Blogs from Beverage Network - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/blogger/listings/beverage-network Sat, 29 Aug 2015 03:18:43 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Shades Of Green http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/shades-of-green http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/shades-of-green toc_organicwines.jpg - 50.02 KB

Never have more wines been so eco-friendly. So proudly, consciously, strategically eco-friendly. But before we all hop on this presumably-biodiesel-fueled bandwagon, it is important to ask: What is organic wine, and who cares? Does green-ness even factor in to people’s drinking thinking?

The topic is at once quite simple, and surprisingly complicated. Who doesn’t want to live greener, cleaner and more naturally? At the same time, the devilish details—of certification, and even definitions—make the entire concept slippery. And on top of the real deal, so to speak, the greenwashing in wine can get laid on pretty thick.

Hoping to bring some order to this dynamic yet difficult category, here are angles to consider when buying, stocking and selling the modern wave of green wine.

The Food Gap

Society has embraced “green” just about everywhere. Food especially. From Brazilian açai to Greek yogurt, whole-grain to gluten-free, healthy eating is mainstream. People care about what they eat—the nutrition, the calories, the ingredients, the provenance and the processing.

Wine, on the other hand, has reached nowhere near the same level of awareness. Perhaps the wine industry has done such a marvelous job of portraying its product as crafted rather than manufactured, people already consider it essentially natural.

Trade Ahead of the Curve

Distributors large and small are flagging green wines in their price listings—often in a separate section. Forrest Harper, Director of Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of Upstate New York, recalls creating internal lists back in 2007. Word spread and before long he was fielding requests from the sales teams in Metro NY, so Southern decided to dedicate extra space in their price book to green wines and spirits (42 organically grown wine SKUs; 35 organic spirits).

Like Southern, Opici Family Distributing in New Jersey double-lists green wines. Winery Brand Manager Phil Ward sees increasing demand from restaurateurs; somewhat paradoxically, he notes, organically grown wine resonates with the locavore, farm-to-table movement. Off-premise, he sees more interest from smaller stores, especially ones accustomed to hand-selling. Opici’s organic labels include De Martino (Chile), Fattoria di Magliano (Italy) and Albet I Noya and Mas Igneus of Spain.

Keep an Eye on Europe

While interest in the U.S. edges up, sales of certified, organically grown wines are positively booming across the Atlantic.

France, Italy and Spain each produce 10 times more organically grown wine than the U.S., accounting for 73% of organic vineyards worldwide. In France 8% of vineyards are certified organic—acreage more than doubled from 2007-2012. In the U.S., approximately 2% of vineyards are certified organic (mostly in Mendocino and Napa counties), accounting for 2% of the global total.

The boom is in consumption as well. According to a study released at Millésime Bio in 2014, one in three French wine drinkers regularly drinks organic wines. The study described organic wine consumers in very broad terms: younger people (under 24), women, men 45 years and older, middle class, and people who appreciate terroir (i.e., a sense of place). Sounds like a lot of American wine enthusiasts....

To Section or Scatter?

The stereotypical 20th century “Organic” section—small, remote, dusty—is disappearing, not unlike the snooty, tuxedoed sommelier. Faced with so many green wines from all over the world, merchants are now being compelled to rethink their shelving strategy. Stores with the floor space are often double-shelving certified, organically grown wines. Smaller shops may still have a green section—but it gets more prominence.

Bottlerocket, a Manhattan store that prides itself on organizing wine in consumer-friendly categories, devotes a kiosk to 20 green wines, each with a brief description. “People have changed the way they shop,” General Manager Gary Itkin says. “They’re more aware of what they’re purchasing. They are also interested in a more honest product.”

Most stores keep certified green wines mingled with their non-certified peers, using shelf talkers or the like (e.g., a green leaf or ladybug) to identify them. And, of course, with the scattered approach, it’s still important for staff to know how green terms apply to specific wines. Creating an info-rich environment plays a critical part in growing customer engagement, says Itkin: “The more educated the customer, the better the customer they become, capable of making intuitive leaps.”

Certification Situation

Most consumers tend to say “organic wine” when referring to all types, but certification standards have narrower definitions.

There are actually three certifiable types of organically grown wines in the U.S.: “Organic Wine,” “Ingredients: Organic Grapes” and “Made with Organically Grown Grapes.” Organic Wine is the rarest—because the U.S. is, uniquely, the only country in the world to combine an organic ingredients requirement with a no-added-sulfite requirement. (Most organic growers consider this requirement unfair, and many winemakers using organic grapes still use small amounts of S02 for stability). By far the most common certification is Made with Organically Grown Grapes.

Biodynamic farming—administered by Demeter USA—was the first organic certification (1924). In addition to meeting organic farming standards, Biodynamic certification requires: use of on-farm materials for fertilization (farm compost, for example); 10% of land set aside for biodiversity; and use of herbal and mineral sprays. Biodynamic farming also involves consulting phases of the moon for the timing of farm and winery tasks; and bringing domesticated animals (cows, pigs, chickens, horses) onto the farm (for compost and more). Biodynamic wine holds great appeal for consumers who want to know that nothing has been added to wine; it is the only standard that specifies the use of native yeast and no additives (other than sulfur to stabilize during fermentation).

Sustainability vs. ‘Sustainababble’

Sustainability is a catchall concept, not a category. It applies to dozens of regional programs in the U.S. and elsewhere and it has been used to canonize a wide variety of eco-friendly practices under a green umbrella. Some have been started by local grape growers; others are the offspring of Big Wine.

The sustainable tent is large (and flexible) enough to include many aspects of the wine business that have no direct connection to organic grapes: water conservation, energy efficiency, carbon reduction, solar power, reusing/recycling and packaging (lighter weight, soy ink, etc.)—not to mention support of environmental projects.

Sustainability is best thought of as a helpful step forward—encouraging growers and vintners to reduce their energy and water use (and more), but its achievements are often overstated. It’s a process rather than an outcome. Contrary to what most consumers believe, sustainability does not involve legal certification or require reduction of pesticides. Most consumers believe it does much more than it actually does.

Merchants (and their customers) may have noticed more official emblems of sustainability programs appearing on back labels recently; New Zealand and South Africa have optional official seals, for instance. In California, the Wine Institute’s statewide program has a large outreach budget to promote its mission to consumers, with marketing videos, TV news appearances and a coffeetable book; yet, according to its own reports, fewer than 13% of state vineyards are certified sustainable under its guidelines.

Moving forward, one question is whether operating under the big umbrella of sustainability will be accepted as an end, or as means to continue with real progress. One encouraging sign is how subregions in California—notably Napa Valley, Mendocino, Central Coast and Lodi—have established their own programs to cross-pollinate best practices.

Meanwhile, however, wineries can and often do overstate organic or Biodynamic certification as part of an overarching brand story, when, in reality, their case production of organic or Biodynamically grown wines is less than 5% of their total output. Certification is on a wine by wine basis; it is not bestowed upon brand names. Some wineries certify only their estate vineyards and buy tons (literally) of grapes from uncertified growers.

THE REAL DEAL

Ironically, the green wine category is also home to understating. Sometimes organic grapes are blended with conventional grapes, so the wines can not be labeled as organic in any way. Also, some vineyards are “practicing organic” but not certified; this situation is common among wineries that have long-term contracts for grapes. And, sometimes producers leave any mention or emblem of certification off their labels—an extension of the attitude that their wines are excellent examples of their grapes/place first, and happen to be organic.

So, when even green practicioners are hesitant to toot their own horns, it’s easy to see how “sustianababble” can grab hold of consumer consciousness. How to tell the Real Deals from the Hot Air? One easy way is to start with the Biodynamic producers. These eight each hold 100 or more acres and account for 58% of the Biodynamic grape acreage in the U.S.: Grgich Hills Estate, Napa, 366 acres; Bonterra, Mendocino, 290; Montinore Estate, Oregon: 270; Maysara, Oregon, 250; Frey Vineyards, Mendocino, 175; Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Barbara County, 165; Cooper Mountain, Oregon, 123; Benziger, Sonoma, 110.

There are many other wineries that can be considered high-functioning green, as indicated by significant distribution and/or a percentage of their overall production based on organic or Biodynamic grapes. In California alone—from value-priced Cottonwood Creek and Green Truck up to collectible Ridge and Turley Cellars bottlings—it is clear that green wines cover a wide range of grapes, regions and styles, and are by no means necessarily more expensive.

Some more brands to consider:

Central Coast: Calera (Mt. Harlan), Heller Estate (Monterey), Tablas Creek (Paso Robles), Qupé/Verdad (Edna Valley), Bonny Doon (Santa Cruz)

Mendocino: Barra/Girasole, Handley Cellars, Saracina, Yorkville Cellars

Napa: Beaucanon, Domaine Carneros, Ehler’s Estate, Volker Eisele, Frog’s Leap, Heitz Cellars, Inglenook, Long Meadow Ranch, Robert Sinskey, Staglin, Spottswoode, Storybook

Sonoma: Kamen, Korbel (Organic Brut), Petroni, Quivira, Carol Shelton (Monga Zin), Skipstone, Stone Edge.

THE BOTTOM {GREEN} LINE

Yes, green wine is complicated, but its future is bright and clear. On the supply side, green attitudes and practices have never been more prevalent; on the demand side, “organic” (thanks to the food industry) has developed into to a genuinely positive attribute. Wine retailers and restaurateurs are the bridge between the supply and demand. With that in mind, here are some fundamental talking points:

 There is no one-size-fits-all definition of green wine; there are degress, or shades, of green, and the wines span a huge range.

The foundation of organic wine is organic grapes, which are grown using natural processes (compost, cover crops, et al) and organic products (mineral oils, biopesticides, etc.), enabling these growers to avoid synthetic fungicides, herbicides or pesticides.

Green wine does not inherently taste different from conventional wine; however, organic and Biodynamic wines—being made with no synthetic treatments—have a unique and powerful selling point.

Green wine is still taking shape as a category—all the more reason for merchants to embrace it on their own terms. Across the country, managers of chains and independents alike are adjusting in-store signage and online databases to account for green wines. They are figuring out what suppliers are really doing (not just what they are saying); and how much their customers, know (and want to know).

And amid all the talk of details and definitions, wine quality remains the ultimate collective goal of wine sellers and buyers. From an environmental view, organically grown wines do less harm to the environment than their chemically raised counterparts. In artisanal, fine wine circles, however, they represent the most sought-after grapes. As Andy Hoxsey, the biggest organic grower in Napa, where 9% of county vineyards are certified organic, says, “These are the last grapes to go unsold.” Organic grapes are one of the markers for great wine, and a new generation of wine lovers, who are organic food lovers, are poised to discover this. n

Pam Strayer (winecountrygeographic.com) has written 7 apps covering organically and Biodynamically grown wines and producers in the U.S.

Bonterra: California's Organic Leader goes Biodynamic

Bob Blue, as winemaker at Fetzer, started farming organically in the late ’80s—decades before “sustainability” was a buzz word. Bonterra emerged in 1990 as a division of Fetzer. As of last year, it was the number one brand of certified, organically grown wine in the U.S.

“My winemaking approach is simple—organic somewhat forces that, because all the work is in the vineyard,” Blue explains. Whereas many conventional vineyards control the vines with herbicides and pesticides and can always turn to a fast chemical solution, “there are no quick fixes in an organic vineyard, so it’s all about prevention. And self-reliance.”

When vines are healthy, they naturally resist disease; and pest populations can be kept in check by “predator pests,” which are attracted by planting the cover crops and flowers they like to eat. The right variety of cover crops also adds vital nitrogen which keeps the soil loose and moist, reducing the need for irrigation, explains Bonterra Vineyard Director David Koball. Field sprays he uses include “cow manure tea,” ground quartz and fermented herbs.

Of Bonterra’s 970 acres, an impressive 284 acres are now certified Biodynamic by Demeter USA. This represents even more of a commitment to the earth: Farming Biodynamically means relying exclusively on natural materials and methods, not just using them. “Biodynamics does much of what Bonterra already does for pest and disease management and cover crops, but extends it to the development and management of our vineyards as a whole,” describes Blue.

Bonterra’s first Biodynamic releases—two high-end blends, The McNab (Rhône-style) and The Butler (Bordeaux-style), named after their vineyard sites—are stunning examples that prove drinking sustainably doesn’t require sacrificing taste or quality.

—Kristen Bieler


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) August 2014 Editions Sat, 26 Jul 2014 13:19:47 -0400
Rum Gets Respect http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/rum-gets-respect http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/rum-gets-respect rum.jpg - 34.51 KBFrom its balmy Caribbean cradle, where it was consumed in copious amounts by seafarers, to the blenders of every beach bar in America, rum has ably fulfilled its calling as a fun-loving, tropical spirit.

But in a category as diverse as rum—which can be white, gold, spiced, flavored, overproof or aged—the frolicking frat boy persona that makes rum such a mixable and loveable spirit also means rum has occasionally struggled to be taken seriously, failing to realize the prices and sipping prestige that other spirits categories include. However, a current wave of super-premium rums and upsell options, hailing from both small entrepreneurs and category leaders alike, suggests that rum, as a whole, may finally be getting some overdue respect.

“Rum is the last category to premiumize,” says Tom Herbst, Vice President Marketing for Rum, Diageo. “Rum has characteristic challenges and opportunities, driven by its easygoing vacation values. We love those values because they make rum what it is. What we are trying to do across many of our rum brands is take that spirit, the exotic and fun side, and export it into more occasions.” Diageo’s portfolio includes spiced rum juggernaut Captain Morgan and Guatemala’s Ron Zacapa, as well as Pampero and Myer’s.

As a cateogry, rum is showing important signs of maturity: an uptick in brand offerings, extension of flavored iterations; an influx of affiliated celebrities; and a burgeoning high end. Taken together, these factors have rum on the upwardly mobile track.

Calling All Cocktails

The cocktail call is the holy grail of premiumization. While few drinkers would think to order a Manhattan or a vodka martini without naming their brand, generic calls for “rum and Coke” and “daiquiri” are still the norm, even as Gosling’s has succeeded in trademarking their toehold on the Dark ’n’ Stormy cocktail and Bacardi has restaked its claim to the Cuba Libre via memorable advertising.

Ron Zacapa is eyeing inroads among whisky drinkers, especially in classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan, where an aged rum like Zacapa 23 with its solera aging, can fill in for other brown spirits. “It adds an exciting twist to those drinks,” says Herbst.

Blackwell Rum, the eponymous entry from Jamaica’s Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, is positioned to offer an upsell in classic cocktails that use dark rum, like Planter’s Punch. Previously priced around $30 at retail, Blackwell struggled to compete with much older rums at the same price point. With a new distribution partner (MHW) and a more accessible $24.99 SRP, Blackwell will be better positioned as a cocktail call and upsell, according to Geoff Curley, U.S. sales and marketing director. He counts the Black Storm, made with ginger beer, and the Goldeneye, a 2:1 mix of pineapple juice and Blackwell, as other cocktail opportunities.

In white rum, Captain Morgan White and Brugal Extra Dry (the latter aged two to five years in former bourbon casks then charcoal-filtered to remove color) are both priced slightly above category leader Bacardi, around $20 at retail, suggesting that white rum upsells may require baby steps when it comes to an entrenched cocktail classic like Bacardi Superior. Panamanian newcomer Selvarey also ages their white rum in bourbon casks and filters out the color. The resulting three year old rum shows a sippable complexity and richness most white rums don’t possess, yet still remains mixable.

Pure Luxury

Utilizing processes that resonate with Scotch and bourbon drinkers appears to a popular strategy for winning these savvy consumers to the acceptance of aged rum. It’s a natural direction for Brugal, with the The Edrington Group of Scotland (The Macallan and Highland Park) as majority stakeholders. “Edrington is a company who respects the quality and virtues of wood and aging spirits. They found in Brugal a company with some of the same values,” says Brian Avenius, brand director. “From taking the finest cut of the distillation to the wood program, they are applying the same systems used for the world’s finest single malts.”

It should come as no surprise then that Brugal’s Papa Andrés, aged in three types of wood (first-fill Sherry oak casks that are hand-selected by the Master of Wood for The Macallan; Ex-Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks; and first-fill White American oak), rivals the price of luxury Scotches, retailing for $1,200. “Papa Andrés is a recurring marque, like Louis XIII. We do it because it just feels right,” says Avenius, noting all profits go to the Brugal Foundation to promote education in the Dominican Republic.

Rum category leader Bacardi has recently flexed their muscle with an innovative collection of four sipping rums under the name Facundo, in tribute to company founder Facundo Bacardi. The intriguing collection of four rums offers a breadth of style and price, from $45 to $250, inviting consumers to rethink not just rum but Bacardi, whose Superior has been the benchmark white rum since pre-Prohibition. The Facundo Collection is available from top retailers in Miami and New York City, including Fontainebleu Miami Beach and Del Posto in New York, as well as off-premise accounts where there were waiting lists to purchase the rums. The original release included just 6,000 bottles, with more coming in September.

“Appleton 50 Year Old is incredibly cheap at $5,000,” says Andrew Floor, senior marketing director for dark spirits at Campari America, alluding to the fact that Scotch of this age is typically far pricier. Robb Report named Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum as world’s top spirit, further validating rum’s ascent to luxury status. While Appleton 50 may be at the pinnacle of the portfolio, with the acquisition of the Appleton range just over one year ago, Campari America is committed to applying quality cues across the range. An important recent step in that evolution is the sleek upgraded bottle for Appleton Estate 21 (SRP $150), which will eventually be applied to the rest of the line.

Rum may have been held back from the quality ascent of bourbon and Scotch partly by its relatively lawless production—a diverse category with little in the way of geographical boundaries or legal requirements. Ron de Venezuela, however, has an established D.O. with quality and aging requirements applied to rums including Santa Teresa, Pampero and Diplomático, among others. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, Diplomático is focused on getting their super-premium rums into the mouths of people who appreciate barrel-aged spirits, with participation at events like WhiskyFest. The brand’s top shelf Ambassador is priced at $240.

With Age Comes Beauty

With little connecting the rums of the world in terms of codified geography and production methods, age remains perhaps its most important factor in terms of solidifying a more upscale reputation. Which makes sense given spirits aficionados’ familiarity with age statements on varied whiskies—and the acceptance that aged examples connote higher quality and greater complexity. Yet by comparison with Scotch, age-statement rums are relative bargains. Some well-made and attractively priced labels include The Real McCoy and Cockspur from Barbados, Pusser’s (Tortola, British Virgin Islands), English Harbor (Antigua), Ron Abuelo and Debonaire in Panama. One exceptional example is Banks Rum, which blends more than 20 rums (from Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Indonesia and beyond) of varying ages. 

Age is not always spelled out, but nonetheless intrinsic to certain rums. For example, Zacapa 23 and Santa Teresa 1796 both use enriching solera systems to recycle rum reserves when casks are tapped for bottling. Serralles’ Don Q uses the term Gran Añejo for its aged rum. And Pyrat, the critically acclaimed brand owned by Patrón, uses the Cognac-like XO to designate its dark rum averaging about 15 years of age. Mount Gay opts for a more straightforward approach, designating its blend of rums aged eight to 15 years old as Extra Old. Cruzan makes Aged Dark, Aged Light and a Single Barrel that melds rums aged five to 12 years and then given an extra year in new oak.

As an interesting aside (and selling point), it’s worth noting that rum barrels, being aged in warm climates, will lose more “angel’s share” through evaporation than will whiskies aged in cool, misty Scotland, so rums arguably achieve mature complexity at an earlier age. 

Spiced Grows Up

Whereas vodka’s neutrality always made it a prime infusing candidate, rum’s flavoring history has extended naturally from its sugary roots. Spices—such as cinnamon, vanilla, clove, nutmeg, ginger, rosemary, anise and pepper—have proven reliable and flexible.

Signs of the spiced subcategory maturing include: the emergence of some leading call brands, such as Kraken, Admiral Nelson’s and Sailor Jerry; overproof and upscale extensions from category leaders; and entry into the spice arena by the spirits world’s largest players—witness Bacardi with Oakheart, and Gallo with Shellback, both of which have shown rapid market penetration.

Immensely popular as a youthful demographics subset, spiced rum, too, is growing up according to Herbst: “Captain Morgan consumers are looking to upgrade within rum, he says, and Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum, a black strap rum with a higher proof competes well with whiskey.” In even closer alignment with whiskey are the limited edition Captain Morgan offerings, including last year’s Sherry Oak Finish and the forthcoming Captain Morgan 1671 finished in Panamanian oak.

Spiced rum is being further validated by craft distillers’ embrace, like Portland Distilling’s release of Below Deck Spiced Rum, priced around $20, and craft brewer and distiller Dogfish Head of Delaware, who applies beer traditions to flavor their Wit Spiced Rum, a triple-distilled rum aged on Curaçao orange peel and coriander. Vanilla, a natural player of the spiced school of rum, is showing signs of sublime upscale expressions, as seen in Dzama from Madagascar (with a whole vanilla bean in each bottle) and Pink Pigeon from Maritius (with a touch of orange peel).

Spinning The Flavor Wheel

Tropical flavors have long excelled in the rum realm. Malibu’s fusion of coconut and rum set the stage for a veritable franchise of spinoffs, including RTDs and even the tequila-spiked Malibu Red. Coconut has had other success stories as well, such as the recent launch of Alizé Coco; and after its first year on the market, Blue Chair Bay’s top iteration is Coconut (and Banana arrives in June). Caribaya has carved out a sold niche with its tropical flavors. Meanwhile, Bacardi’s extensive flavored line-up—which started with Limón in 1995 and has now embraced peach, berries, apple and more—has proven that rum can extend beyond the tropical, and definitely has more potential for fruit infusion than whiskies.

Rum cocktails have become a staple of Ready To Drink (RTD) products, with many big and small brands alike offering up Daiquiris, Piña Coladas, Mojitos. Captian Morgan has played off that theme with an RTD Long Island Iced Tea. These rum-tinged products check in at proofs well below the norm for most flavored rums, which, like their flavored vodka counterparts, are usually in the 60 to 70 proof range. One notable exception: Rum Jumbie, whose “Splash” flavors include coconut, pineapple, vanilla and mango, aims for a happy middle ground at 48 proof.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how some or the more unusual rum flavors work. In particular, Panama-based Selvarey (whose ownership includes musical artist Bruno Mars) recently took a Chairman’s Trophy for its Cacao rum; and from Jamaica by way of Newfoundland, Screech is first to market with a Honey rum.

Rhum Agricole

Aged/Sipping/Luxury rums are usually savored neat or in premium cocktails.

 

White

Gold

Mount Gay Eclipse

 

Spiced

Sailor Jerry

 

Aged/Sipping

Luxury

Ron Zacapa XO Solera Grand Reserve

 

By Jeffery Lindenmuth

 


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 15:24:13 -0400
Heineken: Changing the Game in Beer http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/heineken-changing-the-game-in-beer http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/heineken-changing-the-game-in-beer heineken.jpg - 157.04 KB

FOR BOTH ON- AND OFF-PREMISE, CREATIVITY GIVES HEINEKEN USA AN EDGE IN AN INCREASINGLY COMPETITIVE MARKET

As an international beer leader, Heineken has always looked to project quality and consistency as core values in their flagship product, especially when it comes to the lucrative draught sector. Of all the tradewinds now buffeting the giant brewers of the world, draught quality is among the most problematic for a variety of reasons but hasn’t always received the attention it deserves. That is, until now, as Heineken USA is set to start the roll-out of what potentially could be a breakthrough in quality, consistency and environmentally sound beer delivery.

Called BrewLock, the new system was designed to solve some large and small issues relating to draught beer delivery by the Heineken Global team in Amsterdam, according to Patrick Libonate, On-Premise Commercial Marketing Director for Heineken USA. “Delivering consistent, quality draught beer is a worldwide challenge, and BrewLock addresses many of these obstacles,” says Libonate. “It’s very important to us that we are able to deliver the same beer everywhere, the best possible draught beer, without changing anything about the beer we make.”

New Answer to Old Problems

As Libonate notes, BrewLock focuses on solving the thorny issue of delivering draught beer at the right level of carbonation. The first major difference is the keg—100% recyclable, single-use, 20-liter plastic containers, packed in easily stackable, rectangular cardboard boxes. The keg itself has two chambers—an outer PET shell that also provides protection from accidental puncture and the inner bladder which contains the beer. By pressurizing the area between the two, beer is forced through the draught lines by a customized air compressor and arrives at the tap as close to brewery quality as is currently possible, say Heineken officials.

“Inconsistency is the biggest challenge among draught beers,” says Libonate. He envisions most of Heineken USA’s brands eventually being available in this package if the roll-out goes as well as expected. (Standard kegs will continue to be available for the foreseeable future, he pointed out, and the company is also exploring larger format sizes.)

While standard keg systems use complicated, and sometimes expensive, gas and regulator systems to get beer through to the tap, the BrewLock system relies on normal atmospheric air to squeeze the inner wall of the keg and push beer through the lines. For operators, such an upgrade brings them one step closer to a foolproof draught system, as no gas actually comes into contact with the beer, which means no concerns over too strong or weak pressure or improperly mixed gas.

Heineken officials also expect that BrewLock will reduce draught system failures by half overall, and with kegs that weigh 25% less than stainless steel barrels and take up a much smaller footprint in a cooler, they anticipate savings and greater ease of handling all along the supply chain. Easier keg changing and simpler connections are promised as well.

There’s also the matter of untapped beer left in the keg, a major issue and potential source of loss that can undermine the financial incentive of draught beer for operators. BrewLock, the company insists, will almost totally eliminate the problem. On average, the current yield for operators is anywhere between 85 and 90% from a standard keg. “With BrewLock, users will get 99% or more of the beer out of the keg,” Libonate says.

Good Thing in a Small Package

For distributors and Heineken USA, the smaller draught package also potentially opens up the market of smaller operators who declined draught beer fearing they couldn’t recoup the cost of gas line installation or wouldn’t serve enough beer to justify ordering large kegs. Pizza shops, small casual dining outlets, even small outlets at busy golf and resort locations, now seem logical targets for draught expansion.

Libonate says not only will small operators who previously declined to serve draught beer find BrewLock compelling; feedback from large accounts indicated appreciation of the beer’s quality enough to consider taking it on, he said. And the resulting beer seems to be hitting the right spot; so far in test markets, Heineken reports about a 10% sales bump.

The potential for space saving also intrigued some large scale operators, he said, who are considering multiple serving areas for draught. With the battle for tap handles getting fiercer as craft beers develop their local markets, BrewLock is also seen as an aid in the tap handle fight for the Dutch brewer.

The BrewLock system—set to roll out via distributors in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Illinois—will be available only for Heineken and Newcastle Brown Ale, at least initially. The company is using a phased approach to introduce the technology to new states over the new few months and expects to fully expand to a national level in October. Easy to stack in a cooler, easier to handle and maneuver, the system also promises a smaller carbon footprint all along the supply chain, and perhaps will eventually resolve the long-standing distributor issue of lost kegs.

No change is cost-free, but Heineken USA estimates that changing over to BrewLock will typically top out at $500 or so for most operators, and that the change can be done quickly.

If the response at Heineken USA’s annual National Distributors Conference was any indicator, BrewLock is an idea whose time has come none too soon. Of all the exhibits, the BrewLock booth serving Heineken and Newcastle Brown Ale was the busiest, as distributors flocked to examine how the draught system worked and to taste the net result.

Only the results of the roll-out of BrewLock will be able to determine the next step for the company’s draught strategy. Previous initiatives to educate all along the supply chain about the importance of proper draught service segued into programs to teach on-premise operators how to build draught systems better and serve draught beer at a higher quality level. Operational flaws—pre-pouring draught beer into plastic pitchers for swifter service, using plastic glasses or, worse, improperly cleaned mugs—have long challenged quality draught service, and Heineken has been addressing them with distributors and on-premise accounts. BrewLock is their latest move to make sure the beer they brew is the beer customers receive.

Target Consumers

Meanwhile, the company recently announced a series of product releases, marketing efforts and strategic moves they hope will capitalize on recent break-through successes and current trends.

Key to Heineken USA’s current approach is the identification of the type of consumer most important for the various Heineken brands to target for their newest marketing, advertising and promotional efforts. Heineken USA’s marketing leaders have identified their target consumers as highly social and high-energy people who seek out extraordinary experiences and occasions. At the company’s National Distributors Conference, Heineken USA President and CEO Dolf van den Brink pointed out that their target consumer is “more Red Bull than Starbucks, more GoPro than Whole Foods.” In other words, not the type to chat over their beverage choice, but rather people who find beverages to be something that amplifies their lifestyle. Currently, these consumers favor imported beer and clear spirits, said marketers, but beer overall is underrepresented among them, and that’s where Heineken USA hopes its latest efforts will help them succeed.

Van den Brink pointed out that the beer business as a whole was facing some serious questions, and that creating beers to appeal to drinkers who had moved to spirits required innovation, although there were major bright spots for the company last year; for instance, according to Nielsen, the impressive growth of Tecate Light (up 42% in 2013) and Dos Equis (up more than 21%), as well as, in the burgeoning cider category, Strongbow’s nearly 67% increase.

Still More Innovation

For Heineken itself, beyond BrewLock, innovation includes the introduction of the 8.5 oz. slim can that the company terms a million case opportunity with a nine market out-of-home push in June, along with a 15% increase in media buys and a focus on building the power of the brand’s sponsorship of the Champions League, the major European soccer competition whose final is the largest watched sporting event in the world.

For Dos Equis, said to be the fastest growing brand in the top 20 on-premise, growth is potent even in markets like Texas, the brand’s biggest. To expand Dos Equis’s reach and develop one of Heineken’s stated goals to take back share from spirits, the company introduced the Dos Equis Dos-A-Rita Lager Margarita, a 7.2% alcohol by volume (ABV) Mexican beer mixed with lime and agave and targeted at Margarita fans. The flavored or mixed beer segment is showing a high rate of growth, indicating that consumers are more open to experimentation and variety beyond regular beer. While other Margarita-aligned beers are on the market already, this is the first imported Mexican version in the U.S.; it launched in April at retail in 11 states, mostly southern and western, in 24 oz. cans and 8 oz. can 12-packs.

Also along those lines, the company has introduced in some markets Desperados, a brew blended with tequila barrel-aged lager and lemon. A Latin-inspired European import, Desperados will be offered at first in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. Officials termed its performance in Europe, especially France, a resounding success, and for the on-premise, distribution will be focused on nightclubs and bars.

Based on the explosive success of the cider market in the U.S., the company is debuting Strongbow Gold Apple and Strongbow Honey & Apple hard ciders (they will be phasing out their original recipe). In a new clear bottle, both Strongbow Gold Apple and Strongbow Honey & Apple are 5% ABV.

Among other seasonal brands to be pushed and promoted this summer is Amstel Radler. The popular European style beer-based beverage differs from most radlers and shandys on the market in that it is a mix of beer with lemon juice, as opposed to lemonade. Amster Radler is available in select markets through August.

All things considered, as important as BrewLock is to the flagship brand, the company is clearly committed to spreading the attention around. Heineken USA executives continue to push back against the rising craft tide, keeping quality, consistency and bold innovation at the forefront. 

Written by Jack Robertiello

Photo By Andrew Kist


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 15:03:30 -0400
GIN 101:The Many Styles of Gin http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/gin-101-the-many-styles-of-gin http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/gin-101-the-many-styles-of-gin ClassicMartini.jpg - 15.37 KB

Benchmark London Dry style

Traditional American

Contemporary Western Dry Gin

New American Gin

Specialty Styles


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:33:50 -0400
GIN ReimaGINed http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/gin-reimagined http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/gin-reimagined toc_gin3.jpg - 38.10 KB

No longer simply juniper, this spirit can be classic or creative, modern or mystical

According to conventional wisdom, and to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, gin is a distilled spirit with its main flavor derived from juniper berries. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Just ask Frank Cisneros, partner at Manhattan’s Gin Palace, which boasts over 75 incarnations of the spirit. “It’s actually a carefully curated list, where the flavor profile of each gin is distinctive,” explains Cisneros, pointing out that now is the best of times for the Prohibition-era darling. “Just five years ago this would not have been possible. But we now have access to great variety—traditional styles like Old Tom gin, new gins in the American style, as well as classic London Dry.”

London Calling

For most of the modern era, London Dry has been the prevailing style of gin. Think of classic, juniper-forward brands like Tanqueray, Bombay Dry and its premium sibling Bombay Sapphire, and Beefeater. With a potent punch of juniper and ABV that exceeds the minimum 80 proof, Cisneros says these gins have the necessary backbone to stand up in cocktails like a Negroni. Detractors, and those weaned on vodka, however, sometimes liken their flavor to that of a Christmas tree, recognizing the juniper berry’s evergreen origins.

Acknowledging that one gin does not suit all comers, many of these flagship brands have added line extensions, adjusting flavors, adding botanicals and sometimes lowering proof. Bacardi’s Sapphire East, introduced in 2012, is a recent example. “Sapphire is a big, bold, classic among London Dry gins,” says Gary Hayward, house of Bombay brand ambassador. “However, we recognize that is not for everyone, and so we looked at the latest trends and modern flavors, consulting with bartenders to develop Sapphire East, with its additions of lemongrass and Vietnamese black pepper.” With a more modest 84 proof, compared to Sapphire’s 94, Hayward says that Sapphire East will help ease the entry to gin, especially among vodka drinkers.

Sapphire East’s flavor sits firmly in the London Dry tradition, while offering consumers something extra. Cisneros observes this is a popular extension strategy among benchmark brands. “These are iconic gin brands, so I see their super-premium gins as a reward to their faithful fans and to the Master Distiller, offering something extra special.” Created by Desmond Payne, the Master Distiller in charge of stewarding the 180-year-old Beefeater brand, Beefeater 24 includes a unique blend of Chinese green and rare Japanese Sencha teas to complement, rather than reinvent, the Beefeater style, bottled at 90 proof.

Tanquerary No. Ten, among the first to market in what Angus Winchester, Tanqueray global brand ambassador, refers to as the “ginnovation” of the 21st century, recently received a package makeover that reaffirms its super-premium status, with a faceted bottle cast in green glass that is more vibrant than the traditional Tanqueray. “Number Ten does everything that classic London Dry gin can do, but also shows how gins can play wherever other white spirits do these days, as most came after gin. It’s a simple but great step up in flavor for a customer who typically drinks vodka martinis,” explains Winchester.

Lest you think London Dry Gin remains the domain solely of big brands, Fifty Pounds is a gin made in the heart of London from a recipe dating to the first half of the 18th century. Crafted in batches of less than 1,000 bottles, Fifty Pounds is a boutique product that embraces the traditional London Dry profile.

Less Juniper, Tastes Great

A few London Dry style gins have long prided themselves on a more subtle juniper note, notably Boodles, which deviates from the pack with its understated juniper flavor and a range of botanicals that favors savory herbs and spices over citrus. However, no one really knew just how far gin could roam from its juniper roots until Hendrick’s Gin launched in 1999.

While William Grant & Sons’ Hendrick’s does include juniper, Bulgarian rose and cucumber are its hallmark aromas that captured the imagination of consumers and opened the gin category for experimentation. Some purists question whether some of the new entries are really gin, or merely botanical spirits, but following The Wall Street Journal’s anointment of Hendrick’s as the “Best Gin in the World” in 2003, there has been a steady stream of gins that pride themselves on a few proprietary botanicals, often emphasizing citrus, floral and other flavors over juniper.

Call them Contemporary Western Dry Gin, or perhaps Modern London Dry; by any name, many of these products are far removed from grandmother’s gin, with Bulldog Gin, launched in 2006, a good example. “We have juniper, but it is dialed back a bit, so that you can taste all the other botanicals,” explains Bob Beleson, managing director. “Suddenly you are tasting lotus leaf, white poppy and Dragon Eye, a Chinese fruit that is similar to lychee. We find people value a more complex and interesting balance of flavors.”

Bulldog Gin’s brand positioning and marketing also stray from the traditional, with advertisements projected in public spaces, urban sidewalk stenciling and New York taxi commercials. Bulldog certainly got the attention of Campari America, which as of January 1st partnered to distribute the brand nationally.

The Nolet family, notable for their creation of Ketel One Vodka, offers an eponymous gin in the contemporary style: Nolet’s Silver, an exquisite gin whose delicate floral notes belie its 95.2 proof.  In addition to Turkish rose, Nolet’s Silver includes peach and raspberry as signature botanicals, but make no mistake, this is not a flavored product or one that exudes overt fruitiness. While the $50 MSRP puts Nolet’s Silver firmly in the super-premium realm, Nolet’s Reserve—with its saffron and verbena and $700 price tag—has smashed the ceiling on gin price.

Other modern gins embrace current culinary trends in their recipes, like Caorunn, which hold a distinct regional identity derived from botanicals native to the Scottish Highlands. “Foraged within a hand’s reach of the distillery, the Celtic botanicals infused in Caorunn provide a sense of place,” says Caorunn’s Simon Buley, referring to the gin’s wild rowan berry, Coul Blush apple, dandelion, myrtle and Scottish heather. Of course, Caorunn does include the requisite juniper, but it is more of a footnote. “There is an ever-sophisticated consumer who is actively looking for unpredictable drink experiences that deliver nuanced flavor, over one-noted profiles from heavy juniper gin styles,” asserts Buley.

A sub-category all to itself, Monkey 47 is German gin based on the recipe of Wing Commander Montgomery “Monty” Collins of the Royal Air Force, who repurposed the juniper used to cure black forest hams for concocting gin in the region sometime in the 1950s. Revived by Germany’s Black Forest Distillers, Monkey 47 is newly imported by Sidney Frank Importing Company.

American ‘Inginuity’

While Western Europe has taken decades to slowly migrate away from London Dry traditions, in the U.S. the revolution is fast and furious, as craft distillers tinker with not just the botanicals, but every element of gin, sometimes even working on unusual base spirits. “The contemporary gin boom has primarily focused on unique botanical infusions. At 1911 Spirits, we took it one step further, distilling our gin from apples, which creates undertones of vanilla and caramel which delicately complement our botanicals,” says Stephen Brennan, co-owner and director of sales. Distilled in Upstate New York, 1911 Gin features only about half the juniper found in a typical London Dry.

In contrast, Seattle-based Big Gin, introduced in 2011, embraces gin’s piney pedigree. “We are using a pot still and include gobs of juniper as well as botanicals sourced from around the world, because we want to compete on a world scene,” says distiller Ben Capdevielle. However, Big Gin shows its American roots with a base distilled from corn, as well as a “Bourbon Barreled” rendition. While top-selling domestic brand Seagram’s Dry Gin has long boasted barrel-aging as a point of differentiation, Big Gin Bourbon Barreled has an unmistakable wood influence, perceptible in its golden-cast and rounded taste. “New oak is a detriment because it kills aromas and we really wanted the juniper to stand out. So it occurred to me that many premium spirits are aged in used bourbon barrels,” says Capdevielle, who currently distributes Big Gin in a dozen states.

Given the large number of ingredients in many gins, organic-certified offerings are few. Farmer’s Gin, however, tackles that task by using organic botanicals and organic grains, free of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers and GMOs. Farmer’s achieves a balanced style with subdued juniper balanced with floral notes of elderflower and citrusy lemongrass.

Moving Forward, Looking Back

Gin is a darling of the craft distiller set precisely because it does not require aging. Cisneros, who features the local gins of New York Distilling Company and Greenhook Ginsmiths, both from Brooklyn, in his cocktails, says he is especially excited about the rapid proliferation of craft gins. “It’s an analog to what happened with beer, and how craft beer consumers take their choice very seriously. Gin is the perfect vehicle for creativity by distillers. You can distill it today and sell it tomorrow,” says Cisneros.

As mixologists delve into the history books and encounter myriad recipes using obscure gins, styles rarely seen since Prohibition have returned to the back bar. Old Tom gin, of which Hayman’s Old Tom, launched in 2007 is the best known, is slightly fuller-bodied and sweeter than London Dry. Tanqueray Malacca has been likened to Old Tom in style by some bartenders, who are especially excited about its recent return as a limited-edition bottling. “It’s certainly closer to Old Tom–style gins, a softer and richer variant than London Dry,” says Winchester, who notes the marque has been a bit of a “unicorn” for bartenders and is being positioned primarily as an on-premise draw.

Dutch Genever, which Jaron Berkhemer, marketing director for Lucas Bols USA, is quick to point out is not gin, can’t help but be mentioned in the same sentence. “Although Genever shares a characteristic with gin—juniper—it really is a category of its own and actually gave birth to a juniper-based spin-off known as gin,” says Berkhemer with pride. By combining a base of malt wine with several distillates, Bols Genever is malty, full, rounded and complex, quite at home in a variety of 19th and 20th century cocktails.

At New York Distilling Company, owner Allen Katz crafts Chief Gowanus from a recipe he discovered for an early American version of “Holland gin,” based on flavored rye whiskey which is then aged in barrel for three months, clarifying it is indeed “a kissing cousin to Dutch Gin.”

Katz also offers Dorothy Parker as his American-styled gin and has revived navy strength gin Perry’s Tot, bottled at a traditional 57% ABV. Plymouth, a bartender darling and companion to Pernod Ricard’s Beefeater, is one of the few other distillers to offer a navy strength gin, which despite its potency retains the palatable Plymouth flavor profile. “As a style, Plymouth Gin is less dry than a London Dry,” says Juli Falkoff, brand director. “Back in the 1750s, the ports of Liverpool, Bristol and Plymouth created their own versions of London Dry Gin, a more aromatic and fruity gin. Today only Plymouth Gin survives.”

Cisneros may have to add another page to his gin list if the excitement continues, but he’s not complaining. “It’s a great time for gin, with the American craft distillers and revival of gins most of us have only read about,” he says. “At the same time, I don’t think brands like Beefeater or Tanqueray are going away. We have all these gins for a reason. They are each special.”

By jeffery lindenmuth

 


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:16:54 -0400
Tequila 101 http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-101 http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-101 Agave_tequilana_2.jpg - 268.37 KB

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which resembles a cactus but is actually a member of the lily family. At the heart of the plant is the “piña” (similar in appearance to a pineapple), which produces the aguamiel (“honey water”) that is fermented and distilled.

Tequila may only be produced in designated areas of Mexico, most notably the state of Jalisco; the spirit takes its name from the town of Tequila.

There are two basic classifications for tequila: 100% blue agave, which must be 100% from blue agave plants and bottled in designated regions of Mexico; and mixto, which must be at least 51% from blue agave.

Tequilas are further segmented based on aging. Blanco (aka silver) is clear and unaged. Joven (aka gold or abocado) spends several months in tanks before bottling. Reposado (meaning rested) is the first definitive level of aging; these tequilas rest in wood (usually oak) barrels for two to 12 months. Añejo (meaning “old” or “mature”) applies to tequilas aged at least one year in oak barrels; these tend to be darker, smoother and more complex. Extra añejo tequila has rested at least three years in barrel.


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:26:02 -0400
Tequila To the Max http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-to-the-max http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-to-the-max toc_tequila.jpg - 81.30 KB

In a bigger, faster world, tequila expands to higher price points and showcases innovations.

Innovation can mean many things, but for spirits retailers, innovation in tequila has delivered a growing business with a much more lucrative ring.

As the agave spirit continues to shed its passé image as the quintessential shiver-inducing shot, the category is seeing significant growth in 100% agave expressions (pitched at higher price points) replacing value-priced mixto brands (pure agave tequilas are closing in on 50% of the U.S. tequila market volume and growing fast). Producers, obviously mindful of the way whisky makers pulled their industry out of a slump by focusing on quality and invention, have tapped their own creativity to develop new styles of tequila that move beyond the blanco/reposado/añejo trinity that for so long has represented the heart of the business.

Those innovations come in many forms—higher proof, barrel finishes, aging protocols, even flavored expressions. Take potency, for instance. Most tequilas have logged in at 80 proof recently, but tequila fans, especially bartenders, have been pushing for stronger expressions with a bigger punch and more intense agave flavors. Tequila 1800 has long offered a 100 proof variant, but recent additions at the higher end include the legendary Tapatio, available at 110 proof, and soon Pueblo Viejo will offer a 104 proof expression.

Many tequila makers have already shifted from employing only used American oak for aging. The Milagro Barrel Select line, for example, rests in French oak. Perhaps modeling after Scotch whisky producers, tequila makers also have started seasoning their spirits with barrels used previously for wines and spirits other than whiskey. Herradura is working on its third annual barrel-finished reposado in the Coleccion de la Casa line, in which their 11 month reposado gets two months more aging time, for 2012 in Port pipes, and for 2013 in Cognac barrels. Priced around $90 and limited to fewer than 3,000 cases, a new edition is expected each fall for the foreseeable future, say brand reps.

“We hold ourselves to a very high standard when it comes to exploring with aging and recasking techniques,” says Herradura’s brand manager Valdemar Cantu. “Consumers are finding out that tequila is much more versatile, that it can be as high quality as any other spirit and people are willing to pay more for it when it has that quality. Producers are going back to using more refined techniques, selecting more mature agaves and exploring extra age.”

Revisiting the Barrel

Paying more attention to barrels holds great potential for tequila going forward. “At Patrón we already use a combination of barrels to age our tequilas—including new and used American oak, new and used French oak, and Hungarian oak,” says David Rodriguez, executive production director at Patrón. “And we’re experimenting with a number of different barrels, too, and also at different proof levels.” The company also uses Bordeaux barrels to finish its Gran Patrón Burdeos.

All this experimentation is part of what keeps fervid agave fans engaged, says Grover Sanschagrin, creator of the Taste Tequila phone app, who has also launched a traveling tequila tasting program. “As an uber fan constantly trying things, I’m noticing that there are a lot of big brands that are trying to do stuff that is craft-like, including special editions, and things like the Casa Noble single barrel program, for example, and the Espressiones de Corazón whiskey barrel finishes.”

Whatever the innovation, it’s clear producers are buoyed by their continued success here in the U.S. According to figures supplied by the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), tequila grew 6.6% last year, better than all other main spirit categories, including whiskey overall (some whiskey sub-categories, it should be noted, grew faster than tequila). The agave spirit jumped nearly 10% at the super-premium level, and lost ground only at the mostly mixto value price point. It’s at the higher end where experimentation is most frequent. Super-premium, defined as $20-$40 a bottle, is the fastest-growing tequila segment scored by Nielsen, representing 20% of total tequila value, while ultra-premium ($40+) is the second-fastest growing and represents 22%.

“The tequila category in the U.S. is incredibly robust and dynamic,” says  Alex Tomlin, SVP marketing for tequila, gin, Scotch and liqueurs at Diageo North America. “With strong category value growth, the opportunity for distinct and compelling propositions is exciting. The premiumization trend along with consumers’ relatively newfound understanding and appreciation of high-quality tequilas favors strong and differentiated brands that can meet the lifestyles of diverse groups of consumers.”

The confluence of premiumization, continuing growth, new iterations and pressure from brands that catch aficionado attention has created a swelling demand for more, different and better. It’s even showing at the extra añejo level which, after initial enthusiasm when first introduced, seemed to lose steam. Fast-growing Avion launched Avion Reserva 44 late last year with fewer than 1,000 cases worldwide initially. The luxury offering, made from selected agaves roasted in brick ovens for 72 hours, is aged for 43 months in oak and then aged an additional month in petite barrels which are rotated daily.

Meanwhile, Diageo’s recent purchase of the brand DeLéon—a joint venture with Sean Combs—includes an extra añejo variant bottled at a cask-strength 102 proof. DeLéon is only the most recent celebrity-owned tequila. Prior “stars” in the category include Sauza 901 (with Justin Timberlake) and Casamigos, created by George Clooney and restaurant mogul Rande Gerber. The fact that all three tequilas have earned critical acclaim on their own merits bodes well for the category overall.

Updating the Old School

While the shot occasion doesn’t get the attention it once did, Sauza, too, has targeted the concept with Sauza Lime Shot, and has big hopes that their partnership with Timberlake and 901 will also play big in that arena, says Sauza senior director Gary Ross.

Aiming to separate completely from the shot/margarita mentality, Casa Dragones goes as far as to put “sipping tequila” right on the bottle, emphasizing the smoothness that the producer attributes to multiple distillation using pure spring water and “ultra-modern” filtration. Casa Dragones is then hand-finished with a dash of extra añejo (aged over five years in oak); every bottle is handmade from lead-free crystal and then individually engraved with the brand’s signature “pepita” design.

It should come as no surprise that restaurateurs continue to push consumer expectations of what tequila is. Arturo Gomez, president of Chicago’s Rockit Ranch Productions which operates ¡Ay Chiwowa! there, has taken his grandfather’s recipe for spiking blanco tequila with raisins and expanded it, creating infusions with raisin and almonds as well as with prunes to add flavor and depth to the Milagro blanco tequila he serves. At this neighborhood tequila and taco destination, where more than 90 tequilas are offered, as well as house-kegged cocktails like the Black Cherry Basil Margarita.

Gomez says customers count on seeing so many tequila brands available and they are avidly exploring various expressions and brands, paying attention to production, regions and styles. Even at a nightclub his group owns, bottle service for brands like Don Julio 1942, which commands $900 there, are going up.

David Grapshi, who has spent his career working on various tequila brands at Sazerac and now is a private consultant for distillers including Siete Leguas, says he’s been surprised that the larger suppliers haven’t conducted more experimentation, and thinks some may soon develop artisanal brands within their portfolios.  

Numerous brands have also started paying more attention to ripeness and sugar levels in the agaves they grow or buy; those with multiple brands will set different ripeness standards and even employ different yeasts in fermentation. Sourcing is increasingly important, especially for brands like Lunazul, which is one of the few widely available estate-grown tequilas. “Now we see more producers sourcing only from their own agave fields and treating production as a single vertical process,” says Reid Hafer, Lunazul senior brand manager at importer Heaven Hill. “Vertical integration has been a huge step. We know from start to finish how the agaves have grown. We know if there has been exposure to anything which might compromise the plants. So, we know what sugar levels to expect and how well the fermentation process will work and, ultimately, we know the quality and flavor will be consistent with each distillation.”

Not every brand has that capability, but any successful producer will need to be more aware of each step of the production, just as whiskey makers have found that increasing a distillery’s expressions depends on keeping the basics consistent. That’s the main improvement in tequila over the past ten years or so, and that consistency is the real key to both the increase in sales and the belief that agave spirits benefit from all the enhancements the industry can conjure.

Novelty Factor

New tequila brands seem to arrive in wave after wave, though word from Mexico is that supply is tightening and some of those brands will have a harder time managing supply. Meanwhile, Diageo’s acquisitions of DeLeón (as part of the joint venture with Sean Combs) and Peligroso mean that most retailers and restaurateurs can expect to be pitched about the brands soon. “They are part of our strategy of creating a collection of superb quality and distinctive tequilas at complementary price points to appeal to a wide range of consumers,” says Diageo’s Alex Tomlin. DeLeón is in the ultra-premium and above price tier and a Hollywood favorite, while Peligroso is primarily a super-premium brand that is rooted in the surfing and action sports culture of Southern California. DeLeón includes an extra añejo variant bottled at a cask-strength 102 proof, while Peligroso includes a cinnamon-flavored expression.

Just released in a new sort of experimental style is Sauza Hornitos Black Barrel, aged for 12 months in new toasted barrels, then transferred to deep charred barrels for four months and finally to toasted barrels (all American oak) for two months to create what the supplier calls whiskey-like notes.

Gran Patrón Piedra—Patrón’s first extra añejo tequila, aged four instead of the three years required by law—is also the first Patrón made entirely using the tahona process in which cooked agaves are crushed by stone; it’s retailing at $400 a bottle.

At the lighter end of expressions, there’s Lunazul Primero, aged 18 months and then filtered eight times which results, the company says, in a balanced and exceptionally smooth and clear anejo. Over the past few years, Lunazul has largely focused its efforts at retail, but the brand has more recently gained attention in bars due to its estate-grown agave.

Coffee flavors are getting the most push lately. There’s Avión Espresso which combines Avión Silver with Italian espresso, creating an ultra-premium espresso liqueur that is lighter in body and viscosity and lower in sugar-level than many flavored spirits. Brand creator Ken Austin says that, like Avion 44 extra añejo, his team is being very careful not to toy with the brand’s hard-won image as a tequila made to exacting standards and with care.

Also in the mix in select markets, Cabo Wabo Diablo, another coffee-flavored entrant. “Flavored and sweeter tequila-based spirits certainly open up a new opportunity for tequila drinkers to see the diversity of the category not only with flavors, but also in aging and mixability,” says Kathleen Schuart, director of marketing, white spirits, Campari America. Cabo Diablo is for those looking to explore the experimental and fun side of spirits, while offering a devilish twist to the night.

Tequila Rose is proving that innovation in the category need not be high-end to make a mark. Their low-alcohol (15%) strawberry cream liqueur “with a splash of tequila” is getting a limited-edition package to grab more attention. Made by McCormick Distilling, the brand also includes “Cocoa” and “Java” iterations. And pushing the tequila envelope into truly novel hybrid territory, two vodka-tequila mash-ups are aiming to gain traction in the market. Vodquila and Vodkila both present a smoother texture than straight tequila. They can be sipped on the rocks with a wedge of lime or mixed in myriad ways.

While few flavored tequilas have really caught fire, Cuervo is encouraged by the response to its recently added variety, Jose Cuervo Cinge, a cinnamon-infused silver. “The infusion of Mexican cinnamon and other spices match perfectly with the clean, crisp agave flavors,” says a spokesperson for importer Proximo Spirits. “This blend of bold flavor, combined with the sweet and natural cinnamon sting, is going to make for an even more exciting shot occasion.”

Finally, Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal’s founder, and chef José Andrés and his team at ThinkFoodGroup, have created Del Maguey Ibérico, a mezcal made with ibérico de bellota ham, made from Spain’s legendary acorn-fed, black-footed pigs. The limited release, made in roughly the same manner as pechuga mezcals, in which a chicken breast is suspended in the still during distillation, debuted in Washington, DC, at Andrés’s Oyamel restaurant’s Tequila and Mezcal Festival. Beginning in April, Del Maguey Ibérico will be in limited release and priced at around $200. 

By Jack Robertiello


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:16:52 -0400
Whiskey’s Brightest Spot: The Irish Surge is Just Beginning http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/whiskey-s-brightest-spot-the-irish-surge-is-just-beginning http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/whiskey-s-brightest-spot-the-irish-surge-is-just-beginning toc_irish.jpg - 173.85 KB

If you’re looking for bright spots in the world of Irish whiskey, it’s hard not to find them. The question is where to start.

For example, ground has recently been broken in County Carlow for the new 25 million pound Walsh Whiskey Distillery, a venture backed by the Italian makers of Disaronno Liqueur. Meanwhile to the northwest, William Grant & Sons, owner of Tullamore D.E.W., will fire up the stills next fall at their new distillery, the first in a generation for the brand. Those two are just part of the unprecedented Irish whiskey distillery boomlet, to be followed by other new facilities including one at a former Diageo brewery site in Dundalk and another right in Dublin.

All this, of course, complements the enormous expansion of the new Midleton Distillery, headquarters of Irish Distillers’ broad portfolio of whiskies, including world leader Jameson. Beam Global’s assimilation of Kilbeggan and other brands formerly owned by the Cooley Distillery continues apace. And among whiskey aficionados, there’s been great enthusiasm for such hard-to-get brands as  Greenspot, a legendary Irish whiskey that even competitors have been known to pack when returning from Ireland, and  21 Year Old Red Breast Pot Still Whiskey.

These changes are a result of Irish whiskey’s role as the fastest-growing whiskey in the world over the last five years, leaping from 4.4 million cases to 6.5 million since 2008, with analysts expecting that growth to hit 12 million cases in the next five years. In 2012, the last full year for which numbers are available, Irish grew 22.5% in the U.S., according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, with super-premium brands and extensions up an astonishing 86%. The U.S. is the largest and fastest growing market for Irish whiskey with sales of 2.2 million cases in 2012 and is now a larger category than single malt Scotch here.

Rapid Market Change

Quite a difference from about 20 years ago, when every major and most minor brands were owned by one company. Yet there’s still a long way to go before Irish gets anywhere near its pre-Prohibition standing as THE imported whiskey in the U.S.

“Irish whiskey is still in its infancy,” says Pernod Ricard USA VP Irish & North American Whiskey Paul DiVito. “It’s one of the smallest categories by volume and even though there’s been double digit growth for well over a decade we expect the category to double over the next five years.”

The changes in the Irish business and the entrance of deep-pocketed rivals like Beam and Grant is welcomed, he says, to spur on further growth. “In ten years or so, all these new distilleries will be producing some amazing whiskies and we’re going to give Scotch a run for their money a real changing of the guard,” says DiVito. To expand the category, he and other marketers actually encourage retailers even to take on competitive brands in order to broaden the selection for curious consumers. 

DiVito points out that traditional markets like New York and California continue to thrive, with states including Texas and Florida presenting huge opportunities for the category.

“Whiskey is as popular across all regions of the U.S. as it has ever been and the whiskey consumer is becoming more diverse—younger, female and multicultural,” says Yvonne Briese, VP North American and Irish Whiskies for Diageo. “These new whiskey consumers are more educated and savvier. They seek high quality, crafted products with great stories.”

Adding New Dimensions

Brand reps see lots of cause for optimism. Irish whiskey drinkers tend to skew younger than with other whiskies, and are showing an openness to exploration beyond standard entry-level blended Irish whiskies. Even the burgeoning flavored whiskey market shows promise: Pernod Ricard, owner of Irish Distillers, recently relaunched Paddy in the U.S. as an entry level Irish at a lower price point than Jameson and added flavors Bee’s Sting and Devil’s Apple. Ninety days into the launch, the flavors are “enjoying tremendous success,” says DiVito.

That success is no surprise to suppliers of Bushmills, who launched the first flavored Irish in the U.S. a few years ago. “Bushmills Irish Honey has opened up more opportunities with consumers through creating a more approachable whiskey,” says Briese. “Our research shows that flavored whiskey is recruiting consumers from other spirit categories. It is also expanding occasions for our current whiskey drinkers.”

Taking an even bolder approach, M.S. Walker is launching Kennedy Irish, an innovative line of an “Original” whiskey plus four 70-proof infusions: Limed, Honeyed, Spiced and Chillied.  Handcrafted in West Cork, the line will sell at a competitive $22 price point.

Diversity & Tradition

Another Pernod Ricard brand, Powers, has been growing over the past ten years without much support, but now it has been reformulated, repackaged and expanded, and expectations are up, as is pricing. With a larger proportion than Jameson of Single Pot Still whiskey in the blend, Powers has garnered fans among Irish drinkers looking for more spice and fuller flavors. Now at the original 42.3% ABV and non-chill filtered, the brand is being positioned as the next place to go for explorers within the category, says DiVito. In addition, there’s a new Single Pot Still expression, Powers Signature Release, joining the ultra-premium Powers John’s Lane, released last March.

That sense of exploration among consumers of Irish has brought most brands to expanded offerings. “Like a lot of whiskey drinkers, a portion of Irish drinkers are becoming explorers, and we find they stay with Irish but want other expressions. Within the category, we’re making those expressions more available as we can, all the way up to Redbreast,” he says. For instance, Pernod now offers four iterations of pure pot still whiskey—Powers John Lane, Midleton, Redbreast and Green Spot. Other suppliers have accentuated single malt offerings, while recently, Grant has offered a variant called Tullamore Phoenix, a 55% ABV limited release.

While a broadening range of distinctions mark the Irish category’s current offerings, from a packaging and image standpoint suppliers have remained mostly traditional, with many brands directly evoking authentic Irish culture and family names. One of the most successful ongoing examples is Michael Collins, named for the legendary hero synonymous with Irish independence. The lightly peated Michael Collins 10 Year Old Single Malt and the recently repackaged Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey, imported by Sidney Frank Company, are both available nationwide.

Concannon has done well since the 2012 U.S. launch, presenting both a four-generation-family connection to Ireland and a novel twist—aging in Concannon Petite Sirah barrels. Brand new (and naturally just in time for St. Patrick’s Day 2014), the Donegal Estates brand, from Star Industries, is well positioned with a bourbon-cask-aged profile and classical label.

Speaking of classics, and also launching this month, here’s an interesting new variation on a beloved theme: Irish Mist, the honeyed whiskey liqueur dating back to 1947, has engineered a sort of reverse line extension, releasing a straight Irish Whiskey. The only global brand to have the word “Irish” in its name, Irish Mist Whiskey plays off the flavorful base recipe of the original liqueur. A blend of four-year-old whiskies that have been triple-distilled and aged in American oak, the whiskey delivers aromas of raisins, vanilla and soft spice, with hints on honey and toffee on the palate.

Keeping the Flames Burning

Sensing they have a proverbial tiger by the tail, suppliers and marketers are ramping up promotions. In order to spur the sense of discovery about their brand, Tullamore has hired a national brand ambassador and six others for local markets. “Whiskey requires more education for consumers and the trade to understand the differences and the back stories of the brands,” says Reilly. “True advocacy can’t come from hoping from city to city. The grassroots approach bears fruit over time, having ambassadors who understand the local markets working there.”

Building awareness that Irish is a family of whiskies—blended, pot still, single malt, cask strength, even peated—is the goal of Kieran Folliard, the founder of 2 Gingers Whiskey and Beam’s Irish brand ambassador in the U.S. The 2 Gingers brand has become a phenomenon since Folliard, a former Minnesapolis pub owner via Ireland, launched it in 2011. Bought by Beam, the brand is what Folliard calls their portfolio’s Trojan horse, with it and Kilbeggan showing growth rates above 60% last year. 2 Gingers is in the midst of a national roll-out and Beam’s focus is being rewarded as the brand has surged to second-most popular Irish in some Midwestern states, he says, a result of focus on Irish pubs, sports bars and high volume operations where he targets non-whiskey drinkers for conversion before stepping them up to their other brands—peated Connemara, grain Greenore and single malt Tyrconnell.

It’s a model other Irish whiskey companies are emulating. “Most people are entering the category through standard blends and are doing so due to the smooth and sweet taste they deliver,” says Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Co., now imported by Infinium Spirits. “We think there is an opportunity to build on this taste profile by producing more flavorsome blended Irish whiskies and also allowing them to move up the flavor ladder into the world of Irish single grain and single malts.” Teeling expects to launch in the U.S. this spring and to be distilling in a new facility in Dublin by the end of the year.

Those new distilleries are being built with an acute awareness of the changes in the U.S. whiskey-making and drinking market. “We position ourselves as the craft Irish whiskey producer, creating super-premium whiskeys,” says Conor Chase, brand manager of Palm Bay-imported The Irishman, which has among variations a Founder’s Reserve Pot Still Blend, made with 70% single malt and 30% pot still whiskey, a style of Irish more common pre-Prohibition. “Today in the USA there is a huge movement towards craft products, which indicates a clear demand for premium and quality products. This has reopened the door to traditional and different styles of Irish whiskeys, which are currently less common there,” says Chase.

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Irish Blending Basics

Like with Scotch whisky, the biggest selling Irish whiskies today are blended, a mix that usually includes grain whiskey with some pot still whiskey or single malt whiskey added in varying percentages. At least one brand—Tullamore D.E.W.—is made up of all three styles. But on the growing US market for Irish, a multitude of types —pot still, single malt, grain, blended, cask strength—are being offered.

Most blended whiskies are predominantly grain with some 20-30% malted whiskey or pot still whiskey added in. Grain whiskey is just that—whiskey made from wheat or corn or another grain, usually in a column still. It can be made using malted and unmalted barley as well, although that is considered uncommon. Single Pot Still Irish whiskey is today a mix of malted and unmalted barley distilled in copper pots, a style said to have been created as a way around British taxes on malt. Once oats and rye might have been in the mix as well. Single malt, like with Scotch, is a whiskey that comes from only one distillery and not mixed with grain or pot still whiskies.  


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) March 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Feb 2014 10:53:55 -0500
Today's France http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/today-s-france http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/today-s-france

Change is the universal language of all modern industries. In this special section, we examine how innovations and adjustments are driving French wine, spirits, beer and cider sectors forward. From an entirely new category of “vin” to fresh brilliance behind the bar and the renewed relevance of beer and cider on the global market, France is demonstrating more flexibility and quality than ever in the nation’s history.

Even better, these improvements have made French alcohol products more relevant to today’s American consumers, who are eager to discover quality, style and value to fit their fast and varied lifestyles.

Selling French Wine in the 21st century in a bigger, faster world, French wine needs (and deserves) quicker, simpler selling points.

Last century France defined wine. Vignerons had pioneered the delicious synergy of the right grapes planted in the right places. More importantly, they turned that savoir-faire into a system—Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)—which gave that grape-place synergy an economic framework, essentially turning wine regions into brands with built-in quality control and marketability. Wherever people cared about wine, voilà, regional French wines stood apart as the ones to know, the ones to buy, the ones to drink, the ones to collect.

They were also the ones to emulate. While the French never stopped what they were doing—indeed, one can argue they continued to make better and better wine over the decades—the rest of the world caught up. With California coming on strong, Americans began enjoying wines that simply spoke a different language than French wines: they spoke grapes first, origins second.

It makes little sense today, shin-deep in the 21st century, to look backward. The key now is to position French wines in the modern-day global context, and to translate their virtues to a new generation of Americans.

A tall order? Perhaps, but eminently achievable. French wines continue to be reliable expressions of the right grapes in the right places—ready and able to be part of the American table. On-premise and off-, consider the following tips and talking points to help expose your customers to French wines in ways they can understand and use to suit their own personal tastes.

Fear Not Grapes. The logic here is obvious: Wine drinkers who already have varietal preferences deserve to know their full range of options. Whether verbally or through signage, restaurants and stores alike need to assertively draw parallels between familiar grapes and  French wines.

✓            Like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? Try a white or red Burgundy.

✓            Sauvignon Blanc? Sancerre is just one of several SB options.

✓            Cabernet? Merlot? Those are longtime dancing partners in Bordeaux.

✓            Shiraz? That’s the same as Syrah, the lead grape in many Rhône wines.

Americans are famous for forgetting basic information about wines (including ones they really like). And even enthusiasts who know their Pouilly-Fumé from their Pouilly-Fuissé might not know that France makes strapping Malbecs in Cahors. It is amazing at how frequently even the most basic grape-region connections will be welcomed with surprise, relief and/or appreciation.

Yes, varietal change is in the air. But while the new Vin de France designation emphasizes grapes (see following article), embracing the interplay of grape and place remains central to selling French wine.

Food Anyone? French wines were built to enjoy with meals, not to impress a critic tasting 20 wines blind in a sitting (without a crumb in sight). Where New World wines tend to be bold and aggressive, French examples made with the same grapes tend to be more subtle, elegant and higher in acidity—and then they rise to the occasion with food. The wine elevates the food, and vice versa—whether it’s Tuesday meat loaf or Saturday dinner out.

It’s no accident that French wines have for so long been the foundation of great wine lists, but that inherent food-friendliness is by no means limited to high-end wines. It all starts in the vineyard: The climate doesn’t let them get overripe, which means once the wines , there is no over-extraction and high alcohol that has to be countered with obvious wood. When grapes get just ripe, their structure as wine—alcohol, acid, tannin—contributes to a natural balance.

Many people find it easier to talk about food than wine. Think of food as common ground—we all eat—and France’s stellar track record and food-friendly attributes belong in the wine-selling conversation.

The ‘T Word’ as a Sales Tool.  Has any wine term been bandied about more than terroir?  It’s ironic—almost comical—given that the word is habitually as having no English translation. But that has not stopped anyone from grabbing the slippery concept of soil+sun+temperature+rainfall+slope+etc. and applying it to wines from Patagonia to Padthaway to Paso Robles.

In truth, the concept remains thoroughly viable in France. Sauvignon Blanc wine from Bordeaux is distinct from sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, which is distinct from Pouilly Fumé… and Quincy… and Menetousalon. The wines are similar, but different enough to deserve their own name. That remains the essence of French wine.

Don’t be afraid to talk terroir: it is absolutely a concept people “get.” Terroir is what makes tomatoes thrive in New Jersey, peaches in Georgia, wheat in Kansas. That “T word” is at play with grapes, with precision, all over France, making it a viable sales tool for les vins.

Get what You pay For.  Surrounded by crowded shelves and a diverse array of wine lists, Americans can be excused for believing that wine pricing is chaotic. But in France, more than in other countries, the wine system features a hierarchy wherein quality reliably determines price. Take any French region; the most basic wine is the most plentiful and cheapest; and as you move up in hi-, you spend more but get more—more intensity, complexity, personality and (some-times) longevity. French wine pricing is more method than madness.

The Standard Bearers.  Maybe the strongest argument for the vitality (if not superiority) of French wine is found in the way techniques pioneered in France have been adopted across continents. Remind your customers that the French invented:

✓            Close vine-spacing

✓            Pruning to modulate sun exposure

✓            Grape triage during harvest

✓            Saignée during fermentation

✓            Carbonic maceration

✓            Vinifying vineyard blocks separately

✓            Blending grape varieties

✓            Inducing a second fermentation in the bottle

✓            Barrel aging

✓            Estate bottling

✓            Late-harvesting botrytised grapes

✓            Fortifying wine to add strength and retain sweetness

✓            Second labels

Keep It Real. Certainly geography remains the canvas for the French art of wine, but the artist’s palette of grapes is more relevant to your clientele nowadays, and style has moved into the discussion alongside of terroir. Think of French wine as a mosaic of wine types, not just a map of regions. Remember how people really use wine; you can sell French wines with confidence.


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) February 2014 Editions Tue, 21 Jan 2014 09:17:21 -0500
Alt Whiskey Goes Mainstream http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/alt-whiskey-goes-mainstream http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/alt-whiskey-goes-mainstream American Distillers Large & Small Are Fueling a Whiskey Revolution

By Jack Robertiello

Behind the bar at The Square One Brewery and Distillery restaurant in St. Louis, pride of place is given to the beers and spirits that are made on-site. Among the spirits, there’s an expected array of new distiller wares—gins, rums, vodka and the like—as well as whiskies that put a twist in the tail of the traditional styles consumers expect. Here, customers can order tasting flights that include J.J. Neukomm Whiskey (made with cherry wood smoked malt and aged in Missouri-made oak barrels) and Hopskey (the house’s hop-infused whiskey, grainy with a pleasant aromatic hoppiness).

Like many other spirits recently entering the market in the American whiskey category, these and others like them are not your father’s whiskies—in fact, they are made with techniques
that probably have never been used to craft anybody’s whiskey.

An incredible range of alternative American whiskies have burst onto the market in the past few years, driven by the growth of numerous micro-distilleries hitting their creative stride with the urge to tinker, toy and completely ignore the old rules of this country’s whiskey heritage. The trend has lately helped encourage even tradition-bound Kentuckians and Tennesseans to come up with things previously unknown.

Consider Filibuster Bourbon and Rye, aged initially in virgin American oak casks, then finished in French oak previously used to mature wine. Witness Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey, made from malted barley, wheat, corn and rye; and 287 Whiskey, a collaboration of Still the One Distillery and Captain Lawrence Brewery—distilled from the brewery’s pale ale (and named for the Westchester County, NY highway that connects the two operations). Tincup, founded by Colorado distilling veteran Jess Graber and bottled in Denver, is an 84-proof new American whiskey made using a blend of rye, corn and malt; cut with pure Rocky Mountain water; and whose functional screwcap recalls the old cups the miners would drink from.

Examples like these, admittedly, are a tiny part of the booming whiskey business, but the value of the enthusiasm and attention these new spirits have generated can’t be overstated. Distillers’ confidence in releasing “experimental” whiskies is built on the success, albeit small-scaled, of the adventurous new kids on the block who have deliberately jiggered American whiskey traditions.

Says Corsair Distillery owner Darek Bell, author of Alt Whiskey: “When we started, we said, ‘If it’s been done before, we don’t want to do it, because imitation is suicide for a small distiller like us. Instead, we need to figure out what we are and do it.’” While other new distillers could establish their business as the first or only local spirit producer, Tennessee-based Corsair was working in the shadow of one of the world’s biggest whiskey brands. So Corsair started experimenting—and hasn’t stopped. The distillery is currently making up to 150 new recipes a year, with the best 20 or so entered into competitions to gauge the response. This method has yielded, among many other spirits, a triticale whiskey, an oak-smoked wheat whiskey and the popular Triple Smoke, made with barley smoked in cherry, peat or beech.

“You’re seeing a lot of the really alternative whiskies coming from the micro-distillers and that has definitely increased the awareness of those things,” says Larry Kass, director of corporate communications at Heaven Hill. But such tinkering is not necessarily novel. He points out that the major distillers had long been experimenting with grain ratios, variations among traditional grains, aging protocols, barrel selection, char levels, finishing methods and other variations, though few of these whiskies get very far. And the experimental whiskies that do make it into the market from major suppliers, more often than ever, are scooped up swiftly by fans. You can count Evan Williams Bernheim Wheat Whiskey (originally distilled back in 2000) and Buffalo Trace Single Oak Bourbon in this category.

Red, White & Brown

Perhaps a subtle adjustment in recent years is the more conscious effort by craft—and larger—distillers to redefine “American whiskey,” and remind people it’s not just about straight bourbon and rye. They have also done a pretty good collective job of tapping American whiskey drinkers’ patriotism. Perhaps no single firm has done a better job of waving the American flag than Michter’s, a Kentucky-made brand revived in the 1990s, but based on America’s very first distillery, founded in Pennsylvania in 1753. Their latest release—Michter’s US*1 Unblended American Whiskey—has no neutral grain spirits blended in, plus Master Distiller Willie Pratt aged this whiskey in bourbon-soaked barrels, adding richness, smoothness and a fresh point of distinction.

On the experimental side of traditional brands, Woodford Reserve’s 2013 Master’s Collection twin offerings, The Double Malt Selections—Straight Malt Whiskey and Classic Malt—are said to be the first fully matured whiskies crafted from malt in Kentucky since Prohibition. The Straight Malt is matured in new barrels and Classic Malt is matured in used barrels, a rare opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of Old World versus New World styles.

Wild Turkey’s Forgiven is a mix of high-proof rye and mature bourbon that is said to have resulted from an accident turned into an opportunity, a 91-proof, small-batch bourbon and rye whiskey. Made from 78% 6-year-old bourbon and 22% 4-year-old rye, the new Wild Turkey extension was released in fall 2013.

Another tangent developing recently and quickly in the American brown goods arena is flavored whiskey. Here, it was the big-brand experimentation (Beam’s Red Stag line; honeyed examples by Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey and Evan Williams; Sazerac’s red-hot Fireball) that have really fueled the trend. Notable smaller entrants include Western Spirits’ Bird Dog (blackberry, peach) and caramel-flavored Whitetail. And Wild Flame is pushing the flavor envelope even farther (peach, coconut, cinnamon, cherry blueberry).

Clear Options

Typically, new American whiskey makers credit two main impulses as catalyst for this range of inventive spirits: their desire to craft something new and their need to pay the bills. Many opted for selling unaged white whiskey while waiting for more traditional styles to mature. As American consumers rediscovered the quality and value in U.S.-produced whiskies, consumers and bartenders tended to focus on unaged spirits as the next
new thing.

“I understand why new distilleries are offering white dogs,” says Jeff Arnett, distiller at Jack Daniel’s. “It’s the same reason we used to offer something less aged under the Lem Motlow name—everybody needs to keep lights on.” And this whiskey sub-genre’s now-legit popularity also explains why Jack Daniel’s in late 2012 released its own white spirit, Unaged Rye, featuring the distillery’s first new mashbill in over a century. Ditto the motivation behind Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost, which is the same basic recipe as Jim Beam White Label Bourbon, but aged one year in oak and then filtered to appear nearly clear. George Dickel #1 Foundation is the latest big-name white whiskey to enter the arena.

But white whiskey was not the only way out of the cash-flow problem, according to David Perkins, owner of High West Distillery and Saloon in Park City, Utah. He, like some others, turned to buying whiskey in bulk and bottling it under their brand name. “We needed to make payroll and to start the company off as selling whiskey, and selling someone else’s sourced product without doing anything to it didn’t really make any sense to me,” he says. “Mainly what we’re in the business for is to create something new
and interesting.”

Early on, High West garnered attention for its combinations of whiskies sourced from various American distillers. Rather than hide these products’ origins behind a fog of marketing, at High West Perkins makes clear where the components of his sought-after spirits come from. For example, their first product, Rendezvous Rye, was a blend of two ryes (one from the Barton Distillery and the other from the old Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana now owned by MGP Ingredients) that had been aged for different lengths of time, an idea Perkins adopted from the blending approach used in Cognac, where distillations from many different years are merged.

Creating something that’s greater than the sum of the parts was the goal; similarly, High West’s Bourye is a blend of Four Roses Bourbon and 16 year old rye made at Barton. In this case, the Scots provided the concept. “We didn’t want to just sell Four Roses on its own, so we followed the example of the Scots who when making a blended whisky would mix a fruity whisky with a smoky one and a sherried one,” he says.

New York Benchmarks

While small distillers are blossoming in many states, innovative whiskies have often taken back seat to white dog, rum, eau de vie and gin. States like New York are large and lucky enough to have both white and brown goods cultures thriving: for example, within a hundred miles or so of each other in upstate New York there’s pioneer Tuthilltown, widely seen as breaking the price resistance barrier with its Hudson line of whiskeys—Baby Bourbon, Four Grain Bourbon and Single Malt, notably—and now backed by William Grant and Sons.

Then there’s Hillrock Estate Distillery, a field-to-glass facility that now offers a Double Cask Rye Whiskey along with the Solera Aged Bourbon, Estate Single Malt and George Washington’s Rye Whiskey, Estate Edition. Few manage to take on all the tasks like Hillrock—growing grain organically, floor malting, pot distilling, aging and bottling on the estate. But other novice producers are taking note and tweaking their whiskey formulas. Other Empire State whiskey producers of note: Breuckelen Distilling (one wheat whiskey, one made from corn and rye); New York Distilling Company (aiming to release a rye in 2014); Long Island Spirits (maker of Rough Rider Bourbon and Rye and Pine Barrens single malt). Two that have gone the white whiskey route: White Pike White Whiskey and Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine.

Different Strokes for Different Distillers

Christian Krogstad, founder of Portland, Oregon’s House Spirits Distillery, recently released Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey, aged three years and made entirely from pot still whiskey in the Irish style. As a small step into alt whiskey world, he produced only 13 new barrels worth the first year, followed by 48 in 2012 and 200 in 2013. Made from Oregon barley, it’s one producer’s locally oriented take on international whiskey.

“I think the people interested in whiskey—American whiskey drinkers—are very typically interested in trying the whole range of whiskies made,” he explains, suggesting that while emerging whiskey drinkers are more likely to try spirits like Westward, the aficionado has shown interest as well.

Being able to make these sorts of unusual whiskies in small batches, hoping some will work, is at the heart of the flexibility of the small distillers, says Bell
from Corsair.

“There’s been a lot of demand because for so long whiskey has been pretty similar,” Bell adds. Major distilleries, buffeted by the shrinking of the brown goods business from the 1960s until the last decade, became more conservative and self-similar. “When you make an aged product, it makes you more conservative and reluctant to try something different. So many brands of the same type coming from the same handful of distillers, it was like a monoculture.”

So alternative or locally-sourced grains align with many trends—locavorism and environmental issues as well as the search for the new and unique—that can benefit whiskey overall. “To us, if we can pull people into whiskey, that’s huge. And these experiments are pulling from different crowds, including beer drinkers,” Bell says.

And more can be expected; as Perkins notes, inventories that High West and others have been developing as they sold other whiskies are getting more mature every month, and they’ll have a developed
market to appeal to now that tasting different is so much more acceptable. “The majority of people don’t care where the whiskey comes from,” he says, “as long as they enjoy the taste.”


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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) January 2014 Editions Tue, 17 Dec 2013 21:49:16 -0500