The Beverage Journal Blog

This is a place to read articles found in the Maryland and Washington DC Beverage Journals as well as thoughts on current issues from our staff. If you would like to be a registered BJ Blogger, contact Stephen Patten.

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Recent blog posts
Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey

Glendalough Distillery, Ireland’s first craft distiller, is leading an exciting Irish whiskey revival with the American release of its new Double Barrel Irish Whiskey. Available in Maryland and Washington, DC via Bacchus Importers, this hand-crafted small batch spirit is a new caliber of Irish whiskey, boasting unique richness and complexity.

“This truly new, unique style of Irish whiskey was born of a wild Irish streak,” said Glendalough’s USA Brand Manager Donal O’Gallachoir. “Like the fiercely independent, Irish monk, Saint Kevin whose image graces every one of our bottles, we are carving our own way with the Double Barrel. This whiskey represents a distinguished sociability—it dares to stand out in a world of copycats and ‘same old’ styles.”

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey brings new life to a pre-Prohibition style of Irish whiskey that would be familiar to one’s grandfather. Hand-distilled in a Coffey still from a mash bill of locally sourced malted barley and organic corn, the whiskey gains its distinctive complexity from a year of gentle, steady aging that is aided by the country’s mild maritime climate. The double-aging process combines six months in first-fill American oak bourbon barrels, then graduates to six months in first-fill Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Before bottling, the cask-strength whiskey is cut with purified mineral-rich water sourced from the surrounding Wicklow Mountains. A year on oak yields the distinctive vanilla thread that runs through this Iight and floral Irish whiskey. The Bourbon barrels impart deep, robust chocolate and caramel notes, lightened on the palate with fruity, nutty notes from the Oloroso casks. The subtle nose is rich with the dark, fruity notes of Christmas pudding, and a sweet and creamy palate resounds richly with honeyed sweetness returning to dry fruit and a gingery, golden finish.

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Increase Revenues Through Backbar Management

A restaurant that doesn’t routinely change its menu always has plenty of open tables. The same holds true for a bar. If you find yourself in need of a financial shot in the arm, consider taking a page from the beverage consultant’s playbook and revamp your backbar. Regardless of the size or concept of your operation, the backbar is your principal and most effective marketing device. Ensuring that it has the most advantageous product mix is a tried and true strategy for boosting revenue and rejuvenating a beverage program.

To that end, here are the important things to consider when renovating your backbar and adding punch to your beverage line-up.

Taking Stock — Over time the inventory at most beverage operations grows to the point of being unwieldy. New products are added to the backbar, while older, slower moving products are allowed to remain on the shelves. The reality is there’s a physical limit to how many products can effectively market on all backbars.

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Weyerbacher Last Chance 120 IPA

When a brewer describes his beer as being a “….full blown hop assault-delightfully lacking in balance,” the beer drinker is clearly forewarned as to what to expect. Without a doubt Last Chance 120 IPA is a hop centric brew, but it is by no means off putting to the beer drinker who prefers a mild pale ale or lager.

Last Chance 120 IPA is one of the Weyerbacher Brewery’s seven, year round beers. Other year round brands include: Blithering Idiot, Double Simcoe IPA, Merry Monk, Old Heathen, Tiny and Verboten. They are all more or less examples of the abundant use of aromatic and flavoring hops as the means of giving each brand its own unique character.

Founded in 1995 by the husband wife team of Dan and Sue Weirbach, the Weyerbacher Brewery has remained true to the owners’ vision of producing full flavor beers of a high quality. Since the beginning, the brewery has had a loyal customer following that over the years has grown exponentially. From its small humble beginnings in a livery stable in Easton, PA, Weyerbacher has gone through several growth iterations. It is now housed in a modern facility with an up-to-date brew house and a fully refurbished Krones bottling line. The owners and Weyerbacher sales team now sell their thirty-one brands in 19 states.

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Heavy Seas Celebrates New Brew House and 20th Year

Senator Ben Cardin and Heavy Seas founder, Hugh Sisson, were recently joined by many guests including other political leaders, investors, bankers, media representatives, distributors, brewery employees, and friends and family for the official unveiling of the new brew house.  This ribbon cutting ceremony and reception also marked the 20th year for Heavy Seas Beer, formally known as Clipper City Brewing Company. The Senator, using a cutlass sword, cut the ribbon to present the new Heavy Seas brew house. 

The event included a cannon being fired inside the brewery right after the ribbon cutting as well as pints of Heavy Seas beers being served … including the new year-round, CrossBones Session IPA, and the new seasonal, Deep Six English-style porter. 

The new brew house is now fully operating and taking the brewery from producing 200 barrels of beer a day to almost 500 barrels a day, which increases the production capacity by 250%. The term “brew house” refers to the equipment that is used to produce wort, which becomes beer during fermentation. 

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Greg Baird Promoted to President of The  Charmer Sunbelt Group

Greg Baird was recently promoted to President of The Charmer Sunbelt Group; the parent company of Reliable Churchill as well as Washington Wholesale.  

“As our industry has changed these past few years, Greg’s steady direction as Chief Operating Officer has guided us in our vision to be The Distributor of Choice," stated Charlie Merinoff, CEO at The Charmer Sunbelt Group.  “On behalf of our Board and shareholders let me say we are confident Greg has the sound judgment, business acumen, foresight and demonstrated leadership to bring us to the next level and continue our growth and profitability.” 

Greg began his career in the industry with the E&J Gallo Winery, where he spent almost ten years in a variety of roles. During that tenure he was responsible for Gallo’s recruiting and training efforts in the East Region. It was in that role that he recognized the critical importance of sourcing, developing and retaining talent to strengthen the organization. He joined Reliable Churchill in 1990, where he rose through the organization, eventually becoming President in 1999.  In 2007, Greg joined the corporate team, assuming the role of Vice President of Sales for all of Charmer Sunbelt.  After several years of executing supplier strategies and expanding key relationships, Greg was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in June 2010. 

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Help for Small Business Owners is Close at Hand

As a business owner, you may at times feel “stuck.”  Perhaps you can’t get the traction necessary to move ahead; doing the same old thing in the same old way has made you stale or you are just plain tired of fighting the same old battles, or maybe you know what you want to do but you just don’t know how to do it.  Fortunately, there is plenty of affordable and practical help close at hand for Maryland’s small business owners.

Inexpensive Life Long Learning

Maryland can take great pride in its network of sixteen community colleges.  Hagerstown Community College, Maryland’s first community college, was founded in 1946 an innovator in a series of local institutions of higher education.  Most of Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City are home to a central community college campus that is supplemented by other locations convenient to the business community, who may want more specific information and education about a wide array of topics.

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Posted by on in March 2015 Editions
Samuel Adams Boston Lager

What is a brand?  Simply put, a brand is a picture, an icon, words, feelings, beliefs or any notion we attach to a product (person or service).  In the case of Sam Adams “Boston Lager,” it is the beer, the brewery and a marketing genius named Jim Koch, wrapped into one.

Koch is the self-effacing, denim shirt clad CEO and spokesman who is seen often in Sam Adams television commercials.  He comes across as sincere and knowledgeable.  He is both.  After all, it’s his beer and his company.  The company’s marketing engine has carefully crafted the legend that Koch himself comes from a long line of brewers, and in fact, he tells the story that the recipe for Boston Lager is one developed in 1860 by Louis Koch a forebear who owned a brewery in Missouri.

But, Jim Koch is much more than just a brewmaster.  He is one smart guy. Koch holds three degrees from Harvard including a BA, MBA and JD.  Prior to founding Sam Adams with his partner Rhonda Kallman, he learned many lessons about marketing and business strategy while working as a consultant at the prestigious Boston Consulting Group.  Koch, Sam Adams and Boston Beer are a good example of a modern version of the “Horatio Alger” story of American success based on a unique idea, a lot of hard work and a fair share of good luck.

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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.

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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!"

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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."

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Posted by on in February 2015 Editions
SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale

Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney founded the SweetWater Brewing Company.   The two became friends while attending the University of Colorado.  During college, they developed a passion for beer, and after graduating they headed to California to attend brewing school at the American Brewers Guild.  They then worked at various craft breweries before opening their own brewery in February 1997 near SweetWater Creek outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  In April of that same year, they produced their first brew, SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, and it remains the brewery’s most popular beer.

American Pale Ales are made from U.S. ingredients and are brewed for a careful balance of sweet malt and bitter hops.  They are typically a brilliant gold color, are approachable, and are often considered to be session beers because of their easy drinkability.  They are in complete contrast to the older British style ale, which is darker and has a bitterer flavor profile.

SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale perfects the American Pale Ale style with its aromatic and full flavor that is equally weighted in both directions.  The beer pours a rich gold color and has a generous head of foam that sticks around and provides plenty of lacing inside the glass. It gets its gold color and sweet flavor from a blend of Munich malt known for its robust malt flavor characteristics, L40 malt which imparts caramel notes and two row barley malt that supplies the majority of carbohydrates and sugars for brewing and fermenting.

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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!"

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Protect Your Livelihood, Get Involved

The Maryland 2015 Legislative session begins in less than a week (it is January 9th as I type this … very much looking forward to the Industry Opening Day Legislative Reception being held on January 14th; look for full coverage in the March edition of the Beverage Journal).  

I recently attended the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association’s (BCLBA) ‘Meet & Greet’ at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium (see page 34 for coverage of this event). The Meet & Greet offered Baltimore County licensees an opportunity to meet with their elected officials (many newly elected). There is no doubt that chain store legislation is a concern of the entire industry … it was the topic du jour of many conversations.  Chain stores being allowed to enter the Maryland marketplace is a dangerous prospect to the independent beer, wine and liquor retailer.  I was told over and over again how important it is to get as many industry members involved and be prepared to defend the independent store-owners’ position to the state representatives.  Many of you are involved and are familiar with the process of protecting your business from harmful proposed legislation.  However, too many are not.  Below is a quick ‘How To’ …

First, you need to know what proposed legislation is coming down the pipe and how it would affect your business.  Becoming a member of your county association as well as the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) would be a great start.  The MSLBA was formed, in part, because the association's leaders understood that actions in the Maryland State House directly impact the operations of your businesses.  The MSLBA tracks proposed legislation that will have an effect on its members’ livelihoods.  They do this right at their web site, www.mslba.org.  

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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."

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Posted by on in January 2015 Editions

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At this time of year, retail shelves are stocked with brightly packaged Christmas Beers. The packages, the labels and perhaps even the name contain the word Christmas, but what is Christmas Beer?  It’s one of those questions open to interpretation and opinion to which there is no definitive answer.  Some might reason it is a beer for drinking during the Christmas Holiday.  Others might suggest that it is a spiced beer with aroma and flavor common to holiday desserts; and, still others might say it is a higher alcohol beer brewed especially for the Christmas Season.  Regardless of the definition, Christmas beer has a long and interesting history.

Whether it was pre-Romans, the Druids or Scandinavians celebrating the Winter Solstice, holiday beers have been around for a very long time –thousands of years in fact.  Strongly brewed beer intended to be shared with friends and family became the norm in Europe during the late Middle Ages.  The beer of the time often contained spices, herbs or fruit and plenty of alcohol.  It was a special brew made for the season and to make common folk feel both warm and happy at the same time.  This idea is not entirely new, and could have been a storyline in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

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Posted by on in January 2015 Editions

At first thought, the idea of sour beer seems neither appealing nor appetizing.  But, to the contrary, the sour beer style has gained popularity among sophisticated beer and wine drinkers who appreciate the complexity of its many flavors

Just as the nuances of single malt Scotch are too difficult to appreciate the first time, learning to enjoy the flavor of any complex beverage often requires certain background information before it becomes an acquired taste. But once acquired, it is a taste to be savored and enjoyed over and over again.  It is much the same with sour beer.  In order to appreciate the sour notes that range from tart to puckery to darkly sour, it is important to know something about the subject before embarking on the sour beer journey.  Although it may seem an unusual analogy, it may come as no surprise that a first attempt at enjoying sour beer is much like attending an opera being sung in a foreign language. Without a libretto in hand, it is difficult to follow the story line. Similarly, it is useful to have reference points to guide you as you sip one of the many sour beers now available in the marketplace.

Belgium
The Home of Sour Beer

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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."

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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!”

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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."

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Posted by on in January 2015 Editions

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This past November market the 100th anniversary of the first bottling of Freixenet, a name known as one of the world’s leading producers of sparkling wine made in the traditional méthode champenoise (and accounts for 80 percent of all cava exports). The Ferrer family has been behind the Freixenet name from the beginning and has shaped their family-owned company, the Freixenet Group, with the promise to produce and share uniquely-crafted, quality wines, and has successfully done so while utilizing innovative winemaking techniques and unique marketing strategies throughout the past century. The Ferrers’ approach in the global marketplace and emphasis on quality in all of their wines have helped mold their legacy of excellence in the United States, one which is exemplified by the recent launch of their new luxury cava, Casa Sala Grand Reserva Brut.

A vintage cava hand-crafted using century-old techniques, Casa Sala is a passion project of José Ferrer Sala, President of Honor of the Freixenet Group and has been released as a tribute to the centennial of the first bottling of Freixenet . All aspects of production are managed by hand—from harvesting by hand and manual pressing, to riddling and disgorgement.

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