Latest blog entries - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sun, 04 Oct 2015 15:35:38 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Office Bar and Grill

If you were ever a fan of the immensely popular TV series “Where everyone knows you name.” Then you might want to visit a local version of that fabulous watering hole right in the heart of Anne Arundel County.

Pasadena, Maryland is an interesting place to visit, and is probably an even more different and interesting place to live.  Pasadena is a place of conviviality. It is situated almost equidistant between Annapolis and Baltimore, but it doesn’t seem to suffer from the social or political ills that plague either locale.  According to the local patrons I spoke with on a recent visit to The Office Bar and Grill, it is what we might envision mid America to be but is located here in Maryland.

The Office Bar and Grill sits on a busy thoroughfare with the unlikely name of Mountain Road.  It is curiously not mountainous, and abruptly ends at sea level by the Chesapeake Bay. This stretch of flat highway was once known as the longest piece of dead end road in the United States.  Locals say, “It conveniently ends nowhere.”

And on this dead end road, a neighborhood bar still exists where you walk in and it’s a race to see who will say hello first.  It could be the person sitting on the stool next to you, or it could be Ashley Marshall or Rob Wilt (bartenders/assistant managers) ... whomever it is; the greeting from both employees, strangers and regulars comes with the same upbeat cheerfulness. In any case, walk into “The Office Bar and Grill” in Pasadena and be ready for a genuine “hello.”  

This friendly welcoming attitude is what makes The Office Bar and Grill a meeting and gathering spot for neighbors.  It is reminiscent of the sort of friendly local pubs you can find throughout small town America, where the locals gather at the end of the day to swap tales of their daily experiences, “out in the world.”

Just as you would find in a quintessential local pub, a sense of camaraderie exists and emanates from its owners, general manager and employees. In the case of The Office it starts with Frank Kahrs, who along with a couple of partners, a few years ago bought a run-down bar in need of some tender loving care. They founded this tavern with the philosophy of “have fun and pay the bills.”

Fortunately for everyone including owners, employees and the customers, Frank recently managed to lure his niece Sarah Hoover away from another career to become the general manager. They both made a great decision. Sarah is an example of an unusual sort of person who instinctively knows what to do and is able to motivate other people to get things done.

 In fact, the genesis of this article is the result of Sarah’s desire to say thank you to the folks who put in long hours every day at The Office to make it a successful business.  She wanted to pay tribute to her co-workers for their hard work and their individual creativity.  In every business, owners and managers wish they had employees who cared enough about them and their business, that when they go home at night voluntarily, on their own time, think of recipes for new drinks, new menu items and new ways to become better members of the community in which they work and live. This situation is pretty rare.

Sarah starts each day by asking the staff if there is a special drink or menu item they would like to serve. This common sense and hands on approach to motivation encourages the staff at The Office to make it a place to visit on a regular basis.

Kudos to Sarah, Ashley, Frank and all the staff of Pasadena’s The Office Bar and Grill who deserve to be recognized for doing a great job serving their customers each day to the best of their ability.  The “Having fun and paying bills” philosophy makes for a great spot to spend time with good people.

Cheers to you!


Read More]]> (Alan Horton) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 11:08:16 -0400
Oktoberfest Celebrations

Maryland and Washington, DC residents have numerous options to celebrate Oktoberfest locally. German beer and bratwurst will draw nearly one million people with German heritage to the area to celebrate the anniversary of the marriage of young Crown Prince (later King) Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.  The original celebration took place on a huge meadow outside of the city walls of Munich on October 17, 1810. This festival lasted several days and was celebrated by the entire city.  Here are some local venues participating in the long-lasting German tradition.

Frederick’s Oktoberfest
Frederick, MD – October 3-4, 2015

Oktoberfest bier, bratwurst, dancing, live music and children’s activities to benefit Frederick County charities and local organizations. Location: Frederick Fairgrounds, 797 E Patrick St Frederick, MD 21705

Rotary Oktoberfest of Carroll County
Westminster, MD – October 3-4, 2015

More than 1000 people are expected at the third annual fundraising event held by the four Rotary Clubs of Carroll County. Enjoy family friendly activities and authentic German food, beer and live music. Plenty of contests including the Lederhosen & Dirndl competition.  Football tent ensures you don’t miss the action over the weekend. General admission is $5, with those wearing authentic German attire and children ages 10 and under free. Food menu will include bratwurst, knockwurst, sauerkraut and more traditional foods. Location: Danele Shipley Memorial Arena, 706 Agriculture Center Dr, Westminster, MD 21157

Das Best Oktoberfest
Baltimore, MD – October 10, 2015

Kick off beer week with this all you can taste Baltimore Oktoberfest. 60,000 generally attend this annual event. VIP admission is from noon to 2 PM and regular admission is from 2 PM to 6 PM. Over 150 local, domestic and international beers, wines and schnapps. German food, including sausages, available for purchase ala carte. Miss Oktoberfest competition and the Best Beer Belly contest. Limited parking is available for $10 per car. Regular admission tickets are $39 in advance. This provides you admission to the event, souvenir tasting glass and beer sampling. Location: M&T Stadium Parking Lot, Baltimore, Maryland.

Oktoberfest at the Kentlands
Gaithersburg, MD – October 11, 2015

The 23rd annual Oktoberfest will happen between noon and 5 PM. It covers Kentlands Village Green, the grounds of Kentlands Mansion, Main Street and Market Square. Locations are connected by trolley. Includes Beer Garden, Wine Terrace, German food and live music with dancers. Family friendly activities like horse-drawn wagon rides, pumpkin painting and more. Location: Kentlands Village Green, 320 Kent Square Rd , Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878


Maryland State Fall Samboree Oktoberfest
Frederick, MD – October 23-25, 2015

Activities include a kick off theme parade, wine tour, parade of flags, Friday lunch, Saturday breakfast, games and crafts, and even bingo.  Location: 797 East Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21705

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 10:36:11 -0400
Narragansett Lager Beer

First brewed in 1890, Narragansett Lager Beer is making a resurgence, and in some New York City bars has taken over the low priced but good beer spot … a spot that was previously dominated by Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Gansett story began with the Rhode Island’s Haffenreffer family in December 1890.  From its inception through the 1970s, Narragansett Lager beer was the dominant beer in the New England area when in 1955 it attained a lofty 55% share of market. Ownership of the brewery changed hands when Rudolph Haffenreffer sold it to The Falstaff Brewery in 1965.

In some ways, Falstaff and Narragansett were ahead of their time as they were innovators in sponsoring major events such a Led Zeppelin concert in 1969, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Boston Garden in 1971, and the Newport Folk Festival. The brewery also continued to use the beer’s clever advertising featuring the designs of cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisler, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

 Unfortunately, under the new owners, the Narragansett name began to lose its identity as Falstaff fired sales people, discontinued sponsorship of the Red Sox, and moved production from its home base in Rhode Island to Indiana.  And in 1983, Falstaff ended the production of Narragansett Lager.

In 2005, a group of investors purchased the rights to Narragansett.  They hired Phil Anderson, its former brew master, to recreate the beer’s original formula.  Since its return to market, Narragansett Lager has won several beer competition awards including a Silver award at the World Beer Championship and a Gold award at the Great International Beer Competition.    

Narragansett Lager with its ever-popular slogan, “Hi Neighbor – Have a Gansett!” is brewed in the style of a classic American Lager.  It is clean and crisp and has a mild aroma of grass and hops. Its 5% alcohol level is derived from the use of six row barley malt and a strain of its original proprietary yeast.  Iowa corn provides additional body and sweet flavor while other aroma and flavor characteristics come from a blend of hops from the U.S. northwest.

Narragansett is refreshing and drinkably smooth. Available in 16oz tall boy cans, Narragansett Lager Beer has stayed true to its heritage and New England roots. It is “Made on Honor – Sold with Pride.”

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 10:46:03 -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
Boost Sales With Hot New Vodkas

Vodka is the Switzerland of spirits. But who knew something ostensibly colorless, odorless and lacking any perceptible taste could cause such a fuss.
Nevertheless vodka has sparked a heated debate
within the drinks community about its place in
contemporary mixology.

On one side you have practitioners who say the neutral spirit contributes nothing to cocktails but ethyl alcohol and that in almost every instance there’s a more appropriate liquor choice. Furthermore, they contend its weed-like proliferation has stifled the growth of other more worthy spirits and the differences between new marques are growing indistinguishable. 

Those in the other camp counter that denigrating vodka’s neutrality is like condemning an artist’s canvas for being white and unsullied. And like a blank canvas, it has afforded mixologists unlimited latitude, a free-styling creativity that has contributed greatly to the prevailing cocktail culture. Then there’s the fact vodka accounts for nearly 35% of all the distilled spirits sold in the United States, inescapable evidence of its mass popularity. 

How did a spirit as delicate and nuanced as vodka become so popular? For many, the draw is drinking something essentially pure. Achieving that effect is extraordinarily challenging. Aging spirits in wood can mask flaws and blemishes, but not so with vodka. No other spirit so thoroughly exposes its failings. Alone in the glass, stripped of its packaging, marketing and hype, vodka is an open book. 

Like other noble spirits, vodka is a product of its environment and constituent ingredients. Of enormous importance is the character of the water used in its production, such as spring water, artesian water or water sourced from glaciers. It’s a major point of differentiation between brands. 

Equally important is what the vodka is distilled from, e.g. corn, potato, rye or winter wheat. Each will produce a distinctively different spirit. So, too, will how the spirit is distilled. Most are made in continuous stills, but increasingly more brands are being crafted in small batch alembic stills. 

If you’re looking for something new and extraordinary to stock on your backbar, look no further than English import Black Death Vodka. The most striking thing about the brand is not its name, or the grinning skull on its label, but how good it is. Few brands of vodka have attracted this much critical acclaim. Black Death has earned 5 gold medals at both the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition in London and the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. Sold in over 40 countries, the irreverent brand is now available in the United States.  

Black Death is produced at the famed G&J Greenall Distillery in Warrington, England, one the oldest distilleries in the UK still in operation. It is made from premium sugar beets and spring water drawn from deep underground aquifers. While more challenging to distill than grain or potatoes, sugar beets yield an exceptionally clean, character-laden alcohol. The vodka is triple-distilled in Greenall’s pot stills and vigorously filtered through charcoal prior to being bottled at 80 proof.

In the final analysis, the real measure of a spirit’s greatness is taste. A particular brand may have a laudable pedigree and its makers may have done everything true to form. However, by the end of the process, the spirit may fade to something little more than mediocre in the glass.

Here again Black Death comes out on top. Crafted in the classic European style, the vodka has a silky textured, medium-weight body and the enticing aromas of evergreen and citrus zest. It raises little heat on the palate as it delivers the lingering flavors of citrus, cacao and vanilla. From start to finish, Black Death Vodka is a marvelous sensory experience. 

Vodka will remain America’s spirit of choice for the foreseeable future. Its steadily increasing popularity means that a stream of interesting new brands will continue entering the market. In an attempt to shallow out the learning curve, here’s a scouting report on the best new vodkas you may not have heard of...yet.

Barr Hill Vodka — A sterling example of craft distilling at its finest is Caledonia Spirits of Hardwick, Vermont. Caledonia Spirits and head distiller Ryan Christiansen have created a unique range of spirits, the standard bearer of which is Barr Hill Vodka. The 80-proof spirit is made from a base of 100% raw honey. The honey is slowly allowed to ferment and then distilled twice in the distillery’s custom-built pot and column still. The minimal distillation allows the delicate aromatics of the honey to shine through in the finished spirit. 

Black Moth Vodka — This culinary inspired vodka is distilled from 100% wheat and barley by the Timbermill Distillery in London. It derives its singular flavor from black Périgord winter truffles sourced from France, Italy and Spain. Due to both their elusive nature and delicious flavor, truffles are among the world’s most prized culinary delicacies. The artisanal vodka is distilled 5 times and filtered 3 times. A portion of the run is then further distilled in a small, stainless steel pot still for added depth of flavor. 

Corbin Vodka — How could someone not have thought of distilling vodka from sweet potatoes before this? Fact is sweet potatoes are difficult to distill and it took 4th generation farmer David John Souza to overcome the challenges involved. Corbin Vodka is distilled in California’s San Joaquin Valley, from 8 varieties of estate-grown sweet potatoes in a small copper pot still. Each gallon of distillate is taste tested for consistency. The vodka has a captivating set of aromatics and a delectable palate.

Milk Money Vodka — This new import from New Zealand is distilled from 100% fresh dairy milk. More specifically, the vodka is double distilled from the lactose in the milk, a sugar that differs from conventional glucose. Because the process converts the lactose into a fermentable sugar, the vodka is completely grain-free, gluten-free and lactose-free. It is bottled at 80 proof. For a neutral vodka, there’s a great deal going on. 

Moulin Vodka — This sensational vodka is handcrafted in the town of Angoulême located in the south of France. Master Distiller Jean-Marc Daucourt creates Moulin Vodka from premium wheat and limestone-filtered water sourced from the Pyrenées Mountains. The vodka is distilled a total of 7 times and charcoal filtered and aerated with a flow of oxygen to eliminate impurities. The vodka has a sensual body and an elegant set of flavors.

New Amsterdam — Here’s a brand that offers a lot of vodka for the buck. New Amsterdam is 5 times distilled from American Midwest grain and then filtered 3 times for essential purity and a luxurious mouthfeel. At a very competitive retail price, the 80-proof vodka is amazingly soft and eminently mixable. 

Russian Diamond — Made in Moscow at the Rodnik Distillery, Russian Diamond is made from a blend of premium rye, winter wheat and pristine artesian water drawn from the renowned Mytishchi Springs. The mash is fermented and then distilled in a multi-column, continuous still. After the vodka exits the still it undergoes a 57-stage filtration process. While much of the methodology remains a proprietary secret, the filtration process contributes greatly to its complex character.

St. Augustine Florida Cane Vodka — St. Augustine—the oldest and coolest small city in America—is the home of one of the finest small batch vodkas. The owners of the micro-distillery set out to use exclusively artisanal distilling techniques, including hand-cutting and milling the cane and then distilling the fermented juice in small batches in a copper pot still. The vodka is made entirely from Florida-farmed sugar cane. 

Vintage Vodka — Super-premium Vintage Vodka is made in Belgium from single harvest grains cultivated in the Burgundy region of France. Its art deco label bears the vintage of the grain harvest, which is affected by growing conditions like rainfall, soil composition and number of sunny days. Each year’s vintage will therefore differ slightly in character.

White Tiger Vodka — White Tiger Vodka is every bit as great as its advance billing. It is made at JSC Ussuriyskiy Balsam, which at more than a century old ranks it among the oldest distilleries in the Russian Far East. White Tiger Vodka is twice distilled from premium rye and winter wheat. The vodka is then rigorously filtered to essential purity using quartz sand and 40 feet of birchwood charcoal. Pure spring water from the nearby Sikhote-Alin Mountains is used to render the vodka to 80 proof.

Read More]]> (Robert Plotkin) September 2015 Editions Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:25:54 -0400
You Can’t Sell from an Empty Cart

Twenty-five or so years ago, the floor, shelves and cooler of Bowie Liquors in Bowie, Maryland was chock full of wine, liquor and beer.  A customer entering the store was greeted immediately by one of the owners, and was asked “May I help you?” If the customer said no, he/she was free to walk the narrow aisles of products to peruse and shop the wide-ranging inventory. The stacks of beer, wine and liquor seemed to be a complete listing of all the products advertised in the Beverage Journal.  But, it was up to the consumer to choose what to buy with or without the owner’s advice.

At some point during this time period, Tony Gentile co-owner of Bowie Liquors said these important words to me - “You can’t sell from an empty cart.”  His words and this thought have stuck with me as being one of those immutable truths of retailing that ranks up there next to the well-worn maxim “location, location, location.”

Prior to joining his older brother Fred and his father Fred Sr. in the retail alcohol business, Tony worked for one of the area grocery chains.  He learned a valuable lesson from that experience.  It was obvious to him that a successful retailer had to have what a customer wanted, when he wanted it or risked losing a sale or even worse losing a customer.

The Gentile’s customer friendly approach stood in contrast to a more prevailing attitude of the day, which was, “ If we don’t have it; you don’t want it and you don’t need it.”  But wait, this very broad generalization needs to be put into some form of historical context.

It is important to remember that as recently as twenty-five years ago, Sam Adams, on the east coast, was the entire craft beer market.  Heineken was the number one imported beer and had been for many years until it was overtaken by Corona.  Customers of that era were brand loyal to a much greater degree.  The leading beers of the day, contrary to what some of today’s critics would have us believe, Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Lite were not identical beers, but were variations of a type of pale blond, light bodied, highly carbonated beers brewed in the pilsner style.  Beers with interesting sounding names such as Hefeweizen, Stout, India Pale Ale, American Pale Ale, Imperial anything were not part of a typical beer drinkers’ lexicon.  Back then; what you needed to carry in inventory was pretty straight forward and relatively simple.  A retailer only needed to have available the most popular brands in various can and bottle configurations and sell them at a competitive price

Beer advertisers, for the most part, tailored their selling messages to separate their brands from their competitors through interesting but frequently contrived imagery. The typical beer drinker was often referred to as “Joe or Jane Six Pack.” Scantily clad women or buff men, sporting events and humor played well with the audience of the day.  Now let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with “Joe or Jane Six Pack,” because whether or not we want to admit it, these men and women remain the mainstays of the today’s beer business.  Upwards of 75% of all beer sold in the U.S. is still purchased and consumed by what industry experts refer to as “regular beer drinkers.”  And, despite the tremendous growth of many craft beers and current import favorites from Mexico - Modelo and Corona, America’s typical beer drinker still consumes tons of Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Budweiser, and in recent years Yuengling, but these same consumers also drink other beers in addition to their favorite brand.  These “other” beers are referred as a consumer’s “brand set.” Many beer drinkers today have between two and four primary brands they buy and consume on a regular basis.  They are no longer ultra-loyal to only one brand, but will consume one of these other beers depending on use occasion.

Returning to the question about inventory and how to manage it,  in a recent issue, there were some ….brands of beer listed in the Beverage Journal.  The number of beers actually available in the marketplace is understated as not all brands are advertised or listed.  Suffice it to say, if we compared the number of beer brands listed in the Beverage Journal today with one from twenty-five years ago, it would be very different.  There are many many beers available now than there were then.  Herein lies the problem for today’s retailer.

It is unlikely that the average liquor store or tavern over time has increased its storage capacity to any large degree.  So, what does a typical retail business do to accommodate a rapidly changing landscape with so many new products? In the past, when a beer distributor wanted to sell a new product to his retailer, a typical retail response was, “That’s fine but you have to eliminate it or take it out of your own space.”  That’s a response no salesman wants to hear.  It’s heresy to voluntarily give up hard earned and sometimes well-deserved shelf or cooler space. Today, optimistic thinkers on both the retail and distributor side usually try to be creative in order to address the challenge and opportunity new products represent. There is always a new star product on the horizon or so it seems.

How does a retailer who is already pressed for space agree to take in a new product or group of products?  Admittedly it’s not an easy decision, but it can be made on a somewhat rational basis. Although the number of beers brewed in Maryland is increasing, it is fortunate for Maryland retailers that most beers introduced to the market come from out of state brewers that will have some track record of success prior to their arrival here.  Their degree of success in other markets may help Maryland retailers to decide on what new risks to take on as there is a constant stream of new beers seeking to enter the state. 

It is useful for retailers to monitor various social media platforms as they have a way of spreading the word about hot brands faster and better than traditional advertising as beer consumers share their likes and dislikes. For retailers, the word “like” on Facebook is a quick and easy way to learn about prevailing opinion with regard to a new beer.  It can be a useful gauge of a brand’s probable success or failure.  Regardless of whether consumer opinion is uniformed or unscientific, opinion leaders on the internet can easily become powerful brand endorsers or brand killers.

So, is there a formula that can be used to help decide what new brands to bring into your inventory?  The quick answer is no, there is no magic formula. Sometimes the decision will be based on your own individual knowledge or reading about up and coming breweries in trade journals. Or, it may be the result of research you have done on internet websites such as or  Naturally, recommendations will be made by your local distributors’ sales personnel.  Another valuable source of knowledge about new products is your own customers, who have had some direct experience with products outside of the state or from friends who live in other areas. Or often, thoughts about new products will come from your network of fellow retailers.  Retailers who have made themselves into “craft beer destinations” are generally well known within the industry, and their knowledge and opinions can be of considerable value in deciding which new brands to bring in.

But as with so many other aspects of business, bringing a new item into your inventory is still at best an educated guess and at worst it’s a crap shoot.  It is necessary to try new products to meet or anticipate consumer demand, but it would be imprudent to bring in a brewer’s entire product line until you have some firsthand sales experience with a few products and you can more readily estimate consumer acceptance.  If a product doesn’t work out, don’t linger over the decision but cull it from inventory as soon you recognize consumers aren’t accepting it.

There will always be a delicate balance behind having the correct number and variety of beers in inventory.  It is obviously more art than science with no magic formulas.  But it is also clear that in order to grow your business, you need to be sure your cart is always full in order to keep satisfied customers.

Thank you to Tony Gentile for his mentoring, and Danny and Nick Cipriani of Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park for their recent conversation about how to bring in new products into inventory.


Read More]]> (Alan Horton) September 2015 Editions Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:20:47 -0400
Heavy Seas Intros 'Fielder's Choice' Lager

It's no mystery that I am a big fan of baseball.  That's why when I heard Hugh Sisson and his crew at Heavy Seas Beer had something in the works to honor the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for the most consecutive games played (2,131), I was flooded with memories of Camden Yards and the absolutely amazing evening that was.

Heavy Seas Beer has created “Fielder’s Choice,” a limited edition American Premium Lager in honor of 'The Iron Man.' The commemorative brew is now available in select stores throughout the Baltimore-region, as well as in-stadium at Oriole Park and Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.  And --- like Cal --- everything Hugh does, he does with class ... with each case of “Fielder's Choice” sold, Heavy Seas will make a donation to the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation (The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation helps to build character and teach critical life lessons to at-risk young people living in America’s most distressed communities through baseball- and softball-themed programs).

“Twenty years ago, Cal Ripken Jr. became baseball's Iron Man and Heavy Seas started brewing in Baltimore,” said Hugh. “I am very excited about this project. ‘Fielder’s Choice’ celebrates a milestone for both a great local business and a truly great local sports icon. All Baltimore-area residents can share in these success stories, and indeed, in the hopes for continued success in the future for us all."

Heavy Seas Brewmaster, Christopher Leonard added, "Our ‘Fielder's Choice’ American Premium Lager is a commemorative brew we produced using traditional German brewing techniques and the finest ingredients.  We started with high quality Canadian Pale Malt and German Dark Munich Malt.  This combination provided a medium-bodied, clean malt backbone, with subtle notes of biscuit and fresh baked bread.  We imported German Hallertau Mittlefrue and Czech Saaz hops to lend a soft, gentle, balanced flavor.  This homage to the easy-drinking lagers of Baltimore's past is the perfect choice for celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the finest accomplishments in professional sports."

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) September 2015 Editions Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:15:42 -0400
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Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) August 2015 Editions Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:38:42 -0400
ABL Honors Retailers

Brown-Forman Retailers of the Year were recently recognized for their commitment to the beverage industry. 

American Beverage Licensees was pleased to recognize twenty-one beverage retailers for their success and dedication to the beverage alcohol industry at the 2015 ABL Annual Conference earlier this month.  The 2015 Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year awards recognizes independent beverage business owners who engage in responsible sales and service of beverage alcohol and who are committed to their state associations.  ABL congratulates all of the honored businesses and their proprietors for their outstanding contributions to the industry and their communities.  

This year marks the 13th consecutive year that Brown-Forman, one of the world’s leading distilled spirits producers, has sponsored the awards and made the recognition a truly special event.  

“Our continued partnership with Brown-Forman has given us a great opportunity to recognize licensees in the industry that embody the spirit of responsibility and commitment to their profession,” said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich.  “Independent beverage licensees, both on- and off-premise, foster a vibrant beverage marketplace for consumers while also upholding their responsibilities as licensed retailers.”

Darren Barnes, owner of House of Liquors in Westminster, had never originally set out to win the 2015 Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year award. 

The beverage industry has been a part of Barnes’ life from an early age, when his father owned JB Liquors of Mt. Airy in the early 1970’s. He laughed about it, saying how “it was a different time and place back then,” and children would be allowed into the stores. As time went on, he and his father opened H.O.L in Westminster in 1990, joined the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, and eventually became one of the directors for Carroll County.

He attributes his success to lots of hard work and dedication, as well as proper management, a good location, and willingness to being open to new ideas. “You have to take care of your employees and be willing to get into the trenches with them. It’s just an honor to know that people recognize the years of hard work,” he says.

(Pete Spiropoulos of Town Center Market in Riverdale was also one of the 21 award recipients but was unavailable for an interview at press time.)


Read More]]> (Rose Badolato) August 2015 Editions Thu, 23 Jul 2015 10:15:38 -0400
Baltimore's Inaugural Wine Fest

At the Canton Waterfront Park, a crowd gathered to celebrate Baltimore’s first wine festival. With over 120 wines, gourmet foods from more than 25 local restaurants, and entertainment for the whole family; there was plenty to please anyone’s palate. 

Beth Laverick, owner of B Scene Events and Promotions, was thrilled with the opportunity. She wanted to provide an open air, family friendly environment to bring the city together. And with benefits going towards projects such as the city’s recreational parks, the festivities were going towards a good cause. Even vendors had been staffed by volunteers.

Wines from near and far were gathered to provide tastings on some of the season’s more popular flavors. Winemakers, distributors, and importers all agreed that sweet, fruity wines were the strong suits of the summer. Many of the booths had run out of their white wines first, noting that the younger crowd preferred lighter, more fragrant choices. Selections such as the Sweet Rose presented by Palm Bay were a crowd favorite, as well as the wildly popular Cupcake Moscato, presented by The Wine Group. A few select other groups were spotted, including Heavy Seas Beer and McKenzie’s Hard Cider, which provided a larger range of flavors for those looking for more than just wine.

Vendors of all shapes and sizes commented on how they thoroughly enjoyed the city’s atmosphere, and the flexibility provided for them. Other than what seemed to be record heat that provided a challenge for vendors and attendees alike, the event seemed to flow smoothly and without hitch. Field manager Melanie Ehrhardt, of Palm Bay, said that being a part of Baltimore’s inaugural was a true joy, and it had been “the most organized, well thought-out inaugural festival you could ask for”.


Read More]]> (Rose Badolato) August 2015 Editions Thu, 23 Jul 2015 09:39:03 -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
The Long Hot Summer

I often peruse old editions of the Beverage Journal when looking for ideas for future articles and editorial topics.  I found a very good column recently by Ralph Chase.  Mr. Chase wrote a column during his tenure as editor and publisher entitled “Editorially Speaking.”  I found the below in our July 1967 edition … yes, July 1967 (which happens to be the month and year of my birth).  

I think you will agree that Mr. Chase’s article is particularly interesting, if not amazingly timeless.

“That long hot summer we’ve been hearing so much about is now at hand.  And in the sense this phrase is now used as a threat of civic unrest, we can only hope for the best.  But from the merchant’s point of view, the summer season in years past usually was synonymous with an inevitable “summer slump.” For those in the industry it was a time for some extra beer, gin or rum business, but for the most part, they accepted skidding sales as the inevitable consequence of hot weather and wrote off the summer with the hope that a good Fall season would make up the losses.

But times have changed, and men who work at selling just wouldn’t “but” the inevitable summer slump idea. Merchandisers in the industry discovered that summertime can be selling time, too.  They found the key in the approach that translates liquors, specialties and wines into the wonderful goodness of the coolers, and catered profitability to the business the sweltering temperature creates.

Instead of hibernating for the summer, they stuck at their job. Instead of relaxing their selling they reached out aggressively for summer business.  And gradually, a new, powerful interest has developed in the summer market.

Today the summer sees little slacking of the industry’s great promotional campaigns.  This year, on a scale greater than ever before, special sales programs are pressing for summertime business with all the product types – whiskies, vodkas, gins, rums, tequilas, cordials, cocktails, wines and others – sharing this bid for warm weather sales and profits.

All through this summer, newspaper and magazine advertising will be telling your customers about summer drinks for palate pleasing enjoyment.  Striking point-of-sales aids are being provided to help carry these campaigns message to the consumer.

When you tie in with these great promotions, with displays and windows that dramatize to your customers your answers of refreshing liquors and wines to counter the heat wave, you reach out for the summer’s profits. When you feature the frosty coolers that invite orders, or suggest the extra bottle for the warm weather drinks so certain to please, you make ‘the long hot summer’ work for you.

Look upon this warm weather period as a time for harder selling – for selling the use of your products – not relaxing.  For dealers everywhere, smart, live-wire summertime drink promotion opens the door wide to a powerful pay-off in a big and prosperous market.”

July 1967 … yes, particularly interesting and amazingly timeless. 


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) August 2015 Editions Thu, 23 Jul 2015 09:15:43 -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
The Frustration of Being a Retailer

After 27 years of working in the alcohol beverage industry and writing about the industry during the past ten years, I have heard over and over again from retailers about the frustrations they experience day in and day out. So with my apologies to all the professional advice columnists out there, let me proceed with a letter from a retailer:

Dear Al,

I can’t sleep at night. I have a landlord who is always looking for excuses to raise the rent, but who is also slow to address complaints and drags his feet when it comes to making repairs. There’s the credit card company who thinks of new fees to charge for their services at every turn.  And the liquor board that wants to tell me one more time how to run my business. But more than any of those things, my suppliers, customers and employees are making me crazy. 


I get it that without suppliers, I would have nothing to sell, and the retailer/supplier relationship should be collaborative and symbiotic.  Both of us should gain equally.  Unfortunately, I frequently deal with supplier sales reps who seem more interested in meeting their sales quota than they are in helping ME- their customer grow my businesses profitably.  Too often, sales reps try to jam in new products I know won’t sell, based on my intimate knowledge of my customer base. Without a doubt, this relationship could be improved if supplier management provided more training concerning customer empathy.  Sales people need to be able to see themselves in my shoes.  And while a new item may make perfect sense in the salesperson’s mind, in many cases, it is just another slow mover to add to my inventory.


I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself, “Why is this customer here; it’s obvious he has no idea what he wants?”  I know customers walk in in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and some are rational buyers, but others are not. Each of them is an individual and acts in his own self-interest. I get that for some of my customers, what may have been customary business dealings somewhere else isn’t the norm locally, and, what some consumers consider to be polite behavior may come across as rude and offensive.  But it drives me crazy when customers come in and tell me they can get a better price from my competitor.  They don’t realize my competitor often uses bargain basement pricing on three or four items to draw traffic, but, in fact, overall his prices are higher and his level of service is subpar in comparison.


Once again, I am asking myself, “Why the heck did I hire this person?”  Initially, I thought he was going to be at least an adequate employee.  But within a short time, it became clear to me the employee was only interested in himself and not me or my business.  I get it that reference checks have proven to be useless in identifying problem employees beforehand.  It seems very few employers are willing to risk a lawsuit by giving a former employee a bad reference.  So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when a pattern of tardiness and absenteeism emerges as he begins to test me.  I also think that some of my employees leave their brains at home when they come to work.  Why else would they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again?  Then, there is the age old problem of dishonesty. And, what happened to loyalty on the part of an employee?  After all, they came here looking for a job.  They got hired, were given regular work hours and are being paid more than minimum wage.  Yet, for fifty cents more per hour, they jump ship and go somewhere else.  Fortunately, not all my employees are like this.

I really need to get some sleep, and would appreciate any advice.


          Frustrated Retailer 


Dear Frustrated Retailer,

Unresolved frustration can lead to long term health problems as stress builds up until it seeks some release.  Sometimes, relief can be found by doing something as simple as taking it out on a golf ball, but left unresolved, it can result in dangerous health issues such as stroke, heart attack or other serious physical or emotional problems.  Professional help and counseling, as well a myriad of organized programs, may provide the necessary stress relief.  But, self- help and education may be just as effective and a much cheaper alternative.

What can be done?

Sometimes we need to make personal changes in our lives in order to minimize increased levels of frustration.  One of the most important approaches many people can take is to concentrate on so-called “soft skills.”  These are skills we use when we interact with others.  They include such things as:  Emotional Intelligence - our ability to control our emotions and act calmly under difficult circumstances, and learning to communicate through active listening to what people are saying and not talking over them.  For some people, the ability to teach another person comes easily but for most managers it is skill that is acquired over time. Last, any boss who strives to be successful in the long term has to understand each employee’s magical hot button that is the key in motivating them.

Some practical hints for dealing with stress and frustration

Some people might propose an easy but impractical solution to solve your frustration by telling you, “Well, you can always get off the merry go round and sell the business.”  You probably don’t have that choice, so this simple answer is not a practical one.  So what can you do?

Rely on your family as a source of strength

Devote the time and effort necessary to maintain a few close friendships

Have interests outside of the business  

It is also important to: Look for reasons to smile or laugh

Get some exercise. Eat heathy.  

Make a fresh start by changing your daily routine.  

Stop procrastinating and just do it - -whatever it is.  As a practical matter, why put up with a lingering problem or a sub-par employee.  Get rid of them!

Practice better “Time Management” which really means getting better at managing yourself and the activities you choose to be part of. 

Try to have a good day every day, because who knows how many more there will be?  

Actively seek out ways to increase your happiness.

Remember the adage, “A busy man never has time to take a vacation; he must just go ahead and do it.”  If you really can’t take a vacation this summer, at least take off a couple of long weekends and do something different.

Try Some Summer Reading

Several recently published books shed light on and provide useful tips in relieving stress and frustration.

“Happy is the New Healthy” by Dave Romanelli - Author Romanelli provides some useful guidance with his 31 ways to relax, let go and enjoy life.

“You Mean I am Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy” by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo - This self-help book is full of practical how-to’s for adults who may have Attention Deficit Disorder.

“The Power of Thanks” by Eric Mosely and Derek Irvine - Mosely and Irvine provide insight into several successful companies and how much of their success is the result of employee empowerment.

“Work Simply” by Carson Tate - Author Tate talks about creating a stress free environment by embracing the power of your personal productivity.

“Driven to Distraction at Work” by Edward Hallowell, MD -  Hallowell explains how to feel more in control and productive at work through increased focus.

Read one or two of these books and see if you can see a change in your outlook about captaining your own business.

Finally, Frustrated Retailer, don’t forget the now famous quote, “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office.’” Frustration and stress can rule your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Make the changes necessary to reduce stress and frustration in both your business and personal life.

          Sincerely, Al 


Read More]]> (Alan Horton) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:47:58 -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
Icing on The Cupcake

A California Vineyard Learns to Live Deliciously

As children, almost everyone enjoyed cupcakes. They were small indulgences that brought cheer and excitement. One California vineyard is bottling that joy to help others celebrate those little, “simple” moments with surprising depth. 

Cupcake Vineyards, from Livermore, California, started out with a small selection of fruity, creamy wines in 2008. Since, they’ve grown a wide selection that boasts both classics and more modern tastes sampled from around the globe. These wines can form to fit any and all occasions—parties, dinners, small get-togethers, or even a night in. Flavors can range from a playful Red Velvet or Angel Food, to a stately Chianti or Sauvignon Blanc. 

While many other brands of wine can offer a large lineup of different products, it is hard to think of any others that match Cupcake in typicity; something the American market has embraced. 

This versatility has allowed for Cupcake to capture the market with something that many other brands lack, according to Adam Richardson, Cupcake’s head of winemaking. "A lot of millenials like the Cupcake style. People become comfortable with the Cupcake wines throughout the line, once they trust the brand and learn the philosophy. Having a brand like Cupcake is a new development in wine marketing: having one brand where you can travel the world."  And while it is called ‘Cupcake’, even the richer flavors are not as buttery or sweet as you may expect. "We really try to stay away from buttery because it's the enemy of drinkability," Richardson says.

Cupcake Wines are bottled with a sophisticated flair that gives a nod to more recent, popular trends in packaging. Fresh, neutral labels that showcase the rich color of the contents and labeling that is easy to read and aesthetically pleasing to the eye make it hard to miss on the shelves. The price point only sweetens the deal. Great taste and affordability have garnered nothing but praise for the company. 

The canny marketing has paid off: in 2011, just three years after it was launched, Cupcake won Market Watch magazine’s annual Leaders’ Choice Award for Wine Brand of the Year. Richardson works with growers and producers not only in California but also around the world – in Argentina, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Italy. The overseas-sourced wine is then shipped to California in giant versions of the bags used for boxed wine.

The group had enough confidence in the Cupcake name to venture into vodka as well, with flavors such as Devil’s Food, Frosting, and Lemon Chiffon to name a few. "We thought, Cupcake is a very strong brand," Richardson says. "Cupcake lends itself to a flavored spirit."

And why not? Since the company’s birth in 2008, the baked sweets have been on an uptick in popularity. In 2009, “Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes” were on the New York Times bestseller list for 11 weeks straight and “cupcakeries” were fulfilling the sweet dreams of legions of small-scale entrepreneurs.

Confectionery-flavored products have taken over the market with a sugary vengeance, and for Cupcake Vineyards, success has never tasted so delicious.  

Read More]]> (Rose Badolato) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:13:47 -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
Bottling a Legacy

When people think of wine, what often comes to mind is a sense of tradition, a diverse richness that can speak volumes of its origin. With House of Mandela wine, it is all of that and then some. The wines are not simply juice in a bottle, but the story of those behind it and the rainbow nation of South Africa. 

Each wine contains a distinct piece and flavor of Africa, her history, and her people--from the Royal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a red with a rich and opulent palate of sweet-yet-dark fruity notes; to the Royal Reserve Chardonnay, a white that delicately balances citrus fruit and natural acidity with oak integration. For this reason they chose wine as a bridge between the past, present, and future – an appropriate way in which to tell their story, and pay homage to their ancestors.

The House of Mandela is conceived of and led by the women of the Mandela family, Makaziwe and Tukwini (pictured), respectively daughter and granddaughter of Nelson Mandela. They draw much of their inspiration from his words, “I was shaped by the cultural traditions and values of 

my ancestral roots”. The Mandelas trace back to a royal bloodline that dates back to the 18th century, to a small village by the Mbashe river, when Thembu Land had been a part of a royal kingdom of the Eastern Cape. 

“We are praising our ancestors,” says Tukwini Mandela. “We are telling the story of our family and who we come from with these wines.” Embracing those roots, they strive to bring the same passion and unity to the industry—to create and contribute to projects with soul and quality. They have also been noted to donate portions of their proceeds to charitable groups working to resolve socio-economic issues in South Africa, such as education, health, culture, and energy.

The House of Mandela currently offers two tiers of wine, with prices ranging from $12 US for their Thembu collection, to $50 for the Royal Reserve. The Thembu collection features a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and a Pinotage (a Mandela family favorite), plus whites wines of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. In the Royal Reserve, there is currently a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and sparkling wine available.

The screw-capped bottles are adorned with their logo, a bee that symbolizes compassion, kindness, humanity, and courage. It is a literal translation of their father and grandfather’s name, Rolihlahla; colloquially meaning, “one who is brave enough to challenge the status quo.” The wings of the bee are to represent the many branches of their family tree, and the Thembu bottles were created to reflect Nelson Mandela’s love for the vibrant fabrics of dashiki skirts.

“There is a lot of synergy between wine and our family,” says Makaziwe Mandela. “But when you look at how the vine grows, the vine doesn’t grow in a straight line. It twists and turns, representing the twists and turns of life. Life is not a straight line. What we are proud of is that out of adversity we helped create a wonderful experience.” 

Interesting Fact: 

When Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, a swarm of bees followed him home, all the way back from the airport. This was to symbolize good tidings and blessings from his ancestors, and to welcome him home.

Read More]]> (Rose Badolato) June 2015 Edition Thu, 21 May 2015 22:12:38 -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 Evolution of Beer Packaging

Draft, bottle or can? Each person has his/her own preference when it comes to enjoying a brew, and each of these beer packages has its own unique history.

Draft Beer was First

Draft (or draught) was the first method of getting beer from the brewer to the beer drinker. In fact, draft beer has been available in kegs for several hundred years. Early on, beer kegs were wooden barrels made by artisans called “coopers.” The barrels they made were large, bulky and much heavier than today’s stainless steel, aluminum or polyethylene kegs, but for the times they allowed large amounts of beer to be transported to local pubs and on ships across oceans.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:00:29 -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
Troeg’s Cultivator Helles Bock

There is an old wive’s tale that Bock beer is made from the leftover liquid that remains in the bottom of a lager tank.  The notion is pure myth.  The truth is that Bock is a style of lager beer that got its name from Einbock, Germany the town in which it was originally brewed. The residents of Bavaria often pronounced the word einbock as two words ein and bock which literally translated means “goat,” and it is common to see to a picture of goat on the label of a bottle of bock beer.

The term bock doesn’t describe a singular style of beer but rather it refers to a variety of brews including: Maibock (Helles Bock), Eisbock, and Dopplebock. Bock beer was brewed typically in late Fall for consumption at celebrations during the Spring of the year.  

Beer made in the bock style has a higher alcohol content, in the neighborhood of 6-7.5% abv, which is more than most lagers.  Its color can vary from a light brown to a dark, nearly opaque liquid.  In terms of taste, a typical bock beer tends to be on the sweet side due to its high malt content in contrast with a low level of hops. 

The Troeg Brewery of Hershey, Pennsylvania has introduced Cultivator Helles Bock to celebrate the beginning of the Spring hop growing season. Cultivator’s aroma and flavor characteristics are provided by Magnum and Hersbrucker hops.  Both hop varieties come from the famous Hallertau hop growing region in Bavaria.  Magnum hops provides a base layer of bittering agents while Hersbrucker hops contribute to the overall aroma and finish of the beer.

Cultivator’s unique taste, pale gold color, and light white head is the result of the use of floor cured pilsner malt. Combined with hop notes that are both floral and bitter, the hops give the lager a nice aroma and adds just enough zing in its taste.  The sweetness of the malt nicely balances the hops and make it a drinkable session beer.

Troeg’s Cultivator Helles Bock is a perfect introduction to the bock style for someone who has not previously tried a bock beer, and as the weather finally turns warmer, Cultivator is a beer to be enjoyed while sitting on the porch enjoying the sights and smells of Spring.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 15:08:13 -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
Powdered Alcohol… Palcohol

Expressing deep concern for the health and safety of Marylanders, Comptroller Peter Franchot has announced that a voluntary agreement to ban the distribution and sale of powdered alcohol has been reached with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association (MBWA) and the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland (LBDM). 

“This product, by its very nature, presents a significant and untenable risk to the health and safety of Maryland consumers,” said Comptroller Franchot, who serves as Marylanders chief regulator of alcohol. “The likelihood of widespread Palcohol abuse – particularly among underage consumers – carries a real possibility of tragic consequences, which is why I’m so pleased by the industry’s unified response to protect the public from such a dangerous product.” 

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau recently approved several labels for Palcohol, a powdered form of alcohol that can be dissolved in a beverage and then consumed. It is expected to be in stores nationwide by the end of summer. Several states have recently passed legislation banning the sale of powdered alcohol. 

“Powdered alcohol has the very real potential for abuse and it simply doesn't represent the type of responsible consumption that our members stand for,” David Marberger, President, MSLBA. “We need to act now to protect the health and well-being of Maryland consumers. Every tier of the alcohol beverage industry stands together on this.” 

Franchot expressed concern over misuse of powered alcohol, particularly by minors. In a letter to the alcohol beverage industry, he pointed out that the concentration or percentage of alcohol can be increased to dangerous and potentially life-threatening proportions by adding powdered alcohol to an alcohol beverage or by adding the powdered alcoholic substance to an already “activated” packet of Palcohol. 

The Maryland alcoholic beverage retailers and wholesalers quickly agreed to the Comptroller’s request for a voluntary industry-wide ban, expressing their shared concern for the danger that powdered alcohol poses to the Maryland public. 

“The agreement ensures that this dangerous product stays off store shelves and out of the hands of minors and young adults,” said Betty Buck, president, MBWA. “This is the responsible thing to do and the right thing to do. Our industry stands united in our commitment to responsibly act to protect public health and public safety.” 

Comptroller Franchot brokered a similar voluntary ban of caffeinated alcoholic beverages with the industry in 2010 following several tragedies throughout the country that included the death of a Maryland teenager caused by drinks that mixed caffeine and alcohol at life-threatening levels. 

“We rallied several years ago to successfully ban the distribution and sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages because we recognized the harmful effects of these drinks,” said Jimmy Smith, president, LBDM. “We will work with the Comptroller any time we can to help keep Marylanders safe from harmful products.” 

“Once again, we’ve demonstrated an ability in Maryland to take quick and decisive action when the public interest rests in the balance,” Franchot noted. “I appreciate the willingness of Maryland’s distributors and retailers to step up in such a timely and socially responsible manner and address this urgent public health issue.”

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 14:47:02 -0400
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.

With the Double Barrel’s debut, Glendalough continues to lead a new renaissance in Irish craft spirits. Based in Glendalough, County Wicklow, the distillery is located near the site of a medieval monastic settlement founded in 6 A.D. by the legendary Irish monk Saint Kevin. It was at settlements like this where monks produced the world’s first distilled spirit—poitín—as early as 548 A.D. Signaling an innovative return to Ireland’s long-lost craft spirits tradition, Glendalough’s first release was a modern poitín, and the distillery has since moved in a natural progression towards whiskey, first with the release of 7- and 13-year single malts and now, the Double Barrel Irish Whiskey. Glendalough Double Barrel Whiskey is sold in 750 ML bottles.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) April 2015 Editions Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:18:47 -0400
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.

One way to cull through the inventory is to analyze each product’s depletion rate. If an item takes 4 months or longer to deplete, it should be considered “on the bubble” and you’d be well advised dropping it from inventory. Underperforming products have low returns on investment.

Products taking 9 moths or longer to turnover are no longer a viable investment and for all intents “dead stock.” The backbar space they occupy could be put to much better use marketing brands people actually want. These products are often unsightly with old tattered labels that give the backbar the appearance of neglecte. Dead stock are financial lost causes and need to be removed from display shelves.

Maintaining Control — Stocking the bar with the products necessary to meet demand requires a significant investment of working capital. Realizing the necessary return on that investment is partially a question of control. To be profitable, you need to know exactly what inventory you have, what you paid for it, at what rate you use it and exactly where it is at any point in time. It necessitates tracking every product from the moment it comes through the back door until the end of the inventory period it was depleted.

In jargon it’s referred to as “cradle to grave” accounting and it involves implementing a series of overlapping internal systems—e.g. purchase orders, requisitions, bar par, perpetual inventory, comp and spill sheets—that track every product through the inventory cycle. While uncomplicated, the key to the system is ensuring that all of the components are in place and being used properly.

Capital at Risk — It’s especially important in these challenging economic times to keep your company’s working capital flowing through the checking account and not needlessly tied-up in inventory. There’s another reason to maintain inventory levels as low as is operationally feasible. Once a product leaves the relative security of the liquor storeroom, your investment in that product essentially becomes “capital at risk,” meaning it can be stolen, given away, wasted, spilled or otherwise lost. Therefore, the lower your inventory levels the lower your exposure to loss.

Back Bar Orientation — Are the liquors and liqueurs on your backbar still the best brands to feature? The spirits being promoted should reflect the character of the business and help establish its identity. Like a blood transfusion, changing those brands may infuse your operation with new life. For example, some of the finest spirits produced are being handcrafted by small distillers quite possibly down the road from your establishment. You may therefore decide to feature a large selection of American micro-distilled spirits. With the renaissance of the cocktail and the ever-growing interest in high quality spirits, stocking American-borne vodkas like Tito’s, Cold River and Vermont Gold makes considerable sense.

Mixology Support — Liqueurs and cordials are essential products in drink making. And yet, some of liqueurs and cordials you stock may actually be doing little more than collecting dust and taking up space on the backbar. Before investing your working capital, make sure there is a legitimate demand for each and every liqueur and cordial stocked. For instance, if you’re not planning on serving many Rusty Nails, you probably don’t need to invest in a liter-sized bottle of Drambuie.

Gaining the Upper Hand — Few things boost premium spirit sales more than a knowledgeable staff. Ensure that your bartenders and servers are well informed about the top-shelf products, what makes them so exceptional and why they’re well worth their higher price tag. Guests often inquire what makes one brand better than another and delivering a concise, informative answer is usually all that’s needed to close the sale.


Read More]]> (Robert Plotkin) April 2015 Editions Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:08:26 -0400
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.

With an alcohol level of 5.9%, Last Chance 120 IPA has a mid-level alcohol content, and its strong hop content yields a somewhat hefty bitterness reading at 60 IBUs. With a backbone of Apollo (A), Centennial, Cascade, Simcoe and Columbus (A) hops, Last Chance has an aroma of grapefruit, pine and citrus and there are clear hints of citrus orange in its flavor profile. From the first sip through the finish and aftertaste there is a strong hop presence throughout.

“Have a glass and make a difference.” For every drop of Last Chance 120 IPA sold, the Weyerbacher Brewery makes a donation to a local animal rescue organization. Most recently, the company donated $2700 to the Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue Association which is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is another good reason to consider stocking Last Chance 120 IPA as well as Weyerbacher’s other fine brands.

The Weyerbacher family of quality beers will certainly be appreciated by your loyal craft beer customers.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) April 2015 Editions Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:00:28 -0400
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. 

Congratulations Hugh and the entire Heavy Seas team.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:46:34 -0500
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. 

As President Greg will continue to report to Charlie Merinoff and work closely with the Board of Directors.   In addition to his current direct leadership over Finance, Sales, Human Resources, and House leadership, Greg will manage the Legal, Government & Regulatory Affairs and Corporate Development departments.

Congratulations Greg.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:45:06 -0500
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.

Over time, the community college system has become hugely popular, with more than 500,000 of Maryland’s residents taking courses annually.  It is particularly noteworthy that most community college students are part timers who are not pursuing a degree and who are enrolled in “non- credit” courses.

The hundreds of programs offered by these colleges have something for everyone.  From the recent high school graduate to people who later in life want to enjoy a college experience, there are a multitude of Associate Degree programs ranging from business to phlebotomy.  Community Colleges also offer many programs designed for those people who are looking to make a career change to another field.

With tuition rates at about $400 for a full semester three credit course. Tuition costs are a relative bargain at one of Maryland’s Community Colleges, compared with almost any four year college.  There are even easy payment plans that allow students to spread the cost across 4-5 payments.

A sample of the many classes available across the State include: “Practical Marketing for Small Business” (Howard County Community College), “Computerized Accounting” (Baltimore County Community College), “Business Mathematics” (College of Southern Maryland), “Principles of Management” (Mid Shore Community College), and “Legal Environment of Business” (Hagerstown Community College).  And, non-credit courses like “Beer Styles from Belgium (Anne Arundel Community College) and “Demystifying Wines of France (Prince George’s Community College) are among industry related courses. 

Free Business Advice

We all know the phrase, “There ain’t such thing as a free lunch.” Well, Maryland’s SCORE organization is a welcome exception to that rule.  SCORE is a non-profit association whose sole purpose is to provide free advice and mentoring help to small business owners.  It doesn’t matter if the business is a fledgling idea in someone’s mind, or if it is an existing business that has been operating for a period of time.  SCORE counselors, who are retired business executives and business owners, donate their time free of charge to aid current businesses owners who recognize they need help.

In addition to providing free confidential counseling, SCORE advisors conduct workshops for a minimal fee on topics such as:  How to Start and Manage your New Business, Growing Profitable Sales, Effective Marketing, Social Media and Quick Books Basics. 

SCORE Chapter Offices:

Greater Baltimore
(Baltimore City 410-962-2233)



Upper Shore
(Chestertown 410-810-2969)

(Easton 410-822-4606)


Southern Maryland
(Annapolis 410-266-9553)

SCORE has been instrumental in helping owners start more than 1100 Maryland businesses, and its counselors have had an unusually high success rate of making sure these new businesses stay in business.

Short of Funds

A common problem for many small businesses is the periodic need for short term funds. A lingering problem, that is the result of the Great Recession of 2008, is the problem of borrowing money from banks, which have traditionally been the source of lending to small businesses.

Although many banks are now flush with cash, most have continued to be overly cautious about making loans to small business. While it seems obvious an established, profitable and well managed small business should be able to obtain the funding it needs, many banks have been slow to change. Typically, even business’ with good credit history, may encounter more scrutiny and paperwork than seems necessary ... all of which are the result of the post Sarbanes-Oxley era.

One alternative to bank financing is an old fashioned source of funds that still exists, and continues to play an important role in many financial transactions -   that is, person to person financing.  “Angel investors” are high net worth individuals who live in the local community and who are likely to be familiar with your business. Typically, these individuals have excess cash they want to put to work close to home where they can keep a close eye on their investment.  This type of investor is motivated by the opportunity to earn a greater return on his money than he normally could through other limited risk investments.  Some of these investors may also have other altruistic reasons such as wanting to help another community member be successful.

In recent years, “Crowdfunding” has become a novel way for both startups and existing businesses to raise capital.  The process is quite simple.  A business owner sets up an online account on a website such as or  The owner lists how much money he wants to raise and sets a target date by which to do so.  People who know the owner or have some interest in his particular kind of business participate in the funding process by contributing as little as one dollar. is another website that offers help with “line of credit” loans to small businesses and particularly to small businesses who are doing some of their business online.  According to the Kabbage website, credit advances can be made online and may be taken out in installments up to the agreed amount – the maximum credit line is $100,000.  After an applicant has supplied the required information, evaluates a business’ credit worthiness based on the business’ current results, its history and its customer ratings. Lending fees are graduated and go down over time.  For a six month loan, a customer pays 1-12% for the first two months and then 1% for the next four months. is known for its quick response and approval, which take only a matter of minutes.

Mom’s Childhood Lesson Remains True

As a child, your mother told you she didn’t want you hanging around with certain kids because they would be a bad influence on you.  Regardless of your age, your mother’s admonition holds true.  The four or five people with whom you spend the most time have a profound effect on your motivation and your actions.  If those people close to you are achievement motivated, if they have a positive outlook, if they are supportive and are committed to excellence rather to complaining, chances are you will be motivated similarly.  In other words, don’t allow yourself to be brought down by the company you keep.

Being a small business owner can be pretty lonely.  But for Maryland’s small business owners there is an array of assistance that can help them be successful.  Next time you are feeling the pinch don’t be afraid to seek out education or advice to help make your business life easier. 


Read More]]> (Alan Horton) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:41:40 -0500
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.

Soon after Boston Lager was introduced to the Boston area, in June 1985, it was declared the “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival.  Beer drinkers were looking for something different and Koch gave it to them.  No amount of prepaid advertising could have accomplished more!  The brand was on its way to storied success.

With hints of red, gold and amber, Samuel Adams when poured sports a big head of foam.  The head, the beer’s malt character and its substantial body are all the result of the generous use of two row barley and Caramel 60 malt.

Spice rather than pronounced bitterness comes from a mixture of classic German hops.  Hallertau Mittelfrüeh and Tettnang Tettnanger Noble hops give Boston Lager its unique hop spice and mild floral aroma.

The beer is well-balanced but has a complex taste profile.  It has a textured mouthfeel, a subtle sweetness and layers of honey, toffee and toasted barley.  Overall, it is the beer’s complexity that makes it fun to drink.

Boston Lager, as its names suggests, is a lager beer and lager beers, because of their complexity, are difficult to brew on a consistent basis. To ensure the desired result, the Sam Adams brewmasters use three old world brewing techniques to ensure Boston Lager meets their specifications every time. 

Boston Lager is brewed using a “decoction process” which means a small batch of separately cooked malt is added to the malt in the mash tun in order to raise its overall temperature. This technique greatly influences the final malt character of the beer. Second, the brewers use “krausening” an old world brewing technique in which freshly fermented wort is added to the maturing beer to induce a secondary fermentation. This additional step gives the beer a smoothness and plenty of dissolved natural carbonation.  Finally, the brewers at Sam Adams have their beer rest on a bed of hops in the aging tank. This step adds flavor to the finished beer without adding bitterness.

Samuel Adams may no longer be a favorite amongst self-proclaimed “Millennial Beer Geeks,” but it remains a “go to” beer for beer lovers who like to enjoy more than a couple of beers at a sitting. And, if you ever have the opportunity to share a pint or two with Mr. Koch, the scholar, entrepreneur and master storyteller, he would easily convince you that Samuel Adams Boston Lager is “the perfect beer.” 

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:36:17 -0500
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
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.

In order to achieve a nice blend of aroma and bitterness, the brewer combines Cascade and Centennial hops.  Cascade hops, a “go to” hop variety for pale ale, provides a medium level of aroma and a low level of bitterness.  Centennial hops add flowery and citrus aromas to the mix and a medium to high level of hop bitterness that is more pronounced at the beginning than at the finish.

Before the brewing process is complete, the brewer takes an extra and final step to produce a naturally balanced and well-carbonated beer by using a technique known as “conditioning” where priming sugar and yeast are added directly in a bottle or can.  This process produces a secondary fermentation in the container. But, don’t be alarmed to see white particles sitting at the bottom of the bottle; they are harmless unfermented yeast particles.  Besides, these “sinkers” tend to be a great conversation starter.  While conditioning adds to the overall length of the brewing process and is a costly step for the brewer, it results in a well-carbonated, smooth and drinkable beer. SweetWater 420 is typical of most American Pale Ales with a bitterness content of 41 bitterness units (IBUs) and a moderate alcohol level of 5.3% abv.

The name SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale officially memorializes the date the beer was first brewed April 20, 1997, but there is much conjecture over the 420 name.  Regardless of the truth – myths, legends and stories are great free marketing tools and SweetWater Brewery makes ample use of stories and slogans to promote their brands. And, the good news for your customers who have had to travel out of state to find SweetWater beers is that the entire SweetWater portfolio including SW 420, Georgia Brown, Spinner (a Belgian Red Ale) and SweetWater IPA is scheduled for introduction to the Maryland market in late February or early March of 2015.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) February 2015 Editions Wed, 21 Jan 2015 19:09:10 -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
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,  

Next, you will need to know who your elected officials are.  There is a very quick and easy way to find out … go to and type in your address.  Make note of whom your State Senator and State Delegates are.  

Now you will need to inform yourself as to the contributions you and your business make to the community. American Beverage Licensees (ABL) has a way for you to quantify the significant contribution you make to your community when it comes to jobs, taxes and economic impact.  ABL is the preeminent national trade association for licensed beverage retailers. Through the ABL website,, ABL members can create reports and download data that detail the number of jobs and amount of taxes that they provide to their communities, as well as more in-depth economic impact information at the state legislative district level.  This is a very powerful tool.  By utilizing this economic study data, you now have the ability to tell your overwhelmingly positive story and impact you have in your community to your representatives in Annapolis.

Lastly, you will need to get the attention of your representatives and share your story with them.  I would suggest you again enlist the help of the MSLBA.  At their web site,, go to their Legislative area and you’ll find information on upcoming events as well as how to put together an email or letter that will be well received by your representatives.

Access to the above mentioned materials at the MSLBA web site are free to all.  However, I would highly suggest becoming a member if you are not already.  If you want more information than is on their web site feel free to call the MSLBA at 410 876-3464.

Access to state Senate and House district data is free to ABL members and requires additional log-in information, which can be obtained by contacting the ABL office.  If you are not a member of ABL, you will need to become one to access the Economic Impact Study data and create reports etc.  Visit or call them at 301 656-1494 for more information.

I’ve said it before, it’s worth saying again, get involved … your livelihood may depend on it.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) February 2015 Editions Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:37:56 -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
Schlafly Christmas Ale christmasbttlglss.jpg - 56.56 KB

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.

Clearly, the notion of a Christmas beer defies a simple definition.  It seems to be less a style of beer and more of a tradition. The Beer Judges Certification program (Category 23) proclaims Christmas beer must contain spices, be dark in color and have a Christmas cookie like aroma and be true to its underlying style – whatever that is?  To further complicate matters, many of today’s commercially available holiday beers lack one or more required characteristics found in the beer committees’ rules.

Schlafy “Christmas Ale,” a seasonal beer from the St. Louis Brewery, seems to conform closely to the wider notion of what a Christmas or Holiday beer should be.  At 8% abv, it possesses a fairly high alcohol content.  Its color is a bit dark and pours a deep copper (SRM 30 on the color scale), and is full of spice. Flavoring ingredients include orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves.

As it is poured, the beer shows off a large tan and tightly packed head of tiny bubbles.  In a beer clean glass, the head lasted for 2-3 minutes just long enough for any excess carbon dioxide to escape.  

The first hits of aroma and flavor come from a pungent combination of cloves and ginger. Schlafly Christmas Ale is best described as a zesty and spicy brew.  The aroma of clove and ginger was pleasant, muted and not overbearing.  To its credit, the St. Louis Brewery, as it does with all of its beers, puts blend and balance as its first objective.  Although Christmas Ale is substantially different from this brewer’s everyday beers, the overall result is one of outstanding drinkability.

Pale, caramel, and Munich malts provide the body for this Christmas Ale. The inclusion of chocolate, honey and additional sugars provides fuel necessary for a higher alcohol content.  American Ale yeast is used as a catalyst, and Magnum hops provide additional flavor and aroma. The ale has a medium body with a smooth and medium mouthfeel.  Its pleasant and lingering aftertaste tells us we have a beer to be enjoyed.

Schlafly’s Christmas beer clearly falls into the tradition of holiday beers.  It has a combination of bold, expensive ingredients that yield a spicy aroma with robust alcohol content.  It is a beer to be shared with friends and family during the holiday season, and could be one of the best gifts you can give or receive this season. Give it a try.  It could well become one of your top ten Christmas/Holiday brews.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 14:08:05 -0500
Sour Beer Gains Popularity 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.

The Home of Sour Beer

Belgium is considered to be the home of the ”sour beer style.”  Its origins are in the Zenne Valley, which surrounds Brussels, the capitol city. From October through May, local breweries that specialize in brewing sour beer open their windows and allow wild, airborne yeasts to flow in and settle on top of open fermenting tanks. These tanks, known as “coolships,” contain a mixture of malted barley and wheat - the raw materials for a sugary liquid called wort.  Once the wild yeast has settled on the wort and has performed its magic, the sugary liquid becomes a sour flavored mixture of alcohol and carbon dioxide commonly known as sour beer.

Along with wild airborne yeasts, there are a few basic ingredients standard in making sour beer.  Malted barley is mixed with unmalted wheat grist to give the beer its body.  Hops are added, but are used in limited quantities, and are more important as a preservative than as a flavoring agent.  Coigneau is the traditional Belgian hop variety used in making sour beers. In addition, some brewers add fruit such as sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches amongst others.

After the fermentation process is complete the newly fermented beer is stored in used port, sherry or burgundy wine barrels for aging.  This type of storage is a clear departure from brewing typically top fermented ales where the aging process is short and usually lasts from one week to a few weeks.  Belgian sour beers are often left to develop and mature for a period of one to several years.

The principal type of sour beer is called lambic.  Lambic is a refreshing drink by itself or it may be combined with other beers or fruit.  If two lambics, a young lambic one year old or less is combined with an older lambic (3-5 years), the resultant beer is known as “gueze.”  If sour cherries are added to a lambic it becomes “kriek lambic” or in the case of raspberries is called “framboise.” Faro, a fourth type of sour beer, is a lambic to which other ingredients including: candi sugar, pepper, orange peel, and coriander have been added to make the beer sweeter and more palatable.  All of these classic sour beer styles have been staples in Belgian bars for centuries. 

Brewing Sour Beer in America

Only in recent years has “Sour Beer” become popular among American brewers and beer drinkers. The American beer scene has been historically slow to evolve and to accept new styles of beer, and it should be remembered that not long ago different styles of beer were difficult to find amongst ubiquitous lagers.  Today, however, many freshly brewed styles of beer are widely available including: India Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Brown Ale or Stout. These beers and others are now everyday staples across the bar. “Sour beer” has begun to make a lasting impression and is getting more and more attention and may soon join the ranks of new beer favorites.

Despite the increasing popularity in the U.S., they are not easily made or readily accepted in many U.S. breweries.  A brewmaster in an American brewery, for example, typically exhibits obsessive/compulsive behavior as it relates to keeping stray organisms (referred to as bugs or beer spoilers), out of the brew house.  

It was discovered recently that wild yeasts used in the fermentation process can also invade and inhabit the brewing vessels and wood beams within breweries.  Unwanted and uncontrolled organisms can easily contaminate and spoil one or several batches of non- beer. As a matter of practice, a brewery that makes beer other than sour beer will segregate sour beer brewing in order not to contaminate and interfere with normal ale and lager production.

According to author Michael Tonsmeire, in his recent book American Sour Beers,  sour beers here in the United States, “……are beers designed to be intentionally tart and are inoculated with souring bacteria.  A yeast strain called Brettanomyces and lactic acids such as Pediococcus, Lactobacillus are added to the wort to produce a liquid with a funky aroma and flavor profiles from dry to tart similar to those of Granny Smith apples or lemons.  The author also noted the same wild yeast strains that occur in Belgium are also present here in the U.S. and throughout the world. These lactic acid bacteria are good bacteria and are used in making yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut and pickles.

Brewing sour beer in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery is recognized as the first American brewery to brew sour beer in 1999.  It is no surprise that New Belgium was the  first to brew sour beer as its brew master, Peter Bouckaert, a native of Belgium, had worked in Belgium’s famous Rodenbach Brewery.  Originally, the methods used to make sour beer by New Belgium and other American brewers were modeled after European brewing techniques.  As time went on and more breweries gained experience in producing sour beers, the process in this country has taken on the unique twists of individual brewers.  Certainly, the practice of blending of base beer, i.e. normal ale with a newly produced sour beer, became standard practice.  And, bottle conditioning sour beer has gained popularity. In addition, many brewers also tend to use a more complex grain bill than normally used in Belgium.  American brewmasters have found the use of more predictable micro-organisms injected into the wort to produce a more consistent product.

According to Brewmaster Bouckaert, “……good beer is the result of knowledge, experience and creativity.”  If you want to add a different experience to your beer drinking enjoyment, or if you are interested in giving a customer a recommendation about sour beer, try one of the fine beers in the following table.

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Read More]]> (Alan Horton) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:41:29 -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
100 Years of Freixenet Freixenet Logo.jpg - 26.47 KB

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.

The Casa Sala Winery was built on the grounds of the family estate by Joan Sala in 1901, and is where still wines for export were made until 1914, when Pere Ferrer Bosch and Dolores Sala Vivé created the first bottles of Freixenet cava there. Nowadays, the Casa Sala Winery is equipped with the latest technology. In the new biodynamic winery, we have tried to retain the best from each generation, combining ancestral techniques with the latest winemaking technologies.

The nose of the new 2005 Casa Sala is predominantly citrus, with a fine balance of green apple over a toasty backdrop. On the palate it is refreshing and well balanced, with delightful hints of pastries and newly baked bread combining elegantly with fine fruit flavors and a beautifully structured sparkle.

With an unshakeable belief in the potential of cava, Freixenet became one of the first Spanish companies to embrace the international marketplace, opening its first office in the United States in 1935 and quickly establishing distribution in many other countries around the world. Breaking ground in the realm of packaging, José Ferrer developed the distinctive frosted black bottle for Freixenet’s signature Cordon Negro cava well before customized glass packaging or the use of opaque bottles was common.

In production, Freixenet has consistently been on the forefront of winemaking innovation, often borrowing and adapting technology from other industries in an effort to enhance quality in all of their wines. Freixenet established the first temperature controlled fermentation facility in Spain, which is also the largest in Europe. In their yeast cultivation, Freixenet has adapted biomass control technology used by the European Space Agency and NASA. The company has also signed an agreement with the private firm NTE (New Space Technologies) to implement controls for their cultivation rooms that allow them instantaneous measurement of the number of viable yeasts in a culture medium, which is invaluable information to guarantee proper fermentation. Freixenet has developed new filtration systems using braided stainless steel, which omits the need to add clarifying compounds. This not only respects the integrity of the wine, but also helps to protect the environment by reducing residual waste.

For a century, attention to quality has been the single most important element to the Ferrer family’s success in winemaking, underlined by a penchant for innovative thinking and creativity. Today the Ferrer family holds full or majority ownership in 18 estates located in prominent wine regions in seven countries around the world and sells more than 160 sparkling and still wines worldwide. Whether for their widely-distributed wines like Cordon Negro or their small-production artisanal wines like Casa Sala, the Ferrer family ensures the utmost care throughout the winemaking process.

Friexenet also continues to stay loyal to the Ferrer family legacy, as the company is currently run by the third generation of Ferrers, and the fourth generation is now becoming active in the company as well. José Ferrer Sala, who celebrated his 89th birthday in 2014, remains involved in the company he was instrumental in building, while his sons and nephews cultivate the company’s plans for the future.


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:06:34 -0500
Center For Alcohol Policy Marks Anniversary of 21st Amendment The Center for Alcohol Policy (CAP) recently commemorated the 81st anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On December 5, 1933, Prohibition ended in the United States when 36 states (the requisite three-fourths majority of the then 48 states) ratified the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thereby repealing the 18th Amendment which began Prohibition in 1920. For 80 years, the United States and its citizens have benefited from a state-based system of alcohol regulation, put in place following ratification of the 21st Amendment, which gives each state the primary authority to enact and enforce alcohol laws consistent with the desires and needs of its citizens.

“It’s important for citizens to understand that the repeal of the failed, one-size-fits-all policy of national Prohibition was not the end of the story – it’s where the story of today’s successful system began,” said Patrick Lynch, CAP Advisory Council member and former Rhode Island attorney general. “The 21st Amendment recognized that alcohol is a unique product that is best controlled by individual states, and it provided a solution that continues to be effective today.”

“The state-based system of alcohol regulation has been extremely effective at supporting strong marketplace competition while at the same time promoting public safety,” Lynch continued. “America does not experience large problems with bootlegging, counterfeit products or a black market, which were common during national Prohibition and have proven deadly in other parts of the world that lack an effective regulatory system for alcohol.”

For more information, visit and watch a great video about the origin of America’s state-based alcohol regulatory system and to learn about the CAP’s republication of Toward Liquor Control, written in 1933 to help guide alcohol policy in the states post-Prohibition.

The Center for Alcohol Policy is a 501 c (3) organization whose mission is to educate policy makers, regulators and the public about alcohol, its uniqueness and regulation. By conducting sound and scientific-based research and implementing initiatives that will maintain the appropriate state-based regulation of alcohol, the Center promotes safe and responsible consumption, fights underage drinking and drunk driving and informs key entities about the effects of alcohol consumption.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:02:12 -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
Guinness Blonde American Lager GUINNESS-Blonde-American-Lager-Bottle-Shot-0-395x1200.jpg - 121.99 KB

With the launch of Guinness American Blonde Lager, the Guinness Brewery is taking a page straight out of a college marketing textbook.  When a mature product begins to decline, the brand owner has the option of trying to rejuvenate an iconic brand, or it can add a new product to the product line and trade off the strength of the existing brand.  Guinness wants to accomplish both objectives.

Sales of Guinness Stout, similar to other popular global beer brands, have been on the decline in recent years.  Younger beer drinkers who haven’t actually tried the brand have a perception that it is heavy, filling, too alcoholic and loaded with calories.  Although none of these perceptions are entirely accurate, it is a short leap from perception to reality.  Unfortunately for iconic Guinness Stout, the brand is also burdened with a stigma of being “my father’s beer”.  And, as consumer goods manufacturers are beginning to learn, Millennials want to be different from their parents’ generation.

Guinness American Blonde Lager is a logical follow on to another recent Guinness product, Guinness Black Lager, which was introduced a couple of years ago.  The brewer has made a major shift in product strategy, and now believes it is time to move toward lagers and away from relying solely on stout for it success.  It is a case of “fishing where the fish are.”  The overall sales of lager beers, despite the recent success of craft ales, continue to be the most popular style of beer in the United States and far outweigh the sale of stouts and other ales. 

Guinness Blonde American Lager is the first product in the “Discovery Series” of beers, and is a radical departure from the famous black stout brewed at Guinness’ St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin.  The judicious use of a well-known brand name can be considered to be good marketing as long as a limited number of brand extensions are developed using the name of the flagship brand. There is a fine line between having too many brand extensions that result in diluting the power of the original brand.  For now, it doesn’t appear Guinness is in danger of either over using its brand name or diluting its brand equity.

Some might say Guinness Blonde American Lager is really a lager beer brewed for ale lovers.  Its dark gold color clearly tells us it isn’t your typical Guinness Beer.  When poured, a large puffy head of foam appears and lingers in a beer clean glass. The drinking experience itself is characterized by plenty of mild hop notes throughout.  A combination of American grown Mosiac hops (for aroma and bittering),  Williamette hops (aromas earth and spice) and Mt. Hood hops (aroma of grass and flowers) are used for aroma and flavor purposes.  The body, the color and the 5% alcohol level (abv) are provided by American Crystal Malt.  The ever present ale overtones are the result of using the traditional Guinness yeast which is imported from Ireland.  However, the beer itself is actually brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

No doubt some beer drinkers will take a critical approach to this and other new innovative Guinness brands.  Instead, we should say “Slainte!” (cheers) and applaud Guinness, an old established company for re-inventing itself and bringing out new types of products.  Another product, dubbed a specialty beer, “Guinness 1759” will be available this holiday season. There is more than a kernel of truth to the idea that if you don’t grow, you will atrophy and eventually go away.  Guinness is too important to the world’s beerscape for that to happen.

Read More]]> (Alan Horton) December 2014 Editions Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:39:46 -0500