Blogs from Beverage Network - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:46:09 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Scotch Whisky at a Cross Roads toc_scotchLR.jpg

From a distance, the tale of the Scotch whisky business has been much the same for some time: single malts keep climbing, up about 50 percent in the last five years, while blended volumes continue to sag, now accounting for only about 80 percent of the category here in the States.

But what’s beneath the macro data points? Like with all spirit categories, there are trends and issues on the horizon poised to impact the Scotch whisky business.

Click Here to check out our 6 Scotch trends and issues.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) October 2016 Editions Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:30:41 -0400
Saké 101 ... Back to Basics Sake101_Oct16.jpg

Saké is hot! Perhaps not literally. While hot saké is still popular, much of the growth in the U.S. is in premium styles, typically consumed chilled. More than a third of Japan’s saké production comes to the U.S. these days, and that doesn’t even account for the majority of saké Americans are drinking (over 70% of which is domestic).

While most drinkers still probably have their saké experience at a sushi restaurant, saké is also finding a place in retail shops and Western restaurants, just as other Japanese ingredients like wasabi are finding new homes. Wine and beer importers are taking note, so saké is moving beyond specialist Japanese importers, who have traditionally focused on Japanese outlets. Wine and spirits importers have added saké to their books and are bringing it to all sorts of accounts. The recently signed Trans-Partnership agreement will also make it that much easier for sake to find it’s way here.

Click Here to check out Back To Basics: Saké 101

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) October 2016 Editions Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:13:35 -0400
Back to Basics: Bourbon 101


When people talk about the worldwide whiskey renaissance, the first word that comes to most minds is bourbon. Sure, other styles are on fire at the moment—Irish, American rye, even Canadian—but the one that’s got most of the globe talking is America’s native spirit. A couple of decades ago, producers could barely give the stuff away—it was “grandpa’s drink” after all—but today bars in the most far-flung corners of the world (even Scotland!) have multiple shelves dedicated to the U.S.-made, corn-based whiskey.

Where is it produced?

Federal law dictates that only bourbon whiskey produced in the U.S. can be called “bourbon.” And the U.S. has numerous trade agreements with other countries to enforce that restriction as well. It is most closely linked to Kentucky, where it originated, where about 95% of it is made and where the style’s most iconic brands hang their hats (and they’re the only ones that can claim the prestigious label, “Kentucky Straight Bourbon”).

Did you know?

Because bourbon is so closely associated with Kentucky, many had assumed it took its name from the Bluegrass State’s Bourbon
County. However, that notion has been challenged and largely debunked. Many historians assert that it’s more likely bourbon took its name from Bourbon Street in New Orleans. True, most of the distillers were in Kentucky, but in the 19th century, a large number of the spirit’s drinkers were in the Big Easy (sent there via the Mississippi River). Eventually people started referring to the whiskey as “that stuff they drink on Bourbon Street,” or so the story goes.

Download Back to Basics: Bourbon 101 Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) September 2016 Editions Wed, 24 Aug 2016 07:59:59 -0400
2016 Bartenders to Watch


As bartending continues to grow as a career and attract the attention of aspirational achievers, the standards on display in the many and varied competitions held throughout the year have improved as well. A trip to a distillery or a hefty check are great prizes, but today, bartenders are just as keen for the accolades that an intense, multi-day competition can bring them.

Now in its seventh year internationally and fifth including U.S. participants, the lengthy test of skills produced in collaboration with the United States Bartenders’ Guild, USBG World Class Sponsored by Diageo, is a global training program and internationally recognized competition that aims to elevate the craft of the bartender and build careers in the drink industry.

The international nature of the competition and its rigorous process are why this year, Beverage Media decided that our annual survey of the field of men and women who stand behind the bar, our “Bartenders to Watch,” should focus on those competitors who made it through multiple regional heats to contend earlier this year in World Class North American finals in Washington, DC.

The prize? The right to represent the continent in the global finals, for the first time to be held in the U.S., (Miami specifically) in the last week in September.

Two years ago, the U.S. entrant, Charles Joly, won the competition, and this year, the mantle of America’s bartending hero is borne by Andrew Meltzer, assistant manager of 15 Romolo, one of San Francisco’s better-known cocktail watering holes.

“I’m so excited to be named the U.S. Best Bartender of the Year; it’s something I’ve been working towards for quite some time. This competition has given me so much—excellent knowledge, skills and industry camaraderie that will have such valuable impact on my career,” says Meltzer.

While Meltzer moves onto the finals, other contestants, some to whom have notched their third straight finals, have lots to offer as well. With backgrounds that might otherwise have pointed them toward careers in law, medicine, baseball or firefighting, these 15 bartenders represent a cross-section of where bartending is today in America.

As for World Class, the program is a six month education tour leading up to five Regional competitions and one North American Final; it drew thousands of applicants, with 75 finalists selected to compete regionally. With judges including past winners Joly, Tyson Buhler, Jeff Bell and Ricky Gomez, and bartenders and educators including Tony Abou-Ganim, Steve Olson, Julie Reiner, Anu Apte Elford, Jacques Bezuidenhout, and USBG National President David Nepove, the battle for the annual crown of “World’s Best” continues to grow in significance. Another reason these following 15 bartenders belong on the 2016 list of the ones to watch. 

Download Full Article Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) September 2016 Editions Wed, 24 Aug 2016 07:56:01 -0400
The Femme Paradox


Fortunately, the plight of female oenophiles has improved since the second century A.D., when Roman women faced severe punishment for consuming alcohol. Yet gender associations remain embedded in the world of wine. It’s easy to notice once we start looking for it: Richer, heavier wines are “masculine,” while delicate ones are said to be “feminine.” Formal wine service is ingrained with a gendered code of conduct (all too often, men still get handed the wine list; ladies get their glasses poured first). And the dominant image of a wine collector is still unflinchingly male.

Specific aspects of gender in wine are naturally evolving. Women continue to enter all corners of the industry. And presumptions of wine preference are flexing; to wit, the term “brosé” being used to capture rosé’s current surge of popularity with men—a situation practically unthinkable a decade ago.

The most visible area in which gender rears its head over and again in the wine world is on retail shelves, where there seems to be a disproportionate amount of marketing mojo being steered toward wome-n-oriented branding and promotion.

Women Ascendant

Or is it disproportionate? While the score–happy, claret–cellaring, middle–aged male may still represent the prototype of wine’s most important consumer, women have emerged as the major force driving the market. It is currently estimated that women account for 55% of American wine drinkers and are directly responsible for over 80% percent of the wine purchases in the United States each year (volume). Given the huge slice of the market-share women represent, it’s only natural that marketers can’t seem to resist trying to answer that perennial question: “What do women want?”

To an extent, the market has attempted to answer the question itself, via a proliferation of female-targeting labels like Skinnygirl, Seven Daughters, Middle Sister and Mommy’s Time Out, just to name a few. With names and/or imagery hitched to gender stereotypes, these brands have nevertheless  earned spot on shelves across the country.

To what, then, can we attribute their success?

 Price is Right?

Lucrative as it might be, there’s one fundamental problem with trying to enter the mind of the “average female consumer.” Fundamentally, she’s a fiction. Much research shows that, if she does exist, she’s really not so different from her male counterpart.

In a 2012 study published in the International Wine Business Journal, for instance, Dr. Liz Thach determined that “there is much in common between California men and women in terms of wine-drinking occasions, motivations to drink and preferred wine style” and that “gender-neutral wine promotions will most likely be more successful in reaching a larger demographic and thus the market-share.” An earlier 2010 study, presented at the fifth International Academy of Wine Business Research Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, similarly concluded that “gender is not a particularly useful variable with which to segment the global wine market.”

Digging a little deeper, however, the research does reveal some distinctions in the purchasing behavior of men and women, which brands have incorporated into their strategies. According to Thach’s study, “men mentioned more practical motivations for wine consumption.” Women, on the other hand, “seemed to focus more on hedonistic and social reasons to drink wine.” Another important distinction involves cost: “Women were more likely to purchase less expensive wines ($2.00-$9.99),” whereas men are almost twice as likely to purchase bottles priced above the $25 mark.

Together, these findings predicate a basic formula: price tags below $10 that present a lifestyle-centric angle seem to stand a better chance with the specific type of shopper these labels are courting, who mostly just wants to unwind. “The data shows that emotion-based marketing works, and brands have honed in on that,” explains Leslie Sbrocco, author of Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wine. “A lot of women want to come home, have a glass of wine, and relax after a busy day. It’s a lifestyle choice, and let’s face it: Many people still buy wine based on the label.”

Softening the Stance

The pressing question for the wine market is not why to target women, but rather how. “Women overwhelmingly lead consumer purchasing in the world, which is also reflected in the U.S. wine segment,” notes Monika Elling, CEO, Foundations Marketing Group. “In order to be successful in selling to them, it is important to keep their culture, habits and sensibilities in mind.” Tapping those sensibilities remains an imprecise science, to be sure, and it would be misguided to assume that they can be reduced to generalities. The category of gender-specific labels wouldn’t persist if women weren’t buying these wines. And yet, a number of self-professed female-appeal wines have petered out, notably Butterfly Kiss, Girl Go Lightly and “Be.”

In an effort to determine why this might be the case, marketers have been posing all kinds of targeted questions: Are women drawn to a label more by name, or by graphics? Is color important? But at what point does “appealing” to women cross the line into “pandering”? Wine Market Council reports that 17% of female consumers feel “turned off” by gender-specific labels. Mary Ewing Mulligan, President of International Wine Center in NYC, and the first American woman to become a Master of Wine, adds: “Wine marketing to women needs to strike a balance so that it engages its target audience while not enraging other segments of the female wine-drinking population by overdependence on stereotypes.”

Sensing that women’s attitudes might be changing in favor of subtler cues about gender, certain brands have started to rethink their strategies. “One of the things we found out from the consumer research was that there is a group of women who don’t want you to overtly play to them,” explains Ed Barden, Director of Marketing for Excelsior Wines, whose Little Black Dress is among the lifestyle category’s most enduring national brands.

Little Black Dress (aka LBD) recently updated its packaging to reflect a “less gendered” look, designed to appeal to “a larger range of women,” according to a recent press release. “Before, we had a clothes-hanger on the label and a pair of red shoes, but now we’ve created a very simple and premium-looking package,” Barden says. “The biggest win comes with something that’s a little more centrist and subtle. Women don’t want to bring a stereotype to the dinner table.”

“Today’s modern woman wears many different hats daily. Marketers should take the time to identify sub-segments rather than lumping all women into one homogenous group,” notes Deborah Brenner, Founder and President of the Women of the Vine Alliance. “One message does not fit all any longer.”

Clarice Turner, Senior VP at Food Americas, who is overseeing the budding wine program at Starbucks, offers: “My personal feeling is that marketing is most effective aimed first at lifestyle characteristics. Certainly gender can be a factor, but for the investment, lifestyle and occasions tend to be drivers of purchase/visits [beyond price and quality], and over time create relevancy that can drive loyalty.”

the ‘B’ Is Back?

Other examples of wine marketing (and packaging) taking a subtler approach include Polka Dot, Domino, Belle Ambience and Chloe. While the logic behind these wines and Little Black Dress going less “femme” seems sound for a mass audience, it may come as a surprise to see the apparent success of brands built around the controversial “B” word.

Witness the lineup of wines accessible with the click of a mouse on’s price-listings database for Metro NY: B*tch, Jealous B*tch, Royal B*tch, Sweet B*tch…. And there’s even Happy B*tch (distributed in Upstate NY, New Jersey and Arizona). Founders Debbie Gioquindo and Keryl Pesce took the wine’s name from the title of a self-help book authored by Pesce. If the book bills itself as “the girlfriend’s guide to…finding the fun, fabulous you inside,”  then Happy B*tch the wine—like fellow B*tch-named bottlings—aims right for a quick hook. “I think the branding toward women is great when you do it the right way,” Gioquindo says. “You want to make it fun. You want to make it enjoyable.”

Whether or not women actually find fun or enjoyment in these efforts is best taken on a case by case basis. To be sure, the success of such labels can be surprising. For example, we have seen an outlier such as Blanc de Bleu, the decidedly untraditional blue bubbly, make a substantial impact in the bridal market. And Popcorn Cellars Chardonnay has tapped into the seemingly ultra-narrow niche of people (mostly women, according to the brand) who like to hang out at home with Netflix, wine and popcorn.

Millennially Speaking…

If the growing ranks of female wine drinkers represent a coveted audience, then the sub-demographic of millennial-aged women would be considered a holy grail. Millennials currently drink over 50% of the wine purchased in the U.S., Wine Market Council reports, and the majority of these purchases are being made by women. In 2015, females accounted for 66% of “high frequency” (once or more a week) wine drinkers under the age of 30.

But while the buying clout of younger LDA is not in doubt, the sheer dynamics of the market—in which SKUs continue to explode—and the experimental nature of this demographic make it that much tougher to pinpoint what works and why. There is inevitably a lot of divergence among younger women wine drinkers’ demographics; it’s never just about gender.

For Samantha Dugan, General Manager of The Wine Country, a popular wine shop in Southern California, there seems to be a rather clear segmentation within the demographic of Millennial women: “The younger female wine drinkers we’ve been seeing lately generally fall into two categories,” Dugan clarifies. “There are the ones who have seen more wine being consumed on television via The Real Housewives and such, who perceive some kind of built-in glamour to drinking wine. Then there are the ones that have been bitten early, who are curious to try new varieties, new regions, and to explore more food and wine pairings.”

Dugan’s “two types” analysis represents her strategic approach, derived from front-line experience, which is always the most reliable source of customer knowledge. The larger picture is that broad national statistics are of limited use to retail wine merchants; a merchant’s particular female customer base is the demographic pool that matters most, which is bound to be more diverse than any market research could possibly account for.

Perhaps the best advice for wine sellers everywhere is pretty self-evident: Pay close(r) attention to your store’s female clientele. Some may enjoy learning, as Samantha Dugan recounts, that certain wines were made by women winemakers, whereas others will be more interested in discovering a new region or varietal. If a few will be happy enough to grab a limited-edition bottle of Ecco Domani by fashion designer Zac Posen and run, others will be eager to geek out about a hipster-approved Cabernet Franc from the Loire. Of course, the vast majority will be looking for no more or less than a bottle of red for tonight’s pasta.

In the end, there are as many different types of female wine drinkers as there are wine drinkers. But as women’s excitement about wine—to say nothing of their spending power—continues to grow, one thing is certain: the future of wine sales will likely continue to command the attention of wine marketers and sellers.

Download The Femme Paradox Here


Read more]]> (Beverage Network) August 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:52:14 -0400
Urban Renewal


Close your eyes and picture a winery. Maybe you see a stately chateau. Maybe a rustic barn, or perhaps a high-tech marvel nestled in a hillside. And no matter which scenario, you most certainly can picture the winery surrounded by rows of manicured grapevines.

Whatever you imagine, it’s almost certain to be different from the set-ups presented by today’s urban wineries, set in the bustling heart of some of our most active cities, which are casting aside assumptions of what a winery ought to look like, or where it even needs to be.

Michael Dashe, of Dashe Cellars in Oakland, says the advantages for urban wineries are numerous: “We can bring in grapes from many different places—the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma, Napa, down south to Paso…it’s easy to get grapes and bring them to the winery.” Dashe was one of the first in Oakland, along with Rosenblum; today the Oakland Urban Wine Trail has 10 winery members.

Michael and his wife Anne didn’t set out to be “urban.” In 1996, Michael was working for Ridge, and dividing his time between the Montebello location and Ridge’s newer vineyard purchase up in Lytton Springs, so they had settled in San Francisco, a convenient midpoint. When it came time to start their own project, “Buying a vineyard really wasn’t an option. We were a bootstrap operation. We just put our money into grapes.”

Dashe says visitors to the Bay Area are delighted to find wineries to visit a transit ride away, and to find a full 16,000 square feet production facility, not just a tasting room. His location also makes it easy to host winemaker dinners or in-store tastings and otherwise support local retailers and restaurants. The Pacific Northwest has seen a similar scene develop: Portland’s PDX Urban Winery Group has 12 members, including Teutonic Wine Company and Boedecker Cellars—as has Seattle.

It’s not just on the West Coast. Perhaps the most overtly urban winery, which began in Manhattan and now has outposts in Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, and Boston, is City Winery—it’s in the name, after all. The concept was to be a place for individuals to make their own wines, coupled with a restaurant/wine bar and live music venue. City Winery does make wines under that label, but they are not available in regular distribution channels.

As Local As Wine Gets?

Contrast that with Infinite Monkey Theorem in Denver. CEO and winemaker Ben Parsons says not only do local restaurants stock his wines (often on tap, which is especially convenient when the winery is so close); they also bring their staff to the winery to learn more about the winemaking process. When Parsons started the winery in 2008 he was inspired by the taproom model so common around Denver, where people enjoy beers made on-site. For Parsons, being near the customer was more vital than being near the vines; most of Colorado’s vineyards are on the opposite side of the state.

The model, especially selling so much wine on tap or in cans, means they’ve favored certain styles. “We’re trying to make wines that are more accessible, for everyday use, not to age 20 years,” says Parsons. “We’re making wine to be consumed young. Even the higher end wines only need 3-4 years, maybe.”

While the urban model builds on a small, locavore base, that’s hardly the limit; Infinite Monkey Theorem now has distribution in 42 states, and this year Parsons even opened a second location in Austin, TX. Similarly, New York-based Brooklyn Oenology, celebrating its tenth year, is available in six states, thanks in part to the recognition of the Brooklyn name. “Brooklyn is a name people recognize anywhere in the world,” says founder and winemaker Alie Shaper.

Shaper works with New York State (Finger Lakes and Long Island) grapes, but also collaborates with her neighbors in Williamsburg in terms of artwork for her labels, featuring local oysters in her tasting room, and so forth. “For us, the Brooklyn Terroir concept includes local agriculture and those regions, but it’s also expressive of our community.” Parsons agrees, noting that the artistry of winemaking benefits from being part of urban life. “People live in cities because they’re excited about the art and cultural activities; we’re surrounded by other creative people.” For Shaper, being an urban winery means the city’s creativity becomes part of the terroir.

The Power & Promise of the Can

Ben Parson’s downtown Denver location isn’t the only unconventional aspect of his winery. His commitment to experimentation and packaging innovation—from edgy labels to wine on tap and in cans—has been the foundation of his business model since he launched Infinite Monkey Theorem (IMT) in 2011.

“Many were skeptical at the beginning, and the cans still get a mixed reaction,” Parsons says. “Many people love the convenience of the single serve, but naysayers find any change to traditional packaging hard to fathom.” By the end of 2014, he started to see real traction as Whole Foods and Frontier airlines got on board.

IMT produces four California wines in can: Red (Syrah), White (Chardonnay), Rosé (Syrah) and Moscato: all but the red are slightly carbonated. Parsons also produces a dry hopped pear cider in a can with fruit from Oregon’s Hood River.

Just two years ago, IMT sold 180,000 units; this year the company is on track to sell 1.5 million across 42 states. But it’s still just the beginning, believes Parsons: “Once people recognize the usage occasions that cans allow—concerts, the park, the beach, soccer games—we see the acceptance grow. One could argue that Millennials are leading this charge, but really it’s anyone who likes to drink wine at times when a single serve product makes more sense than a bottle.”

Download Urban Renewal Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) August 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:45:05 -0400
Whiskey Express!


Producers have been tinkering with the spirits-aging process for about as long as distilled liquids have been stored in barrels. Techniques that have endured include using smaller barrels (which increase the amount of contact between the liquid and the wood); creating a solera (adding new spirit to already-aging product); and using wood chips or staves for oak “flavoring.”

Lately, the tinkering has aspired to an even more dramatic level, bolstered by new technologies. At the Catskill Distilling Company in Bethel, NY, proprietor Dr. Monte Sachs uses a technique he calls “accelerated aging” he learned from the late Lincoln Henderson (Brown-Forman, Angel’s Envy). Four specially designed, heat-cycled warehouses emulate seasonal heating and cooling, but at a faster rate.

Sachs says the design was Henderson’s but hadn’t been put into action. Heating and cooling allows raw spirit to seep in and out of the barrels, collecting esters and flavoring from the wood. Sachs says two years in his rickhouses creates a spirit that tastes five or six years old, ideal for bourbon-style whiskies. Reflecting the new-tech, indie spirit, Catskill Distilling labels feature names like Defiant Rye and Fearless Wheat Whiskey.

Totally Rad

While Catskill Distilling’s approach can be rationalized as a means of mimicking nature in order to exert more control over the post-distillation aging, Bryan Davis’s approach at Lost Spirits in Monterey, CA, is more extreme. Davis, who previously worked with the Spanish-based absinthe brand Obsello, first got his idea by wanting to be different. “With 400 distillers, no one needed another vodka, gin or white rum,” he recalls. And he targeted aging because he believed that the math for aging whiskey didn’t make sense. It was time to accelerate the process.

“Whiskey is a solution to over 600 things,” Davis says. “There were a lot of missing links in the research on precisely how a spirit ages in the barrel.” He honed in on the dual aging processes of extraction—physically pulling flavors from the wood into the spirit—and esterization, the chemical conversion of fatty amino acids into the organic compounds that add fruit and oily notes.

His research led him to a new technology—dubbed the THEA One reactor, a sort of Hadron supercollider that bombards a raw spirit with all the component chemicals and reactions that are expected to occur by the end of the aging process. It’s more like taking a shortcut, as opposed to accelerating the aging process.

For each base spirit and for each desired result, it takes Davis several weeks of tweaking to get the desired profile. He made a splash last year by announcing he could make a whiskey or rum in six days that looked, smelled and tasted as if it had aged for 20 years. (An interesting quirk: Davis points out that he produces a finished product, i.e. a 20-year “aged” spirit. Yet, he can’t yet make 10-year and 15-year expressions of the same juice.)

The goal now at Lost Spirits is to partner with other distillers making great raw product. So far, the company has two “beta testers,” as Davis calls them: Santeria Rum, and an upcoming Rattleback Rye.

Crossing Borders, Transparently

Davis isn’t the only explorer in the world of rapid aging. Tom Lix of start-up Cleveland Whiskey introduced a process wherein whiskey produced in Kentucky and Indiana is aged for a few weeks in new oak (as per the bourbon rules), then shipped to his facility in Ohio. The whiskey is “finished” through a pressure-aging system where staves of black cherry, honey locust, hickory and other non-conventional woods are placed with the whiskey inside pressurized steel containers which force the spirit in and out of the staves for additional coloring, flavoring and chemical interaction. This step takes about 24 hours.

Lix points out that his company isn’t simply providing a high-tech, fast product: “That’s not necessarily a consumer benefit. Our focus is, what can we use this technology for that hasn’t been possible before?” Hence the exotic wood finishes. “You couldn’t make a barrel out of black cherry, because it would leak like a sieve,” says Lix.

One reason writers and bartenders have been receptive to the concept of rapid aging is a sense of transparency regarding technology and intent. Lost Spirits and its partner distilleries, for example, make no attempt to hide the technology (as is sometimes done with sourced or flavored products).

Another plue: rational price points for the finished products. Santeria Rum is about $35 SRP; Rattleback Rye is $45. Rattleback just launched at Tales of the Cocktail in July. Made at Lost Spirits’ new lab/distillery in Charleston, the 61% undiluted (122 proof), matured with Sherry-seasoned, tannin-stripped new American oak. By contrast, some start-up distillers jump into the market by sourcing already-aged whisky or rum, putting their label on it and charging $75 or $100, in part to keep up appearances and in part to pay back hungry investors. “The pricing doesn’t have to be inflated,” says Davis. “That would take all the fun 
out of it.”

In general, the consensus is that the disruptive technology doesn’t capture all of the nuances, flavors and general wherewithal of whiskey that sits in a rickhouse for five, 10 or 20 years. But for a world increasingly thirsty for brown spirits, it seems to be an acceptably fine way to get more decent product to the shelves. And given the relative pricing and degree of transparency—coupled with continuing demand for mature spirits—speed-aged spirits are likely to proliferate.

Download Whiskey Express! Here 



Read more]]> (Beverage Network) August 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:41:17 -0400
Back to Basics: Vodka 101


Vodka may have emerged from Eastern European distilling and drinking cultures, but as far as spirits are concerned, it’s probably the closest to the Wild West anyone’s going to get. That’s because there’s no clear standard mandating from which starchy or sugary bases it must be fermented. That’s not to say there aren’t some standards in place. The European Union, for instance, sets the vodka ABV minimum at 37.5% (75 proof). On these shores, the TTB sets the ABV Vodka may have emerged from Eastern European distilling and drinking cultures, but as far as spirits are concerned, it’s probably the closest to the Wild West anyone’s going to get.

That’s because there’s no clear standard mandating from which starchy or sugary bases it must be fermented. That’s not to say there aren’t some standards in place. The European Union, for instance, sets the vodka ABV minimum at 37.5% (75 proof). On these shores, the TTB sets the ABV floor at 40% (80 proof). The U.S. regulatory agency defines the spirit as “neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”

However, vodka’s complete lack of all of those things makes it the nearly perfect blank canvas on which mixologists can paint their masterpieces. Ask a group of cocktail crafters and enthusiasts, “What’s the most mixable spirit?” and at least nine out of 10 of them will likely answer, “Vodka.”

Download Back to Basics: Vodka 101 Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) July 2016 Editions Wed, 22 Jun 2016 14:57:58 -0400
Flavored Vodka 101 July16_FlavoredVodka101_1.jpg

Barely half a decade ago, the vodka category’s flavored segment seemed to be dominated by headline-grabbing concoctions that infused the spirit with the artificial essences of everything from dessert confections to popular breakfast foods. Whipped cream, blueberry pancakes, marshmallow fluff and gummy bears were all fair game, as far as beverage developers were concerned.

The unconventional flavors, proved—for a little while at least—to be a dependable way for established, mature vodka brands to grab a little more shelf space, and add a little incremental volume to their mostly flat trademarks. For lesser known brands, it generated press and put them on the radar. But the novelties quickly wore off as consumer tastes evolved. Those brands were good for driving trial, but they generated few repeat purchases.

Download Flavored Vodka 101 Here

Download the 2016 Vodka Flavor Chart Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) July 2016 Editions Wed, 22 Jun 2016 14:53:57 -0400
Craft’s Staying Power


Overcrowded shelves, you say? The proliferation of new distilleries and brands may seem already to have created an bulging-at-the-seams market, but there are plenty of signs that the expansion has only just begun. As more states see the value in changing laws to ease the way for these small spirits businesses to open and, crucially, to sell wares directly to visitors, industry watchers can only expect newer to follow the new.

Currently it’s difficult to pinpoint its size, but according to the recently launched Craft Spirits Data Project [CSDP, led by the American Craft Spirits Association (ASCA), International Wine and Spirits Research, and Park Street], craft spirits represent about 3.8 million of the nearly 211 million cases of spirits sold annually in the U.S., with the average craft distiller selling about 3,200 cases per year here—tiny compared to the 80 percent of volume the top 15 suppliers represent. Today there are more than 1,300 active craft spirits producers operating, with the number of production facilities in the U.S. more than tripling since 2007.

Says the non-profit’s ACSA Executive Director Margie A. S. Lehrman, whose organization now boasts about 300 members: “We are only at the beginning of the craft spirits movement. The interest in local products, this vibe of those spirits being more hip, and people wanting something that’s unique is just going to help.”

When looked at from another angle, craft spirits are already bigger; a recent report by Goldman Sachs predicted that consumer mega-tends toward authenticity, quality and premiumization means craft spirits could more than double volume to 11% by 2020. Definition plays into this, as Goldman includes such brands as Tito’s Handmade Vodka and other craft-scaled spirits owned by major companies. By contrast, the CSDP follows ACSA guidelines, including only distillers whose volume is below 316,000 cases, and which are independently owned and operated, with no more than 25% capital and operating control coming from a non-craft producer.

Local Magic

 Either way, most retailers expect to be taking on more new distiller products. Says Josh Hammond, President of Buster’s Liquors and Wines in Memphis, “I think the best way to look at what’s happening is to take a quick glimpse at the craft beer industry. In a matter of years it’s gone from 200 or so to more than 4,000 brewers, more than pre-Prohibition.” He notes Pyramid Distillery as one of the local distillery success stories.

Most retailers, when asked about small distillers, cite how customers are attracted to local brands with interesting stories. “It all comes down to people wanting to try something new and exciting, and everybody is in favor around here of helping someone local,” says Greg Rixson, General Manager of the Grand Forks unit of the Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops chain in North Dakota. At their stores, craft brands get marked on the shelves with starbursts to help interested customers locate them.

Rixson points out that even in the Midwest, the eagerness of bartenders to experiment and serve the new and unique, along with customer interest in cocktails, drives interest in the unusual local spirits. “For instance, there’s a small Minnesota distillery, Far North, that’s very big for us, a complete field to glass farm operation where they grow their own grains and they make gin, vodka, spiced rum and they’re working on a Minnesota rye. They’ve been out working with bartenders and restaurants, creating their reputation.”

The Big Picture

According to former Maker’s Mark distiller and consultant Dave Pickerell, who has built or advised about 60 small distilleries, few craft spirits will surpass the 30,000 case range, although some are better positioned than others for growth. “There are basically three groups of small distillers,” he says. “The lion’s share are underfunded businesses who are making spirits just because they can, who have cobbled together a nice business and don’t need much, and most won’t sell very much. The second group is trying to make a family business grow and need to break even and make money fairly quickly, and they are likely only to be regional. And then there’s a small handful of very well funded companies, and they’ll provide the next big brands on the horizon.” He cites Washington’s Woodinville Whiskey Co., currently selling out everything they make within Washington state, and Bayou Rum as brands poised to explode.

Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Indiana, with product sold in nine states, is one of those farm business distilleries, with an established winery, fruit orchards and fields of grain ready for distillation. Now the Chair of the Distilled Spirits Council’s 138-member small distiller group, Ted Huber says the changing of laws in Indiana was key to their growth, in terms of being able to offer visitors tastes and especially cocktails at the distillery. “We had to be able to have the ability to sell directly to visitors and not only pour spirits but to serve them in cocktails. We’re very niche—a large farm making brandies and growing unique corn—and part of our appeal lies in people touring the distillery and the fields. People are able to see and smell the orchards—it has a major impact, just as it did for wineries in the 1990s.”

In fact, estimates are that direct shipping and tasting rooms currently sell more craft product than bars and retailers.

Pickerell says rather than craft, he prefers the term “small and independent” to describe the current crop of little guys. “They don’t have a corner on craft and many of the large well-known distillers are nothing but craft.” He mentions that some now revered small whiskey makers made awful stuff on their first pass, but have since figured out their distillation practices.

Hammond agrees. “It’s a blurry area for consumers and retailers; what makes it craft? Is it craft when moonshine is made with bubblegum flavor?”

Pickerell believes the small guys realize that their existence depends on their ability to self-distinguish. “Making something that’s exactly like Maker’s Mark isn’t going to sell anything,” says Pickerell, “if for no other reason than they have to charge more because of economies of scale. But make something different—using a Sauternes finish or Madeira cask or second barrel—or do things to change the texture, character and quality that the big guys maybe never thought of. Then maybe they will be able to last.”          

Download Craft’s Staying Power Here

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) July 2016 Editions Wed, 22 Jun 2016 14:47:21 -0400
Back to Basics: Rum 101 Rum101_LR.jpg

Everyone loves a good tropical drink—be it at a tiki bar, on a Caribbean cruise or at some island resort. Sweet and cold, yet refreshing. The real star of this lush liquid genre, is rum. Though it comes in many iterations, all rum can be traced back to sugarcane—so abundant in island climates. The song that island-hopping pirates sing isn’t “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of gin,” after all. 

Perhaps befitting its relative lack of regulation, rum has long been a renegade spirit, from pirates of yore to rum-runners of Prohibition. Whether on high seas or through back doors, rum has remained an American favorite in many forms and formats. A sense of adventure is still palpable in many brands, by tattoo or barrel or cane or pirate map. From a simple base of sugar, a many-splendored spirit has evolved.

Download Back to Basics: Rum 101

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:29:49 -0400
Rye’s the Limit


Demand is not a problem. It seems that no matter what hits the shelves, it sells. It’s an enviable position for any spirit, and it encapsulates the unrivaled comeback tale of rye whiskey. According to figures from the Distilled Spirits Coincil, rye sales exploded—609% from 2009 to 2014—with growing supplier revenue jumping from $15 million to $106 million over the same time period, representing over $300 million at retail. And last year, once again, rye sales leapt by nearly 20%.

Rye is still a very small piece of the American whiskey trade, about 675,000 cases. But Canadian rye also increased by about 100,000 cases last year. Numerous brands—from Whistlepig and High West to Templeton, Hochstadter’s and others—continue to emerge.

Meanwhile, the big Kentucky distillers increase their rye output while at the same time managing recent expansions bourbon production. Much of the rye sold under a long list of names, including Bulleit, comes from the MGP Distillery in Indiana—a recent Cowen Insight report stakes MGP’s share of rye sold in the U.S. at a surprising 70%.

If not from Indiana, a good portion of ryes arrive from Canada including Lot No. 40, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, Alberta Dark and others. (Canadian law allows distillers there to call “rye” any whisky made with a low percentage of rye—most of the brands emerging are high rye content traditionally used for blending into Canadian whisky.)

 Bartender Love

The boom and the accompanying enthusiasm, especially among bartenders, caught most distillers by surprise. As recently as a few years ago, Wild Turkey was poised to reduce the proof on their long time rye icon, Wild Turkey 101. The fight for a stay of execution, led by California bartender Erick Castro, helped convince brand owner Campari. “If they had killed it there would have been a lot of unhappy bartenders,” said Robin Coupar, Global Whiskey Brand Ambassador, Campari USA.

It’s a sign of how important the bartender has been in the return of rye, and most brands retain tight allocation, focusing on on-premise and specialty retailers.

“When I started managing Russell’s Reserve in 2010 or so, that’s when rye was starting to grow, and something was happening driven by bartenders on the East and West coasts,” Coupar says. “Now value is increasing faster than volume, so producers and brands are able to take a little bit of a price increase because the demand is high and the availability is limited.” Campari launched a very limited barrel Russell’s Reserve rye this year, a non-chill filtered 104 proof expression. This spring marked the second time that Michter’s Distillery released their US*1 Barrel Strength Rye. “To enter the distillate for our US*1 Rye and our US*1 Bourbon into the barrel at 103 proof instead of a higher, more industry standard proof is very expensive, but our goal at Michter’s is to produce the greatest whiskey possible, regardless of the cost,” says Michter’s President, Joseph J. Magliocco.

Points of Distinction

Communications Director for Heaven Hill Larry Kass points that some confusion still reigns about what rye is. “Ours are traditional American-style three grain, 51% rye, quite different from the high rye content blending ryes.”

Coupar agrees: “The formula for a lot of those ryes is very high—95% with other malted ryes so they’ll be big and bold and spicy. At Wild Turkey, we still use a significant amount of corn, so Russell’s Reserve is spicy and bold but with a mellow sweetness.”

There is much talk in the spirit business about the “smoke and mirrors” used to sell the brands that are positioned as craft but come from the massive Indiana distillery. That’s unlikely to change much, as MGP is expanding capacity.

But others are poised to benefit from the opportunity to charge more: this month, Booker’s Rye hits the market. “I’m so proud to honor my dad, Booker Noe, with the special release of one of his greatest experiments, Booker’s Rye,” says Fred Noe, the 7th generation Master Distiller at Beam Suntory. “Dad saw the temperamental rye grain as a challenge—small, but tricky to work with. He finally got it just right when he laid down these barrels late in his life in 2003.”

Beam Suntory already has long-time stand-bys Old Overholt and Jim Beam Rye as well as Knob Creek Rye and Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky. Rob Mason, Beam Suntory Vice President, US Bourbon, points out that Knob Creek has been the fastest growing rye over the last 52 weeks per Nielsen numbers. Overholt is actually one of the ryes that has the biggest momentum, a favorite in the bartender community in terms of quality and value,” he adds.

Heaven Hill added the six-year-old 110 proof Pikesville last year at about twice the price point as the established Rittenhouse. “We knew there was an opportunity there and we’ve seen Pikesville be successful to date,” says Senior Brand Manager for Whiskeys at Heaven Hill, Susan Wahl. “We’re in the midst of an expansion, but both ryes are still allocated products because the demand is just so high. We’d love to be able to push over more to the off-premise secaor but we haven’t had the supply to give us that luxury.”

Scotch in the Rye Game

How about this for a signal that demonstrates how coveted rye has become as a taste profile: “I am pleased to present the first Johnnie Walker Rye Cask finished Blended Scotch Whisky,” said Master Blender Jim Beveridge. Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish has Cardhu single malt at the heart of the blend, matured for at least ten years and then rested in first-fill American Oak ex-rye whiskey casks, creating a complex new whisky with rich layers of flavor starting with creamy vanilla notes and transitioning to a spicier finish.

Download Rye’s the Limit



Read more]]> (Beverage Network) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:11:46 -0400
Cachaça’s Third Wave



Will the third wave of Cachaça be the one that finally establishes the Brazilian spirit as a respected category in the U.S.?

With the international media and sports attention focused on their home country, suppliers hope so, and are looking to establish its place not only as a tasty South American cousin of white rum, but also as a spirit with substantial ageability.

Cachaça, now legally defined in the U.S. as a sugar cane spirit produced in Brazil, is still a new beverage to most consumers here, if not to the trade. Large, industrial brands including Pitu, 51,  and Ypioca, part of the first wave, have long been available but with limited awareness outside ethnic markets.

“It’s a new category and even country for a lot of people,” says Steve Luttmann, ceo of Leblon, one of the most successful cachaças in the US. “But I’ve always said this is a marathon not a sprint. When I started 11 years ago, the barrier was clearly people thinking  ‘What the hell is that and how do I pronounce it?’ Now everyone knows what it is, especially in the trade.”

Getting “liquor to lips” is what will help expand cachaça across the country, Luttmann says, pointing out that the category is strongest on the coasts and in urban areas, and that major players like Total Wine have been helpful in making room for it. The brand has plans for an international charitable promotion hosting 50 events in a traveling program from May through the Olympics.

After the second wave—brands like Sagatiba, Cabana and Cuca Fresca, mostly unaged and targeted at cocktail bars—receded a few years ago, it left behind a handful of brands to expand the market, one of the key issues has been how to enlighten Americans that, beyond being the engine driving the refreshing Caipirinha, cachaça has a robust heritage of aged expressions.

A majority of cachaça sold in Brazil is aged with either oak or indigenous woods, says Dragos Axinte, ceo of Novo Fogo. In a recent competition in Brazil, 46 of the 50 judged best were barrel-aged, 30 in either French or American oak. Amburana, a wood traditional in the north of Brazil, accounted for five.

“If cachaça is going to be more than a niche spirit here, oak aged is the only way to succeed,” he says. Oak is the most common wood used in southern Brazil, and while amburana and other exotic woods are also widely used, Brazilian laws limit the use of many endangered species. For one of Novo Fogo’s aged expressions, coopers used wood from a derelict house. The brand now sells five cachaças, including Tanager–aged in repurposed oak barrels and finished in Brazilian zebrawood—and a series of single-barrel offerings.

Other brands are building on their US success and looking overseas as well. Organic Cuca Fresca will initially launch in several countries including the Netherlands, Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy, with continuous expansion throughout 2017.

Like many other brands in the U.S., Avua, launched three years ago as a higher-end cachaça, is looking to bartenders for help as gatekeepers. “We’ve found that retailers looking to have a brand with a unique flavor profile are interested in it, but we’re very much a bartender and craft enthusiast-focused brand,” says Pete Nevenglosky, co-founder of the brand.

Going for Gold…

Placements in Whole Foods in California have helped raise their profile as well. But like others, he’s also hoping for some leverage from the Olympics: “We see the Olympics as a reason to get behind the Brazilian food and drink category and we plan to activate with retailers, setting up displays highlighting the tie between cachaça and the Olympics.”

Luttmann expects the aged expressions will help all brands. “There’s now the Caipirinha and the aged sipping occasion,” he says. “A lot of the newer brands have a more sophisticated approach, better quality and very well thought-out propositions coming to the market.”

Tastings and basic education are essential to move the spirit off the shelves, says Nevenglosky: “The Caipirinha is an amazing cocktail, but what it hasn’t done is get people to understand what cachaça is. It didn’t create a conversation about the category. It’s important that people understand how a sugar cane spirit fits on the shelf with rhum agricole, English-style, French-style and Spanish-style rums, and what the similarities and differences are.” 

Download Cachaça’s Third Wave

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:06:27 -0400
Back to Basics: Gin & Tonic 101 GT_Slider.jpg

Winston Churchill once declared, “The Gin and Tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” A Gin and Tonic is the only good cocktail you can have on an airplane in coach class. It’s also a gourmet obsession in Spain that has made its way to the trendiest American cocktail bars. And because a G&T doesn’t require any fancy syrups or shrubs, you don’t need to be much of a mixologist to make one at home. 

As with wine, the gin market is hot at the high end and cool on the bottom shelf. Gin is still a small percentage of the total spirits market, about 4% according to Nielsen. But sales by value are growing while sales by volume are actually dropping. So this is a good time to switch inventory away from the super-cheapies and to branch out into some of the new gins coming onto the market. And a classic, refreshing, deceptively powerful G&T could prove to be your MVST (Most Valuable Selling Tool).

Download the Gin & Tonic 101 Back to Basics below:


Read more]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:40:57 -0400
Gin Gone Rogue American craft distillers have led the movement toward less juniper, more diversity & higher price points.


What a difference a century can make. London Dry ruled the 1900s, but the craft boom of this century has used London Dry more as a blueprint of how not to make gin. This movement has often become particularly important at the higher end of the price spectrum: While the total gin category saw volume shrink about 1.8% last year, to fewer than 10 million cases (DISCUS), super-premium gins actually rose 37.8%.

Thomas Mooney, President of American Craft Spirits Association (ASCA) and CEO of House Spirits (Aviation Gin) explains, “The growth of craft distillers—most of whom make gin—has caught everyone by surprise. From under 100 a decade ago, now there are about 1,280, based on a new study led by ACSA.” Craft gin now represents about 2% of the total gin market. It is defined by relatively small producers (under 20,000 cases, with most under 10,000) and by a spirit of innovation and creativity.

Less Juniper, More Styles

Gin growth piggybacked on the renaissance of the cocktail, and the new gins gave mixologists a lot to work with. Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company, notes, “This outrageous gin resurgence is driven mainly by the ‘cocktail culture’ and by bartenders who experimented and created new drinks.”

The “American” or “Western” style places less emphasis on juniper and adds a bevy of other botanicals—elderflower (in Farmer’s Gin, for example), sarsaparilla (Aviation), orris root (Lee Spirits), cinnamon (Greenhook Ginsmiths), orange peel, fir and so on. By adding a broader array of botanicals, the impact of juniper is tamped down, producing a more complex, layered spirit.

Some distillers are creating other types of gin, such as barrel-aged, which harks back to the Dutch genever or the sweeter Old Tom. Others emphasize the local sourcing of botanicals. Lance Winters, founder of St. George, walks through the local forests, foraging Douglas fir, sage, bay laurel and fennel. At Berkshire Mountain Distillers, founder Chris Weld is growing juniper, orris, angelica and other flavorings on six acres at the distillery.

Retailers have seen their gin shelves expand dramatically. At Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City, Head Spirits Buyer Nima Ansari has about 35 American gins on display, up from a dozen five years ago. He sees a growing market for barrel-aged gins and for gins that have whiskey characteristics, such as Chief Gowanus or St. George Reposado.

Following are some fine, eminently mixable craft gins that have gained recognition beyond their local circles:

Berkshire Mountain Distillers (Great Barrington, MA)

Products: Greylock, Ethereal, Barrel-Aged Ethereal

Greylock is London Dry style but has a number of strong citrus flavors that balance the juniper. Ethereal is a limited edition gin with each batch given a new number and label color. Barrel-Aged Ethereal is aged 18 months in used bourbon barrels. Nice in a G&T.


Big Gin (Seattle, WA)

Products: Big Gin, Bourbon Barreled Big Gin

Unapologetic in its juniper usage, Big is traditional and aggressive. Partners Ben Capdeveille and Todd Lebman have only been at it since 2011, using a 100-gallon Vendome pot still custom-made in Louisville, KY. Having enjoyed success with Bourbon Barreled Big Gin, Peat Barreled is next.


Death’s Door Spirits (Middleton, WI)

Products: Death’s Door Gin

CEO Brian Ellison spends time picking juniper berries from the Wisconsin woods which go into Death’s Door along with coriander and fennel. It works in classic cocktails or as a martini.


Distillery No. 209 (San  Francisco, CA)

Products: No. 209, Kosher for Passover, Barrel Reserve

With a track record in wine (Rudd Oakville Estate) and gourmet retail (Dean & DeLuca), it’s no surprise Distillery No. 209 takes gin seriously. Aside from the flagship gin, they make a Kosher for Passover version (sugar cane base; all non-grain botanicals), and limited-edition gins using used varietal barrels from Rudd.


FEW Spirits (Evanston, IL)

Products: Few American, Few Barrel, Few Breakfast

Founded by Master Distiller Paul Hletko. American, with its pepper notes, makes a bracing Negroni; Breakfast is infused with Earl Grey tea and bergamot.


Greenhook Ginsmiths (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)

Products: American Dry, Beach Plum, Old Tom

Founded by brothers Steven and Philip DeAngelo. The American Dry has elderflower and spice notes; nice straight-up or in mixed drinks. The Beach Plum is a variation on Sloe gin using locally harvested beach plums, which are slightly bitter.


House Spirits Distillery (Portland, OR)

Products: Aviation American

Distiller Christian Krosgtad and mixologist Ryan Magarian created Aviation. Floral notes like lavender and spice notes like cardamom make it shine in a complex martini or the Aviation cocktail.


New York Distilling Company (Brooklyn, NY)

Products: Dorothy Parker American, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength, Chief Gowanus New Netherland

Co-founded in 2011 by Tom Potter and Allen Katz. Dorothy Parker’s hibiscus and cinnamon notes make it great in a Gibson or Negroni. Chief Gowanus is made by redistilling unaged rye with juniper and hops then aging it in oak.


Philadelphia Distilling (Philadelphia, PA)

Products: Bluecoat American Dry, Bluecoat Barrel Finished

Robert Cassell, Andrew Auwerda and Timothy Yarnall co-founded Bluecoat in 2005. The American Dry was one of the first craft gins—a pioneer in defining American Style.  Citrus, orris, coriander.


St. George Spirits (Alameda, CA)

Products: Terroir, Botanivore, Dry Rye Reposado

Jörg Rupf established St. George in 1982 as the first small American distillery since Prohibition. “Terroir” captures “a walk in the woods on a hot summer day.” The Reposado is aged 18 months in casks used to age wines.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:29:04 -0400
The Upside of Selling Sideways Cross-selling remains a potent strategy for retailers in the digital age.


Consumers today have more options than ever for new wine recommendations. The long reign of wine writers and published ratings has been joined by mobile apps like Vivino, Wine Ring and Delectable. The wine world is wired now; anyone can follow the preferred palates of friends and industry pros, or receive suggestions specific to their taste, all with a few swipes on a smartphone.

So, does a small wine-loving retailer still have a role in expanding customer appreciation? Absolutely, according to Tim Laskey, a wine consultant and wine department manager who regularly walks the floor at Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge, MA.

With 30 years of experience in restaurant and retail, Laskey believes there is still no substitute for the personal connection. “They may come in with their cell phones and pictures of bottles, and we love that. But the internet does not allow you to taste the wine or interact with someone who has,” says Laskey.

While the traditional rule of upselling a customer 25% in price remains effective, the importance of cross-selling—suggesting wines of similar price—should not be underestimated. “We are not driven by economics but enthusiasm!” beams Laskey.

By opening up a customer to trying a new wine at their preferred pricepoint, Yankee succeeds in cultivating more adventurous wine lovers, generating multiple bottle sales and building trust. “Upselling is a good strategy to gain
an increased sale. With cross-selling, you stand to get a customer for a long time,” says Laskey.

Keys to Better Cross-Selling:

Avoid Upselling

While the temptation may loom, avoid the inclination to move customers up in price. You’ll earn more goodwill by suggesting a wine that is lower in price than their usual choice.

Do Your Homework

Consumers are more informed than ever. You won’t be doing anyone a favor by suggesting a wine you know too little about or haven’t tasted. When you discover wines you love, cross-selling opportunities will come naturally.

Always Be Cross-Selling

Wine apps, email lists and social media are powerful tools to get your cross-selling ideas out to those who know you best, walking a perfect line between mass communication and a personal touch that will set you apart.

Practice Your Pitch

Create some conscious cues to cross-sell new wines related to your top sellers, e.g. “When I see a regular buyer of A, B, or C, I will point out X.” Laskey is careful to compliment, never criticize the customer’s choice, and says that in the end, cross-selling involves more listening than talking.

Follow Up

Off-premise retailers don’t benefit from immediate feedback on their recommendations, like sommelier and servers. But that doesn’t mean you should not be concerned with customer reaction. Make a mental (or written) note on your cross-sells and you’ll be prepared to follow-up with “How did you like that wine?”

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Read more]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:51:32 -0400
Tequila 101: Back to Basics BacktoBasics_Tequila101.jpg

Welcome to our newest series, Back to Basics! Every month we'll provide you with a 101-style feature about a different spirit that not only goes in-depth, but can be electronically shared and/or printed out and given to your staff. Let the educating begin with...Tequila!  

Click this link and go directly to the PDF that you can view, print and distribute to your staff... CLICK HERE.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 21:36:18 -0400
On Call: The Barrel Rolls On b2ap3_thumbnail_big1.jpg

At the Jameson-centric Barrelman Tavern in Chicago, Irish whiskey keeps getting reinvented.

There may be venues that pour more Jameson Irish whiskey than Barrelman Tavern in Chicago, but it’s hard to imagine that any pour it with more enthusiasm. “We’ve always had a special thing for Jameson,” says the bar’s owner, Blake Itagaki. And his regulars are on board too; instead of ringing in 2016 with a Champagne toast at midnight, the crowd at the Barrelman raised shots of the brand new Jameson Caskmates expression.

Not a big bar, Barrelman Tavern has plenty of TVs mounted high for easy viewing, but it is more neighborhood joint than sports bar. The drinks menu is dominated by whiskies, with a tilt toward shot favorites, and is rounded out with 25+ mostly craft beers, on tap and in can or bottle. Wine? Try another bar. Heck, they don’t even serve food at the Barrelman (patrons can order in).

No surprise: Jameson is also the focal point of the bar’s handful of listed cocktails. Itagaki and his GM, Danny Lenart, chose Black Barrel for their take on the Old Fashioned because its “charred character and sherried sweetness makes it a pretty close match to a bourbon.”

Their approach to using Jameson in cocktails is straightforward. “We try not to add anything that could overwhelm the whiskey,” says Itagaki.

The bar’s signature cocktail, The Barrelman, was developed after he went to the distillery in Ireland and sampled a Black Barrel-based summer cocktail with a hint of OJ and orange bitters. “We were working on what our signature drink would be,” Itagaki recalls. “So when I came back we put our own spin on it and used cider and added Averna. In the beginning we thought we would have a summer and winter Barrelman signature cocktail, but this cocktail was so popular we’ve kept it as the only one.”

The Barrelman’s Jameson focus is kept fresh by the bartenders playing not only with mixed drinks, but also with infusions to create new shot experiences. One that became a year-round staple is Black Barrel with apples, pears and cinnamon stick. “We also did a blueberry-infused Jameson,” notes Itagaki. “It tasted better than it looked.”

The rage in January was a new shot featuring Jameson’s brand new Caskmates expression (finished in stout barrels) infused with Andes mints (and a secret ingredient, if you must know). It does not have a name—it’s just the latest word-of-mouth, try-this-one creation—something the regulars have come to not merely expect but to embrace.

And for Itagaki, Lenart and the Barrelman staff, those novelties keep them ahead at the leading edge of Irish whiskey in general and Jameson in particular. “We don’t like to follow trends,” says Itagaki, “we try to make them!” 

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) March 2016 Editions Mon, 14 Mar 2016 11:15:27 -0400
The Case for Vino Nobile

New Reasons to Rediscover Montepulciano’s Noble Wine.  

In the Tuscan trifecta of great wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano suffers from middle child syndrome—it’s largely ignored and often passed over. It’s a dramatic role reversal for a region that once dwarfed its neighbors—Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino—in both pedigree and esteem.

Vino Nobile (Vee-no NO-bee-lay), Montepulciano’s most important wine, got its name in the 1800s from the Medici family (it translates as “wine for nobles”); and the small region in Southeast Tuscany was the first in Italy to attain the prestigious DOCG status, in 1980.

During the second half of the 20th century, however, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino ascended in fame and fortune, a result of outside investment and marketing savvy. Montepulciano slid backward. Quality slumped and the spotlight faded.

Yet a closer look at Montepulciano today reveals a more dynamic landscape. Younger winemakers, new ownership and a more international outlook are helping Montepulciano reclaim its reputation as one of Italy’s best sources for Sangiovese. The challenge remains getting people to recognize it.

“I’ve always felt a little sorry for Montepulciano,” says Ed McCarthy, author of Italian Wine for Dummies. “There are tons of great producers there and quality is better than ever, but they suffer from lack of recognition.” There are only about a dozen producers of Vino Nobile with good distribution in the U.S. And it doesn’t help, he adds, that the region gets confused with the grape Montepulciano grown in southern Italy’s Abruzzo region. The bulk of Montepulciano d’Abruzzos are of the cheap and quaffable variety, and Vino Nobile does not benefit from the association.


Fresh Twists, Old Roots

Sometimes a sleepy wine region needs a shot in the arm, and for Montepulciano, that would be Virginie Saverys. From a Belgian shipping family, Saverys bought the declining Avignonesi estate in 2009 and has become one of the most important ambassadors for Vino Nobile. She turned around the winery, purchased scores of new vineyards and converted the entire estate to organic farming. Avignonesi is the largest producer in Italy practicing biodynamic viticulture today (though not certified due to the use of  machine harvesters).

With her goal of “marrying the best of  the technology and biodynamic techniques,” she hired Australian winemaker, Ashleigh Seymour. Ironically, the foreign approach has restored an authentic Italian taste profile, and Avignonesi’s wines are some of the area’s most soulful and terroir-driven. Thanks to organic farming and a clean winery, the wines are more alive, says Seymour: “Hygiene has been a big problem in Montepulciano historically. When wineries are dirty, it mutes the fruit character that Sangiovese expresses.”

The Montepulciano Signature

Some describe Vino Nobile as less tannic and structured than Brunello and less acidic than Chianti Classico, and while this may have something to do with the region’s particular clone of Sangiovese (called Prugnolo Gentile) it’s likely more a factor of terroir and climate. With high average elevation, Montepulciano is more Mediterranean than Chianti, which gives softer acidity and riper fruit flavors, says Seymour, yet it’s not as warm as Montalcino, so the wines are lighter-bodied. “The signature profile here is spice, herbs, bright fruit and earth,” she describes.

Balance sets the region’s wines apart, says Giulio Caporali, who purchased the Valdipiatta estate in the 1980s and runs it with his daughter, Miriam. “Brunello has more muscle and Chianti can be tart; here we have balanced wines that are elegant and feminine,” he says. Vino Nobile’s aging requirements—just two years in cask compared to Brunello’s four—adds to their approachability, Caporali adds. While in general Brunello may achieve more complexity and have greater aging potential, Vino Nobile is fresher and more consumer-friendly out of the gate.

Montepulciano’s heavy clay soils also play a role. “The red soils in Montepulciano allow the roots to go very deep, which brings more minerality and fruit flavors than other parts of Tuscany,” says Luca De Ferrari who heads his family’s legendary Boscarelli estate with his brother, Nicolò, and mother, Paola. Boscarelli’s traditionally-styled wines are made in the family’s tiny, ultra-old-school, low-ceilinged winery which hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. (Boscarelli’s smoky, perfumed Il Nocio 2011 is particularly exquisite). “Yet we still have much to learn about these soils,” De Ferrari explains. “What is Vino Nobile? We are still defining.”

Nowhere is the balance between tradition and modernity more visible than at the ultra-sleek, brand new winery at Dei, run by Caterina Dei, a professional opera singer and granddaughter of the founder. The facility is gravity-fed, geothermal-heated and built out of travertine stone (the other Dei family business) and resembles a Roman amphitheater. Dei’s organically grown wines are lush, aromatic and fruit-driven; they are more modern for sure, yet still supremely elegant.

Sangiovese Reclaims Center Stage

The experimentation with international varieties, which held sway throughout Italy in recent decades, has been at work in Montepulciano as well. In fact, denomination rules recently increased the amount of non-Sangiovese grapes permitted in Vino Nobile to 30%. Yet quality producers today lean much more towards 100% Sangiovese for their Vino Nobile—a critical step for the region’s resurgence, believes Jeff Porter, the Beverage Director for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group: “People today don’t want a homogeneous flavor profile, they want distinct expressions and the return to classic production styles. Focus on Sangiovese is key to expressing Montepulciano’s terroir. The region has stopped trying to be something they thought people wanted in the past.”

Young winemakers are passionately driving this trend. Alberto Brini, whose family acquired Il Conventino in 2003, was among the first in Montepulciano to farm organically. “Now that we better understand how to work with Sangiovese in the vineyard to tame its acidity and tannins, we don’t need grapes like Merlot,” Brini says. 

Michele Manelli, who founded Salcheto winery in 1997, takes a high-tech approach to the challenges of Sangiovese. “The soul of Vino Nobile is freshness—the biggest problem is greenness and rough tannins,” he says. Manelli worked with a scuba diving company to help design a system that traps CO2 given off during fermentation and pumps it back through the tank where it bubbles gently through the grapes—extracting more fruit flavors and less tannins. (Partially underground, Salcheto is 100% energy self-sufficient and is lit entirely by natural light brought through a system of pipes with mirrors.)

Along with the renewed focus on Sangiovese, another important shift is restraint in oak. “In the past five years, I have seen producers here really come to understand how to use oak barrels to highlight, not dominate the wines,” Porter observes. A legitimate criticism of Vino Nobile for years was that the fruit was drowned out by extended oak aging—or too much new French oak—but the pendulum has swung back.

Owner Frederico Carletti, whose family purchased Poliziano—the closest thing Montepulciano has to a household name in the U.S. market—made the decision to dial back on the oak in 2008 in favor of larger, more neutral casks for his Vino Nobile, and single vineyard trophy bottling Asinone. The wines are still bolder, darker and more powerful than many in the region, but fresher and more terroir-driven. “Like everyone, my palate evolves and we wanted a less oak influenced taste profile. People really want taste terroir today,” he says. Poliziano also made the move toward organic viticulture, and is experimenting with native yeasts. “The best expression of terroir isn’t always by sticking with tradition—we want more technology and less chemistry,” he observes.

Finding the Spotlight

Still, the region’s reputation has yet to catch up to the wine quality. There is a lot of discussion in Montepulciano over how to best achieve this. McCarthy recommends a name abbreviation: “For Americans, ‘Vino Nobile di Montepulciano’ is a mouthful—they should be marketing these wines simply as ‘Nobile.’”

One helpful selling point is their value. Most Vino Nobiles retail for less than $30, about half of what you would pay for Brunello in any vintage (and the region’s lesser wine, Rossi di Montepulciano, is more affordable still). “They offer terrific value for retailers and restaurants,” says Porter. “If someone wants a Brunello but has sticker shock, they can still have the identity of great Sangiovese with Vino Nobile,” says Porter.

Plus, they tend to be more reliable than Chianti, says McCarthy: “Because there is far less Vino Nobile produced, and even fewer that are exported here, they represent very solid quality. Compared with other parts of Tuscany, you’re not going to find too many dogs in Vino Nobile. ”

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) March 2016 Editions Tue, 23 Feb 2016 10:32:56 -0500
Green Shoots on the Emerald Isle

Irish whiskey is undergoing an unprecedented wave of new distilleries.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, the saying goes. But investment is pretty high up there, too. For years now, Irish whiskey has been posting noteworthy gains on a small base. Now the supply side of this phenomenon has jumped in with real capital, and big plans.

Here is most of what you need to know about the growth trajectory of Irish whiskey: In 2011, there were four distilleries operating in Ireland, and now, at least 14 are up and running with nearly 20 more in various stages of planning. And make no doubt about where distillers expect most of their new whiskey to be flowing: to the United States, their number one market.

Irish has for decades been driven by the success of Jameson, representing about 75% of U.S. volume. But as other brands—Tullamore D.E.W. and Kilbeggan, specifically—were purchased by companies with a strong presence in the U.S., more weight has been put behind them. In some cases, new iterations and brand extensions have arrived, with companies—not always the big ones—committing greater resources. Even young, lesser-know labels are showing growth—Castle Brands’ Knappogue Castle age-statement single malts and value-priced Clontarf, for example.

Malini Patel, VP of World Whiskies and Americas Innovation for Beam Suntory, owner of Kilbeggan, Two Gingers and three other Irish brands, summarizes: “A global boom over the last several years has driven the interest of Irish whiskey amongst consumers looking for quality spirits with distinct flavor profiles and unique stories. We are also seeing a larger variety of Irish whiskey available today than five years ago with new brands coming to market at a very fast pace and established brands releasing new expressions.”

“Irish continues to gain momentum in numbers and with bartenders with its very approachable style and taste,” says Sona Bajaria, Brand Director for Jameson. “Jameson has opened the door for Irish whiskey for American consumers generally—they drink it and enjoy it, even if they move along in their whiskey journey to try other Irish products, which is happening increasingly, as they move to super and ultra-premium, and that has benefited our higher-end brands Powers, Midleton, Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Redbreast.”

One of the few mysteries in Irish is the next steps for Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest registered distillery. In 2014 Bushmills became part of the Proximo portfolio, which has always been defined by the Jose Cuervo brand. Bushmills is routinely respected as an important Irish whiskey, especially for its malt expressions, and for having introduced the first flavored Irish in the U.S. several years ago: Bushmills Irish Honey. The trade is eagerly anticipating what Proximo will do with the brand.

Edge of the Irish

Irish whiskey is in general considered lighter and smoother than bourbon and Scotch, a more approachable and a great entry point for newcomers to whiskey. While most Irish whiskey sold here is blended, many brands now feature extensions in the individual styles—single grain, single malt and single pot still—with more aged expressions and, lately, cask-finished types available.

Other innovations are taking hold. Jameson last fall launched Jameson Caskmates, finished in stout casks.Teeling sells a small batch finished in rum casks and a single grain matured in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. And Tullamore just released Trilogy, a blend of triple-distilled grain, malt and pot whiskies matured in three cask types—bourbon barrels, Oloroso Sherry butts and rum casks.

Tullamore’s oldest release to date, Trilogy is part of the range expansion that will roll out over the next few years, a result of being owned by William Grant, a company with access to a broad variety of high quality casks with which to experiment, says U.S. Brand Ambassador Tim Herlihy. “The real significant change in Irish whiskey, beyond the growth of so many new producers, is it’s no longer just entry level,” he says. “We’re seeing more single malts and single pot still whiskies and will see more of that coming on, with a real breadth of style and price points.”

Future Bright

“Irish whisky has definitely arrived and the big brands continue to grow substantially, making this a very interesting and exciting time,” says Jack Teeling, Managing Director of the Teeling Whiskey Company. “Things are very much dominated by the big guys and the new whiskies are coming from a narrow production base, but there’s a whole host of smaller guys trying to get into the business, and I believe over the next five to seven years, as production comes on stream, the supply will expand quite dramatically in terms of flavor profile and expressions.” Teeling released a single malt last May and now has a core range of three whiskies, as well as some limited offerings, like a malt finished in white port casks and 12 single casks to be released in February and March.

The expanding supply hasn’t been lost on on-and off-premise retailers. “We came to realize that Irish has so much versatility and diversity within it that the many types can really be applied to many different platforms in the cocktail world,” says Jack McGarry, one of the men behind The Dead Rabbit, currently considered one of the best cocktail and all-around drinking destinations in the country. Their current menu, in fact, is based half on Irish whiskey-based drinks, and with more than 180 different labels of Irish behind the bar, McGarry reckons they stock the most of any operation in the U.S. But it’s not just for show; the Dead Rabbit pours more than 100 liters of Irish each week, making it the biggest category at their bar.

McGarry says showcasing the properties of Irish is something they’ve taken on at Dead Rabbit, but admits that many operators and bartenders only know about Jameson. “People don’t order if they don’t know what it is,” he explains. “Many people don’t understand what single pot still whiskey is, for example, so we train our staff on whiskey flights and how to recommend the right style for each guest, making it easy and accessible to our guests.”

Donal O’Gallachoir, Brand Manager for the 2011-launched Glendalough Distillery, says as the range of possibilities—grain or malt, continuous or pot still, peated or unpeated, as well as various finishes—expand throughout the market, consumers will welcome the chance to go beyond the blended style. Glendalough, for instance, currently bottles three poitins (see sidebar), a 7-year-old and 13-year-old single malt, as well as “Double Barrel,” aged in bourbon and Sherry casks.

Most of the whiskey currently being sold by these brand new distilleries are sourced from one of the major Irish companies, as they wait for their young whiskies to mature. As William Grant & Sons’ Herlihy notes, there will be a flood of new expressions once that happens, and the real proof of what’s next in Irish will emerge only then. “There’s a long long way to go and it will be interesting to see what this boom will have us talking about in five years time,” says Herlihy, “after the wave of new Irish whiskies come over our way.” 

The Poitin Factor

If mezcal and moonshine can find a bigger market, why can’t poitin? That’s the question some Irish distillers are starting to ask of spirit retailers.

Donal O’Gallachoir, U.S. Brand Manager of Glendalough Distillery, now promotes three poitins, and compares its prospect to that of mezcal in relation to tequila: “Like mezcal, like pisco, poitin has an appeal to modern drinkers looking to try something different. This is a time in which people are looking to grow their knowledge of the Irish category and anything that starts that conversation is a positive thing.”

Traditionally, poitin (pronounced “po-CHEEN”) was the precursor to whiskey, made from malted barley, sugar beets and potatoes. Glendalough produces a premium expression at 40% alcohol by volume; one aged in Sherry casks; and one bottled at 60% or “Mountain Strength.”

Other brands, including Bunratty, have entered the U.S. market in the past few years. Newer importers feel the time is right now that any and all spirits seem to have a waiting customer base.

Mad March Hare, distilled in pot stills from malted barley, is pitching their poitin with a “craft” angle. “Poitin plays a large role in the history of Ireland and especially Irish whiskey, with local distilling tradition being similar to that of American craft spirits,” notes John Ralph, co-founder, Mad March Imports. “With the U.S. market accounting for approximately 36% of Irish whiskey sales, and craft spirits continuously growing in popularity, we feel it is the perfect opportunity to introduce the U.S. consumer to the ancient craft of Irish poitin.” Mad March Hare launches in CA, MA, IL, NY and CT this quarter, at SRP $24.99.

Getting Greener All the Time…

Arguably a sign of the Irish category’s continuing strength, the U.S. market has seen a fair number of new entries in recent years. It’s no shock to see them put their nationalism front and center, playing off Irish history, geography and tradition. To wit: West Cork and Donegal Estates both evoke beloved counties on the Emerald Isle. Claddagh Irish Whiskey honors the traditional Irish ring design, whose significance dates back centuries. The Pogues is made in partnership with the ever-popular Irish band.

The Irishman, produced at the Walsh family distillery, leaves no doubt as to its heritage; plus the recent extension, Writers Tears, honors 19th century Irish writers and playwrights. Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey, with Dublin roots dating back to 1779, was actually the first ever whiskey to be trademarked. Winebow is bringing in the brand to the U.S., with a blended whiskey (92 proof) and a 10-year-old single malt.

With straightforward, authentic appeal, the expansion of labels in the Irish category has the feel of a family getting bigger.

Selling Points

**Irish whiskey is generally lighter and smoother than bourbon and Scotch, more approachable and a great entry point for whiskey newcomers.

**New expressions of Irish whiskey have great appeal for whiskey enthusiasts as suppliers are putting the best material and effort into specialized bottlings.

**Irish whiskey is underrated as a mixer; did you know that half the cocktails on the menu at The Dead Rabbit (recently named Best Bar in America) are made with Irish whiskey?

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) March 2016 Editions Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:18:42 -0500
Caught In the Draft

Cocktails on tap are no longer just a fad ...  


When Anton Baranenko, owner of Draft Choice, a New York-based company that customizes draft systems, began installing cocktail lines in 2010, the response from his bartending peers was hostile, even Luddite, with accusations that he was cheapening the value of craft cocktails, and could put bartenders out of work.

In 2015, just five short years later, he estimates that in 2015 more than 80% of his clients sought out cocktail as well as beer or wine lines. “Before, I’d have to pitch people on draft cocktails when I went in to sell a beer system,” says Baranenko. “Now they ask me.”

Welcome to the new world of draft, in which speed of service, efficiency and pre-batching can sometimes trump, or at least help resolve, some of the problems created by the 15-minute cocktail.

Tad Carducci, as part of the Tippling Bros., created a program at Mercadito (NYC, Chicago, Las Vegas) with seven cocktails on tap. He predicts, based on conversations with national account restaurant executives, that by the end of 2016 draft cocktails will be flowing in some major chains. “Operators are now seeing the long-term value and return on investment possibilities, and there are now so many more vendors, for everything from tubing and fittings to installation, in the game, it’s far easier to set up,” says Carducci.

No Blueprint Yet

Draft cocktails are uncharted territory. Consider two recent openings: Yours Sincerely in Bushwick, NYC, has an all-draft program with 20 cocktails on tap. Quarter+Glory in Washington, DC, has two. One is a barrel-aged Negroni, the other seasonal—currently “Jamie (Here’s How),” made with rye, bitters and sarsaparilla.

Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer for Public House Collective, the NY-based hospitality company that opened Quarter+Glory, admits some customers might wonder if the cocktails are bought in bulk rather than batched in-house. But he feels draft cocktails can provide quick service and consistency especially at busy times, allowing bartenders to be more social and interactive.

“The cocktail world can be extremely stuffy,” says McCoy. “We’ve all seen the bearded and suspendered bartender, frowning while standing behind the bar staring at you. We want to have a place that offers a fun experience, and while execution is part of the show, this sort of approach allows more time devoted to actual hospitality,” he says.

Yours Sincerely, with a dominant 20-handle tap, self-identifies as a “cocktail laboratory.” The drink menu—9 nitrogen cocktails, 5 carbonated cocktails, 3 shots, 3 non-alcoholic—spells out specific ingredients along with hand-drawn flow charts that provide both an air of simplicity and scientific precision. Classics get new life, such as the Pineapple Express (coconut-infused denizen rum, organic pineapple juice, vanilla coconut syrup).

Sacramento’s Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Company serves four draft cocktails at a time, recently including the Local 916 (spiced Tullamore D.E.W., honey, cranberry and lime juices). “We set out to offer draft from the start in response to many customers saying they felt craft cocktails took too long to make. To us, waiting 20 minutes just isn’t acceptable,” says head barman Chris Tucker.

While draft cocktails more often tend to be spirit and fortified wine only, Tucker includes those made with fresh juice, avoiding spoilage by making smaller batches that will be depleted quickly. (Juices are commonly clarified to preserve freshness.)

Quick Study

Baranenko credits the growth of craft beer and draft wine for bringing more attention to the potential for draft cocktails, and for the greater availability of better systems. There is also easy-to-grasp logic in the idea that draft cocktails are not a huge leap beyond batched cocktails. (A typical five-gallon cornelius, or “corney,” canister, often used for soda, holds about 120 drinks.)

Like draft wine, draft cocktails have some particular requirements. Type 304 stainless steel components (valve couplers, tubing nipples, faucets, shanks) are essential to maintain the integrity of the system. The type commonly used for beer, 303, contains sulfur and can taint wine and spirits easily. Similarly, oxygen barrier tubing is sometimes required, as liquids oxidize quickly when exposed to tubing common in beer systems, and even flavor transfer can occur.

With the genre of draft cocktails effectively not even a decade old, there is a lot of learning to be done, and still some fundamental questions. Operators will naturally be concerned not only with issues of storage and delivery of draft cocktails, but also preservation and provenance. Cocktails are a different liquid than beer and wine; systems need to be able to handle the harshest and most acidic liquids.

Gas choice is also important, as is level of pressure—with both being variables to be tinkered with. Tucker says he thinks using nitrogen mellows cocktails, and he notices a distinct and favorable difference between a draft cocktail and one made fresh in some instances, with the draft version gaining a silkier texture. Products can change even in an oxygen-free environment. He notes some vermouths become slightly more bitter, even in stainless steel, and so careful monitoring is always required.

And no doubt, the more attention operators pay to this trend, the more they will learn.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:27:43 -0500
The Way North

Paced by Rye, Flavors and Strong Branding, Canadian Whisky is Mounting a Rally ... 


Finally, it seems, the whisky renaissance has shone a spotlight on Canadian. It’s not that Canadian whisky hasn’t long been popular in the U.S.—whiskies from up north are second only to bourbon here, though more than half the volume, according to 2014 numbers from DISCUS, occurs in the lowest price tier.

Growth has been elusive, as for many years the major brands focused on smoothness over flavor as a selling point, keeping the details of production and history mostly under wraps at a time when popcorn vodka was being replaced by robust brown spirits.

But lately, Canadian has been getting plenty of attention, topped off with the recent selection by writer Jim Murray of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the Whisky of the Year in his annual influential Whisky Bible.

“We Canadians do ourselves a disservice by not telling the story of the heritage and quality of Canadian whisky,” says Dr. Don Livermore, Master Blender at the Hiram Walker Distillery. “We make rye whisky very, very well, and we’re starting to see a change in consumers now looking for more flavor. My qualitative observation is that consumers today are looking for bigger, bolder and more complex whiskies.”

“The biggest issue we have is overcoming the stigma that has been associated with the Canadian whisky category in recent years,” says Mike Price, Brand Director for Forty Creek. “In an effort to compete with vodka in the ’80s and ’90s, many of the offerings from north of the border were pale comparisons to the robust whiskies that built the country’s whisky heritage 200 years ago. Now we are seeing a real revival of the category.”


Premiumization Situation 

It’s been the fully robust brands labeled as high proportion ryes that have brought attention back to Canadian lately, though Livermore says distillation methods matter more. “The percent of rye is irrelevant. If the rye is double distilled in a column still, then it will taste just like any other grain whisky,” he says, pointing out that second distillation in a pot allows producers to develop rye’s spicier character.  

There’s a lot of leeway for blenders to broaden the range of Canadians. For example, the Pernod-Ricard portfolio produced at Hiram Walker includes a lighter, Port-finished rye in Pike Creek; Wiser’s, a medium rye made in a style popular in the 19th century; and the powerful all-rye Lot 40.  

Another example of what a little tinkering can do to make a more premium Canadian is Alberta Rye Dark Batch, a blend of 91% rye whisky topped off with bourbon and Sherry. “Alberta Rye Dark Batch combines contemporary flavor trends with classic notes of premium whisky, making it a one-of-a-kind rye for mixologists, spirits connoisseurs and whisky enthusiasts alike,” says Malini Patel, VP World Whiskey, Beam Suntory, who promises more new expressions in 2016 from the company’s Canadian brands, which include Canadian Club.

Other producers have taken notice of the interest in rye and also flavored whiskies. Diageo unveiled in 2014 the successful 70-proof Crown Royal Regal Apple, joining the 2012 entry, Maple Finished, in the portfolio. For the whisky connoisseur, Northern Harvest Rye (90 proof) and Hand Selected Barrel (103 proof) pushed the boundaries of strength.

Crown Achievment

Crown Royal isn’t alone in the flavor sweepstakes: Canadian Mist flavor line extension includes Peach Mist, Maple Mist, Cinnamon Mist and Vanilla Mist. Van Gogh Imports has TAP Rye Sherry Finished, an 8-year-old Canadian rye blended with Amontillado Sherry, as well as TAP 357 Maple rye. Sazerac launched Rich & Rare Caramel Canadian Whisky in 2014 and launched Rich & Rare Apple this fall in limited markets.  

This change in attitude about what Canadian can be has been most notable at category leader Crown Royal. “A few years ago we were still a little precious about doing too much in terms of line extensions, because we were concerned it might not be the correct thing for the brand and its loyal consumers,” says Yvonne Briese, VP of Marketing for North American Whisky for Diageo. “But we found once we embraced the consumers who are looking for all sorts of new whiskies, we had such a great story and some great whiskies that go into Crown Royal, that we decided it was a great jumping off point for bringing new products to life.”

Many Crown Royal consumers are willing to try every release under the brand, she says, while others might find the flavors an entry point to the category and the more whisky-knowledgeable were curious about the Northen Rye and Hand Selected Barrel iterations. “Those two variants have a lot of appeal to non-Canadian whisky consumers and are helping the reputation and standing of Canadian,” she says, including the types of on-premise accounts not usually interested in the category.

Connecting On-& Off-Premise

“On-premise remains a huge factor in whiskey brand development and growth,” says Kevin Richards, Senior Marketing Director of Whiskeys and Specialty Brands for Sazerac, which includes Rich & Rare, Rich & Rare Reserve, Caribou Crossing, Legacy, Canadian LTD and Canadian Hunter.

 “Our Legacy Canadian is a great example of a brand where we have a large and growing on-premise presence which is translating well into off-premise sales.  Consumers like discovering new brands and on-premise is the best place for that.  We’re investing our resources on Legacy accordingly.”

Many of the smaller super-premium brands showing growth buy their whisky on the bulk market, where they are finding more competition and tighter supplies as their brands grow. “Our success sort of forced us into a sourcing scramble,” says August Sebastiani, president of 35 Maple Street whose Masterson’s is sold as a straight rye whisky but comes from Canada. “We have the inventory now, but as a sort of negociant-style spirit supplier, we have to work hard to maintain batch-to-batch consistency and quality.”

While the supply is vast, certain brands are planning to dash into the first major opening at the higher end for Canadian here in some time. “Premium Canadian whisky has a lot of room to grow in the specifically,” says Patel of Beam Suntory. “While the standard business is quite large, we are seeing the premium and super-premium whiskies grow overall share. This is also in line with brown spirits trends and Canadian is no different. We are excited about what’s to come from this category and the ability to innovate around specific consumer trends, interest and industry insights.” 



Whiskey-making rules vary country to country, and Canada’s are relaxed but confusing, to an American at least. What can be called rye there, for example, wouldn’t meetU.S.standards; here, the mashbill must be at least 51% rye as a component. Bourbon must be made with at least 51% corn (and typically 70+%). But inCanada, a mostly corn spirit that gets small amounts of rye added to the blend can be called rye. While all Canadian whiskies include some, it’s primarily used as what Canadian tradition calls “flavoring whisky.”

Canadian is usually the product of one distillery, but U.S.laws encourage the inclusion of American spirit into the mix. Canadian whisky distilleries generally distill each grain separately, rather than combining grains for a signature mashbill. The different spirits—corn, rye, wheat and barley—are then aged separately and blended together before bottling (Canadian Club being the major exception, blended before barreling).

Canadian Whisky Facts

** It’s Canadian whisky, without the “e,” spelled like Scotch whisky.

** More than two-thirds of Canadian whisky is exported to the U.S. Some trace its popularity here back to Prohibition, but it was actually began during the Civil War, when many distilleries in the South shut down.

** Until 2010, Canadian was the best-selling brown spirit in America; it is now second to bourbon.

** Canadian whisky is typically blended after distillation, whereas other types combine grains in a mash bill. This is why in Canada the Master Blender is considered a higher title than Master Distiller

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:14:32 -0500
The 21st Century Bartender

Balancing technical skills with the (lost?) art of hospitality.

There may never have been a better time to be a bartender. The information age has streamlined access to cocktail lore, training options abound, most restaurants are in need of skilled drink makers to create recipes and train staff, and career horizons have opened wide.

But none of that means customers have found the current level of bar service to be correspondingly elevated. True, there are now numerous bars in almost every city that serve well-crafted classic cocktails and complicated modern drinks. But in conversation with some of America’s cocktail luminaries, it becomes clear that although today’s technical skills and knowledge may never before have been as sharp, significant hospitality issues—indifferent attentiveness, glowering greetings, excess geekery, and a sneaky sense that bartenders believe some orders are beneath them—need to be tackled.

Tony Abou-Ganim, who has mentored many of the best known bartenders, compares today’s tool-intensive bartending favorably to the days when he opened the Bellagio in Las Vegas at the end of the 1990s, when all drinks were likely to be shaken and even such a simple tool as a bar spoon was a rare sight. Even so, he says great bartending starts with personality and not an encyclopedic recipe memory: “I would much rather hire someone with enthusiasm and passion to learn and teach them from scratch than to undo some bad habits or attitudes.”

Sharper social skills would certainly please Charlotte Voisey, Director of Brand Advocacy at William Grant and Sons, who trains staff across the country: “Everyone and their dog thinks they’re a bartender, but having humility, knowing how to show people how to have a good time at the bar and not take any sort of attitude, knowing your place and showing a level of respect for yourself and your guests—these are skills we need to work on.”

It’s a problem noted by many who train, hire and instruct bartenders; the 21st century bartender’s skill set is quite complicated, but hospitality often suffers. Duggan McDonnell, whose new book, Drinking the Devil’s Acre, charts the history of drinking in San Francisco with a focus on his own Cantina, says the internet has made it easy for novices to catch up, but that base is hardly enough to make one a good bartender: “It does nothing to help you know how to read a room, understand the people in it and make it work. Information is not as important as adaptability.”

McDonnell looks for people who can easily make the Scotch and water drinker feel relaxed enough to be open to something different. “Making cocktails isn’t the hardest part of bartending; excitement is more important than knowledge,” he notes.

“I grew up in the business when it was friendliness first, and do the best you can do with what you know,” says Bridget Albert, recently named Southern Wine and Spirits National Director of Education, Beam Suntory. “A bar is a place to relax for the guests and it should be a fun experience so they want to come back. A bartender can make me a good cocktail all day long but if they’re not friendly and smiling while they do it, I’ll probably leave the bar—hospitality is key to have in your tool box.”

She admires the way many of the new breed of bartenders take their craft so seriously, perfecting their skills at home on their own time, working with new tools and otherwise boning up on the job. Not so long ago, muddlers, double strainers, even Boston shakers were hard to find in a bar—and drink-shaking was likely to be lazy and sloppy, she points out.

Multi-Skill Set

While most say these basic skills have improved, better speed and organization are also key, Voisey says: “In today’s society, where everyone wants everything now and perfectly made, there’s more need than ever to prioritize and multi-task.” Social awareness can help here as well, especially when keeping a three-deep bar of waiting customers on the bartender’s side, but a well-organized mise en place as well as shaking and stirring different drinks simultaneously, are now required.

Steve Olson, a partner in the Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) training program, says he’s seen an across the board improvement in basic and advanced skills in the ten years since BAR launched. He now encourages bartenders to focus on more refined skills: deportment, posture, attitude, ability to multi-task. And, of course, respect and business savvy.

“If I come in and order a vodka and soda, you should make it with the same love as that crazy hand-crafted cocktail, if for no other reason than that my drink covers the pour cost of yours,” he says.Olson would like to see bartenders raise their blind tasting skills, especially given the broader flavor profile of emerging craft spirits.

At the celebrated Dead Rabbit in New York City, managers have the luxury of scouting candidates in advance. Bar Manager Jillian Vose believes anyone can be taught the skills necessary to tend bar, but most important are personality and fitting into the team.

Drink-making skills are essential, but in order to cut it at Dead Rabbit, charisma is required as well as speed. Management begins timing service from the moment a drink ticket arrives at the bar. Customers already receive a complimentary cup of punch on arrival, but if the drink order isn’t started quickly, servers are trained to offer another while the drink order is built. The goal is a six minute average and never longer than ten minutes.

Julia Momose, who heads the bar program at Chicago’s GreenRiver, a collaboration between The Best Bar in the World (BBITW) and Union Square Events (USE), the catering and venue hospitality business from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, says when staffing, she looks for hospitality skills and attention to detail, and when training, focuses on getting the staff to build drinks that will be consistent, no matter who makes them. “Folks may come to a new place with their own styles,” she says, “but for me, shaking and stirring the same way, building a round of drinks the same way, that’s how you can bring consistency to drink making. Drinks must be built the same way no matter who’s behind the bar and no matter how busy things get.”

Voisey says the cocktail renaissance resulted in slower service, since many drinks are made one at a time. She’d also like to see more elegant Martini service, more frequent rolling of drinks, and better garnishes. And since so many newer bartenders have only worked in craft cocktail establishments, Vose fears they may have missed out on the lessons learned in dive bars, pubs or high-volume restaurants that teach guest interaction and create reliable team players rather than divas.

Whether it’s better hospitality, quicker service or more efficiency, as Olson put it, a lot is actually at stake: “I worry that we worked so hard to learn the recipes and history and cool shakes and all that, that without a return to hospitality we’re in great danger of alienating all those people we worked so hard to get to come to our bars and try our cool cocktails. If they don’t get it and don’t get treated right, that is a big issue.”

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 13:16:50 -0500
Wine and Cocktails Take a Can-Do Approach

Lifting a Page from Craft Beer’s Marketing Manual.

It’s back to the future for the aluminum can. First used to package frozen juice concentrate in 1960, aluminum cans were quickly embraced by soft drink and beer producers following the addition of the convenient pull-tab, patented in 1963. Despite the timeless luster of traditional glass bottles and the lightness of modern PET plastics, more beverage producers are realizing that even today few packages can rival aluminum for its combination of recyclability, portability, durability, lightness, and protective qualities.

Craft beer producers are returning to the format in droves, a movement instigated by Peter Love of Cask Brewing Systems, who revived the prestige of the package at Colorado’s Oskar Blues starting in 2002. “Cans are now seen by craft beer consumers and brewers as a premium and preferred package for beer, and we have a long list of brewers who have quickly grown their business by using cans. That will someday be the case with wine, cider and cocktails,” predicts Love.

Indeed, more spirits and wine producers are asking, “why should beer have all the fun?” By putting their products into aluminum formats, wine and spirits are entering traditional beer occasions and catering to active lifestyles. Launched in 2013, Winestar is moving more aggressively in the U.S., distributing their line of French AOC wines in a 187ml “canette” in Florida, California, New York and New Jersey. “It is the best of any packaging on the market,” says Bryan Schell, VP Sales and Marketing, Winestar. “It is already made from mostly recycled material, and is again 100% recyclable.” Priced at $3.99 per unit retail, Winestar takes advantage of the great quality to price ratio of southern French wines, with flagship red and white blends from AOC Corbières, joined by a Languedoc rosé.

The popularity of wine in cans comes as little surprise to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which first put its Sofia sparkling wine in single-serve 187ml cans, dubbed the Mini, in 2004. “The concept of canned wine was received with mixed fanfare at first, but the Sofia Minis have seen steady growth and they’re now one of our most popular selections,” says Tondi Bolkan, winemaker. Sparkling wine and other styles of fresh, ready-to-drink wines are great candidates for cans, explains Bolkan. “Think of the can as a small wine tank— the vessel is sealed with no air venting in or out.  Some wines need aging and/or micro-oxidation, be it through the staves of a barrel or the pores of a cork.”

Other notable can-do wines include two 500ml “tall boys” from Field Recordings in Paso Robles, CA: the “Fiction” red blend and Alloy Wine Works Grenache Rosé. And from France, two “slim” (237ml, 8oz) cans of Pampelonne, spritzers in Rosé Lime and Red Sangria (SRP $3.99, 6% ABV). And Infinite Monkey Theorem sells their canned wines by the liter (as a four-pack of 250mls), only in Denver and Austin.


Spirited Novelty

While beer producers continue to offer new cocktail-inspired malt beverages in a can, like Bud Lite with their Mixxtails in flavors of Hurricane, Long Island and Firewalker, spirits-based beverages are aiming for the high ground, betting that consumers will differentiate among their cocktails with a distilled spirits base.

Gosling’s Rum is enjoying immense success with their own ginger beer cocktail, the Dark ’n Stormy Ready-To-Drink in an 8.4oz can, made with Black Seal Rum and ginger beer. Coupled with its diet counterpart, the Dark ’n Skinny, these canned cocktails are on target to top 1 million case sales annually in 2016. “It has taken on a life of its own and is being enjoyed all over. The convenience makes it wonderful for golf courses, beaches and boating. But even above convenience we find people appreciate the consistency,” says Malcolm Gosling, President & CEO of Gosling-Castle Partners Inc.

Other entries suggest that cocktails in aluminum are just getting started. Frustrated that she was unable to find a good portable substitute for beer during a backpacking trip in central America, Sarah Pierce partnered with a college friend to create Tiqo, a custom cocktail of blanco tequila, coconut water, ginger, turmeric and lime in a black matte aluminum bottle (SRP $4.99, ABV 6%). “Spirits are doing well for a number of reasons. And one of the things Bud Lite does not understand is it’s not just the flavor, but that people are trying to avoid the the carbs and the calories and the sugariness of malt beverages,” says Pierce. With distribution in New York and Connecticut, Tiqo has gained a following among young consumers in beach towns like Montauk; Miami is their next market.

Wyn Ferrell, a partner at Mile High Spirits in Denver, chose to target the classic Moscow Mule, with the introduction of Punching Mule, a combination of real vodka and ginger beer, in a 12oz can. “Not everybody wants to drink beer, and this is a cocktail that can live in a beer world,” says Ferrell, noting that Punching Mule is comfortable being tossed among the crowd by hawkers at Denver Nuggets games. The brand also is actively pursuing those who choose to avoid gluten; “It was a bland world for them. Unless you wanted to haul around 2-liter ginger ale, you had few choices,” says Ferrell.

For San Diego’s craft beer producer Ballast Point (recently snapped up by Constellation), putting their distilled spirits into canned cocktails, like a Bloody Mary made with Fugu Vodka (10% ABV) and a gin and tonic using their Old Grove gin (6.2% ABV), seems a natural fit. Debuted in August 2015, the canned cocktails are available in four-packs, priced around $14.99 at retail. Just another sign that aluminum, this wonder material of the 1960s—stigmatized by industrial beer but recently reclaimed by craft brewers—is helping to carve out future markets for beverage alcohol today.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 11:36:45 -0500
Everybody Loves Rosé Champagne

It is now old news that rosé Champagnes (and rosé wines in general) are more popular than ever. The trend began around the turn of the century, and sales have been growing steadily since. My local retailer told me that 47% of the wines he sold this summer were rosés.

The reason? We have gotten over the “sweet” curse of white Zinfandel, and blush wines in general (these wines still sell, of course, to those people who prefer sweeter wines). One popular theory is that people started to realize that most rosé wines—particularly Champagnes—are not sweet, but dry, and not frivolous.

Going back a while, I can remember the time that a “real man” wouldn’t drink pink anything, especially Champagne; the myth was that “rosés are for ladies.” I never believed that trash, thank goodness, and have been enjoying rosé Champagnes for decades. I must admit, though, just from my own observation, that rosé Champagnes tend to be even more popular with women than with men.


A mere 15 years ago, rosé Champagne sales represented 2% to 3% of all Champagne sales. That figure has multiplied five-fold, with more than 10% of all Champagne sales now being rosé. And it seems to be increasing—despite the fact that rosé Champagnes are always more expensive than white Champagnes, at least $10 more, and often a lot more than that.

The price of fame can sometimes be costly. Or profitable, depending on how you view it. Let’s look at two Champagne houses that always championed rosé Champagnes, even before they were “in,” Laurent-Perrier and Billecart-Salmon. Pre-2000, Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Rosé Brut was the largest-selling rosé Champagne in the world; it retailed last century for about $35, sometimes less on sale. Laurent-Perrier’s style emphasizes fruitiness. When rosé Champagnes became hot, Laurent-Perrier for a while could not make enough; Rosé Brut became difficult to find. Nowadays, Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut retails for about $78 a bottle; its white non-vintage brut’s average price is $41, making that a $37 premium for the rosé! (Laurent-Perrier is no longer the largest-selling brut rosé; that honor goes to the largest Champagne house, Moët & Chandon, whose NV Rosé Imperial averages $58 retail).

Billecart-Salmon was the darling of so many rosé Champagne lovers, so much so that at one time an astounding 40% of this house’s Champagne sales were rosés (they normally produce at least 20% of their Champagnes as rosés, a very large amount compared to other houses). Its followers (including me, at that time) loved the light, delicate style of this salmon-colored rosé. It retailed for about $40 before 2000. Today, Billecart-Salmon’s NV Rosé’s average retail price is $87 (Billecart-Salmon’s NV Brut averages $57).

You might say that both Laurent-Perrier and Billecart-Salmon cashed in on the popularity of their rosés, big time, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. For example, Moët’s white NV Brut Imperial averages $49; the NV rosé is just $9 more.

Surprising Value

Rosé Champagnes are more expensive than standard bruts not just because they are so popular. They always were slightly more expensive; it’s a costlier process making rosés compared to standard bruts. (The pink color of rosé Champagne typically comes from the addition of still Pinot Noir red wine, as opposed to red-grape skin contact; blind tastings have demonstrated the differences in taste between the two methods are negligible.)

Are they worth the extra money? My answer is a resounding “Yes.” Not only are rosé Champagnes delicious and really pretty to look at, but they also generally accompany food very well—better than most other Champagnes.

It’s no surprise to hear that the very best rosé Champagnes are quite expensive. But there are so many good rosé Champagnes being imported into the U.S now at multiple price levels—and the non-vintage examples recommended in the sidebar all fit into the $45-$80 SRP range, hardly a dealbreaker for consumers who have their sights set on the best of the best. (If you are looking for a sparkling rosé under $40, forget about Champagne. But Roederer Estate makes a really fine Brut Rosé in Mendocino County for under $30 SRP.)

Like other Champagnes, rosé Champagnes are made in different styles: they range from elegant and light, such as Billecart-Salmon and Perrier-Jouët Cuvée Belle Epoque, to full-bodied and powerful, such as Bollinger and Krug. My personal preferences lean toward light, subtle, floral and elegant. For example, I did not list Piper-Heidsieck’s Rosé NV Sauvage, which is intensely fruity; some people love it, but it’s not for me.

Note that there are far more NV rosés listed than vintage rosés; many Champagne houses do not bother to make vintage rosés because NV rosés are easier to produce.

There are still more fine rosé Champagnes out there, albeit often in small supply. Charles Heidsieck’s Brut Rosé 1999, for example, is over $100 and might be difficult to find at this point. If you can find it, you will love the 1999, but Charles Heidsieck’s 2006 Brut Rosé is readily available and excellent. Charles Heidsieck’s Rosé Reserve NV is a delight as well, a bit lighter and more floral than the typical robust style of Charles Heidsieck. Champagne Louis Roederer’s 2008 Rosé is one of the best Champagnes I have enjoyed in the past few years; lighter-styled than usual, it is an utterly delicious rosé.

Prestige cuvées, by definition, are the best Champagnes a producer makes. Most Prestige cuvées are made in small quantities, especially rosés. For example, only 5% of the already small production of Cristal is its rosé. Prestige Cuvée rosés are expensive; some are over $300 retail; the Cristal Rosé retails for $500 plus.

Are they worth the price? For me, three of the ones I list in the sidebar are worth the price in terms of quality: Cristal, Krug and Dom Pérignon. But frankly, since Cristal white is half the price of the rosé, I would choose it over Cristal Rosé. And for the price differential, again about half the price, I would choose DP white over DP Rosé. Krug is a different story….


Recommended Rosé Champagnes

Listed alphabetically, with top favorites in bold face 



Bollinger Rosé

Delamotte Brut Rosé

Deutz Brut Rosé

Drappier Brut Rosé

Drappier Brut Rosé Nature (Zero Dosage)

Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige

Fleury Brut Rosé

Gosset Grand Rosé Brut

Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé Classique

Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Reserve

Henriot Brut Rosé

Lanson Brut Rosé

Lanson Extra Age Brut Rosé

Moët & Chandon Brut Rosé Imperial

G.H. Mumm Brut Rosé

Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé


Première Cuvée

Pascal Doquet Brut Rosé Premiers Crus

Perrier-Jouët Blason de France Brut Rosé

Philipponnat Brut Reserve Rosé

Ruinart Brut Rosé

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé



Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2004

Deutz Brut Rosé Millesimé 2009

Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé 2006

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2006 or 2004

Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 2008

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004


Prestige Cuvée

Gosset Célébris Rosé Extra Brut 2007

Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis Rosé NV

Krug Rosé NV

(Moët & Chandon) Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé 2002

Perrier-Jouét Cuvée Belle Epoque Rosé 2004

Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé 2004 or 2006

Ruinart, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  Rosé 2004 or 2005

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé 2004

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) December 2015 Editions Thu, 19 Nov 2015 10:19:14 -0500
Year of Discovery

With fascinating wines coming from the unlikeliest of places, 2015 has become the Year of Discovery in wine, with retailers in the vital position as gatekeepers between curious drinkers and bold new regions and grapes.

A funny thing happened on the way to 2016: Buoyed by two decades of steady growth in wine consumption, Americans are—finally(?)—getting it. After decades of wine suppliers, merchants and critics alike exhorting people to “drink what you like,” people are doing just that.

Consider some of the most dynamic wine-category upswings of late—Moscato, Malbec, Prosecco and Red Blends. What they have in common is simple, pure and powerful: they are being driven by consumers’ tastes. Not by critics’ ratings.

Sure, Cab and Chard are still ringing up sales, but so many other grapes and regions have entered Americans’ comfort zone. In Italy, think Sicily, Alto Adige and Campania. In France, the Loire, the Rhône and the South of France are stirring more emotions than Bordeaux. In Spain, Garnacha has jumped in recognition. Wines from New Zealand, Greece, Austria, South Africa and Portugal are on the tips of wine drinkers’ tongues. In California, blends and offbeat varietals are what have drinkers buzzing, as well as regions outside Napa and Sonoma; and Washington, Oregon and New York’s wine industries continue to hum.

Nailing wine trends to a specific year can be tricky, but we believe 2015 is a watershed year for American wine culture: Consumers’ curiosity, interest and open-mindedness on one hand are converging with wine’s incredibly vibrant and creative supply side on the other. The result is that 2015 is revealing itself as the Year of Discovery.


Making The Connection

America’s embrace of wine has never been more adventurous. And in turn, the Retailer has never been more vital. Wine merchants select and present wines from the fast-morphing global market, communicating the relative style, value and merit of all those new grapes, places and brands. Simply put, they connect that ever-expanding universe to those increasingly open-minded wine drinkers.

To mark this Year of Discovery, this article aims to capture how and why some of today’s most exciting wines are emerging from the least expected places—from Central and Eastern Europe to pockets in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, even from established regions where new techniques are in play.

Eager to expose their wines to a wider audience to carve out a niche in the global wine market, these producers have teamed up with a growing tier of inspired, specialty importers. While distribution is limited, and many of these wines may always reside in the realm of “esoterica,” they are important puzzle pieces for a comprehensive understanding of our global wine tradition. They are ideal for adding fresh appeal and differentiation to a wine program, and in many cases represent unparalleled value. These wines won’t be appearing on supermarket shelves any time soon—all the more reason that independent merchants should seek them out now, ahead of the curve.



Macedonia, a country the size of Alabama, has made wine for over 400 years, but its sprint to modern-day fame began just 15 years ago.

The winery Bovin, established in 1998—seven years after the country’s split with Yugoslavia—changed the paradigm. Bovin pushed high quality to the bleeding edge and then charged six times more than average for its wines. Almost astonishingly, wine lovers paid up. Encouraged by the prospects of the quality-profit combo, more wineries started appearing. Today, there are about 60. Interestingly, wine export has always been a focus for Macedonia; 85% to 95% of production is exported. That’s quite a bit of juice, considering Macedonia is the world’s 25th largest producer, making approximately half the wine as New Zealand does.

Indigenous varieties are where it’s at. The black grapes Vranec and Krastosija and the white grapes Smederevka, Zilavka and Temjanika are the highlights. Leading the pack is Vranec, whose name means “Black Stallion.” It makes seriously dark wines with mouth-watering acidity and structuring tannins that help it age well. Krastosija, kin to Zinfandel and Primitivo, is jet black with gobs of viscosity. Both grapes can easily attain 15-17% alcohol, but they have other structural elements to keep their wines in balance. Similarly, the dominant white, Smederevka, can be heady, too, though it’s often not noticed given the wine’s racy acidity. The citrusy Zilavka (Furmint in Hungary) and floral Temjanika exude charm in any of their variations, from crisply dry to lightly sweet.

Important Producers: Bovin, Chateau Kamnik, Stobi, Popov, Tikves and Vinar



Corsica is surely better known as Napoleon’s birthplace and for “Europe’s Hardest Hiking Trail”, the GR 20, than for wine.

However, this staunchly proud Mediterranean island that makes but 1% of France’s production boasts 264 producers and 104 independent wineries. Quality has been on the rise for years, and with that the trend to look outside the island’s built-in market of thirsty tourists has grown. It’s not just the terrain (rugged granite, limestone and schist slopes) but also the climate that creates such fine-tuned wines. The mountain slopes are cold at night, drastically contrasting the summer sun, and the Mediterranean winds can be cooling, too, as long as they don’t shoot north from Africa.

Corsica stands by its local grapes, especially for the mid- to high-end wines; 55% of the island’s production is rosé and 30% is red. The red Nielluccio, whose DNA resembles Sangiovese, is one of the most popular. Another top black grape is Sciacarello, meaning “irresistible.” Vermentino, also known as Malvoisie de Corse, makes aromatically compelling whites. Southern French varieties like Grenache, Syrah and Carignan feature prominently, too. One particularly pleasant characteristic of Corsican wines is that the producers let the wine shine through, never the new oak.

Important Producers: Clos Venturi, Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Domaine d’Alzipratu, Etienne Suzzoni, Domaine de Torraccia, Domaine Saparale, Yves Leccia, Domaine de Vaccelli, U Stiliccionu, Clos Nicrosi


Brought to the world stage by the charismatic, late Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar, Lebanese wine has developed rapidly since the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990, burgeoning from only five wineries then to over 40 today—all making very good wines.

Still, the generously warm Mediterranean climate sometimes seems to mask true greatness, even if the wines are delicious and distinctive. What is incredibly impressive is that this quality-focused industry has developed in such a testy sliver of the world. In fact, part of the Musar story is about harvesting grapes surrounded by shelling and gunfire.

Local grapes are more likely to star on the plate in warak enab bil zeit (stuffed grape leaves) than in the glass. However, a few determined wineries are making a go with two local white varieties, Obeideh and Merweh, which are usually destined for Arak production. Reds dominate production and most are blends. Typical components include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Syrah, often blended à la Bordeaux meets Rhône. Cinsault accounts for one-third of all production and has been grown there for over 150 years. In contrast, whites tend to be varietal, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc lead the pack.

Important Producers: Château Musar, Domaine St. Thomas, Château Ksara, Domaine Wardy, Château Kefraya, Domaine des Tourelles, Massaya, IXSIR, Château Ka



Turkey is entering a modern golden age of winemaking, despite its government’s relatively new but viscious anti-alcohol campaigns.

Since the beginning of this century, a number of small producers have diversified the landscape formerly dominated by previously (and usually large but equally quality-driven) wineries to create a unique wine culture reinforced by oenotourism, winery hotels and fine restaurants. In the spirit of Ataturk, Turkey’s founder who decreed the re-establishment of wine production post-Ottoman Empire, these wineries persist in their work. Yet, today they are turning more and more to markets abroad given the touchy attitude toward wine at home.

Turkey hosts over 1,200 indigenous grapes; 50% are genetically unique. While only about 20 account for 95% of wine produced today, several producers are striving to change that. Narince is the luminary white. It is highly versatile, capable of producing all sorts of sparkling, still and sweet wines with finesse, depth of flavor and – in some cases – age-ability. Three black grapes dominate the red category. Kalecik Karasi is a pale-ish, lighter red that masquerades between Pinot Noir, Gamay and Syrah depending on how it is made. The grape Öküzgözü translates into “big black eye of the bull” because it is unusually large for a winemaking grape. It offers baking spices, dark color and relatively supple tannins, so its wines are easy to appreciate. Finally, there is Bogazkere, named “throat scratcher” for its dense, even fierce, tannins. Concentrated in black fruit flavors and highly structured, it can age gracefully as well.

Important Producers: Vinkara, Suvla, Urla, Kavaklidere, Corvus, Sevilen, Likya, Pamukkale, Doluca, Yazgan, Kayra, Selendi


Crémant de Bourgogne

Made with the same varieties and on the same soils as the legendary wines of Champagne, Burgundy’s sparkling wines are well-positioned today to become the next “hot” bubbly.

While the sparkling wine frenzy focuses on tank-fermented Prosecco today, the high-end game remains focused on traditional method wines. Champagne prices often keep those wines just out-of-reach for many consumers. Tuned-in consumers turn to Italy’s sparklers from Franciacorta and Trentodoc, yet Burgundy’s bubbles remain undiscovered. One reason is that sparkling wines have not been a focus until recently. However, in the last decade, crémant production has boomed from one to eight percent. Sometimes ringing in as low as half the cost of a bottle of non-vintage Champagne, these wines deliver serious value and can parade as Champagne look-alikes.

The wines are primarily composed of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Technically, these two grapes, along with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, must make up at least 30% of the cuvée. In reality, the latter two, along with Aligoté, Sacy and Gamay, tend to be added in dashes and pinches. Many of the grapes are grown on limestone and exceed the minimum nine months on lees in the bottle, creating profoundly flavorful and textured wines.

Important Producers: Bailley Lapierre, Parigot & Richard, Louis Boillot, Caves de Lugny



Slovenia—wedged between Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Balkans—benefits from a mash-up of cultures, and is emerging as a source for racy, fresh whites and as a global leader in the “orange” wine movement.

Winemaking here dates back 2,400 years, predating France or Spain. Yet the communist government, which took power in 1948 and created Yugoslavia, turned all wineries into state-run cooperatives. Slovenia has been playing catch-up since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

Luckily the land is blessed. Primorska and subregions Vipava, Istra and Brda border Italy’s Friuli region and feature mineral-rich soils, ridiculously steep hills, and the Adriatic’s influence. Some red wine is made (from Teran and Refošk—Italy’s Refosco—as well Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir; Santomas and Movia make some of the finest), but this is primarily white wine territory. Even inland regions, Posavje and Podravje, are better known for whites. They work with many of the same grapes as their neighbors: Malvazija (Croatia); Sauvignon Blanc and Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio in Friuli) and Rebula (Ribolla Gialla); Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Sipon (Furmint in Hungary).

Two main styles have emerged. The first is fresh and zippy, and the focus of a number of newer wineries, including Pullus and Puklavec and Friends (P&F). The value is compelling, says George Milotes, MS and Beverage Director for The Capital Grille and Seasons 52: “I can pour a stunning Sauvignon Blanc that is half the price of an Italian bottle. Slovenian Pinot Grigio is less expensive than Italy’s, plus it generally has more character and flavor.”

Edi Simcic and son Aleks—considered among Slovenia’s best winemakers—champion a different style, aging their wines for long periods in oak which imparts an almost Burgundian profile. Other artisanal producers innovate with biodynamics, a range of different oak casks and amphorae and extended skin contact—the recipe for “orange” wines, a niche category which has captured the imagination of many wine professionals. Movia is a pioneer, with their rich, chewy, honeyed wines.

Important Producers: Movia, Edi Simcic, Pullus, P&F, Tilia, Santomas, Batic, Kabaj



Georgia is considered by many to be the cradle of wine, with over 8,000 unbroken vintages under its belt. Granted, not all of those were great. “Between the destruction of the Soviet period plus the Georgian Civil War in the 1990s, the wine industry didn’t resurrect and privatize until the 21st century, so they were extremely late to the game,” says Lisa Granik, MW Director of Export Strategy for Georgia.

In spite of the hardship, Georgia had one lucky break: Most Soviet countries were forced to rip out native vines in favor of international grapes, yet some speculate that because Stalin was Georgian, the nation retained its (over 500) indigenous grapes. Today this treasure trove of fascinating varieties—Rkatsiteli, Kisi, Khikhvi, Tsolikouri, Mtsvane and Saperavi—is the cornerstone of Georgia’s revival.

Modernization has ushered in a range of fresher styles, yet Georgia’s gift to the world of wine is the centuries-old tradition of the qvevri. Underground clay vessels where wines ferment and age, qvevris (not to be confused with amphora) are catching on in various interpretations throughout the globe by many famous producers. Combined with the common practice of extended skin maceration, Georgia is a world capital of “orange” wines. “I promote them as white wines for red wine drinkers,” says Granik.

Quite unintentionally, Georgian wines dovetail nicely with many of today’s wine drinking trends: They are not over-oaked (“Mostly because this is a poor country and oak is expensive, so it’s never been central to their winemaking,” shares Granik) and they are lower in alcohol—most around 11.5-12%. Granik feels the momentum: “The wines are better every year, and exports are up 61% this year. Today what I see is promise.”

Important Producers: Chateau Mukhrani, Jakeli, LaGvinari, Orgo, Schuchmann, Shalauri, Teliani, Vinoterra



Whereas Sicily has captured wine drinkers’ imaginations—as much as through stories of the Cosa Nostra as its physical beauty, hearty food and ever-improving wines—the wines of Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, mostly remain off the radars of wine consumers today.

Though often occupied by foreigners, Sardegna (as it is known in Italian) has never been conquered. So perhaps it is through this determined self-reliance and self-administered introspection that Sardinia has found its highly unusual route into the modern wine world. Post-World War II, Sardinian grape yield allowances sky-rocketed and jettisoned quality into an abyss. Today, as the rest of the wine world becomes more quality-oriented, yields there stay almost bizarrely high. That is easy to achieve considering many vineyards are in flatter areas. However, the best wines tend to come from the hills from far lower yields, and many producers have abandoned the DOCs to make IGT wines of gloriously distinctive Mediterranean character.

Sitting only 125 miles west of Italy, Sardinia’s wealth of vines surprisingly is composed primarily of Spanish grape varieties, with a heavy Catalonian accent. The most important reds are Cannonau (Garnacha), Carignano (Carignan), Monica and Bovale (Graciano). Vermentino is the star white grape followed by several types of Malvasia.

Important Producers: Argiolas, Capichera, Santadi, Sella & Mosca, Punica


Natural Wine

“Natural Wine” is the hipster these days, meaning its wines as popular as they are controversial.

Ardent fans of the category often prefer to drink nothing else. However, there are issues with the name. “Natural” can be defined strikingly differently—in a way that definitely matters to well-versed fans of the category—by the many possible steps a producer may take to do as little as feasible to a wine. And the potential for confusion is great, starting with the fact the label itself may not even declare itself simply as “natural wine.” Moreover, once the pluses and caveats are understood, one often never quite knows what’s going to come out of the bottle. For some, that’s awesome. For others, that’s annoying.

Natural wines can be made from any grape. It’s the style that counts. First and foremost, winemakers work with the principle to add little to no chemicals or additives. For example, many are made with little or no added sulphur, which can result in highly variable juice from one bottle to the next as sulphur acts to protect the wine and keep it in the same phase from the winery to the consumer. Also important to the natural winemaking philosophy is not to employ overly intrusive technological means during production. An extreme example going in the opposite direction are skin-macerated whites called “orange wines” (typically amber in color).

Important Producers: Nicolas and Virginie Joly (Coulée de Serrant), Gravner (Friuli), Lalou Bize Leroy (Burgundy), Marcel Lapierre (Beaujolais), Nikolaihof (Austria), Coturri (California), Cédric Bouchard (Champagne), Catherine and Pierre Breton (Central Loire), Movia (Slovenia), Lagvinari Krakhuna (Georgia), Paolo Bea (Umbria), C.O.S. (Sicily), Reyneke (South Africa), Cowhorn (Oregon), Thierry Puzelat (Central Loire)

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) December 2015 Editions Thu, 19 Nov 2015 09:53:47 -0500
2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Good Things Come in Value-Added Packages (aka VAPs).

Small packages, big packages, colorful packages and see-thru packages ... sometimes it’s a corkscrew; often it’s glassware; occasionally it’s really different (tequila-inspired drum set, anyone?). But to many holiday shoppers, these add-ons are just the bonus they need to make a gift-buying decision, whether they are wavering on which product to pick or just in a hurry.

That’s the theory, of course. In practice, wine and spirits merchants have a major challenge just in terms of sorting through the options and choosing VAPs that make sense for them. The devil is always in the details. Should you stick with brands you sell, or test out new ones? What price point do you target, or do you want a broad range? And, mais oui: Where are you going to put them all?

Here are a few tips to incorporate these seasonal special-edition products into your store.

> Whatever you decide to carry, make sure your staff is given the details they need to explain the “added value” item; sometimes it’s not always obvious, as in a spirit and glasses set that also comes with a recipe booklet.

> Avoid overkill. Huge piles or stacks of VAPs tend to make them look cheaper; and trying to stock them by category could be a logistical nightmare. Having one table or shelf section devoted to gifts, with signage to boot, will get shoppers’ attention and give the products a nicer presentation.

> Don’t turn your back on the good-ole gift of a bottle of wine or spirits. Make sure you have gift bags available—as simple as mylar bags with yarn kept under the front counter or as fancy as a spinning floor rack of decorative bags. And it never hurts to post a “We have gift bags!” sign in the store.

> Keep small or less expensive items near the cash register as impulse buys. This includes corkscrews and accessories that take up little space, as well as stocking-stuffable 50ml spirit miniatures or even 187ml and 375ml wine bottles.

No matter how many of this season’s VAPs you stock, it’s important not to overlook perhaps the most important added-value of all when selling product to the public: Don’t forget to smile!















Read more]]> (Beverage Network) November 2015 Editions Fri, 23 Oct 2015 06:01:16 -0400
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.


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.


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 ( 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

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) August 2014 Editions Sat, 26 Jul 2014 13:19:47 -0400
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.




Mount Gay Eclipse



Sailor Jerry




Ron Zacapa XO Solera Grand Reserve


By Jeffery Lindenmuth


Read more]]> (Beverage Network) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 15:24:13 -0400
Heineken: Changing the Game in Beer heineken.jpg - 157.04 KB


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

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 15:03:30 -0400
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Benchmark London Dry style

Traditional American

Contemporary Western Dry Gin

New American Gin

Specialty Styles

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:33:50 -0400
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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


Read more]]> (Beverage Network) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:16:54 -0400
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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.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:26:02 -0400
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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

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:16:52 -0400
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.  

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) March 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Feb 2014 10:53:55 -0500
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.

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) February 2014 Editions Tue, 21 Jan 2014 09:17:21 -0500
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.”

Read more]]> (Beverage Network) January 2014 Editions Tue, 17 Dec 2013 21:49:16 -0500