Making distilled spirits is an ancient process, and for 21st-century craft distillers--currently there are about 1,000 of them in the U.S., according to the American Distilling Institute--everything old is new again. And profitable. ADI's annual survey estimates that craft sales moved about 2.4 million cases in 2015, about 40 percent more than the previous year. From 2011 through 2015, segment revenue grew more than 40 percent annually.

Global imbibers' new taste for U.S. bourbon and rye is one force behind the boom, says the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The resurgence of classic cocktail culture, led by Millennials, is another factor--domestic retail sales of U.S. whiskey in 2015 amounted to $9 billion. Can it last? "The most significant challenge for craft spirits producers is brand sustainability: a combination of good product, pricing, and getting the story across in a competitive marketplace," says industry consultant Robin Robinson. Craft is an especially broad term. Not all craft spirits makers operate their own still, a fact that irks the sweat-equity guys who ferment, distill, redistill, and, in the case of the seed-to-bottle startups, grow their own ingredients. But for savvy consumers eager to be liquor locavores, such squabbles may not matter. Enjoy this round of some hands-on spirits-making bounty. --Coeli Carr