Can we define craft?

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

What is it? experts try to define craft
What is it? experts try to define craft

Related tags: Spirits, Craft beer

The word 'craft' is bandied around so often it’s hard to know what is and what is not craft. Harder still is the fact few, the drinks industry in particular, work towards a standard when defining something as craft.

In pursuit of a definition, three experts from the spirits sector have given The Morning Advertiser ​their views on the matter, including what is and is not craft to them.

The three experts are:

  • Jonathan Cornthwaite, Head of Whisk(e)y at William Grant & Sons
  • Alwynne Gwilt, The Balvenie UK Brand Ambassador
  • Kelsey McKechnie, The Balvenie Malt Master Apprentice

1) What is craft?

Jonathan Cornthwaite (JC): ​Craft has become a marketing term, but for us ‘craftsmanship’ is a mindset, it’s a way of working that means we do things the right way, taking no shortcuts.

You need talented people who are dedicated and passionate, someone who uses their personal touch and experience to create a higher-quality product.

Alwynne Gwilt (AG): ​Craftsmanship is all down to the value of the team you have. You need dedicated individuals that are trained and experienced within a specific skill, which they use on a daily basis.

At The Balvenie, we still practise the five rare crafts of whisky making. There are so many people behind the scenes who work on each part of the process, and so many hands that go into making a final bottle.

The skills, expertise and techniques that have been implemented at the distillery for decades, for example, establishing our own Maltings floor, which is still done by hand today, are what make The Balvenie timeless.

Kelsey McKechnie (KM): ​For me, craft is all about taking the time to fully understand and learn everything you can about a process.

In my case, I have been lucky enough to hone my own craft and learn how to build rich layers of flavour on the ground from the Malt Master himself, David C Stewart MBE.

From him, I have learnt that taking pride in what you do and seeking to deliver excellence is a true marker of craftsmanship.

2) What is not craft?

JC: ​True craft is not quick, easy or mass-produced, it is also not a question of scale, even though many associate craft with small scale. If the business retains human skill and expertise, craft can remain at any size.

AG: ​Even though we live in a fast-paced world where technology is thriving, craft is not something that can be overtaken by machines and it is the one thing that will always require a human touch.

KM: ​Craft is not a rushed job, it really takes time to learn and perfect your skills, and sometimes this can take years.

Many brands that claim to be ‘craft’ short-cut this process and that definitely comes through in the output.

At The Balvenie, we cut no corners and while this may not be the most efficient practice, I personally think the quality of taste and the layers of flavour reflect this pride and commitment to our craft.

3) How do consumers recognise craft – is it in their repertoire?

JC: ​It has become hard for consumers to recognise ‘true’ craft with the huge rise in brands using the terminology.

Brands need to be more transparent when using it and actually show their consumers why​ their product is defined as such.

AG: ​When consumers see products defined as ‘craft’, they assume a level of commitment, skill and time has gone into producing it. The story behind the product and how it was produced can help consumers understand this further.

4)What’s the future of craft – will it follow the same path as ‘local’ in the food sphere?

JC: ​As machines and humans continue to learn how to work together, we’ll see craft get more personalised, with a little help from machines.

Think in-store artificial intelligence (AI) and consumer AI conversing and feeding back to the craftsperson on what the customer requires.

Technology may help to help relieve people of the more labour-intensive monotonous tasks; however, we believe that it will never be able to replace the expert knowledge and palates of our master blenders.

AG: ​Consumers are adopting ‘considered living’; a combination of high-speed gratification with a paradoxical realisation that they need to find balance in their always-on lives.

Within these fast-paced lives, consumers are increasingly seeking ‘escapist’ experiences and products that they know have taken time to perfect.

Think Tom Cridland’s '30 Year Old Sweatshirt', or a bottle of single malt Scotch whisky, matured slowly over decades.

KM: ​I think the future of craft will see a reliance on traditional practice and heritage. In a world that is increasingly fast-paced and reliant on technology, brands that rely on a human touch and continue tradition will shine through.

People want to feel close to this process and take comfort in local ingredients brought to life by local people.

Related topics: Beer, Spirits & Cocktails, Cider

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