From Staff Writer Teddy Durgin

Teddy is The Beverage Journal's top writer and feature columnist.

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Edward "Teddy" Durgin

Edward "Teddy" Durgin

Teddy is a graduate of UMBC. In additional to his Beverage Journal writing duties, he is an entertainment reviewer.

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Mike Scheuerman pictured here with his wife Sheila, his 25-year-old son, Zach; and his 21-year-old daughter, Sara;
all contribute to Friendship Wine and Liquor's success.

Owner Mike Scheuerman on his Store's Success,
"We're Pretty Hard Core!"

Those are the words Mike Scheuerman used to describe his and his staff's dedication to their customers. Scheuerman is the owner of Friendship Wine and Liquor in Abingdon, Md.

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It was 10 years ago that the late Joey Smith left a thriving career in Florida commercial real estate to return to his home state of Maryland and form Prestige Beverage Group (PBG). Smith did not live to see this decade milestone. Sadly, he passed away from
lung cancer at the age of 33 in April 2016. But even in his last weeks, he put a plan
into motion that would ensure the long-term viability of his business.

About two years prior to his death, Smith began exploring the possibility of a merger with Ledroit Brands. He and Michael Cherner, who was then a managing partner at Ledroit, realized they had a similar vision. They also recognized the potential for increased market synergy. At the time, PBG was focused on the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C. markets, while Ledroit covered the District of Columbia exclusively. Their belief was that by combining the two firms, it would allow them to more effectively serve their customers and suppliers in all three markets.

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Posted by on in December 2019 Editions

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The Next Great Retail Invention?

What's been the most important invention in grocery retail over the decades? The cash register? Sure. And it's been updated frequently over the years with the latest computer and barcode technology. Security cameras? Certainly, such tech has significantly cut down on shoplifting. But many believe a more basic invention is what built grocery and packaged-goods retail into what it is today. The shopping cart!

The shopping cart was invented in 1937 by Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Humpty Dumpty grocery chain. He realized that once people's hands were full, they left his stores. So, he invented the shopping cart, which ultimately compelled people to stay in stores longer and buy more goods.

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Marshele Burgess is proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, a business that's been around for more than 65 years. I write "business" because Rip's is really four concepts in one -- a restaurant, a bar, a deli, and a wine and spirits store. In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, Burgess talked about the challenges of overseeing such a complex operation and living up to a decades-old legacy. "What makes Rip's special is indeed our size and the combination of things we offer," she said. "We have over 100 employees. So, it's a challenge keeping everyone happy and them doing what you want them to do."

Burgess continued, "The fact that it has been here so long at this location has been an asset. We've seen the area grow around us. We are right on 301, a mile south of Route 50, and right at the edge of  197. Those are all major arteries. We get a lot of customers from our area who are regulars, and then we get a lot who are traveling through our area. It's quite a customer base."

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It's GAME on for partners Tilford Brockett and Bruce Caughman.  GAME Vodka, to be precise.  The duo is hoping their new product will become the vodka of choice for sports enthusiast throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor and ultimately beyond.

And the two entrepreneurs are willing to get a little "in yo' face" if it means winning in this particular niche. For one, GAME is being marketed as a "vodka with balls."  Now, of course, Brockett and Caughman are cheekily referring to GAME's bottle art, with five different bottles each featuring a separate graphic of a football, baseball, basketball, tennis ball, or soccer ball.  But theirs is not a drink for winners of a participation trophy. They're hoping GAME Vodka will become known as "the taste of victory" whether you're a spectator or a player.

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Ben Golueke (pronounced Go-leck-e) started in the beverage business when he was just 15, working at his father's packaged goods store in Cockeysville Md. He worked there throughout high school and on breaks from college. After graduating from Radford University in 1996 with a degree in Business Management, he didn't have to wait long for the opportunity to run his own store.

"I've been owning and operating Mt. Airy Liquors since August 1997," he stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. Back then, the store was a 3,200-square-foot operation. He and his staff moved the business within the same shopping center in 2011 to its current 5,400-square-foot space. But it's not the size of the store that matters. "Mt. Airy Liquors stands out because of our customer service," he remarked. "The Mt. Airy Liquors crew is like one big family, too, which helps with the morale of the store. When I hire good employees, I make sure to keep them. I have employees that have been here from six months to 17 years!"

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Joseph "Joe" Stanley, the former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at F.P. Winner, passed away July 18, just four days shy of his 71st birthday. And everyone I talked to who knew him told this journalist the same thing, "Don't make your tribute article a sad one. Joe would HATE that!".

So, I'm not. This article will only briefly mention his stroke in 2008 that forced him into early retirement. Instead, it's going to focus more on the people he touched, the careers he shaped … and the time he nearly ate 50 pot stickers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Throughout Maryland and elsewhere, more and more vineyards, wineries, breweries, and distilleries are hosting special events on-site.  In some cases, they're putting on shows -- quite literally -- to get people to come out and taste their products. For instance, the Fiore Winery and Distillery in Pylesville, Md., offers its Music in the Vineyard series every Saturday night through mid-September.

Among the most active, though, is Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., nestled in the heart of Baltimore County's Long Green Valley. Every Saturday evening during the warm months, the property hosts a Summer Concert Series that features a diverse array of local bands and performers. And every Thursday afternoon/evening in the summer and well into the cooler months, Boordy offers its "Good Life Farmers Market."  

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Unlike most packaged goods stores, Buzzy's Country Store in St. Mary's County doesn't have to do much to generate … well … buzz. It's been around in one form or another for decades. The current proprietor, J. Scott Ridgell, has been a part of the store since he was a child as his father, Clarence, and mother, Jean, bought the business from Jean's dad in 1954. Clarence operated the store until his death in 2007, passing the torch to J. Scott.

One of the first questions Ridgell fielded 12 years ago from locals was: "Are you going to change the name?" It wasn't even a consideration. "Buzzy was my dad," Ridgell said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "My mom still refers to him as 'Bussy.' When he was a boy, he was the third youngest of 12, and he was always 'busy.' But he preferred Buzzy. So, when I took over in 2007, everyone wanted to know, 'Are you gonna change the name?' And I'd answer, 'Why?' Everyone knows us as 'Buzzy's!'"

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Julianne Sullivan's life story up until this point reads almost like one of those Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas TV-movies that permeate both networks each year from Thanksgiving on. She grew up and graduated from high school in scenic, small-town Cape St. Claire, Md.; moved away and established a thriving career in real estate, working in such major markets as Los Angeles and New York City; only to return home to Cape St. Claire to run the charming, small business that's been in her family for decades.

The business?  Bella's Liquors, which was started by her grandmother and grandfather -- a Navy man and Pearl Harbor survivor who put himself through night school and eventually earned an accounting degree -- with financial help from Sullivan's great-grandmother. "They started it as a bar and restaurant, and they had a license to sell on and off," she recalled. "That was 1964, and my grandfather saw that the off-premise business was really picking up. So, he expanded that. Around 1974, he moved to the location we're at right now … and we've been here ever since."

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Tim Miller has gone from being a successful oilman to the owner of National Premium Beer. But he doesn't really see it as that big of a leap. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, he remarked, "I tell people, 'It's the same thing!  We're using the same kind of practices we used in the oil business, and I'm still delivering liquid. It's just in a can or a bottle and not in a truck'"

Miller was indeed the third generation to head his family's oil business, joining right after college and running it until 2001.  Working at his grandfather’s company over the years, he developed an appreciation for vintage advertising, signage, and fuel pumps.  After Miller sold the company, he became a Realtor with Benson & Mangold in Easton, Md. But his interest in antiques and old signs persisted. One day in 2002, he saw some vintage beer signs in an antique store and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to bring back an old beer brand?'"

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A Beverage Biz Look Ahead at the 2019 Session

The 2019 General Assembly Session is just around the corner, and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is once again gearing up to play a big role in looking out for the beverage industry's interests.  This means guys like MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani and lawyer and MSLBA lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise are expected to step up and drive the discussions.

So, what's different about this coming year?  For one … legislator turnover!  "We just had statewide elections back in November," Wise observed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Somewhere between 25 percent and roughly 30 percent of the General Assembly will be new.  So, it will be even more of an ongoing effort to educate legislators as to how our industry works, the issues that are important to us, the small businesses that are affected by everything that is done with alcohol in Annapolis, and so forth. This will be the most important thing MSLBA and the other industry associations will do in 2019!"

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What happens when a noted property developer and one of Maryland's most reliable plumbers team up? They're hoping the end result will be "two new great places to eat and drink!" 
John Roe has partnered with Len Bush (a.k.a. "Len the Plumber") and are hoping a building they own and are renovating at 37 W. Cross St. in Baltimore's Federal Hill will be 2019's newest hotspot for wining and dining.

Roe, who began his professional career managing his father's tavern in Laurel before transitioning into commercial real estate brokerage in Baltimore during the late 1990s, had ironically been trying to reach the owner of this particular building for a couple years. But he could never get a return call from him. "It appeared to be vacant, and it was one of the larger buildings in Federal Hill," he recalled. "Finally, an agent we knew asked if we'd like to take a look at 'some building in Federal Hill.' When she drove us up to it, I couldn't believe it! It wasn't formally on the market, but she was good friends with the owner so she arranged a tour. After that, we knew we had to have it."

Bush described the structure as "love at first sight." He added, "This property had all the character and charm of an old industrial building that I knew we could breathe new life into. Sitting in the heart of Federal Hill, it's one the last remaining historic properties left undeveloped in the area."

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Riggs Liquors in Northeast Washington, D.C., has risen from the ashes like the Phoenix of lore.  That mythological bird lived in the desert, consumed itself by fire, then later rose renewed from its own ashes. By most accounts, the phoenix lived for 500 years before rebirth. Riggs was only down for 18 months.  But don't say "only" to owner John Yoo.  He thought he'd be back up and running in six months after an accidental blaze destroyed his store in December 2016.  It wouldn't be until June of this year.

So what happened?  In late 2016, Yoo was having some work done on the front overhang of his store's roof section in preparation of a new awning.  The workers had stripped it all down to the bare metal.  But because the metal itself was heavy, they opted to do the work on a Sunday because there would be no people interfering with the job.  

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Posted by on in November 2018 Editions

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Retirees Honor Past Breakthroughs and the Current Breakthru at Twice-Yearly Gatherings

Twice a year in March and September, three dozen or more beverage industry retirees meet for a special breakfast or lunch to reconnect, share old "war stories," and find out the latest goings-on in the business they dedicated most of their adult professional lives to.  The group is comprised almost exclusively of retirees from Breakthru Beverage Group LLC … or rather Charmer Sunbelt, which merged with Wirtz Beverage Group in 2015 to create Breakthru Beverage Group.

William "Bill" Morawski, a 30-year company veteran, heads the group and puts together the various gatherings.  He recalled, "Bob Bireley was the salesman who started this in 1996.  He ran this twice a year as a biannual breakfast event from 1996 through 2011.  In 2011, his health was failing, and Bob asked me to take the reins.  I reluctantly did, but I'm glad I did and I've been doing it ever since.  Bob passed away in 2012."

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"I enjoy being the dog in this dog and pony show!" exclaimed Phil Prichard, founder, president, and master distiller of Prichard's Distillery in Tennessee.

The dog and pony show he is referring to is his recent visit to Maryland to press the flesh with customers, sales personnel, and anyone else who will be associated with moving his products here in the years to come.  He made several key account calls, touring Total Wine & More locations in Laurel and Towson, Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Wine World Beer & Spirits in Abingdon, Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse in Forest Hill, Wells Discoutn Liquors in Baltimore, and more. 

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On the evening of July 12, Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, Md., played host to a special wine tasting event in which customers came and sampled all of Trinchero Family Estates' SeaGlass wines from the Central Coast in California's Santa Barbara County.  They included SeaGlass Rose, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  For every bottle of SeaGlass that was sold that night, the Trinchero family donated a portion of the proceeds to the Maryland Waterman's Association (MWA).

Among those in attendance was Nicole Crews, Trinchero Family Estates' District Manager for Maryland and Washington, D.C.  She remarked, "This was a featured event at Town Center Market to introduce their customers to SeaGlass Wines and how they could help out a great local nonprofit organization. The account really wanted to take it to the next level, so we decided it would be fun and educational to incorporate a seafood element."

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In Frederick, Md., here be dragons!  Well, actually, here be the Dragon Distillery.  It's the brainchild of founder Mark Lambert, a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan who wanted a beverage business that would specialize in small batch artisan spirits made from the finest locally sourced ingredients.  He and his staff have breathed fire into this niche with such colorfully named products as Medieval Mint Flavored Vodka, Basilisk Bourbon, and Joust Gin.

Dragon Distillery's latest line is a series of canned cocktails that are appealing to a wide range of drinkers.  Lambert, in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, explained why: "The product is easy.  You just grab it, you go!  It's easy to take to parties, or when you're going out on your boat, or at the pool.  It's a can, so there's no glass that can break.  It's quick to chill, and it's ready to drink."

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Industry Again Unites after Second Devastating Flood

On the afternoon of May 27, 2018, Ellicott City's historic Main Street flooded again after the region got more than eight inches of rain in the span of two hours.  Businesses, including numerous bars and restaurants, were heavily damaged.  And National Guard member Eddison Hermond Jr. lost his life trying to help people.  The town was still recovering from a July 30, 2016, storm that dropped six inches of rain on the community, produced massive flooding, killed two people, and damaged and destroyed businesses and homes.

Maureen Smith, Executive Director of the Ellicott City Partnership (ECP) echoed what many interviewed for this article had said: "This time around has been very different from 2016!" she exclaimed.  "With this latest flood event, the Ellicott City community has an understanding that parts of town may need to be envisioned anew to ensure long-term sustainability.  The ECP is working closely with all stakeholders, including county, state, and federal entities to significantly increase the resilience of Ellicott City."

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Our military fight to have our flag flying high above free lands. Beverage entrepreneur Don Sessions fought to have the American flag on the bottles of his Ol' Glory-brand vodka, spiced rum, and five other spirits that are taking the Maryland-D.C. markets by storm thanks to a recent distribution deal with Atlantic Wine & Spirits.

The battle waged by Sessions, owner of an Oklahoma-based energy drink company, dates back to 2010 when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau denied his request to design a can of beer with the flag and Pledge of Allegiance on it.  Sessions contended the design was protected by the First Amendment and decided to sue the agency for millions. Fox News caught wind of his crusade and put Sessions' story on TV.

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Posted by on in September 2017 Editions

New Partnership Between The University of Maryland and
Flying Dog Brewery Hopes to Grow High-Quality Hops in
The Old Line State

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The vast majority of hops in North America come from the Pacific Northwest, primarily the Yakima Valley.  Maryland is hoping to be the next great fertile region for these flowers, which are used inthe flavoring and production of beers and craft beers. To this end, Frederick-based Flying Dog Brewery has formed a partnership with the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to study the potential for high-quality hops grown in the Old Line State.

The partnership has launched a trial of two dozen varieties of hops planted at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Washington County. The first 12 varieties were planted after having been chosen from discussions with both industry and academic experts on what might perform well. The second 12 varieties were picked based on an informal poll of Maryland-based growers and brewers to establish what might be most marketable.

Hop_Butler.jpgBryan Butler, extension agent for the University of Maryland and the de facto point man on this project, remarks, "I've approached this in a very critical way.  I'm really only looking at this from the horticulture and test management side.  I'm not going to promote something that's going to cause people harm down the road in that they invest and lose money in something just because they think it'll be cool and fun.  We're in the business of providing growing information and then harvest handling information to give brewers a stable product."

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The bars, restaurants, businesses, and good people of Ellicott City, Md., are all looking forward to July 30 … and they are dreading it.  It was one year ago on that date when a summer storm dropped six inches of rain in two hours on the Howard County suburb, resulting in a flash flood
that caused major damage to the city's Historic District.  A state of emergency was declared, and it's taken many being highly involved this entire year to recover.

First and foremost, no one-year retrospective would be complete without first honoring the two people who lost their lives that night.  They were 38-year-old Joseph Anthony Blevins of Windsor Mill, Md., and 35-year-old Jessica Watsula of Lebanon, Pa.  Their bodies were found nearly two miles down the Patapsco River in Baltimore County.

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How many restaurants can you name that have a fully functioning distillery actually inside their restaurant?"

It's a valid question, and one posed by Jon Arroyo, Beverage Director of the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group and director of the new micro-batch distillery that is custom-built inside of the company's newest restaurant, Farmers & Distillers in Washington, D.C. Dubbed Founding Spirits, the micro distillery churns out two tasty concoctions -- Founding Spirits Vodka and Founding Spirits Amaro -- using grains from farmers Arroyo and his colleagues have worked with in the past. Among them are Mark and Michelle Watne of Watne Farms in North Dakota and Billy Dawson of Bay's Best Feed in Virginia.

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After a successful career in the technology industry, Lori Keough was ready for a change.  A big change.  The beverage business!  So, in early 2016, she purchased the Barley and Hops Microbrewery and Grill in Frederick, and it's been full speed ahead ever since.

"I worked all the way up to being a vice president of software engineering," she recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "But I grew up in the restaurant and bar business, so I had a decision to make."

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There's a classic moment in the movie "Top Gun" when pilots Maverick and Goose land their fighter jet, high-five on the runway, and exclaim, "I feel the need … the need for speed!"  Well, former Naval Flight Officers Arch Watkins and Mark McLaughlin have felt the need … the need for mead!  

Arch_Mark.jpgOK, more specifically the need for whiskey.  They are the co-owners of Old Line Spirits, a craft distillery now up and running in Baltimore and offering small batch whiskey made of 100 percent malted rye.  McLaughlin stated, "Arch and I were friends in the Navy and lovers of fine whiskey.  We met on active duty.  We also spent time in the reserves.  In the reserves, we were in the same squadron.  So, we became closer friends then.  And now we're neighbors in Baltimore.  Arch really couldn't avoid me if he wanted to!"

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"To our knowledge, we are the only African-American liquor distributorship in the state.  That in and of itself is unique.  So, you want to build around that.  If you can get a niche in this business, if you can carve something out that's special, then you can be successful."

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Posted by on in March 2017 Editions

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Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville

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Harbor Wines is bringing the richness of Eastern European wines to Maryland.  At the helm of this venture is Cristina Tufts, who grew up in Moldova where she learned the art of viniculture. Moldova, a small country that borders Romania and Ukraine, boasts especially fertile soil that makes it ideal for growing some of the world's best grapes.

"My family made wine," Tufts said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "Therefore, I grew up learning the process.  Ironically though, I never had an appreciation for Moldovan wines until I came to the United States.  Here, I had better access to wines from around the world.  . . . It took leaving Moldova to realize just how good our wine is."

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The 2017 General Assembly Session is upon us and, as always, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is gearing up to play a big role in looking out for our industry's interests.  As in years' past, one of the key players will be attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise.  "I think the industry continues to have a significant presence in Annapolis," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "and that helped us out on a lot of legislative fights last year as it usually does.  That's true not just of the retail segment of the industry, but the Maryland-based wholesalers as well."

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OnPremiseOwensOrdinary_2.jpgGreg Engert and Sean Griffin might be a former English major and Engineering major, respectively, but they are giving Marylanders and Washingtonians alike an education in Maryland beer.  Both men have been key to the early success of Owen's Ordinary, Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s (NRG's) first restaurant in Montgomery County, which opened its doors on Oct. 17.  The 6,000-square-foot, 175-seat space delivers 50 different draft beers to customers, along with 150 beer bottle selections.  The bar focuses heavily on Maryland brewers, with around 75 selections from the state.

Engert serves as Owen's Beer Director (he is also a managing partner for NRG), and he has been instrumental in putting together the impressive selection.  "As far as selection goes," he stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "we've worked with the county and the brewers to offer a beer selection Montgomery County has never seen before.  It is an unparalleled selection representing the very best craft beers sourced from Maryland, from the broader region, from the Mid-Atlantic, and from the international scene. So, we have something for everybody." 

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People often say they will always remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, and when the planes hit the Twin Towers.  It's very safe to say that folks around Maryland and Howard County, specifically, will always remember where they were when the floodwaters hit Ellicott City's beloved Main Street district.

It was the evening of July 30, a swingin’ Saturday night where people had come to eat, drink, and be merry at many of the popular bars, taverns, and restaurants that have made that area of the Baltimore suburb such a popular destination for people young and old.  But six inches of rain in two hours changed everything. The ensuing flash flood caused severe damage in the historic district, particularly along Main Street.  Many businesses, sidewalks, vehicles, and more were destroyed by the rushing waters, including the town's landmark clock.  Two people lost their lives.

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Posted by on in October 2016 Editions

Throughout history, there have been many famous Belles.  Belle Watling was the original hooker with a heart of gold in "Gone With the Wind."  The Memphis Belle was one of the great flying fortresses of World War II.  And 'twas Belle who captured the heart of the man-turned-monster in "Beauty and the Beast."

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Well, there's a new Belle about to make history.  Local beverage history, that is.  Old Dominion Spirits' Belle Vodka has already taken Virginia by storm.  Next on its list?  Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Billy Reilly, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, has the lowdown.  When he started with Warrenton-based Old Dominion back in February, founder and President Townsend Lundsford and his partners had Belle in 40 ABC stores and about 20 bars, restaurants, and other venues.

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"Sometimes we feel like cowboy pioneers out here!" exclaimed Judy Crow, who co-owns Crow Vineyard and Winery with her husband, Roy.  Located in Kennedyville, Md., just west of Middletown, the property has been a family-owned farm for three generations and began growing grapes and bottling New World-style wines about six years ago.

"It actually started eight years ago when Roy and I got married," she recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We were looking for a way to reinvent this 365-acre farm.  Phase one was to renovate the main 1847 farmhouse into a farm-stay bed and breakfast.  We did that.  And then we planted grapes.  We have five sons between us.  One son, Brandon, came back and became the vineyard manager.  Then, we went to a winemaking seminar with John Levenverge, and we eventually hired him to be our winemaker consultant.  Soon after, we took an equipment shed and made that into our 5,000-case production winery."

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Bob Wiggans is the Senior Director of Membership for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA).  In that position, he is primarily responsible for the strategic direction and management of day-to-day operations of the association’s membership development, recruitment, retention, member services, and benefits.  In addition, he is a bit of a tech head, managing and maintaining the organization's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database to meet staff and member needs.

Wiggans sat down with us recently to discuss his job, what it's been like coming from outside the beverage industry, and what has him excited for the future.  

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The makers of Don Corleone Vodka are hoping this is one spirit customers in our area can't refuse.  Produced by Distillerie Francoli in Italy and inspired by "The Godfather" movie franchise, MJ Licensing Company launched the label back in February of this year in the New York Tri-State area.  Ever since, the company has been rolling out the vodka nationally and in select international territories with the help of Brand Ambassador Gianni Russo.

Does that name sound familiar?  It should.  Russo played Carlo Rizzi, the no-good, wife-beating son-in-law of mafia boss Don Corleone in the original 1972 "Godfather" film.  It was his first movie, and he went on to appear in over 40 other motion pictures (everything from "The Freshman" to "Any Given Sunday" to "Seabiscuit").  He also ran one of Las Vegas' most happening restaurants in the Rat Pack heyday of Sin City.

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

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