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Posted by on in July 2018 Editions

July18 Vodka

It’s hard to call a spirit ‘neutral’ when there’s so much diversity within its category 

By Jeff Cioletti


Vodka hasn’t attracted the sort of feverish fandom that, say, whiskey and agave spirits have, but that, in a sense, is by design. If vodka is truly doing its job and being everything it’s supposed to be, it’s neutral—without color, aroma or flavor (mostly). What’s to get excited about?

Well, it still outsells every other spirit—that’s pretty exciting.

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The Urban Winery in Silver Spring, Md., not only bills itself as the closest winery to the nation's capital, its proprietors also tout their business as the first winery in the overall D.C.-Maryland-Northern Virginia region to be located in an urban environment.  
The Urban Winery proprietors are husband-and-wife team Damon and Georgia Callis, and their passion for the grape has proven infectious.

"Georgia is the winemaker, and I'm basically her business partner," said Damon Callis, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We'd been making wine together as amateurs for 18 years.  But we started to see a lot of the opportunity that arose in Silver Spring and in Maryland, in general."

He continued, "The concept of an urban winery is not new.  It's actually been around for a long time.  Even before Prohibition, much of America's wine industry was created in an urban environment and was distributed.  It was only after Prohibition where players like the Mondavis started to create this farm-style wine approach in the U.S.  In reading up and studying the history, there really wasn't an urban winery in the Mid-Atlantic.  The closest one was New York.  We fell in love with the [idea].  Making wine is fun.  But sharing it with others and then them coming back and sharing it with people they know is what keeps us going every day."

Callis made it clear that he and his wife are not farmers.  They get grapes from such far-flung locales as California, New York, and Pennsylvania.  They've also developed relationships with various farmers throughout Maryland, from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County. "Contributing to our local economy and our local agriculture is very important to us," he said.  "But what's really important is knowing the palettes of our customers and giving them a very different experience when they come to our tasting room. The Urban Winery experience is Taste … Learn … Create.  Our wines range from Merlots from Maryland to Zinfandels from California.  We make dry, white wines.  But we also make some semi-sweet white wines that are fabulous, and we're also making white wines with hops.  VidalPA is one of our newest products that we're releasing in cans.  We also have a Bourbon Barrel Merlot."

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When mentioning the word moonshine to many, images of a low-quality, home-brewed, bootlegged concoction immediately come to mind.  Much of it has to do with how moonshine has been portrayed for decades in mostly Southern-themed pop culture.  
Granny from the 1960s TV series, "The Beverly Hillbillies," ran a moonshine still by the Clampett family swimming pool.
In the video game, "Redneck Rampage," moonshine is used as a power-up that increases fighting ability (like Popeye's spinach).

And then there are the references in countless songs over the years.  And not just country favorites like George Jones ("White Lightning") and Florida Georgia Line ("Get Your Shine On").  But crossover artists like Aerosmith (who were "gettin' crazy on the moonshine" in their 1989 rock hit "Rag Doll") and funk band Parliament (their classic "Moonshine Heather").

Enter Richmond, Va.-based Belle Isle Spirits, whose stated mission has been to revive the art of moonshine. So far, they've been very successful at doing so.  The Beverage Journal recently asked Belle Isle co-founder and CEO Vince Riggi how he and his colleagues have managed to convince so many people to give their products a try.  "For the consumer," he said, "people inherently want to experience something new and exciting.  Belle Isle helps facilitate that journey by providing a unique product that's not quite like anything they’ve ever experienced before.  There is something that sticks about our product.  On the bartender side, we're another tool for their toolbox that provides them with a canvas to create delicious cocktails, and again, provide that unique experience for their clientele."

At tastings, Riggi has recorded a very common response among first-time drinkers: "Utter surprise!" he exclaimed.  "'This tastes better than my favorite vodka' is probably the most frequent comment we receive.  That's soon followed by 'Where the heck can I buy this?!'"

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Posted by on in July 2018 Editions

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Winegrowers are taking deliberate steps to lighten up Malbec and more

By W. Blake Gray


 If you haven’t tried Argentine wine in a while, you might be surprised. Malbec, the country’s definitive wine that has earned its status here by punching above its price point, is changing. Musclebound Malbec is no longer the norm; there’s a trend toward picking earlier and using less new oak. In short, Argentina is lightening up.

This is not just a trend for boutique producers, or at one price level. Some of Argentina’s most important exporters—including Catena, Susana Balbo, Trivento, Kaiken and Trapiche—are intentionally making most of their wines lighter. “Ten years ago, one of the most important elements was concentration. Density,” says Trivento Chief Winemaker German di Cesare. “Now it’s not so important.”

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Fruit Brandies—A Small But Booming Niche—Present Opportunities

By Jack Robertiello

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Posted by on in June 2018 Editions
Sampling from barrel at Flor de Caña.

As Premiumization Reaches Rum, The Action Is In Aged Expressions

By Jack Robertiello


When Gruppo Campari threw open the doors to their $7+ million expansion of Appleton Estate distillery in the hills of Jamaica in January, it was only the latest step in their effort to upgrade the reputation of the best-known aged Jamaican rum.

This expansion comes after recent double-digit growth for Appleton Estate Reserve Blend and Rare Blend 12 YO, the introduction of 21- and 50-year-old expressions, and the swapping of J. Wray for Appleton on the Gold and Silver rums, leaving Appleton as an aged-only brand.

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When DC's Red Lounge Caught the 'Black Panther' 

The whole world has gone Marvel Comics crazy.  The latest "Avengers" sequel smashed opening day and weekend records at the box office.  Before that, "Black Panther" shocked the world by becoming the third-highest grossing film of all time in North America, appealing to a wider demographic than ever before for a "comic-book film."

Not everyone was surprised, though.  Back in February, Jason Kelley and Greg Jackson Jr. sensed a pop-culture phenomenon was about to happen and sprang into action.  Their Washington, D.C.-based event production company, The Wave, put together a "Black Panther"-themed pop-up bar that was hosted at the Red Lounge on U Street in the nation's capital.  It was only supposed to run one weekend.  Interest was so high in the event, dubbed Enter Wakanda DC, that Kelley and Jackson extended it a second weekend the following Friday-through-Sunday.

"We realized very quickly that it was far bigger than our original intention," Kelley recalled, during a late April interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Some people stayed at the pop-up bar for five, six hours.  It definitely celebrated the moment, the movie, and our culture."

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Posted by on in June 2018 Editions

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Ready-To-Drink Sangria Is Having A Moment

By Jeff Cioletti


 Beverage segments come and go with the ebb and flow of consumer trends, but one category that’s had a dependably steady, yet relatively quiet presence on the scene has been ready-to-drink sangria. There are some periods in which it’s more fashionable than others, but it’s always somehow managed to adapt to evolving consumer habits.

Ready-to-drink sangria is a relatively tiny segment, accounting for about 4.7 million total cases and revenue of about $193 million in the 52-week period that ended in late March, according to Nielsen. Volume grew about 4.1% and revenue climbed about 3.5% over the prior 12-month period. Domestically produced sangria represents the larger slice of the market, 3.7 million cases to imports’ 972,459 cases. But import volume grew faster during that period, surging 9.6% versus domestic growth of 2.7%.

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Posted by on in June 2018 Editions
Sable’s Message in a Bottle has dual serving vessels for distinct aged spirits.

Mixologists Continue To Push The Limits Of Ingredients & Technique

By Jack Robertiello


If you can find it a TGI Friday’s, can it still be extreme? 

As cocktail trends ebb and flow with the drive to be fresh and intriguing, it’s hard to make a splash without reaching for extremes. Which may be how a drink made with charcoal was featured at one of the largest mainstream chains last year.

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Posted by on in June 2018 Editions

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The Need For Evolution And A Commitment To ‘Stand Out’ Highlight The Annual Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Convention

By Kristen Bieler


This year was the 75th anniversary of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention. Held in Las Vegas from April 30th through May 3rd, the convention also marks the last year of WSWA President and CEO Craig Wolf’s leadership after 18 years with the organization. Among his parting words of advice: “A unified membership has been the key to our success.”

General session attendees heard from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sidney Frank Innovation Award Winner Rob Sands (CEO Constellation Brands) and Lifetime Leadership Award winner Robert Harmelin (EVP, Allied Beverage Group), among others.

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Posted by on in May 2018 Editions

Rose

Soaring demand meets explosive supply with a Provençal twist

 By W. R. Tish


For a category that represents less than 5% of the overall table wine market in the U.S., rosé has taken on extraordinarily high visibility, spilling over into pop culture and social media—in turn strengthening the trend.

Pardon the pun, but the outlook for rosé is still rosy, right? The category’s double-digit growth just begins to hint at the pink success story. Over the past four years, rosé has almost quadrupled in volume and jumped in varietal wine rank from #17 to #9, according to Nielsen. Rosé’s largest segment is $11-$15, so premiumization is already at play. Plus, consumption is still accelerating. Americans drank 67% more rosé in 2017 than they did in 2016, and that year was up by 44% over 2015.

Beyond stats, this pale pink liquid has grabbed America by the buds, delivering fruity refreshment with an aesthetic (read Instagrammable) bonus. Rosé has joined the broader culture—from sweatpants to fashion shows, gummies to wedding favors—lending its pink halo to rosé cocktails, cider and spirits; inspiring social media hashtags à la #brosé and #yeswayrosé; even prompting marketers in other arenas to go pink when propping wine.

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Slushies and such are all grown-up, thanks to technology, creativity…and rosé.  Of all the beverage types that joined in the contemporary cocktail revolution, frozen drinks were left wallflowers, uninvited to the cool kids’ table.  Outside of Tiki, which has always welcomed the qualities that frozen offers, it was a style mostly left to chains churning out schooners of fruit-laced Margaritas and Daiquiris. In the past couple of years, creative cocktail makers with a well-developed sense of fun took advantage of equipment and ingredient evolution to whip up tasty adult treats.

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Posted by on in May 2018 Editions

In a Post-Juniper Era, The Spirit is Flexing Its Muscle—and Style

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By Amanda Schuster


Many Americans still associate the category with bracing, herbaceous expressions traditionally associated with the designation London Dry. But that reputation deserves to be retired. Juniper, of course, is the defining botanical in all gin, but it has come to be handled more palatably than ever, even in bang-for-buck brands like Burnett’s and New Amsterdam. And a boomlet of new ventures shows there is much room for play in creating other vibrant, complex flavor profiles from alternative ingredients. For those looking beyond the typical dry expressions, here’s how some brands have rethought gin.

Exotic Gin

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The new Mid-Atlantic Region Manager for Sovereign Brands has made the jump from a long tenure in spirits to a heavily focused wine supplier with a newly focused attention on spirits

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Dave Hochrein is the new Mid-Atlantic Region Manager for Sovereign Brands, a family company of fine wines and spirits owned and operated by the Berish brothers.  Hochrein previously served as Proximo Spirits' Regional Director for Maryland and Washington, D.C., from September 2014 to March of this year.

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MISCellaneous Distillery opened in December 2016, selling its Risky Rum product via a tasting room on Main Street in Mount Airy.  The brainchild of Dan McNeil and Meg MacWhirter, the business has taken off since then.  Wholesale sales began in mid-2017.  Before long, MISCellaneous Distillery had launched four more products -- Dew Point Rum, Diametric Whisky, Restless Rye Whisky, and Virtuous Vodka -- with more on the way.

One of the things that distinguishes the operation is MISCellaneous Distillery sources 100 percent of its Rye from a Carroll County farm and all of its sugar products from Domino Sugar in Baltimore. MacWhirter says the local partnerships are very important.  "We find these Maryland connections are an important part of our story," she stated, during a recent interview, "and they help us connect with our customers and accounts even if they haven’t been able to see us at the distillery.  We have great partnerships with both Hickory Hollow Farm and Gravel Springs Farms for grain, allowing us to grow and distill our products in the same county. We then send protein-rich spent mash back to Hickory Hollow for them to feed their cattle."

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Posted by on in May 2018 Editions

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Santa Carolina Reserva is a tribute to Carolina Íñiguez –the wife of the winery’s founder Luis Pereira.  This wine seeks to reach people who are keen on enjoying every moment and always find an opportunity to turn an ordinary day into a special occasion.

Carolina is a woman who knows how to enjoy life. She can turn even the simplest of moments into a grand one. She, like no other, understands the power of small details and reminds us that any moment can become a great occasion and that there is always a good reason to celebrate.

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Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and The Aleethia Foundation have again joined forces in supporting wounded, injured and/or ill service members and their families through the early phases of the healing process at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, named to honor the life and legacy of Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins, formed the creation of The Norman Collins Initiative at The Aleethia Foundation. The Foundation is designed to raise funds for Aleethia in its ongoing efforts to support wounded/injured/ill service members in their rehabilitation and healing process.

“Aleethia is excited about the expanded support through the Norman Collins Initiative,” stated Hal Koster, Executive Director of the Aleethia Foundation. “We are a volunteer organization that exists because wonderful organizations like Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum have shared our vision of support.”

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Posted by on in April 2018 Editions

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Wine’s Latest Format is Busting Out With New SKUs. But are Consumers On Board?

By Jeff Siegel 


What are you supposed to believe about canned wine? Are cans the next big thing, given that sales were up 52% last year—growth that far out-paced every other part of the category? Or are they the next Moscato—here and mostly gone, given that each massive sales increase is from a tiny, tiny base.

According to Nielsen, the market share for cans in 2017 was one-fifth that of 187ml bottles, and the airline-sized pour owns a grand total of 1.1% of the U.S. wine market. So, we are really talking about sliver of a fraction of the overall wine market.

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Posted by on in April 2018 Editions
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Roasting agave piñas at Del Maguey

On Tequila’s Tail, Mezcal is Inspiring Importers & Impressing Agave Enthusiasts

By Jack Robertiello


To many Americans, it’s still a niche product, a rustic rough-and-tumble relative of its now-sophisticated cousin. But recently, mezcal has started to shake off its lost weekend reputation, gathering numerous bartender fans and appearing more and more on craft cocktail lists. 

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Recent updates to Fell's Point have resulted in noted improvements in the landscape and overall atmosphere in one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods. With the variety of restaurants,  boutique shops, and historic buildings lining the streets, the neighborhood remains one of the most dominant attractions in the city, for tourism and economic development. And for good reason.

Shaped and founded by William Fell in 1730, the original municipality combined with Baltimore Town and Jones Town to form Baltimore City in 1797, forever solidifying the rich history of the neighborhood that still remains a crucial part of Baltimore City to this day.

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Whisky lovers are set to gather on April 17 in Washington, D.C., to sample some of the world's best whiskies.  The event is WhiskyFest. Presented by Whisky Advocate magazine, the festival is returning to the nation's capital for the third consecutive year, offering the chance for attendees to sample almost 300 whiskies from around the globe and attend seminars hosted by industry experts.

Among those attendees will be numerous bar, restaurant, and packaged-goods store operators. Whisky Advocate Executive Editor Jeffery Lindenmuth comments, "WhiskyFest is certainly a place for local whisky sellers to sample whiskies they are considering [serving/stocking] and to discover new ones. Attendees who taste a whisky and meet the distiller leave motivated to buy that bottle. In that way, whisky experience and whisky education boost whisky sales."

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Jameson, the industry leader in volume and recognition, is also at the forefront of innovation

 The Irish resurgence is looking more and more like a sustainable trend

 By Jeff Cioletti


Irish whiskey continues to be the big international growth story in the spirits space, with another year of double-digit gains for the U.S. market. And it’s become a force to be reckoned with, as the base it’s been growing from isn’t nearly as small as it used to be.

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There's really no other way to put it.  In December, the White House signed a historic tax bill into law that was absolutely loaded with "goodies" for the beer, wine, and spirits business.  A number of the Maryland-D.C. area's top beverage industry professionals weighed in on the changes, and their enthusiasm was obvious.

Jaime Windon, owner and co-founder of St. Michaels-based Lyon Distilling Co., declared during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "The tiered changes create a more competitive and equitable tax system, which significantly benefits smaller distilleries and every distillery in Maryland. Historically, the high federal excise tax rate on distilled spirits has been a huge barrier to growth. The largest tax savings apply to distilleries producing less than 100,000 gallons of spirits each year, indeed reducing the rate from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 per proof gallon. To put that in perspective, in our first year [2012], Lyon made less than 1,000 gallons. In 2018, we plan to make 10,000 gallons. That represents a potential savings of $108,000 in federal excise tax under the new law."

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Apologies ahead of time to anyone I didn't get to talk to for this tribute feature on long-time Maryland beverage salesman James "Andy" Anderson.  I know I missed quite a few of you.  Because every time I would talk to a former co-worker, boss, or relative of his, that person would inevitably end the interview with, "Hey, did you also speak to so-and-so?  No?  Oh, you absolutely HAVE to get some quotes from him!  He knew him best!" Maybe that was Anderson's secret magic.  He made so many people in his professional and personal life feel like they knew him best.  Anderson died on Jan. 31 after a battle with cancer.  He was 75.  Anderson grew up in the College Park/Greenbelt area and graduated from High Point High School in 1960.  He first worked for the local telephone company as a lineman before getting involved in beverage sales.

He worked for Standard, retired from Reliable Churchill, then came out of retirement to sell for Prestige Beverage Group.  His work ethic was practically legendary.  But it was his ability to work with others and help them that really distinguished him.

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Posted by on in March 2018 Editions

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Thomas Jefferson, World War II soldiers, Hannibal Lecter: all appreciated a good Chianti. While Chianti has long been popular in the U.S.—Americans drink more than a quarter of Chianti’s annual production—it sometimes faces a Rodney Dangerfield-like lack of respect.

It’s their own fault. The question that Chianti has never settled on is whether it’s a brand, or a region. Many large producers push for the easy brand recognition to move cheaper, often rustic wine; more premium producers, particularly in Chianti Classico, argue for a terroir-based wine, as shown by the recent push to officially recognize the DOCG’s subzones. It’s a hard slog—getting lazy Americans to simply remember to say “Classico” is challenge enough—but many top producers are forging ahead.

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Cayce Kerr, Caddie to The PGA's Ernie Els, is Helping Retailers Make a Hole in One

As a caddie to such golfing greats as Fuzzy Zoeller, Fred Couples, and Ernie Els, Cayce Kerr has been all over the world.  But it's his foray into the beverage business that brought him back to his home state of Maryland this winter.

Together with PGA Professional Golfer Ernie Els, Kerr has launched Els Iced Coffee.   Available in three flavors: original, chocolate, and mint chocolate, the new line boasts its key ingredients as fresh cream from a dairy in Wisconsin, chocolate from Hershey Pennsylvania and … (wait for it) … alcohol.  In fact, Els Iced Coffee is the first such product available in this country with a 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (or ABV) content.  Kerr was back in the Old Line State to introduce the product and offer tastings at various locales.

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He had been raised in Clinton, Md., and held several jobs in the packaged goods and tavern businesses as a younger man.  "I worked at Branch Avenue Liquors," he recalled, "and I worked at Bar 51.  Bar 51 was on Suitland Parkway and Nailor Road, and I was the nighttime manager there making $7.50 an hour.  So, I got familiar with the beverage alcohol business at a young age, and I definitely got familiar with Maryland."

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The Churchill Bloody Mary at Howells & Hood in Chicago comes in a 20-oz goblet.

Led By The Famous & Flexible ‘Mary’, Savory Cocktails are Here to Stay

By Jack Robertiello


There’s no lack of savory in cocktailing. Gin’s tang of juniper, vermouth’s herbal zip, Sherry’s nutty astringency—all were important to many original cocktail whistle wetters. Vermouth and gin together gave us the sublime Martini, the drink’s crisp pungency the pure definition of savory.

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In a full biohazard suite, behind self-closing doors and working in potentially contaminated areas with some of the world's most deadly virus strains, Judy Neff found herself bored. But, leave it to beer to make life more interesting. 

Judy first moved to Baltimore to earn her PhD. at John's Hopkins in Microbiology, and a Post-Doctorate at the National Institute of Health studying influenza. After years working to help keep hospitals sterile and safe, she found a passion for the science behind brewing beer.

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With Interest Up but Knowledge Sparse, Retailers Keep it Simple When Promoting ‘Organic’

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Big Picture: Americans are buying more products perceived as healthy. Sales of organic foods in the U.S. doubled between 2008 and 2016, and organic milk now makes up 5% of the total milk market even though it costs double the price of conventional milk.

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Posted by on in February 2018 Editions

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M.S. Walker’s State of the Art New Facility Raises the Industry Bar

By Kristen Bieler


It’s only in hindsight, now that the company is fully operational in a shiny new bottling and production facility in Boston, that the M.S. Walker team can fully appreciate just how many challenges they faced operating out of their former space.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on producing great product and getting it to our customers accurately and on time,” says Gary Shaw, VP Sales. “Our fill rate has long been the best in class. And we did so while operating out of three separate locations—in a bottling facility that was inefficient and low-tech.”

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Posted by on in January 2018 Editions
Stranahan’s has a cultlike following for its annual Snowflake limited-edition; fans camp out and line up for a chance to buy two of the 1,400 bottles released the first weekend of December.

Stranahan’s has a cultlike following for its annual Snowflake limited-edition; fans camp out and line up for a chance to buy two of the 1,400 bottles released the first weekend of December.

With ‘Craft’ brands thriving, large suppliers are buying up—and empowering— small distillers 

By Jack Robertiello


Perhaps large spirit companies learned a lesson from how slowly major brewers responded to the growing interest in craft beer, but whatever the case, they have shown an increasing willingness to swoop in and grab small distillers who show promise.

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In various professions, the truly great ones become known by just one name or even nickname.  In the sports world, there's been Tiger, Peyton, and "Shaq."  In entertainment, there's been Beyonce, Cher, and Arnold.  In wine?  There's now Merf.

David "Merf" Merfeld is head winemaker for Northstar.  "The umbrella company is Ste. Michelle Wine Estates," he remarked.  "Northstar is one of a string of pearls.  It was created in 1994 to focus on ultra-premium wines, specifically Merlot.  It all starts in the vineyards.  We've been working closely with growers at specific sites where we source our fruit from since the '90s. That sets us apart."

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Posted by on in January 2018 Editions

Somms Serve Tips on Adjusting a Wine Program for Winter Months

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By Marika Vida and Patricia Savoie


Winter lurks in the shadows of shorter days, bringing cravings for hearty comfort foods to counter the chill. So, we turn to serious red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Malbec….

Yet there are many white wines that work brilliantly with winter fare: Consider Chardonnay (oaked or not), Pinot Blanc and Gris with their ripe melon and tropical notes, mouth-filling Viognier, spice-laden Gewürztraminer and perhaps the most ideal winter white of all, Riesling.

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I've been writing this annual Maryland state legislative preview article for five years in a row now.  And normally, this feature is filled with quotes of hope and a bit of apprehension for the year ahead from various figures in our industry.  This year, there is more apprehension than hope from members of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA).

Most of it is centered around Comptroller Peter Franchot's unveiling of a legislative package that would make sweeping changes to the state’s regulation of craft breweries.  Franchot’s 12-point "Reform on Tap Act of 2018" seeks to eliminate limits on sales from taprooms and for take-home consumption for the state’s breweries.  In addition, it would eliminate limits on beer production for breweries that faced caps and let localities set their own taproom hours.  The goal of the proposal is to do away with regulations Franchot says have stifled one of Maryland's most promising economic engines.

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By Jeremy M. Vaida

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Maryland’s Admissions and Amusement Tax is one of this state’s lesser known, yet most expensive business taxes.  Imposed on night club admissions, cover charges, karaoke nights and live entertainment, the tax is deceptively broad based.  Furthermore, the regime’s personal liability provisions permit the Comptroller to collect the tax directly from individuals, even if the company is organized as a corporation or LLC.  With record levels of enforcement these past few years, business owners and managers would be well-served to consult with tax counsel to insure they are properly complying with the law and to help them limit any potential exposure.

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Posted by on in December 2017 Editions

Spain's Answer to Prosecco and Champagne  |  Could a High-End Cava Wave Be On The Horizon?

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By now, the reputation of Cava in the U.S. is established as fresh, fun, lively and a great value. Yet there are plenty of people working hard at broadening the understanding of what Cava is and can be. While Prosecco, Cava’s Italian peer, has parlayed its similarly easy-to-drink bubbly style into explosive sales growth, the big picture for Cava is certainly on the upswing.

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Top Distillers Gather at Mount Vernon to Craft Anniversary George Washington Rye Whiskey

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Distillers from across the country recently fired up the stills at George Washington’s Distillery to collaborate on a special rye whiskey in honor of the 10th anniversary of the historic distillery’s reconstruction.

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For six weeks at the end of the year, your customers are looking for gifts. They’re making lists; and wine, with its current cultural cachet, checks off a lot of boxes. All the more reason not to overlook the obvious at this critical time of year. Optimizing your customers’ gift-giving experience can be as simple as double-checking aspects of signage, stocking and service.

Endcaps are your fast movers and sure shots—make them count. Keep them clean, well-stocked—and as inviting as possible. Consider the cases themselves; can you put suppliers’ graphics to work for you? What sort of POS material is available? Case cards, neck hangers, recipes? Will they complement or compete with your signage? Take advantage of endcaps’ visibility; signs and special pricing should be easy to read from a short distance.

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The good news is that the October fires in Napa and Sonoma didn’t do as much damage to the wineries, production facilities, and vineyards as feared. Save for a few hiccups in the supply chain, wine from these two regions is getting to restaurants and retailers and—tourism aside —business seems to be close to normal.

The bad news? It remains unclear, given that some fires were still burning towards the end of October, as to the extent of the damage. This includes smoke taint and burned-out vineyards in the two most important wine regions in the U.S.

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Well, that was…an interesting year. Now it’s time for all self-propelled pundits to prognosticate forward. Here are some of the wine and spirits developments we foresee making some more noise in 2018.

PINK IN PERPETUITY

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Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Association (WSWA) Convention. Ahead of this milestone year, we sat down with WSWA’s President Craig Wolf, who weighed in on the changing dynamics in the direct shipping debate, the threat of private labels, and supporting women in the industry.

On The State of WSWA

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For years, people have either classified themselves as a "beer and burger" kind of person or a "wine and steak" guy or gal. But a newly opened concept at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md., is challenging those long-held generalizations. The Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar served its first customers on Oct. 17. Recently named to Full Service Restaurant Magazine's "Top 50 Emerging Restaurant Chains" because of its brand expansion and menu innovation, this marks the chain's first location in Maryland and 15th overall.

As the name suggests, the Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar offers cooked-to-order, gourmet burgers combined with perfectly paired wine selections. As with locations in Atlanta, Boca Raton, Durham, and elsewhere, the new eatery offers a full bar with a wine menu that includes 25 varieties; two dozen beers, including 16 on tap and several local and regional craft ales; and a cocktail menu. On Wednesdays, customers can enjoy half-price bottles of wine. And there are Happy Hour specials, weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring discount beer and cocktails and $5 Plain and Simple Burgers. That's in addition to the usual soft drinks and milkshakes.

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Posted by on in November 2017 Editions

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Text by W. R. Tish & Marlena Hoffman   ⊗   Photographs by Samuel Bristow


It’s November; You are already well on your way to having your store in shape for the holidays. Decisions regarding staffing, displays, floor plan, signage, publicity, social media and in-store tastings have been made or are in the works. And with the calendar ticking, big inventory decisions loom. Time to clear out and stock up.

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Posted by on in November 2017 Editions

The Most Rewarding Type of Champagne is also the Most Reliable & Plentiful

By Ed McCarthy


It has been a year now since Prosecco passed Champagne in sales volume in the U.S. Price is the biggest factor: the average Prosecco costs about $12 to $18; Non-Vintage Brut Champagnes sell for about three times as much.

But Champagne sales are not suffering. Au contraire, Champagne sales have increased gradually almost every year for 20 years—in the U.S. and internationally. The 2016 estimate is about 318 million bottles of Champagne sold, up from 312 million bottles in 2015 and 307 million bottles in 2014, despite the competition from Prosecco.

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In 2007, some didn't give much of a chance to Ranazul -- a then-new eatery in the then- new Maple Lawn mixed-use development near Fulton, Md.  First, there was the name.  Ranazul?  It sounded like an ancient demon the Ghostbusters might have once fought off to save Manhattan.  Then, people who didn't speak Spanish found out what the name meant.  Blue frog.  Blue frog?!  It didn't exactly have the same ring as, say, the Capital Grille.

Then, folks took notice of the full name.  Ranazul Tapas and Wine Bistro.  The place started coming together in the potentially hot location just off of Routes 216 and 29 in Howard County.  And, finally, Ranazul opened its doors, and customers were quickly wowed by the small plates menu and the outstanding selection of wine and cocktails.

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Garret Hadel personifies perseverance and shows optimism and drive in the face of adversity. Two years removed from an injury that would encourage most to change jobs or industries, Garret consistently shows why every hurdle serves as a step toward future success.

After studying graphics and print communications, Garret began working at Jimmy's Famous Seafood in June of 2012. He started bartending at tailgate events for Ravens and Orioles games, as well as other tailgate events, and has continued to do so for over three years now.

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Posted by on in November 2017 Editions

Points to consider when adding seasonal staff

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Each year, the news trumpets seasonal hiring—such as “Target to add 100,000 part-time employees for the holidays….” Which is all fine and good for a company that can afford to handle the holiday rush by throwing money at it.

But what if you’re a small wine, beer and spirits retailer facing the same sort of problem? It’s your busiest time of the year, too, but you don’t have massively deep pockets. It’s all about planning.

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Sandy Mazza is certainly excited about her new product, Sandy Bottom Sparkling Rum Cocktails.  Interviewing her recently, she would often start answers to my questions with, "Oooh, now please make sure you get this in the article!" and "This is one of the best things about Sandy Bottom, and I hope you can include it."  Well, we do have a word limit.  But the most important thing to make sure readers know is Mazza has come up with a product that Marylanders will want to drink and Maryland-based establishments will want to serve.

Sandy Bottom Sparking Rum Cocktails is a premium, pre-mixed, sparkling rum-based cocktail brand with natural flavors of coconut, lemonade, and lime. The company’s history is rooted in the nautical culture of the Chesapeake Bay. As an entrepreneur from the Annapolis area, Mazza would serve her homemade cocktails to friends while cruising the Bay.  Those closest to her loved it so much that they encouraged her to provide for a broader audience.

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Posted by on in October 2017 Editions

Word-Whisky

Scotch & Bourbon, While Still Strong, are Inspiring New World Distillers 

By Jeff Cioletti


If the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that consumers have a taste for whisky that’s not likely to disappear any time soon. Overall U.S. volume has settled into a stable pattern of year-on-year growth in the mid-to-high single digits; volume was up more than 4% and revenue was up 6.4% last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

Most of the volume is still coming from countries that have historically been linked with whisky production, but distillers from non-traditional nations whose spirits have been coming into their own—“New World” whiskies, if you will—are banking on drinker curiosity and palate promiscuity to gain a foothold in the market.

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Most bartenders at Max's began their tenure over a decade ago, but not Tim Christofield. Although "Scooter" – as most people know him – recently started at Max's, he's no stranger to the beer world. Now, with a newfound home, he's taking the next step in his journey to becoming an industry influencer.

The obvious first question is how Scooter got his nickname, the story is simple and gives honest insight into the work ethic and passion he shows for his craft; he was quick. Quick to learn and quick to move … Tim scooted from table to table and was fast on his feet. The name fits for his next chapter as Scooter tries to continue "scooting" people over to learn and do more in the beer world. 

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