The Find: July 2012 Edition

Posted on | June 29, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Casa Noble, a boutique distillery that recently partnered with legendary musician Carlos Santana, has created two new collector boxes for their Crystal and Reposado tequilas. The sets celebrate Santana’s first four albums, released from 1969 to 1972. Each showcases the album artwork and includes two tulip glasses with a bottle of either Casa Noble’s Crystal (SRP $39.99) or Reposado ($49.99) tequila. Casa Noble represents more than 200 years and seven generations of distilling; their tequilas are known for their delicate balance of spiciness and sweetness.


The deliberately peculiar Hendrick’s Gin has kicked off a series of “Voyages Into the Unusual.” For three nights in five cities, a cast of characters is creating an Explorer’s Lounge, a Botanist’s den and an Apothecary. A signature “Hendrick’s Traveling Punch” will be modified to fit the best local seasonal ingredients in each port of call. The first two stops were Houston and San Francisco in June; Next up Chicago (Sept. 25th), Philadelphia (Oct. 16th) and New York City just in time for Halloween.


Hot on the heels of blockbuster The Avengers, Highland Park has launched Thor. Only 1,500 will reach the U.S., housed in a wooden frame echoing a Viking long ship and clocking in at an appropriately powerful 104 proof. Notes of ginger, stewed plums, fresh mango and cinnamon add complexity. Thor is the first of a planned series of four unique whiskies. No, the next will not be Hulk; the others, like Thor, will take inspiration from legendary Nordic gods.

SRP: $199


Five years ago, Viridian Spirits and historian T. A. Breaux helped lift the U.S. ban on absinthe, and Viridian’s Lucid became the first brand legally available here since 1912. Viridian is now releasing three limited-quantity, ultra-premium replications of absinthes made with historically accurate ingredients. Jade C. F. Berger originally produced Switzerland, is characterized by a bold bouquet, full body and distinct herbal notes. Jade 1901 is a tribute to the best known pre-ban absinthe with an appetizing herbal aroma and a smooth, lingering aftertaste. Jade Esprit Edouard is a faithful reproduction of one of the most famous and highly regarded Belle Époque absinthes.

SRP: $99.99 each

As part of the 2012 Live Music Series, Jim Beam presented Operation Homefront with a check for $100,000 onstage at Kid Rock’s concert in Boston, the first show in the 2012 series.


Building on its music legacy and commitment to our nation’s troops, Jim Beam is staging a string of six live concerts this summer, featuring Kid Rock, Daughtry, David Gray, Darius Rucker, Bush and Train. Extending beyond the concerts, Jim Beam is also offering cover songs recorded by its Live Music Series artists. Songs being covered come from Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and are being offered as downloads exclusively via Specially marked bottles of Jim Beam, Jim Beam Black, Red Stag and Devil’s Cut bourbons have all the details.


Speakeasy: Rémy Cointreau’s Mark Breene

Posted on | June 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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SVP & Chief Marketing Officer

The Beverage Network sits down with Mark Breene to discuss the return of luxury, Cognac’s potential in the U.S. and the importance of authenticity.

On Luxury

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Rémy’s portfolio is all about luxury. Have you seen the return to superpremiums that many economists talk about?

MARK BREENE: Absolutely. We are entirely in the luxury space—our range starts at about $30 and goes up to $2,500 for the Louis XIII Rémy bottling. As the economy has picked up, consumer confidence has increased and we are seeing greater spending on superpremium brands. Just look at last year: In 2011, spirits grew about 2.9% in volume, but the superpremium segment grew by double digits, so there is no doubt luxury is coming back.
After all, why do people consume spirits? They love the variety, the style and the sophistication. The more you move up the scale towards luxury, the more you get the things that people are looking for.

TBN: Are you seeing this return to consumer spending happening both on- and off-premise?

MB: Our portfolio is growing in both channels, particularly now that the on-premise has come back so strongly. Full service restaurants back up to pre-recession levels which is great to see. In fact, we are not only getting more people going to the on-premise, but we see them spending more every time they go—particularly on luxury cocktails. This has been a huge factor in the growth of the cordials category, for example.

On Cordials & Cognac

TBN: You mentioned cordials. After years of decline, the category is     indeed showing growth, but only at the premium level, correct?

MB: Yes, the value segment continued to decline in 2011, but the overall category is growing thanks to very strong growth by some luxury cordial brands, such as Cointreau. In addition to on-premise recovery, another big trend contributing to the category increase is the reemergence of classic cocktails.
Cointreau has been at the heart of so many classic cocktails since it was created in 1874, and we are working to build that awareness. One thing we do is share some of the original cocktail books—many are 100 years old—and they all call for Cointreau. It’s one of the only brands historically called out by name. We also have a trade program called Bartender Engagement, which educates bartenders on how to make great cocktails.

TBN: How do you get the cocktail craze to translate to the off-premise?

MB: It’s more challenging for sure. Consumers are very adventurous with food choices and are willing to experiment in the kitchen with trying new recipes, but we have found that they are hesitant to try creating their own cocktails. So we developed a consumer-targeted program called Rendezvous where in literally in 15 minutes we can teach people how to make three simple but really great classic cocktails. We help them gain confidence for at-home entertaining.

TBN: What about Cognac. It’s on fire in Asia, but what opportunities do you see here?

MB: Certainly we see the potential in the U.S. as enormous as well. We are looking at places where we can bring new consumers to the market. For example, Hispanic consumers aren’t the traditional consumer for Rémy, but we know Mexican-Americans enjoy drinking status-driven brands and we know that brandy is a big category for that demographic, so it’s not an enormous stretch to say that they would enjoy drinking Rémy in the U.S. Similarly, we are reaching out to Vietnamese-Americans. Cognac is huge in Asia, and brands like Rémy 1738 do really well there, so that gives us the opportunity to promote it here to that ethnic group.
The other opportunity we see is bringing innovation to the category. Last year we launched Rémy V, a clear eau de vie from the house of Rémy, which is rolling out nationally now. It’s a mixable white spirit which enables us to bring more consumers to the category. Priced the same price as the VSOP ($39.99) we are currently selling every bottle we can get right now. Though Rémy skews slightly male, Rémy V skews female, so it’s helping us bring more balance to the portfolio.

TBN: With the various age statements, Cognac can be complicated. Have you seen overall consumer and trade knowledge increase?

MB: People definitely are more educated, but there is still a ways to go and we think that is our job. We have found the best way to increase education is to engage consumers and trade, so we’ve launched a program called The Heart of Cognac. It’s a 45-minute program that brings the experience of being in Cognac to the U.S. and we are offering it to retailers, wholesalers and consumers around the country.

On The Industry

TBN: Innovation seems to be a particular priority for Rémy right now. How important is innovation to success in the U.S. marketplace?

MB: The numbers easily reveal how critical innovation is in the U.S. market and we want to be part of that. American consumers are wonderfully open to trying new things. Tradition is important, but when they see new things, they want to try them. We have an innovation team in France currently, but we are creating an innovation team in the U.S. because we believe successful innovation has to be created in local markets. And we’re always learning as we go. For example, we launched Cointreau Noir a few years ago we learned that while consumers loved the liquid, we weren’t doing the best job with the package, so we’ve repackaged and repositioned it and are rolling it out again in a few months.

TBN: Rémy USA has also taken a new, more aggressive approach to advertising.

MB: Our communication always evolves as consumers do. We will talk to our consumers wherever they are, so we’ve shifted our communication strategy—and we’re investing more than we ever have in the past, which is a sign of our confidence in the upside of the market.
We’re running our first ever national TV ad campaign for Rémy Cognac, which hit in June with the tagline “Things are Getting Interesting.” Yet as more consumers move to digital media outlets, we are also heavily spending on sites like,—any place we can speak with young men, our target audience.
TBN: Rum is a category that Rémy has become increasingly invested in. Where do you see rum headed?
MB: People have been talking for many years about rum taking off, and we believe this will happen, but we must drive it. Rum is incredibly unique in that there is really something for every palate—there are rums that taste like vodka, those that taste like whisky, then all of the flavor variants. With our Mt. Gay brand, we have a growing number of super premium offerings—Mt. Gay Black 100-proof, and XO and 1703 Old Cask Selection. Our newest brand, Brugal, offers a uniquely dry Especial white, which isn’t sweet like most white rums and perfect for people with a dry palate.

TBN: What do you feel is the most  important element a brand can  possess in today’s market?

MB: Authenticity. I see it as part of the luxury trend returning. Consumers want to learn about brands more than ever before—the stories behind them, how they are made, who the cellar master at the distillery is. We are looking for more ways to tell stories around our heritage-rich portfolio at sampling events and through educational programs to trade and consumers.

This is something we look for in brands we acquire or develop as well, and we see tremendous opportunities in categories that we don’t currently play in. I suspect if we sit down in a year from now, I’ll show you how far we’ve gone from the portfolio we have today.   

Talkin Tech: Getting Realistic About Social Media

Posted on | June 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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I was recently asked what advice I would give an audience of wine store owners who want to use social media to increase sales. My response was not to bother, which reflected the experience of the retailers in the room, none of whom had an eCommerce website. My answer shocked me a little, as I’ve had great experiences using social media, but from a practical perspective, the measurable impact of social media for a retail store is pretty small. For a store with no experience selling online there are several more significant steps to take that will produce sales.

A recent Wired magazine article projected that 80% of U.S. companies will participate in social media marketing this year. The article likens the current climate to the early days of TV where companies are experimenting with the platform, but aren’t seeing or expecting to see revenue from it. This lack of accountability is partly due to the fact that social media marketing can be notoriously difficult to measure, and are unpredictable in their impact.

A review of the web analytics for the top 40 retailers on the BevSites eCommerce platform gives a pretty consistent view of the impact social media has in driving referrals to the store website. This group of stores includes several multi-million-dollar websites that are pretty sophisticated with their marketing. Yet, only 10 stores were able to generate more than 1% of their referrals from social media.

It could be argued that the benefits of social media don’t show up with analytics tracking. New customers might be influenced by reviews or a post from their friend’s Facebook news feed, but the transaction or even the visit to the website might not follow a measurable path from social media. It is also true that the impact of social interactions accumulates over time and can have a multiplier effect.

The following are the different levels of social engagement we see for wine stores:

  • The minimal level of effort involves claiming your Yelp, Foursquare and Google+ Local pages. These pages represent your store; setting them up with good pictures and logistical details is well worth the effort.
  • The next step is creating content. At a minimum these stores are republishing their email campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. This grows to include interesting articles from other sources.
  • The final stage is where things start to get social; where customers are being engaged. The goal here is growing the comments, likes and retweets you receive against your content. Be patient and expect small numbers.

In deciding your level of participation, you want to look at it in the context of your overall marketing strategy and how social media fits into that plan. Who are your customers and where do they hang out? Also important: who is going to feed the beast? It is rare for a store owner to be drawn to social media and have the capacity to feed it while juggling the priorities of the store. It is more common for stores to set loose salespeople who are already active online and gravitate to social media to express themselves.

Wind From The East: The Ascent of Eastern European Wine

Posted on | June 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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By sheer geography, geology and climate, there is no raeson that countries such as Croatia, pictured here, cannot compete favorably in the global wine arena. [photo: Cliff Rames]

When two Feteasca Neagra varietal wines from Romania received high marks and recommendations in the 2012 Ultimate Wine Challenge in New York recently, not much notice was taken. But for winemakers and reps from former Soviet Bloc countries, the respectable showing is another small step in their effort to increase awareness and interest in the wines coming from a vast area of Eastern Europe.

Not many wine buyers, sellers and sommeliers have shown much interest in the indigenous and international-style wines coming from the region, but a recent willingness by producers to market and promote their wares has started to erase the image of pre-1990 Eastern Europe as a source of indifferent  bulk wine.

“There’s no lack of interest, that’s for sure, in the last year or two. People are looking for new and exciting things, wines that are novelties but especially the authenticity you can find,” says Cliff Rames, a sommelier who represents Wines of Croatia in the U.S.

A combination of trends has spurred a slow increase in awareness of these wines: the growing importance of the U.S. as a wine export market; the evolution of the wine business in the post-Soviet nations; in some cases the entrance into the Euro zone and its accompanying financial and trade support; and the overall investment and improvement in modern techniques.

As nations including Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the new states of the former Yugoslavia—Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro—shook off the shackles of a command economy, many winemakers rejected over-cropping, bulk production and sloppy techniques, says Frank Dietrich, owner with his wife Zsuzsanna Molnar of Eastern European import specialist Blue Danube Wine Company. Along the way, improved wines and traditional varietals have been encountered by an influx of Western tourists who, just as in Italy in the 1980s, have embraced these nation’s culture and history and returned with a taste for what they drank there.

“These are countries that have an enormous history far more meaningful than 50 years of Communism, including with wine,” Dietrich points out. He notes a steady improvement in the wines he samples and in customer interest, and sees promise in the evolution in wines made from Furmint, Plavac Mali and Feteasca Regala, among other varietals.

Sitting in a broad swath southeast of Austria and east of Italy on the same latitude as Bordeaux, this region has been producing wine since the time of ancient Greece. Ironically, Rames cites the recent Greek efforts in U.S. promotion and marketing as an example of what’s needed to expand U.S. interest.


Still, few retailers have taken large positions on these wines. Neb Mrvaljevic, a Montenegro native who co-owns the wine bar House Red Vinoteca in Chicago and partners in the importing company Vino and Spiritus, carries a handful of Croatian, Serbian and Istrian wines, which he says are becoming easier to sell. “New technology and greater investments have really improved these wines quite a bit, and that will only continue,” he says. Additionally, he says, in markets like Chicago, younger consumers and buyers are more interested in taking risks and are less likely to prejudge wines based on origin; the hegemony of France/Italy/California doesn’t automatically interest them.

The number of returning tourists has helped considerably, says Ann Stephens, Eastern European wine buyer for Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Orange County, CA, mainly to make sense of geography and what’s made there. “There are a increasing number of people who have traveled to the former Yugoslavia and come back looking for wines from Croatia and Slovenia, but it still takes a lot of hand-selling and introducing people to the concept,” she says. Stephens especially looks to take on crisp and minerally white wines with little or no oak aging from the region, but is interested as well in the range of styles available from indigenous grapes.


Confronting the lingering prejudices about the region takes concerted efforts, says Gillett Johnson of International Vines, who is aiding Select Wines of Europe in its quest to strengthen Romanian wines in the U.S. Many of these wineries are unfamiliar with the idea of steady marketing support, clear and descriptive labels explaining the region and varietals, and the complexity of the U.S. market. Importation and distribution issues are a mystery to many, and interested consumers often have trouble locating the wines at retail. Some countries—notably Croatia—have programs in place to inform the trade. But then there’s price.

“People always somehow think that all wine should be cheap,” says Rames. “Ten dollars for some of
better wines from some of these countries, including Croatia, is an  unreasonable expectation.”

But as Stephens of Hi-Time notes, “Some of the delicious, simple wines I can retail for around $12, but others need to sell at $24 and customers rebel.” If the regions and varietals are mostly unknown, they remain difficult to move.


While many wineries in the enormous Eastern European region produce international-style wines, mostly Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, U.S. advisers seem convinced that developing the reputation of their indigenous varietals will be key to success here. Here is a quick guide to the major producing countries and the
leading varietals:

• Romania, the largest producer in Eastern Europe, has increased its U.S. presence through efforts like Great Wines of Romania, a consortium of six major producers. The consortium includes Murfatlar, which has more than 8,200 acres under vine. Another, Senator, produces Monser Feteasca Neagra 2009 Dobrogea, one of the two wines given a strong recommendation at the recent Ultimate Wine Challenge. From Romania, look for wines made from Feteasca Negra, Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala and Babeasca Neagra among the leading varietals.

• Slovenia has more than 28,000 wineries making between 80 and 90 million liters annually. More than 75% of the country’s production is white wine, and almost all is consumed domestically. Slovenia’s winemaking tradition has been influenced by Austria to the north and Italy to the west. Most of Slovene grapes are familiar varieties, especially from the part of the country close to Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy; look for Pinela, Rebula, Refosco, Welschriesling and others.

• More than 17,000 registered wine producers in Croatia produce 61 million liters, with 60 indigenous varietals. DNA testing has now demonstrated that Plavac Mali is genetically linked to Zinfandel. The majority (67%) of wine produced is white and from the interior of the country, and major local varietals include Grasevina and Malvazija Istarska.

• Hungary, which still holds a place in international consciousness for its sweet Tokaji wines, has attracted increasing attention for the dry versions of the varietal base of Tokaji: Furmint. Some producers are trying to reclaim the reputation of Egri Bikaver, the hearty red blend from the north.

• Homer in The Odyssey cited the wines of Thrace, now part of Bulgaria and Macedonia, as among the best. In addition to many international varietals, Dimyat, Muscat Ottonel, Pamid, Gamza and Red Misket are widely grown there today.

New Products & Promotions: July 2012 Edition

Posted on | June 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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 LeSutra is a new sparkling liqueur—launching in August—infused with premium vodka. Available in four natural flavors including Blueberry, Strawberry, Grape and Peach, LeSutra can be served alone or added to a variety of spirits for inventive cocktails. Grammy Award-winning music producer Timbaland is a partner in the brand, helping spread the word on LeSutra. Shaw-Ross International is the supplier-partner. 

Contact: / 631-396-2460

SRP: 375ml $19.99; 750ml $29.99


Bivio in Italian means “fork in the road.” Winemaker Marco Galeazzo creates richly textured, balanced wines that seamlessly integrate Old and New World styles, the hallmark of Bivio Italia Wines. Bivio Prosecco is a fresh, dry wine with a fruity and floral fragrance, harmonious taste and fine persistent bubbles. A versatile choice for food pairings on all occasions, Bivio Prosecco is marketed nationally by 585 Wine Partners.




Belgian Waffle and Popcorn are the 17th and 18th flavors added to the Georgi Vodka portfolio. These two new flavors lend themselves well to mixing in cocktail creations like Brunch Martinis made with Georgi Belgian Waffle (Blueberry Waffle Martini, Strawberry Waffle Martini, etc.) and the Crackerjack Martini made using Georgi Popcorn.



Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry is a mix of Southern Comfort infused with natural cherry flavor. The new addition follows on the heels of flavor additions including Southern Comfort Lime and Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper. Designed to appeal to a broad age range, this 70 proof spirit pairs easily with cola.

SRP: $16.99


Roscato, a new entry in the popular sweet red category, is a delicately sweet, gently fizzy wine from northern Italy’s Lombardy region. This wine is made from native local grape varieties Croatina, Teroldego and Lagrein. At 7% ABV, Roscato is excellent as an aperitif or paired with spicy foods and rich tomato sauces.

SRP: $11.99


Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob Ultra has a new addition—Michelob Ultra Light Cider. Made from crisp apples, Ultra Light Cider is gluten-free; it features a third fewer calories (at 120 cal/serving) and a mellow sweetness. Michelob Ultra Light Cider is available nationwide in six-packs of 12 oz. clear glass bottles.

SRP: $7-$8



Malibu has extended its line of pre-mixed cocktails with a new lower-calorie option, Caribbean Cosmo Light. This blend of Malibu Coconut with lime, orange and cranberry, is a tropical take on the traditional cosmo, and only 100 calories per 4 oz. serving. Malibu Caribbean Cosmo Light is the first in the line to come in a biodegradable 1.75L pouch and replaces the previous Caribbean Cosmo offering.

SRP: $19.99



HPinot Grigio is white when bottled and served, but until recently the grapes were not white on the vine. After a Bronco Wine Company employee heard of a single mutation of a Pinot Grigio plant producing white grapes, the winery’s viticulture team worked on the new varietal which is so special a patent was issued for the Tehachapi Clone Pinot Grigio, a clean and fresh wine, perfect for summer.



Giorgio & Gianni Sweet Red Lambrusco is poised to take advantage of the explosively popular Sweet Red category. The Lambrusco is a juicy, fruity, easy-drinking red with a pleasant sparkle on the finish. Its fashionable packaging is meant to catch attention. Imported by F.X. Magner Selections.

SRP: 750ml $5.99; 1.5L $9.99



Franco’s, known for consistent quality in bar mixes, has introduced two new dry mixes, Low-Cal Lemon and Low-Cal Lime. Both flavors are sugar-free, contain no preservatives and come in a moisture-proof poly foil pouch. Producing a long, creamy head, these mixes are meant for quality Collins, Margaritas, Sours and Daiquiris. 800-782-4508




The Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection offers Belgian-inspired barrel-aged beers. The collection includes New World (10% ABV), Thirteenth Hour (9% ABV), Stony Brook Red (9% ABV) and American Kriek (7% ABV). Each is unique, but all incorporate a special ale, Kosmic Mother Funk, blended into each at varying levels. Aged in wood and packaged in 750mL cork-finished bottles.

SRP: $9.99


Dave Phinney of Orin Swift and Joel Gott (Joel Gott Wines) collaborated to create the new Shatter Grenache in France’s Roussillon region. Made from Grenache grapes allowed to fully mature in the native black schist soil, the resulting wine is deep garnet, with rich cherry notes and a hint of soft oak. Shatter is imported and distributed by Trinchero Family Estates.

SRP: $30


The New Secret Ingredients: Apéritifs & Digestifs

Posted on | June 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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No longer obscure, vermouths, quinquinas and amaros become a bar menu wild card.

The Amaris cocktail at Amor y Amago features housemade dry vermouth.

With romantic stories of secret formulas concocted in remote European villages and handed down through generations, most apéritifs and digestifs had no place in America until very recently. Rediscovered by bartenders and importers who traveled abroad and came back enamored by the distinctive flavors, these once obscure elixirs are becoming an important part of cocktail culture.

Most European aperitifs are made from a wine base fortified with herbs, spices and other botanicals. The one we know most commonly is vermouth. Cocktail manuals of the 1930s and ’40s listed French Vermouth (dry) and Italian Vermouth (sweet) as an ingredient in nearly every recipe. Yet slowly through the decades, consumers began to favor wine and sweeter drinks. By the time the martini craze came back in fashion in the 1990s, vermouth was all but forgotten as an essential part of the drink itself.

Other aperitifs like Dubonnet and Lillet (called quinquinas with the bitter addition of quinine) were not being used by Americans as a pre-dinner apéritif to open up the appetite ritualistically as the French and Italians did. Nor were we capping off our meals with digestifs, or amaros (Italian for “bitter”) like Cynar or Fernet-Branca.

Thankfully, the past few years have changed that, with a revival of craft cocktails due to curious connoisseurs who embraced authentic products from yesteryear—but couldn’t easily find them in the United States. One person that came to the rescue (and is adored by many a bartender) was Eric Seed, who founded Haus Alpenz in 2005 and began importing or recreating obscure brands from the pages of history. Suddenly, Cocchi Americano and Bonal were new ingredients to play with, adding a fresh dimension to cocktail-making.

Many bartenders have been using these brands to put a spin on classic cocktails, substituting Maurin Quina for Campari in a Negroni or using amaros in whiskey-based drinks. At Bellocq at The Hotel Modern in New Orleans, Neal Bodenheimer says apéritifs are the center of their entire cocktail program. His staff tastes through their expansive vermouth and fortified wine selection like regular wine, developing a usage strategy for each.

Nearly all of the cocktails at Cocotte in Portland, OR, utilize aperitifs or amaros; examples include the La Nella Moda (Bulleit Rye, Amaro Ramazzotti, Dolin Rouge, Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters) and the Mère (Hendrick’s Gin, Dubonnet Rouge, lemon).  Co-owner Levi Hackett notes that aperitifs have an extra advantage for mixolgists: their lower alcohol content encourages people to try a few cocktails and still enjoy wine with dinner.

Digestifs, a less than sexy descriptive term, become more appealing when incorporated into cocktails or simply called by their Italian term, amaro. As a self-described early-adopter of amaro, Bodenheimer says the rise in bartender usage of these brands corresponds with the integration of homemade ingredients in cocktails and the fact that “people are drawn toward things they know the least about.”

Reaching End Users

For consumers, the language of aperitifs and digestifs is being learned by tasting them. More frequent usage on menus takes the fear out of ordering. And for a brand like Averna, framing this ancient bitter liqueur in a new light is part of a decidedly modern approach. With social media and hipster events in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Averna is hoping to be included in the bar repertoire as more than just a digestif.

Journeyman in Somerville, MA, offers an amaro section as part of the after-dinner drink menu, where patrons can choose a flight of three 1 oz. pours to sample a range. And New York City’s Amor y Amargo (Love and Bitters) is dedicated to bitters and vermouths, even offering a house made vermouth on tap in the Spanish style. Cocktails range from the classic Americano (house made sweet vermouth, Campari and water, carbonated and served on draught) to the Française Four-Play (Cognac, yellow Chartreuse, Lillet, Bonal).

While many European brands are still niche, some of the better-known ones are hoping to expand their consumer bases by keeping things simple. Lillet, for example, recently debuted a rosé version; it is being promoted straight, on the rocks, with a slice of grapefruit in place of the flamed orange peel popularized to accompany Lillet Blanc.

Aperol, one of the fastest-growing spirits on the market, is aiming to put its signature Aperol Spritz on the tip of the tongues of Americans from coast to coast. Keys to the effort: brand ambassadors helping bars create the perfect pour (3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part soda, over ice in a rocks glass or oversize wine glass); extensive social media (42,000 Facebook fans); and a marketing push to promote Aperol Spritz as a happy hour staple, via “mini sunset parties.” One sure sign of success: imitation. The low-calorie, low-alcohol bright orange Aperol Spritz has prompted several pre-formulated versions.

Infinium, importer of Fernet-Branca, is aiming outside the on-premise box for their amaro, sponsoring a Facebook-driven battle of the bands competition in Florida, Austin, Atlanta and Chicago. Local bands can upload videos of original performances; the three with the most Facebook votes will advance for a chance to play live at the Fernet-Branca after-show during the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in July.

Uncommon Goods

Regularly stocked and stirred brands include Aperol, Campari, Lillet, Fernet-Branca and the wide array of vermouths such as Martini and Rossi, Noilly Prat, Cinzano, Dolin and Carpano Antica. Below are some lesser-known, but increasingly popular aperitifs and digestifs.

Campari Pumps Up The Volume

Staying in front of mixologists is becoming a priority in the aperitif/digestif category. In May, Campari sponsored the first-ever Campari “Best Aperitivo” Cocktail Competition in conjunction with the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild (USBG). Morgan Schick of Jupiter Olympus in San Francisco won for his Fiore di Melo, deemed the best among fresh-mixed cocktails by the 29 regional finalists representing USBG chapters from across the U.S.  The final competition was held at The Shanty in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. “Morgan Schick did an amazing job of creating a cocktail that stimulates the appetite without overwhelming the palate,” said judge Tony Abou-Ganim.  
After the competition, the winner was announced at Campari’s Count Negroni Birthday Bash, which was held at the adjacent New York Distilling Company. Guests were given prop mustaches in honor of the Count, a high-flying Italian aristocrat who invented the Negroni cocktail in the early 20th century.

Fiore di Melo
by Morgan Schick

1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Hibiki 12 Year Old Whisky
1/2 oz. Oroloso Sherry
1 barspoon Honey Syrup
   (1:1 honey & water)
Sparkling Cider

Combine ingredients, except sparkling cider, in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a flute or martini glass. Top with sparkling cider and garnish with a lime peel.










Amaro Lucano
CATEGORY: Amaro, 30% ABV
PROVENANCE: Pisticci Scalo, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: A recipe with 37 herbs with dominant flavors of cinnamon, mint, cardamom and licorice
SERVED: As an aperitif with ice, lemon rind and soda or neat, as a digestif; a complex addition to cocktails
IMPORTER: Marsalle Company

Amaro Montenegro
CATEGORY: Amaro, 23% ABV
PROVENANCE: Bologna, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: Over 40 herbs with light orange peel flavor; sweet at first then turns mildly bitter and botanical
SERVED: As a digestif or in cocktails like Jackson Cannon’s Adriatique: 1 oz. Amaro Montenegro, 1 oz. fresh squeeze orange juice, ½ oz. Aperol. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
IMPORTER: Vias Imports

CATEGORY: Amaro, 32% ABV
PROVENANCE: Sicily, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: More than 60 herbs, roots and fruit peels with notes of flowers, licorice, chocolate and semi-bitter citrus rind
SERVED: Chilled or on ice after dinner, or in cocktails like Jacob Grier’s Averna Stout Flip: 2 oz. Averna, 1 oz. stout, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 egg, fresh nutmeg. Combine Averna, stout, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Stir in egg, add ice, and shake vigorously. Double-strain through a fine sieve into a wine glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
IMPORTER: Domaine Select

Bonal Gentiane-Quina
CATEGORY: Quinquina, 16% ABV
TASTE PROFILE: Made by an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle (fortified wine) base
SERVED: Neat or with a twist; can be used in place of sweet vermouth in cocktails.
IMPORTER: Haus Alpenz
Byrrh Grand Quinquina
CATEGORY: Quinquina, 18% ABV
PROVENANCE: Thuir, France
TASTE PROFILE: Created by macerating
South America quinquina bark with coffee, bitter orange, colombo and cocoa in Muscat Mistelles, which is then matured
in oak casks.
SERVED: On the rocks with a lemon twist
as an aperitif.
IMPORTER: Haus Alpenz

CATEGORY: Amaro, 17% ABV
PROVENANCE: Piedmonte, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: Wine-based infusion of cardoon (a relative of the artichoke) and blessed thistle, then aged in new oak for six months. Milder than most amari, with a nutty, spiced fruit profile that is a cross between a sweet vermouth and a Madeira.
SERVED: On the rocks with a twist or in cocktails.
IMPORTER: Haus Alpenz

Cocchi Americano
CATEGORY: Quinquina, 16.5%
TASTE PROFILE: Made from a base of Moscato d’Asti fortified with a little brandy, flavored with cinchona, gentian and citrus, then
laid down for a year. It’s acknowledged by many to be the closest replica to the now-defunct Kina Lillet (a staple in the classic Vesper recipe).
SERVED: On the rocks with an orange twist or with a splash of soda; or in cocktails.
IMPORTER: Haus Alpenz

CATEGORY: Amaro, 16.5% ABV
TASTE PROFILE: An infusion of13 herbs
and plants, predominately the artichoke (Cynara scolymus), from which the drink derives its name
SERVED: Seen as both an aperitif and digestif; can be served on the rocks, with sodas or mixed with orange juice (a European favorite). Often substituted for Campari
in cocktails.
IMPORTER: Campari America

Maurin Quina
CATEGORY: Quinquina, 16% ABV
FIRST PRODUCED: 1884 (The iconic green devil on the label was created by an Italian artist in 1906)
TASTE PROFILE: A base of sweet white wine fortified with an infusion of wild cherries
and quinine in a neutral grape spirit; then cherry brandy, lemon and cherry juice are added to give a sweet, distinctive cherry-marzipan flavor
SERVED: Tyler Dow’s Mauroni:  1 oz. gin,
1 oz. Maurin Quina, 1 oz. Carpano Antica, 2 dashes grapefruit bitters. Combine all ingredients with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a flamed orange peel.
IMPORTER: Preiss Imports

Punt e Mes
CATEGORY: Vermouth, 16% ABV
PROVENANCE: Turin, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: A fortified wine base infused
40 herbs and spices with slightly bitter chocolate notes; a cross between sweet vermouth and Campari
SERVED: On the rocks, but most often used in place of sweet vermouth in cocktails like the Manhattan or cocktails
IMPORTER: Infinium Spirits

CATEGORY: Amaro, 30% ABV
PROVENANCE: Milan, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: Made from a blend of 33 herbs and roots, with notes of gentian, orange, cardamom; slight root beer and vanilla taste
SERVED: Straight or on the rocks as a digestif,
or adds herbal complexity to cocktails
IMPORTER: Pernod Ricard

Santa Maria Al Monte
CATEGORY: Amaro, 40% ABV
PROVENANCE: Genoa, Italy
TASTE PROFILE: Often compared to Fernet-Branca; a bitter, herbaceous liqueur with notes of ginseng and strong menthol
SERVED: Neat or in cocktails.
IMPORTER: Vias Imports

Selling Organic: It’s Personal

Posted on | June 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Grgich Hills, a Napa leader in green viticulture; in fact, its 366 acres of estate vines are certified organic and biodynamic.

Green living is on the rise. Alongside increased consumer awareness of local, sustainable and organic food, organic wine consumption is rising incrementally. As a market minority, but one with growing appeal, how should organic wine be presented to the consumer? As it turns out, the answer is highly personal.

No longer a fringe domain of hippies, organic is becoming more and more mainstream as consumers embrace products that reflect a growing concern for the environment and personal health—a collective concern that has become one badge of an upwardly mobile lifestyle.

Sales in the United States of organic food and beverages grew 7.7% in 2010 over the previous year, and certified organic cropland in the U.S. averaged 15% annual growth from 2002 to 2008. Despite this growth, organic food and beverages accounted for only 4% of total sales in this category in 2010. But organic shows no signs of slowing its climb. With an agreement signed February 15 that makes the U.S. and EU certified organic programs interchangeable, we should see an uptick in organic labeling and a greater presence for organic food and wine in the market.

Organic’s image has risen along with its market presence. Organic used to be “that brown, spotty pear,” says Meredith Giles, brand manager at Fetzer Vineyards, which owns Bonterra, the number one selling wine in the U.S. that is made with organic grapes. Back in 1987, when Bonterra first began farming organically, organic food and wine both had a terrible reputation. “We feel like it’s been almost a 180 since we started,” she says, referring to better growing and production techniques that have allowed a more mainstream embrace of organic food and wine.

Still, the organic wine market is split. On one hand are specialist importers and retailers and a growing group of dedicated customers. On the other hand are a tiny market segment and a vast population of would-be consumers who haven’t gotten the message. And looming in between is the creeping wariness of “greenwashing,” as in exaggerated claims of eco-friendliness.

With most wholesalers and retailers in the country selling primarily conventional product, the choice of how to sell organic wines often comes down to personal philosophy. Five key points stand out from conversations with tradespeople around the country.

Don’t Assume the Consumer Knows Organic.

“I’ve never stopped to think about organic wine, which is funny because I usually buy all organic stuff,” says a Scottsdale, AZ, shopper. Whether to educate the consumer about organic wine or sell to the majority that is unaware or unconvinced is a decision based on market and  personal buy-in.

“When people are on board, they’re on board,” says Bart Hopkins, wine buyer at 67 Wine in Manhattan, where organic and biodynamic wines are instantly identifiable by their green shelf labels. The shop has developed a following of customers who know they carry and identify organic wines, although these comprise only about 4% of the shop’s SKUs.

Jim Oliver of Glazer’s, a wholesaler selling into 14 states in the central South and Midwest, takes a very different approach. Oliver is senior vice president of the company’s fine wine program. In his experience, people understand organic lettuce, but when it comes to wine there is “a tremendous amount of confusion about what is organic.” Oliver believes the wines should be sold by quality alone, and Glazer’s doesn’t track organic sales as a separate category. “There’s more to the story than just that,” he says, pointing out how much conscientious farming is happening outside of organic labeling.

Sell Good Wine.

Hopkins and Oliver may take different stands on organic, but they agree on one thing: wine should be sold first as good.

Retailer Ed Paladino, co-owner of E&R Wines in Portland, OR, estimates that 10 to 15% of his wines are organic but says it’s only once a month that he gets a customer looking for it. The shop doesn’t label the organic wines, although its website, to be launched this summer, will. Instead, says Paladino, they hand-sell the wine based on the characteristics most important to the customer: “Is it good, will I like it, will it go with the food I’m having?” After that, organic is a bonus.

Meredith Giles at Bonterra turns this approach on its head. Bonterra’s message is that organic grapes make better wine, with “pure, more intense flavors.” In theory, Ed Paladino agrees. He sees “a greater purity in these wines, if they’re well made. They have more life; they’re really more exciting.” But he’ll sell them based on those features, not an organic label alone.

Cover All the Categories.

“Have a [selection] that covers the major offerings, the major varietals, at different price points,” suggests Mike Mulderig, VP of wine buying for Total Wine & More, which has 78 stores and counting, mostly in the Southeast and Southwest. Mulderig stresses that Total Wine isn’t a destination for organic, although they’re “enthusiastic” about it. He sees organic wines as a function of the major offerings that should be represented in any store.

Because of the large size of their stores, Total Wine rotates “green” stock through a 4- or 8-foot dedicated section titled “green friendly” in addition to shelving the wines in standard regional sections. (Mulderig doesn’t think this focus would work as well in smaller stores.) All sustainable, organic, biodynamic and sulfite-free wines are labeled according to the wording used on the bottle, no matter where they appear in the store. “Green-friendly” wines—350 to 400 SKUs in each store—made up 4 to 5% of the chain’s $600 million in wine sales in 2011.

Understand the Terminology.

Regardless of personal philosophy, wholesalers and retailers who understand the different shades of green will be better able to engage and educate the consumer, and create fluent conversations with growers and winemakers.

Meredith Giles stresses that “it’s important to be clear about what’s going into the product.” This especially applies to the sustainable category, which “is so broad and emcompassing that there aren’t many hard and fast rules.” Hopkins doesn’t identify sustainable wines in the store, and avoids labeling organic or biodynamic wines unless they’re certified. He prefers to be rigorously truthful, citing efforts by major corporations to relax organic standards.

Jim Oliver at Glazer’s may care little about the fine points of organic terminology, but he makes a point of visiting producers to find out firsthand how their wines are farmed and made. Jenny Lefcourt, co-owner of the natural-wine importer Jenny & François, points out that buyers are much more interested in these details today. “Ten years ago people didn’t know what it means for a wine to be made with indigenous yeast,” she says.

Get the Human Story.

“In a wine shop, everything is pretty anonymous,” Jenny Lefcourt says. It helps to tell stories. “Some of the best stores are interested in meeting winemakers and communicating what they are doing to their customers.” Forging an identity for the wine helps sell both conventional and organic, but as Bart Hopkins puts it, “It’s interesting when you hear the human side of why people [produce organic wine].” He remembers talking with Violet Grgich, of Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, who said that before they converted to certified organic and biodynamic growing, she wouldn’t want to let the kids play in the vineyards after the grapes had been sprayed.

Whether it’s for the land, better health or better flavor, growers and winemakers—like consumers—each have their own reasons for choosing to go green. Finding common ground between stories is one of the most compelling ways to sell.

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Descends on NYC

Posted on | June 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Third Annual Event Mixes Cocktails and Culture

The venerable New York Public Library on 5th Avenue was transformed once again into a cocktaillovers’ fantasy for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s opening gala event on Friday, May 10th. Guests in their party clothes flitted from bar to bar, enjoying an array of nearly 30,000 bespoke cocktails crafted by the country’s leading mixologists. It was a fitting start to the third annual Classic, with plenty of public seminars, parties and tastings happening across four boroughs through May 15th—totaling 168 events in over 70 venues. This year founder Lesley Townsend and the team behind Manhattan Cocktail Classic also debuted The Industry Invitational, an invitation-only set of seminars, panels, competitions and networking opportunities, with the Hotel Andaz on 5th Avenue as the hub. Overall, attendees enjoyed an unparalled cocktail education, and a number of crowd-pleasing brand-sponsored parties.

21 Beverage Licensees Honored at ABL National Convention

Posted on | June 26, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On June 12, twenty-one retail beverage licensees were recognized as Brown-Forman Retailers of the Year at the American Beverage Licensees’ 10th Annual Convention in Las Vegas.

Presented by Ralph Aguera, Vice President, Trade Relations for Brown-Forman, the awards symbolize these business owners’ contributions to the beverage alcohol industry. This is the tenth consecutive year that Brown-Forman, a leading producer of distilled spirits, has sponsored the awards, and Mr. Aguera thanked each of the recipients for their hard work and efforts to positively define the industry. The 2012 winners include:

Rush Discount Liquor | Anchorage, AK

Houndstooth Sports Bar | Tuscaloosa, AL

Grapevine Wines and Spirits | Little Rock, AR

Fisher’s Liquor Barn | Grand Junction, CO

Habersham Beverage Warehouse | Savannah, GA

Kenwood Liquors | Homer Glen, IL

Illinois Valley Super Bowl | Peru, IL

Hildreth’s Liquor Mart | Seymour, IN

Charlie’s Tuna Tap | East Chicago, IN

Party Mart | Louisville, KY

Snyder’s Willow Grove | Linthicum, MD

Arundel Wine & Spirits | Hanover, MD

Sav-Mor Spirits | Somerville, MA

Harry T’s Wholesale Wine & Liquor | Canton, MS

Stockman Bar | Harlowton, MT

Tops Liquor | Brooklyn, NY

Numerous Former Licensees | New York State

Allen’s Liquors & Wines | Watertown, NY

BB Beverages | Myrtle Beach, SC

WB Liquors | San Antonio, TX

The Alley | Newport News, VA

Terry’s Bar | Oshkosh, WI

“It’s always inspiring to hear about the great accomplishments our members are making in their home towns, and were fortunate that Brown-Forman continues to support the retail tier by recognizing great retailers throughout the country,” said John D. Bodnovich, ABL’s Executive Director. “These small business owners represent the best of the individuals in our industry.”

Source: ABL

June 22, 2012

Prada Serves Ferrari at One of Fashion’s Biggest Parties

Posted on | June 25, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On May 7th, fashion luminaries and celebs came together for the debut of the spring exhibit “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” at the Met’s Costume Institute. Specially selected by Prada as the official bubbly of the Ukranian Foundation dinner following the gala and the Boom Boom Room after-party, top Italian sparkling wine Ferrari Metodo Classico flowed freely. Matteo Lunelli and Camilla Lunelli, family owners and Ferrari executives, flew in for the occasion.

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