Latest blog entries - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sun, 29 May 2016 20:59:10 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Back to Basics: Rum 101 Rum101_LR.jpg

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

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

Download Back to Basics: Rum 101

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:29:49 -0400
Carl Nolet Jr.... Why Ketel One Should Be Number One AIP-Carl-Notet-Jr-of-Ketel-One-13.jpg


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

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

What follows is our chat:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BJ: What are your current duties and responsibilities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BJ: What has you excited for the future?

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


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:22:49 -0400
Will Glass: Going Green at TAPS Fill Station Taps_Fill_Station0013.jpg

Sitting in the Mt. Vernon Marketplace is a sensory experience. Between the noises, smells, and sights the variety of vendors offer a cornucopia of different tastes and experiences. This open-air warehouse feel provides a desire to explore and the expectation of finding something new and exciting just around the corner.

Among the dozen-or-so vendors in the marketplace are several bars and small restaurants. Perhaps the most unassuming but obvious is TAPS Fill Station. On first approach, owner Will Glass has designed a simple, barebones bar front. A wood grain bar top, generic red and black tap handles, and ten barstools highlight the streamlined look. Between the repurposed warehouse turned marketplace and the sleek design, TAPS has found a perfect home.

Between Will's personal interest and cultural experiences, TAPS was born. "The idea came from travels to Portland where, at the time, filling stations were popping up all over the Pacific Northwest, and my travels around Europe. Europeans, especially Italians, are filling jugs with all sorts of products, including oils and wines, for consumption at home."

What Will has created comes from a long drive to achieve a very specific goal. "I've been an entrepreneur with a green twist since I was a little kid. I've written other business plans in the past, but not found the right opportunity to execute them. TAPS Fill Station came to be because the perfect location came about for our proof of concept - Mt. Vernon Marketplace."

Will continued, "The marketplace is a demand generator. We can work together with other vendors to collaborate on pairings of food and drink and plan events together to draw in large crowds." The collaborative atmosphere is even more prevalent when you consider that any of the food offerings from around the market can be enjoyed while sipping on the many libations offered at TAPS.

The idea of filling stations isn't new by itself. The model is, in many ways, a new mode of taking home a six pack at the end of the day. Instead of the typical filling station or basic recycling, Will created a program to fill growlers, one liter wine bottles, and reusable pouches to distribute all of the beer, wine, cider, mead, coffee, and olive oils on tap.

TAPS doesn't stop there and it's because of the "green" initiative that Will feels so strongly about, "Only 30% of glass that is sent in for recycling is actually returned to the consumer stream." By offering to refill the growler or pouch you've previously purchased at TAPS, Will can cut down on the waste and still offer all the benefits of the traditional filling station.

Its rare to see such a selection of different products, but the program is meant to bring together tastes from the North American region and share them with the consumer. Will explains, "Olive Oil shops focus on just oil and filling stations typically focus on just beer. I'm a big fan of convergence versus divergence."

TAPS began with just Maryland beers and quickly grew to include Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. brews. In the near future, you can expect to find artisanal vinegar as well. This goal to bring together concepts is directly evident in what Will describes as his favorite feature on the witty and colloquial menu. 

"I like our Drink Lab pairings which match cordials with specific products on draft. It's a classy beer and shot that's meant for sipping to experience the nuances between the two paired products." While Will admits he's seen this on menus before, it is a particular fit for TAPS. 

Will's approach involves sharing thoughtful handcrafted goods and products with the masses, while not allowing the masses to destroy what has provided us with the necessary ingredients to create them. TAPS Fill Station is a union of tastes, ideas, and drive that is evident within Mt. Vernon Marketplace and the small business owners who inhabit it.


Top bucket list item?:  "I want to travel the world."

If you could have one superpower...  "Invisibility.”

Would most like to serve:  “Consumers that want to be here.  Consumers that get our mission.”

Read More]]> (Douglas Mace) June 2016 Editions Thu, 26 May 2016 11:17:10 -0400
Rye’s the Limit


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

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

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

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

 Bartender Love

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

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

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

Points of Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotch in the Rye Game

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

Download Rye’s the Limit



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going for Gold…

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

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

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

Download Cachaça’s Third Wave

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

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

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

Download the Gin & Tonic 101 Back to Basics below:


Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:40:57 -0400
Justin Hampton: Found the West Not To Be the Best JustinHampton.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAN'T MISS TV SHOW: “Outlander”

HOBBIES: Gardening

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

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

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



Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:32:30 -0400
Gin Gone Rogue American craft distillers have led the movement toward less juniper, more diversity & higher price points.


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

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

Less Juniper, More Styles

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

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

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

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

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

Berkshire Mountain Distillers (Great Barrington, MA)

Products: Greylock, Ethereal, Barrel-Aged Ethereal

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


Big Gin (Seattle, WA)

Products: Big Gin, Bourbon Barreled Big Gin

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


Death’s Door Spirits (Middleton, WI)

Products: Death’s Door Gin

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


Distillery No. 209 (San  Francisco, CA)

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

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


FEW Spirits (Evanston, IL)

Products: Few American, Few Barrel, Few Breakfast

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


Greenhook Ginsmiths (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)

Products: American Dry, Beach Plum, Old Tom

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


House Spirits Distillery (Portland, OR)

Products: Aviation American

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


New York Distilling Company (Brooklyn, NY)

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

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


Philadelphia Distilling (Philadelphia, PA)

Products: Bluecoat American Dry, Bluecoat Barrel Finished

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


St. George Spirits (Alameda, CA)

Products: Terroir, Botanivore, Dry Rye Reposado

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Apr 2016 10:29:04 -0400
Joe DiPasquale: Curator of Maryland's Italian Oasis DiPasquale_Joe.jpg

Since DiPasquale’s opening in 1914 the DiPasquale family has provided Baltimore with an authentic Italian market that has metamorphosized into what it is today. Currently the store features a full deli, brick oven, homemade pastas, oils, fine wine and spirits, and more. 

Affectionately, third generation owner Joe DiPasquale struggled to define the store saying, "This is insane. I can't cookie-cutter what this place is."

DiPasquale's is not a Deli. It is not a fresh Italian marketplace and convenience shop. This is not a fine wine and spirits destination, and not a restaurant. Instead, DiPasquale's is all of the above and one of the best at each. 

Joe describes the original store as something difficult to imagine seeing in downtown Baltimore. "We made our own bleach and we had live animals. We sold goats and they were tied to the light pole out front. We sold everything from soap to tomatoes. It was a convenience store for Italians. A little oasis in a German neighborhood."

The current restaurant still occupies the same street corner that it always has just off Conkling and Gough streets, although the look is quite different.

Over 25 years ago, one customer wanted to sit down and eat a sandwich, which forever changed the layout of the store. The amount of tables has multiplied and so has the amount of business. 

After being featured on “Diner's, Drive-ins, and Dives” on The Food Network in 2008, they can add neighborhood landmark to the list.

Early in the 1980's Joe visited Italy to experience the culture as his younger and late-older brothers revamped the store. He exuberantly described his feelings upon returning, "I was recharged about what Italian really is and what we could do."

With a renewed idea of what his heritage entailed, Joe was able to bring home and instill the Italian pride that clearly defines what he still does today. 

"It must be in our blood somehow. In high school I didn't think I would be here. I caught a bug with the local immigrants and it went on from there."

More often than not you can find Joe behind the deli counter; specifically during lunch hours. His attention to detail and direct interaction with customers results in a constant drive toward improvement.

"I change things because of a customer's input. I make it better. I'm here and there's no complaint box. I'm who they go to. I take their ideas and run with it." He continued, "I love the appreciation of the customer. It never gets old and it drives you to get even better."

Sitting at one of the twenty-or-so tables provided an example of the work ethic Joe says he learned from his parents. "I'm sitting here right now and looking around there's some things I'm going to change. You know, I don't always have this angle. I drive everyone nuts because when we go out I try to absorb everything."

When the doors shut and he and his wife Sabrina make their way home the simple pleasures of homemade Italian food prevail, "We get home and we cook for the family. I enjoy that because it's very unwinding. Cooking a simple dish and just taking it easy. That's what I look forward to."

From the first to last question it was obvious that family is the fundamental reason behind every driving force, "I'm always thinking of them and doing everything for them. We work for the kids. That's what we're doing."

As for whether or not DiPasquale's will remain in the family? "Hopefully, I'm creating a lot of options for the kids. It just so happens my son is in college for international food. It would be nice, but it's not the do or die situation. If the children want it, it's certainly open for them. I'm going to build them a foundation and if they want to take it they'll have it."

With plans to open a second location in Harborview, Joe has no plans of slowing down. "It's a smaller scale. Little bit of groceries, brick-oven pizza, sandwiches and salads. A little more seafood oriented since the water is right there."

The effort, dedication, and quality of Joe DiPasquale and DiPasquale’s staff is difficult to rival. The commitment to his local and everyday customers provides immediate feedback that has made the restaurant/deli/marketplace into the Maryland favorite that it is. This same commitment to the consumer has, and is sure to keep “DiPasq” on top.

Joe's Favorite Movie:  “The Godfather, of course.”

Person Joe Would most like to serve: “My Grandfather, who started it all. I never met him. He died the year
my mom was carrying me.”

Something no one knows about Joe: “I’m a softie ... but a strong family guy.”

Career Joe wanted to have:
“I always had fantasies of being a hotel manager after reading the book Hotel. I wanted to be that prestigious manager, speaking five languages, dealing with all the dignitaries. That was always one of my fantasies.”

Read More]]> (Douglas Mace) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 15:20:28 -0400
Conundrum Wines: Still Exploring, 25 Years Later Conundrum.jpg

Conundrum was born 25 years ago, and today it still stands for doing things your own way and daring to explore. Its inspiration came from Charlie Wagner, Sr. – co-founder of Caymus Vineyards and father to winery owner Chuck Wagner – who would sit at the dining room table and mix wines to create the “perfect glass” to pair with his meal. At the time, blending wines was considered almost unthinkable, and even Charlie Sr. had no idea that his bold experiment would help usher in a whole new trend. 

Today, Conundrum is as original as ever.  They continue to source their fruit from some of the most sought-after California winegrowing regions to ensure both quality and diversity: Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Tulare Counties. While the exact blend remains under wraps, with every vintage they include Chardonnay for its weight and complexity, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for crisp acidity, Muscat Canelli for floral qualities and Viognier for lush texture. Taken together, they add up to a wine that’s amazingly versatile, pairing well with everything from salmon to spicy food, or enjoyed on its own as an aperitif. 

Winemakers, Jon Bolta and Charlie Wagner, preserve the individual characteristics of each varietal by taking great care to keep separate lots of fruit throughout the entire winemaking process. Some lots are aged in chilled stainless steel tanks to maintain fresh, crisp aromas and fruit flavors, and some in a combination of aged and new French oak barrels for up to ten months. The intriguing result: a wine with multiple layers, subtle and complex, born of an adventurous spirit while inviting more adventures to come.

Winemaker John Bolta on Conundrum White: “Fresh fajitas. Relaxing before dinner. A night out for Thai or Vietnamese. Conundrum White goes with them all. Sourced from California’s premier winegrowing regions, this wine is both exotic and bright, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier. It lures you in with scents of apricot, pear and honeysuckle, and if you’re paying attention, orange and lemon meringue pie. Initial sweetness is balanced by natural acidity, and we love the hint of oak that plays with flavors of peach, apple and citrus. The long finish will leave you longing for another glass.”

Director of Winemaking Charlie Wagner on Conundrum Red: “We believe in being both serious and playful, and this wine fits the bill. A rich, dark red, it offers aromas of ripe berries and plums, warmed by a hint of cocoa. Dried fruit and the taste of chocolate-covered cherries come through on the palate, while a wisp of smokiness makes this wine – created from dark red varietals including Zinfandel and Petite Sirah – the perfect complement to grilled meats and full-flavored dishes. Tannins are rounded out by the ripeness of the berries for a texturous but smooth mouth feel. The finish makes us think of lingering at the end of a long evening and still not wanting to go home, with layers of rich flavor that teasingly trail off.”

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:31:13 -0400
Adding Spicer... Behind NBWA's Communications and New Website RebeccaSpicer.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:25:30 -0400
The Upside of Selling Sideways Cross-selling remains a potent strategy for retailers in the digital age.


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

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

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

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

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

Keys to Better Cross-Selling:

Avoid Upselling

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

Do Your Homework

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

Always Be Cross-Selling

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

Practice Your Pitch

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

Follow Up

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

Written by | 



Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:51:32 -0400
Alaska Proof On The Loose In The Mid Atlantic AlaskaDistilleryLogo.jpg

Alaska Distillery is a small batch distillery located in the foothills of the Alaska Range, where they handcraft spirits with ultra-pure glacier water and the finest grains and ingredients. Having developed a reputation for superior spirits with their Flagship Ultra-Premium Vodka, Permafrost, Alaska Distillery continues to blaze new trails with flavors and inventive spirits indigenous to a state famous for extreme beauty, untamed wilderness, and pristine scenery.

You can catch Toby and the entire Alaska Distillery gang every Thursday night on the Animal Planet channel’s new hit show ALASKA PROOF.



Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) May 2016 Editions Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:41:35 -0400
New Liberty Distillery: Commemorating Maryland’s Rich Distilling History New_Liberty_Home.jpg

New Liberty Distillery, located in Philadelphia, PA, is reinterpreting some of the famous, but forgotten, Pennsylvania and Maryland brands that once formed the foundation of the U.S. whiskey business.  As Michael Jackson, the renowned international whiskey critic, commented, “American whiskey had its beginnings in Pennsylvania and Maryland.”  Many of the region’s brands were lost to Prohibition or Americans’ changing tastes after World War II that led to the rise of light mixable spirits like vodka.  

“Our Heritage Collection is made up of whiskeys we are reintroducing and New Liberty is honored to make them once again available to consumers,” stated Thomas Jensen of New Liberty Distillery.   “We introduced our first Heritage Collection release, Kinsey, in 2014.  Kinsey is a famous Pennsylvania-based whiskey that was once nationally known for its witty advertising and easy drinking style.   We currently are launching our Maryland Heritage Series exclusively in Maryland and The District of Columbia.  Maryland rye was a softer rye whiskey usually with a 51% rye content, unlike Pennsylvania rye which was usually 95% rye and very spicy.  At the turn of the century, the Baltimore area was home to numerous distilleries which are now long closed.  After extensive research, we decided on three distilleries that played unique roles in making Maryland whiskey famous.  Our master distiller, Robert J. Cassell, sought existing whiskey stocks that could be used to create the easy drinking style of pre- and post-Prohibition Maryland whiskey, and we hope you can taste the history in every sip.”  

The Melvale Distillery, maker of Melvale Rye Whiskey, was located in the Jones Falls section of Baltimore, on Cold Spring Road. One of the original buildings remains intact, although the site no longer distills alcohol. Melvale Pure Rye was one of the most premium of the pre-prohibition Maryland ryes. 

Melvale Straight Rye: Mash bill will be 51% rye and 49% barley to capture the bright and grassy flavor of the old Maryland rye brands. It will be a straight rye, aged three years and hand bottled at 90 proof.

Until Prohibition, M.J. Miller’s Sons Distillery produced Melky Miller Rye Whiskey just outside the village of Accident, MD. The ruins of the abandoned distillery stood for decades until destroyed by fires in the 1970s and '90s. The Garrett County Historical Society has marked its location with a sign.  

Melky Miller Eight Year Old American Whiskey: Mash bill is 100% corn, produced and aged in the USA, and is at least eight years old. We will hand bottle it at 90 proof.

Maryland Club Whiskey was originally produced between 1870 and 1919 at the Cahn, Belt & Co. facility on 32 W. Lombard Street in Baltimore, MD.  It featured creative ads and marketing.  The brand enjoys a unique role in history as a date book with an ad for Maryland Club was found on the Titanic!

Maryland Club Straight Bourbon:  Mash bill is 51% corn and whiskey has been aged in new oak barrels for at least three years. It will be a straight whiskey and hand bottled at 95 proof.

For More information on the New Liberty Distillery you can contact Tom Jensen at 917.226.9022 or

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) May 2016 Editions Wed, 20 Apr 2016 15:14:11 -0400
Tequila 101: Back to Basics BacktoBasics_Tequila101.jpg

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 21:36:18 -0400
Pink Boots Society pink-boots-society_IMAGE.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


So Why A Pink Boots Society?

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Amanda Zivkovic, Heavy Seas Beer

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 20:56:07 -0400
Mahaffey's: A Family Affair Mahaffeys0008.jpg

Dennis and Alice Kistner are the Bar and General Managers, respectively, at Mahaffey's Pub in Canton and are married in "real life". The two proud parents also have an 18 month old baby keeping them busy at home, but that doesn't stymie their dedication to the bar one bit. If anything the youngster has driven them to reach for greater success.

The pair couldn't help but show excitement, and borderline elation, whenever talking about "Little Dennis". Alice described early motherhood with the youngster saying, "It's fun. We take him with us everywhere. He's a good baby, he makes us laugh and now he's doing so many things, it's entertaining."

Alice explained how initially it was a difficult balance, but that she wouldn't trade it for the world, "I snapped at a couple customers and I had to apologize a couple times, but we have awesome customers and they understood right away." With superhero-esque confidence and an ear-to-ear grin she continued, "It's just like juggling any other job. I love what I do. I'm constantly moving. I'm not sitting at a desk all day so I'm not getting bored."

Asking the two of them about what they do for fun revealed almost subconsciously that their young son Dennis is the center of their universe without exception. "Every Thursday we take him on a field trip. We went to the bouncy house today and it's fun, you know?" Alice continued, "We go to places like the aquarium and the discovery center."

Other than the day trips, managing a bar, and doing some personal training on the side Dennis and Alice both balked before answering what else they do in their free time. "I guess we've started cooking more."

The two relentless parents continue to build their life around the youngster. So much so that it has carried over to their next venture. 

Good ideas often come to us while showering. Most likely because there is no one else around to tell us it's a bad one. In the case of Dennis and Alice, one shower idea quickly turned into a great idea.

One day Dennis' shower helped to brew up the idea, "Why not add writing a book to the agenda?" Given the nature of his experiences, and after a little research, a children's book about beer was born.

Tired of the same old children's stories he set out creating characters like Mary Malts, and Bobby Barley and soon after "Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery" was born.

While not everyone may agree with the idea of a children's book centered around beer, Dennis is hopeful that people keep an open mind. He understands it could also be more of a novelty item. "We hope it's both. People having kids right now kind of grew up drinking good beer. We're not necessarily just a generation of Coors light or Budweiser drinkers."

The craft beer culture has grown with millennials and Dennis cites this new market as a reason for writing the book and reason why he's not concerned with the book's reception.

Needing art for the new endeavor he sought the assistance of fellow Mahaffey's bartender and Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, Beth-Ann Wilson.

Beth provided a series of mock-ups and auditioned for the job. After seeing rough sketches bring their characters to life, Dennis and Alice asked Beth to be their artist.

The three immediately went to work on the 22 page children's book that Dennis describes as, "a rhyming book that shows how beer is made, the ingredients and the processes that get the beer from the farm to the pub."

The target date for publication was a simple decision as another feature of the beer world growing faster than ever comes into town. The 2016 National Homebrewers Conference will be held in Baltimore this year. The conference will be held June 9th-11th at the Baltimore Convention Center and is expected to garner over 6,000 attendees. 

"I definitely want to get it done by then to try to get it out there." Dennis continued, "We also want to sell it at the bar and talk to some of the homebrew places that are close, because they have home-brewing books, to see if they would carry it."

Something your customers don't know about you:
I'm actually very nice
There are five close relatives that are all named Dennis and live within 5 miles  

One place you'd each like to travel:
Bora Bora's overwater bungalows  

Favorite movie:
Tommy Boy   
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation  

favorite childhood toy: 
Anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle    
Skip It


Read More]]> (Douglas Mace) April 2016 Editions Tue, 29 Mar 2016 20:36:36 -0400
Erin Ivey's Cherry Blossom Cocktail ErinIveyHorizontal.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2016 Editions Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:53:41 -0400
Neighborhood Bars Closing ... Don't Count Them Out b2ap3_thumbnail_tavern_sign.jpg

Taps are running dry and doors are closing at neighborhood bars across the country. That has left the remaining ones to try to find ways to stay afloat.

One in six bars closed between 2004 and 2014, according to market research firm Nielsen. More than 600 close each month, with just 334 opening.

The neighborhood bar closures are happening as more people are getting their alcoholic drinks from restaurants, cavernous sports bars with scores of TV screens, brewpubs and at home. Besides the increasing competition, neighborhood bars also are contending with other challenges, including rising costs for expenses such as rent.

For instance, when the rent doubled seven years ago at Mumbles in New York City, running a neighborhood bar became more difficult for owner David Feldman. Online reservation and order-taking services took more bites out of his profits. At the end of January, after 22 years, Mumbles closed.

"It's getting harder and harder. The bigger corporate restaurants have tons of money, that seems to be the way things are going," says Feldman, who still has two restaurants in Manhattan, one of which will now employ one of Mumbles' bartenders.


The number of neighborhood bars has declined as drinking habits have changed, says Lester Jones, chief economist with the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade group. Tougher laws on underage drinking and drunk driving have cut into consumption.

The growth of in-home pay TV services has also had an impact; when relatively few homes had cable in the early 1970s, sports fans went to bars to see games that weren't on broadcast TV. There were nearly 10 million cable subscribers in 1975 and close to 100 million pay TV subscribers last year, including cable, satellite and telephone company-delivered services, according to research firm SNL Kagan. People don't need the corner bar.

When consumers do go out, they have a rapidly growing number of choices. Restaurants including national chains have bars and advertise their beverages as much as their food.

They're also the kind of place where parents can take their kids and have a beer with their meals. And the chains are growing; the number of Buffalo Wild Wings locations has tripled from 370 in 2005 to 1,136 by the end of 2015.


Rising costs also have hurt neighborhood bars.

Rent increases, in particular, are typical of areas that are trendy or have high real estate taxes. Urban areas where residents have big incomes have seen the largest increases in rents for retail space, which includes bars, says Ryan McCullough, a senior economist with CoStar Group, a real estate information provider. Rents in those areas nationwide are up an average 9.4 percent since the high they reached before the recession.

But in areas where demand for real estate is particularly high, rent increases can be substantially higher. Rents on a trendy stretch of Broadway in Manhattan not far from Mumbles soared 42 percent between the fall of 2014 and this past fall, according to the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade group.

Other cities see similar increases: In Miami, retail rents rose an average of nearly 33 percent from 2011 to last year, with rates in the hottest areas climbing at a higher pace, according to Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate services company.

In addition to higher rent, neighborhood bars have to contend with other rising costs.

Larger companies with multiple locations can buy beer, liquor and food at lower prices because they get bigger discounts — the New York State Liquor Authority mandates a 40 percent discount on purchases of 50 cases, compared to 20 percent on five cases. A higher minimum wage and rising insurance costs also sap profits, says Tess Collins, who runs McGeary's in downtown Albany, New York.

But Collins brightens as she talks about McGeary's customers. The bar draws a regular after-work crowd and people visiting the state capital on business. Families show up on weekends. There are seven TVs in the main bar and two in a back room, but Collins finds her customers are more interested in talking to each other than watching a game.

"I have an awesome community here," says Collins, whose bar is nearby Recovery Sports Grill, a sports bar and restaurant that has 35 screens and is part of an 11-location chain. "Everybody knows each other."


Many owners have to pass on their higher costs to their customers, or look for lower-priced food options for their menus.

When his landlord raises the rent, bar owner Scott Drake has to pass along the costs to his customers. Drake, who co-owns Moe's & Joe's, a nearly 70-year-old Atlanta bar, sees higher rents as a neighborhood bar's biggest threat.

But he says smaller bars offer something more intimate than the bigger guys can serve — what he calls a neighborhood feel. For that reason, Drake is less concerned about the competition, which includes a nearby Yard House, part of a 64-location chain and that has 130 taps and 20 TVs, compared with his bar's 18 taps and seven TVs.

"On any day, you can come in here, and there are tables with construction workers, maybe two prominent judges and a couple of people from the banking industry, all walks of life," Drake says. "I want to have a conversation in a bar and talk with people and I think a lot of people (at the big establishments) are missing out on that."

One of the regulars at Moe's & Joe's, John Webster, has been going to the bar for decades.

"It's like an old pair of jeans, very comfortable. You know what you're going to get," he says. "You know the people, you know the staff, the bartenders."

Jim Wiste, who owns Campus Lounge in Denver, agrees.

The relationship between Wiste, a former pro hockey player, and his customers is a big part of the appeal. He'll help them get tickets for a big game and make the bar available for people who want to hold a memorial for a friend or relative.

But Wiste has added more TV screens to compete with bigger chains. The bar now has 15 screens, but it still is a place where regulars hang out and families stop by for a weekend lunch, owner Jim Wiste says.

"I think there's something to the old standard place that's on the corner, a local place that feels a little more comfortable," he says.


JOYCE M. ROSENBERG, AP Business Writer  

Follow Joyce Rosenberg at

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) Industry News ... Mon, 21 Mar 2016 11:09:01 -0400
On Call: The Barrel Rolls On b2ap3_thumbnail_big1.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Reasons to Rediscover Montepulciano’s Noble Wine.  

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

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

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

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

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


Fresh Twists, Old Roots

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

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

The Montepulciano Signature

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

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

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

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

Sangiovese Reclaims Center Stage

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Spotlight

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2016 Editions Tue, 23 Feb 2016 10:32:56 -0500
Stadium Size Service

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2016 Editions Tue, 23 Feb 2016 10:03:55 -0500
Too Cool for School

What You Don’t Know About Ice

Shine a bright light in the eyes of an accomplished mixologist and he or she will eventually admit that ice is the most important ingredient in cocktails. It impacts every aspect of mixed drinks and does so with little cost and no marketing or packaging. In a time when success behind the bar is measured one drink at a time, outfitting your bar with the most advantageous type of ice is essential.

Its contribution goes beyond lowering the temperature of a cocktail to its proper serving temperature of around 37-38˚F. While only the genuinely obsessed would stick a thermometer into the drink to ensure it’s sufficiently chilled, the fact remains that cocktails rapidly increase in temperature moments after hitting the glass. Ice plays a crucial role in postponing the inevitable. 

“Equally important, ice introduces water into a drink. It helps to balance the blend and allows the various ingredients to meld and harmonize,” says Debbi Peek, portfolio mixologist for Bacardi USA. “The water also softens the biting edge of spirits, as well as accentuates their flavor.” 

According to Jonathan Pogash, acclaimed mixologist and beverage consultant, "The relative hardness of ice is an often over-looked attribute. A hard cube, lump cube or block of ice will dilute a drink at a much slower rate than your run-of-the-mill ice machine ice cube. If ice isn’t hard enough it will melt too quickly and over-dilute the cocktail. A “wet” ice cube is one that has been tarnished with excess water on its surface, thus allowing it to melt at a much quicker rate than desired.”

Another consideration is the nature of the water used to make ice, the quality of which will affect the taste of the finished drink. For that reason it’s advisable to use ice made from spring or mineral water. 

Celebrated chef and mixologist Kathy Casey thinks ice made with soft water produces better ice for drink making. “Many operators fail to factor in the type of water they use to make their ice. While spring or mineral waters are preferable, they’re not necessarily a practical option at a bar. However, installing a water softener is relatively inexpensive. And because the water is also filtered, the ice comes out free of haze or clouding. Crystal clear ice is more aesthetically pleasing.”

Size Matters

The size and shape of the ice you use play a key role in how drinks taste. “Small ice cubes tend to melt faster than larger cubes and will therefore more quickly dilute mixed drinks,” contends Bacardi’s Debbi Peek. “A drink made with small cubes will taste best when it’s first served, but becomes watery and less flavorful in short order. Larger ice cubes melt slower and release less water into a drink. That means the first sip will taste as good as the last.”

Ryan Magerian—mixologist and creator of Aviation Gin— thinks large format ice looks a whole lot sexier than standard bar ice, especially when stacked in a Highball glass. “More importantly, that using fewer, large format cubes presents less surface area and results in slower dilution. I recommend making drinks with 1.25-inch cubes, especially those from Kold-Draft or Hoshizaki machines. They’re produced to be dense and slow melting.”

Casey also prefers working with larger ice. “I think the square cubes from Kold-Draft are superior. They’re perfectly clear, uniformly shaped, and because of their density, they melt slower and cool faster.” 

Long a staple in Japan, ice balls are gaining popularity behind American bars. ice balls are seemingly the perfect marriage of form and function. Made on-premise in molds or carved individually, they look like crystal clear spheres between 3-5 inches in diameter. Their singular shape allows them to melt at a slower rate, thus reducing dilution.

Journalist Yuri Kato is the author of the recently published book, Japanese Cocktails (2009 Chronicle Books, San Francisco) “In Japan, we carve ice balls out of mineral water using an ice pick or knife. In fact, to become a member of the National Bartenders Association of Japan, a bartender must be able to quickly carve a perfect ice ball. Japanese people appreciate the ice ball when sipping whisky. It keeps the whisky at a steady temperature about an hour.” 

Peek likes using ice balls when serving cocktails on the rocks. “Since it is round the corners don’t melt leaving the first sip as cold as the last. They’re crystal clear, look sexy and last a long time. In a recent cocktail competition, I presented my entry with an ice ball to ensure it wasn’t watered down by the time it made it to the judges’ table.” 

Retro Chillers

Back in the day, cocktails were prepared with chipped, cracked or crushed ice. Even as late as the ‘70s bars typically carried both cubed and crushed ice in the bartender’s station. But as juleps, frappes and smashes slipped from the limelight, so did the need for stocking crushed ice behind the bar. The Tiki revival underway has changed that.

 “Tiki drinks are those popularized after Repeal through the 1950s and 60s,” says Jonathan Pogash. “Luminaries such as “Trader” Vic Bergeron knew that crushed ice created a massively cold drink and that people in the tropical South Pacific needed more help beating the heat than anyone else.”

Its cooling abilities results from having more surface area than any other form of ice, second only to shaved ice. Adds Magerian, “That makes crushed ice perfect for making Tiki drinks. Not only does it make them cold, but they’re potent drinks, so the extra dilution is an advantage.”

While the cocktail may reign supreme, ice appears to be the power behind the throne. As Pogash says, “You’ve walked into a place that cares about their drinks when you see the proper ice being plopped, dropped, chipped or cracked into your glass.”


Read More]]> (Robert Plotkin) March 2016 Editions Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:22:56 -0500
Green Shoots on the Emerald Isle

Irish whiskey is undergoing an unprecedented wave of new distilleries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edge of the Irish

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

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

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

Future Bright

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

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

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

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

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

The Poitin Factor

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Greener All the Time…

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

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

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

Selling Points

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2016 Editions Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:18:42 -0500
Julian Demiri: An Unexpected Ascension

Julian Demiri arrived in the United States in 1996 as a young 19 year-old from Albania. He arrived speaking no English. He arrived with no job. He had however, just won the lottery.

Every year the United States offers around 50,000 temporary green cards to applicants from around the world. While this may not be the lottery you had in mind, it is in many ways just as important in the lives of those who are picked. What those "winners" do with such an opportunity makes all the difference. 

Speaking French and Albanian, Demiri hit the ground running at a now defunct bar in Fells Point. After five years, Demiri earned full citizenship and sought a job at the Inner Harbor staple, the Rusty Scupper. The Scupper has become a well-known landmark in Baltimore with an impressive history and an award-winning wine list.

Demiri interviewed with long-time General Manager Ed Prutzer, but he was told that due to slow business following the 9/11 attacks they didn't have the shifts available to hire him. Continuing to press for a position Julian was offered "a few shifts." That small 'trial offer' suddenly became an open position.  Without hesitation Demiri took that stroke of good fortune and ran with it. Just a few years later he began as a shift supervisor and now serves as the Assistant General Manager and Director of Wines.

Demiri's quick to point out that he has had help along the way, "When I came here 20 years ago from Albania we had nothing and I knew nothing. I had to assimilate and I got lucky to have a few people along the way who gave me a chance and shared their knowledge with me."

While Demiri had help in developing the Rusty Scupper’s award-winning wine list he has worked with it longer than anyone.  When given an opportunity to do so, he made it his own. Explaining the first of his challenges, "When I got the job, everything was a little high, some of the pricing was off. We had to bring in new wines and adjust."

Eleven years in a row the Rusty Scupper has earned the award for 'Best Affordable Wine List' from Wine Spectator magazine. The award is one of three that go to entry, mid, and high level wine lists in each state, each year. From 2004-2015 the Scupper has won the award for Maryland.

The feat of dominating such an award for over a decade is no easy task. Demiri believes the restaurant's success comes from a series of approaches that are each backed with reason and evidence. Demiri describes the process as if he's a scientist delicately balancing an equation, but with the confidence of a UFC fighter.

The accessibility of the list helps to keep the award coming back to the corner of the harbor.  "We never fail on that," said Demiri referring to the distinction. "We design it this way for a reason. We want affordable and inexpensive if you are on a budget. [If] somebody is entry level they get it. [If] somebody is an expert they have that too."

This balance isn't achieved through only feel, but also an understanding of the customer.

"I think American palates are different; softer, sweeter, floral, fruity." Demiri continued, "You need to adjust with the market. A recognizable list with easy to drink wines. The best reading is the guest. You have to adjust day to day."

Perhaps it is the ability to adjust to changing circumstances that has made Demiri one of the best at what he does. After two decades in the United States he's ascended to heights he certainly may never have dreamed about. As far as the next twenty years are concerned? Demiri stays driven rather than dream-filled, "I've had to be dynamic in the past 20 years and I don't see that changing. In our business you cannot get stale, you cannot get complacent. People's tastes change and you need to stay fresh and give people what they want."

If you could choose any wine, which one would you drink:
"Napa Cabernet"

Person you'd most like to serve
"Andrew Zimmerman from Bizarre Foods"

Other career would
loved to have tried
"A pilot. When I was a kid I always wanted to fly."

Next major industry trend:
"I think the trend toward local and artisan products will continue."

Favorite thing to do outside of work
"Spend time outside with my family. I take a lot of day trips into the far counties of Maryland and into neighboring states"

Read More]]> (Douglas Mace) March 2016 Editions Sun, 21 Feb 2016 20:17:39 -0500
Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey

The Teeling Whiskey Company has expanded its premium Irish whiskey portfolio with the launch of its award winning Irish Single Malt.  This Single Malt, was recently named World’s Best Irish Single Malt at the 2015 World Whiskies Awards.

Teeling Single Malt is the third release in the Premium range of Teeling expressions completing their full range to form the Teeling Trinity of non-aged statement of Irish whiskeys. To add a unique depth of character and flavor, Teeling Single Malt consists of aged malt whiskey up to 23 years old that has been matured in five different wine casks including Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. This combination of cask maturation techniques has never been done before in Irish whiskey and creates a truly innovative Irish whiskey bursting with personality. Like all the Teeling whiskeys, it is bottled at 46% with no chill filtration allowing for all the natural flavors of the whiskey to be retained. 

Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company, commented, “We are delighted to be able to release another expression of Teeling whiskey that helps expand consumer choice and challenge existing perceptions of Irish whiskey. Our new Teeling Single Malt proves Irish whiskey can have big bold flavors that appeal to Single Malt drinkers without losing its distinctive Irish identity.”

The Teeling Whiskey Company was founded by Jack Teeling in 2012 to bring back an independent voice to the Irish whiskey category.  The Teeling family whiskey heritage dates back to distilling in Dublin in 1782 and Walter Teeling, who set up a distillery in Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties. Jack and his brother Stephen, Sales and Marketing Director, are just the latest generation of Teelings involved in the Irish whiskey industry and have just opened the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years with their Teeling Distillery and Visitors Center in Newmarket, Dublin 8.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) March 2016 Editions Sun, 21 Feb 2016 19:56:34 -0500
Distilled Spirits Growth Continued in 2015

Distilled Spirits in the United States have enjoyed a gain in market share for the sixth consecutive year.  The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has reported another year of steady growth in 2015 with supplier sales up 4.1 percent and volumes up 2.3 percent.  Distilled spirits suppliers and marketers also marked the sixth straight year of increasing their market share relative to beer in 2015. 

“The positive performance of distilled spirits is the result of many factors including market modernization, product innovation, consumer premiumization and hospitality tax restraint,” said DISCUS President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz.

DISCUS reported strong growth in every whiskey category for the second straight year, with revenues rising 8 percent.  Super premium whiskeys were particularly popular among American consumers with luxury Bourbon, Scotch, Canadian and Irish whiskeys all recording double-digit gains.  Other categories performing ahead of the distilled spirits average growth included Tequila, with another exceptional year of 9.4 percent sales growth, and Cognac, with sales growth of 16.2 percent.

Category Highlights for 2015

DISCUS estimated that overall retail sales of distilled spirits in the U.S. market reached nearly $72 billion in 2015, supporting 1.4 million jobs in the hospitality industry. 

Additionally, the spirits sector achieved a slight increase in market share relative to beer for the sixth straight year in 2015.  Total market share gains by spirits compared to beer since 2000 totaled 6.7 points, with each point of market share equaling approximately $680 million in supplier sales for a total of $4.6 billion.

Several key factors contributed to the spirits sector’s continued growth, including:

l Demand for American whiskeys – Bourbon, Tennessee and Rye – booming in the U.S. and abroad

l Millennials of legal drinking age interest in discovery driving innovation and premiumization

l State legislatures showed
hospitality tax restraint protecting
jobs and consumers

l Modernized alcohol laws expanding consumer access and choice

l Focus on craft-style, artisanal
products benefiting both large and small producers

l Growth of micro-distilleries generating excitement in the spirits sector

l Cocktail culture continuing to define nightlife in cities across the country. 

Additional 2015 Top Performers

Both Irish Whiskey and Single Malt Scotch continued their rapid growth with revenues up 19.9 percent and 13.5 percent, worth $664 and $732 million, respectively, as reported by DISCUS Chief Economist David Ozgo.  Cognac sales were also up an impressive 16.2 percent, generating $1.3 billion in revenue, and Tequila revenues grew 9.4 percent, generating $2.3 billion revenue.  Despite growing only 0.5 percent, Vodka sales reached $5.8 billion.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) March 2016 Editions Sun, 21 Feb 2016 19:54:36 -0500
Protect Your Livelihood

Get Involved...Stay Involved   

The Maryland 2016 Legislative session begins in two days (it is January 11th as I type this) … There is no doubt that Chain Store legislation is a concern of the entire industry as is Dram Shop legislation.  As in year’s past, you can expect these industry hot topics to arise during this year’s session.  Chain stores being allowed to enter the Maryland marketplace is a dangerous prospect to the independent beer, wine and liquor retailer.  As in year’s past, I am again iterating 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 my annual ‘How To’ on getting involved and protecting your livelihood …

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’ businesses.  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 your State Senator and State Delegates.  

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 ‘resources’ area of 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 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:39:52 -0500
Caught In the Draft

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


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

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

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

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

No Blueprint Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Study

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

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

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:27:43 -0500
Breakthru Beverage Group Launched

Charmer Sunbelt and Wirtz Beverage Begin New Venture

Breakthru Beverage Group, an innovative beverage wholesaler formed by Charmer Sunbelt and Wirtz Beverage, was established on January 1 and has launched in 19 markets including Maryland and The District of Columbia. 

“Breakthru Beverage is built upon the best of our legacy operations while setting a new path and approach forward,” explained Greg Baird, Breakthru Beverage President and CEO.  “Our vision for the future is focused on excellence and how we can be a stronger and more innovative partner for our suppliers and customers in all of our markets.”

W. Rockwell Wirtz and Charles Merinoff will lead Breakthru Beverage Group as Co-Chairmen of the Board.  Daniel Wirtz will serve as Vice-Chairman and on the Operating Committee with Charlie Merinoff. Together, they will oversee the integration of the businesses, manage and direct strategic planning and play a key role in leading supplier relations.  Greg Baird, as President and CEO, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations, and will have organizational oversight and direct management of the senior leadership team. 

“The name Breakthru was chosen very deliberately,” noted Danny Wirtz. “We truly believe we can challenge the boundaries of the traditional distributor and bring a focused and insightful approach to how we do business.”

In Maryland, Reliable Churchill will now operate as Breakthru Beverage Maryland.  The leadership, expertise and brand portfolios customers are accustomed to remain unchanged.  The company will also maintain existing facilities, including corporate offices, and continue to employ more than 500 people statewide.

In Washington DC, Washington Wholesale will now operate as Breakthru Beverage Washington DC.  As in Maryland, the leadership, expertise and brand portfolios customers are accustomed to remain unchanged.  The company will also maintain existing facilities and continue to employ more than 150 people District-wide.

“The pace at which we are moving should indicate the level of commitment and excitement we have about Breakthru,” said Baird.  “Not only is our integration work well underway, but early indications are that our local markets teams delivered excellent results during the critically important holiday selling period”

“We have put together a significantly expanded, unified footprint that will bring execution, operational and brand building excellence to life in a way that all of our supplier partners are looking for,” concluded Baird. 

Breakthru Beverage Group will employ more than 7,000 associates and with its affiliates have operations in 19 markets across the country and Canada.  For more information, visit

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:25:04 -0500
A Look at the Best New Mezcals

Artisanal mezcals are on the charts with a bullet.  Consumers and mixologists actively looking for spirits loaded with character and authenticity have struck gold with the expanding roster of artisanal, 100% agave mezcals. Stringent production standards have been put into place within the industry to ensure the utmost degree of quality such that the mezcals of today bear little resemblance to the worm-laded mezcals of the past.

These are indeed the glory days for the Oaxacan spirit. There are now more high quality mezcals being marketed in the United States than ever before. Demand for the spirit has caused the category to expand another 4.9% in volume to roughly 50,000 cases in 2014. Nearly all of the growth is attributable to the high-end, super-premium segments of the market—those with a retail price above $22—this according to the 2014 Technomic’s Adult Beverage Resource.

The differences between brands of 100% agave mezcals are years in the making. From cultivating agaves—also referred to as maguey—to the un-barreling of an añejo, the production cycle can easily exceed 18 years. It is a time-honored process, one in which every decision made along the way ultimately will impact the finished mezcal.

Diversification is a significant variable affecting the category. While most mezcals are distilled from the Espadín agave, there are growing numbers of brands on the market produced from one of several different varieties of agaves, including the Barril, Mexicano Amarillo, Coyote, Arroqueño, and the famed Tobalá agave, a rare variety that grows wild in the remote, rugged cliffs of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Change the variety of agave and completely alter the mezcal.

Point of Distinction

There is something intriguing about a mezcal handcrafted on a small, family-owned and operated distillery, which is referred to as a palenque. It’s a way of life passed down from one generation to the next. In many instances the production techniques have remained unchanged over the past century. An ideal example is El Buho 100% Agave Mezcal.

The El Buho farm/distillery [NOM 0110X] is located in Santiago Matitlan, Oaxaca. The mezcal is made from 100% Espadin agaves. After harvesting, the agaves are roasted for 7 days and nights in an underground stone pit with mesquite wood. The agaves are crushed using a burro-powered Tahona wheel to extract the plant’s sugar-rich juice, which is then transferred to a wooden vat for fermentation. The process is precipitated by natural, airborne yeast and takes about 2-3 days to completely ferment. Well water is added to the resulting mash before it is double distilled in a copper, 100-year old alembic still. The mezcal is bottled at 86 proof directly from the still without barrel aging, or the often-added worm. Trust that neither is needed in the least. 

The crystal clear mezcal has a velvety textured body and an herbaceous bouquet laced with spice, vanilla and pepper aromas. Its aromatics are enthralling. The mezcal has a gentle entry that quickly expands bathing the palate with the vegetal flavors of roasted peppers, dried herbs, cocoa and vanilla with light, delicate smoky notes. The finish is long, flavorful and satiny smooth. 

“Its balance and easy drinkability is what helps distinguish El Buho from the field. Some mezcals with more pronounced palates can be over-powering, especially for regular consumption,” contends Redford Parker, company president. “It also helps that, by increasing the batch size slightly, we were able to greatly improve consistency.

El Buho—named for a dark, mystical owl of local folklore—makes an excellent entree to the mezcal category. Do yourself a favor and taste the mezcal neat. That said it’s also superb brand to feature in cocktails and mixed drinks. 

Best of The New

With handcrafted mezcals gaining traction with American consumers, a great many new brands have crossed our border. In case you missed the fanfare of their initial release, here are the best new mezcals on the market.

Award-winning 3 Pueblos Mezcal is a rare offering from the mountainous state of Zacatecas and the town of Trinidad Garcia de la Cadena. The mezcal is twice distilled in a traditional copper pot still from 100% tequilana agaves. The brand holds the designation of origin and is certified by the Consejo Regulardor del Mezcal (CRM). 

The premium range includes a 6-month old reposado and 3 Pueblos Añejo, which is aged in charred American white oak barrels for a minimum of a year. The silver (joven) version is bottled fresh from the still.

“There is so much attention being lavished on our mezcal these days, it’s really an exciting time for us,” says Jesus Garciarivas. managing partner of importer Dibela Enterprises. “I think there are two reasons for the brand’s tremendous surge in popularity. First, bartenders and mixologists around the world have embraced 3 Pueblos and are introducing Millennials to the joys of mezcal. We have also noticed a dramatic increase in the number of mezcalerias—a bar or restaurant that specializes in mezcal—opening up in cities like New York, London, Madrid and obviously Mexico. They are doing a lot to fuel our fire.”

Equally engaging is Gracias a Dios Mezcal. Everything about the brand screams of authenticity. Its mouthfeel, aromatics and range of flavors are brilliant and etched with a palatable sense of place. There’s no mistaking that this is great mezcal.

Gracias a Dios Mezcal is handmade in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca by Maestro Mezcalero Oscar Hernández Santiago at the company’s distillery [NOM-0223X]. The brand currently markets three extraordinary spirits, including a Joven and Reposado distilled from Espadin, and the altogether sensational Gracias a Dios Tobalá Joven, an unaged mezcal distilled entirely from Tobalá agaves (agave potatorum) that grow wild in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The agaves are USDA and EU certified organic, meaning they were grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. The end result is a cleaner finished spirit. For each bottle the distillery produces, they plant 3 new agaves to take its place.

After harvesting, the mature agaves are brought to the distillery where they are cooked for 4 days in a rock-lined, wood-fired dirt oven. The cooked agaves are crushed using wooden mallets and a large stone, donkey-pulled Tahona wheel. The extracted, sugar-rich juice is transferred to oak vats where it is allowed to slowly ferment using naturally occurring, airborne yeast. The final step is to double distill the fermented musto through the distillery's small, copper pot stills. It is bottled at 45% alcohol (90 proof).

Gracias a Dios Tobalá Joven is exactly why legions of spirits enthusiasts are turning to mezcal as their drink of choice. The pristine spirit has a generous smoky, vegetal and citrus bouquet and a spicy, citrusy and herbal palate. Its lingering finish is spicy warm and slightly smoky. 

Hot New Recent Arrivals

Joya Azul Mezcal is an overnight success five generations in the making. These handcrafted spirits are produced by Ausencio León Ruiz y Sucesores [NOM 012X] in Tlacolula, Oaxaca. While the Joya Azul Joven and 6-month old Reposado are genuinely praiseworthy, it’s the Joya Azul Gran Reserva Añejo that’s so richly deserving of its critical acclaim.

The super-premium entry is made entirely from the Espadín Agave and matured in charred, American white oak barrels. And there it will remain for between 4 and 10 years until deemed ready by the maestro mezcalero. 

“The Gran Reserva Añejo is a highly sophisticated mezcal with a copper hue, a medium weight body and a distinctively spicy, fruity and smoky set of aromatics with light coffee and caramel notes,” says Onofre Santiago, president of importer Yagul Enterprises. “The palate is a glorious array of vanilla, cherries, figs blueberries, butterscotch and cashews. The finish is long and smooth. Joya Gran Reserva Añejo is an ideal mezcal to sip neat after a splendid meal.”

Also new to our shores is Mezcal Enmascarado, an exuberant spirit crafted by the Hernández family at Mezcales Santo Terruño Oaxaqueño [NOM 028X] in Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca. There are currently two Joven mezcals in the Enmascarado portfolio that are differentiated by alcohol content—45% (90 proof) and alcohol and 54% (108 proof). Both are made by traditional, artisanal methods. The Espadín agaves are cultivated for between 9 and 15 years in soil free of agro-chemicals and baked in earth and stone ovens. They are then milled by crushing the softened agave with a large, horse-drawn stone wheel. The expressed, sugar-rich juice is naturally fermented in open wooden vats and distilled in a copper pot still.

According to company co-owner Karla Moles, she and her associates closely monitor every step of production from planting the agaves to bottling the new mezcal. “Here we love and respect each part of the process—the earth (nature), the plant (life), the peasant hand (humans), the master (knowledge), and the product (experience).”

Aficionados of world-class mezcal have cause for celebration as the entire range of famed BRUXO Mezcals is now available in the States. There are a number of singular aspects to these artisanal gems. Each of the 5 BRUXO (pronounced brew-hoe) Mezcals showcase the artistic vision and technical skill of a different maestro mescalero, feature a different variety of maguey, and hail from a different growing region.

For example, BRUXO No. 1 is distilled by Master Mescalero Lucio Morales entirely from Espadín agaves at San Dionisio Ocotepec [NOM 0184X] in Oaxaca. BRUXO No. 2 Pechuga de Maguey, is the handiwork of Pablo Vazquez from Agua del Espino, and BRUXO No. 3 is made exclusively from Barril agaves by Master Cándido Reyes of San Agustín Amatengo. BRUXO No. 4 features a blend of Espadín, Barril and Cuishe by Master Hermanos Rodriguez from Las Salinas Coatecas, while BRUXO No. 5 is distilled from Tobalá agaves by Cándido Reyes of San Agustín Amatengo, Oaxaca. 

“BRUXO Mescals are a homage to the Maestro Mezcaleros we’ve been meeting –and to those we will meet—along our journey,” say BRUXO co-founders Memo Chávez and Santiago Barreiro. “We honor the recipes of such renowned artists like Lucio Morales, Pablo Vazquez, Tío Conejo and his son Cándido, and the Rodríguez Brothers. We honor them, their families and all the families that produce a special mezcal alongside México, since they are guardians of an ancestral heritage and an artisanal, almost mystical process.”


Read More]]> (Robert Plotkin) February 2016 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:21:31 -0500
The Way North

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


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

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

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

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

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


Premiumization Situation 

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

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

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

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

Crown Achievment

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

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

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

Connecting On-& Off-Premise

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

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

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

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



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

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

Canadian Whisky Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Skill Set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 13:16:50 -0500
A Look Ahead at the 2016 Maryland Legislative Session

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Behind the Bar At Plug Ugly's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:07:06 -0500
Escutcheon Brewing Co.

"Mind Your Draft"

Most craft brewers are entrepreneurs who have an interesting back story.  The Escutcheon Brewery, located in Winchester, Virginia, is a good example of an interesting story and some interesting beers.

Escutcheon Brewing Co. started with the friendship between two guys who both really like beer. John Hovermale and Art Major met while John was working to open a different brewery in Winchester. While that venture didn't work out, their friendship did.  Together, pint after pint, the pair discussed how they would "do it the right way," were they to launch a brewery of their own.

John, a master brewer, began at the Siebel Institute in Illinois more than fifteen years ago and has worked for breweries in Vermont, Maryland and Mississippi. Art is an accomplished entrepreneur who has founded other successful businesses. Although he doesn't boast the same experience brewing. The combination of their backgrounds and experiences, as well as their passions and drive to create good beer, were the perfect ingredients to build Escutcheon Brewing Co.

“John brews the beer; Art keeps the lights on,” explains Kyle Kersey, VP Sales and Marketing at Escutcheon.  “John developed the recipes and brewery design; Art built the branding.  They both drink the beer.  Art spent some time in the merchant marine and wanted to incorporate that experience into the brewery. As such, the brand name, beer names and even the tap room design all carry a nautical theme.”

"When Art said he wanted to have our theme be related to the industrial maritime industry I thought, 'Sure, we're 150 miles from the ocean … that makes sense.' What a jerk," states John.

“Now, after building the brewery from the ground up, the men have grown to absolutely detest one another,” Kyle jokes.  “Luckily, the quality of the product allows them to continue working together – proving good beer heals all wounds!” 

The Story on The Logo

In the mid-1800s, a nearly 30-year-old man named Samuel Plimsoll attempted to become a coal merchant in England.  Although he failed and was reduced to destitution, he learned to sympathize with the struggles of the poor.  When his good fortune returned, he focused his efforts on creating regulations for what were known at the time as "coffin ships." The corrupt owners of these overloaded and often heavily-insured ships would risk the lives of the crew, knowing that they would benefit whether the ship sank or arrived at its destination.

After many years of fighting, Plimsoll, then a member of the British Parliament, championed a bill known as the Merchant Shipping Act. This new law forced ships to place a mark … known as a Plimsoll Mark … on the hull, indicating the safe limit to which a ship may be loaded, ie. the maximum draft (or how deep the ship sits in the water),  saving countless lives in return.

In honor of Samuel Plimsoll, Escutcheon Brewing Co.'s logo is a Plimsoll Line, forever reminding their drinkers, to "Mind Your Draft."

 At Escutcheon the team obviously has a lot of fun, while taking their beer very seriously.  These beers include: Bremen's Harbor Berliner Weisse; Growler Kölsch; Agonic Line Lager; Bowditch American Pale Ale; Plimsoll India Pale Ale; Blackstrake Stout; and the most recent edition, John Riggins 4th and 1 Pilsner.

John Riggins 4th and 1 Pilsner has been crafted in collaboration with the NFL Hall of Fame running back.  Mr. Riggins' friend and business partner, Art Major recently stated, “We consider our partnership with John Riggins (pictured on the left) to be a real game-changer, and we're excited as hell about this beer. Any excuse to spend time drinking beer with John is a good excuse – and making a beer for him is a REALLY good excuse.”


While in the brewery sampling his new brew, Mr. Riggins said, “I've known Art Major for awhile, and when I thought of the possibility of brewing a beer to my liking, Art's name was the only name on the list." Mr. Riggins continued, “Not because there weren't other possibilities, but because I know [Art] doesn't half-step anything, and after meeting Brewmaster John Hovermale, it became obvious Art had chosen his brewmaster wisely. In my opinion, John Hovermale (pictured on the right) may have created a Pilsner that will put a fork in the road of the Pilsner Parkway. 4th and 1 Pilsner may be the road less travelled, but most enjoyed.”

Escutcheon is distributed in in Maryland by Kenco and in DC by Kysela Pere Et Fils.  For further information, contact Kyle Kersey, VP Sales and Marketing, Escutcheon Brewing at 703-689-1039 or kyle@escutch

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 11:58:20 -0500
Casey’s Bar and Restaurant Holds Charity Golf Tourney

I always enjoy hearing about good deeds being done by members of the industry.  I came across something that is very worthy of some press.  Casey’s Bar and Restaurant in Parkville, MD recently hosted their 7th annual golf tournament in honor of three of their favorite customers on the spectrum (the Autism Spectrum) … Christina Pollizzi, CJ Manouse, and Eric Kane. 

Owners Casey Brooks and his mom, Terry Santoro started their annual golf tournament as a way for employees and patrons to get together and have fun outside of the establishment.  There was no specific charity. More recently proceeds were donated to a local church. This year, however, Casey wanted to support an organization that works to provide resources, research, and awareness to his patrons. He chose Autism Speaks and he worked hard to get sponsorships from his distributors and donations from nearby businesses. Most of all, he needed golfers.  Well, he got them, lots of them.  Casey’s efforts paid off as he raised $5,000 to benefit Walk Now for Autism Speaks: Baltimore. 

This industry is full of people and organizations giving back to their communities in very heart-warming ways.  If you or your company has conducted a fundraiser, let us know about it.  We are very happy to tout your efforts here in the Beverage Journal.


Here are Susan Pereles, Autism Speaks; Kelli and Kayla Manouse, mother and sister of CJ Manouse; and Casey Brooks,
Casey's Bar and Restaurant.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2016 Editions Tue, 22 Dec 2015 11:54:06 -0500
Wine and Cocktails Take a Can-Do Approach

Lifting a Page from Craft Beer’s Marketing Manual.

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

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

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

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

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


Spirited Novelty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Surprising Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Rosé Champagnes

Listed alphabetically, with top favorites in bold face 



Bollinger Rosé

Delamotte Brut Rosé

Deutz Brut Rosé

Drappier Brut Rosé

Drappier Brut Rosé Nature (Zero Dosage)

Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige

Fleury Brut Rosé

Gosset Grand Rosé Brut

Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé Classique

Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Reserve

Henriot Brut Rosé

Lanson Brut Rosé

Lanson Extra Age Brut Rosé

Moët & Chandon Brut Rosé Imperial

G.H. Mumm Brut Rosé

Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé


Première Cuvée

Pascal Doquet Brut Rosé Premiers Crus

Perrier-Jouët Blason de France Brut Rosé

Philipponnat Brut Reserve Rosé

Ruinart Brut Rosé

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé



Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2004

Deutz Brut Rosé Millesimé 2009

Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé 2006

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2006 or 2004

Louis Roederer Brut Rosé 2008

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004


Prestige Cuvée

Gosset Célébris Rosé Extra Brut 2007

Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis Rosé NV

Krug Rosé NV

(Moët & Chandon) Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé 2002

Perrier-Jouét Cuvée Belle Epoque Rosé 2004

Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé 2004 or 2006

Ruinart, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  Rosé 2004 or 2005

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making The Connection

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Crémant de Bourgogne

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Natural Wine

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

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

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

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

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) December 2015 Editions Thu, 19 Nov 2015 09:53:47 -0500
Wives Tales and Sea Lawyers

 “Sea Lawyer” is a maritime term first used in the US Navy in the 1800s.  A sea lawyer is someone who speaks authoritatively, and gives advice about rules and regulations even if he/she has no idea what they are talking about. Wives tales, folklore and near truths are their stock in trade.  They casually pass along myths, regardless of their factual basis, from one generation to the next.  In today’s beer selling world, the industry equivalent of sea lawyers are still passing along bad scoop just as sailors did in Old Ironsides navy. 

In an industry so highly regulated, one wonders how wives tales and sea lawyers can exist.  But here is the problem. A majority of the people, who now work in the alcohol industry are relatively new to the business. This fact isn’t isolated to any one level of the three-tier system, but is true across all levels of the industry.  It is equally true at both the major brewer and craft brewery level, at the distributor level and at the retail level.  This isn’t to knock new people, but it brings to light the fact that new people don’t have the same body of knowledge as the more experienced and tenured industry members of yesteryear.  The beer industry currently suffers from a lack of “institutional memory.”  Knowledge and understanding take time to acquire while false or erroneous information doesn’t have the same time requirement.

A perfect example is a recent ad in the trade paper Mid Atlantic Brewing News.  A brewer placed an ad that showed a beer label with a character wearing a Santa hat. What’s wrong with that? Well, it clearly violates industry advertising guidelines that alcohol advertising shouldn’t contain a depiction of Santa Claus.  This reference could give children an erroneous impression that a relationship exists between Santa and alcohol, and industry leaders have long agreed this type of advertising was not good for business.  The advertising guideline about Santa was developed within the industry by the Beer Institute, the brewers’ trade group, in an effort to self-regulate, but, it is not law.

A widely held myth about the beer business is that regulations and guidelines governing beer marketing and advertising are codified at both the federal and state level.  The fact is, with the exception of a few broad prohibitions, there is little law at either the state or federal level that regulate beer advertising/marketing in detail.  This is fortunate for the industry as self-policing and self-regulation works best in a free economy.

The intent of federal and state law is to provide an orderly marketplace in which one tier of the system doesn’t control the actions of another tier.  Laws at both levels attempt to protect consumers and promote control over the responsible use and consumption of alcohol and beer in particular.  More detailed and specific guidelines are often provided by industry trade associations.

In a broad sense, the Federal government is concerned with four areas of how alcohol is sold in the United States.  

Federal Basic Trade Regulations

Tied House - addresses the degree to which financial ownership allows one tier to have undue influence over another tier through vertical integration.

Exclusive Outlet - competition and consumer choice are effected when one brewers/wholesalers brands become the only brands offered for sale by a retailer.  This is usually the result of a financial inducement based on direct investment in a business in a different tier, or when a member of one tier provides free goods or equipment to another tier.

Commercial Bribery - occurs when a brewer or wholesaler pays another tier member for exclusive rights to have only its products sold or to receive other favorable treatment.

Consignment Sales - is a practice whereby a supplier tells his customer you are not obligated to pay me until you have sold my product.  This regulation also includes the notion of a false sale in which a supplier agrees to take back unsold products.

The enforcement arm of the federal government is known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  This agency has long taken an interest in alcohol advertising through measured media i.e. television, radio, billboards, etc.  Recently TTB concluded, that in its view, social media is a new form of advertising.  This past Spring TTB came forth with guidance that says social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. serve the same function as traditional forms of advertising.  Website home pages, blogs, microblogs and links are all included in this communication.  Social media messages must, therefore, conform to established advertising standards such as:

Statements in advertising must be fair and true.

They cannot disparage competition.

Messages must not be obscene or indecent.

Statements about products and graphics should not mislead the consumer.

The consumer should not be misled through false

False health related claims that induce a consumer to purchase are not allowed.

The name and origin of the product must be conspicuously stated, be legible and clearly part of the message.

Blogs, microblogs, email blasts and other communication via the internet must adhere to these standards.


The State of Maryland Comptroller’s Office, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, (ATT) publishes regulations and bulletins that promulgate how the beer business is to be conducted within the state.  The agency provides guidance to all three tiers of the alcohol industry regarding allowable marketing and trade practices.  In an overall sense, ATT efforts are intended to promote an orderly marketplace in which no tier dominates or has undue influence over another tier.  Monetary payments and other inducements are prohibited that would encourage the discrimination and unequal treatment of a retailer by a supplier.  And, state regulations define the type of involvement a brewer and wholesaler can have with consumers.

The Beer Institute

Located in Washington, DC, the Beer Institute is a trade association of the major brewers.  Over time, it has developed a broad array of marketing and advertising guidelines to keep its members and their customers out of trouble and in compliance with alcohol regulations.  It is the overall philosophy of the Beer Institute that beer is a beverage intended for use by adults in a responsible manner.

Some of the Beer Institute's
most important marketing and advertising guidelines include:

Beer advertising cannot make false claims about the qualities of a specific beer or beer in general.

Advertising can’t boast unsubstantiated health claims.

Beer advertising cannot make false claims that users can attain status in education, athletics, professional or social through its use.

Advertising cannot claim that social and other problems can be solved by drinking beer.

Advertising and marketing materials should not include images of lewd or indecent topics including graphic nudity.

Sexually explicit activity cannot be claimed as a result of consuming beer.

Religious themes or images should not be used.

Beer advertising cannot be used to disparage competing beers.

Claims cannot be made that a competitor’s beers contain additives or objectionable ingredients.

Recycling and anti-littering campaigns should not be disparaged.

There should not be depictions of drinking and driving.

No representations should be made of underage people consuming beer.

Appeals should not be made to underage people to consume beer. 

People portrayed in beer ads must be at least 25 years old.

Beer product shots may be used in media advertising as long as 71.6% of the audience is expected to be of legal age.

Advertising may show beer being consumed but not at a rapid rate or to excess.

Marketing materials and advertising may not show people not in control after consuming beer.

Beer consumption may not show situations where there is a question of personal safety.

A depiction of Santa Claus cannot be used in marketing or advertising materials.

Combining industry guidelines with law has kept the beer industry as a responsible economic entity in this country. It is important, therefore, to know the facts of the law and industry guidelines as they relate to your part in the marketing and sale of beer.  Otherwise, it is easy to put your job and your company at risk to substantial fines or loss of its federal and state permits to operate. Agents at the state and federal level are willing to help you and your company stay out of trouble, as is the Beer Institute and your local trade associations.

The headquarters of TTB is located in Washington, DC.  Their phone is 202-455-2272.  The agency also has a District Field Office which is in Philadelphia, PA.  That phone number is 202-453-3144.

Maryland’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division is located at 110 Carrol Street in Annapolis.  The phone number is 410-260-7388.

The Beer Institute is located in Washington, DC.  202-737-2337.

It is not difficult to comply with either the spirit or the letter of the law if you make the effort to ask questions before you act.  It is also important to have some knowledge about the most important facets of federal, state and local law as they relate to selling and promoting beer.  There is an old legal maxim that says, “Ignorance is no excuse for the law.” If you have doubts about your plan of action, ask questions of qualified experts at TTB or Maryland’s ATT.  There is no benefit to be gained by listening to sea lawyers and their wives tales. 


Read More]]> (Super User) December 2015 Editions Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:43:21 -0500
Raven Beer, The Taste is Poetic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2015 Editions Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:31:32 -0500
Bruce Wills Named Boordy Vineyards’ National Sales Director

Bruce Wills has assumed the position of National Sales Director for Boordy Vineyards and will be responsible for managing the distribution and sales of Boordy wines in Maryland, the mid-Atlantic region, and beyond.

Bruce began his wine career in the early 1970’s working in both retail liquor stores and distribution.  In 1985 Bruce joined the Robert Mondavi Winery, serving as their mid-Atlantic representative for 11 years, spanning the period when that winery was a central figure in the renaissance of California wines.  Following Mondavi, Bruce has held management positions with William Deutsch & Sons, Rosemont Estate, and for the past eleven years he served as Sales Director for Old Bridge Cellars, an importer and marketer of fine wines from around the world.

Regarding his new position, Bruce said, “I love wine and am excited about the future of local wine; Boordy is Maryland’s first winery; it has always been an industry leader and takes quality very seriously.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to represent Boordy’s wine portfolio to the many friends that I have made throughout my career.”

According to Boordy Vineyards’ president, Rob Deford, “It is a profound honor to have someone of Bruce’s caliber and experience join Boordy Vineyards.  He believes in the potential of our wines in regional and national markets.  “National Sales Director” may seem like a somewhat grand title for a winery that is principally distributed in one state, but we have a grand vision for Boordy, and I am confident that Bruce can help us realize it.”

Best wishes Bruce.


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) December 2015 Editions Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:08:32 -0500
2015 Holiday Gift Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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















Read More]]> (Beverage Network) November 2015 Editions Fri, 23 Oct 2015 06:01:16 -0400
Ocean City Distilling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 15:53:30 -0400
Maryland Microbrewery Festival

The historic Union Mills Homestead recently hosted the Maryland Microbrewery Festival.  This year was the 10th Anniversary of the event. The event celebrates the best of Maryland's handcrafted and distinctive microbrews and craft beers. Eighteen breweries were on hand, each with a variety of beers to sample.  The Festival was also the concluding event of Carroll County’s Beer Week … a celebration of Maryland craft beer, including Carroll County brewers and brewpubs, the region’s agricultural products used in making Maryland beer, and those establishments that sell these products.

Pictured above are Clint Griggs, The Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott City; and Chad Twigg, Heavy Seas Beer; enjoying the Maryland Microbrewery Festival.




Here are Joshua Smith, Frederick News-Post; and his wife Jessica enjoying a beverage from Frederick County’s Brewer’s Alley at the Festival.



Avid home brewers Roger and Brent Miller enjoy sampling Maryland’s finest craft brews at the Maryland Microbrewery Festival.



Justin Kelley and Brooks Bosley join Sarah Weetenkamp, Greenmount Station in Hampstead; at the Festival.


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 15:42:12 -0400
Glenfiddich 14

Glenfiddich Pays Tribute To The American Whiskey Industry With 14 Year Old Release.

Glenfiddich – one of the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whiskies – has recently released a new expression to its permanent portfolio: Glenfiddich 14 Year Old.  Exclusive to the United States, the bourbon barrel reserve is a celebration of American spirit. It pays tribute to the shared history of American and Scotch whisk(e)y, and the American Oak ex-bourbon barrels that are the backbone of the single malt Scotch whisky industry. 

Glenfiddich 14 Year Old uniquely delivers a bourbon heart with the soul of single malt.  Matured for 14 years in ex-bourbon American Oak casks, the whisky delivers beautifully complex flavors of woody spices combined with ripe summer fruit, resulting from the spirit’s interaction with the casks. After waiting patiently for 14 years, Glenfiddich Malt Master, Brian Kinsman, finishes the whisky in deep charred new American Oak barrels supplied by The Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. The result: a rich, sweet and vibrant single malt.

Kinsman comments: “American Oak casks have had a significant influence on single malt Scotch whisky maturation and the flavor profiles we find today.  By maturing this expression in bourbon casks we’ve created a beautifully intense flavor, reflective of the relentless passion we have for producing incredible single malts. With notes of fresh oak and velvety caramel, our 14 Year Old remains true to Glenfiddich’s heritage of producing fruity and deeply flavored whiskies and is the perfect marriage of bourbon sweetness and Scotch complexity.”

Peter Gordon, Glenfiddich Company Director added: “As a family run company we’re able to be bold and innovative with our whisky making – and the exclusive Glenfiddich 14 Year Old is a wonderful example of this. We cherish our independence as it gives us the freedom to work with people who share our values – such as The Kelvin Cooperage, which is itself a family run company – and continue to create innovative whiskies of exceptional depth, distinction and diversity of flavor.”

Glenfiddich 14 Year Old is presented in a deep navy blue casing – inspired by the color of the Kentucky state flag – and is embossed with Glenfiddich’s iconic gold stag. The packaging is a celebration of the two whisk(e)y worlds and pays homage to the American whiskey industry’s contribution to single malt Scotch whisky. Glenfiddich 14 Year Old (43% ABV) is certified Kosher and will be available nationally this fall at luxury whisky retail stores and premium bars and hotels in the United States.

Malt Master Brian Kinsman’s Tasting Insight:     

Colour: Rich golden     

Nose: Deep vibrant vanilla oak notes with hints of citrus, caramelized brown sugar and cinnamon.  Baked apple and ripe summer fruits are balanced with the rich oaky aromas.       

Taste: Beautifully rich and sweet with layers of creamy toffee, woody spices, candied orange peel and fresh toasted oak.       

Finish: Long lasting with a lingering sweetness.      

Main Flavors: Vanilla sweetness, summer fruits, fresh oak.


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 15:39:38 -0400
Henry “Hoby” Wedler

Host of Francis Ford Coppola Winery's Tasting in The Dark

Henry “Hoby” Wedler is a blind graduate student at the University of California, Davis, founder of the nationally recognized chemistry camp for the blind and host of Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Tasting in the Dark experience.  When he’s not busy working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry or leading his blind or visually impaired chemistry camp students in conducting lab experiments through touch and smell, he turns his attention to wine – where he’s passionate about wine flavor and how it relates to chemistry.

Once per month Hoby travels to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and hosts Tasting in the Dark, a blind tasting experience that he helped establish with the Coppola winemaking team in 2011. The surprising and enlightening two-hour wine tasting, where guests are blindfolded and led to the Winemaker’s Lab, explores how flavors and aromas in wine are accentuated when experienced in complete darkness. Hoby believes that when a sighted person is in complete darkness, he or she feels more vulnerable and his or her senses become more heightened, bringing out more flavors in a wine.  

Blind since birth, Hoby was inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school, and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others in the wine industry, he gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people.   

Hoby also founded and teaches at an annual chemistry camp near Napa, California for blind and low-vision high school students. Chemistry Camp demonstrates to the students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing their dreams.

“Francis Ford Coppola Winery has been extremely fortunate to work with someone as talented as Henry Wedler to help develop Tasting in the Dark,” said Corey Beck, Director of Winemaking and General Manager.  “Not only has Henry been an inspiration to our guests and the employees of the winery but he has one of the best palates I've ever been around when it comes to wine tasting.”


Hoby Wedler, Francis Ford Coppola Winery; teaches his annual chemistry camp near for blind and
low-vision high school students.


Robert Burke, Reliable Churchill; Kara Regal, Francis Ford Coppola Winery; and Dean Stair, Reliable Churchill; assisted Hoby in conducting a fascinating wine tasting that explored how flavors and aromas in wine are accentuated by simply ‘turning off the lights.’ 



Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 15:31:43 -0400
Fielder’s Choice Raises $8,500.00

As a follow-up to my September column announcing the availability (as well as the fundraising efforts) of Heavy Seas’ “Fielder’s Choice” … Hugh and his team recently presented their donation of $8,500 to the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. This donation comes from the proceeds generated by the sale of their commemorative Fielder's Choice beer, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cal’s 2131 as well as the 20th anniversary of Heavy Seas.

The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2001 by baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., 12-year Major League Baseball veteran Bill Ripken, and members of the Ripken family. The Foundation honors the legend and spirit of Cal Ripken, Sr., who passed away in 1999. During his 37-year career with the Baltimore Orioles organization, Cal, Sr. was a pioneer for his way of teaching the basics of the game as well as the basics of life to both big leaguers and their youth league counterparts. The traits and lessons passed on by Cal, Sr. – leadership, work ethic, responsibility, and healthy living -- are brought to life through a character education curriculum created for at-risk youth.

The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is reaching out to underserved youth across the country. Through partnerships with youth-serving organizations and schools, the Foundation brings vital life lessons to America’s most impressionable population, using baseball as the hook to engage kids.

For more information, go to www.ripken or call 410 823-0043.


Here are Steve Salem, President, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation; Christopher Leonard, Director of Brewery Operations, Heavy Seas Beer; Hugh Sisson, Founder, Heavy Seas Beer; and Randy Acosta, Senior Director of Development, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) November 2015 Editions Thu, 22 Oct 2015 11:45:29 -0400