn, but we’re committed to using local ingredients. The economics of making craft whiskey means our stuff is generally more expensive.

Here’s an example of a distillery that offers a product they distilled right next to one they purchased:
Guess which one is “distilled” and which one is “produced”:

“Produced and bottled” is around $30.

“Distilled and bottled” is around $50.

4. Liquor Store Employees

Although we have met many liquor store employees who are passionate about truth in Texas whiskey, there are often corporate policies that prevent them from communicating it to consumers. Some inauthentic whiskey brands have agreements with liquor chains that compensate them for each bottle sold. Those agreements turn into policies that require employees to push certain brands. So if you ask an average employee which Texas whiskey they recommend, you won’t know if they’re recommending it on their own accord or because of corporate policy.

5. Distillery Websites

Distillery websites and other marketing collateral are probably the worst resources for determining makers vs fakers. None of this material is scrutinized through the government like labels are, so there is a lot of room for obfuscation. Fakers use images of stills and aging barrels to confuse you. Unless you read and analyze each word like a lawyer, it is very difficult to determine if they are a maker or a faker. We believe in transparency, but there is not very much of that going on right now. A few distilleries that sell sourced brands are honest about it, and whiskey drinkers commend them for their transparency.

6. Other indicators for Makers

Many makers of true craft whiskey use unusual ingredients like oat, millet, quinoa or, in our case, mesquite-smoked malt. The industrial manufacturers don’t use these ingredients, so that’s a good sign of a maker. Makers also typically brag about the fact that their whiskey is truly made from grain to glass and will brag about every step of the process being done at their distillery.

Additional Resources

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