Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
Before reaching the market, grain – like all consumables – must pass inspection by the US Department of Agriculture. The process takes place in order to stabilize fair and competitive trade practices by ensuring standards for the type and quality of the grains bought and sold.
Uniform standard bearing is nearly as old as trade itself, and while we’ve dramatically sharpened our ability to measure over time, it may come as a surprise to learn that, in the age of high technology, federal grain inspection still boils down human sight. Much like every brewery and distillery still employs an official taste-tester, the USDA knows it must trust it’s own eyes above all else.
The Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) is the specific branch within the USDA that is tasked with this carrying out this oversight. While their process relies on good old fashioned expert knowledge – a well trained eye, an encyclopedic knowledge of grains in their healthy and unhealthy states – they haven’t completely ignored modern technology.
In fact, they’ve done quite a bit to share their knowledge with the general public by publishing their library of more than 200 printed “Visual Reference Images (VRI).” The images represent grading delineations for grains, oil seeds, pulses and rice, and serve as the foundation for the National Inspection System’s Subjective Quality Control Program.
They also serve as a useful tool for the many (and growing) craft whisky distillers around the country. As grains come in, you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s word to judge the quality and health of the product you’re purchasing. If something looks amiss, you can cross-reference GIPSA’s library and see for yourself.
Trusting your own senses and handling every last detail – these are the signs of a true artisan. It should come as no surprise to see this level of care taken by our craft distilleries.