Cider Flexes Its Muscles

Posted on | August 31, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Appealing to the curious and connoisseurs, apple-based products gain traction.

Cider from Trabanco in Esturia, Spain, where cider is traditionally poured from a great height in a thin stream, for aeration.

We all know what to do when life gives us lemons. But what about apples? A dozen years ago, Almar Orchards in Flushing, MI, was feeling the squeeze; apple prices had plummeted as Chinese concentrate became the preferred, cheap source for apple juice. So owners Jim Koan and Bruce Wright decided that instead of selling their apples, they would ferment them and sell cider instead, giving birth to the J.K.’s Scrumpy brand. Their organic ciders are now sold in 14 states and include several different styles.

“We didn’t start out to be part of a cider boom in the U.S., but we’re glad it’s happening,” says Wright. U.S. cider sales were up 25% in 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group analytics.

Bret Williams is president and CEO of the country’s largest hard cider producer, The Vermont Hard Cider Co., which makes the Woodchuck brand. He agrees that times are good; for one thing, cider has slipped the grip of autumn and become a year-’round beverage. “Back in the beginning it was absolutely seasonal. Now every consecutive month is a record-breaking month,” he says.

Following in Craft Beer’s Footsteps

In modern times, cider first gained some notice as an addendum to the craft beer movement in the late 1980s. Most were moderately alcoholic and sweet—and British, represented by brands like Scrumpy Jack and Strongbow. Both are part of H.P. Bulmer, an English company which owned Woodchuck Cider until Williams, originally one of their salesmen, bought them out in 2003.

Today domestic cideries dot the northern half of the U.S., most notably in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. As with craft beer, Williams says cider drinkers are demanding variety; in addition to its core brands, Woodchuck has introduced a Private Reserve line, which includes pumpkin, ginger and bourbon-barrel-aged ciders. And like many craft breweries, they offer a seasonal line.

At J.K.’s Scrumpy, Wright has been working with barrel aging, and recently visited Thistly Cross Cider in Scotland to create a collaborative cider¬—another story that will ring a bell for craft beer fans. Chicago’s Virtue Cider recently rolled out their own collaboration with Oliver’s Cider and Perry of England.

In addition, the range of imported British ciders has expanded to include higher-end products. “We’re doing super-premium ciders in the UK,” says Henry Chevallier-Guild, an eighth-generation cidermaker at Aspall Cyder in Suffolk, England. The Aspall ciders, imported by SBS Imports in Seattle, have a delicacy and Champagne-like texture. Guild says they treat their ciders more like wine than beer, and that a few centuries ago the reputation of the region’s ciders actually exceeded that of French wine.

Stylistic Variations Worth Noting

Jon Lundbom, division manager at the importer B. United International, says the three great cider traditions come from England, Normandy and the Basque Country and Esturia in Spain. While the Anglo-American styles dominate the U.S. market, the others are becoming increasingly available. Like Aspall’s products, Norman ciders resemble Champagne in texture; they also have an AOC, Pays d’Auge. B. United imports two Norman producers, Etienne Dupont and Christian Drouin; the former follows the AOC rules, while the latter chooses not to so he can use some apple varieties not allowed by the AOC regulations.

Another Norman producer, Eric Bordelet, used to be a sommelier at the 3-star restaurant L’Arpège in Paris. When he expressed an interest in making his own wine, the late Sancerre winemaker Didier Dageneau suggested that as a Norman he should make cider instead. Bordelet’s production is entirely biodynamic, and terroir is an important part of his thinking—another tie to the world of wine among Normandy’s cider producers.

On the other hand, “Basque ciders,” says Lundbom, who imports Sarasola Sagardoa, “are really weird. They’re spontaneously fermented, like a lambic, and aged in huge barrels; they’re acidic, funky, and completely flat.” The best part? “They haven’t been dumbed down for the American market.”

André Tamers, whose De Maison Selections brings in Isastegi and Bordatto, both Basque ciders, and Trabanco from Esturia, agrees. He says the Esturian style, is “a little less tart and volatile, with a little more fruit.” Producers there, too, are exploring soil types and heirloom apple varieties.

The range of styles available means ciders can pair with a lot more than cinnamon donuts. For example, Lundbom says a traditional Basque cider house dinner includes Bacalao, ribeye steak and an apple tart, all served with cider. Cheeses—Cheddar in England, cider-or Calvados-washed cheeses in Normandy, and Valderon or Titillia in Spain—are also quite traditional. Chevallier-Guild says Aspall’s ciders can work with a variety of dishes; pork and apples is a combination beloved by chefs, but duck and even spicy Asian cuisine are also good possibilities.

Selling Cider

With so much going on, it seems like cider could be complicated to sell. Not so, says Ben Sandler, co-owner of The Queens Kickshaw, in Queens, NY. “We love cider; we found that our guests love it, too,” says Sandler. They took part in Cider Week, a New York area promotion, shortly after they opened and saw their cider sales jump to 25% of total alcohol revenue; since then it’s hovered around 15%. The restaurant’s selection typically includes 17 or 18 ciders. Sandler says the entry-level ones sell the best, but that people have fewer expectations about price with cider than they do beer, so more expensive, 750ml bottles aren’t hard to move. “Cider is its own category and I love that people realize that,” he notes.

Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports says, “Getting the word out there that ciders are not all the same is the most important thing. Every other category has a trade-up option but typically there’s only one cider on the list,” so there’s room to offer an “upscale option.” Good beer venues and “boutiquey, eclectic restaurants” have been the best customers for Aspall. “We’ve been more successful on-premise than we initially expected, despite the price point,” says Henry Chevallier-Guild.

This seems to hold true for the more eclectic, imported ciders, but Bret Williams says sales of Woodchuck are 80% off-premise. In any case, Williams expects growth to continue—enough to merit building a new $24 million, 100,000-square-foot facility. His confidence in cider goes beyond current trends: “It’s a real product, with historical significance”—hard cider was deeply popular with our country’s Founding Fathers—and since we all grow up enjoying apples, “it’s not an acquired taste.”

Fitting in at Retail

From a consumer’s perspective, cider is in a peculiar situation. To most Americans, “cider” is thought of first as non-alcoholic apple juice, albeit of higher quality than the juice boxes typically made from concentrate and geared toward children. While its taste, texture and strength resemble beer or sparkling wine, it is truly neither—so re-sellers face the challenge of how to present it to the drinking public.

When a customer at Schaefer’s in Skokie, IL, asks Eli Robinson, one of the store’s buyers, whether cider is more like beer or wine, he responds without hesitation: “It’s like cider.” This quickly shifts their expectations, he points out, and helps them approach it with a more open mind. Crispin Browns Lane, a classic dry English cider, and Woodchuck are brands that move quickly at Schaefer’s.

Mike Kaminski, a wine associate at Gary’s Wine in Wayne, NJ, leans toward beer when discussing cider with customers, noting that “it is fermented more like beer, and is consumed more like beer.” Cider’s alcohol by volume is also more beerlike, ranging from 4%-9%, but typically 5%-7%. He sees cider sales as seasonal, with a twist. Fall, when fresh apples are on people’s minds, brings a spike in sales, but so does early winter because that is when higher-end ciders from the previous fall tend to be released. Kaminski also saw a jump in cider sales at Gary’s this summer, possibly because it was so hot outside and people turned to cider as an easy-drinking, refreshing beverage. Best sellers at Gary’s include Farnum Hill from New Hampshire (various styles from $13.99-$18.99/750ml) and Angry Orchard ($8.99-$9.99/six-pack).

If any part of the U.S. has what can be considered a long cider heritage, it’s New England. At Bauer Wine and Spirits in Boston, the staff has rallied behind local ciders, carrying eight to ten at any given time. The locavore angle, genuine enthusiasm and in-store sampling have been key to introducing cider to customers. On particular favorite is Bantam “Wunderkind,” recently launched by two women, Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva, who create test trials in a small Cambridge lab and then share production space with a regional winery. The cider is crisp and clean with a hint of honey. Priced at $7.99 for a 22 oz. bottle, it’s a relatively easy product to recommend, both for the price and the versatility. Sales staff suggest pairing it with lots of foods, from brunch fare to cheese platters to Indian or Thai food.

While individual stores may opt to take a page from the craft-beer book and stock local ciders, it bodes well for the category that several nationally available brands are red-hot. Among those enjoying double-digit growth in 2011: Ace, Woodchuck, Strongbow, Magners and Crispin (which recently became part of Miller Coors’ Tenth & Blake division). Angry Orchard was launched by Boston Beer Co. this past spring; and Anheuser-Busch released Michelob Ultra Light Cider in May. Vermont Hard Cider’s Woodchuck, riding 28% growth for the first half of 2012, is expected to hit 3 million cases by year-end.


• In cider’s early American heyday, all of it was “hard” (i.e, alcoholic), because lack of refrigeration made it impossible to keep sweet cider stable. Pilgrims (even children) enjoyed cider with meals, and while clergy would denounce harder spirits, they had no issue with cider.

• Perry is the term often used for pear cider. When sugar or extra fruit is added during fermentation, increasing the alcohol level, cider is classified as “apple wine.” Calvados (the apple brandy of Normandy) and applejack are made by distilling apple cider.

• The United Kingdom leads the world in per capita cider consumption. According to the UK’s National Association of Cider Makers, 13% of UK adults drink cider at least once a month while 49% drink wine and 51% drink beer. Not surprisingly, many Americans who visit England and eat/drink like the locals return with a taste for hard cider.

New Products & Promotions: September 2012 Edition

Posted on | August 30, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Stolichnaya has come out with the world’s first salted caramel flavored vodka, Stoli Salted Karamel. The second flavor after Stoli Chocolat Razberi in the brand’s indulgent flavor line, Salted Karamel is a balance of sweet and savory with the flavor of golden caramel enhanced with salt. The frosted bottle features a spoon of warm caramel sprinkled with sea salt, and the back features a cocktail recipe.

SRP 750ml: $23.99


The new Allure Peach is all about fun—it’s bubbly, sweet and lively. Winemaker Bob Stashak says, “The scrumptious flavor of a peach bursting with ripeness combined with floral and fruity essences are captured in a glass.” This is a wine meant to be taken lightly, as optimal for large celebrations as intimate gatherings. Available in both 750ml and 187ml. Marketed nationally by 585 Wine Partners.



Early Times Kentucky Whiskey has launched its first flavored spirit, reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century carnival era. Early Times Fire Eater, a hot cinnamon flavored whiskey, combines the heat and spice of cinnamon liqueur with aged Early Times whiskey to create a warm, smooth 66 proof whiskey that can be enjoyed on its own or in a variety of cocktails.

SRP: $14.99-$15.99



Fever-Tree recently added Mediterranean Tonic Water to its distinguished U.S. portfolio. Imported by Brands of Britain, this is the seventh addition to the Fever-Tree range for the U.S., and features a blend of essential oils from fruits, flowers and herbs harvested in Provence and Sicily. Perfect for professional and amateur mixologists alike.

SRP 4-pack: $5.99


Celebrating “The Most Romantic Wine,” Icewine Exclusives is introducing a broad yet focused portfolio to the U.S. From Canada’s acclaimed Niagara Peninsula, brands include Caroline Cellars, Cornerstone Estate and Kings Court Estate. Varietals include Vidal, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Ehrenfelser, all available in 375ml. CEO & President Victoria Gunn says icewine is not just dessert wine: “It is more personal; it’s not just made to be paired with food but rather with mood.”

SRP: $36-$98


Voli Light Vodkas has a new flavor addition to its portfolio of low-calorie vodkas with natural flavors. Voli Mango Coconut Fusion, the sixth flavor in the line-up, is a blend of natural mango and coconut flavors with a subtle hint of pineapple in multi-distilled wheat vodka. Voli Light Vodkas are crafted in Cognac, France, and imported by Palm Bay International.

SRP: $19.99



Heaven Hill Distilleries has a new addition to the Evan Williams family—Evan Williams Apple Orchard Seasonal Liqueur. This is the first bourbon-based apple cider liqueur, combining popularity of the Evan Williams brand with seasonal flair. Available through November, Evan Williams Apple Orchard uses real apple cider and Evan Williams Bourbon. Meant to be shaken before opening, and can be enjoyed cold or warm. 17% ABV.

SRP: $11.99



Cipressi, the line of fresh and easy drinking wines introduced last year, is now available in 750ml bottles from Bronco Wine Company. Winemaker Andrea Beconcini crafted a floral Pinot Grigio from Umbria and a rich Sangiovese from the Puglia region as the first releases from the Tuscan winery. Cipressi is part of the Bronco Wine Company portfolio owned by the Franzia Family.



Frïs Vodka is re-launching its award-winning brand and unveiling new flavors with a frozen twist. Frïs is created through a patented freeze-distillation process, allowing impurities to be frozen and extracted. With a new dramatic bottle design inspired by the brand’s Scandinavian roots, Frïs Vodka is joined by new flavors Citrus Freeze and Orange Freeze.

SRP 750ml: $10.99; 1.75L: $19.99



The newest additions to the New Amsterdam Spirits portfolio are Red Berry Vodka and Peach Vodka. Both the Red Berry and Peach Vodka are described as having vibrant, sweet, succulent flavors with hints of strawberry, raspberry and peach. These two premium vodkas are smooth enough to be enjoyed straight or on the rocks, yet versatile enough to be mixed in a number of cocktails.

SRP: $14.99


In honor of the fall hazelnut harvest, Samuel Adams has introduced Samuel Adams Hazel Brown, exclusively available as part of the Harvest Collection 12-pack. A nut brown ale with a distinct hazelnut aroma, caramel and malt notes, Hazel Brown is joined by brews like Octoberfest, Dunkelweizen, Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Latitude 48 IPA and Boston Lager. Available through October.

SRP 12-pack: $13.99


Western Honey Pepper Whiskey is a unique combination of aged Kentucky bourbon, American whiskey, natural clover honey and hot chili peppers. This artisanal creation is blended and bottled in small batches, highlighting the purity of the natural ingredients. The initial full-bodied bourbon flavor is softened by smooth honey and the finish has a subtle fire from the peppers. Recently awarded gold at the SIP Awards.

SRP: $19.99



The maker of ChocoVine, Clever Imports, has launched its new wine-based beverage, VineSmoothies. Made with 100% natural fruit flavors, French Chardonnay and Dutch cream, VineSmoothies are gluten-free and available in four flavors: Berry, Peach, Pineapple-Coconut and Strawberry. Clever Imports believes the fruit-flavored-cream wine can be bigger than the chocolate wine category. Produced and bottled by the Netherlands’ Team Products, a subsidiary of DeKuyper.

SRP 750ml: $10.99



Sonoma Valley-based Don Sebastiani & Sons is now the exclusive sales and marketing agent for New Zealand wine brand Farmer’s Market Wine Company, developed by distinguished winemaker Nick Goldschmidt. The Farmer’s Market portfolio includes a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a Gisborne Chardonnay and a unique Pinot Noir-Merlot from Marlborough and Gisborne.

SRP: $19.99


Kahlúa Iced Coffee is a refreshing iced coffee with a taste of Kahlúa—all in the convenience of a to-go can. The artisanal iced dark coffee uses Kahlúa’s locally sourced 100% Arabiac coffee beans from Veracruz, Mexico. Kahlúa Iced Coffee is available in three varieties: Iced Espresso, Iced Mocha and Iced Coffee with Cinnamon Spice. 5% ABV per 200ml can.


SRP Can: $2.50; 4-pack: $9.99



Trinchero Family Estates, known for its distinct wine brands, has added Cruz Tequila to its portfolio. Developed in 2005 by three Arizona State grads—Todd Nelson and brothers Saulo and Joseph Pep Katcher—Cruz Tequila has a smooth, delicate flavor and refined quality for sipping. This tequila is made from estate grown 100% blue agave from the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Mexico.

SRP Cruz Silver: $44.99; Reposado: $52.99


A new release for fall and holiday, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004 is a full-bodied blend of eight traditional Veuve Clicquot crus. Named after Madame Clicquot, this Champagne is one of the most esteemed tête de cuvées of the region. Veuve Clicquot has also introduced two new vintages, Cave Privée Vintage Blanc 1990 and Cave Privée Vintage Rosé 1989.

SRP La Grand Dame ’04: $165; Cave Privée Vintage Blanc ’90: $200; Cave Privée Vintage Rosé ’89: $245


Legendary barman Dale Degroff has worked with distiller Ted Breaux to craft Pimento Aromatic Bitters. Created by blending pimento with a hint of anise and other herbs, Pimento (the Jamaican word for allspice) adds a nuanced accent to many modern and classic drinks or straight spirits. The essential oils in pimento are also believed to aid digestion.

SRP 150ml: $9.99


Bourbon’s New Frontier: The Innovation Path Leads to Growth

Posted on | August 29, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Filled barrels are prepped for loading into a warehouse for aging at Buffalo Trace

It’s hardly news that American whiskey is on fire. Fueled by supplier innovation and a broader consumer demographic thirsting for something new, bourbon in particular has become the toast of towns from coast to coast. True to its Southern hospitality roots, bourbon has extended an open invite to younger drinkers, both male and female. The category has become more approachable, led by an explosion in flavors like cherry and honey. And bourbon distillers have amped up production of limited expressions—whether by age, barrel finish or batch—fueling demand among core collectors and enthusiasts.

Rob Mason, senior director of U.S. bourbons at Beam Inc., attributes the bourbon surge to people looking to expand their spirits repertoire: “With all of the innovations we are seeing, consumers are discovering the fantastic quality, versatility and different tastes available within the bourbon category.” Nearly all of the leading bourbon brands have introduced line extensions or new products to capitalize on this growing trend: Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Maker’s Mark, Early Times and Wild Turkey. Even top-ranked American whiskey Jack Daniel’s (technically a Tennessee whiskey) posted gains with flavors as part of its 10.6 million 9-liter cases.

She’s the New Bourbon Drinker

So who is drinking bourbon these days? Long seen as the drink of older males, bourbon has captured the interest of LDA consumers, both male and female. “We see more of the younger demographic, as well as more females, starting to branch out and try bourbons straight as well as in signature cocktails,” says Robert DeGrange, general manager of Nashville’s Whiskey Kitchen, whose cocktail menu skews heavily bourbon. However, Larry Kass, director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill Distilleries, points out the core audience of 30-50-year-old males with high household income is stronger than ever and has propelled the growth of single-barrel, small-batch and extra-aged bourbons.

The rise in “bourbon belles” has inspired supplier-backed promotions like Campari America’s “Women & Whiskies” program and Diageo-sponsored events with Bulleit Bourbon put on by the Bourbon Women’s Association, founded in 2011 by the first female master bourbon taster, Peggy Noe Stevens. The Ambassador Fan Club of Maker’s Mark is comprised of one-third female members, while 25% of drinkers of Beam’s 5.8 million cases are women.

Many attribute the rise of higher-quality, better-tasting bourbons and usage in cocktails as a major influence on women. Rachel Sergi, beverage director at Jack Rose in Washington, DC, has noticed that “women are becoming more adventurous is the their alcohol consumption with bourbon being the first choice in trying something new.” Brands of choice among her clientele include Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek and  Eagle Rare.

Even famed distiller Lincoln Henderson came out of retirement to launch Angel’s Envy in April 2011, the only Kentucky distillery to finish their bourbon in Port barrels. Angel’s Envy was developed, in part, with a female palate in mind, says Henderson, who spent 40 years at Brown-Forman making iconic brands like Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, then served as the U.S. brand ambassador for Suntory Japanese whiskeys.

The American heritage of bourbon is a significant macro-trend driving the category, points out Jason Dolenga, Beam’s director of Maker’s Mark. “Staying true to our core values is how we stay relevant,” he says. “Authenticity, heritage and handcraft never go out of style.” Maker’s Mark sells around 1.2 million 9-liter cases annually and showed a 19% net sales increase in the first quarter of 2012.


Diversifying the Genre

As with vodka, bourbon marketers are looking toward innovation to keep the category fresh, not only to attract new drinkers, but also to answer the demand of enthusiasts. Enter terms like “alternative wood finish,” “small batch,” “single barrel” and “cask strength.” With little wiggle room for experimentation under standards of what constitutes a bourbon, distillers are left to play around with the mash bill, entry proof, wood grain size, aging location and temperature, char level and barrel-stave seasoning.

In 2010, Maker’s Mark introduced Maker’s 46, which uses toasted oak staves in finished barrels to deliver a stronger (96 proof) product with a bolder flavor that Mason calls “a sophisticated taste that you don’t have to acquire.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery has turned to the internet to generate user feedback for their Single Oak Project, launched in 2011 with the goal of making the perfect bourbon. This research project began in 1999 with the distillery choosing 96 trees with different wood grains, cutting them in half to form top and bottom pieces, to create 192 unique barrel selections. Each Single Oak Project Bourbon is released in a series every three months, and enthusiasts are encouraged to review each whiskey online; the top choice will later be bottled.

“Not everyone has the same journey—that’s what makes the Small Batch Collection so unique,” explains Rob Mason of Beam’s Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s and Baker’s brands. The term “small batch” was coined in 1992 by sixth-generation Master Distiller Booker Noe, and the Beam brands still lead this sub-category. According to Nielsen, in the last 52 weeks, Knob Creek Bourbon (the world’s #1 super-premium bourbon) and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve have grown 13.8% in volume, and Basil Hayden’s Bourbon has grown 20%. The difference in the brands keeps consumers exploring, says Mason: “For instance, the spicy finish of Basil Hayden’s is a different experience than the big, full taste of Knob Creek. Meanwhile, Booker’s features its signature unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel flavor, and Baker’s has an incredibly silky, smooth texture and taste.”

Heaven Hill’s Kass sees small-batch and single-barrel expressions becoming more popular, and points to the industry’s expanded production investments: “The bourbon industry is undergoing its largest expansion period since Prohibition with more than $170 million in capital projects underway or recently completed. A number of new, super-premium products are commanding higher prices than American whiskey has ever been able to command before. What we do is probably the best proof that we believe what we say.” In May, Heaven Hill launched a limited-edition Elijah Craig 20-Year-Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon at SRP $130. This month, they debut a new brand called Larceny in 12 markets; priced at $24.99, this 92 proof offering is uses the Old Fitzgerald tradition of wheat in place of rye as the third grain in its mash bill.Michter’s, which has been distilling whiskey since 1753, has had great success with 10 Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon, named the “Best American Whiskey” by Food & Wine magazine. They also released an extremely limited 25 Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon at 108.6 proof, retailing for $300 a bottle.

Other classic brands like Old Forester, owned by Brown-Forman, have introduced higher proof bourbons for more experienced palates, citing a richer flavor. Old Forester Signature 100 Proof is presented as “spicier and more robust” than the 86 proof Old Forester Classic.

Multiple Ways to Stand Out

Not that bourbon has gone totally straight. With mixability a driving force on-premise, Wild Turkey 81 proof hit the market in 2011 with the goal of becoming a staple in cocktails in key mixology markets. The Wild Turkey brand launched its first television advertising campaign in 157 years called “Give ‘Em the Bird,” a play at attracting core consumers as well as a younger, urban audience. At 550,000 9-liter cases in the U.S. (1.1 million internationally), the brand has shown strong growth, led in part by its flavored line extension, American Honey. Campari America also recently invested over $50 million in a new 140,000-square-foot facility that will more than double the production capacity of Wild Turkey.

The popularity of barrel selections among retailers and the on-premise is a marketing tool that gives the trade a personal stake in promoting a brand. Four Roses takes it a step further with two distinct Private Barrel Programs for consumers. “We have our 100 Proof Program that offers the customer the opportunity to choose a barrel from our current Single Barrel recipe, and our Private Selection Program that offers the opportunity to select a barrel from one of our ten recipes. This barrel is bottled at barrel proof and non-chill-filtered. We create personalized labels for the bottles from each barrel. This program is popular among our retailers across the country,” explains Patty Holland, national sales manager for Four Roses Bourbon.

While brand recognition is high among the category leaders, it isn’t stopping new entrants from throwing their hat in the ring. Once such example is John B. Stetson Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a lighter style at 84-proof and retailing for $26-$29.99.

Regional bourbons have also captured bartender and consumer interest, like Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery’s Belle Meade in Nashville and William Grant-owned Hudson Baby Bourbon from upstate New York. Dozens of craft distillers outside of Kentucky have begun to make and market bourbon with positive results. (While it’s true that 95% of bourbon comes from Kentucky, it can legally be made anywhere in the United States.)


Flavor: the Mod Twist

Love them or hate them, flavored whiskeys are not going anywhere. According to Impact Databank, they were the fastest-growing spirits type in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2012, growing to 94,000 9-liter cases, up 155% over the previous year. In short, the flavored whiskey category (which includes whiskey-based liqueurs) has taken many by surprise. Even Beam considered the launch of a flavor “a bold move” back in 2009 with the introduction of Red Stag Black Cherry.

But a smart one, says Mason: “Consumers are specifically seeking flavor, variety and mixability in their spirits—three trends that flavored whiskeys meet head-on.” Red Stag partnered with Travel Television host Adam Richman for the “Track the Red Stag Food Truck Tour” in the first half of 2012, to showcase the flavors via various menu items.

Simply put, flavored whiskeys are for people who don’t like the taste of straight whiskey, but want to. And there are a lot of those people, mostly female, but male too. Typically lower proof, anywhere from 16-40% ABV, with the average price of $12-$22, flavored whiskeys are often considered an entry point in to the broader whiskey category, both for cost and taste. (Phillips Distilling in Minneapolis claims to have introduced the first flavored whiskey back in the early 2000s with Phillips-Union, a blend of Canadian whiskey and Kentucky bourbon with added cherry or vanilla flavor.)

In 2011, its first year, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey sold 320,000 cases. Launched in 2009, Jim Beam Red Stag sold 300,000 cases in 2011, up 40% from 2010; the brand also just introduced two new flavors—Honey Tea and Cinnamon. Performance in 2011 was also solid for Wild Turkey American Honey (230,000 cases), Evan Williams Honey Reserve and Cherry Reserve (100,000 cases) and Seagrams 7 Crown Honey and Cherry (80,000 cases). Evan Williams added a Cinnamon Reserve in February 2012 and is introducing a new seasonal product called Apple Orchard in September 2012. Hailed as the first bourbon-based apple-cider liqueur at 34 proof, the point of sale materials will promote “A Bushel of Flavor Meets a Barrel of Smoothness.” Apple Orchard retails for $11.99.

Diageo’s popular Jeremiah Weed brand offers a Sweet Tea Bourbon as well as a 90 proof Cherry Mash Flavored Blended Bourbon. And in a clear sign that the company is bullish on flavor, earlier this year Diageo acquired Cabin Fever Maple Flavored Whisky, a small New England-based craft brand aged 3 years and infused with dark maple syrup.

On the value end of the spectrum, ready-to-drink brands like Twisted Shotz Killer Bee (Kentucky bourbon and honey liqueur) and Hot Licks (Kentucky bourbon and cinnamon liqueur) retail at just $5.99 for a 100ml 4-shot pack.

Successful Selling

As most suppliers, distributors, retailers and bartenders point out, education is crucial to the process of selling the array of new bourbons on the market. With increased ambassadors and “train the trainer” trade programs, bourbon knowledge is becoming more commonplace. This has been a cornerstone of growth for Four Roses, a brand with strong international volume that was reintroduced to the United States market in 2002 after previous owner Seagram discontinued it in the late 1950s.

At just 31,000 9-liter cases domestically (but over 440,000 internationally), Four Roses focuses on their broker and distributor network to spread knowledge to the trade, who in turn convert new customers at point of sale. “With our five yeasts and two mash bills, and our ability to create ten different bourbon recipes, we know that we must convey this to our customer in a way that they can understand,” Holland says.

In Oakland, the upscale Southern bar and restaurant Pican carries over 90 bourbons. Manager Sam Babalola says his passion for bourbon is paramount to successful turnover behind the bar. Among his best sellers are Angel’s Envy, Heaven Hill Alchemist 12 Year, and local San Francisco Bay area distiller St. George Spirits’ “Breaking and Entering” Bourbon, which follows a model popular with smaller craft distillers called sourcing and blending: aged bourbon is procured from suppliers in Kentucky and brought back to be blended and bottled in the distiller’s home state.

It comes as no surprise that Kentucky has become a top tourist destination. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has seen record number of visitors year after year and Barton 1792 Distillery even produced a special bourbon—1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select—to commemorate Kentucky’s statehood. It has since become the official toasting bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which takes place every September.

A Smooth Finish

Like with any good bourbon, only time will tell how the category will age in the coming years. Will a flavors proliferation reach vodka-like heights? Will bourbon surpass white spirits, harkening back to its pre-Prohibition glory days? Are consumers’ palates changing for good? The facts today show we’re in the middle of a bourbon boom with no signs of slowing down. Distillers and suppliers are rising to the occasion with exciting innovations, while staying true to the spirit of our great American whiskey.

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Celebrates 160 Years in the U.S. with New Brut and Rosé

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Charles Heidsieck, founder of Charles-Camille Heidsieck, is the inspiration for two new expressions, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV (SRP: $65) and Rosé Réserve NV (SRP: $80), available nationally in September.

Equal proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with a very careful selection from 60 crus (formerly 120), a 40% reserve wine base (the highest in Champagne) with an average age of 10 years (formerly 8 years) for the Brut and a 20% reserve wine base for the Rosé, blended with a 2007 vintage year wine, the recently appointed Chef de Cave, Thierry Roset finds the delicate balance of complexity, depth and smoothness that defines the Charles Heidsieck signature style.

Jose Cuervo Launches Tradicional Mural Project Program

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On August 7th, more than 40 guests joined Jose Cuervo to launch the Jose Cuervo Tradicional Mural Project, which is inviting artists to compete for a $15,000 prize by submitting an original mural inspired by passion for Latin culture and the Jose Cuervo Tradicional bottle. The guest of honor was actor Clifton Collins Jr. who will act as a judge for the program, along with members of the NALAC.

Appleton Estate Hosts NYC REmixology Bartender Challenge

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On August 6th, Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum kicked off the 3rd annual Remixology Bartender Challenge at New York’s Sons of Essex. Lubens Besse of Imperial 9 and Mr. H at the Mondrian Soho, entertained judges Julie Reiner, Andy Seymour and Dominc Venegas and the crowd with his performance and winning cocktail, Free Jamaica. He will return for the Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge Finals on September 10th in New York.

Beam & Courvoisier Celebrate Summer

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Summer Soirée Event Commemorates First Anniversary of Courvoisier Rosé Launch

On July 19th, Courvoisier invited guests to commemorate the first anniversary of the launch of Courvoisier Rosé, a blend of French red wine grapes and Courvoisier Cognac. Held at Toy restaurant in the Meatpacking District, the Courvoisier Rosé Summer Soirée featured summer cocktails including Crimson & Clover, Bijou Rosé and Blackberry Beret created exclusively for the event. “We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the first anniversary of Courvoisier Rosé than with a fun summer soirée in New York City,” said Carlo Coppola, Metro New York Sales Manager, Beam.

Celebrity guests who stopped by the event to celebrate included Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson; Empire Girls star Adrienne Bailon; Basketball Wives’ Jennifer Williams and singer Kat DeLuna. “The ladies sipped signature Courvoisier Rosé cocktails and DJ Brooklyn Dawn spun mixes specifically for the fête,” said Coppola.

In its first year, Courvoisier Rosé has exceeded expectations. The popularity of the spirit continues to grow with both consumers and bartenders, who have found it to be ideal for summertime sipping and as an ingredient to take cocktails to a new level.

Crimson & Clover Cocktail

2 parts Courvoisier Rosé
Splash of mint-infused simple syrup
Splash of club soda

Mix all ingredients and serve in a rocks glass.


Tanqueray Inspires Local Bartenders to Create Art

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Recently, Tanqueray was featured in a painting class, appropriately titled “The Art of Tanqueray” at Paint Along NYC in Manhattan. Twelve local bartenders and industry professionals attended and painted Tanqueray bottle and cocktail-inspired artwork. Carbonated Tanqueray Jasmines and Tanqueray and Tonics were served.

Marie Brizard USA Cocktail Challenge Finals Held at Tales

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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The Marie Brizard USA Cocktail Challenge Finals, recently held at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, featured six contestants judged on technique, appearance, aroma and taste for the chance to represent the U.S. in the 30th annual Marie Brizard International Bartender Seminar and Competition to be held in Bordeaux, France this November. Robert Montero was the winner, for his cocktail, the Sunny Crusta.

Fedway associates Holds Golf Outing For Make-A-Wish of NJ

Posted on | August 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On July 16th, Fedway Associates hosted their 11th annual golf outing at Brooklake Country Club in memory of three longtime Fedway Sales Associates: Jack Wish, Peter Armellino and Gerry Faccone. Also known as The J.A.G. Open, the event was well attended and proceeds in the amount of $35,000 went to support The Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey.

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