Organizations benefit when they are perceived as authentic. Yet, explanations for this effect typically rely on context-specific attributions that can carry different meanings for different people. Here we develop some elements of a broader theory of authenticity. In sketching theory, we draw from ideas about signaling and transparency in organization theory, and essentialism in psychology. Using signaling and transparency, we derive arguments implying that observable organizational features representing obviously costly investments convey a sense of authenticity. Using essentialism, we derive alternative counter-arguments that posit unobservable features associated with the intangible essence of a firm will generate perceptions of authenticity. We study distilled spirits producers across a multi-method program of empirical studies including wiki surveys, archival analyses, surveys and online experiments. In the empirical work, we find that producers who present profiles with clusters of observable backward vertical integration activities (including internal production systems) are more likely to be described as authentic by potential consumers. But we also find that individual observable features (e.g., internalized stills, farms) presented in isolation from other features do not consistently appear more salient to consumers than unobservable features (e.g., tradition and terroir). Because they carry multiple messages in varying modalities, profiles of clustered features may be more widely recognized and impactful in projecting authenticity.