April 2014 Editions - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/categories/listings/april-2014-editions Fri, 04 Sep 2015 14:45:46 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb DC Coast Enjoys the Highs With Lauren Lowe http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/dc-coast-enjoys-the-highs-with-lauren-lowe http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/dc-coast-enjoys-the-highs-with-lauren-lowe Lowe_Lauren3.jpg - 263.97 KB

It's been eight years since Lauren Lowe made the move from the wilds of Michigan to Washington, D.C.  A part of her is still getting used to the transition.  "I lived in Michigan until I was 22," she stated.  "Needless to say, there is a thriving city life here in comparison to where I'm from."

Lowe has been part of that thriving city life for eight years now, specifically its bar scene.  Her first job behind the taps was at Chef Jeff's on 13th and F Streets.  She left there after about a year and a half to take a job at DC Coast.  She's been head bartender there for nearly six years now.

"I love it!" she declared.  "I love bartending, and I especially love working in downtown D.C.   DC Coast is the first restaurant opened by Passion Food Hospitality.  We are on 14th and K downtown.  What we serve is 'tri-coastal cuisine' with our chef-owner Jeff Tunks and our executive chef Miles Vaden.  Tri-coastal cuisine means we offer specialties from the Mid-Atlantic region to the Gulf Coast and a little bit of West Coast-style cooking."

Lowe described herself as a people person.  You have to be, she says, to be a success in her line of work.  "I love pleasing customers and doing what I can to make their experience better.  Delivering the best guest experience comes before trying to be the best bartender I can be.  You can't be the best unless you know you are treating the customer properly."

She continued, "The hours can be difficult.  Sometimes you are there really late.  And being a bar manager means you are also there very early.  It's very time consuming anytime you're in charge of a bar or wine program.  So, you can get a little cranky.  It's not always easy to smile, but you have to."

DC Coast has become known for its extensive vodka and gin lists.  "We have one of the largest selections in the city," Lowe proudly stated.  "I personally lean towards the classic cocktails, especially the gin-based ones.  I've branched out into rye and bourbons, but I am certainly more gin-centered."

She especially likes mixing with FEW Spirits.   "Shannon Crisp came by when he first started his company, and he did staff training for us," she recalled.  "Ever since then, we as a staff have been supportive in selling their products.  Behind the bar right now, I have a couple of cocktails with FEW gin as the base.  For example, we do a specialty drink  we call the Potomac Sunrise.  It's been on our menu for years.  It's very simple -- Svedka, St. Germain, Aperol, and fresh grapefruit juice -- but very popular.  It's nice that FEW has three different gins -- their standard issue, which is the higher proof; the American style; and the Barrel-aged.  It's very fun to work with the three separate products."

Looking around the city at her competition, Lowe has noticed that it has become extremely popular to have a cocktail program, in general.  " In the last year or so, I've also noticed our customers have gotten a lot more drink-savvy, which is good for us as bartenders.  We're not just guiding the blind now.  It's because everyone everywhere is doing all of these amazing things with drinks.  They're really educating our consumers."

She credits Scott Clime, DC Coast's wine and beverage director, as one of the major influences in her career thus far.  She also gives credit to herself for her willingness to stay ahead of the curve in terms of drink trends.  "You have to study for success," she said.  "You have to be prepared going into each shift.  Whether you are anticipating a busy or slow night, you just never know.  Being prepared is what makes the night go smooth, keeps you happy, and keeps the guests happy."

And to any young bartenders reading this, does Lowe have any sage advice?  "Just stick with it," she stated.  "It definitely takes experience.  With the competition that's out there today, you just can't go behind the bar and sling Long Islands and pour shots anymore.  You have to put your mind into and read up on it.  There are plenty of good books out there, and there are plenty of people who can come and talk to you who are more than happy to give words of wisdom.  The bar business is actually a very open community, and we're out to help each other.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is ask for help and take it."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "True Romance"

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  "Rolling out our spring cocktails come mid-March!"

HER DOGS: A Boston terrier named Dudley and a Shepherd mix rescue dog named Castro.

SPECIAL INTERESTS: Outdoor activities, everything from hiking to skiing to playing with Dudley and Castro at the park.

 

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:33:03 -0400
Terrapin’s Mosaic Red Rye IPA http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/terrapin-s-mosaic-red-rye-ipa http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/terrapin-s-mosaic-red-rye-ipa Mosaic-Square-Web.jpg - 225.26 KB

Mosaic Red Rye IPA is a euphonious name for a beer. The name is quite a mouthful, and so is the beer.  This Rye based IPA is brewed by the award-winning Terrapin Brewery located in Athens, Georgia, which began brewing operations in 2002.  Terrapin brews a wide range of full flavored ales that are well balanced and not over the top in any way.

Much of Mosaic Red Rye IPA’s character is based on the use of Mosaic Hops – a new variety of hop. An offspring of Simcoe and Nugget hops, Mosaic derives its pleasant aroma and bitterness qualities from each of them. This new hop from the Northwest United States has a bright future and likely will become widely used in very short order.  

In addition to the unique hop, an interesting assortment of malts provides the foundation for this Rye IPA:  two row pale malt, rye malt, Munich malt and Crystal 45, Crystal 65 and Crystal 85 malts.  The combination adds to the beer’s hearty and unique flavor.

When poured, Mosaic has an appealing look with dark garnet color and tan head. While the head lingers only a short while, a steady stream of small bubbles continues to rise in the glass throughout the drinking experience.  The aroma is redolent of grapefruit, melon and pine and has an abundance of citrus overtones. The beer has a medium body and great mouth-feel, a product of the rye malt, but at 6.6% abv and 60 Bitterness Units, Mosaic is at the same time a hearty beer.

Do you have customers looking for something a little bit different, but not too over the top?  Mosaic Red Rye IPA is the perfect recommendation.  It has eye appeal; it tastes great; it is medium bodied with plenty of character and does not offend with either too much hops or off-putting aroma.  As with a piece of fine art, the interpretation and meaning of the beer’s character is left up to one’s own individual senses.  Besides, the name is fun to say and it’s an excellent beer to enjoy with friends.

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alan@beveragejournalinc.com (Alan Horton) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:24:34 -0400
Keith Kerkoff: How Templeton Rye Went Legit http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/keith-kerkoff-how-templeton-rye-went-legit http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/keith-kerkoff-how-templeton-rye-went-legit KK Image 1.jpg - 273.72 KB

In the 1987 movie "The Untouchables," Sean Connery's Irish beat cop famously instructed Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness on the "Chicago way" to get Al Capone and his notorious gang: "They pull a knife, you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!"

Well, if it had been Keith Kerkoff in that scene, he would have told the Prohibition-era enforcement agent, "Just offer 'em a bottle of Templeton Rye!"

Prohibition indeed outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920.  That's when the residents of tiny Templeton, Iowa, decided to become outlaws and produce a high-caliber whiskey they dubbed Templeton Rye.  So smooth was the finish, that it became Capone's whiskey of choice and one of the centerpieces of his bootlegging empire.

Although many American whiskeys ceased production after Prohibition ended, Templeton Rye continued to be illegally produced in small quantities for loyal customers.  More than eight decades later, the infamous small batch rye whiskey was finally made available legally for the first time in 2006.

Kerkoff, Assistant Master Distiller at Templeton Rye, was in Maryland in early February.  He had come to chat up representatives at Republic National Distributing Co., conduct a round of staff training at the Capital Grille in Baltimore, and sit down for an interview with this journalist, among other things.

"I really appreciate that the different venues Tom Brinkley [of Infinium Spirits] has taken me to," he stated.  "The people have been very interested in hearing about Templeton Rye. They're especially interested that we were a nationally known product during Prohibition. I'll always give credit to my grandfather, Alphonse Strickland; [famed bootlegger] Joe Irlbeck; and their constituents.  They're the ones who built our name.  They're the ones who worked in the trenches at night, kept the coils on their stills cool, and they had to look over their shoulders much of the time for the revenue agents." 

Legend has it that Alphonse was the only man in Templeton with the strength to carry two 100-lb. sacks a half mile -- the distance assumed safe from revenue agents.  Kerkoff himself is a big man, having played football at Buena Vista College.  He had a short-lived career in the NFL, then got married and became a farmer.  Eventually, entrepreneur Scott Bush contacted his father, Meryl, and expressed interest in making Templeton Rye a legal brand.

"Our first bottle came out of the distillery Oct. 25, 2006," Kerkoff stated.  "We decided to make 1,000 barrels that year and thought, 'There's going to be no shortage of Templeton Rye.' We couldn't have been more wrong! The last couple of years, we've made 7,500 barrels."

He continued, "Currently, we're in 42 states, and we should have all 50 states by the end of the year. But we're still a small craft distillery.  What sets us apart?  The Tax & Trade Bureau says, 'If you're going to be a rye whiskey, you have to be at least 51 percent rye and aged no less than two years in new oak barrels.' Well, we're over 90 percent rye, and we're aged four years in new oak barrels. We feel our flavor profile is going to be premium at no less than four years."

In just a few short years, Templeton Rye has managed to both shed its outlaw image and embrace its notorious past.  The company has formed the cheekily named Templeton Rye Bootleggers Society that loyal customers can join and get all sorts of privileges and promotions.  In addition, its distillery regularly host volunteer bottling nights in which common folks get to join the Templeton team and help the professionals, in Kerkoff's words, "bottle the Good Stuff for a night."

Kerkoff said one of the favorite parts of his job is visiting other markets such as Baltimore and instructing restaurant and bar staffs on the history of Templeton Rye.  "During our staff trainings," he noted, "we inform them that a lot of the whiskey during Prohibition was right out of the still and into the consumer.  With un-aged spirits, you have acetaldehyde and methanol in there that you want to get rid of.  When you age a product in a barrel, you take some of that out.  That's what makes it a premium product.  Being a premium product, that's how Capone's operation in Chicago learned about it."

Among the questions he gets asked the most are: "Do you have any old photos of your grandfather distilling whiskey?" and "Do you have any photos of him doing business with Capone?"  Kerkoff chuckles, " I just answer them, 'Hey, do you see any pictures of drug dealers today doing their transactions?!'  You just didn't do that.  That would have been incriminating!"

HIS ALMA MATER: Buena Vista College (now Buena Vista University), a Division III school in Storm Lake, Iowa.

HIS SPORT: Football (Position--Defensive Tackle)

SIGNED AS A FREE AGENT WITH:  The Dallas Cowboys in 1977

ALSO PLAYED FOR: The Chicago Bears

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:20:33 -0400
Up-Selling: A Practitioner’s Guide To Selling the Good Stuff http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/up-selling-a-practitioner-s-guide-to-selling-the-good-stuff http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/up-selling-a-practitioner-s-guide-to-selling-the-good-stuff upselling button.jpg - 87.04 KB

The appeal of premium spirits cuts across age and cultural demographic lines. The spirits industry has done a marvelous job positioning premium brands with contemporary consumers. Their allure is undeniable. They’re marketed in attention grabbing packages and offer people a lot of bang for the buck. That’s an unbeatable combination.

As with most high-ticket items, premium and super-premium spirits don’t sell themselves. Convincing a client that a $60 bottle of Russian vodka, a $200 American alembic brandy, or a 750ml of tequila retailing for $250 is a warranted and informed purchase requires technique and ready information. Considering that your staff will have little time to close the sale necessitates providing them with a viable strategy.

Whether selling spirits behind a swank bar or off your retail shelves, an important first step is for the staff to appreciate each product’s singular claim to fame. It’s safe to presume that the products commanding these elevated prices have sufficient attributes that lift them heads and shoulders above the pack. Knowing what makes a particular brand a brilliant player is crucial.

As any sales veteran will attest, the key to effective sales is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That’s what pushes people’s hot buttons and these products are loaded with sizzle. This advice doesn’t include reciting the medals they’ve won, or what ratings they’ve received. It entails talking plainly about what makes the certain brand singular and different from the rest. 

Better than talking, conduct tastings for the staff and let them experience firsthand how magnificent these spirits truly are. Combine insight and a sense of appreciation into a person and you’ve set the stage for success. They say passion is contagious. 

Up-Selling Brandies and Cognac

The most important key to up-selling Cognacs and brandies is emphasizing the region in which the grapes were cultivated. Just as with wine, the microclimate, soil composition and growing conditions under which grapes are cultivated have a pronounced impact on the finished spirit. As a result, a Grande Champagne cognac will be characteristically different than one blended with brandies from Petite Champagne, the Borderies or the Bons Bois. Conveying this most basic of information is crucial to selling cognacs and brandies, especially as one ascends the price scale. 

Likewise, give the client a sense of the nature of the blend—called the assemblage— used to create the brandy. This is where the wealth and sophistication of a particular brand comes into full play. For example, Richard Hennessy Cognac is comprised of a rare assemblage of more than 100 eaux-de-vie primarily from the Grand and Petite Champagne regions. The youngest brandy in its blend is 50 years old, while a percentage is more than two centuries in age. The youngest brandy used to make famed ultra-premium Remy Martin Louis XIII registers a half-century in age.

As extraordinary as most Cognacs are, stiff competition in the category is being waged by a handful of American craft distillers, most notably Germain-Robin, Jepson, Domaine Charbay and St. George Spirits. These boutique distillers approached the making of their world-class offerings differently than their French counterparts. Cognacs are traditionally distilled from the Ugni Blanc, better known as the Trebbiano, the oldest grape varietal in Italy. A small percentage of contain Colombard and Folle Blanche.

The American brandy makers took a different tack, relying heavily on premier wine grape varietals, most notably pinot noir. Like their Cognac-producing counterparts, these distillers utilize small copper alembic stills and age their brandies in small oak casks.

Up-Selling Premium Scotch

When it comes to marketing Scotch, intrigue sells. A superior malt with a compelling story line sells better than one draped in medals. Consumers have become jaded to marketing superlatives such as oldest, rarest or most expensive. Most people would rather be intrigued than impressed. Tempting clients with some engaging insights into a particular whisky and the decision to purchase is a foregone conclusion.

Offering your clientele a discriminating selection of blends and single malts requires that you market a balanced offering, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.

First, a little background information. The term single malt Scotch is often misconstrued. It is a whisky, produced in Scotland, at a single distillery using only malted barley, and no other grain or fermentable material. Blended Scotches are comprised of various whiskies from an unspecified number of distilleries. The heart of any premium blended Scotch are single malt whiskies. For instance, Johnnie Walker Gold Label is made according to a 1920 recipe created for the company’s 100th anniversary. It contains fifteen different 18-year-old single malt whiskies.

Recommending a classy bottle of Scotch first requires a vital piece of information from the client, namely what brand or type of Scotch the person typically enjoys. From there you can easily begin suggesting brands that don’t require the person to make a radical departure in taste profile. Second, ask if the person is looking for an accessible whisky, or one with a bracing amount of vigor and peat. Last, inquire about how much the person is looking to spend. Collectively the information should provide a blueprint on how to proceed. Soft and lush whiskies suggest either the Lowlands or the Speyside region of the Highlands. Exuberant, peaty malts bring to mind those made on the islands. While exceptions here outnumber the rule, it’s a jumping off point. 

Up-Selling Premium Irish Whiskeys

Whiskey distilling originated in Ireland in the sixth century. By the end of the 1800s there were over 160 active distilleries producing 400 brands of Irish whiskey. It was exported to every port of call in Europe, the British Empire and America, exceeding the worldwide sales of all other types of whiskey combined. Irish whiskey was the world’s spirit of choice.

The 20th century, however, was not kind to the native spirit of Ireland. Domestic hard times and an industry unwilling to keep pace with technology cost Irish whiskey its position of preeminence. 

Today there are roughly two dozen brands of Irish whiskey. To connoisseurs this noble whiskey is still a treasure to be savored and shared with only the best of friends. So step up, take a few chances and pepper your several with several new Irish whiskeys. 

There are two brands of Irish whiskeys that have superlatives attached to their names. John Jameson is the world’s best selling label of Irish whiskey. Originally crafted in Dublin, the Jameson range of whiskeys is now made at the internationally renowned Midleton Distillery in County Cork. 

Bushmills is the oldest, continuously produced brand of Irish whiskey. Located in Country Antrim, the Old Bushmills distillery was granted a license by King James I in 1608, the same year that William Shakespeare wrote the Tempest. 

Serious enthusiasts of Irish whiskey know the brand they’re going to buy before they walk through your front door. Knowing this, Irish distillers are expanding vertically in order to keep their loyal constituency in the fold. This way, brand devoted clients can experiment with things like creative wood finishes or vintage delineated malts while remaining true to the brand their parents drank. For that matter, any whiskey aficionado looking to go home with something new and indisputably luxurious should be escorted to the nearest Irish single malt. Each is a memorable experience.

Up-Selling Premium American Whiskeys

The chant “Buy American” can now be heard in bars around the globe. Exports from Kentucky and Tennessee have risen over 60% since 1992 and 26% over the past five years alone. Foreign sales now constitute a significant percentage of sales for American whiskies. 

By all indications, American whiskeys will continue to grab an increasingly larger share of the popular limelight. Their mixability, affordability and easy to appreciate character seem to be what consumers are looking for.

Bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys offer consumers a lot of bang for the whiskey buck. What the category may lack in pizzazz, it more than makes up for it in quality. After all, the proof is in the whiskey. Expect increasingly more special bottlings with which to tantalize enthusiasts of American sipping’ whiskey. Clients looking to walk away with a slice of history should be directed to the growing number of vintage-dated, or single barrel expressions. Watch for growing consumer interest in American ryes. The whiskeys are big, spicy and take age well. 

 

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robert@barmedia.com (Robert Plotkin) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:10:24 -0400
Tequila 101 http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-101 http://www.beerwineliquor.com/new/easyblog/entry/tequila-101 Agave_tequilana_2.jpg - 268.37 KB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting the Barrel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updating the Old School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novelty Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jack Robertiello

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info@beveragejournalinc.com (Beverage Network) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 13:16:52 -0400