Blogs from Edward "Teddy" Durgin - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sun, 23 Oct 2016 23:19:24 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Ellicott City ... Staying Strong EllicottCityFloods.jpg

People often say they will always remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, and when the planes hit the Twin Towers.  It's very safe to say that folks around Maryland and Howard County, specifically, will always remember where they were when the floodwaters hit Ellicott City's beloved Main Street district.

It was the evening of July 30, a swingin’ Saturday night where people had come to eat, drink, and be merry at many of the popular bars, taverns, and restaurants that have made that area of the Baltimore suburb such a popular destination for people young and old.  But six inches of rain in two hours changed everything. The ensuing flash flood caused severe damage in the historic district, particularly along Main Street.  Many businesses, sidewalks, vehicles, and more were destroyed by the rushing waters, including the town's landmark clock.  Two people lost their lives.


Most of those who worked at the eating and drinking establishments affected were, of course, on the job.  Owen Hanratty, owner of Cacao Lane, recalls, "I was most definitely there.  It was a pretty heavy rain that got really aggressive, but it was still fairly standard for the area.  We were all taking it lightly at first.  But the water rose so quickly. It was coming up through the floor and through the front door.  Then, as cars started bouncing off buildings, I escorted everybody up to our second floor!"


Timothy Kendzierski, co-owner of the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. (pictured with co-owner Rick Winter), was also at his post.  "It was right toward the end of dinner rush," he remembers.  "I was in the basement, and the water started flowing down there first.  We got everybody, customers and staff, upstairs as quickly as we could.  Once we did that, I went back down to get my cellphone and keys, and there was already two or three feet of water.  It came in so quick.  It all lasted only about an hour, but it felt like four hours.  It kept coming and coming."


Mark Hemmis, owner of the Phoenix Emporium, was giving himself a rare diversion.  He had gone to the movies.  He still feels bad about it, stating, "I got down there about 30 minutes after the water rushed through.  I pulled up about a mile from the scene.  The sidewalk in front of the Phoenix was just gone.  There was an employee who literally reached out a rope to me to pull me across and into the Phoenix."


Also elsewhere when the tragedy hit was Evan Brown of Portalli's.  He had gone out to dinner, but headed back to his business immediately upon learning of the developing disaster.  He got as far as the corner of Old Columbia Pike and Main Street when he made the rest of the trek on foot in knee-deep water, avoiding sinkholes that had suddenly formed. 

"When I got to Portalli's," he laments, "water was spilling out of the front windows.  You just can't properly describe the level of destruction.  It was catastrophic.  You see the business you had built either destroyed or twisted apart.  I started to feel really sick, and I realized it was a gas leak.  And there were all of these people wandering everywhere with these blank faces.  We were all in shock."



The devastation was indeed catastrophic.  But in the hours and days that immediately followed, a new motto was born.  "Ellicott City Strong."  This was a community that came together, and the bar and restaurant owners almost immediately took a leadership role.  Cacao Lane's Owen Hanratty remarks, "I had people from other restaurants drive generators down.  They've loaned us tools, sent over staff to help.  Of course, everyone in town has been willing to help each other.  It's been no big deal to go across the street with tools and help a small shop owner or to share things people need."  


Hemmis added, "I had a bunch of supplies donated very early in the process before we could even get back into the place.  I had 20 pairs of boots!  When we were done with them, we put them in a wheelbarrow and walked them up to Portalli's.  We said, 'Now they're your boots.' As we no longer have a need for things, we just pass them up the street."  Hemmis and his staff got the boots and other supplies through Courtney Watson, a former Howard County councilwoman for the district that Ellicott City is in.  She's an insurance salesperson now and wanted to help the town and street she's always loved.

Brown of Portalli's was eager to accept the help. "We probably had about 100 people show up that first Saturday to assist us.  We were bumping into each other actually, so we tried to send groups of 10 to other businesses on the street.  Jailbreak Brewing Company was particularly phenomenal.  They put a fundraiser together within three or four days after the disaster and raised upwards of $60,000."  

Gina Mattera, event coordinator for Jailbreak Brewing in Laurel, made it a personal mission to help out.  "I woke up to e-mails the morning after the flood occurred from our founders, Kasey Turner and Justin Bonner.  They're really the ones who got the ball rolling so soon after hearing what had happened.  That was Sunday, and we had the fundraiser on Thursday."

Jailbreak was also able to rally some of the area companies it has good relationships with like Raytheon and Booz Allen Hamilton for monetary donations.  Before the actual event even happened, Mattera estimates she and her colleagues were able to raise around $20,000 just from business pledges.  "We're a local microbrewery.  So, local is very important to us.  As a young company, we said, 'Wow! That could have been us if we were located there.' All you want to do is be able to help in any way you can."

The Heavy Seas taproom in Halethorpe was another industry player that also answered the call almost immediately.  Fred Crudder, Director of Marketing and Hospitality, stated, "What we did was take our two busiest days where we offer public tours, because we knew we would have a crowd regardless, and we donated 50 percent of all of our sales to the Ellicott City Partnership.  Community involvement is important all year-round, but it's especially important for businesses in a time of crisis.  Without the community, we don't get to do what we do."

He continued, "We were also a collection point for clean-up materials.  When we went to deliver those materials, though, it turns out they had been overwhelmed with such donations.  So, we still have a lot of things, but we'll wait and see what the needs are and respond appropriately."


Perhaps the most remarkable thing that has happened since that fateful night is the way Maryland's entire hospitality industry has come together to help.  Years of intense competition, rivalry, and even grudges have seemingly been put aside.  The fundraisers have been many.  But what's been remarkable is how many suddenly out-of-work waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and kitchen staffers have been given work by bars, taverns, and eateries in Columbia, Ellicott City, Catonsville, Baltimore, and elsewhere.

"Some of my employees have obtained relatively full-time work with some area bars," noted Hemmis, "G.L. Shacks has given at least two of my employees relatively consistent shifts.  Another was hired by Southern Provisions in Canton.  Smaltimore, also in Canton, hired one of my people."  

Rick Shackelford, owner of G.L. Shacks Grill in Catonsville, confirms, "We indeed hired a couple of employees from the Phoenix Emporium. One's a bartender, and the other is a server.  They're both going to go back to the Phoenix when they're back up and running. I admire them.  They are showing a lot of loyalty to Mark, and Mark is showing them loyalty throughout all of this."

G.L. Shacks has also jumped on the United Way's popular "EC Strong" T-shirt drive.  Shackelford estimates his establishment alone has sold between $1,300 and $1,400 worth of the shirts as of early September.  "The best thing about that is 100 percent of the sales went to Ellicott City," he pointed out.

Brown of Portalli's added, "Nottingham's in Columbia, T-Bonz Grill & Taphouse in Ellicott City, and Bare Bones Grill and Brewery in Ellicott City have all helped our people find work.  I know a lot of my staff went downtown to the Atlas Restaurant Group.  They said, 'Send me your people, and we'll take them.'  I sent them everyone I could, and Atlas took every single one of them!  Don McCafferty and Alexander Smith are just amazing.  I couldn't believe they took everybody." 

It would be impossible to list all of the eating and drinking places that have helped out in this way.  But interviews with these and other affected Ellicott City operators made mention of Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in White Marsh, Bad Decisions in Fells Point, and Dock Street Bar & Grill in Annapolis all holding fundraisers and/or hiring employees in need.

Kendzierski chimes in, "It's not like they've said, 'Well, we'll give you a Monday night.'  No, they've sacrificed some of their busiest times for us.  Friday and Saturday evenings.  That's impressive.  We've also had bigger organizations like the Green Turtle and the Power Plant reach out and say, 'Hey, we can absorb some of your staff temporarily until you guys get back on your feet.'"   

Hemmis, who also set up a GoFundMe account to help his out-of-work employees, beamed, "I've never seen teamwork between bars and restaurants like this.  We're all friendly with each other.  But, when business is normal, we're all competing with each other.  That's all literally disappeared for now.  There's been a real unified front."


So, where does Ellicott City go from here?  What's the future?  Remarkably, some businesses -- notably ones like the Wine Bin and Judge's Bench Pub on the western end's higher ground -- have already managed to re-open.  But for a business like the Phoenix Emporium, which is at the very bottom of Main Street, it's a whole other story.  Hemmis in late August said, "If the rest of Ellicott City was 100 percent in the condition I'm in right now, it would take me about three months to get open."

Ellicott City Brewing was more fortunate.  "We could probably have our place open in a week," Kendzierski said.  "But we're on the upper end where we didn't get as much damage as on the bottom end.  But they have to rebuild gas lines and infrastructure.  Sidewalks have to be redone.  Right now, it's waiting for the public officials to get the town safe and ready so people can have places to park, walk, and get back to us.  It's a process."

The biggest frustration has been the change in lifestyle for these long-time industry pros.  Fortunately, most are keeping a good sense of humor.  Brown comments, "Social interaction is huge for people like me in the hospitality world.  Sitting in a quiet house each evening is NOT normal for people like us."

Hanratty added, "This was a huge destination spot, as far as food and beverage goes.  A lot of people would come to our businesses for special occasions or just to meet up after work.  That displacement has been hard.  I've heard from a lot of people who've basically said to me, 'Do the best you can … but hurry up!'"

He concluded, "You also have to realize that bar and restaurant people are used to working day and night.  These aren't office jobs.  Our people are geared towards pulling all-nighters.  When you remove those hours, it's really tough.  No one works harder than we do … and almost no one parties harder either.  You do NOT want to give these people an extra 12 hours a day for too long!"

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Nottingham's in Columbia hosted "OldECStrong JamFest." The all ages event featured live music, cook-out type food, drinks and much more.  The event was a fundraiser open to all, however it was obviously a great opportunity for the staffs of the affected establishments to get together away from the devestation (not just the structural, but the emotional as well) and enjoy eachother's company. Below (top to bottom) are the staffs of La Palapa, The Phoenix Emporium, and Cocao Lane at the OldECStrong JamFest.




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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2016 Editions Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:37:54 -0400
New Vodka Answers the Belle Throughout history, there have been many famous Belles.  Belle Watling was the original hooker with a heart of gold in "Gone With the Wind."  The Memphis Belle was one of the great flying fortresses of World War II.  And 'twas Belle who captured the heart of the man-turned-monster in "Beauty and the Beast."


Well, there's a new Belle about to make history.  Local beverage history, that is.  Old Dominion Spirits' Belle Vodka has already taken Virginia by storm.  Next on its list?  Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Billy Reilly, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, has the lowdown.  When he started with Warrenton-based Old Dominion back in February, founder and President Townsend Lundsford and his partners had Belle in 40 ABC stores and about 20 bars, restaurants, and other venues.


"At that point," he remarked, "they needed a dude.  I was the dude!  I hit the ground running.  We're now in well over 100 ABC stores and more than 150 accounts -- restaurants, bars, golf courses, etc.  And we just signed a deal with RNDC for Maryland and D.C.  That rolled out Sept. 1."

So far, the response has been promising.  First and foremost, Belle Vodka has scored with its price point.  "A liter of Grey Goose, at least in Virginia, is going to run you $46," Lunsford stated.  "A liter of Ketel One is going to run you $36. They're both foreign brands.  Belle is $23 a liter, and we're American.  From the point of view of the on-premise guys, there are 22 pours in all three of those.  Where's your yield going to be?  We've taken a quality product, packaged it appropriately, positioned it as a domestic brand, and priced it right."

The taste profile has also positioned the product well against the bigger, better-known brands.  Reilly commented, "We're four times distilled, which puts us right in the wheelhouse with some of those upper-level brands."

"We are most often associated with the taste profile of Ketel One," Lundsford added, "and I'll take that compliment all day long. Ketel and Goose are the big dogs, for the most part, in this fight.  I've probably been part of 150 tastings over the last year and a half.  Very rarely do we lose against those two wonderful brands."

Packaging is, of course, important also. To that end, Belle Vodka has gotten high marks for its crystal-sloped bottle, which stands up well on the back shelf and also fits in the front rail. Lundsford marveled, "We've actually had people tell us, 'We hate to throw the bottle away!'  But just because it's in a pretty bottle doesn't make it any good.  A pretty bottle will make you buy it once.  But if there's horse piss in it, you ain't gonna buy it again no matter how pretty it is!  But the combination of being pretty and being quality, that's a home run."

Both men believe that, with RNDC's support, Belle Vodka is going to do exceedingly well in the Maryland and D.C. markets.  Reilly, who previously worked with country music star Kenny Chesney to promote his Blue Chair Bay Rum, observed, "First and foremost, D.C. is a destination location.  You have tourists, you have business travelers.  They want to try something local." 

Lundsford concurred.  "Both Maryland and Washington are going to be huge for us," he predicted.  "But we can't sell on just the local angle alone.  What's local to Warrenton, Va., ain't local to Baltimore.  We have our eyes set on being more than a regional brand.  We want to be a major brand.  But I have no illusions.  This is about planning.  This is about grinding.  It's one step at a time, one tasting at a time, one F&B director at a time, one bartender at a time, and so forth."

Perhaps Reilly summed up Old Dominion Spirits' game plan the best. "It all boils down to the same thing," he said.  "Relationships!  It comes down to treating everybody the same from the beginning.  The barbacks, the waiters, the waitresses are usually tomorrow's bartenders and managers.  If you get with them early, build relationships with them, and bring them a product they can work with, they'll take ownership of it. No one is going to take ownership of Absolut or Ketel One.  Belle Vodka is there for the taking.  And, hey, we're a fun brand!  We're the Belle Ringer.  Ring the Belle!  Answer the Belle!  Jingle Belles at the holidays!"

And with a little luck, a lot of hard work, and a good product, maybe even the Belle of the Ball.

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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2016 Editions Wed, 21 Sep 2016 20:41:57 -0400
There's a Lot to Crow About With Kent County's First Winery Crow_Vineyard0002.jpg

"Sometimes we feel like cowboy pioneers out here!" exclaimed Judy Crow, who co-owns Crow Vineyard and Winery with her husband, Roy.  Located in Kennedyville, Md., just west of Middletown, the property has been a family-owned farm for three generations and began growing grapes and bottling New World-style wines about six years ago.

"It actually started eight years ago when Roy and I got married," she recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We were looking for a way to reinvent this 365-acre farm.  Phase one was to renovate the main 1847 farmhouse into a farm-stay bed and breakfast.  We did that.  And then we planted grapes.  We have five sons between us.  One son, Brandon, came back and became the vineyard manager.  Then, we went to a winemaking seminar with John Levenverge, and we eventually hired him to be our winemaker consultant.  Soon after, we took an equipment shed and made that into our 5,000-case production winery."

Levenverge helped the Crows understand the winemaking process.  Eventually, though, Judy and Roy felt like they needed a full-time winemaker.  So, they hired Catrina North.  "She's been our full-time winemaker for the past two years," said Crow.  "Hiring the best people are big investments for any business, but we really feel that the commitment to growing quality grapes -- not only here on our farm, but we have a few other local growers who work in tandem with us -- has helped us put our wines on the map."

And those wines are most definitely on the map.  At the 2016 Maryland’s Comptrollers Cup in early June, Crow Vineyard & Winery’s 2015 Rosé took "Best in Class" and a double gold medal at the competition in Timonium.  In addition to the recognition for the 2015 Rosé, Crow won silver for their 2014 Barbera, 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Reserve Red Blend, 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2015 Vidal Blanc.  Bronze medals were awarded to the 2014 Merlot and the 2015 Vintner’s Select White Blend.

Additionally, Crow’s 2015 Rosé was awarded a gold medal, with a score of 92 out of 100, in the San Francisco International Wine Competition where it was judged against rosés from all around the globe.  Crow was also awarded medals for the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Barbera, 2015 Vidal Blanc, and the 2015 Vintner’s Select White Blend.  This year, more than 4,600 entries were received.

"These honors help people in Maryland recognize that the Eastern Shore is indeed a contender," Crow remarked.  "This is not the first time we have won a gold medal with our Rosé at the Maryland Governors Cup.  It's really important for folks here to see that Maryland can produce some high-quality, sophisticated wines, and there are a number of wineries that are making a commitment to make sure that happens for our state.  I think awards help the general public understand that message we're trying to get out there.  I know that whatever we produce, it is of high quality."

It also helps that the Crows have been active members of the Maryland Grape Growers and the Maryland Winery Association ever since they started thinking about starting a vineyard and making wine.  "Those two organizations have provided a wealth of information for us," Crow stated.  "We like to stay open to a lot of different information."

She continued, "I grew up on a dairy farm, and I didn't think I'd ever marry a farmer.  Before I married Roy, I was in education.  I spent about three years in higher education.  Whatever we're doing, I've also tried to make it about transferring information to the public.  We believe people have a great desire and thirst to hear and learn more.  We give everyone who comes to our tasting room a tour of the winery.  If Roy and I are available, we personally do it ourselves.  We live here, so we're pretty much available most of the time.  If our winemaker is here or our vineyard manager son, Brandon, who is now a business partner with us, we all make sure to have educational and informational conversations with the general public about making the wine.  We really try and make ourselves available as much as possible."

Crow Vineyard & Winery holds the distinction of being Kent County’s first winery.  The Crows' wines embody the simple elegance of a working pastoral landscape in rural Maryland. In addition to operating the B&B, the family also sells all-natural grass-fed beef.

"My husband has been working the farm ever since he was born," Judy Crow marveled.  "In all of the transformation of this 365-acre working farm, we have tried our best to be authentic.  Our tasting room used to be my husband's milking house.  The winery used to be a dirt-floor equipment shed.  Our tanks are from South Africa.  We have a French press. We also built an addition, and we now have our own bottling line.  We're taking very seriously growing, producing, and putting products in the hands of the public that we are proud of."

And the public has responded by buying the Crows' wine and turning out for such special events as last year's Crow Fest.  Crow remembered the event fondly. "It was a day when we opened up the farm for farm tours and winery tours.  We explained how we grow our cattle.  We had vendors here and hayrides and grape stomping.  I think we had about 400 people last year.  And we liked that size, because it still allowed us to have many one-on-one interactions with the public.  It also gave people an opportunity to really see an authentic working farm."

She concluded, "It's challenging to keep things authentic because you're always feeling the pressure to become an event venue, to make things bigger, to host more events.  But we really want to stay who we are.  We're farmers!"

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2016 Editions Wed, 24 Aug 2016 07:47:25 -0400
Bob Wiggans: The Toast of The WSWA BobWiggansLowerRes.jpg

Bob Wiggans is the Senior Director of Membership for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA).  In that position, he is primarily responsible for the strategic direction and management of day-to-day operations of the association’s membership development, recruitment, retention, member services, and benefits.  In addition, he is a bit of a tech head, managing and maintaining the organization's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database to meet staff and member needs.

Wiggans sat down with us recently to discuss his job, what it's been like coming from outside the beverage industry, and what has him excited for the future.  

What follows is our chat:

BEVERAGE JOURNAL: For those readers who are unfamiliar with the association, please describe the membership and what the WSWA's main mission is?

BOB WIGGANS: The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) is the national trade association representing the wholesale tier of the wine and spirits industry. We're dedicated to advancing the interests and independence of wholesale distributors and brokers of wine and spirits. Founded in 1943, WSWA has 379 member companies in 50 states and the District of Columbia, and our members distribute more than 80 percent of all wines and spirits sold at wholesale in the United States.  We're headquartered in Washington, D.C., and we provide our members with representation before Congress, executive agencies, regulatory bodies, courts, and other alcohol beverage industry organizations.  WSWA also offers a wide range of services in the areas of public affairs, education, and social responsibility, as well as some valuable cost-saving programs.

BJ: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

BW: I love the travel to and interaction with our members and prospective members for on-site meetings and visits.  These get-togethers have significantly increased my understanding of their business.

BJ: You are also a lover of technology.  What went into the WSWA's decision to implement a cloud-based association management software (AMS) program.

BW: In 2011, we were utilizing a number of separate systems for membership data, convention and meeting registrations, exhibits, e-mail marketing, and financial management needs.  Our legacy system did not have a high adoption rate.  We determined that we wanted to find a cloud-based AMS that could integrate all these functions, enable flexibility, and capture activity history as well as serve as our website login gateway.

BJ: What have been the results?  Has it improved organizational efficiency and streamlined operations as you and your colleagues had hoped.

BW: Over the past five years, we have had a significant increase in user adoption by staff in key departments while serving as an efficient focal point for convention registration, exhibits, marketing, member management, dues administration, and financial management.  We also have achieved full confidence by staff in the accuracy of all the data maintained within the AMS – a significant achievement!

BJ: We understand that the AMS has helped better manage the WSWA's annual convention and exposition.  How so?

BW: Use of our AMS along with continually evolving and expanding e-mail marketing capabilities have contributed to increased attendance at the WSWA Annual Convention & Exposition.  In particular, the onsite registration process at our convention allows for on demand convention badge production for pre-registrants.

BJ: Was there some advice given to you earlier in your career that has stuck with you?

BW: I have spent my entire career in the association business and initially had no idea what role associations played.  The CEO for the first association I worked for advised that I learn about and stay abreast of the industry’s issues and envision the perspective of the member as it would help me become a better association professional.  Following that sage advice has enabled me to comfortably engage with members and prospective members and provide better service to them.

BJ: How has the experience of working in the wine and spirits industry specifically been for you?  I take it from your last response that you came from outside the beverage biz?

BW: This is indeed my first time in the beverage/wine and spirits industry, and I have enjoyed the continuing education I’ve received as a result.  The private, family-owned businesses who are our members are unique.  They are the face of the hospitality industry, and they are great examples of how to build and enhance business relationships.

BJ: Is there anything coming up on the horizon in the second half of 2016 for you personally or for the WSWA that has you especially excited?

BW: I am really looking forward to completing production of our first printed and electronic and soon-to-be-annual membership directory since 2013.  We're also gearing up for our annual convention in 2017.


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2016 18:01:59 -0400
Godfather Actor Has a Vodka He Believes Will Have Your Loyalty 0002Gianni_RussoLR.jpg

The makers of Don Corleone Vodka are hoping this is one spirit customers in our area can't refuse.  Produced by Distillerie Francoli in Italy and inspired by "The Godfather" movie franchise, MJ Licensing Company launched the label back in February of this year in the New York Tri-State area.  Ever since, the company has been rolling out the vodka nationally and in select international territories with the help of Brand Ambassador Gianni Russo.

Does that name sound familiar?  It should.  Russo played Carlo Rizzi, the no-good, wife-beating son-in-law of mafia boss Don Corleone in the original 1972 "Godfather" film.  It was his first movie, and he went on to appear in over 40 other motion pictures (everything from "The Freshman" to "Any Given Sunday" to "Seabiscuit").  He also ran one of Las Vegas' most happening restaurants in the Rat Pack heyday of Sin City.

Russo was in the area in early June to introduce Don Corleone Vodka to this market.  Appearances included cabaret performances at 49 West in Annapolis and Germano's in Baltimore, a bottle signing at the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, and a meet-and-greet at Magruder's supermarket in the nation's capital.  We were lucky enough to sit down with Russo to ask him about his business.  

What follows is our chat:

BEVERAGE JOURNAL: Mr. Russo, what makes Don Corleone Italian Vodka stand out in a crowded vodka marketplace?

GIANNI RUSSO: Recognizing that it IS a crowded market, the decision was made to go with an ultra-premium vodka.  That's what this is.  And we knew we would have an iconic brand and name that fortunately I have a relationship with.  And when I say "we," I am talking MJ Licensing Company, who owns the brand.  I am the spokesperson for the company.  We are cultivating something that I think is quite unique.  It's quadruple-distilled, and I think our last process is what separates it.  Before it gets into the bottle, we pour it over frozen granite.  I don't know how our vintner came up with that, but it just softens it.  It's such a smooth vodka.

BJ: Can you talk a little bit more about the taste profile?

GR: There's no burn.  There's no after taste.  I drink it straight chilled without even ice.  But we've also come up with some signature drinks.  I came up with the Black Hand, which you can do as a martini or as a shot.  It's one ounce of vodka, one ounce Black Sambuca.  You shake it, chill it like a martini, and serve it straight up.  It looks like a black martini.  What's nice about it is you can use it as an after-dinner drink, because it has the soothing taste of the Sambuca.  But the young generation loves it as shots.  We also came up with a drink for the women.  The Kiss.  That's equal parts limoncello and vodka, and you can garnish it with orange or lemon, and again that's great as a chilled martini, a shot, or an after-dinner drink.

BJ: What do you think of the bottle art?  It certainly stands out on the shelf.

GR: If you were going to buy a trophy bottle, this would be it.  We just launched this in February of this year, and we knew we could sell a million of them because "The Godfather" has now crossed four generations.  I applaud the decision to go with a black bottle when nearly everyone else is clear glass.  And the pouring line is down the side.  At the end of the night, when you want to make inventory, you know how many shots are left.

BJ: You're not just a celebrity spokesperson who has no real idea of what he's talking about.  You've been in our business before.

GR: I've been in the club business most of my life.  I worked my first club when I was 18 on Staten Island.

BJ: So, you know premium beverage service.  When you talk, you talk from experience.

GR: Yes, indeed.  I opened one of the signature restaurants in the '70s and closed it in 1988 called Gianni Russo's State Street.  I came up with the idea where I would serve gourmet food for 12 hours, from 6 at night to 6 in the morning, because the celebrities had nowhere to go but coffee shops.  And I was hanging out with most of them at that time.  I created this space, and it became the haunt of everybody.  Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin.  It became a late-night spot.  Tom Jones was at the big Hilton on Paradise, and I was right next door to the Las Vegas Country Club on State Street between Sahara and Paradise. So, it was easily accessible. I had limos to go pick up people.  There was one night I couldn't believe.  I got a call from Don Rickles, and he had a special table that he liked and he said, "I'm gonna come in after my show.  Can I have my table?"  And I said, "Sorry, Paul Anka is there now."  So, he asked, "How about the one across near the fireplace?"  "No, Tony Bennett's there."  Then, he said, "Aw, come on. How about the one next to the bandstand on the other side of the fireplace?"  And I said, "Can't. Frank is there."  And he said, "Frank who?!"  I said, "If you have to ask that question, you don't know the guy."  He hung up on me!

BJ: It was that kind of place, huh?

GR: Yeah, and not only that, but the greats would come and sit in.  I remember after one of the big boxing fights, there was this up-and-coming comedian who came in.  He had a couple of movies out right away, and he came in with his brother and all of that after the fight.

BJ: Who?

GR: Eddie Murphy!  He did about a half-hour of stand up.  Then, they all sat down and at the end of the night, my maitre'd brought them a bill for $2,300 and his brother said, "What is this?! My brother did 25 minutes up there!"  They called me over, and I said, "Well, I didn't ask him to do it. You have to pay the check!"

BJ: Frank, Sammy, Dean.  So many legends.  What were some of their drink preferences?  Do you remember?

GR: Dean and Frank were straight shooters.  They'd just put the bottle on the table and that was it.  That used to be the thing, to show the balls you had as a man.  When guys were guys, they drank shots.  Jackie Gleason would try and bury you with them.  That guy could drink all day!  But, at night, they were more refined.  This was back in the late '60s and '70s when gentlemen always dressed.  They'd go out, a lot of times, even in tuxedos.  And they'd love martinis.  Dean would call them "martoonis."  Those were great, great days.  I come from a time when my grandmother would rub Scotch whiskey on my gums when I was teething to numb them!  It was a different time.  But maybe we're bringing some of that back.  Now's the time for Don Corleone Vodka.


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2016 Editions Wed, 22 Jun 2016 14:40:52 -0400
Carl Nolet Jr.... Why Ketel One Should Be Number One AIP-Carl-Notet-Jr-of-Ketel-One-13.jpg


Carl Nolet Jr. is part of the 11th generation of the Nolet family, makers of the ultra-premium Ketel One Vodka at the historic Notel Distillery in the Netherlands.  His official title is executive vice president of Nolet Spirits U.S.A., a position he has filled since 1996.  But he has held several jobs of increasing authority within the family-owned company for over two decades now, proving himself particularly adept at new product development and market introductions.

Travel is one of the favorite parts of his work.  On April 18, Carl Jr. visited the Washington, DC market for a special sales meeting, trade event, and taste test that welcomed distributors and other industry insiders from the nation's capital, Maryland, and the region.  We sat down with him to discuss his family's legacy, his thoughts on the local market, and what has him excited for the future.  

What follows is our chat:

BEVERAGE JOURNAL: Coming from the outside in, what are your impressions of the Washington, D.C., metro area market in terms of drinking preferences, customer demographics, and so forth?


CARL NOLET JR.: Washingtonians have developed a sophisticated palate based on the experimental nature of talented bartenders and culinary experts in the city.  This spike in exploration has led to the resurgence of classic cocktails such as the Moscow Mule -- for Ketel One Vodka, the Dutch Mule -- and the Bloody Mary, with a modern-day twist.  Bartenders continue to pioneer innovative techniques and ignite new trends, transforming neighborhoods and the local cocktail scene.  You can see some of these trends on display in places like Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons, which utilizes fresh ingredients, herbs, and vegetables sourced from the local farmers' market and the hotel's private garden.  Additionally, there is Jack Rose, a speakeasy with a contemporary and imaginative cocktail scene that pulls inspiration from pre-Prohibition cocktails.  Quarter and Glory, newest on the scene, serves up barrel-aged cocktails on tap.  Patrons now expect so much more from their cocktail and dining experience.  I love what I am seeing locally in Washington, DC.

We have always considered talented bartenders to be part of our family.  As gatekeepers of the brand, they are vital in building Ketel One Vodka, and we hope to continue to learn from them. In June, we will return to Washington, DC to support the nation’s best at the World Class National Finals sponsored by Diageo.  World Class, the industry's most prestigious and respected mixology competition, is an outstanding, global training program and internationally recognized platform that elevates the craft of the bartender.

BJ: How important is the "personal touch" ... of getting out into the market yourself and supporting your product?

CN: Personal touch goes into everything we do.  Ketel One Vodka is a result of our family's personal touch and passionate pursuit of excellence that's endured for 325 years.  Today, you will find the same quality and superior liquid in each bottle of Ketel One as our ancestors would have demanded.  When you're proud of what you make, you open your doors and invite everyone to come see for themselves.  Seeing is believing.  All of the care, attention, and expertise fully on display is why our family business has endured for hundreds of years.

BJ: You are the 11th generation of Nolets to join the family business, yes?  What's it like to be part of such a legacy?

CN: Yes, my brother, Bob, and I are proud to be the 11th generation of the Nolet family.  For more than three centuries, our family has upheld the highest standards of quality, and we are honored to carry on the commitment of distilling some of the world's finest spirits.  As the next generation of caretakers, we are accountable for ensuring success.  So, we don't look at the next year or even discuss the next two years.  We focus on the next 25 years.  We talk about generations and a business built on credence of quality before anything.

Like our ancestors, environmental quality is important to the 11th generation.  My brother and I will continue to identify new ways to preserve clean air in Schiedam [site of the Notel Distillery since 1691] and continue to invest in measures that generate green energy to support distillery operations.

BJ: What are your current duties and responsibilities?

CN: My current duties and responsibilities are the same today as the day I began working at my family's distillery more than 28 years ago, learning the intricacies and techniques behind crafting spirits.  My brother, Bob, and I learned that no detail is too small when you want to maintain a commitment to quality and achieving excellence in what you do.  We are both involved in every aspect of our family business.  Our father, Carl Nolet Sr., 10th generation Master Distiller and creator of Ketel One Vodka, taught us many lessons that allowed us to work in sync.  Above all else, we are a family business. We make our decisions together, both at the dining room table and at the boardroom table.  As the 11th generation, we believe the future success of our family-run business lies in the strength of our past and the continued commitments to excellence as we look for the future.

BJ: What motivates you?  What's your passion?

CN: I really value the personal relationships I am able to build with bartenders around the world.  It's great to experience one of their Ketel One Vodka creations or see their reaction when they taste Ketel One Vodka for the first time.  They then realize what sets Ketel One Vodka apart is a combination of what happens at the Notel Family Distillery; the distilling process, the perfectly balanced combination of traditional pot-still distillation and modern techniques; and the fact that each batch of Ketel One Vodka is tasted and approved by a family member before bottling.

BJ: What part of the work do you still find challenging?

CN: Maintaining the standards my family has upheld for 325 years is the biggest challenge and our greatest strength! Every bottle is signed for a reason – it’s our promise to every customer that our family carefully crafts Ketel One Vodka in a way that honors our ancestors' unwavering commitment, artisanal methods, and modern distilling techniques.

BJ: Was there some advice given to you early on that has really stuck with you?

CN: It’s a very simple sentence. My father told me and my brother, "Try not to make mistakes." It says so much in such a short sentence: work harder, smarter, with more innovation and pride. He taught us to stay committed to delivering products with impeccable quality and taste. The proof is in the pudding ... or the bottle! When you buy a bottle of Ketel One Vodka, you’re not just purchasing a phenomenal, super-premium vodka. You are buying our life’s work.

BJ: What has you excited for the future?

CN: We are excited about today's consumer.  Particularly, Millennial 21+ consumers as they are more informed than ever and seek brands with accountability that reflect their desire for individuality and authenticity. With a commitment to excellence that has been passed down from generation to generation, father to son for nearly 325 years, Ketel One Vodka's heritage embodies one of authenticity and craftsmanship that many vodka drinkers are looking for. Combined with the resurgence of classic cocktails and the vodka drinkers' continued love of the martini, Ketel One's personality will shine and appeal to this discerning audience.


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:22:49 -0400
Justin Hampton: Found the West Not To Be the Best JustinHampton.jpg

The Washington, D.C., drinking scene definitely has its share of rock-star bartenders.  But few rock harder than Justin Hampton, the man behind the taps at Poste Moderne Brasserie inside the Hotel Monaco.  After graduating a decade ago from San Diego State University with a degree in Social Science and a focus on economics, he went into restaurant management.  His first gig?  The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.

"I had worked my way as a waiter through college," he recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "At the Hard Rock, the bartenders were walking out with several hundred dollars for working half the hours I did.  When I saw that, I said, 'What's that all about?!'  Those guys looked like they were having a lot more fun.  I wanted to hang out with them, and I wanted to make that money."

After four years of spot bartending and learning on the job, he got involved in starting a food truck company in Boise that never got off the ground.  Having a sense of adventure and a willingness to move, he settled in the District of Columbia and started working at Founding Farmers.  "That was really a training ground for me," he said.  "It was high-volume craft cocktails where you have to really know what you're doing and execute everything exactly the same and in a quick manner.  I banged out cocktails every night for a whole year.  It really perfected my skills."

After that, he took a job at Jack Rose.  Downstairs from that, he ended up helping Dram and Grain develop into one of the most popular cocktail bars in D.C.  Eventually, he heard that Poste Moderne Brasserie was in need of a head bartender and seized the opportunity.  He helped put together the cocktail menu and took  the lead on staff trainings.  He also set about growing herbs, spices, and fruits on site to use in the establishment's cocktail program.  "I like to make a lot of off-the-cuff drinks," he commented.  "I bring a lot of ingredients from home that are seasonal.  More than anything, I guess, I'm know for garden-to-glass drinks."

A social person by nature, Hampton remarked, "I really love interacting with the guests.  They make me want to strive to be better than I was the day before.  Hospitality is a big deal for me.  I enjoy welcoming people and making them feel comfortable at my bar."  He was also drawn to Poste because it boasts one of the biggest patios in the nation's capital, able to hold approximately 400 customers.  As such, it a major Happy Hour draw.  

In his current position, he's really come to see the contrasts between the Washington beverage scene and the one he cut his teeth on out in San Diego.  "Customers are more savvy here," he declared.  "They know more.  They know drink recipes.  They actually know how to make a lot of drinks!  San Diego was more laid back.  There is a huge beer culture in San Diego.  From my perspective, D.C. is much more savvy about cocktails.  People drink a lot more here, too.  Happy Hour is what rules everything, and brunch is a major event."

While Hampton loves his job, he concedes there are challenges.  As we chatted for this article, he had just celebrated his 32nd birthday.  "As I am getting older," he noted, "I do think a bit more about the hours and the strain on my family and personal life.  D.C. has a really terrific bartending community, and I get to be at or near the center of it.  But my girlfriend and I barely see each other at times."

But when pressed, he conceded that he really has no interest in doing anything else.  He knows he's found his niche.  And for others destined for this career, he had this advice: "One thing I try to impart to new hires is 'We are there for the guests.  The guests are not there for us.'  To that end, be aware of what you're doing.  Don't have too many side conversations.  Be attentive to each guest, and remember that we are there to service them.  It's also important to stay healthy.  Stay mentally healthy, exercise, and stay in shape."

Justin's FAVORITE MOVIE:  “Wayne's World"

CAN'T MISS TV SHOW: “Outlander”

HOBBIES: Gardening

Justin's BUCKET LIST: “I've been to four continents in my lifetime, and I plan on going to all seven by the time I die.”

PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE A DRINK TO: His late Uncle Henry, who passed away from cancer in October 2008.

** It should be noted that Poste Moderne Brasserie is going to shut down temporarily in late spring, re-concept, and re-open in either August or September.  Hampton will be heavily involved in the process.



Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:32:30 -0400
Adding Spicer... Behind NBWA's Communications and New Website RebeccaSpicer.jpg

Rebecca Spicer is Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA).  It's an impressive job ... eh, to everyone but Rebecca.  "I don't get hung up on titles," she said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal from her office in Alexandria, Va.  "The really fun thing about working in an association is that everybody pitches in.  Associations are built around people coming together, and that's certainly reflected in our work atmosphere here.  We don't have job descriptions per se that are written in stone, because you never know what's going to come up."

Spicer came to NBWA from TV news.  The Nashville transplant scored an internship with her local news station when she was just 16 and became hooked.  "Every day a reporter went out on a story or a producer put together a newscast, and you had no idea what you would be covering that day," she recalled.  "I think that desire to learn about new issues and new people and never really knowing what was going to be scripted is part of the excitement I love in the association world."

She eventually hooked on with WJLA Channel 7's news operation in Washington, D.C.  But the NBWA soon beckoned.  She's delighted that her job has continued to allow her to tell stories.  "Part of the fun of being in communications with beer distributors, in particular, is that we have such a wonderful, colorful story to tell," she declared.  "The favorite part of my job is the people I work with and for.  I know you were expecting me to say the beer.  But that's a close second!  I was a beer fan before taking this job.  But I certainly didn't know as many beer brands as I do now.  But it always come back to the people, not only those I work with in the office, but also the membership.  Our membership consists of a lot of family-owned businesses that have been in these families for three, four, or even more generations.  These are people who roll up their sleeves and appreciate hard work."

So, coming from the outside in, was there any advice given to Spicer in making the adjustment to life in the beverage biz?  She joked, "The one piece of advice I remember from my very first association meeting was whenever you order a beer, ask for a glass!"

Spicer was one of the key internal players giving advice in the NBWA's launch last year of a new, mobile-friendly website at  The homepage now serves as a one-stop shop for visitors looking to get better informed about the beer distribution industry.  "When you're running a website for an association," Spicer stated, "you're always analyzing how you're projecting the messaging and imaging of your membership to the public.  You're asking, 'How can we raise the bar?  How can we give our membership even more ROI [return on their investment] than we're already giving them?'  We realized the website is the first point of communication for just about every constituency we would connect with."

Spicer and her colleagues decided the association needed to have a more streamlined, organized way to present the vast amount of material it had on its website and to make it a seamless experience, especially for members.  "The single sign-on feature is especially important, because it allows the member to immediately be at home on the association's website," she noted.  "Responsive design was also top of our list.  That was really key.  We looked at numbers that were given to us about how much people are looking at our website from their desktop versus their handheld.  It's almost scary to think about the data that people can pull up.  We also thought about how our members are out and about in their communities.  They are not tethered to their desks all day.  They are out selling beer at retailers.  Or they're out at their state capitals.  So, most of their information consumption is happening not at their desks, it's on the go.  It's on their hand-helds."  

Looking ahead, Spicer expects the NBWA website to continue featuring compelling video content.  In that way, her TV news background is coming in handy.  "We think video is a very effective way of showing and telling the story of beer distributors and showcasing the hard work they do and the value they deliver to their communities shine through.  There will be new videos we unveil during our annual convention in September that will be shared widely across our digital platforms.  There is some really very exciting stuff in the works!" 


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:25:30 -0400
Pink Boots Society pink-boots-society_IMAGE.jpg

At a key moment in "The Shawshank Redemption," Morgan Freeman's good-hearted convict friend, Red, posed the question: "Seriously, how often do you really look at a man's shoes?"  Well, anyone who hung around Shane McCarthy in January and February of this year likely looked at his footwear quite a bit.  The assistant general manager and beer manager at Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse in Bel Air wore pink boots day in and day out to promote a very special event his store hosted on February 26 to raise money and awareness for the Pink Boots Society.

Some of you reading this may be asking, "What is the Pink Boots Society?" It is an international organization of women that was created to empower female beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry, chiefly through education.  The organization also seeks to teach women beer professionals the judging skills necessary to become beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival and other competitions.  Society members include women who own breweries, who design beers, serve beers, package beers, and write about beer.  The group currently has more than 3,000 members and counting. 

"I've read a lot about beer history," McCarthy stated, during a late January interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Women were actually the main brewers a couple of hundred years ago.  A lot of the beer was made by women.  That's where the term 'alewife' came from.  But, today, it is a male-dominated industry.  So, it's really unique that these ladies are trying to change that.  They don't want to drink wine.  They want to drink beer ... good beer!  That really inspired me to reach out and try and raise money to send a woman to brewing school, because the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology is NOT cheap!"

The February 26 event saw Ronnie's have a 12-tap takeover of all rare and exclusive beers from multiple breweries.  "We contacted these wholesalers and breweries to specifically ask for rarities," he stated.  "Most of the breweries involved have female brewers or members of the sales team who are a member of the Society. Ronnie's will tap all 12 kegs and donate all of the profits to the organization, and we will have females from the industry here talking about beer and brewing."

McCarthy also reached out to breweries who do not presently distribute beer in Maryland, but still wanted to be a part of the event.  They donated gift baskets to raffle off to the public, and the raffle money was also to be donated to the Pink Boots Society.  "For example," he noted, "Cigar City Brewing is huge in Florida and has some world-class beers.  They have mailed us some amazing gift baskets that we'll be raffling off.  We'll also be doing tastings.  Actual women beer professionals will be doing bottle tastings.  They'll be out there on the floor and saying, 'We can talk to you about beer. We know what we're talking about.'"

Additionally, McCarthy reached out to some craft-supporting, on-premise accounts to join him in raising money and awareness for the Society. Looneys, Sean Bolans, and others agreed to host events that same evening.  Following Ronnie's lead, they also invited women to come out and talk about beer and share their passion for all things suds.  "I think its special that competing businesses can get together for such a good cause," McCarthy remarked.  "We wanted to create this almost festival atmosphere where you could get your packaged beer to go, get it home, drop it off, then go back out to Bel Air where there's going to be a different bar on almost every corner serving craft beer and benefiting the Pink Boots Society."

It should be noted that "Pink Boots" is actually an acronym.  "P" is for passion, the "I" is for Integrity and Inspiration, the "N" is for networking, and the "K" is for knowledge.  With regards to the second word, the "B" is, of course, for beer; the first "O" is for opportunity; the second "O" is for "open exchange of ideas;" the "T" is for teach; and, finally, the "S" is for success.

McCarthy is no stranger to success. He played a key role in putting together the well-received Bel Air Beer Week.  "I also put together something called the Maryland Beer Project, which brings different businesses in the community to support craft beer.  I've found craft beer is an amazing community builder."

He continued, "I thought it would be neat to get some of these local businesses that are supporting craft beer actively every day to get involved.  For example, Birrocteca's beverage director is a woman, and she's really into beer.  She knows exactly what she is talking about.  In addition, there's Looney's in Bel Air.  A woman named April runs their beer program, and she's also giving craft beer a chance.  We're all helping the Pink Boots Society while bringing the community together.  The customers can expect some pretty rare beers.  We're calling it the rarest tap takeover in the state of Maryland!  Instead of having 11 'normal' beers and one rarity, you're going to have a dozen very rare beers."

McCarthy has observed that women are accounting for an increasingly big portion of the consumer beer sales market.  As a result, stores have to pay attention to this growing demographic and know how to market and sell to them.  "In the store, out in the market, everywhere I go, I see two things," he stated.  "I see new craft beer drinkers who are women and who are experimenting.  They want to drink something that is flavorful and is a quality product.  And, two, I see women coming out of the woodwork and standing up as women who proudly drink beer and have done so for years.  I tell all of our beer guys who work the floor, 'Don't approach a female customer and assume she's buying beer for her husband.'  That is a huge issue.  It's kind of insulting to go up to someone and ask, 'Is this for someone else?'  Instead, approach women and ask, 'What do you like to drink?'  Then, they'll either tell you, 'Oh, it's not for me,' or they will get into a conversation about their beer preferences.  The point of this whole event is to change people's perception on beer and women in the beer industry."

Of course, the question has to be asked.  What's in this for Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse?  It's all fine and great to support a good cause.  But the bottom line is making money.  McCarthy says it's also about growing the store's customer base, while at the same time being seen as a community leader.

"If we did a normal tap takeover, like we do almost every other week, we would be financially benefiting more than what we're doing for Pink Boots," he stated.  "In our county, everything is C.O.D.  So, we have to pay for it the day it comes in.  When it comes to beer, basically what we are doing is purchasing beer and then giving it away for cost.  We have to make a penny off of each keg.  We're giving away all of our profit.  We don't really look at this as 'How is this going to financially help Ronnie's?'  Instead, we are more concerned with the community.  I feel like we are giving back to craft beer, which has built this store.  Through networking with the Pink Boots Society, it lets the community know that we want to get involved with different organizations and nonprofits.  Sure, we're trying to reach out to some new customers, get them into the store, and show them that we can give you a good experience.  But we stand for more than just the dollar sign."

So, about those pink boots McCarthy has been wearing?  When asked to talk about them, he first chuckled and hesitated just a bit.  But then he shared, "OK, I had to get on Google and convert my size in women's boots to men.  Yes, I have a hot pink pair of women's-size 11 1/2 boots on right now.  Our general manager, Megan, has been working for the store for over 10 years.  She is actually a member of the Pink Boots Society, as well, and will also be in the house that night and wearing some pink boots also.  They're actually pretty comfortable!"


Here are Courtney Lacey, Brewer, Heavy Seas Beer; Megan Hunter, General Manager, Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse; Judy Huxtable, Sales, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Sami Myers, Sales, Victory Brewing Company; Shane McCarthy, Beer Director, Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse; Suzanne Woods, Sales, Allagash Brewing Company; and Hillary Harris, Sales, DuClaw Brewing Company; at Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse.


So Why A Pink Boots Society?

If you love craft beer, you probably remember the beer that changed it all—that beer that made you fall in love with craft beer. It's an exciting experience, and if you work in the craft beer industry now, it's also a life-changing experience. When I think of the first time I had Twin Lakes' Greenville Pale Ale, I can still remember the way my passion for craft beer took off. Something had just clicked; it was immediate. If you love craft beer and you're a woman, you probably also remember the first time you were treated like that passion was somehow unauthentic, or even worse, nonexistent. 

For a long time I tried to ignore the relentless fruit beer suggestions from bartenders, and for the most part, I did. I ignored the man that asked what beer I preferred, so he would know not to buy it.  I ignored the unorthodox comments from taproom employees stating that a beer was somehow inherently feminine, a “girl beer”, for being light-bodied and sweet. I had just turned 21, and I guess there was a part of me that was just happy to finally be immersed in the local craft beer scene. That part of me continued to ignore these uncomfortable moments. 

There came a time though, when I realized that this couldn't be ignored. I walk into a bar and sit down with my friend. A male bartender comes up and asks if we’d like a cocktail. The bar had a decent craft cocktail menu, so I didn't think much of the suggestion. I ask him, instead, what beers are on tap and he begins his unenthused descriptions of a variety of beers. He doesn't even manage to name breweries. His descriptions of the beers themselves, ranged from “it's good” and “it's lighter” so I assumed the guy was just a bad bartender.  Then, my boyfriend and his friends sit at the bar. Immediately the bartender walks over and asks if they would like a drink. Yes, he chose the word ‘drink’. He hands them beer lists, and seems tentative. They ask about the beers and suddenly he seems knowledgeable. That’s when I start to get angry. Why was I never offered a beer list? Why wasn’t I given the same descriptions? Why was my interest in beer not taken seriously? 

I have talked about my experiences with many people, and all responses are different. I am lucky to have so many supportive friends, that not only sympathize with me, but have sadly been in similar positions. I've talked with people that assure me that I'm looking too much into it, or have just said, “I didn't know you were one of the feminist beer girls.” What is even more troubling to me than those who roll their eyes are those that are surprised that I believe I have been treated differently as a woman in the craft beer industry. So many people refuse to look, to listen. This is not just a problem for women to deal with, it is everyone's problem.

The reason why organizations like Pink Boots society are so important is that they demand respect for women in the beer industry, and since I started working in the industry, I understand that respect can be scarce. I can't tell you how many times I've felt as though beer reps are genuinely surprised by my craft beer knowledge, or have asked the dreaded question, “Wait, you actually work for the brewery?” Sometimes, I feel like I'm not just representing myself to others in the industry, but that I have to represent all women in the industry. But the truth is, I don't want to do that nor should I ever have to.

I am just one woman, one palate, and one story. What's important is that these stories are heard, rather than ignored, so that the next time a young woman expresses interest in craft beer industry, she's not afraid to be heard, too.


By Amanda Zivkovic, Heavy Seas Beer

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 20:56:07 -0400
Erin Ivey's Cherry Blossom Cocktail ErinIveyHorizontal.jpg

"I love the creativity aspect of my job.  I love the autonomy that I have and the challenges I've been given to come up with new drinks."

So said Erin Ivey, bar manager at Lincoln on Vermont Ave., during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  Ivey, who has been tending bar at various area establishments for the last decade, has become known for her craft cocktails.  "What drew me to craft cocktails is I really love the integrity of the drinks as far as fresh juices and ingredients," she stated.  " I enjoy making twists on an Old Fashioned, different syrups and such.  I love being able to play and bring a different and unique element to drinks."

The drink that she most recently played around with and created is the Cherry Blossom Cocktail.  She believes it to be one of the best concoctions she has ever come up with.  "I don't like to make sweet drinks," she said, "so I chose morello cherries as the key ingredient.  Morello cherries make a really wonderful syrup -- not too sweet, not too tart, right in the middle.  I wanted to do something with rye, in particular, so I chose one of the most flexible ones I could think of, Bulleit Rye.  I threw some mint in there for freshness; along with some fresh lemon juice; the rum syrup; and crushed ice, which is really appealing to the eye.  The Cherry Blossom Cocktail has a beautiful red color.  I'm very proud of it.  It's got a great taste, and it's very refreshing.  There is a little bit of residual sweetness.  But mostly you get that tart cherry taste, along with fresh mint and lemon."

She continued, "Bulleit Rye is great.  A lot of ryes can get pretty hot and spicy.  Bulleit Rye is a little bit softer.  I like the dry honey aspect that it has, too.  It still packs that punch that most ryes have, but it's not super-hot.  That's why I like to mix with it.  It makes a great Old Fashioned, as well."

A member of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild, Ivey had originally been employed at Lincoln as a floor manager, but wanted to work more with customers.  She left briefly to help open Osteria Marini on Water Street near Nationals Park.  The Italian restaurant had a very big focus on craft cocktails right from the get-go.  But Lincoln always felt like home to her.  After six months away, she returned to Lincoln and was given the job she wanted all along -- bar manager.  That was nearly two years ago, and she has been in charge of the restaurant's beverage program ever since.

"I do all of the Drinks of the Month here," she declared.  "Those are my recipes.  We put a lot of our focus on bourbon.  We have infusions that we do, as well, in house.  We use our own vodka for our Bloody Mary for brunch on Sundays.  We use peppers and onions, as well as celery and tomatoes.  It makes what we call our 'Breakfast Vodka.'  We also have our Moscow Mule, and what distinguishes that from everyone else's is we don't use ginger beer.  We infuse our own house-made ginger syrup.  It really sets it apart from any other Moscow Mule you might have at another bar.  That's probably our No. 1 selling cocktail."

Consistency is a big buzzword for Ivey.  As management, she says it is a frequent challenge making sure everyone is on the same page and all doing the same thing.  "I want every guest that comes in here to have the same drink, the same way, no matter who's making it," she stated.  "So, the challenge is fine-tuning that with my bartenders to make sure we're all making our signature drinks the same way.  We have a lot of creativity behind that bar."

One of her mentors was Brendan McMahon, who is now an owner of Beuchert's Saloon on Capitol Hill. "He really mentored me and introduced me to craft cocktails," she recalled.  "He taught me all about integrity and taking your time to make drinks so you can be proud of them.  Pride is essential.  If you're not proud of the drink you're putting out as far as the taste and presentation, how can you expect to serve that to a guest?  That was something that was very much cultivated by him and very much appreciated on my part." 


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 11:31:32 -0400
Barry Cregan Teams With Carolina Wine Brands Barry_Cregan_WEB.jpg

After a long career working for everyone from RNDC to Southern Wine & Spirits, Barry Cregan moved to the supplier side about a year and a half ago to serve as East Coast Vice President of Carolina Wine Brands USA. The company handles mostly South American wines for the U.S. market for Carolina Wine Brands, one of Chile's main winemaking groups owned by the agro-industrial group Watt's SA.

If you've seen Cregan or any of his colleagues lately, you can tell they are riding a real high. That's because the company's flagship winery, Santa Carolina in Chile, recently won the New World Winery of the Year 2015 honor from the Wine Enthusiast. Cregan traveled to New York City in late January to attend the awards ceremony.

"All of the big companies were there," he marveled. "It was neat getting that award because a lot of people in the industry were able to recognize who we were, and they came up and gave us congratulations. We also had the chance to have people taste our wines while we were there. It was a great experience. Winning an honor like Best New World Winery really tells the world where we're standing. What it also does is it allows us to use that in our marketing. We're putting little, round stickers on our bottles that say 'New World Winery of the Year.' We're going to use it on our point-of-sale. We're going to parlay that to the consumer and say, 'Hey, good value ... fantastic wine ... try me!'"

Santa Carolina certainly has a diverse portfolio worthy of trying. In addition to this diversity, Cregan says the key to the company's success has been putting out quality products at fair prices. "Our Reserva wines [Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.] are in the market priced anywhere from $10 to $12," he noted. "If you move up to our $20 to $21 wines, we received 90-plus points on all of our Chilean and Argentine wines from the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. Our icon wines receive 93 to 95 points every year. Even our Malbec was in the top 100 last year in Wine Enthusiast's Best Values. In this year's Best Values, we had our Chilean Carmenere make the list. We're in 96 countries hitting on all cylinders right now."

Cregan is especially high on the line of Chilean wines he promotes. Ever the salesman, he stated, "Chilean wines have a unique way of giving you fruit with some earth tones to them. What we do with Chilean wines and Argentine wines, too, is we enhance the times that you live in -- the good times, the bad times. We enhance the event that you're having. We enhance the food you serve. We enhance the moment."

One of the best moment-enhancing products in the portfolio is Santa Carolina's VSC Red Assemblage, a tasty blend of Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Malbec grown in Peumo. The 2010 Herencia Carmenere, which earned 93 points, is another top seller. Full-bodied with fine-grained tannins, it has black fruit and spices and comes from two locales known for this varietal: Peumo and Los Lingues.

Also popular is Santa Carolina's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva de Familia, which has garnered 90 points and is known for its nose. Indeed, it has aromas of ripe cherries in liqueur intermingled with more herbal ones and even some green peppercorns. Looking ahead, Santa Carolina's Reserva de Familia Carmenere 2011, Rapel Valley, is one to buy now and store for later. Wine Spectator Managing Editor Kim Marcus says it will be best from 2017 through 2020.

In addition, Santa Carolina has history on its side, as it celebrated its 140th year in 2015. In doing so, it participated in 140 different celebrations around the globe last year, including many of the major international wine fairs like Vinitaly and Vinexpo. The 140th celebration also included the release of a special edition of Reserva de Familia, the winery's emblem line.

One other thing that makes Carolina Wine Brands stand out is an unswerving commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. From its use of irrigation measurement technology in its fields and vineyards to its minimal use of pesticides to Carolina Wine Brands' Santa Carolina and Casablanca brands purchasing clean energy bonds in Chile to neutralize the carbon footprint for the transportation of the cases they export, steps are being taken every day to ensure all concerned are doing their part to remain environmentally friendly -- an increasingly key selling point in the marketplace.

"We were also the first South American winery to do the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)," Cregan added. "We also work with lightweight glass. Our super-premium brands are still in a heavier bottle, so we're looking to turn that around also. As far as industries itself, we were ranked No. 2 in Chile for sustainability -- not just the wine industry, but No. 2 of all industries in Chile. We're a company that takes care of Mother Earth."

Taking care of the planet is certainly a key selling point for socially conscious wine drinkers in the Old Line State. Cregan lists Maryland as among the company's key states in terms of sales and marketing. "I go all over as the East Coast Vice President, and Maryland is a unique proposition because it is an independent market similar to Connecticut and not a chain market. The consumer gets a chance to see more and different wines here, where the chain markets may not have as much variety. Maryland is really a positive market that skews high. The per-capita intake of wine, I think, is in the top 12 right now."

Cregan is based in La Plata, Md., even though his company's corporate offices are in Charleston, S.C. He got his start in the industry on the beer trucks in Southern Maryland, selling red, white, and blue Pabst. He moved on to a small beer company as a sales representative and then a sales manager before eventually hooking on as a field manager with what was then Reliable Liquors. He eventually moved on to National Distributing, which became RNDC, before moving to Southern Wine and Spirits in sales management.

He concluded, "After I left beer, I went to work with Reliable Liquors. And a gentleman there named Mike Stewart who is no longer with us told me, 'Barry, learn wines. Believe me, there will come a day where everyone will be drinking wine.' So, that's what I did, and he was right. I mean, I'm not a sommelier or anything. But I do know what I like. I know some of the history of wine. And if you're able to talk about wine and enjoy it, it becomes part of who you are. It becomes a soulful thing and not just a business thing."


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2016 Editions Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:53:41 -0400
Stadium Size Service

Tim Graham Looks to Score With Beverage Service at M&T Bank Stadium

If you've ever owned, operated, or tended bar at a sports-themed restaurant or tavern, you know there is always the risk that some customers may get a bit out of hand if their team is losing.  Heck, even when the Ravens, Redskins, Orioles or Nationals are doing well, the atmosphere can get rowdy.  Chances are, you only have to be concerned about a few diehards getting too distraught over a final score.  Tim Graham, Beverage Manager at M&T Bank Stadium for concessionaire Aramark, has to worry about a few thousand!

Graham has held his current job since last June, having previously served as Beverage Manager at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  He wasn't there when the Ravens had their Super Bowl run a couple of years back.  But he was there for this past season's injury-plagued, 5-11 disappointment.


"There are so many moving parts behind the scenes," he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "It's how you carry yourself and how your staff carries themselves in those moments that can be the difference between a mob of 50 angry people or everybody just keeping their cool.  There are just a lot of things you can't control in this particular business.  You can't control the on-field product.  You can't control the game day weather.  But anything you can't control, you still need to be ready for.  If it is a poor season on the field like the Ravens have had this year, you need to know what that brings.  What that brings is tension.  The people aren't quite as easy-going.  They are a little quicker to complain.  So, you have to be prepared for that.  The same holds true for when they are doing really well.  We'll want to ride that out and celebrate with our many fans."

Graham's responsibilities are many.  Chiefly, he is tasked with hiring and training the stadium's bar staff.  One of the challenges, of course, is his hires may only be on the job for eight days out of the whole year.  To train someone new for a live NFL event is almost impossible.  "You can't mock up what they are going to continually see on game day," he said.  "But we constantly have a demographic of new staff who we try to pair up with our veteran bartenders.  We really rely on some of our strong folks, some of whom have been here since the stadium opened, to make sure everybody's comfortable."

A lot of the bartenders and servers Graham employs do it "for the fun of it," he noted.  They have other full-time jobs.  Others are so-called "lifers," career servers who bartend wherever the proverbial fish are biting depending on the time of the year.  A lot of the suite attendants who work at M&T also work at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., or at Oriole Park or at the Nationals stadium, for instance.  "Probably 60 percent of the people are here for the extra income," Graham estimated.  "It's good money for the time spent.  The other 40 percent, I would say, are adding this to their food and beverage service jobs to fill out their year-round schedule."

In training servers and bartenders, Graham is not shy about instructing such staff in the knowledge that, sometimes, people just need to be told what they want to drink.  A lot of customers, especially those standing in lines with anxious people behind them, get anxious themselves about the question: 'What would you like?"  Graham and his staff have found it much more effective to lead with: 'Would you like to try?'  

Graham remarked, "If you lead with 'Would you like to try our Purple Whatever, five or six times out of 10 they'll answer, 'Yeah, OK, I'll try that.'  They don't have to think about it.  It keeps the line moving, and it elevates the bartender from an order taker into someone who has a suggestion, someone who has valuable input.  You're always walking a fine line between helping the customer decide and telling him or her what they want.  In the end, though, you can't really re-invent the wheel, especially when you're serving thousands and thousands of drinks."

He went on, "I also order all of the alcohol for the stadium, all of the wine and liquor and some of the beer.  Most of the beer portables and the stands that have drafts come from our central warehouse.  All of the liquor, though, is controlled by me.  I order it, and I and my team issue it out to each of the bars and monitor their yields and any of other issues that might come up.  We want to always make sure we have almost exactly the right amount of everything.  I have 32 bartenders at club level.  Probably my main game day duty is to watch over them.  Every bartender has their own unique stock.  So, part of my role is to keep them accountable.  Also, we have the suites where there are a lot of special orders and higher-end products going up there.  I look over all of that."

But it's not just Ravens Game Day where Graham and his staffers spring into action.  There are probably about 200 days where there is something going on at the stadium and catering is needed -- everything from corporate events and holiday parties to weddings and concerts."We do events year round," he stated.  "For example, we have dozens of weddings every year.  Some people will get married elsewhere and then have their reception on the club level in one of the lounge areas.  But a lot of the ceremonies are here, too, because the space is purchased for a block of time and some find it both unique and cost-effective to use the one space for the entire event."

If he has an operational philosophy that he lives by and tries to impart to his staff, it's this: "Under promise and over-perform.  Don't promise anything you know you can't deliver on.  That's the best way to get into trouble.  I am definitely not saying set your bar low.  But make it so you have room to exceed people's expectations.  Allow yourself room to blow minds."

One way he does that is beverage selection.  Under his leadership, M&T Bank Stadium has quickly garnered one of the best reputations in the NFL as being a venue to get really good drinks.    One of the reasons is something Graham likes to call "in-between cocktails." He explains, "What it comes down to is perceived value.  Anybody can make a rum and Coke.  The key is to find that little way that make drinks just a tiny bit more than you would expect.  The bartender is in the driver's seat of the experience, because drinks are often what customers are presented with first. ... People are coming and paying a premium price for drinks; they want to walk away from the bar feeling confident that they spent their money well."

He continued, "We may do a signature cocktail, a Sangria or a punch, that utilizes products already on-hand, while also managing cost.  But it's also not something stadium goers expect when they go to a bar.  It also crosses demographics.  A lot of the stadium experience is male-driven.  So, typically, there are a lot of beers and dark spirits mixed with cola.  It's really important that you keep the female consumer in mind, to give them a reason to come into the concourse and spend money.  You have to give every consumer a reason to walk into your space where you're selling things.  If they're staying in their seats because there's nothing inside for them, then we've lost out on residual food sales and the like."

This creativity has extended to M&T's catering events, its suite service on game days, and other special gatherings.  "With catering and in the suites, that's where we have the opportunity to add a little flair.  These are people who are entertaining, and they expect something upscale.  We have a menu that we've crafted, which is a great starting point, but I love working with the suite holders who want to customize their bar area.  To be able to provide something way better than they expected, that is the best feeling.  They get eight games a year, and they pay darn good money for it.  The same thing goes for weddings.  We have one chance to make a bride happy.  Probably the most rewarding part is when the bride and their family comes back to us with an e-mail or a call and says, ‘Wow, you guys knocked it out of the park!  That was awesome!"'

As for the most challenging part of his job, Graham harkened back to his transition from working a Major League Baseball season to now working pro football.  He concluded, "You don't have a 10-game home stand where you can say, 'Hey, bartender.  Yesterday, you did this wrong.  So, let's work on it today.'  Some people are gone for six months, and then they're back for just eight games.  Basically, in foodservice at this scale, the approach we live by is: 'Stuff is going to go wrong behind the scenes.  It's never perfect no matter how much you plan.  We know that.  But as long as the guest doesn't see us sweat, we're fine!'"


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2016 Editions Tue, 23 Feb 2016 10:03:55 -0500
A Look Ahead at the 2016 Maryland Legislative Session

The next General Assembly Session is just around the corner, and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) will once again be taking a lead role in looking out for the beverage industry's interests.  This means guys like MSLBA President David Marberger and his close colleagues are expected to step up and drive the discussions.


"We're at the rough and ready every year at this time," said the proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis.  "In 2016, we plan on working very diligently at getting a really good relationship going with the Maryland microbreweries, the distilleries, and the wineries.  We really need to forge together as a cohesive unit.  There will always be some issues that we won't see eye to eye on.  But all of us coming together in this industry as an industry so we can move forward is a must and something we really want to focus on."

Closer cooperation and collaboration will be a must if the industry is going to continue challenging any and all attempts to get legislation passed that would allow grocery, big-box, and convenience stores to obtain off-premise beer and wine licenses.  Marberger remarked, "I would love it if there was legislation that says chain stores will never be allowed to sell alcohol in the State of Maryland.  That's the dream legislation, and that's really the battle we're keeping our eyes out for first and foremost.  Since the early 1970s, I think, there has always been something in this regard that pops up.  We're lucky in that we usually have three or four years of things toning down and being quiet before the momentum starts to build back up.  It helps that we're not the only state fighting this battle."

Attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise expressed another concern.  "Total Wine has had a push now for several years now to change the law so they can hold more than one license," he said.  "While that has been defeated, I'm sure it will be reintroduced this year and debated again.  That's just something our membership feels will change the composition of the industry in a negative way.  It's been one person, one license for 80 years, and we feel that has generated a lot of small businesses.  That's a good thing."


Marberger and Wise have been vocal champions of small business enterprise in the Old Line State, and both are fiercely protective when they see any legislative effort developing that seeks to undermine such operators.  "We are all essentially small businesses," the former stated.  "There are some larger retailers than others, some larger wineries than others, and distillers and breweries, too.  But the fact of the matter is, we all started out as small, mom-and-pop, family businesses trying to put products out that people like and are worthy of being on the streets.  That's what we want to keep here in Maryland."

MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani agreed.  "We have to keep stressing to our members that they need to develop relationships with their legislators before they are in session and before these issues go down.  Reach out and have a discussion with your delegate or with your senator, and let them know how many people you employ and what your business means to the community.  Make it so they have a connection.  Get a dialogue going."


"Dram shop" liability is one big issue that will likely generate a lot of dialogue in the new year.  If it is ever adopted, this legal doctrine would permit vendors of alcohol to be sued by individuals who have suffered injury at the hands of a patron of that vendor.  As a result, the owner of a tavern where a customer unwisely opts to drink and then drive and hits another vehicle could be sued by the occupants of the other vehicle.

"We have been lucky enough to keep dram shop away," stated Marberger.  "But that's something that could always rear its head, and something we are all keeping a careful eye on."

Marberger went on to concur with Miliani that it is of critical importance for MSLBA members to get to know their local elected officials.  Just as essential, let them get to know you, who you are, and what you do.  "The economic impact that we all as businesspeople on the community, and therefore the state, is extremely large," he said.  "There was a Colorado study I read not too long ago that stated 52 percent of the dollars that are brought into a local retail store go right back out into the community versus 10 to 15 percent of the dollars that go into a major chain or box store go back into the community."

Marberger continued, "We ARE the community!  Letting your local officials know who you are, what you do, how many people you employ, and the monetary contributions that we make are all very important things.  If your elected officials know who you are, they are more apt to give you that 10, 15, or 20 minutes that you're looking for when there is an issue that you really want them to address.   And if you get to the point where they call you as the licensee to say, 'Hey, what do you think about this?'  That's a perfect position to be in.  Because at that point, to them, you're the expert.  You're the person they're coming to in order to find out the real skinny instead of listening to a lobbyist on this side or a lobbyist on that side."

Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990, went a step further.  "Indeed, if you can get them into your place of business, that's so important," he said.  "Then, they can better understand what your business is all about and what you're all about.  It gives them a better perspective of what the effects of some of these bills really are, and that they should keep small business owners top of the mind." 

Maryland's Montgomery County promises to be top of the mind for many in 2016.  "There is going to be discussion this year about getting Montgomery County out of the liquor business," Wise predicted.  "Montgomery is one of four Maryland jurisdictions that are still in the business.  It's a big operation, as you can imagine, and I think there is going to be a lot of discussion this session about whether you can allow private wholesalers there, about whether there should be more privately run liquor stores, and so forth.  This has been debated before over the last 20 years or so.  No changes have been made, but it's something we're very supportive of.  It's a big project."

Looking ahead, all concerned are hopeful that member involvement in the MSLBA and in the state capital will continue to rise.  Milani commented, "If anyone new to the business reading this wants a voice and some say in the direction they think the business should be going in, then get involved in the association.  Someone new might have a different perspective that ends up being very valuable to us."

Wise, an attorney with the law firm of Schwartz, Metz, and Wise in Annapolis, cheekily concluded, "There is an old phrase, 'Get into politics or get out of business.'  That is certainly true in Maryland.


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:09:54 -0500
Mark Walker

Behind the Bar At Plug Ugly's

Mark Walker, bartender extraordinaire at Plug Ugly's Publick House in Baltimore, still remembers the first time he ever poured drinks professionally. It was on a particularly busy night at Charm City's fabled Hammerjack's, and The Alarm was rocking out on stage.  "Yeah, my first training shift was a sold-out concert," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "There was probably around 2,000 people there.  My boss looked at me and she said, 'Well, Mark ... sink or swim!'  I guess I swam."

Walker has been doing more swimming than sinking ever since.  A lot more.  Last year, in fact, he was named one of Baltimore's 10 Best Bartenders by the Baltimore Sun.  With well over two decades of experience, Walker got his current gig at the popular O'Donnell Street restaurant and watering hole because of his longtime friendship with co-owner Tommy Welsch.  "He's a really good friend of mine," Walker said, "and I actually waited for him to open this place up for two years while I was working elsewhere.  As soon as he opened the doors, though, I started working for him."

The place that he refers to is a thriving restaurant by day that turns into more of a nightclub in the evenings, complete with a DJ, music, and a party atmosphere. Co-owned by Mark Bogosh, Plug Ugly's Publick House opened in March 2012 where Helen's Garden used to be.  It is named after the old 1850s political gang of tough guys who would use strong-arm, "Gangs of New York"-style tactics to try and force people to vote a certain way.

Walker says the thing that distinguishes him is his toughness and longevity.  "I have been doing this for so long that even what I used to consider a challenge isn't really a challenge anymore," he stated.  "After you've been doing a job for as long as I have, you have to make your weaknesses your strengths.  The things that used to bother you, you learn how to turn them around so they don't bother you like they used to.  I tell you, if you let things bother you in this business, you're not going to make it very long.

He continued, "I enjoy talking with all of the people who come in, but that means you do have to try and be in a good mood all of the time.  You definitely don't want to bring your personal issues into the bar, because then there would be a lot of upset people sitting around.  When people come in, they want you to be in a good mood and make them smile and be their friend.  They don't want to be sitting around and asking each other, 'What's wrong with that guy?!'"

While Walker himself doesn't have a signature drink that he has become known for, he has gotten to be quite adept at making Plug Ugly's main specialty drink, known as Pirate Juice.  "It's not my drink," he was quick to point out.  "I didn't make it up.  But people love it.  It's a rum-based drink, made with seven different rums.  It infuses with fruit, and we pour it over crushed ice, add fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little berry juice on top.  That's our signature drink.  [chuckling] And we do have some nicknames for it, and I'll leave it at that."

Having been in the game since 1988, Walker says he has certainly seen his share of changes in the bar and restaurant business.  "The biggest difference is credit cards!" he declared.  "Everybody uses a credit card for everything.  When I started, everybody always used to pay cash."

In addition, there is the little matter of technology.  Chiefly, mobile technology.  He concluded with a sigh, "Everybody is on their cell phones these days.  Even most young bartenders today seem to be on their phone a lot, which is kind of annoying to me and to some customers.  They really need to take their jobs more seriously.  But, hey, I'm glad we didn't have these phones back when I was their age, because I probably would have been on them, too!" 


HOBBY:  "I play golf three or four times a week."

HIS CUSTOMERS WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN: "That I don't really drink all that much."

OTHER CAREER WOULD LOVED TO HAVE TRIED: "I should have gone to college and been a doctor.  A plastic surgeon would have been great!"

PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE (living or past):  "My mom.  She's no longer with us."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:07:06 -0500
Raven Beer, The Taste is Poetic

You don't come across a lot of people in the beer business who also have a PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.  Meet Stephen Demczuk, co-founder of Baltimore-based RavenBeer.  The Dundalk native was doing post-graduate work at the University of Geneva in Switzerland when he fell in love with beer.  "I had what I call a few 'near-religious experiences' with beer," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.

Beer became a professional side passion of his.  When he wasn't in a lab, he was traveling Europe, visiting different breweries, and writing about his experiences for such publications as American Brewer.  He eventually "dropped out of science" to pursue a career in beer full-time.  

His first success was launching Beer Around the World, the first European beer of the month club.  "I started packaging and shipping beer off from small breweries around the world," he recalled, "up to 15 countries we shipped to in Europe.  I would bring the beers in and pay the fees and tax.  Once you pay the tax, you can do with the beer what you want over there.  There is no three-tier system.  You can box it, sell it, distribute it, take it to your restaurant, whatever you want."

After selling that business to his partner, he had an offer from future partner Wolfgang Stark to start brewing his own beer.  That was 1997.  A year later, he moved back to the Baltimore and launched RavenBeer.  Over the years, he has built a highly successful brewery in Charles Village specializing in Edgar Allan Poe-themed beers.  

The first was the Raven Special Lager, a smooth beer that compares favorably to Yuengling and Samuel Adams.  "Overall," Demczuk said, "we focus on German-style beers, lagers and pilsners.  Few breweries do that, because they're typically hard to make.  They take longer to make.  They can both be very light in taste, color, and body.  So, the imperfections show up easier.  With ales, they are faster to make, easier technically and with fruitiness and other dominating flavors found in ales, imperfections in the beer are masked.  But with a pilsner or a lager, you have to nail it.  That's what make our beers special.  Few people make them, and make them well."

The company has six brands in all currently, including such colorful and Poe-centric names as the Tell Take Heart IPA, Annabel Lee White, and Pendulum Pils.  Dark Usher is the company's sixth and most recent launch.  "I knew our sixth one was going to be a German-style Kölsch," Demczuk remarked.  "I went through a number of Poe books, trying to get inspiration.  And then it dawned on me that I had never heard of a Dark Kölsch before.  So that brought to mind Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher.  So, our Kölsch Dark Usher was born.  The first line from the book became our tagline on the beer label."

Most fans of RavenBeer are first taken by the label art for the Poe series. The original drawing is by Baltimore Sun editorial cartoonist Kevin ("Kal") Kallaugher.  "I knew Kal.  So, I called him up, but it was an election year, and he said 'No, I'm up to my ears in Republicans and Democrats.  Call me after the election.'  I waited a week, called him back, and said, 'Kal, this is really a Baltimore thing.  Poe is buried here, we're brewing the beer here, and you're here.  And, by the way, [artist and longtime Hunter S. Thompson collaborator] Ralph Steadman draws labels for Flying Dog.  He e-mailed me back and said, 'Ralph's doing beer labels?!  If he's doing beer labels, I'm doing beer labels!'"

Demczuk continued, "We weren't going for the mysterious Poe or the macabre Poe.  But we didn't want to be goofy and corny Poe either.  We wanted the likeness to be somewhere in between.  I think it's gone over very well."

That's not to say Demczuk hasn't made mistakes along the way.  One of his earliest missteps was marketing.  "I should have listened to Hugh Sisson," he lamented.  "Hugh told me, 'Don't advertise in the mass media.  It'll drain your finances.  You have to do it one bar, one liquor store, one beer at a time.'  But I had some investors and a pocketful of money, and I shot my wad with radio and TV advertising.  I got the name out.  But once the money runs out and you stop advertising, so do the beer sales.  Now, I am very conservative about how I market the company.  It's now about guerilla marketing -- beer tastings, beer festivals, and things like that."

Looking ahead, Demczuk sees nothing but positives for RavenBeer, specifically, and Maryland beer, in general.  He concluded, "Both the craft beverage and beer market is exploding in Maryland.  We now have the Brewers Association of Maryland, with I think 48 members.  Two years ago, we had only 14 or so.  The laws in Maryland are strictly enforced.   They do tend to inhibit the growth that we're looking for.  But we're hoping to change those laws and help accelerate the growth of Maryland beer."


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2015 Editions Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:31:32 -0500
Ocean City Distilling

Hometown Boy, Joshua "Josh" Shores, Makes Good ... 

Some people never really leave their hometown.  But when your hometown is Ocean City, Md., and you are the owner of the Ocean City Brewing & Distilling Company, staying put has been a most rewarding life choice.  Meet Joshua "Josh" Shores Sr., a man who had run a successful Internet sales business for a number of years who wanted to be a name in his hometown.  What he really wanted to do was bring a craft brewery to the beach.  He recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "I know it sounds crazy, but I just closed up shop one day and said, 'I want to open a brewery!'" 

He got that chance in 2013 when he learned that the old Adkins building on 56th Street was available.  At that location, he founded the Ocean City Brewing Company, which has thrived and grown into a large-scale brewery, bar, and restaurant that has at least two dozen craft beers on tap at any given time.

The latest addition is a distilling operation that in August churned out its first craft vodkas.  He and his colleagues wanted to have the distillery on the same property as OC Brewing.  Maryland law, though, kept them from having both under the same roof.  Shores stated, "My original brewmaster was also a distiller, and he got me really intrigued with vodka and all the different flavors that were possible.  So, as soon as we got the brewery and restaurant up and running, I started reaching out to different distillers and distilleries around the United States.  That's when I found a home base in Florida, and we started Ocean City Distilling Co.  Until the laws change, I have to stay down there.  . . . We do have a commercial still on our property because we give daily distilling tours along with our brewery tours."

The new Beach Vodka line has indeed launched in Maryland and Delaware with four flavors: Regular, Orange, Lemonade, and Strawberry Lemonade.  Grapefruit and Salt Water Taffy flavors are expected to arrive before or around Thanksgiving.

Shores stated, "We're matching our vodkas with our beers now.  We have orange wheat, so we came out with an orange vodka.  We have a watermelon wheat that we're also known for.  So, we're going to eventually have a watermelon vodka.  We have a salt water taffy vodka that we just finally perfected, which will be coming out over the next two months.  We're mixing our brewery and our distilling together with a lot of creations.  We use all-natural ingredients.  We're gluten-free.  We use corn, and all of our vodka is distilled six times."

He continued, "At this time for Maryland, we are distributing through the Worcester County Dispensary and through our own distribution company, OC Distributing.  World Class Wholesalers distributes our vodka throughout Delaware.  This year, our focus is on Maryland and Delaware.  Next year, we have plans to expand into Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and D.C. alongside our beer.  It's been an adventure, and now we're building our bar and restaurant taphouse chain, too.  Our second location is set to open in the Bel Air-Abingdon area at the end of October."

Shores said that keeping up with demand has been the only real problem he and his staff have had -- a good problem to have, for sure.  "We had to get out of canning with our brewery because we couldn't keep up with demand for our package," he said.  "So, we had to switch to bottling.  We do all of our bottling out of Baltimore now with a contract brewer.  With vodka, we sold out our first production fast.  People were screaming for it three weeks before we even had it thanks to word-of-mouth, social media, and everything else."

Technology has indeed played a role in OC Brewing's growth in just a short time.  Shores has tried to foster an open dialogue with his customers via Facebook and other social networking channels.  For instance, each of his company's bottles has two sample recipes on the back, but customers are encouraged to go to to offer their own ideas and formulas for creating some unique drinks.

Shores noted, "With our brewery and restaurant in Ocean City, we have 250,000 people from the Mid-Atlantic area who drive by our location on a weekly basis.  People are familiar with seeing that OC logo.  They look for it online, on Facebook.  The cool thing about being in Maryland is that everyone has an Ocean City story.  Good or bad, everyone has one!"

He went on to state that he has no concerns about launching a "Beach Vodka" line at the end of summer/beginning of fall as the weather cools and Ocean City enters its off season.  "People are going to want to escape during the winter months," he remarked.  "We're all about the beach life, the salt life, whatever you want to call it.  We basically want everything to be about the Shore.  And who wouldn't want to drink a really nice Orange Crush or Lemonade Crush or Grapefruit Crush in mid-winter and think about the next warm season?  I don't think our sales are going to cut down.  People have their favorites, and they're going to stay with their favorites.  At the brewery, we get into the darker beers in the winter time.  But we have a lot of people who drink dark beers all throughout the summer.  If people like our brand and like our flavors, they're going to keep buying it and become loyal customers."

Shores added that he has also been impressed by the loyalty and camaraderie "between the brotherhood of brewmasters, the head brewers, the lead brewers, the owners."  Early on in the process, he found it a lot of fun talking with these beverage professionals who were open to giving him advice. He also marveled at how supportive of each other they are, especially when experimenting and creating new beers.  "I knew it was a business I wanted to get involved in," he stated.  "Those guys inspired me, and in turn, I found that I love creating new products."  

So far, the Orange and Lemonade vodkas have been the hottest sellers with Strawberry Lemonade not far behind.   Customers love the flavors.  But, so far, they have loved the prices even more.  "True vodka drinkers understand quality," Shores stated.  "I wanted to make sure we had one of the best products out there, but at a reasonable price.  We're in a good, middle-priced range at anywhere from $16 to $20 a bottle.  Like I said earlier, our vodkas are distilled six times, filtered seven times, and made with corn.  And they are hand-crafted.  We're not going to be one of those [operations] that will mass-produce and sell product for $6.99 or $9.99 a bottle.  We're just not going to be that.  We are trying to get the best quality we can at the most reasonable price."

He concluded, "Looking ahead, we'll be sticking with what we do best, and that's beer and vodka.  We ARE Ocean City, Md.  Our logo has the Maryland flag, and we wear it proud."


Here are Chuck Phillips, Marketing; and Joshua Shores, President; OC Distilling.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 15:53:30 -0400
Bayou Rum

Bringing the Spirit and Spirits of Louisiana to Maryland and the District

When I was a little boy, to make me laugh, my grandma would spontaneously break into her rendition of Hank Williams' classic country song "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)."  You know the lyrics: "Goodbye Joe. Me gotta go. Me oh my oh.  . . . Son of a gun, we'll have big fun, on the Bayou!"  Granny was a drinking woman, and I wish she was here with me now to sample some fine Bayou Rum.

Louisiana Spirits debuted its four variations of the product in Maryland back in May, and they've been hot sellers statewide ever since.  Founded in 2011, the company follows an authentic "sugar house" recipe in gathering raw, unrefined cane sugar and molasses from M.A. Patout & Sons Enterprise Factory in Patoutville, La.  Bayou Silver is the company's original, copper pot-distilled base rum.  "It's a lot different from most white rums on the market," said Louisiana Spirits President Trey Litel, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "It's colorless; clear; and has an almost grassy, fruity sort of aroma.  It also has a wonderful flavor and after taste and is great for sipping on ice, or with cranberry juice, or lemonade."

Silver Bayou Rum is proofed with triple filtered fresh water, delivering a truly clean, even pure taste.  I found its smooth and subtle character perfect over ice, but I could see where it would also work in a classic daiquiri or mojito or in your favorite rum cocktail creation.

By contrast, Bayou Select is the company's premium rum that's been aged three years.  It has been fermented with cane yeast, also distilled in copper pot stills, then rested in American oak in the Louisiana heat.  Of the four I sampled, this was my favorite -- a classic dark rum that I think has the ability to excite long-time rum lovers’ palates with its complex aroma and sensuous finish. 

"It's really kind of a sipping rum.  We like to call it 'the finest Louisiana rum from the darker side of the sportsman paradise,'" said Litel, who worked for Bacardi earlier in his career before striking out on his own with his brother and another partner to launch Louisiana Spirits.

So what's with all the copper?  "The copper pot still does some things that are very different than the industrial rums of today," Litel answered.  "For example, copper removes sulfites, so you have a very pure product. The batch process is where all of the flavor is."

The other product I sampled in this line was Spiced Bayou Rum, which is infused with classic traditional spices and Louisiana-grown ingredients to create a unique and satisfying blend that makes for a great mixing rum.  Spiced Bayou Rum livened up my rum and Coca-Cola, while the wife enjoyed mixing it with her unsweetened tea.  It's no wonder that it was chosen Best in Class by the American Craft Spirits Association and the American Distilling Institute.

Finally, one of the company's most promising products is its Bayou Satsuma Rum Liqueur.  "Satsuma is kind of the Mandarin orange of the South," Litel noted.  "It's 60 proof, so it's a little bit lower alcohol content.  It's delicious either straight or chilled. . . . You can down it as a shooter, [and] it's also a nice alternative to high-end triple secs.  It's in that kind of range."

Bayou Rum is in the range of rum drinkers in Maryland, with the product now being served at places like Libations Bistro in Millersville.  You can also buy it at such packaged goods stores as the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, Hair O' the Dog Wine & Spirits in Easton, and many more. In Washington, D.C., Bayou Rum products are served at such hotspots as Chapling's Restaurant, District Commons, and the Velvet Lounge and sold in such outlets as Riggs Liquors and Georgetown Wine and Spirits.  The list keeps growing in both markets.

Litel and company are especially excited to be in Maryland finally, which he calls "good rum-drinking country.  Your rum index is a bit higher than the national average.  We were also attracted because of Craft Wine & Spirits.  Shannon Crisp, Raul Mejia, and those guys had been after us for two years to bring Bayou Rum to Maryland.  They convinced us that your state was a great opportunity with its many coastal and nautical communities and diverse customers.  So, we said, 'Yeah, let's do it!'"

Big fun on the Bayou ... er, Chesapeake indeed!

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 10:40:30 -0400
Isaac Martinez, At Hank's Oyster Bar

If you operate a restaurant that has a full-service bar, you really can't ask for a better bartender than Isaac Martinez.  He's the man behind the taps at the very popular, always bustling Hank's Oyster Bar in Washington, D.C.  When asked during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal what his overall work philosophy is, Martinez had this to say: "I am interested in learning more and more so I can become better.  I want to know everything!  When people come in and say, 'Can you make this drink?' I always want to be able to say, 'Yes, I know how to make that drink.'"

Martinez came to the United States from Mexico in 2001 and has never gone back.  His English is not the best.  This reporter had to ask him to repeat a few answers during our chat and had to rewind the tape more than a few times while transcribing.  But, clearly, the force of his personality is what has his customers coming back to him again and again.  And the fact that he makes one of the town's best Old Fashioneds!  He remarked, "I really like it when people say to me, 'Oh, you work HARD! I like how you work!' I am motivated by this as much as when people say, 'I like this drink you just made me.'  When you work at a bar, you have to have a lot of energy.  You have to be in shape."

He continued, "I've always worked in restaurants and bars.  I've worked as a barback and as a bartender.  Right from the start, I really liked the job and the business. I enjoyed mixing drinks, and I still like coming up with something new for the customers."

Celebrating its 10th anniversary year, Hank's Oyster Bar has been attracting a wide array of customers ever since being founded by Jamie Leeds in May 2005. From the get-go, the establishment specialized in serving what it describes as "Urban Beach Food."  Menu favorites range from lobster rolls to fish-of-the-day specials to (of course) such ice bar options as raw oysters, tartar, and ceviche. 

Hank's is named after Leeds' dad, who she has credited in numerous interviews as her inspiration for becoming a chef. In its first decade, Hank's has received rave reviews and positive press from such local outlets as the Washington Post and the Washington Times to such national publications as Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and Southern Living. There are now three locations in all, including Dupont Circle (the original, where Martinez is employed), Capitol Hill, and Old Town Alexandria, Va.

But no great dining establishment is complete without stellar beverage service, and that's where Martinez comes in. "I focus a lot on tequilas," he said.  "That's what customers know me for.  A lot of people don't like tequila.  Or maybe they like it, but they are worried that some people may say something if they order tequila or they don't want to get a headache from drinking too much of it.  But I mix tequila with other liquors. I like to get people to try it first.  And, if they like it, then I tell them what's inside.  I think it's good to try different drinks, and tequila is definitely different" than the usual beers, wines, and cocktails people order.

While he concedes that the work hours of a bartender can be challenging, especially considering he is the father of a young son, Martinez wouldn't want any other job.  He especially loves being regarded as one of the nation's capital's veteran bartenders.  As such, he has some words of wisdom for those just coming up on the D.C. beverage scene: "Don't give up.  If you really like it, you should continue it.  A lot of people will say, 'Oh, I don't like this' or 'I don't like that.'  Don't get down, don't get depressed.  It's hard work, but there is opportunity."

He concluded, "You have to like talking with the customers.  I like talking about their lives -- where they're from, what they did today.  Sometimes, customers give me advice about what they've seen in other restaurants or even in other countries.  You can learn a lot from people."


KIDS:  One son, five years old.

WHAT HE WATCHES:  Action Movies


HOW HE SPENDS HIS FREE TIME:   "I like to go to other bars and try their different cocktails."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) 2015 Tue, 25 Aug 2015 10:27:49 -0400
Maryland Beer Loses a Steady Hand in Bob Footlick

If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to the Maryland beverage business, surely Robert "Bob" J. Footlick would be one of the faces chiseled on it.  The president of Bond Distributing Co. Footlick died of cancer on June 15 at his Pikesville, Md., home.  Footlick went to work as a beer salesman in the mid-1960s for his future father-in-law, Edward Borow, who had established Bond Distributing Co. at Bond and Thames streets in Baltimore's Fells Point years earlier. After the death of his father-in-law in 1979, Footlick became president of the company and remained in that position until his recent passing.

It was a calling that almost didn't happen, though, as Footlick's first love was the legal system.  He had every intention of becoming an attorney, having earned his law degree from George Washington University Law School where he majored in labor relations. His daughter, Leslie Footlick Schaller, stated, "When he graduated law school, my grandfather looked at him and very astutely said, 'Why in the world would you want to be an attorney when you could be in the beer business?!'"  

Fortunately, her dad agreed, and the rest is local suds history. And like so many in the business today, Schaller owes a big debt to her father and mentor.  Today, she herself serves as Bond Distributing's Director of Media and Marketing.  She stated, "His big concern was creating a company culture where employees were passionate about the business, but also felt excited about getting up and going to work every day and secure in their roles and responsibilities.  Many of our employees are multi-generational.  We have lots of different generations of family members -- fathers and sons, husbands and wives, siblings.  We're very proud to be a 21st century version of a family business that has, over the course of time, also grown to be a $100 million company."

She continued, "He was everybody's really, really good friend.  But, at the same time, he was an exceptional mentor to so many in the industry.  That was quite obvious from the thousand or so people who showed up at his funeral, not just from here but from all over the world and the country.  We received so many letters and calls and e-mails from people letting us know all of the ways he helped others, whether it was his industry knowledge or how very generous he was in the giving of his time or ... hey ... just being a dad.  A great dad."

His widow, Ronnie Borow Footlick, also works for the company as Director of Human Relations.  Together, they not only forged Bond as a family business, but a people business.  "The basic underlying principle as to why he loved the industry was because it was connected to people," she recalled, in a separate interview with the Beverage Journal.  "My husband was not a man of many words.  But the words he spoke were important, because he was also a great listener.  He really loved interacting with the customers.  Even up until the very end, he would still go out into the trade, visit with customers, and find out what they thought was going on and why business was good or bad."

As for Footlick's specific accomplishments in the industry, they were many.  First and foremost, his vision led Bond to become the first shared house in the industry by adding Coors Beer East in 1983, thus starting a wave of shared houses nationwide that ultimately led to a MillerCoors merger. Today, in addition to MillerCoors products, the company's portfolio includes Pabst, Sam Adams, Yuengling, National Bohemian, Blue Moon, Terrapin, Fat Tire, Flying Dog, and many more. In addition, Bond represents about 20 craft breweries.

Schaller added, "In the late '80s and leading into the early '90s, we were one of the first beer houses that created a non-alcoholic division.  He wanted to be all things to our retailers.  If a bar or restaurant or packaged-goods store decided they needed bottled water or Arizona Ice Tea, he figured, 'Wouldn't it be easier to get all of the packages the retailer needed on one ticket and only deal with one company, one check, one delivery truck?'  In the period of four or five years, we went from our existing customer base -- probably a little less than 2,000 customers -- to 7,000 customers. Eventually, we had to sell off that entire division.  Now, in many other parts of the country, that is the norm."

Footlick was also a big local sports fan who was able to form all sorts of noteworthy relationships with the Orioles, Ravens, and more.  In 1984, the Orioles accepted his idea for what has become their annual Floppy Hat Night to promote Miller Lite, first at the old Memorial Stadium and now at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It has been an annual promotion for 32 seasons now, and the hat is even in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. In fact, it is currently the only promotional item in the Hall.

Mrs. Footlick remarked, "He loved sports.  What he loved, I think, was the idea of people working really hard at a job, training really hard, reaching to be the best they can be.  He believed it was important to try and reach a level of excellence no matter what we do, whether you are an athlete or a driver or the president of a large company.  He also loved the competition.  He was a baseball player in his youth, and he loved all aspects of the game."

His daughter added, "When the Ravens came to town almost 20 years ago, it was his idea to have a party around their first draft.  It was down at the Sheraton Hotel near Camden Yards.  Then, the next year, we had to chuckle when the team called us up and said, 'Listen, we'd like to talk to you about some ideas we have.'  One of those ideas they tried to sell us on was a proposal to host a draft party!  We were like, 'What do you mean you want to 'sell us' on this idea?  We already ran with it LAST year!'  That just goes to show you.  Don't ever give away your best ideas for free."

Footlick's outside-the-box thinking wasn't just limited to sports promotions and tie-ins.  During the 1990s, he held a patent for the Rolling Six Pack Truck that toured the country promoting Miller products.  Schaller marveled, "He was very creative, and he was really good at creating promotional, communication, and activation campaigns or in how we designed our warehouse or in dealing with issues having to do with the unions.  He just always seemed to be one step ahead of the 'next thing' that was coming up in our industry."

And he believed in giving back to the business, too.  He had been a member of the board of the Maryland Beer Distributors for many years and believed in being involved on the local and national political scene for the protection and betterment of our industry.  Schaller commented, "He found it to be most important to be involved on the local level.  He believed in forging relationships between the different competitors within the state.  At some point, everyone needs to understand that we have common issues that we need to hurtle within our legislature and within the retail environment."

Mrs. Footlick concluded, "My father was certainly one of his early mentors in business.  Bob also had an uncle who owned a chain of ladies' ready-to-wear dress shops, who he briefly worked for after college.  I think Bob took a lot of lessons from watching both of them.  Both men felt strongly about integrity. When you leave this world, the only thing you take with you is your good name. So, you better live focusing on integrity."

Mission accomplished!

In addition to his wife and two daughters, he is survived by five grandchildren and one brother.  Bob Footlick was 75.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) 2015 Mon, 24 Aug 2015 13:02:14 -0400
National Beverage Brokers

Increasing the Diversity of Drink Choices

Maryland is definitely a diverse state.  The population is diverse, the geography is diverse, and the drinking preferences are most definitely diverse. The Hagerstown-based National Beverage Brokers (NBB) knows this and seeks to cater to that diversity. For a company that specializes in finding boutique to mid-sized importers, producers, and distributors seeking access to both the Maryland and Washington, D.C. beverage markets, that means representing everyone from the small Bordeleau Winery in Eden, Md., on the Eastern Shore to France's Original Gangster XO Brandy, which is fronted by rapper/"Law & Order SVU" star Ice-T.

At NBB's helm is owner Alan Emery, who has been in the sales business for nearly 10 years.  "Our company is a group of salespeople -- eight of us total -- who represent several small distributors," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "The concept behind this is a salesperson has a difficult time working for a small company.  There is just not enough product to sell usually.  What we've done is gotten some small companies together and we represent them in the state of Maryland and in D.C., as well.  We also help them find new products that we think will work well."

NBB's top seller is the Amore Frutti line of sparkling flavored Moscatos.  There are currently 16 flavors in all.  Another line that NBB has had much success with is Grand Moscato.  "There is a red and a white, and they are 16 percent alcohol," Emery noted.  "Later this summer, they will come out with a sparkling Grand Moscato that will also be 16 percent alcohol.  Then, in about three months or so, we're going to start receiving flavors of the Grand Moscato.  We also sell the Old Barrel Vodka, which is a highly unique vodka in that it has been aged in cognac casks.  It has a similar flavor profile to cognac.  It's very nice, very drinkable, with just a hint of sweet."

According to Emery, the most challenging part of the job for him and his sales force is getting the buyers to understand that NBB represents more than one company and that the companies they do represent ship separately, invoice separately, and so forth.  "Once people understand what we do and why we do it," he said, "they all say it makes a lot of sense and that it's great having one person representing four companies as opposed to four different sales reps taking up a lot of their time.  But it is initially a bit confusing to people, so we make sure to explain our role properly."

Emery continued, "It's a whole lot of fun building brands.  It's been a great experience seeing the Amore Frutti line go from a couple of flavors to 16.  This is a product that is distributed by Red Ink Imports [in Kensington, Md.] that we represent.  They're now to a point where they are direct importing it as opposed to buying it from an importer in the States."

Having been in sales and the beverage business for the better part of a decade now, Emery said the biggest change has been people shifting their buying preferences to less expensive wine.  He says this is a lingering effect of the economy going south in 2008 and the ensuing recession.  "Suddenly," he recalled, "people weren't spending as much money on wine.  They were still buying as much wine, but they started looking for less expensive wine.  I think it was a great thing for the industry, in a sense.  Obviously, nobody likes a downturn in the economy.  But people became a lot more aware of less expensive products out there that are fabulous.  You can find wine in Spain and Portugal and Chile and Argentina that is just an incredible value."

For the foreseeable future, Emery says NBB is not interested in representing any more companies.  The firm's philosophy is to stay focused on its small number of clients in order to do the best job possible for them.  In addition to Red Ink Imports and Bordeleau Winery, these companies include Stefano Selections and Dog Beverage Company, a small craft brewery out of Westminster, Md. 

Emery concluded, "The most important thing in this industry is building relationships.  Proving yourself to be trustworthy to the buyers and the different stores and restaurants is of the utmost significance.  And it's so important to sell them wines that are going to succeed.  There's nothing worse than bringing a wine into a store and it not selling.  You can't control everything.  But it's important to show wines, liquors, or beers that you believe are good quality.  Your most important goal should be to help their business." 

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2015 Editions Thu, 23 Jul 2015 09:26:32 -0400
Frank Cheplowitz...

...Has Found a Home at Paul's Homewood Café.   

Annapolis certainly has its institutions that have been around for decades.  The U.S. Naval Academy.  The Maryland State House.  St. Anne's Church.  And Frank Cheplowitz.  Wait ... who?  Those who know the state capital's wining and dining scene know who.  Cheplowitz has been a professional waiter there for nearly four decades.  One of his first gigs was at the old Harbor House restaurant in the City Dock area. That was followed by a nearly 27-year stint at the Maryland Inn, where he did everything from serve guests to manage staff to order the wine.

He made the switch to Paul's Homewood Cafe nine years ago and has served as its head waiter ever since.  The key to his longevity?  "I still love learning about the business!" he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "I love learning about food, about drinks, and about myself.  It's really never too late to learn things.  I also don't stress out about things as much as I did even just a couple of years ago."

As part of his continued education, Cheplowitz has recognized the value in staying close to youth.  To this end, he has formed a bond with Chris Green, the head chef at Paul's Homewood Cafe.  "He's not a kid, but I call him a kid," Cheplowitz said, with a slight chuckle.  "Chris has brought in a lot of new ideas to this restaurant and is creating new sauces, mastering different preparations, and serving up some amazing dishes.  I'm 62 and he's 27.  But the remarkable thing is I am learning from him, and he's learning from me."

Cheplowitz went on to state that he and Green spend a considerable amount of time on food and beverage pairings.  "Last night, we had a bone-in pork chop entree that had a little spice to it.  So, we opened a couple of bottles of wine to see what would pair with that.  If the customer is smart, they'll listen to you.  Fortunately, our customers are pretty smart."

With regards to the restaurant's clientele, Cheplowitz says he has been impressed as of late with the sophistication of the younger generation, especially when it comes to their beverage choices.  "More and more are drinking their parents' drinks," he stated.  "They're going for the good Scotches and bourbons.  They like the mixers and the Knob Creek.  They're not abusing it either.  They just want a nice drink with dinner.  They'll come in and say, 'My dad had a glass of Worthy.  Do you have that?'  And they're telling me about all these new types of martinis out there.  I've never seen so many different types of martinis!  It's crazy."

In terms of providing quality beverage service, Cheplowitz is a firm believer in not being overly aggressive with the guests.  He prefers listening to and sizing up customers, especially those who are not regulars.  He said, "I tell all of our waitstaff, 'Never push alcohol.'  You just don't push a customer.  If they're interested, they're interested.  If not, just let it go.  You can ask, 'Would you like a cocktail,' and if they are interested, then you try and suggest different things pared with an appetizer or their choice of entree. I also don't like to push the most expensive wine.  I'd rather sell a $7 glass of wine, because I know the chances are better that I'm going to get a second and even a third glass out of the customer than if I had recommended a $15 glass of wine."

Even at 62 in a profession most regard as a young person's game, Cheplowitz has no plans to retire anytime soon.  He firmly believes that what he does for a living is not a job, but a calling.  And he especially loves serving his fellow residents.  "I was born and raised in Annapolis," he said, "and I've seen it change from an almost small town to a major competitive market with so many restaurants and wine bars.  It's still a great city where you can raise a family and enjoy a good life."

He concluded, "I think of this restaurant as my home away from home.  Many of our customers do, too.  In the winter, people will actually walk to it when it snows  People say I'm dedicated.  THAT is dedication!"

FAMILY: A wife, two grown sons, and three teenage grandchildren.

FAVORITE MOVIE: "The Godfather"


DREAM GIG: "I love Mario Batalli! I'd love to just work with him in a restaurant  for one weekend."


GO-TO VACATION SPOTS: Rehobeth and Dewey Beach, Delaware

BEST BEER: Heineken


FAMOUS PEOPLE HE HAS SERVED: Harrison Ford, Vincent Price, Cal Ripken Jr., and former Baltimore Colts great Bruce Laird


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:57:01 -0400
Donal O'Gallachoir Explains

How Glendalough Is Preserving Ireland's Whiskey Heritage.   

Donal O'Gallachoir was one of five friends who found that they had a shared passion.  No, not for sports or automobiles or a particular brand of music.  What brought them together was a quest to revive the heritage of craft distilling in their home country of Ireland.  

As late as the 19th century, there were more than 200 licensed distilleries in Ireland in addition to countless unlicensed ones.  Until recently, that dropped to a small handful.  But the five friends' Glendalough Distillery is now looking to be a part of a true revival.  Named after one of the most beautiful valleys in all of Ireland, Glendalough Distillery is looking to make a name for itself abroad, but especially here in the States. Initially, the founders started with poitin, the first-ever spirit distilled.  Since then, they have moved on to whiskeys (the Glendalough Single Grain Double Barrel has become an especially hot seller), Irish Single Malts and four wild botanical gins for each season.  

O'Gallachoir handles all U.S. sales and marketing for the brand.  He visited Maryland (at a Baltimore whiskey haunt called Of Love and Regret) in mid-May to talk up Glendalough Distillery and its products, and the Beverage Journal was fortunate enough to get an interview with him. What follows is our chat:    

BEVERAGE JOURNAL: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers, sir?

DONAL O'GALLACHOIR: I first started in the drinks industry at the tender age of 17, doing on-premise activations for some of the big brands around Ireland.  I did that throughout college. When I finished university, I went to work for an Irish whiskey brand.  We ended up taking that national across the U.S.  All the while, I used to meet up with my cousin, Barry, and the other guys, and we used to talk about setting something up for ourselves.  We eventually jumped into this two feet first.  What we really wanted to do was bring back some of Ireland's whiskey heritage.  There were independent craft distilleries in Ireland before "independent" and "craft" were even buzzwords.  Every town had a couple of distilleries, and there was a wealth of different styles.

B.J.: What is your current job title?

D.O.: That would be "Whiskey Slinger."

B.J.: Awesome.

D.O.: No, I am the national sales manager.  I look after growing the business in the U.S., everything from distributor relations and opening new markets to training our sales team on the ground and developing campaigns and POS materials.  Anything that gets our whiskey out there and gets our whiskey selling, that would be my neck of the woods.

B.J.: You're based in Boston, right?

D.O.: For my sins, yes.

B.J.: So, as a visitor to our region, what is your impression of Maryland and Washington, D.C., as whiskey markets?

D.O.: I think it's a great whiskey market with a lot of opportunity for Irish whiskey.  I am impressed that the people are very knowledgeable. I've met people who are 21, 22, 23 who ask questions like "Is it column distilled?"  On the retail side, there are a lot of terrific specialty stores that are doing a great job educating and up-selling consumers.  I think there is also a good cocktail scene in both Baltimore and D.C.  From my experience dealing with people on the ground, people are just delighted that there is something new and interesting coming from Ireland, because for a long time there wasn't.

B.J.: Can you talk about the early days of going into business for yourself?  What was that like?

D.O.: When we started self-distributing in Dublin, it was me in a beat up Volkswagen Golf driving around with hand-written invoices. I got my car broken into a few times.  It was very humbling.

B.J.: How often do you get back to Ireland?

D.O.: About twice a year.  In fact, I am going back this week for an engagement party.  There's no rest of the wicked, right?

B.J.: You've gotten high marks for your bottle design.  Is there a story behind this rather striking label?

D.O.: Where we are from is Wicklow, just south of Dublin. Where we settled next to is Glendalough. Glen is a valley, da is a short Irish word for two,  and lough is a lake.  Glendalough is a 6th-century monastic settlement that still stands in all of its glory to this day.  ... It was founded by St. Kevin, who looked a bit like Bear Grylls.  St. Kevin was born into nobility in Ireland in the 6th century.  He was supposed to be a king.  But he turned his back on that to go his own way in the world.  He wanted to carve his own path, so, he did a bit of soul searching, and he gets to this one point at the top of a mountain, looks down, and he sees these two pristine lakes at the bottom of a valley.  He goes between the two lakes and sets up shop.  At that point, he became very religious.  Because of his strength of character and his preaching, everybody wanted to live around this holy man. To this day there is a 6th Century monastic settlement that will stands there 1400 years later.

The image on the bottle is him.  St. Kevin used to pray up to his waist in ice-cold water.  Monks were into that kind of thing at the time.  They would pray with their hands stretched towards the heavens.  It is said that he was so harmonious and one with nature that a blackbird flew down from the mountain and landed on him.  And the blackbird was so at peace, that she laid her eggs and St. Kevin stayed like that for two weeks until the hatchlings hatched.

B.J.: So, the bottle is both a nod to where there was such early distillation in Ireland and to this guy, St. Kevin?

D.O.: It was a nod to a guy who could have done it the easy way, but he choose to make his own way.  He and we have that independent Irish streak.  What we like to think we're doing is carving a new path in Irish whiskey.

B.J.: So having been in this business since you were 17, what have you learned?

D.O.: (laughing) I've learned that no good conversation starts with "You know what you should do?"  Seriously, though, in this business, it's not what you tell someone about your brand and your story.  It's what they tell their friends that really matters.  And always do what you say you're going to do.  It's not about the orders.  It's about the re-orders.  That's really what this industry is about.

B.J.: And is there any advice that you have for anyone reading this who may, one day, hope to do start their own business?

D.O.: Get people from every skill set that you don't have.

B.J.: And what specialized skill set do you possess?

D.O.: Talking ... and drinking!


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:28:59 -0400
Golia Vodka

Looks to Be a Horse of a Different Color...

The first thing I noticed when I went to crack open my first bottle of Golia Vodka, the latest hot import from Asia, is the majestic label featuring a winged horse.  While I am quite certain the owners of American Pharoah poured more than their fair share of vodka and other spirits upon winning the Triple Crown recently, I was a little iffy as to what a similarly legendary beast had to do with vodka.  So, I went to the source, Golia Vodka Chairman David Solomon.

"It's a Pegagus to Americans, but called a Wind Horse in Mongolia," he stated.  "In Mongolian folklore, the Wind Horse is conjured up by shamans to take the spirit on its journey to Heaven.  So, what we want people to think of when they are drinking Golia is that they are ascending to Heaven.  You'll see that we also incorporated the Mongolian sun, mountains, the water, and the wheat into our version of this Wind Horse."

Golia Vodka has been incorporated into packaged goods stores throughout Delaware, New Jersey, New York State, Quebec, and Pennsylvania so far and is now making inroads into Maryland and Washington, D.C., thanks to distributor Southern Wine & Spirits (SWS).  It's an 80-proof product that hits the lips and gums with a slightly sweet mouth feel, then quickly fades into a quite dry flavor with hints of sea salt, licorice, and even a bit of mint leaf.  

Maryland and D.C. vodka lovers are going to embrace this product for a number of reasons.  First, the company uses only organic and all-natural ingredients.  "We don't put anything man-made into the bottle," Solomon touted.  "We don't use chemically treated water.  It's pure H2O from our own deep underground mountain well water source in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia and fed from a place called the Khuiten Peak. Where our well water is, there are lakes in that area where you can literally see lake fish up to 50 feet below the surface. You just can't source ingredients like this anywhere else on the planet that I know of."

He continued, "The second key is the grain. We don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  Mongolia is often called the world's last unexplored frontier, unspoiled and totally magnificent.  You have three million people, 20 million goats, and land as far as the eye can see from the Gobi Desert in the south to the Altai Mountains in the north."

In addition, each batch is distilled at least six times.  That's the starting point.  That's the minimum.  If Golia's master distiller feels a particular batch needs more distillation to be even smoother, he has permission to go up to as many as nine times.  

The company's filtration process goes above and beyond, too. Most vodkas will be filtered through one, maybe two types of filters at most.  "Our vodka goes through four different types of filters," Solomon stated.  "Each batch has gone through charcoal, quartz, silver, and platinum filters, because we find that each one removes different types of impurities and makes it that much smoother."

Solomon has proven to be an ultra-smooth businessman in the States, founding the Redbox DVD vending machine concept and owning a 20-store Toys "R" Us franchise.  What took him to Mongolia?  A friend, Lee Cashell, went on a junket to the country when it was first opening to the West. He fell in love with his tour guide, got married, and never left. Today, the husband-and-wife team's companies own many different things in Mongolia from a cement factory to apartments to the largest real estate brokerage company. 

Solomon went to visit him. "I also fell in love with the country; the people; and, most importantly for this story, the vodka.  We saw a real opportunity to bring this kind of quality spirit here."

The company is now looking to expand distribution of Golia Vodka throughout America, with Maryland and the nation's capital being their current hot target. "I am extremely optimistic about the Maryland and D.C. market," Solomon concluded.  "We're based just outside of Philadelphia.  So, it's a market we can cover very easily, and it's a place I can personally go to for tastings.  I also think the Maryland and Washington customer, in general, is knowledgeable and appreciates finer spirits, particularly craft spirits like ours.  This is an opportunity for us to come in with a fantastic vodka at a competitive price point.  We have a good story to tell, too.  It's just kind of crazy that Mongolians and Americans are working together in Mongolia making great vodka. I'm sure you don't read about that every day in the Beverage Journal." 

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 11:51:36 -0400
Have a Seat...

...and a Blue Chair Bay Rum:  

On country superstar Kenny Chesney's current U.S. tour, fans can walk through the singer's American Kids bus.  Inside, there are displays that tell the story of the singer's music; his lifestyle; and, most importantly to Beverage Journal readers, his line of flavored Blue Chair Bay Rums imported and bottled by Chesney's Fishbowl Spirits LLC.  "There is an opportunity to taste, as well," said Fishbowl Spirits President David Farmer.  "So fans can come to understand what these rums are all about."

First and foremost, what Blue Chair Bay Rums are about is lifestyle.  Chesney is selling an island vibe that comes through in many of his most popular tunes.  Created at a small distillery in Barbados and launched in April 2013, there were the three initial selections: Blue Chair Bay White Rum, Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum, and Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum.  Before long, Blue Chair Bay Banana Rum came along and was also a hit.  In June, the company is launching Blue Chair Bay Vanilla Rum and Blue Chair Bay Banana Cream Rum.  

This reporter tasted both of the new releases.  If I had one word to describe their overall taste profile, it would be "clean."  Sometimes flavor-infused spirits have a sort of artificial taste to them.  Some, quite honestly, go over the top.  One of the great things about Blue Chair Bay is the lack of an overbearing taste.  This is a very fresh line that is obviously a testament to Chesney's insistence that the rums be as natural as they could be.  Farmer remarked, "This is his rum.  It's not a sponsorship.  It is a labor of love for him."

The singer's influence is most evident in the design of the bottles.  "He wanted it to look like the beach, he wanted it to feel like something you got at the beach," Farmer said.  "He loves the worn look, so that's why you see the lettering have that faded, worn look.  And you also have the lyrics of his classic hit 'Old Blue Chair' on there that connects him and the bottle."

Blue Chair Bay doesn't come across as particularly masculine or feminine in its taste or its marketing and point of sale materials, but instead finds a sweet spot right in the middle.  The products mix well with the traditional colas and diet colas, but splashes of fruit juice -- pineapple and orange, in particular, with soda water -- bring out a popping array of tastes.

Of the four releases already out, my personal favorite is Blue Chair Bay Banana, in which the company took its classic beach-made white rum and added caramelized banana with just a hint of island spice and toasted coconut.  It makes for a truly great Banana daiquiri, but also mixes well in such up-and-coming cocktails as the Grilled Banana Punch and Bananas Fostertini.  I also enjoyed Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum with its delicate, yet smooth blend of coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove.  I sipped it on its own, mixed with club soda and a sprig of fresh mint, and it was delightful.

Food pairings are also proving quite important to getting this brand out into the public consciousness.  Farmer says he is aware of several restaurant menus across the country that have a Bananas Foster with Blue Chair Bay Banana Rum in the mix.  "We have a great relationship with Logan's Roadhouse," he added.  "They sent me a menu just the other day of some food options that they're going to run using our product.  They have a Blue Chair Bay Rum-glazed barbecued salmon salad, a rum glazed salmon, and a glazed flatiron steak.  They've done a great job with those, and it definitely gets Blue Chair Bay out there."

Farmer is also excited about the ongoing 50 ml program, featuring a line of little bottles that are getting more and more people to try the product. "With this being a premium rum, we're asking a lot for someone to pull an $18.99 or $19.99 bottle down off the shelf and buy it," he acknowledged.  "We feel it's a great rum, a premium rum.  But for consumers, we felt it was important to give those who are not quite sure of it the opportunity to at least test the brand.  Hopefully, this will push more people in the right direction ... our direction." 

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2015 Edition Thu, 21 May 2015 21:56:24 -0400
360 Vodka ...

...Connecting With Wounded Veterans:   

It's perfectly fine to buy one's self a drink because you just want to feel good.  Well, if you buy 360 Vodka's latest limited edition bottle, you will more than feel good.  You'll be doing your patriotic duty!  AND, as always, buying 360 Vodka also means you are doing right by the environment as each bottle is made with 85 percent recycled glass, 100 percent recycled paper for the labeling, and the distillery where it was made has its own water treatment plant.

But back to the patriotism part.  The limited edition, 1.75-liter package hit shelves in April, and $1 from each bottle sold is being donated to the Connected Warrior Foundation.  The Annapolis-based organization provides tablet computers and other services to injured soldiers so they can stay connected with their families, friends, and the world when in the hospital or in a rehabilitation program.  A tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, the Connected Warrior Foundation was founded in 2012.  The group has delivered everything from Kindle devices to Nexus tablets to wounded veterans during their stays at such facilities as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and Balboa Naval Hospital.  Connected Warrior serves veterans -- whether newly-injured or on the path of recovery over an extended period of time -- who have suffered physical and/or emotional invisible wounds (PTSD) that were received during the course of combat on behalf of the United States.

Larry Brookman of Active Marketing and Sales LLC represents the product in Maryland and is excited about its drinkability, apart from the very important tie-in promotion.  "It's a very clean, 80-proof vodka," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "It's six times distilled and five times filtered from American grain -- the biggest advantage of that being the smooth taste that the consumer gets with the distillation process.  It takes out the impurities. We have a retail price point of just under $20 for the 1.75-liter bottle."

The packaging for the limited edition product is quite striking, too.  Brookman commented, "We settled on a distinctive red, white, and blue package with an emphasis on stars.  The most distinctive part is the swing-top cap.  360 Vodka is all about the environment, reducing waste and being eco-friendly.  They have a program called Close the Loop whereby if the consumer mails back the swing top, it will get re-used.  They recycle everything.  They then donate $1 to Global Green USA for each swing top . . .  and they've received over 50,000 swing-tops!"

Brookman believes the product will continue to cut across all demographics, too.  "The consumers now are very educated on vodkas," he stated.  They know what they like, and they can really tell the difference between the different vodkas out there."  

He is especially heartened by the number of female drinkers that have been gravitating to 360 Vodka.  "I did a tasting last week," he recalled.  "Would you believe I had more females purchasing than men?  The women not only like their vodka, they know their vodka.  So, you better be known to them.  They also tend to respond to products more emotionally than men, so it's good we have a product like this that tugs at the heart strings a little.  And the limited edition is good for getting retailers on board, especially those who want to do more than just sell product but also make a difference.  They can tell their customers, 'Hey, not only is this a great tasting vodka, but a portion of what you're spending is going back to a great local foundation.  One dollar per bottle to Connected Warrior adds up to $6 for every case that rolls through retailers' doors."

He added, "We kicked it off on April 10 with a meeting where Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) got their sales force together.  We had a massive 50-case display showing all of our POS that highlighted the partnership with Connected Warrior.  We brought in Jim Leckinger, Director of Programs & Engagement for Connected Warrior, to tell the sales team exactly what his organization is all about.  The sales team was pumped when they left.  Since then, we've had a lot of big retailers step up to the plate.  It's in the stores now."

Leckinger says the promotion is definitely increasing Connected Warrior's visibility.  He believes it's a win-win for not only his group, but also for the retailers who stock the product and the customers who buy it.  In a separate interview with the Beverage Journal, he remarked, "By having this product and promotion in your stores, you are helping local veterans as we are a Maryland-based veteran services organization, or VSO.  You have the opportunity to see what the money you are raising can do on a day-to-day basis in helping our injured veterans recover, rehabilitate, and get them back into the world with the best physical and mental health possible."

He continued, "The way we start is when they get injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, in the hospital system, we send them an Android-based tablet computer they can hook through the WiFi.  What happens is when they get injured, things happen very quickly.  They are literally in Germany the next day and then the United States a day or two after that.  So, within 72 hours, they are completely detached and isolated from everyone they know and have come to trust so much.  By giving them these tablets, they can connect with the outside world.  The tablets also become very helpful once they get out of the hospital system.  It helps them with organizing their schedule, keeping their medical appointments, arranging their medicines, educational stuff.  There's an app for everything.  That is what we do nationwide.  We've sent out over 3,000 tablets in the last two and a half years." 


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2015 Edition Thu, 21 May 2015 21:44:02 -0400
The New Maryland Distillers Guild

Guilds come in all shapes and sizes these days, and they have varying missions.  The Screen Actors Guild, for instance, represents the interests of thespians worldwide who appear on the big and small screens.  The Newspaper Guild is a labor union for journalists and other employees of newspapers and currently boasts more than 30,000 members across North America.  The much smaller Lollipop Guild, meanwhile, is tasked with doling out sweet treats as a form of welcome to visitors of the magical Land of Oz's Munchkinland precinct.

The recently formed Maryland Distillers Guild is looking to be all those things -- an industry representative, a de facto labor union, and a welcome wagon -- and more for those artisanal distillers statewide who craft whiskeys, rums, vodkas, and other spirits. Boutique whiskeys and other spirits are surging in popularity with consumers both in Maryland and across the country. Unlike wines whose quality and character are shaped by such things as climate and soil type, spirits can be distilled anywhere with raw materials like barley or sugar to be shipped in if need be.

The distribution model now in place in Maryland basically allows a distiller to sell a limited amount directly to the customer -- three bottles per person each visit.  In addition, distillers can go to distributors to retail their products or apply for a wholesaler’s license themselves.  Of course, each distiller needs state and federal permits. One person who has navigated this process and wants to help others do so is Guild President Jaime Windon, who is also co-owner, along with Ben Lyon, of Lyon Distilling in St. Michaels.

Windon stated in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "The guild will help bring existing distilleries together; encourage new distillers to open; and, through legislation and our education and marketing efforts, we'll be able to shape future opportunities for the entire industry.  Once you do those things, you'll be able to foster jobs, agriculture, tourism, and so forth.  This is an industry that will benefit the state on so many levels."

She continued, "It's exciting for me as a distillery owner, because we have wanted for that camaraderie ever since we opened in 2013.  It's also exciting to be president of the guild this first year and help shape our industry and to help my fellow distillers thrive.  An industry can't thrive with just two or three full distillers.  If you go to a small distillery, buy a craft spirit, and it's not very good, you are much less likely to go out and purchase a craft spirit from any state.  But when you walk into a small distillery and have a fantastic experience, you meet some passionate owners, you take a tour, you try a spirit that completely opens your eyes to something new, then you are far more likely to take a chance the next time you have the opportunity to visit a craft distillery or see a craft beer on the shelf.  We're all working for the betterment of our industry.  There is so much room for growth."

Beside creating their own guild, Maryland's distillers recently hired Kevin Atticks and his firm, Grow & Fortify, to manage the organization, lobby in Annapolis, lead promotional campaigns, and generally help the industry grow.  In beverage circles, Atticks is best known for leading the Maryland Wineries Association since 2002 and has played a key role in expanding that group from 15 to 70 wineries.  He has also proved particularly adept at pushing for revisions to state and county alcohol laws.  The Maryland Distillers Guild joins the Maryland Wineries Association and Brewers Association of Maryland as clients of his firm.

Atticks remarked," The number of wineries who were trying to get brewery and distillery licenses was on the increase, and there were no real reference points for them.  They were calling the state, and the state was saying, 'Give Kevin a call.' Or, 'Give other breweries and distilleries a call.'  It occurred to me that there was a need to organize and create a professional face for the distilling industry and to help the brewers, as well.  So, in December, I formed a firm and converted my relationship with the wineries, brought them onboard as clients, and they were fully in support of this idea. I then approached the active distilleries and convened a meeting of them.  We got together in late January, and we came to an agreement about me helping them form an organization.  The guild wants to promote directly to the customers, both in and out of state, that Maryland is a great place to come and visit, take a distillery tour, and refresh people's memories of the history of Maryland distilling."

Windon definitely believes the guild has history on its side. Maryland was known for its rye whiskey and rum during colonial times.  Prior to Prohibition, the Old Line State produced the fifth-most alcohol in the country.  "What many people don't realize is that Maryland has this illustrious distilling history," she confirmed.  "Rum was the first spirit ever distilled in Maryland back in the 1600s.  The colonists made and drank a lot of rum!  The industry got decimated when the public's tastes changed, and rye whiskey fell out of fashion in the 1950s and '60s.  In 1972, the last big Maryland distillery distilled its very last drop of whiskey, and we had a 40-year drought.  So, it seems like a new thing to anyone under 40.  But anyone in their 50s and 60s remember when Baltimore smelled like rye whiskey.  Distillers were pumping it out.  We want to bring back that recognition."

Atticks noted the guild is tackling its first big challenge right now: organizing. This includes developing bylaws and setting a legislative agenda.  "We'll be testifying in Annapolis on behalf of the guild to create some events opportunities, allow distillers to attend some events away from the distillery.  These won't be big sales opportunities, but they'll be great to promote products. Distillers should also have the ability to support charities and worthy causes through the donation of some of their product."

For those reading this who are dreaming of joining the growing ranks of distillers in Maryland, Atticks was quick to offer his advice: "Step one, we recommend calling the Guild. So much of what a start-up distillery goes through involves forging new ground at the local municipality or county level. In most places around the state except in the very specific instances where there are operating craft distilleries, the county and municipality will have no idea what to do with a request.  For a start-up, that can become a quagmire that can go on for years.  We'd like to be able to walk someone through that process, make calls to the county, go to meetings with them to make sure that it's done right so that we don't have bad precedents put into place that could cripple a local distillery or the local industry."

Windon concurred, adding, "Make sure you are getting into this for the right reasons.  Have a passion for this and bring something unique.  The only downside to an industry growing so quickly is that it can grow recklessly with people not adhering enough to quality.  While it's always exciting at first to jump in and we certainly encourage people to get started, pay attention to the quality of what you're making, make sure you have done your due diligence, and make sure you have honed your craft before you launch your business.  While we are excited to see new businesses open, we want them to be stellar distilleries.  We want the reputation of Maryland be known not just for many distilleries, but to be known for quality distilleries.  It's not so much about numbers as it is about quality."

The sizes of the state’s distillers are indeed fairly small.  Lyon, for example, uses a 26-gallon still and produces only between 400 and 600 bottles a month.  Right now, there are four spirit-only distilleries in Maryland, three of which are also wineries, and another four operations still in the planning stages.  By comparison, Washington state has 90 distilleries up and running.

Atticks remarked, "I think in 12 months, the industry will have doubled. It will have at least 12 distilleries operating.  I think we'll have some small towns really excited to have a new distillery bringing jobs and lots of tourism.  We will have Maryland distilling on the map again."

Windon concluded, "Craft distilling is all about experimentation and innovation.  That's what we're passionate about at Lyon Distilling, making really great things that are unique.  We love it when people come in and try a rum and say, 'Wow, I've never had a rum like this before!'  That is what craft distilling is all about.  It's about expanding what people think a spirit can be." n


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 15:39:27 -0400
Billy Reilly...Making a Splash in the Fishbowl

One of country superstar Kenny Chesney's biggest hits was "When the Sun Goes Down."  Well, in the beverage biz, the sun has definitely not gone down on Billy Reilly yet.  He's the new Maryland-D.C.-Virginia Territory Manager for Fishbowl Spirits LLC, an independent spirits company wholly owned by Chesney.  Their signature product is Blue Chair Bay Rum.

Reilly believes he's the man to bring this premium-blended spirit, distilled in Barbados and inspired by the singer's relaxed island life, to market in our region.  After all, he was the owner and commissioner of the Fastest Bartender Contest for many years, putting on exciting competition shows all over the Maryland-D.C. area.  He sold that business to some members of his staff.  "It has stayed in the hands of the people who have actually run it, and I am really happy for them," he said proudly, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.

Reilly also operated a small consulting firm which specialized in "out of the box" marketing.  His clients included a number of bars, restaurants, and small businesses.  "I was never far from the business," he remarked.  "I heard about this job opening.  I immediately inquired online, and I made the most of my interview opportunity and landed the position."

In his new job, he is responsible for both on- and off-premise sales.  His first day was April 1.  We chatted on March 31.  "I am most looking forward to getting back and seeing a lot of the bars and restaurants that I've become very fond of over the years," he said.  "I can't wait to see all of those friends who were waiters, waitresses, and busboys who have since assimilated into management and ownership.  It will be great visiting territories where we used to have shows and to bring a fantastic premium product to their doors."

Asked if he was daunted by the work ahead of him, Reilly was quick to reply that his mindset doesn't allow him to see challenges.  Ever.  "I only see opportunities," he stated.  "My theory in life is that there aren't any problems, there are just solutions.  How can I be a part of those solutions?  Honestly, the only obstacle I expect is overcoming established products that have been in the market for a while."

Reilly is thrilled to have the name recognition of such a major celebrity behind the brand he is touting.  So far, he has marveled at the level with which Chesney has been involved in everything from marketing decisions to color schemes to taste profile.  "Everything is Kenny!" declared Reilly.  "He's not just lending his name.  This is his deal.  He's the new hardest working man in show business.  And if we, his staff, can put as much energy into this product as he does into his shows, then I predict much success."

Reilly is one of those beverage industry professionals who has always prided himself on living and working by a code.  "Be loyal to your establishment," he said.  "Seek to make a difference and have an impact.  Bring an excitement level, do what you say you are going to do, and make sure you follow through.  The key to longevity in this business is you have to be productive, and you have to stay relevant and focused on the needs of the retailer, the bar owner, and the restaurant owner.  Your name sticks with you.  Hard work does pay off, and I am a living example of that."

In his nearly quarter-century in the business, the biggest change that he has seen is the shift from old-school bartending to the new trend of mixology.  "Bartending is now much more than a job than when I started.  It's a craft.  People are studying and aspiring to be great bartenders now.  It's not just a job that leads to another job.  I also see a big upswing in spirits versus beers.  Spirits are really gaining a lot of ground, and premium products have a very good opportunity in this market to establish themselves."

He concluded, "I am so looking forward to the year ahead.  It will be a great year if I am successfully able to take this fantastic brand that has legs, move it into an exciting market, and get the name out.  It's just an exciting time to give an old war horse like me one more great run!" 

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Wedding Crashers"

ANY KIDS:  Two sons.  Colin, 13, and Will, 11.

IF HE'S NOT LISTENING TO CHESNEY, HE'S ROCKIN' TO: Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger

HE COLLECTS: Cocktail shakers.  "I am a collector of the craft.  I probably have the single largest cocktail shaker collection in the U.S.  Thousands of them!"

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 14:54:47 -0400
Babak Pakravan Anything But Common at Penn Commons

Most people who I interview for this column have come to the bar business with similar stories.  "I started bartending in college and fell in love with it" or "My dad owned a tavern, so I grew up in the business."  That's not the case with Babak Pakravan, head bartender at Penn Commons in D.C.  A first-generation Iranian-American, his family's travels took him back to Iran where he had to eventually be smuggled out in 1983.  He tried university life, but dropped out to join the United States Marine Corps. from 1985 to 1989.  After those four years, he went back to college before becoming an officer in the U.S. Army.

He didn't get his start in hospitality until 1995, working various taverns and restaurants in Chicago.  A year later, he moved to the District of Columbia and continued his service in our sector.  "I was on the periphery early on," he recalled.  "I was a dishwasher.  I became a barback.  I worked security.  I worked at Timberlake's for 13 years.  When Timberlake's closed, I came over to Passion Food Hospitality, the group I'm with now."

He initially started working at 10 Penh, a Pan-Asian restaurant, then went to Saba.  He was the bar manager there until it closed, which brought him to Penn Commons, the newest restaurant in the company.  Pakravan believes he has found a home.

"Penn Commons is a very high energy bar," he stated.  "We have 38 craft brews on draft.  We celebrate American distilleries and American craft breweries.  We also have Jameson's and a lot of the other traditional stuff guests look for.  But we like to guide the customer into the American equivalent of whatever spirit they're seeking.  Our location is right by the Verizon Center.  We're literally attached to it.  So, before games, people of all ages come in and have drinks.  It gets really loud, sometimes like a rock concert in here."

Pakravan says what he loves most about his job is the guest interaction.  "I've always been a talker," he said, "and I  like meeting and hearing people's stories.  The challenge, which is also fun, is when I am trying to come up with a new cocktail for them.  I actually like to revitalize classic cocktails, but not for the sake of, 'Oh, look at what I'm doing!'  I'm really interested in enhancing ingredients to create a better experience for the guests.  I also like to feature drinks where a person can go home and recreate it in their own home bar, as well."

Currently, he is using Purity Vodka and infusing it with watermelon radish and horseradish.  "It's really aromatic, and we're using it in our Bloody Mary," he stated.  "I'm doing a martini with it, as well, with some ginger puree, some sweetened lemon, and grapefruit bitters.  It's very earthy, but very nice."

He also enjoys using FEW Spirits' various products and brands.  "If you haven't tried FEW Spirits' Rye, try it!" he exclaimed.  "It's very special.  They're based out of Evanston, Ill., and Chicago has always been special to me having worked the bar scene there in '95.  I carry two of their gins, the regular and the barrel-aged gin that I use in a classic daiquiri to give it depth.  I really can't wait to see what they put out next."

Pakravan believes the world is seeing a revival of the Golden Age of cocktails.  He is especially impressed with some of the young people coming up now and their passion and creativity.  But tending bar is work, he's quick to point out.  "This is a profession," he said.  "Treat it as such, really like what you are doing, and good things will come.  There is a creative process, an artistic component, to what we do that I really enjoy.  You're not just copying, you're creating."

Looking ahead, Pakravan said he was most excited about rolling out Penn Commons' brunch cocktail menu in early February.  He concluded, "I like to change things up as the seasons change.  If there is anything new that comes out that is different in the market, we try to carry it at Penn Commons.  Right now, for example, we are carrying a beer that is made  by monks in Massachusetts, and this is how they support their monastery.  Our bar is a testament to Ben Franklin's old saying, 'In beer, there's joy!'" 

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Casablanca"

IN HIS SPARE TIME:  "I like checking out the Washington bar scene and seeing what my colleagues are doing."

PRIZED POSSESSION: "I was a model builder as a kid, and I have the wooden airplane that is on the cover of one of the Tin Tin books."

DOES HE HAVE A HIDDEN TALENT? "I do, but not one I can talk about.  It goes back to the Marine Corps!"

IN HIS SPARE TIME:  "I like checking out the Washington bar scene and seeing what my colleagues are doing."


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:33:07 -0500
What Glitters is Gold at Heavy Seas Beer

When this journalist suggested to Joe Gold that he was a "beer nerd," the Sales Manager at Heavy Seas Beer in Halethorpe chuckled and replied, "Yeah, I guess I am."  Then, he thought for a moment and proudly declared, "Actually, I'm more of a 'beer explorer.'  I go on beer hunts.  What I do is I keep a beer journal, and I travel the globe looking for fun things to visit beer-wise -- taverns, brewpubs, historic sites.  I tend to plan my trips around beer.  For instance, when I'm on the road for work, I'll do some research as to what's happening that weekend with beer.  If there's a festival or some sort of pub I've never heard of, I'll stay over the weekend just to check it out."

Sorry, Joe.  That pretty much qualifies you for "beer nerdom."  Not that there's anything wrong with that!  After all, how many people get to turn their life's passion into a full-time job.  Gold earned his first paycheck in the brewing business in 1986, working for Young & Co.'s Brewery in London.  His younger days as a lacrosse player had moved him from Baltimore to England three years earlier.  When it came time to get a job, the beverage business there beckoned.

"So much has changed from when I first got involved," he stated.  "I used to walk into taverns in the '80s and say, 'I have this phenomenal beer. It's fantastic. We just came out with it.' And the buyer would say, 'I've never heard of it, and nobody's ever asked for it. Get out of here!' I go in today and tell the buyer, 'Hey, we came up with this new batch of beer. It's fresh off the line.' And the buyer says to me, 'I've never heard of it, and nobody's ever asked for it. I'll take three kegs!' It's the weirdest professional shift I've ever lived through!"

Gold has found a kindred spirit in the products he sells today.  "Heavy Seas is in our 20th year," he noted. "The branding of the pirate theme, the popularity of the Loose Cannon brand, and now with our year-round CrossBones beer, it all speaks to adventure. What people look for in a craft beer is to identify with a theme. It has more to do with your heart than your head. When you try a craft beer, it needs to resonate with you."

He continued, "What sets us apart is we do a lot of traditional things. We give it all a Heavy Seas spin, but we stay within some boundaries. We sell balanced beer. We're not looking for the odd or quirky. We're looking for quality."

In addition to his job at Heavy Seas, Gold is the founder and one of the driving forces of Baltimore Beer Week.  He is already hard at work planning the 2015 event, which will be celebrating its seventh year this October.  

He says the tradition is just one of the things that makes Maryland such a great "beer state."  He elaborates, "The breweries and the beer drinkers in our state are as diverse as anywhere on the planet. We happen to also possess a port that allows anything from anywhere to get to us quickly. So, honestly, our beer drinking scene offers the consumer more choices than any other market in the U.S., I believe. I would also say that the consumer in Maryland probably has a little less loyalty to any particular brand, because there is such a plethora of things to enjoy. If you go to places like the Pacific Northwest or New England, those brands that are made in those neighborhoods get the lion's share of sales. Here, we have as diverse a portfolio as anywhere, and it makes it challenging to become a staple."

While the Old Line State has embraced craft beers, the same can't be said for the rest of the country.  He notes that craft beers still account for just under 10 percent of the total market share.  "The fact that 90 percent of the beer that's drunk in the United States isn't even made by one of the 3,000 craft brewers, that's a shame.  And not in the business sense, but more in the 'Why would you drink that?!' sense."

For Gold, though, the uphill battles are still the ones worth fighting.  And he believes Heavy Seas will continue to push forward with new and exciting products.  He concluded,  "I've met a lot of passionate people along the way in my career.  From them, I've learned that if you keep your passion and your focus, you're going to move the needle."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Chariots of Fire"

GO-TO RESTAURANT:  Akbar on Charles Street in Baltimore ("I'm an Indian food fan!")

HOBBIES--SPECIAL INTERESTS: "Travel, coaching lacrosse, and keeping up with my 13-year-old son"

FAVORITE WINE: "I am a fan of port.  I don't drink a lot of it.  But, every once in a while, I love a good glass of port."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:26:45 -0500
Black Momma Vodka to Show the Market 'Who's Your Daddy'

You've heard that Secret deodorant is strong enough for a man, but made for a woman? Well, after that woman freshens up her underarms and heads out for an evening on the town, Vanessa Braxton hopes she'll be drinking Black Momma Vodka.  Braxton is CEO and President of the new label, which launched in 2013 as a division of B4MC Group Inc.  On the homepage of her website, she describes Black Momma as "made by a woman for women and still strong enough for any man ... OKAAAY!"

Yes, indeed.  This vodka comes with some sass and five different variations.  There is the popular Straight Vodka, which is filtered from corn through crushed diamond lava rocks; along with a Sour Sop Tea Vodka; a Chai Tea flavor; a Green Tea infusion; a Pomegranate Tea infusion; and, finally, a Peach Tea variation. Braxton stated, during a recent Beverage Journal interview "Women are different, and I wanted to make something that is for us and by us.  It's a male-dominated industry, and that's fine.  I love men!  But our palettes are very different.  I'm a tea drinker, and I always have been.  At the same time, I love vodka.  This is THE product!"

All of the Black Mommas are five times distilled and five times filtered, giving the finished product a clean finish and a most pleasing taste.  "A lot of people think that vodkas all taste the same, but they don't!" Braxton noted.  "We don't add any sugar, there aren't any chemicals, it's all-natural. So, you get that natural sweetness.  I suffer from headaches.  Our process is such that it minimizes headaches that sometimes comes from drinking vodka.  Also, the corn base helps it to be naturally gluten-free."

She continued, "We don't like to say 'flavored.'  We like to say 'naturally infused.'  I choose to do an infusion because I'm an engineer.  Chemical engineering is my background, so I can write formulas.  I get my own blends directly from the tea manufacturer, and that makes the final product very smooth.  It's hand-crafted with a lower alcohol content.  It allows us women, or really any guy who doesn't want to get plastered, to enjoy a hard alcohol product that still gives you that little kick.  There's no mixing necessary."

Braxton's managed construction and engineering contracts worth more than $350 million for the New York State government prior to her retirement.  Since then, she has lived her dream of becoming the first African-American female owner and operator of a nationally distributed vodka in the United States.  In 2015, Black Momma Vodka will be in 32 states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

"D.C.-Maryland is a great market as far as spirits are concerned, especially with vodka," she stated.  "People in D.C. and Maryland are on the go, and nobody has time for anything.  A lot of people walk into bars and say, 'Give it to me straight.  Give it to me fast.  Give it to me on the rocks or with a splash of orange juice or ginger ale.' Vodka is an easy spirit to drink, especially Black Momma."

And the name?  Braxton laughed.  "I couldn't think of anything else I liked.  I said, 'Hmmmm, what am I going to call it.  OK, I'm black, I'm a momma, and I love vodka!  That's it!"

Next came the bottle design.  What catches the eye immediately is that all of the usually important stuff -- the lettering, the logo, etc. -- are upside down. "It's an upside-down heart, or as some men like to say, 'It looks like a woman's behind.'  When you turn the bottle upside down, it's now a woman's corset.  It's playful.  Then, people ask, 'Well, why are the words upside down?'  Because that's so you can read it when it's being poured.  Also, in California and some other places, there are those dispensers at the bars that keep the bottles upside down.  People can read the product's name."

Looking ahead, Braxton is set to make at least a few appearances locally in the new year.  She is also looking forward to working closely with her local distributor.  "Much praise goes to Southern Wine & Spirits," she concluded.  "They have believed in me and the product and have been so great.  They have a vision, and they have the contacts.  They've told me they are going to make me very proud in 2015!"

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2015 Editions Wed, 21 Jan 2015 19:11:29 -0500
Active Marketing and Sales

Movie fans are definitely looking forward to Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher reprising their "Star Wars" roles after 32 years when "The Force Awakens" hits theaters this coming December. And just this past week, Sylvester Stallone took to social media to confirm that he would not only be playing Rocky Balboa again, but also John Rambo in a sequel to be subtitled "Last Blood."

Well, the local beverage business has a similar tale of longtime heroes returning to action to tangle with today's young guns. They are Emery Coccia and Larry Brookman. The former has never left. He has been running his Maryland-based independent brokerage, Active Marketing and Sales LLC, since 2005. Overall, he has been active in the beer, wine, and spirits industry since 1971. Brookman, meanwhile, was basically retired after career stints at several companies, the last being Constellation Brands where he was a part of their Spirits Division for 10 years. But late last year, he bought into Active Marketing, and now the two are full partners.

Brookman stated, "God willing, if we stay healthy, Emery and I can do this for at least the next 10 years or however long we want. We're a lot alike. We do business in much the same way, and we know a lot of the same people. His and my goals are very similar. It's not all about the money, especially at our point in the business. We can still make a difference. Emery and I have cloned ourselves. We've duplicated. If both of us are working effectively, we should be able to cover a LOT more territory and build a LOT of brands!"

The company currently represents such brands as Exclusiv Vodka, Midnight Moonshine, Senor Sangria, and J.R. Ewing Bourbon. A couple of new wines named Manuscript and Match are set to kick off in February. The Manuscript Wines will feature a medium to full bodied Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. The PS Match Wines are a collaboration with Patti Stanger of "Millionaire Matchmaker" on Bravo.

Coccia remarked, "Are we going to take a brand like Exclusiv Vodka and make it the next Absolut or the next Smirnoff? One day, we might. Lightning could strike the bottle. But in the meantime, we can build a nice, solid brand by talking to the retailers, doing some promotions, doing some in-store tastings. The bottom line is hustling and bringing it to the attention of the retailers and the consumers."

Coccia indeed started in September of 1971 as a salesman at Quality Brands where he worked his way up to management. He then moved over to management at F.P. Winner, which is where he and Brookman first met. For his part, Brookman got his start in the business with the Milton S. Kronheim Company in D.C. in 1975.

"We were both managers at F.P. Winner at the same time," Coccia recalled. "I stayed there until 1995 when I went on to the supplier end of the business. I started at Barton Brands and went on to Domecq Importers, which became Allied Domecq. They sold out in 2005 to Pernod Ricard and Jim Beam. At that time, I started my own brokerage, Active Marketing and Sales, and I have been an independent broker ever since."

Brookman thought he had left the business behind in 2013. "I totally planned on working on my golf game and playing with my grandkids, and that was going pretty well. But after a year, my golf game got worse and my grandkids and wife got tired of seeing me! And I did miss the action of the industry and was itching to do something to get back into it. I just needed something that would keep me driven on the back 9 of my life. I got used to reading a lot of stories to my grandkids and being back in the business will allow me to tell the stories of the brands we represent."

He and Coccia started talking this past summer about a possible team-up. At that point, Brookman hadn't worked in over a year. "I told him, 'When I grow up, I want to be like you!' He had this great, thriving brokerage business. What I did was buy into it. We're now equal partners effective Nov. 1."

Expansion is very much on the mind of both men. Coccia is especially excited for the new year ahead. "My original boss was Harvey Kasoff. He was the vice president of the old Quality Brands. He was always great with slogans and motivational things. And he told me, 'The only thing that makes money standing still is a parking meter.' I've been using that slogan ever since! The bottom line is you have to get up and get out every day, form and maintain good relationships with retailers, and always respect them and what they do. And follow up and follow through! If [an account] agrees to sell four or five cases of J.R. Ewing Bourbon, we'll back it up by doing an in-store tasting on a Saturday or a Friday night. Introducing the brand to the consumer and letting them see what it is all about is so important in today's world. But it also shows the retailer that 'Hey, we're here to support you.'"

He continued, "Here is what success is to me. Our company now represents five really nice suppliers. Success for me and for the company is to maintain and grow the business for those current suppliers and also be selective in anybody else that we choose to do business with. In other words, I think both Larry and myself as partners believe that we're not here to take on anything and everything that comes our way. We want to be selective in saying, 'Hey, that looks like a brand that could be fun. That looks like a brand that has some potential and could fit into our portfolio and blend in as part of our family."

Brookman agrees with that philosophy. He is particularly excited about the company's move into the wine side of the business with Manuscript and Match. "Up until now, it's pretty much been all spirits," he noted. "So, we're excited. Both are very good California wines that will have an appeal to pretty much the entire wine market."

So with over 80 years of combined experience in all things beverage, does the industry still have the ability to surprise them? "Every day!" Coccia was quick to answer. "When I started in the business, we were selling $3 and $4 bottles of blended whiskey. Brands like Three Feathers. I tell young salesman that today, and they look at me and say, 'You were selling what? Three Feathers? What is that?' Now, brands like Four Roses is making a comeback at eight or nine times the cost! Now you have Four Roses Special Blended Hand-Crafted Reserve. But guess what? Consumers are picking it up at $25 or $30 a bottle. Consumers are not afraid to spend that much for a nice bottle of bourbon or blended whiskey."

For Brookman, he says a big key is keeping on top of Maryland's changing demographics. "More and more," he stated, "demographics are playing a factor in Maryland. It's tough to get something to sell throughout the entire state. You really have to know the different markets and the stores where you can best play up and be able to capitalize on your products' growth. What sells in Prince George's County, it's not for sure that it will play in, say, Baltimore County."

In addition to Maryland, Active Marketing and Sales covers Washington, D.C., and Delaware for its brands. To help provide optimal service, Coccia and Brookman employ a well-trained group of promotions personnel. Looking ahead, Brookman commented, "The good thing about our brokerage is that we can really offer more of a hands-on approach. We can be out there more ensuring that the brands are growing properly. The biggest thing that we're going to try and do in 2015 is continue to effectively manage the brands that we have, but we're also going to be looking to expand. As long as it's a smart expansion and the brands make sense to our portfolio, we should be successful."

That smart growth strategy is already happening for Coccia and Brookman. It was recently announced that effective Feb. 1, their company will represent the McCormick Distilling Company, one of the oldest distilleries with a portfolio that attempts to touch every spirit segment.

 And Brookman is eager to re-connect with all of the clients he had spent years forming valuable relationships with. He's already been welcomed back in ways that only our industry is known for.  Laughing, he said, "I get compliments like, 'I thought we were finally rid of you' and 'You're like a bad penny. You keep showing up!' I tell you, it has been great coming back and seeing everybody again."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2015 Editions Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:52:52 -0500
Trevor Frye Sizzles as Jack Rose's Beverage Director TrevorFrayeJackRose 8.jpg - 71.31 KB

The hardest skill to teach a new bartender is how to bite your tongue.  I can teach you how to stir, I can teach you how to shake, and I can teach you drink recipes.  But there are customers who are, by their nature, just plain difficult.  You could make them the perfect drink based off of what they said, and it's just not going to be good enough."

So laments Trevor Frye, Beverage Director for the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C.  But that's about the only lament Frye has these days.  According to him, he is in his dream job.  "I'm one of the lucky people," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "I actually feel happy when I'm going to work."

He started in the industry as a busboy at age 15.  Since then, he has worked just about every job in the business, from barback to server to bartender.  He even briefly owned a private event bartending and cocktail consulting company. "I eventually threw in the towel about four years ago and went full-time with bartending," he recalled.  "I had reached a point in my life where I was ready to take a leap of faith and go with my real passion, and it's been awesome."

At Jack Rose, he runs the entire beverage program serving the establishment's five different bars.  "We have about 2,000 whiskeys in house, which is really where a lot of my time is spent, making sure they're all up to date.  I really have one of the best jobs.  I get paid to drink the best whiskey in the world."

He continued, "We opened Dram & Grain [a cocktail bar located in Jack Rose's basement] in February of this year.  We're open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Thursdays, it's first-come, first-served.  Fridays and Saturdays, we do three reserved seatings each night at 6:30, 9 p.m., and 11:30 p.m.  It's a small space.  We're talking 20 to 25 people at most.  There are two bartenders.  It's very intimate, with lots of intricate cocktails served and some great conversations with our guests.  We have some rare spirits down there, as well -- bourbons from pre-Prohibition and things like that.  Owner Bill Thomas basically told me, 'Here's your little room.  You do it the way you want to do it.'  It's been a true blessing."

And the proprietors of Jack Rose have been grateful to him for bringing a high level of prestige to their business.  Not only has Frye represented D.C. on the national level at such competitions as the GQ and Bombay Sapphire Bartender series and's Master Manhattan, he is also one of the featured mixologists on the Spike TV show "Bar Rescue" -- a gig that happened when one of its producers came into Jack Rose after a concert and the two ended up in a two-hour conversation about cocktails and whiskey. 

Frye stated, "I guess my appeal is I'm kind of old school.  I love making drinks, and I love coming up with drinks.  But, at the end of the day, it's all about hospitality.  I think that gets lost when you have bartenders that are starting to be at the level of executive chefs.  It's weird to me when you see bartenders getting endorsement deals now!  These are guys that require managers and they're flying on private planes.  That's all awesome.  But for me, at the end of the day, it's still all about the guests and their experience."

And as a people-first man, Frye has also come to love interacting with various local beverage industry professionals.  One of his favorites is Shannon Crisp of FEW Spirits.  Frye concluded, "At Jack Rose, we love to support brands and distillers that do business the right way.  It's very hard to get into the whiskey distilling game because the distilling of whiskey calls for an aging process.  If you want to be called straight bourbon, you have to sit in a barrel for two years.  With a company like FEW, we literally carry every single product that they make.  They take such pride in what they do.  There is so much more flavor that comes from a whiskey than any other spirit that comes from a still."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "The Boondock Saints"

HOBBIES/SPECIAL INTERESTS:  Motorcycles and exercise.  "I'm one of those people who will go and work out before starting a 12-hour shift."

WHERE HE TAKES PEOPLE FROM OUT OF TOWN: "As touristy as it sounds, the monuments! They're beautiful, they're historic, and it's a good walk through the city starting at the Jefferson on up to the Lincoln and the Washington."


PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE AS A CUSTOMER: Amelia Earhart ("She was such a bad-ass and a pioneer. Also, I just want to know what happened!")

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 14:14:11 -0500
A Beverage Biz Look Ahead at the 2015 Legislative Session MD Flag Button.jpg - 48.11 KB

The next Maryland General Assembly Session is scheduled to convene in January, and it will be one marked by change.  Big change, in fact, as a very large turnover of elected officials is about to happen.  Yes, indeed, Annapolis is getting an influx of new faces, not the least of which is Governor-elect Larry Hogan.  The Republican defeated Anthony Brown back in November, running on a platform in which he promised a new era of hope and bipartisanship in the Old Line State.

Beverage industry interests are hoping also for a new era of cooperation and recognition of their contributions to Maryland.  The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is poised to be especially active in tugging the ears of Hogan and others.  In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise acknowledged, "There is going to be a 'settling in' period.  We have a lot of new legislators.  We have a new governor, and there will definitely be some turnover on the various committees that we deal with.  The first thing we'll be doing is assessing all of that."

MSLBA President David Marberger concurred, "I think the number one issue for our industry in 2015 is to make inroads with all of these newly elected officials.  Building relationships and building them early is the key component of what we do.  With the turnover that we just saw, there are a lot of new people that we need to get to know."

MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani is personally looking forward to seeing how things will be different with a member of the GOP occupying the state's top office.  Will Hogan's Republican roots favor the beverage business?  "I would think so," he said.  "I would think that there will be even more emphasis on the small business person and what we have to go through.  That said, I think the Legislature is going to drive most of our issues.  That's why it is so important for our members to get out there and do some educating."

On the issues side, Wise, Marberger, and Milani all expressed certainty that there will again be a push by the larger retailers and grocery store chains to allow them to sell beer and wine in the state.  "We've always had that issue to deal with," Wise lamented, with a bit of a sigh.  "But I think it may be even more prevalent over the next four years.  Now, whether that begins in the first year of Governor Hogan's term or not, I don't know.  But we fully expect it.  . . .  Allowing beer and wine sales in grocery stores?  If we can once again defeat that,  I would consider that a successful year."

Recycling should also be up for further discussion in 2015.  "There are always issues that fall under the recycling heading, and we'll deal with them, too" Wise asserted.  "Not a year goes by where we don't see some activity on the recycling front."

Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990, pointed out, "You can do single-stream recycling in businesses now.  For years and years, it was the cardboard dumpsters that you saw.  A lot of folks had them, and a lot of that has evolved from there.  Everyone I know, they're hauling single-stream now.  So, we're trying to educate our members that it is cheaper, you'll definitely save a couple of dollars, and you're doing the right thing."

For his part, Marberger believes that minimum wage will be among the potential hot-button issues the MSLBA and alcohol industry will have to weigh in on.  Marberger, proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis, stated, "I think most of us in this industry, off-premise anyway, probably pay our employees a fair wage.  I, of course, can only speak about us here at our location.  But we pay everybody at the new rate as it is."

Milani believes another priority may end up getting lottery agents, among them packaged-goods store operators, better compensated.  The Arundel Mills Live! casino in Hanover with all of its fancy slot machines and other games of chance along with the recently opened Horseshoe casino in Baltimore have had an impact on these MSLBA members.  "Scratch-offs, Keno, and the other instant-gratification games are down and are still trending that  way," Milani stated.  "It wasn't a mystery when the casinos opened that it was going to affect many of our members.  We just need to figure out how to get the lottery agents [better taken care of]."

A lot will depend on which officials will get tapped to chair which committees in Annapolis.  For instance, whoever eventually heads up the Judicial Proceedings Committee in the state Senate will play a vital role in what happens with future legislation that affects the alcohol industry -- legislation like dram shop liability, which Maryland's highest court rejected by a scant 4-3 margin in the summer of 2013.

All three men interviewed for this article agreed that the key is for store, restaurant, and bar owners and their staffers to get more involved in the political process.  Wise stated, "There is really no better time for readers of the Maryland Beverage Journal to reach out and establish contact with their local legislators.  There are a lot of new ones, and they may not be aware of how widespread the industry is and how many businesses that relate to the alcohol industry are run in their districts.  Pick up the phone, and invite them out!"

Milani agreed, "It's about working together to solve issues.  I personally would love to see the chain threat go away.  I'd love to see alcohol distribution handled by Maryland citizens who live in the community and raise their families in the community.  I think they are more invested in how things work.  Preserving small business is so important!"

Marberger described the state's beverage industry as a fabric of small-business owners who are all Maryland corporations.  "We're the ones here in the shops every single day, and our perspective on things is a real-life scenario," he stated.  "So, reach out and shake your elected official's hand and let them know your perspective.  Introduce yourself.  It's truly no different than creating and building a relationship with your customers.  This is an industry of relationships, and politics is the same way.  The more you gain somebody's trust, the easier it will be to have those conversations that really matter.  To get somebody who is listening, you not only have to pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, this is not right,' you have to also call them when it's appropriate to say, 'Good job!'"

He concluded, "As with everything, we just hope our seat at the table is a welcome seat and people understand the value of what we bring.  We really are where the rubber hits the road.  We're not making decisions in a boardroom without absolute knowledge of the inner workings of the systems.  We're the ones out here doing it day in and day out.  And when we say, 'Hey, wait a minute.  That doesn't make 100-percent sense,' it's because we see it, we feel it, and we touch it on a daily basis."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:27:23 -0500
Herlihy Tells Us More About Tullamore D.E.W. T Dew_Tim.jpg - 152.82 KB

People tell me all of the time that I have a great job, writing about beer, wine, and spirits for the Beverage Journal each month.  No argument there.  But do you know who has a REALLY great job?  Tim Herlihy, the National Brand Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey.  And he knows it.

“I am in the very lucky position that I get to travel from coast to coast, city to city, and always with a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. in my hand,” he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  “It’s a nice way to travel, by the way! I’ve been lucky enough to go to 27 states and [Washington, D.C.] in my three years in this role, and I’m still absolutely baffled that I’m fortunate enough to get paid to enjoy my favorite Irish whiskey. My role is basically to introduce and re-introduce people to our liquids.  So, I host a lot of different tasting events. Unfortunately, although I am an ‘ambassador,’ that doesn’t mean I have any diplomatic immunity.  So, I have to behave!”

His travels often take him to the Maryland and Washington, D.C., markets.  For instance, Tullamore D.E.W. had a major presence at Maryland’s 41st annual Irish Festival at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium in early November.  “I attended last year and fully enjoyed it.  There was great music and plenty of Irish wolfhounds, as well!  This year, I sent Eimear Keller, who is also a Brand Ambassador for us. It was her first time there, and she did six tastings of our whiskey over the course of two days.”

He continued, “For us, the Maryland Irish Festival and others like it is a spotlight.  It’s a chance for us to showcase our whiskey.  It’s a chance for us to introduce people to the Tullamore D.E.W. brand and explain what makes our liquid different” 

If Herlihy could come up with one word to describe the Maryland and Washington whiskey-drinking markets it’s “enthusiastic.”  He elaborated, “What is interesting about the D.C.-Maryland area is the number of ‘explorational’ drinkers, people who are starting to trade up.  They’re drinking the Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix and the Tullamore D.E.W. 12 Year Old Special Reserve.  There is this huge movement towards Irish whiskey, in general, and a lot of it is the taste profile.  Irish whiskey tends to be triple distilled. It’s a really smooth, friendly, and approachable spirit that is appealing to the new wave of drinker who is starting to move to bourbon, to Irish whiskey because of the taste profile.  When you think of Irish whiskey, there are no rules to it.  You can drink it whatever way you enjoy it.  There’s no pretentiousness to it.”

Herlihy concedes that there is still a certain intimidation factor where whiskey is concerned.  People often ask him questions like: “What’s the right way to drink whiskey?” “Should it be on the rocks?” and “How many drops of water should I add?”  “Scotch is the most intimidating,” he remarked.  “I think when people think of Scotch, they think of sitting at home, swirling it by the fireplace, and plotting the downfall of their enemies.  Whereas when you think about Irish whiskey, you’re not at home.  You’re at a bar with friends.  You’re toasting.  You’re enjoying it.  That is the ‘No Rules” factor to Irish whiskey, which often overcomes that intimidation element.”

Prior to becoming National Brand Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W., Herlihy was an egg farmer back in Ireland.  He recalls his first few industry events as being a bit awkward as he tried to find his footing.   “I just had to remember to be myself,” he said.  “This is kind of a role where you can’t fake it.  You can’t pretend.  You can’t get into some character.  You have to be yourself and be enthusiastic and passionate about what you do and the liquid in each glass and each bottle.”

He concluded, “I’m also very lucky in that I get to do things that I would never, ever get to do in another job.  One of my favorite things I’ve done is take part in a boxing event at Madison Square Garden!  I had the chance to stand in the square circle.  I didn’t compete, of course.  But I got to introduce a few fights on the big microphone.  I often say to people, ‘I was bare-knuckled in Madison Square Garden!’”

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:24:28 -0500
Winemaker Notaro Recently Made a Stag's Leap to the MD/DC Markets Marcus Notaro (l) with Kevin Bonner; The Center Club.

Pretzels and beer are an unbeatable combination.  So, too, are whiskey and rye.  And certainly wine and cheese.  Just before Thanksgiving, another unbeatable combo hit the Maryland-Washington, D.C. market in the form of Marcus Notaro of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and our own Fran "Pineapple" Schmitz.  Schmitz ushered Notaro around to several major accounts to press the flesh and talk up the Stag's Leap label.

"Every time I've come to the market," stated Notaro, during an interview with the Beverage Journal, "I've had the privilege of working with Mr. Pineapple. He has never failed to deliver me to some world-class establishments. When I have done wine dinners here, the folks who attend are very passionate wine consumers. They are very knowledgeable, and they travel. People in the D.C.-Maryland area not only know about Napa Valley wines, but wines from around the world.  There's also a surprising number of our wine club members here.  So for me to be out in their market and to be able to tie them back closer to our winery is pretty special."

Among the stops this time around were presentations at Le Diplomate and The Palm in Washington, D.C., along with a luncheon at Baltimore's Center Club and a wine dinner at the Maryland Club.

Notaro was named winemaker for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in May of 2013.  He brought with him over 10 years of experience producing top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.  "Wine drinking is very cyclical," he stated.  "There's the growing season.  There's fermentation.  There's blending, bottling, and then you start up a new year the next year.  Every year is unique and exciting.  No two years are ever alike.  You should remember what you did and what worked in the past.  But you have to have an open mind."

Prior to joining Stag's Leap, he was the winemaker for the prestigious Col Solare winery, a partnership between Ste. Michelle Estates and Marchesi Antinori located in Washington State.  It was there that he came into Schmitz's orbit. It wasn't long before Pineapple had him visiting our market.  "These trips are not something that I regularly do," he said.  "It's pretty seasonal.  Obviously, during the growing season and harvest, my primary responsibility is to be at the winery.  For me, what I like about getting out and into the market is that it gives me the chance to connect with consumers.  I love to make wine.  It's what I do.  It's my passion.  But obviously I make wine for people.  I make it for them to enjoy and to consume, and I love and need to hear feedback from folks who are fans of our wine.  I want to hear what they think of our wines and the pairings."

He continued, "It's also great to educate folks about what is happening back at the winery.  There has been a lot of curiosity on this visit as to what our season was like, and what is the 2013 vintage like?  People have heard about the drought.  They've heard about the Napa earthquake.  So, they're very interested in hearing the intricacies of that."

Among the questions he most commonly fields at the various wine dinners and tour stops are "What was the best vintage in the last 10 years?" and "Where can I buy the wines?" and "When is a wine ready to be opened?"  He stated, "Especially fans of ours who do collect our wine, I get asked a lot: 'I have a 2000-and-whatever in my cellar.  When should I drink it?  When should I open it up?'"

As for the most challenging part of his job, Notaro was quick to talk about the unpredictable nature of weather, agriculture, and the grapes themselves.  He concluded, "In wine-making, you always have to strive to make the best quality wine that you can.  But you have to be flexible and open-minded as to what Mother Nature holds for you so you can react to it.  When I went to college, I studied Engineering.  In the engineering field, there is usually a definite answer to most problems.  But with wine, often times there is not.  A lot of it hinges on decisions you often have to make based on a gut feeling -- particularly decisions in the vineyard.  You can't really predict what Mother Nature is going to give you.  I know I've never made a perfect wine."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:11:56 -0500
Lucien Smith: Taking Orders in Annapolis ... Just Not at the Academy LucienSmithOsteria177 10.jpg - 195.79 KB

Lucien Smith didn't come to Annapolis in 2003 to be a bartender. He came because he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. But a sailor's life was not for him. He ended up voluntarily resigning from the Academy to pursue other interests. But there was something about Maryland's capital city that kept this former Californian around. He took a job as a catering bartender in Timonium, then found work right back in Annapolis as a bar-back at the Castle Bay Irish Pub on Main Street. By then, he was hooked on the biz!

In 2007, he was hired at Osteria 177 to be their service bartender. He's been there ever since. "It was here I began to extend my cocktail knowledge through self-study and a desire to continue on this career path and to excel in it," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I'm now a Certified Mixologist through Bar Smarts and Pernod Ricard. "

Over the years, Smith has managed to develop a personal beverage philosophy that he's only too happy to share. "I believe that quality comes from not only presentation and how you make the drink, but to the spirits that you use," he stated. "You should emphasize the classics and the original ways of preparing things, but then you need to adapt them to difference palettes. I think it's good to have a balanced cocktail and not something that is too sweet or too tart or has too much going on in it where you can't taste the base. It needs to accentuate the base of the cocktail."

Smith has been accentuating the base of many cocktails at Osteria 177 for the past seven years. The restaurant was created by executive chef and proprietor Arturo Ottaviano, who had a vision of opening a fine-dining restaurant in the heart of Annapolis that would have an emphasis on Northern Italian and coastal Italian dishes.  "I think we serve the best Italian in Annapolis," Smith said proudly, "including some of the freshest seafood you can get in all of Maryland."

For Smith, the biggest perks of the job are personal ones. He likes being a positive part of people's afternoons and evenings. He knows that sometimes just getting to his bar, his eatery, has been the thing that has gotten some customers through some tough days. He remarked, "I love serving a guest a drink, watching them take a sip of it, and then watching a smile come over their face.  That means I did my job well and I made someone happy. Osteria 177 excels at pleasing our guests."

He continued, "You should always strive to make the customer happy. But don't be afraid to tell the customer, 'Maybe you should try something else instead of this,' and move them in a different direction. Elevate their palette and help them realize that it's sometimes about finding new things and trying new things. But it's also about having someone with the capability behind the bar or behind the line in the kitchen to make something that's good that the guest will enjoy trying out."

Smith recalls his early days as a midshipman and how he marveled that there were lines around every bar in downtown Annapolis. Being a bartender in Maryland's state capital was and still is a coveted position. He commented, "You have to work your way from the ground up as a dishwasher, a bar-back, whatever it takes. You have to learn the craft in order to advance and get the good shifts. You have to be passionate about it. There are a lot of career bartenders in Annapolis, and the majority of them are good friends of mine. I love and respect them all. We all do different things, and we all have our own way of doing  things. Our ways are right for our particular establishments. That's what brings variety to Annapolis. Annapolis just isn't a town anymore with draft beer and crab cakes. We're becoming a town with dining establishments that people really want to visit and enjoy their food and drinks."

As for his advice to young bartenders just coming to town? "Show that you care," he stated. "Show up for each shift, work hard, and study on your time off. That's right. Read, read, read, read!"

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Legends of the Fall"


HIDDEN TALENT: "I make a killer coconut cream pie!"

PRIZED POSSESSION: "My great-grandfather's pocket watch from the late 1800s-early 1900s that he had with him when he came over from Sicily."

FAVORITE AREA TOURIST SPOT: The Mall in Washington, D.C.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2014 Editions Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:50:21 -0500
Marc Zahorchak Has the Beverage Pulpit at Teddy & The Bully Bar MarcZTeddyBullyBar 12.jpg - 216.54 KBMarc Zahorchak, Beverage Director at the Teddy & The Bully Bar in Northwest D.C. didn't come to the nation's capital in the early 1990s to tend bar.  He had an MBA degree and found work as a management consultant.  But then the recession that ushered in the Clinton era hit, and he suddenly found himself downsized and unable to find a job.

"A buddy of mine suggested that I get involved with the restaurant business at night to keep the cash flow going while looking for another job," he recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "I absolutely fell in love with the business!  I was hooked from the first day I got behind the bar and have been doing it for more than 20 years now."

He tended bar at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill for nine years and also served as the original bar manager for Hook in Georgetown.  He has been full-time at Teddy since August 2013.  " I came in about two months after they opened up," he stated.  [Proprietor] Alan Popovsky  was looking for someone to kind of corral and bring bar costs in line.  More importantly, I think he wanted someone with my experience to come in and teach the younger mixologist-types."

Zahorchak winced at even his own mention of that term.  "I'd rather not be called a mixologist," he said, with a slight grimace. "I think mixology tends to be a selfish pursuit.  There is the danger of making it about yourself.  For me, it's all about the success of the restaurant.  And the only way to be really successful is taking care of your guests."

There is one thing he did for himself, though, in coming aboard the summer before last.  In negotiating his deal to be the Beverage Director, he told Popovskly, "'I'll do all of the work you need me to do to make this work.  I'll do all of the paperwork, all of the ordering, the receiving, the inventory.  I'll do whatever it is you need me to do.  But I still want to bartend!'  I really love bartending.  I love the adrenaline rush."

But in the two-plus decades of serving drinks and concocting cocktails, the business hasn't always changed in ways that Zahorchak has liked.  The Internet, for one, has altered things in a big way.  "What I have found disturbing and difficult to deal with is the Yelp/Open Table social media reviewing of restaurants," he lamented.  "I think it is profoundly changing our business.  You're seeing a lot less personality behind the bar.  It's become a bit more vanilla, a bit more homogenized.  I was a bartender on Capitol Hill, dealing with senators and congressmen and lobbyists for nine years.  They kind of enjoyed my snarkiness and my occasional off-color comments.  It broke the ice, and led to a lot of laughs.  Now, you're afraid if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person, you're going to be skewered on social media."

Whenever he gets really down, though, he remembers some of the mentors he has had along the way.  One of them was Washington beverage biz guru Dennis Asaka.  Zahorchak recalled, "It was at his restaurant that I realized I was pretty bad at what I was doing.  He emasculated me in front of  guests.  He would say, 'What are you doing?!  You're worthless!  You don't work hard enough!"  It was that person who instilled a work ethic in me.  He would tell me, "Be on time, work hard, and give the people what they want.  They are the ones who are paying our bills and keeping this restaurant open.'  Once that all clicked, bartending actually became more fun and more lucrative."

Zahorchak also still draws on his experience in business and management consulting, especially when dealing with the Type A, Capitol Hill clients that often frequent the Teddy and The Bully Bar. He said, "I understand the mentality of businesspeople. What the business man and the politician in this town really cares about is service.  That's what will get them to come back.  If you see four guys walk into your bar, identify the pointman, see who is in charge, see that he has clients with him, and make that guy look like a rock star!"

Finally, there are the connections within the business that make his job worthwhile.  One of his favorites is Shannon Crisp of FEW Spirits.  "Shannon brought me a great product called Virginia Lightning from Culpepper, Va., and we use it in one of our most popular specialty cocktails called the Obamas' Honey Cider.  I tell you, this town is still enjoying its love affair with bourbons and ryes!"

FAVORITE MOVIES: "Star Wars," "Swingers," and "Goodfellas."


SPECIAL INTEREST: "I'm an avid motorcyclist."

SPORT HE PLAYS: Ice hockey.

MOST FAMOUS PERSON HE'S EVER SERVED: (tie) Bill Clinton ("He's very charismatic.  He talked so much that I actually had to excuse myself from the conversation, because I had to get back to work!") and Brad Pitt.

PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE A DRINK TO (living or dead): Teddy Roosevelt.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:16:03 -0500
Wyndridge Farm Gets Crafty With Hard Cider CraftyCiderPic1.jpg - 275.93 KB

Hard cider has emerged as one of the fastest-growing segments in the alcoholic beverage industry, and among the fastest-growing brands in that segment are Pennsylvania-based Wyndridge Farm's Crafty Ciders. Now available in Maryland, the two Crafty Ciders -- original apple and cranberry flavored -- are naturally gluten free with a refreshing taste.

Crafty Ciders separate themselves from other hard ciders by making ample use of the local bounty of quality apples found in the Keystone State's central region. Wyndridge Farm President Steve Groff says he and his full-time cider master, Scott Topel, keep their ingredients simple. Chiefly, Wyndridge Farm prides itself on not adding any excessive amounts of extra sweeteners.  Groff stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "Many of the commercial hard ciders start with either apple juice concentrate rather than full juice or their alcohol is made with sugar. We simply use fresh apple juice.  We source local apples just a few miles down the road.  We carbonate and package on the farm.  So, the whole process takes place right here." 

The result is a Champagne-style apple cider that is fresh, simple, and quite tasty.  The products stand out on shelves, though, due to their fun and creative bottling. The company's original Crafty Cider features a well-dressed fox balancing an arrow-skewered apple on the top of his head.  Crafty Cranberry, meanwhile, boasts a dapper bird in a suit with a beak full of cranberry.

"We are a farm-based company," Groff remarked.  "So, we wanted to have some fun with the creatures that visit the farm. We tried to do this whole play on sophisticated animals. The fox is in a tuxedo and has become our hospitality brand. The bird is a cedar waxwing, which has a well-known affection for cranberries. Cranberry is our base cider with a splash of cranberry juice, and that gives it a nice tartness and a little bit of color."

One of the challenges facing Crafty Ciders has been overcoming the drink's seasonal stigma. Traditionally, apple cider has been a fall beverage during harvest. Among the earliest signs of autumn in many parts is going to the grocery store and seeing that first display of gallon and half-gallon jugs of apple cider near the milk and orange juice sections. "That's basic cider," Groff, who co-owns Wyndridge with his wife Julie, stated. "Hard cider is a more sophisticated, Champagne-style beverage. Ours is very light and crisp and has a year-round demand and appeal."

The Groffs are hoping their Crafty Ciders will continue to have year-round demand and appeal in Maryland. First and foremost, they enjoy welcoming visitors from the Old Line State to their 77-acre farm in southern York County, Pa.  Groff noted, "We're 15 minutes above the Maryland line and 40 minutes from Hunt Valley. We are a family-owned business that got started in hard cider production about a year ago with a winery license. We grew that into an entire destination with a 120-year-old, meticulously renovated barn that seats 280 people; an expo kitchen; and a craft brewery. We have special events booked for two years already. We serve lunch and dinner and have an executive chef hired from the Oregon Grill named Matthew Siegmund, who is phenomenal."

Wyndridge Farm's Crafty Ciders are available in Maryland ... the Groffs currently self-distribute their products in Maryland.  Currently Cranbrook Liquors and Shawan Liquors in Cockeysville, The Liquor Stop in Bel Air, and The Wine Market and Wine Works in Baltimore City are purchasing the bottled cider directly from Wyndridge. Looking for the product on tap?  Join the likes of Alexander's Tavern in Fells Point and Birrotecca in Hampden.

Looking ahead, the Groffs are hoping to grow their farm-brewed craft beers, including their first two offerings 10 Point Ale and Laughing Crow IPA. "We have them on draft at our place now," Groff said in late October, "and we'll be packaging them in about two weeks. 

For more information call 717 244-9900 or go to

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:04:54 -0500
Jon Arroyo In Charge of All Things Liquid for Founding Farmers Arroyo.jpg - 45.24 KB

Mike Rizzo is in charge of all things baseball for the Washington Nationals.  Chuck Hagel is in charge of all things defense for our country.  And what about that other great Washingtonian, Jon Arroyo? "In a nutshell, I am in charge of everything that is liquid for the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group," he stated.

As the company's Beverage Director since its inception six years ago, he truly is responsible for not only all of the beer, wine, and spirits served at Farmers Table D.C., MoCo's Founding Farmers in suburban Potomac, Md., and a soon-to-open location at the upscale Tysons Galleria II mall in Northern Virginia, but also the three restaurants' coffee program, their tea program. "Everything!" he exclaimed, "Every liquid product. I love the juggling act that is my job. There are lots of moving parts, lots of chess pieces."

When the original Founding Farmers location opened on Pennsylvania Avenue six years ago, cocktail programs were few and far between citywide. "We were very new to the scene," Arroyo recalled, "and we had a very specific approach. We had the farmers' table approach. We wanted to work with smaller producers of spirits and producers who practiced some of the same belief systems that we do, which are sustainable practices, more organically grown products, and things of that nature."

Arroyo found that one of his favorite industry players to work with in this regard is Shannon Crisp of FEW Spirits. "Shannon and I go way back," he stated, "He is a perfect example of some of our core belief systems where we try and support up-and-coming brands and up-and-coming companies that are doing great things. We've been working with their products since they started their company, and their business has grown pretty quick over the past couple of years. One of the absolute favorite spirits that we work with is their Hawaiian Spiced Rum."

Arroyo also serves as the brand ambassador for locally based Copper Fox Distillery, run by Rick Wasmund. The two have been friends for a long time, and Wasmund is also the distiller for Founding Farmers' in-house spirits, Founding Farmers Rye and Founding Farmers Gin. "He and I work side by side to articulate the recipes that are going to be our proprietary blends," stated Arroyo. "We have been partnering and developing relationships over the course of the last year to continue to support people who are doing great things in small doses. I recently flew to Peru to hang out with Melanie Asher with Machu Picchu for a week. Together, we worked on a proprietary picchu blend for the Founding Farmers. It will be released just in time for our opening in Tysons II. I've also partnered with a winemaker out of New York from a little wine shop called Brooklyn Oenology. Her name is Alie Shaper, and together we worked on a proprietary white wine blend and are officially releasing it next Monday [this interview was conducted in late September]."

With all the exciting challenges of his job, Arroyo is still a counter man at heart. He stated, " I don't get behind the wood as often as I'd like at this level. So, the time I do get to spend with the young bartenders coming up, working with them side by side, is great. Even if it's just adjusting their technique on how they're holding a shaker or things of that nature, that's the absolute best part of my day. And I try to have one of those moments every day, if possible."

One of his passions continues to be creating new beverages, new cocktails. "But I get pulled in so many directions that it's very difficult to slow down and say, 'Oh, today, I'm going to just work on new recipes!' You get to a certain level of responsibility where it's just not possible. I have over 30 bartenders who work for me right now, and I've got two head bartenders at every bar. It's all great. The energy is great, and I love the juggling act of it all. But at the end of the day, you just want to make cocktails every once in a great while. You just want to pour a glass of wine and talk to a guest."


PRIZED POSSESSION: "My father's watch."

FAVORITE D.C. TOURIST SPOT: The Hay Adams Hotel bar.





Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2014 Editions Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:00:45 -0400
Patrón's Barrel Select Program Comes to the Mid-Atlantic Patron Barrel Select Program.jpg - 77.98 KB

Patrón Spirits has inaugurated a buy-the-barrel program called "Patrón Barrel Select" where spirits retailers and on-premise accounts are able to taste and choose their own bespoke barrel (about 27 cases) of aged Patrón tequila unique for them. Each barrel has been in the company's aging room for a specific period of time.  As a result, no two are alike.

Greg Cohen, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Patrón Spirits, recently sat down with the Beverage Journal to discuss the program.  "The way that tequila is produced and aged and blended from different barrels is such a challenge," he stated.  "Our master distiller and his team blend different barrel types, different wood, different lengths of aging to create those products.  We thought it would be really interesting if we gave people an opportunity to sample those different tequilas that are aging in those different barrel types over the different lengths of time, on their own ... just straight out of the barrel. Each is very unique. When they are blended together to create reposado, for example, that's the taste that people know is Patrón.  But when you taste those barrels individually, and there are so many different combinations, you get really distinct and different tastes.  It's still Patrón.  It's still very recognizable.  But you get a lot of different flavors and a lot of different complexities."

One of the first retailers in the country to purchase a barrel of “Patrón Barrel Select” is Lax Wine & Spirits in Washington. D.C.  The store received a big helping hand from Patrón Spirits Production Manager Antonio Rodriguez, who selected the barrel.  Rodriguez remarked, "I was very honored that Lax asked me to help choose his barrel, and I was given such free reign to pick something special.  The request was for a light reposado.  So, this particular blend of reposado, Barrel #24 of Batch 111.2, matched what they were looking for."

Rodriguez indeed selected a light reposado that has been aging in French allier medium toasted oak for six months.  It is a blend of tahona and roller mill produced tequila, which is characterized by an aroma and taste of lemon tea, light agave and wood, sweet vanilla, light butter, light raisins, and nuts.

He added, "I very much enjoyed the citrus notes and sweet vanilla that I was getting from it.  I thought it would be perfect."

The bottles from the barrel should arrive at Lax Wine & Spirits by the end of October.  The store's staff is looking forward to promoting.  "We are actually the No. 1 Patrón account in D.C.," store owner Lax stated proudly in a separate interview.  "We sell about 450 cases a month.  Our customers really love the product, and we wanted to do something very special for them.  I wanted to show these customers that whatever Patrón is doing, we want."

Cohen added, "We have a team in the Washington area, and they had worked closely with Lax and had known him for a long time.  It came about through their collective efforts.  We will provide some materials to help merchandise it.  With our collective efforts, we'll certainly do our part to help.  But it will be up to the individual retailer and restaurant to decide how best they are going to promote it."

Both Cohen and Rodriguez are hoping to take this initiative from its current infancy and develop it into a signature program for the company.  As this issue was going to press, a restaurant in Tampa, Fla., had also bought a barrel.  There is definitely precedent for it, too, as several whiskey companies and bourbon labels have launched similar programs successfully.  

Cohen commented, "We think it has a lot of potential.  It's not for everybody, though, because there is a substantial number of cases involved that come out of a barrel.  It's really just for those retailers and accounts that recognize the potential of something like this.  We hope a lot of accounts take us up on this as we attempt to grow this into something substantial.  But it's the first year that we've done it, so we will see where it goes.  This is about a store or a restaurant offering their customers something they can only find there.  These cases that Lax will bring in, they will only be available in his store.  And when they are gone, they're gone.  That's very exciting for consumers who are looking for something different that they can't find anywhere else, and there is great appeal for retailers who want to offer that to their customers."

Rodriguez agrees and hopes to offer his help in the same way he assisted Lax.  "It would be my pleasure and privilege to help select barrels for other accounts!" he exclaimed.  "But it's also fun and exciting for people to visit us in Mexico to choose a barrel for themselves that is to their individual liking."

He concluded, "What is particularly exciting about working at Patrón is that we use an ancient method of tequila production called the 'tahona' process, where a giant two-ton stone wheel slowly crushes the agave.  Only about five distilleries in all of Mexico still make tequila this way.  So, I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to make tequila the same way it was done 500 years ago."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2014 Editions Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:57:50 -0400
Aaron Joseph Shares His Wit & Wisdom Joseph_Aaron0006.jpg - 53.25 KB

Aaron Joseph has been bartending for 13 years, most of them in the Maryland-D.C. market.  But it was his brief time early on in the Caribbean working for the former Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., now Belmond Ltd., that stoked his passion for using fresh ingredients in cocktails -- a passion that has helped position him as one of the best craft bartenders in the Baltimore market.

Early in his career, he learned his craft at such places as the Inn at Perry Cabin on St. Michaels and Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown.  He really got traction at Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons in Washington, which led to his current position as lead bartender at Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore's Four Seasons Hotel.

"Wit & Wisdom is Michael Mina's vision of an American tavern," Joseph described, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Our beverage program reflects craft cocktails. We use fresh ingredients, fresh produce, and we make a lot of our own bitters and syrups and things of that nature.  We try and keep it as crafty and as interesting as possible by incorporating new and up-and-coming spirits.  We love providing our customers with an array of flavors, and we change our menu roughly four times a year to capitalize on the different seasonal ingredients."

Joseph has been at Wit & Wisdom for the past 19 months and believes he has finally found a home.  "I love just walking into the building each day!" he exclaimed. "I really have a passion for what I do.  I've been fortunate to find a career where I can share that passion with other people, both new and regulars."

For Joseph, it's all about having and showing passion for what you do.  That's what he believes separates the truly great bartenders from the merely good ones.  "It really is a matter of loving what you do and doing what you love.  If you love what you are doing, then you're not really working.  And if you are doing what you love, people will notice and that will translate into quality."

He continued, "I have been very fortunate to have been taught things like technique and execution by a number of people I consider to be industry leaders.  For example, there is a gentlemen in D.C. named Duane Sylvester, who played a really big part in helping me become the person that I am.  He's the lead bartender at Bourbon Steak, and he would always tell me that the quality you put in front of your guests is a direct reflection of you.  Try and take pride in every drink you serve a guest, whether it be a vodka and tonic or one of the more elaborate specialty cocktails.  So, each drink is indeed an extension of me and an extension of our program."

Joseph says he has a special affinity for using rum and bourbon in his various concoctions.  But he also takes pleasure in creating cocktails with spirits that people are unfamiliar with.  Still, even he acknowledges that getting customers to stray from their normal drinks and drinking habits can be hard.  So, too, can keeping up with changing tastes for that matter.  "Anything that is difficult or challenging in my job I try and think of as new and refreshing," he said.  "I love obstacles, because then things don't get boring or mundane.  It's the difficulties and challenges that make us who we are.  If it was easy, more people would be doing this."

And what has he learned in his 13 years behind the taps?  Plenty, as it turns out.  "The best thing you can do is listen," he concluded.  "Be approachable.  There is value in every job that you have, whether it's a job you don't really desire or one that you don't think is going to lead you anywhere.  There is value in just the experience.  Even if you're working for a dive bar that is paying you a certain amount of money and no more, you're still learning.  Find positive value in everything.  There is a lesson to be learned in every experience, even a time or two where you were treated terribly.  Hold onto those experiences, because they mold your career."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "The Five Heartbeats"

CAN'T MISS TV SHOW: "True Blood"

WHAT HE DOES IN HIS DOWN TIME: "I love going to the Farmer's Market on Sundays."

WHAT HE COLLECTS: Shot glasses and old vintage liquor bottles.

FAVORITE BALTIMORE TOURIST SPOT: "I'm still a sucker for the Inner Harbor."

PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE (living or dead): Richard Pryor

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2014 Editions Wed, 24 Sep 2014 10:14:57 -0400
The Numbers Add Up for Datta at Rasika West End DanteDitta.jpg - 45.76 KB

Before Dante Datta got into the bar and restaurant business, and way before he became bartender extraordinaire at Rasika West End, he led a very different life.  "I had a nearly 10-year career in finance before this!" he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "My last job in that field was actually working for the Washington Nationals.  I would write a sales report for the ownership each week."

So, what made him leave the world of numbers and number crunching?  "I turned 27 years old," he recalled.  "It was my birthday, and I went to New York City to celebrate.  A friend of mine asked me, 'If you could do anything, what would you do?'  And like many other guys, I answered, 'Well, I'd open a bar!'  So, I started mopping floors in a restaurant while I was working during the day.  As far as the restaurant business is concerned, I guess you can see I got into it a bit late in life."

That first part-time gig was at Ping Pong Dim Sum in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood.  He took other jobs and eventually found his way to his current full-time position at Rasika, one of the District of Columbia's top Indian eateries.

"I run their bar program, which means picking all of the spirits, designing all of the cocktails, ordering the beer.  We do non-alcoholic cocktails, as well.  It's all Indian food.  It's modern Indian cuisine with very traditional flavors.  The ultimate challenge that I have is that I am sort of a traditionalist as far as cocktails go.  I like the classics.  I love them actually.  So, the challenge is to find new ways to present them, but under the context of Indian flavors."

He continued, "It's something that, growing up in this country, you're not that familiar with -- using things like cumin and dill and cardamom.  Blending spices together has definitely been a big challenge for me, because cocktails are mainly an American art form.  My job is to bridge the gap between those two things."

Datta was born in Silver Spring, raised in Bethesda, and he went to college at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Consequently, working for Rasika has been an especially eye-opening experience for this local boy.  "We are located in area where there are a lot of hotels," he noted, "and I love the people who come in. We're an international restaurant serving an international clientele.  I like to tell people that it's almost like I don't have to travel.  The whole world comes to this bar!"

One of his favorite faces, though, is a local one -- Shannon Crisp of FEW Spirits.  "We now carry FEW's bourbon and their rye whiskey," said Datta.  "I love everything from FEW.  If you are a purist where bourbon and gin are concerned, they don't tone down the intense flavor and spices that I enjoy. It's everything that gin and whiskey should be.  I'm actually working right now to take the bourbon and the FEW Barrel-Aged Gin and try and do something on our cocktail menu for the fall."

So what has Datta learned from his comparatively brief time in our crazy business?  "Always show up on time!" he said, with a slight chuckle.  "Actually, I've learned that there are no rules to anything in this business.  There are only guidelines, especially when working overtime and trying to create something that is your own.

And while Datta has committed himself fully to Rasika West End, he still draws on his past work experience with calculators and spreadsheets and the like.  In fact, he has found his former career in finance to be a great asset in running Rasika's bar operations.  "Every time we look at costs and the numbers, I am able to look at it from the perspective of both how I used to look at spreadsheets," he concluded.  "Understanding costs plays a big part in everything we do here.  You can't successfully run a business if you don't know how to make money!"

HIS TEAMS: The Washington Nationals and the Washington Redskins


HIS FAVORITE DC HANGOUT SPOT:  Petworth Citizen & Reading Room on Upshur Street NW

HIS HIDDEN TALENT: "I studied the violin for almost 13 years."

PERSON HE'D MOST LIKE TO SERVE (living or dead): Chef and restaurateur Grant Achatz, owner of Chicago's Alinea.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2014 Editions Wed, 24 Sep 2014 09:57:27 -0400
Sergi Is Commander-in-Chief Behind the Bar at Lincoln Sergi_RachelSep14.jpg - 114.59 KB

You know you are talking to a person who has found his or her true calling in this world when you ask them: "What do you consider to be the hardest part of your job?" and the answer is: "Going home!  When you are doing something that you love, it can sometimes be so hard to go home and just turn your brain off.  You want to be back THERE!"

That "there" is Lincoln Restaurant in Washington, D.C.  That happy employee is lead bartender Rachel Sergi, who has been in the business for nearly two decades now. She started her career in the nation's capital at New Heights Restaurant before eventually hooking on with Lincoln, an American small plates eatery that focuses on organically sourced menu offerings with a heavy emphasis on its fresh cocktail program, as well.

"I love creating cocktails," Sergi stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "One of the cocktails I am known for is a drink that is not on our menu right now, but I've had it in my arsenal for some time.  It's my favorite, and it's called the Betty White.  It's actually a beer cocktail.  It uses beer and gin and a cherry liqueur.  It's light and bright, and I serve it in a martini glass. It's almost like an alternative to a champagne cocktail.  People seem to really like it."

 Ever a tinkerer, Sergi says she enjoys working with the various brands and seeing what she can come up with next for her customers. One of her favorites is Illinois-based FEW Spirits, which she was introduced to at a cocktail conference earlier in the decade.  "I had an immediate love for them because I had lived in Chicago for a couple of years and fell in love with that city.  But also it was because their spirits are fantastic.  There Rye specifically was different than other Ryes around on the market.  It had a heavier body.  It's always been easy to work with in cocktails.  But all of the products they put out are great.  I was amazed that they were a distillery in Chicago. Not a lot was coming from there. I use them for a bourbon or rye on the rocks, because of the alcohol content."

What she really loves most about the bartending profession, though, is the social aspect of the job.  "You meet different and interesting people every single day," she stated.  "The job is not static.  It's energizing.  You learn something new every single day from your contact with human beings basically."

She continued with a chuckle, "You never know who your next potential employer is going to be, so you better treat everybody nicely!  And always smile.  Customers like that.  Address every single person and look them in the eyes when you fill their glass and also have a great handshake.  Those are just some of the little things you learn with time and age."

Sergi is also known in Washington circles as one of the founding members of the D.C. Bartenders Guild.  She credits the organization with creating a real sense of community within the profession in the District of Columbia.  "We all bonded together," she stated.  "Washington is one of those markets where we really don't vie against each other.  We've been able to lift each other up and educate through different brands that we can bring in together as a group.  The education aspect has been fantastic."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "The Red Balloon"

HER ALMA MATER: San Francisco State (she was a Film major).

DOG OR CAT PERSON: "I have a dog and a cat.  I have a pit bull named Freddie Mercury a cat named Josey."

HOBBIES: Sewing.

HIDDEN TALENT: "I'm a baton twirler."



Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2014 Editions Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:49:10 -0400
Union Craft Brewery Looks to Put the Charm in Charm City Beer UnionCraftSep14.jpg - 66.37 KB

Country music fans often sing of having a "hometown honeymoon."  Those who like to strap on the old feedbag and stuff their faces with fried chicken, pizza, and pasta will tell you there's no better place for that than the Hometown Buffet restaurant chain.  But Baltimoreans looking for a hometown beer?  More and more are gravitating to Union Craft Brewing.

Founded by three local friends -- Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger, and Jon Zerivitz -- this growing operation is quickly becoming a hometown favorite to locals and Marylanders alike.  Benesch, who recently sat down with the Beverage Journal on the eve of Union Craft's two-year anniversary, stated, "Being that all three of us are hometown guys, a lot of our passion for what we wanted to create here revolved around community.  We really wanted to be a community-based brewery.  What that means to us is hosting community-type events at the brewery, but also being very involved out in the community, whether it's partnering with local charities or coming up with ways to connect with other people in Baltimore doing great things.  That could mean restaurants holding various events or local causes that we connect with.  And beer is just that great thing everyone loves having around."

Among the most popular events that Benesch and his partners have hosted on site was a recently completed summer movie series.  For four straight Fridays in July, they showed films on a 20-foot inflatable screen in the brewery's large parking lot that all revolved around a theme of "bro's on screen."  The titles included everything from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Wayne's World" to "Top Gun" and "The Lost Boys."

"We are going to do it again probably in the fall, probably with a different theme" Benesch stated.  " We open up the parking lot, and people bring their chairs and their blankets, and we have beer on the site on trucks.  The community showed us that they wanted such an event by coming out in droves for these movie nights."

In addition, Benesch and his partners indeed love to welcome local food trucks to their parking lot and use those opportunities to showase their beers.  Benesch noted, "There are two types of breweries.  There are production packaging breweries that manufacture beer to be distributed out to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.  The other is brewpubs. They're typically smaller, but not always. They are coupled with a restaurant like the Brewer's Art or Oliver's.  We are a production brewery.  We have no kitchen, and we have no food here.  So, we love partnering with local food trucks to come to our parking lot, set up shop, and provide food for our guests.  It's a great way to showcase all of these great tastes that are coming off of these food trucks.  Two, it's great for us in that they offer a great variety of food.  We love trying out new food trucks as well as established favorites."

The trio has also found success in donating its beers to local businesses and causes.  "There are laws around that about we can and cannot do," Benesch noted. "We do love partnering with charities that are doing great things in our community.  A lot of times when they are trying to fund raise or do great events, we can work it out to provide them beer that they can then provide for their guests or even sell and help raise money for themselves."

Benesch, Blodger, and Zerivitz were all born in the Baltimore metro area and had been craft beer fans for many, many years dating back to their college days.  Benesch and Blodger attended the University of Maryland, College Park together in the late 1990s.  "Kevin started home brewing in college," Benesch recalled, with a grin, "and I would often hang out and drink it all!  After school, he went into teaching for about two years. But he got the buzz to follow his passion and got an entry-level brewing job at Frederick Brewing Co., which is now where Flying Dog is. He learned the brewing trade on the job and at other jobs that he took at other brewers across the country."

He continued, "I had been talking to him for a while about coming back to Baltimore from Chicago.  Around that time, I connected with my third partner, John, who I knew through some common friends.  We actually connected at a friend's wedding about four years ago now.  The three of us came together, and we found that we had a similar passion for craft beer and for Baltimore.  We put our heads together to open this brewery.  It is the first production brewery within the Baltimore city limits in 30 years.  That was the good part of it.  The bad part?  There was no brewery in Baltimore for 30 years! The Health Department, the Fire Department, and every zoning board had NO idea what we were talking about.  So, that made for a lot of red tape that we had to get through."

The three have separate and defined duties and responsibilities, which makes the overall operation run smoothly. "Kevin is the head brewer.  He brews beer and makes them taste great.  At Union, he has really developed his recipes.  John does a lot of our marketing and branding.  He makes our beers look great.  I handle the distribution and a lot of the business side.  I get the beer in people's hands."

Union Craft Brewery is located along the Jones Falls River in the historic Woodberry neighborhood of Charm City, not far from the Maryland Zoo and Loyola University.  It officially began operations in 2012 with the installation of a 20-barrel brewhouse and the initial launch of Duckpin Pale Ale.  On Saturday, Aug. 9, Union Craft celebrated the two-year anniversary of its first batch of beer hitting the taps in Baltimore.

With that celebration done, the focus has shifted to the next two years and beyond.  The goal is to continue producing beers in Baltimore city mostly for the home market, although that home market is projected to grow.  "As of right now," Benesch stated, "our beers are only available in Maryland and Washington, D.C.  We'll probably enter into Northern Virginia in the next six to nine months.  Then after that, we'll go a little north.  So, in two years, we'll hopefully be a little more of a regional brewery with the ability to ship our beers to the surrounding states for many years."

Today, there is an on-site tap room that is open to the public Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  During those times, Union Craft staffers give tours of the brewery, and people are invited to taste the beer.  The partners helped get a law changed in 2013 at the state level that allows them to now sell a pint of beer during those hours.

Benesch gives major credit to his two partners for the early success of Union Craft Brewery.  He also applauds those brewery operators around the state and in other parts of the country who were responsive in giving out helpful tips and advices early on.  "We certainly spent a lot of time meeting and talking with other brewery owners to figure out 'Hey, how do we NOT fail!'  How open brewery owners are in lending ideas and offering advice is one thing that is really awesome about our community.  The one thing that probably everyone we talked to said was, 'Everything is going to cost twice as much and take twice as much time.'  I believed them and built that into our timeline and our budget."

Benesch concluded, "The other thing that has proven very true and helpful to us is passion.  A lot of people ask, 'What is craft beer?'  Well, a lot of it comes down to passion.  There are craft breweries like us all over the country that are just passionate about their beer and passionate about their home market.  When you combine those two things and build a business around that, it's pretty amazing what can happen.  It IS beer.  We try to remember that, 'Hey, we created this brewery, and we love this business.'  At the end of the day,  it's about having a good time, it's about creating this great and high-quality beverage, and all of the great things that come with that."


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2014 Editions Mon, 18 Aug 2014 16:00:39 -0400
Tino's Italian Bistro & Wine Bar Infantino_Chris0007.jpg - 45.55 KB

can't write about Tino's Italian Bistro with Wine Bar in Columbia without acknowledging that in a couple of days, or at most a week, I'm going to break down and go have dinner there.  It's that kind o' yummy!  But while it may be the authentic Italian recipes that lure customers there in the first place, most likely return for its impressive beverage selections that complement such dishes as Ravioli Chesapeake, Tortellini Bolognese, and Seafood Mare Bella. 

And those who do return often come back on a Sunday for what may be Howard County's best beverage promotion. Free Wine Sundays!  For every entree order, owner Chris Infantino and his staff take 25 percent off a bottle of wine from a list of 25 bottles to choose from. So, if there is a table of four and they all order main courses, they get a free bottle of vino. 

During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, Infantino remarked, "The original idea was, 'Let's make it so that two couples can get together -- whether they are younger with no kids or are in their 50s or 60s and their kids are grown -- have dinner, and get a free bottle of wine.  So many other places offer half-priced wine nights.  I wanted to do something that had a bigger value.  Come in for the food, and I'll complement the food with a wine that you normally spend $33 or $28 on.  Our Sundays have literally gone up 50 percent since we started that."

The journey to getting Tino's up and running has been a long one.  Infantino comes to the business from the finance side.  A senior vice president with Howard Bank, he had been working in the Columbia area since 1999.  There used to be a restaurant on the Tino's site called Strapazza that he ate at once or twice a week for years.  In September 2010, he learned that a number of the locations in the Strapazza chain were going to be closing including his beloved Columbia one. Having become friendly with the general manager there, he started to seriously consider making a go of it in the restaurant business himself, running the front of the house while the former GM ran the kitchen.  After contacting the landlord, Infantino was able to work out a lease deal and thus -- after much gutting, renovating, and rebuilding -- Tino's opened in June 2011.

"I grew up in an Italian household in New Jersey," Infantino said.  "A lot of the recipes are my recipes and my mom's recipes, as well.  All of the sauces, the bread, the meatballs are home-made.  We make everything we can potentially make.  We don't buy meatballs frozen and heat them up.  It's not what we do."

Infantino, though, quickly realized the importance of the beverage side of the business. As such, Tino's drink philosophy has changed and evolved in its first three years of operation.  "In the beginning," Infantino noted, "we started with all mainstream brands -- everything people would know.  We served everything from Miller Lite, Bud Lite, and Coors to all of the mainstream liquors.  It was the same thing with the wines.  We offered everything that you would see in a liquor store whenever you'd walk in.  As time has gone on and the more we have come to understand, we've become more daring.  We've gotten more into craft beers.  I think we started with 24 beers, and 24 of the 24 were all brands that I mentioned earlier.  But at this point in time, I think we're down to eight or nine name brands.  The other 15 are more craft-oriented."

He added, "We've also really relied on the wine reps to bring in some great wines at great price points. From a wine selection standpoint, I believe there is not a single wine by the glass on our menu that is a name brand.  We are typically going to the wine distributors and saying, 'We want to get more restaurant-only wines.'  We switch up that menu every six months.  Twice a year, we're changing the wine list.  Not entirely, but probably about 40 percent of the wines get changed up every six months even if they're selling well.  If they're selling really well, we'll put them on wines by the bottle, menu-only.  But we like to keep it interesting."

Infantino has tried to pick the brains of the different wine distributors and wine pros whenever possible. His most frequent question is simply "How can we improve?"'  While some reps have come on site and put on different classes for him and his staff, there has been one piece of advice that has really stood out and made a difference.  

Infantino stated, "The rule of thumb has long been to always serve red wine at room temperature.  So, you'd just let it sit out.  One thing the wine reps taught me was, 'That came out over 100 years from now. Italians served red wine at room temperature.  But a hundred years ago, room temperature was typically low 60s.'  Nowadays, people keep their homes warmer than they did a century ago.  It's easier do that.  Set the thermostat and move on.  I never knew room temperature really meant low 60s.  So, the reps told us, 'One thing to do to really make your place classy is get wine refrigerators and set them at around 60 degrees, and that would be something classy that not even many of the high-end steakhouses do.  So, about six or eight months ago, we purchased wine refrigerators and chilled out all of the red wine in the upper 50s.  We know that when we take it out, in a few minutes, it will warm up a degree or two.  So, we really put a lot of focus on being a true wine bar, and we've gotten a ton of compliments on that.  People who understand wine appreciate it very much."

In addition to Free Wine Sundays, another weekly promotion has also proven to be quite popular and endearing to the local clientele -- Foundation Mondays.  Each and every Monday, Tino's co-hosts an event with a local organization, charity, or non-profit where the restaurant donates 10 percent of the entire day's sales.

"Foundation Mondays has exploded," Infantino proudly declared, "and we've actually started doing that on Tuesdays, as well.  I started the restaurant in June 2011 and two months later, my fiancé got sick with cancer.  She fought for two years and passed back in October.  I was with her through all of that.  It was during that time that I realized that there is something more out there that means a Hell of a lot more than just making money.  I decided that I was going to give back and really be on the front lines.  I wanted to do something that was close to home.  I saw that a lot of places would have these times where the restaurant gives back 10 percent or 15 percent of whatever your party brings in.  You have to come in and tell them, 'I'm with the German Shepherd Rescue party.'  A great foundation will bring in $1,500.  An average one will bring in $1,000, and that's a good 40 or 50 people coming in to eat."

He continued, "I decided I'd rather do something where I would give back probably more than I should to really help the cause, and it's going to be a win for everybody.  I know that I'm going to pick up some new clients, who will hopefully look at me and say that here's someone who truly gives back to their community.  On average, we're about $4,800 on a Monday now.  So, we're giving back an average check of $480 every Monday.  And I also allow the foundations who come in to do things like guest bartenders and 50-50 raffles.  I think we're booked for the remainder of this entire year! It took about six months to catch on, but we've been booked now for probably the last eight months. We've already hosted two Tuesdays, and we have two more in July [this interview was conducted right after Independence Day].  We'd been turning away so many groups of people that it made sense to bring an additional day into it.  We're somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 in donations at this point in time. It's a great feeling, and it has really endeared Tino's to the community.  Plus, I have been getting invited to more galas and events than I ever dreamed possible!"

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2014 Editions Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:03:33 -0400
Marylanders Retailers Recognized ABLUSA_Ashish.jpg - 54.77 KBABLUSA_David Dent.jpg - 53.67 KB

One of the highlights of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL) conference was the recognition of twenty-one beverage licensees for their success in, and dedication to, the retail beverage alcohol industry with the 2014 Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year awards.  This is the twelfth year that the distilled spirits company has sponsored the honor. “Thanks to the support of Brown-Forman, we’re able to honor the best bar, tavern and package store owners in America,” stated Bodnovich.  “Independent beverage licensees, both on- and off-premise, are where customers discover the brands they love in settings that foster a sense of community, responsibility and hospitality.”  

Among the 21 recognized were Maryland's own Ashish Parikh, proprietor of Kelly's Liquors in Ellicott City; and David Dent, proprietor of WJ Dent & Sons/Chief's Bar in Tall Timbers. Eligible retailers had to be members of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), and they had to be nominated by its members.

"It was a real surprise, and it means a lot to us," Dent said.  "We're just a little country grocery store basically that has a neighborhood bar.  My family has owned the business since 1978, but the business has been here since 1927.  It has a long tradition in the community … for us to win such a prestigious award is overwhelming," Dent stated.  

Dent has been active with the St. Mary's County Licensed Beverage Association for more than five years now. He also currently serves as vice president of the MSLBA.  "That involves going to Annapolis and attending legislative committee meetings and trying to promote responsible beverage consumption and things like that."

Maryland’s other winner, Ashish Parikh is more than just the operator of Kelly’s Liquors and MSLBA member. He is perhaps best known as President of the Asian American Retailers Association of MD. The organization has worked closely with the MSLBA over the years in both supporting and opposing state legislation that impacts the industry. Parikh, though, didn't come to the beverage business from the usual channels.  In his native India, he spent a decade in the pharmaceutical industry before coming to America. He joked, "In the business I am in now, I feel this is just one other kind of medicine . . . a medicine that you can enjoy!"  

Parikh concluded, "It's a big achievement for me as a retailer winning the Brown-Forman award, being an MSLBA member and being recognized by my colleagues and Brown-Forman helps motivates me for what I do."

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2014 Editions Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:55:39 -0400
Garrick Lumsden: The Company's Pride at Acadiana garrick.jpg - 35.82 KB

One might describe Garrick Lumsden, bar manager at the Passion Food Restaurant Group's popular Acadiana eatery, as a "company man."  Sure enough, he started in the hospitality business in the late 1980s on the corporate side, serving first as a corporate trainer for the Houston's restaurant chain.  After five years in that position, he moved over to the P.F. Chang's chain to serve in that same capacity.  

In those early years, he stuck close to his home market of Chicago.  "I did some traveling and opened up a few restaurants," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "I got tired of Chicago and decided to move to New York City.  But I stopped in D.C. for a year and fell in love with it.  I never made it to New York!"

But the Windy City didn't completely leave Lumsden's being.  He served as pointman in opening Michael Jordan's restaurant in Washington when No. 23 played for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s.  Bartending was always a passion, though, and he eventually found his way to Passion Food.  He worked behind the taps at the company's Ceiba for a couple of years before trying his hand at the sales side of the business, working for Washington Wholesale.  He found that it wasn't for him and decided to go back to bartending at Passion's Acadiana just prior to briefly opening his own restaurant called Toyland around 2010.  He eventually sold the business and returned to Acadiana as bar manager.

"I just like the socialization of bartending!" he stated.  "You're able to socialize while also making good money.  That and bartending is what I'm good at. It always calls me back."

Lumsden continued, "Acadiana is a Lousiana fish house.  It's definitely seafood-driven, but we're also known as a large bourbon bar.  We have anywhere from 65 to 70 bourbons.  There is also a whole list of specialty cocktails and frozen drinks for people who like their Hurricanes and things like that.  We also have an extensive wine list, although we only deal with French and American wines right now.  We want to be authentic to what Louisiana cuisine is all about."

He has developed several cocktails on the current menu.  One of his favorite things is to mix FEW Spirits into his recipes.  "We have a specialty cocktail with FEW's Breckinridge bourbon.  It's a very refreshing drink for the spring and summertime.  I love it because it's not overpowering.  It's something you can sip on our beautiful patio.  FEW also just introduced a Barrel-Aged Gin, which is really starting to pick up at the restaurant in terms of sales.  We've been doing our part to educate the guests about it because it's a gin. But it's barrel-aged so it has a smokier taste to it.  People are getting into it.  A lot of people are scared of bourbon.  But if you're a gin drinker, it's a good segue way to a brown spirit."

As much as he loves the socializing, he concedes that the people side of his job can be tricky.  "People are always challenging," he said through gritted teeth.  "There's the whole 'the customer is always right.'  That's a challenging thing for me personally, because ... uh ... the customer is NOT always right!  With reality TV, it seems that people feel entitled to say or do anything they want now. "

At the same time, the people side is what he thinks today's bars and restaurants need to get better at.  "When I was in corporate training," he recalled, "I think I came into the business at a good time when corporations were really instilling teamwork.  Nowadays, there are so many restaurants, that people don't get as good of training anymore."

Lumsden concluded, "I think smaller places can take a page from the big companies in that they should take more time in their training.  In many cases, I think that they just throw people out there and they don't take the time to actually get to know what their market is and what they are planning to do in their establishment.  That can be a killer, especially in the beginning.  If you open up, and your staff isn't adequate and they're not doing what they are supposed to do, people are not going to come back.  You don't want to start off like that.  As far as corporations, I think some of them need to be less structured and picky about things.  Those days have changed, and you have to adapt.  People are not robots."


"I work out five or six times a week.  I love to run outdoors.  I really like to run by the Capitol and the various monuments."

HIDDEN TALENT: "I love to sing ... but I can't sing a lick!"


FAVORITE D.C. TOURIST SPOT: Busboys and Poets.



Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2014 Editions Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:45:02 -0400
For the Love of District Commons CaitlinLove.jpg - 32.33 KB

Caitlin Love has definitely found both her love and her passion working for Passion Food Hospitality.  She is a seven-year company veteran and has served as bartender at the firm's District Commons eatery since its September 2011 grand opening.  Located on Washington Circle, it's basically a 21st century take on the traditional American tavern.  In terms of food offerings, customers love the huge raw bar and the open-hearth oven where everything from flavorful tarts to tasty flatbreads are baked.  But Love believes it is the drink selection that gets so many customers coming back for more, especially those who like to sample from District Commons' 99 Beers on the Wall.

"District Commons and Burger Tap and Shake are conjoined restaurants," she stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We are the sixth and seventh restaurants the company has opened.  District Commons is American-themed, so we have an all-American wine and craft beer list and lots of American spirits, as well."

Love says she most enjoy working with the newer spirits.  "There are so many beers and wines coming out now, especially on the American side!" she exclaimed.  "I especially like working with Shannon Crisp and FEW Spirits.  I really like the FEW Rye Whiskey.  I want to make a bourbon punch this summer with it.  Bourbon is such a fast-growing part of the industry right now, so I'm really excited to get to work with that.  I like using FEW's gin, as well.  It's very flavorful and blends really nice in a gin and tonic."

She also enjoys being creative with her own cocktail recipes.  At the time this interview was conducted in late May, she was toying around with a drink called the Rosie the Riveter.  It will feature Leopold's Navy Strength Gin with some rosé, some Michigan cherry liqueur, and some tonic water.  "So, it's like a cherry gin and tonic," she remarked.

Love started in the bar business right after she graduated from college.  "I'm from D.C.," she said.  "So, when I came back home, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do.  I started working in the restaurant of an old family friend and just fell in love with the industry." 

Over the years, she has learned many things about what to do behind the bar and certainly what not to do.  She says the most important thing she has learned is patience.  "Too many people these days are into immediate gratification," she lamented.  "But being a bartender, especially in D.C. where the market is so competitive right now, you really have to take each day as it comes and be patient with yourself and with others.  Go ahead and bring up new ideas to people, but then let yourself get comfortable with the environment that you're working in."

She continued, "I'm also very picky about cleanliness. You can be really busy, but you don't have to leave things in a mess.  You can have your bar organized where you can keep everything in order even while you're busy.  That's the most credible way to bartend, for sure."

In terms of ongoing challenges, she says the hardest part of her job is working in an American-themed restaurant that people frequent because it is in their comfort zone, then challenging them to leave that zone and try something new and innovative.  "I really try and open our guests and clientele up to the concept of American craft spirits.  We're trying to raise the game.  The people who make them take  SO  much care in their products.  They are winning a lot of awards in Europe and across the world.  But you still have to convince some people to give them a try."

Part of opening people up to new drinks and new pairings is offering them new experiences.  To this end, she is looking forward to the special beer dinner that District Commons has scheduled for the week of the Fourth of July.  "It's going to be a beer pairing with various breweries," she stated, "including [wholesaler] Capital Eagle Inc. who will have their high-end brand manager there with us.  We will be pairing different types of beer with different types of cuisine.  The Fourth of July is always a big barbecue time.  If you're going to have a party, you're likely going to have lots of different tastes and palettes.   So, why not have something for everybody?"

"I like going to new restaurants. 
D.C. has so many!"

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.  ("It's
really beautiful in the summer at nighttime!")

"The Shawshank Redemption"

The University of Arizona

One dog, a beagle-mix.



Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2014 Editions Sat, 28 Jun 2014 15:05:48 -0400
What's on Tap for Frisco's Michael Cermatori Michael_Cermatori0006.jpg - 93.16 KBMichael Cermatori, bartender at the Frisco Taphouse & Brewery in Columbia, has a pet peeve.  "I do not like a sticky bar top!" he declared, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "That's just lazy bartending.  If you go in someplace and it's sticky, it's not some place you want to go back to.  Now, if you work in a dive bar, I don't want you serving me with white gloves and your pinky in the air.  But have some pride in what you're doing."

Cermatori will only turn 29 in July.  But he already sounds like a longtime veteran of the business.  "I would tell anyone new and young in the beverage industry to know your product, know your clientele, and be aware of your surroundings," he said at one point.  "Things can happen pretty quick in the bar business.  I am lucky because Frisco is a great place.  But I've worked at some other places where things would get out of hand real quick.  So, keep your head on a swivel and know what's going on."  

In truth, Cermatori has been in the industry for a decade, having started as a barback and a bartender in fine dining in Long Island, N.Y.  "That's where I'm from," he said.  "I moved down here in the summer of 2005 to attend college." 

And while he has studied Corporate Communications at the University of Baltimore, his time at Frisco is what has made Maryland feel like home.  He stated, "Frisco is a 56-tap craft beer house, and we also brew our own beer onsite.  We offer beer from all over the world.  The way Frisco is set up is we have these two flat-screen TVs turned sideways that have the beer list on them. People sit down and they start reading through.  They'll ask you questions about beer. You'll ask them, 'What do you like?' And they will either want something 'hoppy' or something 'malty' or something sweet or something dark.  With my knowledge of what we have on tap, I can whittle down their choices and get them something they can really enjoy."

Cermatori says he really loves interacting with Frisco's customers in this way. At times, he is as much a consultant as a bartender. "I've worked a lot of restaurant jobs," he remarked, "and Frisco has the best group of regulars. Every day at work, I get to see someone cool that I enjoy talking to and helping. I get to hang out with them, pour them a drink, and put a smile on their face."

On the flipside, Cermatori said the most challenging part of his job is always that random customer who has had a real bad day and just doesn't want it to get better. "You want to turn things around for them, but there are some people who just don't want to be cheered up.  That can be very frustrating sometimes."

In those instances, he remembers some of his early influences in the bar biz.  One was a colleague on Long Island named "Bix."  Cermatori describes him as "this crazy guy" who played in rock bands throughout the '70s, but also bartended on the side.  "He told me to work hard, always keep a smile on my face, and keep the guests happy -- that if I did all that, I shouldn't have a hard time in the bar business.  And I haven't!  I always try and keep that in mind."

And to stay on top of his game, Cermatori is always on the lookout for the latest customer trends and drinking preferences.  Last year, he observed, white India Pale Ales (or IPAs) were all the rage.  "This year, everyone seems to be doing session IPAs.  Basically, you get the big hops content you find in a regular IPA, but with alcohol.  A normal IPA is about 7.5 percent or 8 percent alcohol by volume.  These are more like 4.5 to 5 percent.   When you are at your backyard barbecue or out with your family, you can still drink some nice flavorful beer.  But it won't put you on your ass!"

He is also looking forward to Frisco opening a second location in Crofton.  "The word on the street is that it will offer 106 taps and all craft beer.  That should be cool!"


HOBBIES OR SPECIAL INTERESTS:  "I love motorcycles, dirt bikes, anything with an engine that I can mess around on and maybe hurt myself on."

"My 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee that I've been driving since I got my license.  She's getting a little old, but I still love her dearly."

HIDDEN SKILL: "I can ski well!"

HIS MUSIC:'80s metal.  "But I also get down with some early '90s gangsta rap. 

I'm all over the place."

"Either Steve McQueen or Charles Bronson. I bet they liked beer."


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2014 Editions Sat, 28 Jun 2014 10:05:33 -0400
Comedian Adam Carolla Mans Up With Mangria Mangria_Red_and_White_bottles.jpg - 88.38 KB

Adam Carolla is a man known for wearing many hats.  Comedian, author, actor, talk-show host, podcast host,... and now beverage biz mogul.  The third of his highly successful Mangria products recently launched and is now available in our market via Atlantic Wine and Spirits.  A Brand Profile is running in this month's edition of the Beverage Journal complete with a few quotes from Carolla himself.  As a Web edition extra, here is the full Q&A:

BEVERAGE JOURNAL: Every brand has a story behind it. What is Mangria's?

ADAM CAROLLA: I drink red wine every night to knock me down after my typically stressful days.  One night, I went to pour my second round and I only had half a glass left.  I still wanted to get my end of the day buzz, so I foraged around and dumped a little vodka in to fill the glass.  It tasted like Hell.  But I don’t waste booze.  It’s against my alcoholic moral code.  So I put some orange juice in and created an extra powerful Sangria.  I brought it up my podcast the next day and dubbed it Mangria.  Then, I started mixing batches and bringing it to Jimmy Kimmel’s for Football Sunday and people liked it.  Eventually, we hooked up with some real wine guys in Napa and started bottling and marketing it. It kind of started as a joke but now it’s bloomed into a real business.  We’ve sold over 200,000 bottles!

BJ: Having sampled the product, I think its taste really distinguishes it.  Could you talk about its flavor profile and recipe?

AC: I’d be lying if I started talking about “hints of this” and “notes of that” in the flavor profile.  I just know that it tastes good.  You can definitely taste the citrus flavor in the red mangria and in the white peach and pear flavor the sweetness really stands out.  And when it comes to the recipe I leave that to the wine experts.  I’m not a wine expert.  I’m a drinking expert with over 40 years experience.

BJ: Do you consider it a "man's drink?"  Or has this been crossing over to the female demographic?

AC: The name makes it seem like it’s only for guys, but I know a ton of women who love it.  We’ve got the white peach and pear flavor, which appeals a little bit more to the ladies.  But my wife loves the original Mangria.  Sometimes we’ll say it’s strong enough for a man, but sweet enough for a lady.  Again, it wasn’t like I set out with an intention of making a “man’s drink.”  I was just trying to get drunk and improvised with the stuff in my house.

BJ: This article is for the Maryland and Washington Beverage Journals.  We're always curious when interviewing those outside our region if they have any thoughts or insights on the MD-DC markets?  Any interesting drinking stories from a past time in Baltimore or Washington or elsewhere locally?

AC: I guess if you want to know my thoughts on Washington, D.C., you should get my new book on politics “President Me: The America That’s In My Head.”  

I have one D.C. drinking story, though it’s more of a vomiting story.  It was 1997, I was doing Loveline and was asked to come out to D.C. for the WHFStival, a big 90s alternative music fest at R.F.K. stadium.  The night before I enjoyed some Maryland soft-shell crab for first time ever and then hit the 9:30 Club, a famous D.C. rock venue, where I saw Ben Folds Five play and did a couple of shots with Andy Dick.  The next day I was scheduled to go to R.F.K., stand in front of 55,000 people, and introduce Beck.  At 6 a.m. I woke up and instantly began violently throwing up.  This happened every half hour while I was curling in the fetal position on the bare hotel bathroom floor.  Unless Andy Dick put something in one of my drinks, I assume I’d gotten food poisoning from the crabs.  It was miserable.  

Long story short, I made a promise that if I could put together 60 minutes without vomiting I would get on the subway and head to the venue.  I managed to stop vomiting, got some Gatorade backstage and hit the stage at R.F.K. even though my head hurt worse J.F.K.

5) What has surprised you the most with your foray from comedy, radio, TV, podcasts, etc. into the beverage business?

Having the podcast and my other projects has given me a nice marketing platform and really helped get the word out.  So the booze business and the entertainment business can work well together. As far as surprises, I can’t necessarily say I’m surprised, but the red tape and bureaucracy around the booze business has been harder to navigate than the stupidity of the entertainment business.  I chronicle this in detail in my new book so I’ll keep it brief.  We went through months of back and forth just on the labels.  I didn’t realize that I would have to get the creation story I told you earlier approved by the government for the back label.  The ATF has to approve your label and they had a beef with me saying I was an “alcoholic” or that my product “packed a punch”.  They said, I couldn’t refer to its "intoxicating qualities."  Seriously, that’s a quote from our rejection letter.  To which I argue that it’s a f***ing wine bottle, and more importantly, the product inside has a higher alcohol content than wine so I should be sued if I DON’T say that it’s alcohol or that it packs a punch!  Again, check out “President Me” for all the gory details on getting Mangria out to the people.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 14:11:53 -0400