Brand Profile: Big Flavor, Low Calorie & Convenience

Posted on | May 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Beam identifies the top three trends driving consumer drinking behavior.

What do Skinnygirl Mojito, Pinnacle Rainbow Sherbet Vodka and Sauza Sparkling Margarita all have in common? They are all new to market, they are all in the Beam portfolio and—though they technically occupy different spirits categories—they are all “Lifestyle Beverages.”

“Lifestyle beverages are those products that are purpose built based on a keen understanding of what consumer trends are driving people’s needs and choices today,” says Deb Boyda, General Manager for Beam’s Venture Category Business team. And, explains Boyda, in the marketplace today the most significant trends are the appeal of low calorie, flavor and convenience.

“We really want to create a tight connection between the lives of our consumers and the brands we offer,” Boyda stresses. “It’s about providing solutions for what they are already looking for.”

The Skinnygirl Solution

Skinnygirl Cocktails filled an obvious hole in the marketplace when it launched in 2009. “Skinnygirl fell into a white space opportunity: No one was serving the needs of women in the cocktail space,” Boyda recalls.

Skinnygirl Cocktails—the line now includes 16 products in Ready-to-Serve, Vodka and Wine—enables women to indulge in a cocktail without the high-calorie price tag. Beam is able to keep almost the entire line of Skinnygirl Cocktails under 100 calories per serving while also scoring big on the convenience scale. “We launched the Skinnygirl Minis last year—4-packs of individual 200ml plastic bottles which are perfect for outdoor occasions,” Boyda says.

The brand’s “Lifestyle” appeal is amped up by founder and celebrity entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel. “As a woman and a charismatic entrepreneur, Bethenny has a lot of sizzle and cache as a person.” The “wow-factor” she brings to the entire Skinnygirl portfolio helps Beam speak to their target consumer: “women who know what they want and go out and get it.”

Last year Beam took the Skinnygirl brand into the vodka and wine categories with impressive early results. “Through Q1 2013, Skinnygirl’s net comparable sales are up 140%,” shares Boyda. Launched in March of this year: Skinnygirl White Cherry Vodka, Skinnygirl Moscato Wine, Skinnygirl Sweet ’n Tart Grapefruit Margarita and Skinnygirl Mojito.

The Future of Flavor

The marketplace seems awash in flavored vodkas. Yet Pinnacle—a brand that Beam acquired last year—remains one of the fastest growing category leaders. A lot of this has to do, ironically, believes Boyda, with the strength of Pinnacle’s unflavored vodka. “From a product quality standpoint, we have one of the best-tasting vodkas out there. It is rare to find a price/quality ratio like this.” Pinnacle’s base vodka represents approximately half of the brand’s total sales.

When it comes to flavors, “our challenge to ourselves is to be the first to market with flavors that have unique appeal,” Boyda describes. Pinnacle pioneered this trend with the introduction of Pinnacle Whipped several years ago (it still remains the best-selling of the brand’s 30 flavors). Pinnacle’s latest innovations are Rainbow Sherbet and Strawberry Shortcake, summertime-focused flavors with nostalgic appeal.

Staying on Trend Patrol

Beam spends a great deal of time looking at what will be trending tomorrow, and they see sparkling beverages as a place to be. Enter Sauza Sparkling Margarita, as Vanessa Jenkins, Senior Marketing Director of Tequilas at Beam, explains: “We’ve taken America’s #1 cocktail and made it even more refreshing by adding a bit of effervescence to it. It’s fresh, bubbly, and ready-to-serve—perfect for any ladies’ evening with friends. Launched in April, the flavors—Original Lime, Wild Berry and Mango Peach—all check in at just under 10% ABV and retail for $12.99.

Green Corner: Summer 2013

Posted on | May 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Designer Derek Chen with Newton Pino Solo Wine Tree


For the fifth year of its luxury Eco-Chic Collaboration, Newton Vineyard tapped San Francisco-based designer Derek Chen to take inspiration from Newton’s vineyards and sustainable reputation. Chen created the Pino Solo Wine Tree, a 54″ tall storage rack whose eight hand-bent brushed-metal rods form a repeated hexagonal motif that creates natural nooks for up to 12 wine bottles. He repurposed used oak wine barrels for the bases. Each piece in the limited edition of 100 is numbered and signed. The series is being sold in retail stores in New York, San Francisco and Chicago as well as through for $299.




Trinity Oaks has announced a new initiative using compostable capsules. The new plant-based capsules are made from a carbon-neutral biopolymer developed in partnership with Plastic Suppliers, Inc. and Maverick Enterprises. Less energy is used to make these capsules and they are made in a greenhouse-neutral facility that uses wind, solar power and other energy offsets. The aluminum top disk on the bottle is recyclable, while the EarthFirst PLA film material used for the capsule is certified compostable.

Trinity Oaks, part of Trinchero Family Estates, also continues its One Bottle, One Tree program, which began in summer 2008 and funds a new tree for planting with every Trinity Oaks bottle purchase. By Earth Day 2013, Trinity Oaks celebrated helping plant more than 7 million trees. Trinity Oaks wines are priced at $8 a bottle.

Michele Manelli


Michele Manelli, winemaker at the Montepulciano winery Salcheto, had a goal for years to reduce energy consumption yet still produce great wines. He was recently in New York to discuss sustainability and to present the first Salcheto wine to be made “from grapes only,” the 2012 Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano DOC (to be released this fall). In 2011, Manelli finished the first Italian winery to be totally “off-grid,” or separate from any traditional power distribution networks. This has enabled Salcheto to be 54% more energy-efficient than conventional wineries of the same size and to better measure and decrease its environmental impact. The cellar is lit with 100% natural light, and all heating and cooling energy is created on premise. Salcheto’s wines are available nationally through Massanois Imports. For a slideshow of features of the off-grid facility, visit



Earth Day provided an opportunity for Chile’s Viña Concha y Toro to call attention to the relationship between trees and CO2 with a vineyard installation. A one-ton green sphere was positioned in Concha y Toro’s Peumo estate vineyard (named for a native Chilean tree) to represent the volume of CO2 that one tree captures over its lifetime. In addition to stewardship of the vines, Concha y Toro has worked with Chile’s Native Forest Conservation Program (CONAF) to create an inventory of native species of trees to better work toward preservation. The winery is working to conserve over 8,000 acres of native forest; trees help diversify soils and mitigate climate change.

The Find: June 2013

Posted on | May 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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On the heels of the overwhelmingly response in the U.S., the recently re-released of the limited-edition Johnnie Walker Double Black Scotch blend is now a permanent part of the portfolio. “The deeper, more intense flavors of Johnnie Walker Double Black derive from the combination of selected aged, naturally smoky whiskies and whiskies matured in deep-charred oak barrels, all carefully blended to bring out the smokiest flavors,” commented Master Blender Jim Beveridge.

SRP $40 |


Legend has it that tequila was originally discovered by luck—when a farmer’s wife noticed a rabbit getting tipsy on fermented agave. Suerte is Spanish for luck, but apparently Suerte Tequila tequila needs no luck, as it brought home awards for quality and packaging in the first three U.S. competitions the brand entered. And now that Suerte is being marketed by T. Edward’s new spirit division, it won’t take as much luck to find the Blanco (SRP $33), Reposado ($37) and Añejo ($60) expressions. Now available in CO, CT, NJ, NY and WY, with more states to follow.



Castle Brands is giving restaurants and bars all they need to craft their own barrel-aged cocktails. The program (where legal) includes a branded Jefferson’s Bourbon 5L barrel with a minimum of six-bottle case purchase of Jefferson’s “Ridiculously Small Batch” Bourbon. After a few tips and a few weeks of aging, voilá—a cocktail program h as a new dimension. “Barrel-aging is an effective way to add layers of flavor and complexity to several bourbon cocktails, while still allowing the bartender to impart their unique style,” says Trey Zoeller, Jefferson’s Bourbon founder and master blender. Among the early adopters of the new program: The Ritz-Carlton and Louies Modern in Sarasota, FL; The Hermitage and Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, TN; and the Palm steakhouse in Atlanta, GA.




Blending mania is filtering from wine to spirits. Witness Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila, a combo of six-times-distilled, multi-grain vodka with pure blue agave tequila. The blend is a true hybrid, showing inviting tequila aromatics and a palate that lives up to the producer’s slogan: “smooth as silk.” Attractively priced at $20 SRP, the spirit launched in the south and is now rolling north (CT, IL, MA, NJ, NY, RI). It should be especially intriguing for mixologists; for instance Vodquila stands in admirably for tequila in a Tequila Sunrise, and for vodka in a Seabreeze. Reflecting Vodquila’s hybrid identity, the package is itself a blend—square at the base, round in the shoulder—and the cap, upside down, echoes the bottle shape.


Wine Buzz: June 2013

Posted on | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Constellation’s New Zealand wine, Kim Crawford, puts a real premium on cool wine. The customized Kim Crawford Cooling Sleeve, designed by Martin Kastner of Chicago-based Crucial Detail, is both striking and functional. The freezable metal chain-link sleeve fits snugly on a bottle, keeping the wine chilled while tastefully displaying the Kim Crawford logo. The eye-catching look makes this unique sleeve an interesting option for on-premise service. The limited edition of 400, priced at $149, is available at




If at first you succeed, well, why not do it again? The sweet red sparkler Roscato Rosso Dolce proved such a hit that Palm Bay has introduced Roscato Bianco Dolce. The lightly sweet, frizzante wine taps into Americans’ ongoing demand for sweet, gently effervescent wines. Bianco Dolce is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Moscato grapes grown in the northern Italian regions of Trentino and Lombardy. The wine is 8% ABV and its balance of sparkle and sweet make it a pleasant solo sipper or versatile choice for a variety of cuisines. SRP $12.99




For years now, word has been out about the “superfruit” açaí. High in antioxidants and packing distinctive berry flavor, açaí is gaining in popularity across the food and beverage industries. Brand new on the scene is Verdi Açaí Sparkletini, an Italian açaí-infused sparkling malt beverage with a fruity taste profile, low 5% ABV and lovely purple-pink hue. Açaí joins Raspberry, Green Apple and Peach in the line; $1 from every case of the new Sparkletini will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now available in 40+ states at SRP of $5.99.



Americans are catching on to the seasonal delights of dry rosé, and suppliers are finding new ways to grab their attention this summer. From Provence, the spiritual homeland of rosé, comes Vie Vité in a sleek mod package (SRP $30); their Extraordinaire bottling lives up to its name in large formats, too (magnum $65, 3L $135). From Tuscany, Opici is importing the could-not-be-cuter—and very tasty—375ml by Luiano ($15; format also available for the Luiano Chianti Classico). And don’t count out California; even red specialists are bottling pitch-perfect dry pink. Made entirely from Cabernet, Justin 2012 Rosé ($20) is bright and crisp (not heavy or dark, like many New World examples) and evokes classic flavors of crushed strawberries and light herbs.


New Products & Promotions: June 2013

Posted on | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Fresh off being named Best Vodka and winning Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Absolut Elyx is now in select markets across the U.S. This luxury vodka combines traditional handcrafted expertise and copper distillation, defined by exceptional purity and smoothness. Bottled in a modern decanter package with real copper accents, Absolut Elyx blends style and substance.

SRP: $49.99


Available since April, Dewar’s Highlander Honey infuses Dewar’s White Label blend with hand-chosen Scottish honey. The resulting spirit has a mellow character with both sweetness and bite. This is the first offering of Dewar’s “Highlander” range which will showcase innovations using indigenous Scottish ingredients. 80 proof.

SRP: $23.99



The updated packaging for JFJ Extra Dry California Champagne features a label in a lovely blue hue similar to a certain iconic jewelry brand’s boxes. It’s a sparkling wine that is perfect for summer celebrations like engagement parties, showers, weddings and graduations. Says winemaker Bob Stashak, “Flavors reminiscent of apples, limes and pears fit nicely with a little bit of a nutty characteristic, before a clean and balanced finish.”




The Cavit Collection has introduced new packaging for its full range of popular northern Italian wines. Inspiration for the new labels came from the Dolomite Alps, and the labels and outer shippers feature a die cut of the Alpine mountains as well as a more prominent logo, a more detailed image and a color band corresponding to each variety. Available in 187ml 4-packs, 375ml, 750ml and 1.5L sizes.



From the creators of original Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka comes Firefly Moonshine. Six variations—White Lightning, Apple Pie, Caramel, Cherry, Strawberry and Peach—range between 41.1 and 100.7 proof and provide unique flavor and South Carolina character. Originally a distillery secret, founders Jim Irvin and Scott Newitt are bringing it nationwide.

SRP: $17.99-18.99





Kühl Vodka is an 80 proof vodka made from French wheat and distilled at least four times. The infusion process for creating the brand’s range of flavors ensures that this is vodka with flavor as opposed to flavored vodka. Kühl Vodka is available in many flavors including original unflavored, Hot Cinnamon, Chocolate Whipped and Key Lime Margarita.

SRP: $11.99




Philadelphia Distilling proprietor Andrew Auwerda is a University of Maryland alum, so it’s fitting that his company has released The Bay Seasoned Vodka. This vodka is distilled four times and infused with a blend of traditional Chesapeake Bay seafood seasonings and sea salt. An ideal choice for Bloody Marys, with oyster shooters or enjoyed alongside a pile of fresh blue crabs.

SRP: $26/1L





Nicholas Enterprises Inc has introduced Carlos Murphy “The Legend” Original Cinnamon Spiced Tequila, a 100% blue agave reposado tequila infused with natural cinnamon flavors, The Legend offers cinnamon aroma on the nose and a soft, smooth finish. Currently being launched across the U.S., Canada, Japan and Belgium; bottled at 70 proof.

SRP: $19.99



The Balletto family makes their wines in California’s Russian River Valley. Out of 500 estate acres, the winery uses just 50. Balletto wines are low in alcohol, with higher acidity and subtle flavors. The flagship wines in the portfolio are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; the winery also produces Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Rosé of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.




Voga Italia, imported from Italy by Enovation Brands, has added Prosecco to its portfolio. The Italian sparkling wine is growing in popularity; Voga is made near the town of Conegliano in the Veneto region, and produced with an extended Charmat method to improve its perlage. A balanced wine with hints of citrus fruit. Available nationwide starting this month.

SRP: $19.99/750ml


Timed for summer fun, Skinnygirl Cocktails has four additions to its successful portfolio. Mojito was the most-requested flavor from fans and comes in at 19.9 proof with fresh citrus notes. Sweet ‘n Tart Grapefruit Margarita is a new twist on the original, also at 19.9 proof. White Cherry Vodka offers sassy cherry and creamy vanilla at 60 proof. Moscato offers soft tropical notes and is 9% ABV. All are less then 100 calories per serving.

SRP: $14.99/Moscato
SRP: $14.99/Mojito/Margarita
SRP: $21.99/White Cherry Vodka




Pinnacle recently introduced two new flavors to its vodka portfolio—Rainbow Sherbet and Strawberry Shortcake. Distilled five times, both fun flavors pay homage to classic dessert treats and are extremely mixable. Rainbow Sherbet offers citrus notes of lime and orange along with creamy raspberry, while Strawberry Shortcake brings to mind fresh strawberries and pastry cream.

SRP: $12.99



Talkin Tech: Sell, Retain, Repeat…

Posted on | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Today few people raise an eyebrow at the thought of selling or purchasing wine online. Some of the largest online retailers’ websites have served consumers for over a decade and a half. A quick scan at also reveals there are now over 12,000 outlets in the United States showcasing their products online. The increasing saturation of wine stores online may be worrisome to some retailers. With more competitors nationwide, consumers outside of your market have a better opportunity to find the same products more cheaply and conveniently elsewhere. However, stores should remember that their long-term success online–and in their store–greatly relies on the ability to acquire repeat customers. And while it may be increasingly difficult to attract loyal customers outside of your market, your local market is still ripe with opportunity.

A recent study conducted by Adobe in Q2 2012 titled, “The ROI From Marketing to Existing Online Customers” found that the likelihood of a returning website purchaser (i.e. a person who has placed one order previously) is over five times more likely to complete a transaction on a website than someone who has arrived for the first time. For repeat purchasers (i.e. those who have placed multiple orders in the past), they are over nine times as likely. Without question, the value of repeat shoppers show the importance of having them as a foundation of your business. The questions that loom though are how can stores build customer loyalty online–and where?

In a review of returning visitors on 20 established retail websites on our network, from the New York Metro and New Jersey markets, the data (taken from January to April 2013) showed that of all local traffic, 39.8% were repeat visitors while of all non-local traffic only 17.5% (less than half) were repeat visitors. What’s also striking is at the same time, though almost 40% of the local visitors are repeat customers, over 60% are first-timers. In other words, though stores do a much better job at converting customers in their market to be repeat purchasers, more than half of the people looking at the site are engaging with it for the very first time. This segment is where the greatest opportunity lies to grow and develop the foundation of your online business.

However, while a store’s local market contains the most reliable source of repeat business, it’s often not a large part of a store’s advertising strategy. Instead many online businesses attempt to maximize sales through high-volume, paid referral sites, where nearly all visitors to the site are new, and the opportunity to inspire repeat business is slimmer. This strategy has merits (SEO benefits, sales, e-mail list growth), but stores should be wary of singularly relying on them. For such a store, if one of these referring site makes an unfavorable policy change (such as removing all wine and spirits from its site), the results can be catastrophic. Retailers who remember when Google Products removed wine and spirits from their listings in June 2012 can attest to this.

Stores should keep these details in mind as they strategize the growth of their online business. Think: how can I change the shopping experience on my site to make it more appealing to my local market? Review your policies on local delivery on in-state shipping and consider offering flat-rate or free shipping/delivery opportunities. When it comes to spending advertising dollars, also look into marketing options that allow you to target a local audience, such as Google Adwords. And perhaps most importantly, when you see an order from a local customer whose name you don’t recognize, make the order fulfillment process as personal and pleasant as possible. These customers represent the best opportunity to grow the foundation of your business.

The Spice is Right

Posted on | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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La Bamba Cocktail by Piero Rodriguez of Zengo [photo by Jenny Adams]

Given the numerous unusual products released in the past few years, it’s not often that folks in spirits world are surprised by a new launch, but the recent announcement of a version of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum finished in Sherry casks did raise eyebrows. More importantly, though, it marks a significant signpost in the expansion of the spiced rum sub-category, more of¬ten thought of as a party drink for post-graduate frat boys.

It’s been a remarkable few years for spiced rums, as the category has been stretched with brands boasting higher proof, different flavor profiles, a range of price points and some groundbreaking imagery. Case in point: Kraken, the fast-growing rum that recently grabbed consumer and advertising industry attention with its remarkable three-dimensional billboards in Chicago, the Kraken itself slithering its giant tentacle into an apartment to grab a potential customer.

Both activities are part of the continuing efforts by brands to stand out in an increasingly crowded field, which of late has been led by a flotilla of nautical characters. Captain Morgan, Admiral Nelson’s, Sailor Jerry, Blackheart and Blackbeard have all enjoyed success, giving spiced rum an edgier, more rebellious image than that of milder white rums still favored for Cuba Libres, piña coladas and simple tropical concoctions. Of course, just because a rum’s name links to sea-faring does not mean it’s any less authentic than other rums. Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum is a perfect example of a serious flavored rum portfolio—spiced, vanilla, coffee, mango and coconut—that has shown tremendous growth since its founding on the island of St. Kitts in 2002.

“Spiced rum in the past five years has definitely taken on a lot of innovations and there has been a explosion of brands,” says Toby Whitmoyer, vice president, brand managing director of Bacardi’s rum portfolio that launched their spiced expression Oakheart in late 2011. “The leaders of the category are struggling to continue to grow with the many brands coming in. We see an attractive opportunity to expand the category and we expect continued innovation.”

The innovation seemed limited to price, proof and the incorporation of additional flavors until the announcement from Captain Morgan, already with nine line extensions that include premixed cocktails (Long Island Iced Tea), high proof (Black) and mixed flavors (Lime Bite).

“Our robust innovation agenda contributes to our growth, which is how the limited edition Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish came to be,” says Diageo’s Tom Herbst, vice president and U.S. Captain Morgan brand director. “It’s a rich and flavorful take on the brand’s signature blend. Our overarching goal remains to become the number one rum brand by 2015.”


It’s that activity along with other new brands that has pushed spiced rum so far so fast; without its growth in 2012, what was essentially a flat year for rum might have turned negative, according to recent data. Rum, the second largest category after vodka, grew just 1.5% in 2012, to nearly 25.5 million cases, according to numbers provided by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, while brands like Kraken, Sailor Jerry and Oakheart showed double- and triple-digit growth last year.

The innovation is fine with people in charge of fast-rising spiced rums, including Sailor Jerry, says Ken Reilly, category marketing director at William Grant. “A rising tide lifts all ships, and the fact that consumers are discovering spiced rums through a lot of strong brands differentiated in the segment bodes well,” he says.

That tide is rising with loads of new spiced rums entering the market: this spring, Malibu debuted a low-calorie, 30% ABV spiced iteration with a light spice, smoked vanilla, and cinnamon flavor profile targeted to female consumers. Following the launch of the George Clooney-partnership Caliche Rum last year, the latest celebrity rum comes from singer Kenny Chesney, who in May launched in 32 markets Blue Chair Bay Rum in three expres¬sions: white, coconut and coconut spiced.

And earlier in the year, the Gallo folks turned their hands to rum with Shellback White and Spiced. “Millennials are engaged in the category and over-index with rum on a dollar contribution basis. However, they move to other spirits perceived to be more sophisticated as they progress in life,” says Gerard Thoukis, senior director of marketing for Shellback. To gather them before they graduate to other brown spirits, Shellback Spiced was developed to be smooth, easy to drink, sweet and fruity, with a less vanilla characteristic prominent in many spiced rums.

On the other hand, Oakheart is being positioned as a sippable rum that’s more refined and mature, with a slight smoky flavor profile. Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish aims for complexity was well, showing notes of oak, sherry, vanilla, caramel, dark cherry and cocoa with a slight floral undertone.

While females make up half the spiced rum demographic, the volume is greater among young males, and that’s where two brands owned by Heaven Hill, Admiral Nelson’s and Blackheart, operate, says company spokesman Josh Hafer. Blackheart appeals to those seeking higher proof and an edgier image, while Admiral Nelson’s consumers are more price-sensitive and less into premium imagery.

As the spiced choices increase, re¬search reveals that consumers think of spiced as simply dark rum, which encourages brands like Sailor Jerry to eye competing for drinking occasions with highly branded whiskies and other brown spirits. It’s even showing up in cocktails, as Diageo’s Tom Herbst points out. “As mixology continues to evolve and diversify, the demand for spiced rum has increased steadily,” says Herbst. “Overall, consumers are becoming more receptive to brown spirits, which includes spiced rum, whether in cocktails or enjoying on the rocks.”

So, high proof or low, strong or mild, bold or easy, premium or value, spiced rum buyers have a range of choices. And that’s likely to continue as the category stretches; it’s clear that right now, spice is right. “Spiced rum is a significant segment of the overall rum category and its going to continue to expand, and there will continue to be innovation whether it’s marching up through different tiers of aging or proof or flavors,” says Whitmoyer.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which the heightened attention to spiced rum spills over into flavored rums. Bacardi has happily extended into multiple flavors—some, such as Dragon Barry, quite exotic—as well as lower-proof ready-to-serve cocktails. Brands Jumbie Bay and Caribaya have forged identities that keep their tropical flavors and imagery front and center.

Vanilla rums, in particular, seem poised for attention, as they straddle the spiced and flavored categories. Notable vanilla expressions include Pink Pigeon, an Anchor Distilling Co. import from Mauritius, tinged with vanilla, nutmeg and orange peel. And direct from Madagascar, the world’s most famous vanilla supplier, comes Dzama. This line includes multiple bottlings; Dzama’s 80 proof, $35 vanilla expression has a whole bean in every bottle.


Spiced rums may be the current volume drivers, but when the palates of rum drinkers mature, many refined and complex pleasures await them. The trick is, getting consumers to understand what good rum really is.

Rum consultant Luis Ayala believes the search for breakthrough spiced brands has led the industry down a narrow and wrong path. “Rum has not been considered a ‘serious distillate’ due mainly to the spiced and flavored rums that dominate the industry,” says Ayala. “For every consumer who enjoys sipping aged rums neat, from a snifter or other specialty glass, there are hundreds of consumers who mix spiced rums without regard to the quality of the neutral alcohol they are drinking.”

There’s no lack of brands or presence—for one, Appleton in the past few years made a big point of showing their aged expressions as sippable as whiskey. Says Brand Manager Katherine Lewis, that’s where the customers are: “Going beyond the rum consumer—tapping in to the aged brown spirit consumer, who appreciates aged tequila, single malt Scotch, bourbon, etc., we’ll speak to them with a message that emphasizes liquid quality and premium lifestyle.”

The movement is definitely there, says Bacardi’s Toby Whitmoyer: “We definitely see interest in dark and aged rums picking up, for us with Bacardi 8 and Reserva Limitada. But rums haven’t been premiumized at the rate of other spirits.”

Some brands are aiming more actively to correct that. Cruzan will roll out its Dis¬tiller’s Collection this fall, with Cruzan Estate Diamond Light Rum and Estate Diamond Dark Rum joining Cruzan Single Barrel. Mount Gay just launched Black Barrel, the only Mount Gay rum finished in charred bourbon barrels, and made with a higher proportion of double distillates.

Some other fairly young brands with complex flavor profiles and super-premium positioning, such as Banks and Atlantico, have pegged their growth to the bar community and consumers who a few years ago might have gravitated to Zacapa, the dark and rich Guatemalan rum. Atlantico, in particular, is one to watch; on top of the star power provided by Enrique Iglesias, the brand has two expertly crafted sip-worthy expressions: a solera-style Reserva and Atlantico Private Cask, a blend of small-batched rums aged up to 25 years.

The allure of being regarded as a sipping rum is clear, although these rums themselves are not. Gosling’s, whose Black Seal Rum made the Dark and Stormy famous, scored a coup when Caribbean Journal named Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum their 2012 Rum of the Year.

Based on its name and packaging, Viz¬caya VXOP borrows a page from Cognac to declare its commitment to sippability. Made with fragrant sugarcane juice fer¬mented and aged in oak barrels, Vizcaya VXOP emerges with a thick texture and deep flavor profile that includes notes of spice, butterscotch, honey and caramel.

Rhum Clément, perhaps the best-known rhum agricole sold in the U.S., to that end has mostly been promoted in high-end cocktail bars and brown spirit lounges, and recently has increased its expressions to include a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. Soon, according to managing director of Clément USA Ben Jones, the company will add a white rum made from a single-varietal sugar cane a single cask aged in all French oak for eight years.

Other brands too have focused on the cocktail crowd, like Venezuela’s Santa Te¬resa. Says Commercial Director Henrique Vollmer, “Santa Teresa has effectively demonstrated that its aged expressions are worthy of sipping on their own and can go head-to-head against the finest whis¬kies and brandies.”

There’s an array of rums, like Panama’s Ron Abuelo and Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña, that offer more refined and in¬teresting aged expressions, but building interest for super- and ultra-premium rums has always needed a big push from one of the major players to establish consumer awareness of rum as a quality beverage. As Ayala says, “The premium and super-premium segments have the most potential, and those distillers who are able to deliver a good quality/cost offering at these levels will see their businesses grow.”

• RUM 101 •

Rum is made from sugarcane byprod¬ucts—such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice—which are fermented and then distilled. After distillation, the spirit is aged in oak barrels. The following points cover variations of the final product:

Light rum (sometimes called silver or white), named for its clear appearance, spends little time in barrel and emerges with a milder flavor profile marked by general sweetness. Most light rums hail from Puerto Rico and are ideal for mixing in cocktails.
Golden (aka amber) rums are aged longer and disply a darker hue as well as some wood character.
Dark rums are typically aged for three to 12 years in barrel and take on both a darker color (described variously as red, brown or black) and stronger flavor with hints of spice or molasses. Commonly produced in Haiti and Jamaica, dark rum is more likely to be enjoyed as a sipping rum, and is used in cooking thanks to its richer flavor.
Spiced rums gain character through the introduction of actual spices while the rum is aging. Most of these rums are darker in color and are based on golden rums; spices may include include baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon), ginger, rosemary and pepper. Cheaper expressions are made of white rum later darkened with caramel.
Flavored rums are infused with differ¬ent flavors. Common fruits used are tropical (banana, coconut, pineapple, mango) and citrus (orange, lime). Vanilla is also used quite successfully. Typically 80 proof or less, flavored rums can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or as an ingredient in cocktails.

Rum usually has about 40% alcohol (80 proof); however, many expressions are bottled at a higher strength. Among the best-known examples is Bacardi 151.

Rum grades used for designation depend on where the rum was produced. Generally, premium bottlings feature higher prices due to longer aging and higher standards. They are often enjoyed straight.

**cover cocktail**

PORT ROYAL PUNCH, courtesy of Captain Morgan
2 (46 oz.) cans pineapple juice
24. oz of mango juice
1 (750 ml) bottle Captain Morgan
 Original Spiced Rum
4.5 oz. grenadine
3 oranges, sliced thinly
 and quartered
3 12 oz. cans of Sprite

Combine all ingredients in a punch
bowl or large pitcher and stir.
Serve in punch glasses filled with ice.
Serves 25.

Somm Sez: Tampa’s Wine Oasis

Posted on | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Craig Dean, Wine Director/Manager, The Wine Exchange, Tampa, FL

The Wine Exchange, in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village, is a relaxed bistro and wine bar that conjures up the feel of sidewalk cafés in Europe. Catering to a diverse clientele, the two-decades-strong spot serves up a menu and list, with 40 wines by the glass. Under the direction of Craig Dean, the staff is well-versed enough to talk the wine talk with aficionados, or to suggest simple sippers to accompany a sandwich. A nice selection of half-bottles and some obscure cellar gems help elevate the Wine Exchange well above street level in terms of wine appeal.



THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What is a favorite current pairing from your menu and list?

CRAIG DEAN: Jerk-grilled salmon with Jamaican banana butter and Eroica dry Riesling.

TBN: What kind of wine promotions do you do?

CD: Tuesday is cheap bottle night, Wednesday is 20% off wines over $60. We think we have great prices every day though.

TBN: What are some wines that have done especially well for you by the glass?

CD: MAN Vintners South African Chenin Blanc, Conn Creek Cab, Laurenz Grüner Veltliner.

TBN: What software system do you use?

CD: Excel for inventory, and I do the list using Pages. Pages is simple and clean, yet powerful. (I’m a long time Mac geek.)

TBN: How many distributors do you do business with?

CD: All of them! Everyone has something special to offer. Although I tend to work with the big three a lot right now. It comes down to relationships with reps, a love of particular wineries or winemakers, as well as the simple “best wine for the price” theory.

TBN: Do you have a routine for managing your wine orders?

CD: Tuesday during the day. I look at what’s low, what’s moving, what isn’t…. Then I evaluate and tweak the lists, feature wines and wine flights to suit that week’s situation. I place orders weekly, by text. I like having my sent orders easily retrievable.

TBN: Do you have a strategy for displaying wines at the restaurant?

CD: There isn’t much “display” space. Basically just the reds by the glass.

TBN: You must get varied levels of wine experience among your guests.

CD: I’d say we attract three different types of wine drinkers. 1. I-Know-What-I-Like (nothing new there!). 2. The Blank Slate, who will try anything, just not too expensive. 3. The Cork Dork, searching for something new and will pay for it. My goal is to make all three types happy.

TBN: How is the success of your wine program measured?

CD: Customer satisfaction and profitability
are tantamount, but it’s a simple balance of inventory, sales and expenditures. Since wine isn’t perishable like food, it takes a year for a program to show its worth.

TBN: What tips do you find yourself frequently telling your staff?

CD: Read the labels on the back of the bottle, Google any questions, read the wine bibles on hand when you’re slow. Taste, taste, taste with others on the staff and hear how they describe the wine. Tweak words like “sour” into tart, and “fruity” into fruit-forward. Simple stuff really.

TBN: What are some other wine lists/programs that you admire?

CD: Empire State South in Atlanta has a cool menu. Ravenous Pig in Orlando. Mise En Place, Sidebern’s and Cru Cellars are all doing great stuff in South Tampa. Also in Tampa, Bern’s is, of course, legendary and mind-boggling. I just wish I didn’t work nights so I could go enjoy them. Every wine buyer must finesse a list that they would want to drink from while also creating one that appeals to a broad range of tastes.

Raising the Barrio

Posted on | May 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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America’s face is changing. By 2042, it is estimated that people of color will outnumber whites in the U.S. In parts of the Southwest, Latinos already make up a significant majority of the population, particularly among younger age groups. Asian-Americans make up the largest racial population at seven of the nine University of California campuses, and a higher percentage of Asian-Americans than European-Americans have incomes over $100,000. And from Jay-Z to Barack Obama to Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox Corp) and Oprah, African-Americans hold ever-increasing political and economic sway.

What does this mean for the beverage world? This much is certain: there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the multi-culti puzzle. Not only are distinct cultures feeding America’s 21st century melting pot, age demographics are also at play. While some immigrants may aim to recreate life in the mother country, their first-generation-American offspring may aim to adapt their ethnic tastes to American consumption patterns. Appealing directly to distinct sub-populations requires insight as to culturally influenced habits—what media is most consumed, what sports resonate, how a specific demographic treats religion or socializing or credit cards.

For as long as Americans have popped corks, nationality has been central to any discussion of wine. More recently, marketers adore talking about attracting women via “skinny” liquors and female-minded labels. But ask them how they reach out to African-Americans or Hispanics, and the conversation can become one of delicate navigation. It’s a sticky wicket, and with good reason. Isolating a demographic group can lurk precipitously close to stereotyping. And if target marketing is seen as suspect, it can backfire.

But sheer numbers dictate that beverage alcohol professionals in each tier should pay closer attention to ethnicity. Moreover, marketing can be conducted inclusively; after all, if the point is to get the right products to the right customers, targeting is good for both sellers and buyers.

Homeland vs. Homegrown

Part of the trick to tapping into ethnicity is balancing the appeal of a country of origin vis à vis a group’s experience and attitudes in America. “When it comes to marketing product,” says Erick Castro, a first-generation Mexican-American and owner of San Diego’s newest craft cocktail hotspot Polite Provisions. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much more open-minded a lot of the Latinos are here in the States. It’s more than just rum and tequila.”

Cultural influences from one’s homeland (or one’s parents’ homeland) can affect what’s popular, and how it’s consumed. “Johnnie Walker Black has a tremendous amount of success in the Caribbean market, and that translates here, particularly for Dominicans,” says Leslie Velasquez of Empire Merchants, a large New York distributor. “Buchanan Whisky is very popular among Colombians and Mexicans. Part of the brand strategy for Diageo, which has a tremendous portfolio internationally, is marketing to different Latino segments based on historical success in other countries,” adds Velasquez.

Nicole Rolet, marketer for her family’s wine label Chêne Bleu, agrees that cultural heritage can influence drinking habits. She notes that breaking into the Miami market with her signature Southern Rhône rosés is a challenge. “It’s a red wine culture there, despite the heat,” says Rolet. “Because of the Cuban and Hispanic population, red wines of Spain are very prevalent.”

Aspiration by the Bottle

Some trends—notably bottle service and weekend festivity—and more behavioral than product-based. “A lot of on-premise business in the multi-culti world is really driven by bottle service, particularly for special occasions,” says Marcelo Alcoba, multi-culti division manager at Empire Merchants. “It’s the feeling that ‘Hey, I’m at a lounge or club, and I have two or three bottles on the table. I’ve made it. Look at me.’”

At The Flavor Lounge, a small dancing, drinking and hookah spot in Richmond Hill—an economically challenged Queens, NY, neighborhood—Fridays bring Latin Night, with salsa and merengue blended into the nightly hip-hop. Despite the bar’s modest trappings, $100 bottle specials are offered for those who arrive before midnight. The trend is even more prevalent at high-end nightclubs in Manhattan and Las Vegas. Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wine and Spirits Nevada notes: “The table service in clubs is very inflated. It’s easy to spend a few thousand for bottles of vodka or tequila.”

Social nightlife impacts when, what and how much Latinos and African-Americans drink, according to Alcoba. “The weekend is when people are going out, or hanging out, and they may want to drink something a little higher-end,” he says. “During the week, it might be Smirnoff Coconut, but on the weekends, Cîroc Coconut.”

Emma Martinez Flores, a first-generation Mexican-American in Nampa, Idaho (a suburb of Boise with a large Latino population), agrees. “Mexicans might have a beer during the week, when they’re done working,” she says. “But going out on the weekends to dance and eat and drink—that’s the big thing.” Despite the large Latino population throughout metro Boise’s Treasure Valley (many employed in agriculture and industry), few social spots directly target Latinos, but clubs such as Caldwell’s Blue Eye Nightclub are apt to showcase Norteño bands on Fridays and Saturdays.

Making the Global Local

The question remains, even with patterns emerging: How do suppliers and distributors convert demographics into dollars? “Our main goal is to make sure we have the right accounts,” says Empire’s Alcoba. “We look at zip codes and specifically find where the consumers are, where they live and where they shop. Then we decide that’s where we’ll focus our on- and off-premise selling.”

Not surprisingly, on the sales frontlines, language itself is critical. Alcoba notes that in metro New York, Empire Merchants tries to place staff who understand the area and its residents, ideally speaking the language and understanding the dominant cultures in the neighborhoods. “It speaks to getting the most out of the brand, and in the case of Hispanics, understanding whether that means Mexican, Colombian, Caribbean or others,” Alcoba says.

Brand support is crucial to distributor success, according to Alcoba. The past couple of years have witnessed an increase in Latino and African-American outreach marketing, especially in the form of outdoor advertising. The Johnnie Walker “My Label is Black” campaign, launched late last year, is highly visible in Latin-American concentrated neighborhoods. Musician/entrepreneur Don Omar and former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada lent their faces to the ad campaigns and have made appearances; charitable partnerships with local organizations help tie the brand directly to the community.

Targets, Both Broad and Focused

Other targeted promotions and products abound. Malibu Red partnered with R&B musician Ne-Yo, who wrote a song specifically for the spirit—a blend of rum and tequila targeting the nightlife crowd. El Jimador, a tequila popular with Mexicans on both sides of the border, launched commemorative bottles adorned with soccer team motifs. As part of April’s Tribeca Film Festival, Heineken sponsored grants and awards recognizing Latino and African-American filmmakers.

A new product, Coco Mambú, welcomes guests with “Hola!” on its website; technically a liqueur at 36 proof, this blend of rum, coconut water (20%), sugar and natural fruit flavors, celebrates a tropical island vibe with two inaugural flavors: Orange-Mango and Watermelon-Lime. RumChata, a 27.5-proof blend of cream, rum and cinnamon, is not targeted toward an ethnic demographic per se, but it is inspired by the rice-based Mexican beverage horchata.

Earlier this year, Hennessy partnered with the rapper Nas as part of its “Wild Rabbit” campaign. Last year’s partners included singer Erykah Badu, boxer Manny Pacquiao and filmmaker Martin Scorcese. Anchored by the slogan “What’s your Wild Rabbit?”, the campaign aims to attract a new generation of aspirational consumers. Hennessy Latino, the brand’s Hispanic outreach program, also hosts large-scale events around the country.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of black and Latino entertainers and entrepreneurs are getting behind brands. Sean “Diddy” Combs’s association with Cîroc Vodka might be the most prominent. CeeLo Green partnered last year with Ty Ku Saké as both investor and spokesperson. Music producer Timbaland launched the sparkling flavored vodka product LeSutra, targeting nightclubs and lounges. And Jay-Z is invested in D’Ussé, Bacardi’s Cognac launched in 2012.

When targeted demographic outreach works, it encourages the consumer to embrace the brand both as a lifestyle emblem and to appreciate the history behind it in the same way marketers have long aimed to attract specific consumers.

Challenges & Promise

Outreach notwithstanding, multi-culti alcohol marketing can still be complicated by economic disparity. So-called “bulletproof” stores, put little inventory on display; some suppliers, in turn, create custom POS materials for such shops. Smuggling alcohol into bars and clubs to spike cheaper soft drinks is a serious concern at many bars. Overall, however, Alcoba notes the trends have been very positive for the multi-culti division: “You’re really seeing a lot of super-premium items driving our revenue
and growth.”

Perhaps most important for re-sellers to remember is that, particularly among young Americans of all stripes, there is a great deal of crossover these days. While Latinos and African-Americans may represent fairly distinct, targetable segments, music, food, cuisine and pop culture flow in multiple directions. Mojitos are practically as well-known as margaritas. In Budweiser’s most recent TV ads, young people of varying ethnicities dance the night away. Tecate Light recently released a canned michelada (beer blended with lime, spices and a hint of chili pepper) as well as a campaign that plays humorously—and bilingually—with English and Spanglish words commonly used among U.S.  Hispanic men.

Just as white suburban kids are steeped in hip-hop, so too are Latinos, Asians and African-Americans populating the fine drinking and dining scene. “People ask me, ‘Who’s your target?’” says Ken Austin, founder and chairman of Tequila Avión. “I say: one thing tequila doesn’t do, is it doesn’t discriminate. No one turns down a shot of tequila. My market is anyone over 21
with a mouth.”

Of course, cultural sub-groups have a long history of influencing American food and drink consumption. The founding fathers brought their taste for discussing politics in pubs over from England. Germans and Bavarians almost singlehandedly built America’s beer culture. Italians ensured California’s wine industry survived Prohibition. Today’s hip-hop culture spark of Moscato is not so unusual in the big picture, and similar phenomena are apt to follow.  All things considered, it is safe to say that America’s melting pot is leaving a significant imprint on the nation’s beverage alcohol enjoyment.

Bar Talk: Miami Cool

Posted on | May 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Allegra Angelo, Beverage Director, 50 Eggs, Miami, FL

Between Miami hotspots Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House and Swine Southern Table & Bar, Allegra Angelo, who oversees the wine & spirits programs for all three, is one busy gal. Here, she discusses bartenders setting customers’ drink agendas, the rise of rye and a shifting, spirited city.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What’s your current take on Miami’s bar scene?

ALLEGRA ANGELO: Miami’s bar scene has grown up in the last five years due to a small group of mavericks who have consistently been stirring and shaking damn good drinks here. There is still, though, a need for more options: more freestanding bars not constrained within a hotel nor to the parameters of Miami Beach. Neighborhoods like Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, the upper Biscayne Corridor, South Miami and Little Havana are ready—and thirsty—for local bars with small spirit-forward cocktail lists.

TBN: What’s the goal of Swine’s beverage program?

AA: Swine’s beverage philosophy is to play a touch off the mainstream. Give people comfort options like a clean and refreshing vodka drink with local strawberries and oranges [Homestead Bound], but at the same time allow them to experiment and be adventurous with the marriage of rye whiskey and rum in an interpretation of a classic Sidecar [South by South Sidecar].

TBN: What are some of the cocktails on your menu that are particularly big hits?

AA: Guests love Rob Ferrara’s barrel-aged Pisco cocktail. He combines Kappa Pisco, Dolin Blanc vermouth and Mandarine Napoléon liqueur, and rests it for eight weeks in a bourbon barrel, shipped directly from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Although the cocktail is spirit forward, it is soft and detailed. You taste the floral notes from the Kappa and the bright citrus from the liqueur, rounded out by the sweetness of the vermouth and the oxidation from time in barrel.

TBN: When we think of Miami, rum is the first spirit that comes to mind. What is your process for encouraging customers to try the rye that plays such a prevalent role at Swine?

AA: We play with rum and rye cocktails, which is a sneaky but kind way to get people to drink it. The sweet personality of rum marries well with the spicy attitude of rye. For example, we have one called the Good Ritten Sour. This consists of Rittenhouse 100-proof rye and Santa Teresa añejo rum with lemon, basil, egg white and a Rioja drizzle, garnished with a Filthy Cherry and orange twist. This is one of our bestselling cocktails, and one of the few that women and men equally enjoy.

TBN: What are the challenges of having a thoughtful cocktail program in place while working in a city where so much of going out revolves around volume orders of vodka sodas and mojitos?

AA: The consumers don’t drive the market, we do. They drink vodka because they don’t have options when they “go out.” If you create a cocktail menu that is user-friendly and fun—every detail, even the type and size of the font, matters—then people will drink beyond vodka. And of course, you need a skilled bartender who understands flavor and balance, like a great chef or a great sommelier.

Memorable cocktails have detail. I realized this when I was drinking an Old Cuban. Most bars make this classic cocktail with Prosecco or Cava, but the best Old Cuban is made with Champagne; it is cleaner and brighter. There is a difference between adding one ounce of Prosecco or one ounce of Champagne. There is a difference between adding a half-ounce of lemon juice or just a quarter-ounce. There is a difference between using a gin that is citrus-forward or juniper-forward when shaking it with an apricot liqueur. The guest might not realize these differences, but it is the summation of all these little unsung details that makes that guest come back again and again.

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