Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville
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."
Tufts came to America with a student visa in 2007. She met and fell in love with Brian Tufts, a U.S. Army officer, and the two were soon married. She eventually returned to her home country and graduated with a Business degree. "On Brian's first trip to Moldova," she recalled, "he recognized the high quality wines right away. I remember getting ready for a movie and popcorn, and I opened a bottle of 1987 Codru -- a cab-merlot blend. After tasting the wine and realizing its vintage, he thought I was crazy for opening such a bottle for anything short of a special occasion or celebration. I told him I would just run to the corner store and get another bottle. 'We have to figure out how to bring this to the USA!' he exclaimed. 'The price versus quality is unreal!'"
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."
Greg 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."
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.
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."
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.
"At that point," he remarked, "they needed a dude. I was the dude! I hit the ground running. We're now in well over 100 ABC stores and more than 150 accounts -- restaurants, bars, golf courses, etc. And we just signed a deal with RNDC for Maryland and D.C. That rolled out Sept. 1."
"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."
Levenverge helped the Crows understand the winemaking process. Eventually, though, Judy and Roy felt like they needed a full-time winemaker. So, they hired Catrina North. "She's been our full-time winemaker for the past two years," said Crow. "Hiring the best people are big investments for any business, but we really feel that the commitment to growing quality grapes -- not only here on our farm, but we have a few other local growers who work in tandem with us -- has helped us put our wines on the map."
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.
What follows is our chat:
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.
Russo was in the area in early June to introduce Don Corleone Vodka to this market. Appearances included cabaret performances at 49 West in Annapolis and Germano's in Baltimore, a bottle signing at the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, and a meet-and-greet at Magruder's supermarket in the nation's capital. We were lucky enough to sit down with Russo to ask him about his business.
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.
Travel is one of the favorite parts of his work. On April 18, Carl Jr. visited the Washington, DC market for a special sales meeting, trade event, and taste test that welcomed distributors and other industry insiders from the nation's capital, Maryland, and the region. We sat down with him to discuss his family's legacy, his thoughts on the local market, and what has him excited for the future.
The Washington, D.C., drinking scene definitely has its share of rock-star bartenders. But few rock harder than Justin Hampton, the man behind the taps at Poste Moderne Brasserie inside the Hotel Monaco. After graduating a decade ago from San Diego State University with a degree in Social Science and a focus on economics, he went into restaurant management. His first gig? The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego.
"I had worked my way as a waiter through college," he recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "At the Hard Rock, the bartenders were walking out with several hundred dollars for working half the hours I did. When I saw that, I said, 'What's that all about?!' Those guys looked like they were having a lot more fun. I wanted to hang out with them, and I wanted to make that money."
After four years of spot bartending and learning on the job, he got involved in starting a food truck company in Boise that never got off the ground. Having a sense of adventure and a willingness to move, he settled in the District of Columbia and started working at Founding Farmers. "That was really a training ground for me," he said. "It was high-volume craft cocktails where you have to really know what you're doing and execute everything exactly the same and in a quick manner. I banged out cocktails every night for a whole year. It really perfected my skills."
Rebecca Spicer is Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA). It's an impressive job ... eh, to everyone but Rebecca. "I don't get hung up on titles," she said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal from her office in Alexandria, Va. "The really fun thing about working in an association is that everybody pitches in. Associations are built around people coming together, and that's certainly reflected in our work atmosphere here. We don't have job descriptions per se that are written in stone, because you never know what's going to come up."
Spicer came to NBWA from TV news. The Nashville transplant scored an internship with her local news station when she was just 16 and became hooked. "Every day a reporter went out on a story or a producer put together a newscast, and you had no idea what you would be covering that day," she recalled. "I think that desire to learn about new issues and new people and never really knowing what was going to be scripted is part of the excitement I love in the association world."
She eventually hooked on with WJLA Channel 7's news operation in Washington, D.C. But the NBWA soon beckoned. She's delighted that her job has continued to allow her to tell stories. "Part of the fun of being in communications with beer distributors, in particular, is that we have such a wonderful, colorful story to tell," she declared. "The favorite part of my job is the people I work with and for. I know you were expecting me to say the beer. But that's a close second! I was a beer fan before taking this job. But I certainly didn't know as many beer brands as I do now. But it always come back to the people, not only those I work with in the office, but also the membership. Our membership consists of a lot of family-owned businesses that have been in these families for three, four, or even more generations. These are people who roll up their sleeves and appreciate hard work."
At a key moment in "The Shawshank Redemption," Morgan Freeman's good-hearted convict friend, Red, posed the question: "Seriously, how often do you really look at a man's shoes?" Well, anyone who hung around Shane McCarthy in January and February of this year likely looked at his footwear quite a bit. The assistant general manager and beer manager at Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse in Bel Air wore pink boots day in and day out to promote a very special event his store hosted on February 26 to raise money and awareness for the Pink Boots Society.
Some of you reading this may be asking, "What is the Pink Boots Society?" It is an international organization of women that was created to empower female beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry, chiefly through education. The organization also seeks to teach women beer professionals the judging skills necessary to become beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival and other competitions. Society members include women who own breweries, who design beers, serve beers, package beers, and write about beer. The group currently has more than 3,000 members and counting.
"I've read a lot about beer history," McCarthy stated, during a late January interview with the Beverage Journal. "Women were actually the main brewers a couple of hundred years ago. A lot of the beer was made by women. That's where the term 'alewife' came from. But, today, it is a male-dominated industry. So, it's really unique that these ladies are trying to change that. They don't want to drink wine. They want to drink beer ... good beer! That really inspired me to reach out and try and raise money to send a woman to brewing school, because the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology is NOT cheap!"
"I love the creativity aspect of my job. I love the autonomy that I have and the challenges I've been given to come up with new drinks."
So said Erin Ivey, bar manager at Lincoln on Vermont Ave., during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. Ivey, who has been tending bar at various area establishments for the last decade, has become known for her craft cocktails. "What drew me to craft cocktails is I really love the integrity of the drinks as far as fresh juices and ingredients," she stated. " I enjoy making twists on an Old Fashioned, different syrups and such. I love being able to play and bring a different and unique element to drinks."
The drink that she most recently played around with and created is the Cherry Blossom Cocktail. She believes it to be one of the best concoctions she has ever come up with. "I don't like to make sweet drinks," she said, "so I chose morello cherries as the key ingredient. Morello cherries make a really wonderful syrup -- not too sweet, not too tart, right in the middle. I wanted to do something with rye, in particular, so I chose one of the most flexible ones I could think of, Bulleit Rye. I threw some mint in there for freshness; along with some fresh lemon juice; the rum syrup; and crushed ice, which is really appealing to the eye. The Cherry Blossom Cocktail has a beautiful red color. I'm very proud of it. It's got a great taste, and it's very refreshing. There is a little bit of residual sweetness. But mostly you get that tart cherry taste, along with fresh mint and lemon."
After a long career working for everyone from RNDC to Southern Wine & Spirits, Barry Cregan moved to the supplier side about a year and a half ago to serve as East Coast Vice President of Carolina Wine Brands USA. The company handles mostly South American wines for the U.S. market for Carolina Wine Brands, one of Chile's main winemaking groups owned by the agro-industrial group Watt's SA.
If you've seen Cregan or any of his colleagues lately, you can tell they are riding a real high. That's because the company's flagship winery, Santa Carolina in Chile, recently won the New World Winery of the Year 2015 honor from the Wine Enthusiast. Cregan traveled to New York City in late January to attend the awards ceremony.
"All of the big companies were there," he marveled. "It was neat getting that award because a lot of people in the industry were able to recognize who we were, and they came up and gave us congratulations. We also had the chance to have people taste our wines while we were there. It was a great experience. Winning an honor like Best New World Winery really tells the world where we're standing. What it also does is it allows us to use that in our marketing. We're putting little, round stickers on our bottles that say 'New World Winery of the Year.' We're going to use it on our point-of-sale. We're going to parlay that to the consumer and say, 'Hey, good value ... fantastic wine ... try me!'"
Tim Graham Looks to Score With Beverage Service at M&T Bank Stadium
If you've ever owned, operated, or tended bar at a sports-themed restaurant or tavern, you know there is always the risk that some customers may get a bit out of hand if their team is losing. Heck, even when the Ravens, Redskins, Orioles or Nationals are doing well, the atmosphere can get rowdy. Chances are, you only have to be concerned about a few diehards getting too distraught over a final score. Tim Graham, Beverage Manager at M&T Bank Stadium for concessionaire Aramark, has to worry about a few thousand!
Graham has held his current job since last June, having previously served as Beverage Manager at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He wasn't there when the Ravens had their Super Bowl run a couple of years back. But he was there for this past season's injury-plagued, 5-11 disappointment.
The next General Assembly Session is just around the corner, and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) will once again be taking a lead role in looking out for the beverage industry's interests. This means guys like MSLBA President David Marberger and his close colleagues are expected to step up and drive the discussions.
"We're at the rough and ready every year at this time," said the proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis. "In 2016, we plan on working very diligently at getting a really good relationship going with the Maryland microbreweries, the distilleries, and the wineries. We really need to forge together as a cohesive unit. There will always be some issues that we won't see eye to eye on. But all of us coming together in this industry as an industry so we can move forward is a must and something we really want to focus on."
Closer cooperation and collaboration will be a must if the industry is going to continue challenging any and all attempts to get legislation passed that would allow grocery, big-box, and convenience stores to obtain off-premise beer and wine licenses. Marberger remarked, "I would love it if there was legislation that says chain stores will never be allowed to sell alcohol in the State of Maryland. That's the dream legislation, and that's really the battle we're keeping our eyes out for first and foremost. Since the early 1970s, I think, there has always been something in this regard that pops up. We're lucky in that we usually have three or four years of things toning down and being quiet before the momentum starts to build back up. It helps that we're not the only state fighting this battle."
Behind the Bar At Plug Ugly's
Mark Walker, bartender extraordinaire at Plug Ugly's Publick House in Baltimore, still remembers the first time he ever poured drinks professionally. It was on a particularly busy night at Charm City's fabled Hammerjack's, and The Alarm was rocking out on stage. "Yeah, my first training shift was a sold-out concert," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "There was probably around 2,000 people there. My boss looked at me and she said, 'Well, Mark ... sink or swim!' I guess I swam."
Walker has been doing more swimming than sinking ever since. A lot more. Last year, in fact, he was named one of Baltimore's 10 Best Bartenders by the Baltimore Sun. With well over two decades of experience, Walker got his current gig at the popular O'Donnell Street restaurant and watering hole because of his longtime friendship with co-owner Tommy Welsch. "He's a really good friend of mine," Walker said, "and I actually waited for him to open this place up for two years while I was working elsewhere. As soon as he opened the doors, though, I started working for him."
You don't come across a lot of people in the beer business who also have a PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. Meet Stephen Demczuk, co-founder of Baltimore-based RavenBeer. The Dundalk native was doing post-graduate work at the University of Geneva in Switzerland when he fell in love with beer. "I had what I call a few 'near-religious experiences' with beer," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.
Beer became a professional side passion of his. When he wasn't in a lab, he was traveling Europe, visiting different breweries, and writing about his experiences for such publications as American Brewer. He eventually "dropped out of science" to pursue a career in beer full-time.
His first success was launching Beer Around the World, the first European beer of the month club. "I started packaging and shipping beer off from small breweries around the world," he recalled, "up to 15 countries we shipped to in Europe. I would bring the beers in and pay the fees and tax. Once you pay the tax, you can do with the beer what you want over there. There is no three-tier system. You can box it, sell it, distribute it, take it to your restaurant, whatever you want."
Hometown Boy, Joshua "Josh" Shores, Makes Good ...
Some people never really leave their hometown. But when your hometown is Ocean City, Md., and you are the owner of the Ocean City Brewing & Distilling Company, staying put has been a most rewarding life choice. Meet Joshua "Josh" Shores Sr., a man who had run a successful Internet sales business for a number of years who wanted to be a name in his hometown. What he really wanted to do was bring a craft brewery to the beach. He recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "I know it sounds crazy, but I just closed up shop one day and said, 'I want to open a brewery!'"
He got that chance in 2013 when he learned that the old Adkins building on 56th Street was available. At that location, he founded the Ocean City Brewing Company, which has thrived and grown into a large-scale brewery, bar, and restaurant that has at least two dozen craft beers on tap at any given time.
Bringing the Spirit and Spirits of Louisiana to Maryland and the District
When I was a little boy, to make me laugh, my grandma would spontaneously break into her rendition of Hank Williams' classic country song "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)." You know the lyrics: "Goodbye Joe. Me gotta go. Me oh my oh. . . . Son of a gun, we'll have big fun, on the Bayou!" Granny was a drinking woman, and I wish she was here with me now to sample some fine Bayou Rum.
Louisiana Spirits debuted its four variations of the product in Maryland back in May, and they've been hot sellers statewide ever since. Founded in 2011, the company follows an authentic "sugar house" recipe in gathering raw, unrefined cane sugar and molasses from M.A. Patout & Sons Enterprise Factory in Patoutville, La. Bayou Silver is the company's original, copper pot-distilled base rum. "It's a lot different from most white rums on the market," said Louisiana Spirits President Trey Litel, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "It's colorless; clear; and has an almost grassy, fruity sort of aroma. It also has a wonderful flavor and after taste and is great for sipping on ice, or with cranberry juice, or lemonade."
If you operate a restaurant that has a full-service bar, you really can't ask for a better bartender than Isaac Martinez. He's the man behind the taps at the very popular, always bustling Hank's Oyster Bar in Washington, D.C. When asked during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal what his overall work philosophy is, Martinez had this to say: "I am interested in learning more and more so I can become better. I want to know everything! When people come in and say, 'Can you make this drink?' I always want to be able to say, 'Yes, I know how to make that drink.'"
Martinez came to the United States from Mexico in 2001 and has never gone back. His English is not the best. This reporter had to ask him to repeat a few answers during our chat and had to rewind the tape more than a few times while transcribing. But, clearly, the force of his personality is what has his customers coming back to him again and again. And the fact that he makes one of the town's best Old Fashioneds! He remarked, "I really like it when people say to me, 'Oh, you work HARD! I like how you work!' I am motivated by this as much as when people say, 'I like this drink you just made me.' When you work at a bar, you have to have a lot of energy. You have to be in shape."
He continued, "I've always worked in restaurants and bars. I've worked as a barback and as a bartender. Right from the start, I really liked the job and the business. I enjoyed mixing drinks, and I still like coming up with something new for the customers."
If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to the Maryland beverage business, surely Robert "Bob" J. Footlick would be one of the faces chiseled on it. The president of Bond Distributing Co. Footlick died of cancer on June 15 at his Pikesville, Md., home. Footlick went to work as a beer salesman in the mid-1960s for his future father-in-law, Edward Borow, who had established Bond Distributing Co. at Bond and Thames streets in Baltimore's Fells Point years earlier. After the death of his father-in-law in 1979, Footlick became president of the company and remained in that position until his recent passing.
It was a calling that almost didn't happen, though, as Footlick's first love was the legal system. He had every intention of becoming an attorney, having earned his law degree from George Washington University Law School where he majored in labor relations. His daughter, Leslie Footlick Schaller, stated, "When he graduated law school, my grandfather looked at him and very astutely said, 'Why in the world would you want to be an attorney when you could be in the beer business?!'"
Fortunately, her dad agreed, and the rest is local suds history. And like so many in the business today, Schaller owes a big debt to her father and mentor. Today, she herself serves as Bond Distributing's Director of Media and Marketing. She stated, "His big concern was creating a company culture where employees were passionate about the business, but also felt excited about getting up and going to work every day and secure in their roles and responsibilities. Many of our employees are multi-generational. We have lots of different generations of family members -- fathers and sons, husbands and wives, siblings. We're very proud to be a 21st century version of a family business that has, over the course of time, also grown to be a $100 million company."
Increasing the Diversity of Drink Choices
Maryland is definitely a diverse state. The population is diverse, the geography is diverse, and the drinking preferences are most definitely diverse. The Hagerstown-based National Beverage Brokers (NBB) knows this and seeks to cater to that diversity. For a company that specializes in finding boutique to mid-sized importers, producers, and distributors seeking access to both the Maryland and Washington, D.C. beverage markets, that means representing everyone from the small Bordeleau Winery in Eden, Md., on the Eastern Shore to France's Original Gangster XO Brandy, which is fronted by rapper/"Law & Order SVU" star Ice-T.
At NBB's helm is owner Alan Emery, who has been in the sales business for nearly 10 years. "Our company is a group of salespeople -- eight of us total -- who represent several small distributors," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "The concept behind this is a salesperson has a difficult time working for a small company. There is just not enough product to sell usually. What we've done is gotten some small companies together and we represent them in the state of Maryland and in D.C., as well. We also help them find new products that we think will work well."
...Has Found a Home at Paul's Homewood Café.
Annapolis certainly has its institutions that have been around for decades. The U.S. Naval Academy. The Maryland State House. St. Anne's Church. And Frank Cheplowitz. Wait ... who? Those who know the state capital's wining and dining scene know who. Cheplowitz has been a professional waiter there for nearly four decades. One of his first gigs was at the old Harbor House restaurant in the City Dock area. That was followed by a nearly 27-year stint at the Maryland Inn, where he did everything from serve guests to manage staff to order the wine.
He made the switch to Paul's Homewood Cafe nine years ago and has served as its head waiter ever since. The key to his longevity? "I still love learning about the business!" he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I love learning about food, about drinks, and about myself. It's really never too late to learn things. I also don't stress out about things as much as I did even just a couple of years ago."
How Glendalough Is Preserving Ireland's Whiskey Heritage.
Donal O'Gallachoir was one of five friends who found that they had a shared passion. No, not for sports or automobiles or a particular brand of music. What brought them together was a quest to revive the heritage of craft distilling in their home country of Ireland.
As late as the 19th century, there were more than 200 licensed distilleries in Ireland in addition to countless unlicensed ones. Until recently, that dropped to a small handful. But the five friends' Glendalough Distillery is now looking to be a part of a true revival. Named after one of the most beautiful valleys in all of Ireland, Glendalough Distillery is looking to make a name for itself abroad, but especially here in the States. Initially, the founders started with poitin, the first-ever spirit distilled. Since then, they have moved on to whiskeys (the Glendalough Single Grain Double Barrel has become an especially hot seller), Irish Single Malts and four wild botanical gins for each season.
Looks to Be a Horse of a Different Color...
The first thing I noticed when I went to crack open my first bottle of Golia Vodka, the latest hot import from Asia, is the majestic label featuring a winged horse. While I am quite certain the owners of American Pharoah poured more than their fair share of vodka and other spirits upon winning the Triple Crown recently, I was a little iffy as to what a similarly legendary beast had to do with vodka. So, I went to the source, Golia Vodka Chairman David Solomon.
"It's a Pegagus to Americans, but called a Wind Horse in Mongolia," he stated. "In Mongolian folklore, the Wind Horse is conjured up by shamans to take the spirit on its journey to Heaven. So, what we want people to think of when they are drinking Golia is that they are ascending to Heaven. You'll see that we also incorporated the Mongolian sun, mountains, the water, and the wheat into our version of this Wind Horse."
...and a Blue Chair Bay Rum:
On country superstar Kenny Chesney's current U.S. tour, fans can walk through the singer's American Kids bus. Inside, there are displays that tell the story of the singer's music; his lifestyle; and, most importantly to Beverage Journal readers, his line of flavored Blue Chair Bay Rums imported and bottled by Chesney's Fishbowl Spirits LLC. "There is an opportunity to taste, as well," said Fishbowl Spirits President David Farmer. "So fans can come to understand what these rums are all about."
First and foremost, what Blue Chair Bay Rums are about is lifestyle. Chesney is selling an island vibe that comes through in many of his most popular tunes. Created at a small distillery in Barbados and launched in April 2013, there were the three initial selections: Blue Chair Bay White Rum, Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum, and Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum. Before long, Blue Chair Bay Banana Rum came along and was also a hit. In June, the company is launching Blue Chair Bay Vanilla Rum and Blue Chair Bay Banana Cream Rum.
...Connecting With Wounded Veterans:
It's perfectly fine to buy one's self a drink because you just want to feel good. Well, if you buy 360 Vodka's latest limited edition bottle, you will more than feel good. You'll be doing your patriotic duty! AND, as always, buying 360 Vodka also means you are doing right by the environment as each bottle is made with 85 percent recycled glass, 100 percent recycled paper for the labeling, and the distillery where it was made has its own water treatment plant.
But back to the patriotism part. The limited edition, 1.75-liter package hit shelves in April, and $1 from each bottle sold is being donated to the Connected Warrior Foundation. The Annapolis-based organization provides tablet computers and other services to injured soldiers so they can stay connected with their families, friends, and the world when in the hospital or in a rehabilitation program. A tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, the Connected Warrior Foundation was founded in 2012. The group has delivered everything from Kindle devices to Nexus tablets to wounded veterans during their stays at such facilities as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and Balboa Naval Hospital. Connected Warrior serves veterans -- whether newly-injured or on the path of recovery over an extended period of time -- who have suffered physical and/or emotional invisible wounds (PTSD) that were received during the course of combat on behalf of the United States.
Guilds come in all shapes and sizes these days, and they have varying missions. The Screen Actors Guild, for instance, represents the interests of thespians worldwide who appear on the big and small screens. The Newspaper Guild is a labor union for journalists and other employees of newspapers and currently boasts more than 30,000 members across North America. The much smaller Lollipop Guild, meanwhile, is tasked with doling out sweet treats as a form of welcome to visitors of the magical Land of Oz's Munchkinland precinct.
The recently formed Maryland Distillers Guild is looking to be all those things -- an industry representative, a de facto labor union, and a welcome wagon -- and more for those artisanal distillers statewide who craft whiskeys, rums, vodkas, and other spirits. Boutique whiskeys and other spirits are surging in popularity with consumers both in Maryland and across the country. Unlike wines whose quality and character are shaped by such things as climate and soil type, spirits can be distilled anywhere with raw materials like barley or sugar to be shipped in if need be.
The distribution model now in place in Maryland basically allows a distiller to sell a limited amount directly to the customer -- three bottles per person each visit. In addition, distillers can go to distributors to retail their products or apply for a wholesaler’s license themselves. Of course, each distiller needs state and federal permits. One person who has navigated this process and wants to help others do so is Guild President Jaime Windon, who is also co-owner, along with Ben Lyon, of Lyon Distilling in St. Michaels.
One of country superstar Kenny Chesney's biggest hits was "When the Sun Goes Down." Well, in the beverage biz, the sun has definitely not gone down on Billy Reilly yet. He's the new Maryland-D.C.-Virginia Territory Manager for Fishbowl Spirits LLC, an independent spirits company wholly owned by Chesney. Their signature product is Blue Chair Bay Rum.
Reilly believes he's the man to bring this premium-blended spirit, distilled in Barbados and inspired by the singer's relaxed island life, to market in our region. After all, he was the owner and commissioner of the Fastest Bartender Contest for many years, putting on exciting competition shows all over the Maryland-D.C. area. He sold that business to some members of his staff. "It has stayed in the hands of the people who have actually run it, and I am really happy for them," he said proudly, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.
Reilly also operated a small consulting firm which specialized in "out of the box" marketing. His clients included a number of bars, restaurants, and small businesses. "I was never far from the business," he remarked. "I heard about this job opening. I immediately inquired online, and I made the most of my interview opportunity and landed the position."
Most people who I interview for this column have come to the bar business with similar stories. "I started bartending in college and fell in love with it" or "My dad owned a tavern, so I grew up in the business." That's not the case with Babak Pakravan, head bartender at Penn Commons in D.C. A first-generation Iranian-American, his family's travels took him back to Iran where he had to eventually be smuggled out in 1983. He tried university life, but dropped out to join the United States Marine Corps. from 1985 to 1989. After those four years, he went back to college before becoming an officer in the U.S. Army.
He didn't get his start in hospitality until 1995, working various taverns and restaurants in Chicago. A year later, he moved to the District of Columbia and continued his service in our sector. "I was on the periphery early on," he recalled. "I was a dishwasher. I became a barback. I worked security. I worked at Timberlake's for 13 years. When Timberlake's closed, I came over to Passion Food Hospitality, the group I'm with now."
He initially started working at 10 Penh, a Pan-Asian restaurant, then went to Saba. He was the bar manager there until it closed, which brought him to Penn Commons, the newest restaurant in the company. Pakravan believes he has found a home.
When this journalist suggested to Joe Gold that he was a "beer nerd," the Sales Manager at Heavy Seas Beer in Halethorpe chuckled and replied, "Yeah, I guess I am." Then, he thought for a moment and proudly declared, "Actually, I'm more of a 'beer explorer.' I go on beer hunts. What I do is I keep a beer journal, and I travel the globe looking for fun things to visit beer-wise -- taverns, brewpubs, historic sites. I tend to plan my trips around beer. For instance, when I'm on the road for work, I'll do some research as to what's happening that weekend with beer. If there's a festival or some sort of pub I've never heard of, I'll stay over the weekend just to check it out."
Sorry, Joe. That pretty much qualifies you for "beer nerdom." Not that there's anything wrong with that! After all, how many people get to turn their life's passion into a full-time job. Gold earned his first paycheck in the brewing business in 1986, working for Young & Co.'s Brewery in London. His younger days as a lacrosse player had moved him from Baltimore to England three years earlier. When it came time to get a job, the beverage business there beckoned.
"So much has changed from when I first got involved," he stated. "I used to walk into taverns in the '80s and say, 'I have this phenomenal beer. It's fantastic. We just came out with it.' And the buyer would say, 'I've never heard of it, and nobody's ever asked for it. Get out of here!' I go in today and tell the buyer, 'Hey, we came up with this new batch of beer. It's fresh off the line.' And the buyer says to me, 'I've never heard of it, and nobody's ever asked for it. I'll take three kegs!' It's the weirdest professional shift I've ever lived through!"
You've heard that Secret deodorant is strong enough for a man, but made for a woman? Well, after that woman freshens up her underarms and heads out for an evening on the town, Vanessa Braxton hopes she'll be drinking Black Momma Vodka. Braxton is CEO and President of the new label, which launched in 2013 as a division of B4MC Group Inc. On the homepage of her website, she describes Black Momma as "made by a woman for women and still strong enough for any man ... OKAAAY!"
Yes, indeed. This vodka comes with some sass and five different variations. There is the popular Straight Vodka, which is filtered from corn through crushed diamond lava rocks; along with a Sour Sop Tea Vodka; a Chai Tea flavor; a Green Tea infusion; a Pomegranate Tea infusion; and, finally, a Peach Tea variation. Braxton stated, during a recent Beverage Journal interview "Women are different, and I wanted to make something that is for us and by us. It's a male-dominated industry, and that's fine. I love men! But our palettes are very different. I'm a tea drinker, and I always have been. At the same time, I love vodka. This is THE product!"
All of the Black Mommas are five times distilled and five times filtered, giving the finished product a clean finish and a most pleasing taste. "A lot of people think that vodkas all taste the same, but they don't!" Braxton noted. "We don't add any sugar, there aren't any chemicals, it's all-natural. So, you get that natural sweetness. I suffer from headaches. Our process is such that it minimizes headaches that sometimes comes from drinking vodka. Also, the corn base helps it to be naturally gluten-free."
Movie fans are definitely looking forward to Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher reprising their "Star Wars" roles after 32 years when "The Force Awakens" hits theaters this coming December. And just this past week, Sylvester Stallone took to social media to confirm that he would not only be playing Rocky Balboa again, but also John Rambo in a sequel to be subtitled "Last Blood."
Well, the local beverage business has a similar tale of longtime heroes returning to action to tangle with today's young guns. They are Emery Coccia and Larry Brookman. The former has never left. He has been running his Maryland-based independent brokerage, Active Marketing and Sales LLC, since 2005. Overall, he has been active in the beer, wine, and spirits industry since 1971. Brookman, meanwhile, was basically retired after career stints at several companies, the last being Constellation Brands where he was a part of their Spirits Division for 10 years. But late last year, he bought into Active Marketing, and now the two are full partners.
Brookman stated, "God willing, if we stay healthy, Emery and I can do this for at least the next 10 years or however long we want. We're a lot alike. We do business in much the same way, and we know a lot of the same people. His and my goals are very similar. It's not all about the money, especially at our point in the business. We can still make a difference. Emery and I have cloned ourselves. We've duplicated. If both of us are working effectively, we should be able to cover a LOT more territory and build a LOT of brands!"
The hardest skill to teach a new bartender is how to bite your tongue. I can teach you how to stir, I can teach you how to shake, and I can teach you drink recipes. But there are customers who are, by their nature, just plain difficult. You could make them the perfect drink based off of what they said, and it's just not going to be good enough."
So laments Trevor Frye, Beverage Director for the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. But that's about the only lament Frye has these days. According to him, he is in his dream job. "I'm one of the lucky people," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I actually feel happy when I'm going to work."
He started in the industry as a busboy at age 15. Since then, he has worked just about every job in the business, from barback to server to bartender. He even briefly owned a private event bartending and cocktail consulting company. "I eventually threw in the towel about four years ago and went full-time with bartending," he recalled. "I had reached a point in my life where I was ready to take a leap of faith and go with my real passion, and it's been awesome."
The next Maryland General Assembly Session is scheduled to convene in January, and it will be one marked by change. Big change, in fact, as a very large turnover of elected officials is about to happen. Yes, indeed, Annapolis is getting an influx of new faces, not the least of which is Governor-elect Larry Hogan. The Republican defeated Anthony Brown back in November, running on a platform in which he promised a new era of hope and bipartisanship in the Old Line State.
Beverage industry interests are hoping also for a new era of cooperation and recognition of their contributions to Maryland. The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is poised to be especially active in tugging the ears of Hogan and others. In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise acknowledged, "There is going to be a 'settling in' period. We have a lot of new legislators. We have a new governor, and there will definitely be some turnover on the various committees that we deal with. The first thing we'll be doing is assessing all of that."
MSLBA President David Marberger concurred, "I think the number one issue for our industry in 2015 is to make inroads with all of these newly elected officials. Building relationships and building them early is the key component of what we do. With the turnover that we just saw, there are a lot of new people that we need to get to know."
People tell me all of the time that I have a great job, writing about beer, wine, and spirits for the Beverage Journal each month. No argument there. But do you know who has a REALLY great job? Tim Herlihy, the National Brand Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey. And he knows it.
“I am in the very lucky position that I get to travel from coast to coast, city to city, and always with a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. in my hand,” he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. “It’s a nice way to travel, by the way! I’ve been lucky enough to go to 27 states and [Washington, D.C.] in my three years in this role, and I’m still absolutely baffled that I’m fortunate enough to get paid to enjoy my favorite Irish whiskey. My role is basically to introduce and re-introduce people to our liquids. So, I host a lot of different tasting events. Unfortunately, although I am an ‘ambassador,’ that doesn’t mean I have any diplomatic immunity. So, I have to behave!”
His travels often take him to the Maryland and Washington, D.C., markets. For instance, Tullamore D.E.W. had a major presence at Maryland’s 41st annual Irish Festival at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium in early November. “I attended last year and fully enjoyed it. There was great music and plenty of Irish wolfhounds, as well! This year, I sent Eimear Keller, who is also a Brand Ambassador for us. It was her first time there, and she did six tastings of our whiskey over the course of two days.”
Pretzels and beer are an unbeatable combination. So, too, are whiskey and rye. And certainly wine and cheese. Just before Thanksgiving, another unbeatable combo hit the Maryland-Washington, D.C. market in the form of Marcus Notaro of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and our own Fran "Pineapple" Schmitz. Schmitz ushered Notaro around to several major accounts to press the flesh and talk up the Stag's Leap label.
"Every time I've come to the market," stated Notaro, during an interview with the Beverage Journal, "I've had the privilege of working with Mr. Pineapple. He has never failed to deliver me to some world-class establishments. When I have done wine dinners here, the folks who attend are very passionate wine consumers. They are very knowledgeable, and they travel. People in the D.C.-Maryland area not only know about Napa Valley wines, but wines from around the world. There's also a surprising number of our wine club members here. So for me to be out in their market and to be able to tie them back closer to our winery is pretty special."
Among the stops this time around were presentations at Le Diplomate and The Palm in Washington, D.C., along with a luncheon at Baltimore's Center Club and a wine dinner at the Maryland Club.
Lucien Smith didn't come to Annapolis in 2003 to be a bartender. He came because he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. But a sailor's life was not for him. He ended up voluntarily resigning from the Academy to pursue other interests. But there was something about Maryland's capital city that kept this former Californian around. He took a job as a catering bartender in Timonium, then found work right back in Annapolis as a bar-back at the Castle Bay Irish Pub on Main Street. By then, he was hooked on the biz!
In 2007, he was hired at Osteria 177 to be their service bartender. He's been there ever since. "It was here I began to extend my cocktail knowledge through self-study and a desire to continue on this career path and to excel in it," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I'm now a Certified Mixologist through Bar Smarts and Pernod Ricard. "
Over the years, Smith has managed to develop a personal beverage philosophy that he's only too happy to share. "I believe that quality comes from not only presentation and how you make the drink, but to the spirits that you use," he stated. "You should emphasize the classics and the original ways of preparing things, but then you need to adapt them to difference palettes. I think it's good to have a balanced cocktail and not something that is too sweet or too tart or has too much going on in it where you can't taste the base. It needs to accentuate the base of the cocktail."
Marc Zahorchak, Beverage Director at the Teddy & The Bully Bar in Northwest D.C. didn't come to the nation's capital in the early 1990s to tend bar. He had an MBA degree and found work as a management consultant. But then the recession that ushered in the Clinton era hit, and he suddenly found himself downsized and unable to find a job.
"A buddy of mine suggested that I get involved with the restaurant business at night to keep the cash flow going while looking for another job," he recalled during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I absolutely fell in love with the business! I was hooked from the first day I got behind the bar and have been doing it for more than 20 years now."
He tended bar at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill for nine years and also served as the original bar manager for Hook in Georgetown. He has been full-time at Teddy since August 2013. " I came in about two months after they opened up," he stated. [Proprietor] Alan Popovsky was looking for someone to kind of corral and bring bar costs in line. More importantly, I think he wanted someone with my experience to come in and teach the younger mixologist-types."
Hard cider has emerged as one of the fastest-growing segments in the alcoholic beverage industry, and among the fastest-growing brands in that segment are Pennsylvania-based Wyndridge Farm's Crafty Ciders. Now available in Maryland, the two Crafty Ciders -- original apple and cranberry flavored -- are naturally gluten free with a refreshing taste.
Crafty Ciders separate themselves from other hard ciders by making ample use of the local bounty of quality apples found in the Keystone State's central region. Wyndridge Farm President Steve Groff says he and his full-time cider master, Scott Topel, keep their ingredients simple. Chiefly, Wyndridge Farm prides itself on not adding any excessive amounts of extra sweeteners. Groff stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "Many of the commercial hard ciders start with either apple juice concentrate rather than full juice or their alcohol is made with sugar. We simply use fresh apple juice. We source local apples just a few miles down the road. We carbonate and package on the farm. So, the whole process takes place right here."
The result is a Champagne-style apple cider that is fresh, simple, and quite tasty. The products stand out on shelves, though, due to their fun and creative bottling. The company's original Crafty Cider features a well-dressed fox balancing an arrow-skewered apple on the top of his head. Crafty Cranberry, meanwhile, boasts a dapper bird in a suit with a beak full of cranberry.
Mike Rizzo is in charge of all things baseball for the Washington Nationals. Chuck Hagel is in charge of all things defense for our country. And what about that other great Washingtonian, Jon Arroyo? "In a nutshell, I am in charge of everything that is liquid for the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group," he stated.
As the company's Beverage Director since its inception six years ago, he truly is responsible for not only all of the beer, wine, and spirits served at Farmers Table D.C., MoCo's Founding Farmers in suburban Potomac, Md., and a soon-to-open location at the upscale Tysons Galleria II mall in Northern Virginia, but also the three restaurants' coffee program, their tea program. "Everything!" he exclaimed, "Every liquid product. I love the juggling act that is my job. There are lots of moving parts, lots of chess pieces."
When the original Founding Farmers location opened on Pennsylvania Avenue six years ago, cocktail programs were few and far between citywide. "We were very new to the scene," Arroyo recalled, "and we had a very specific approach. We had the farmers' table approach. We wanted to work with smaller producers of spirits and producers who practiced some of the same belief systems that we do, which are sustainable practices, more organically grown products, and things of that nature."
Patrón Spirits has inaugurated a buy-the-barrel program called "Patrón Barrel Select" where spirits retailers and on-premise accounts are able to taste and choose their own bespoke barrel (about 27 cases) of aged Patrón tequila unique for them. Each barrel has been in the company's aging room for a specific period of time. As a result, no two are alike.
Greg Cohen, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Patrón Spirits, recently sat down with the Beverage Journal to discuss the program. "The way that tequila is produced and aged and blended from different barrels is such a challenge," he stated. "Our master distiller and his team blend different barrel types, different wood, different lengths of aging to create those products. We thought it would be really interesting if we gave people an opportunity to sample those different tequilas that are aging in those different barrel types over the different lengths of time, on their own ... just straight out of the barrel. Each is very unique. When they are blended together to create reposado, for example, that's the taste that people know is Patrón. But when you taste those barrels individually, and there are so many different combinations, you get really distinct and different tastes. It's still Patrón. It's still very recognizable. But you get a lot of different flavors and a lot of different complexities."
One of the first retailers in the country to purchase a barrel of “Patrón Barrel Select” is Lax Wine & Spirits in Washington. D.C. The store received a big helping hand from Patrón Spirits Production Manager Antonio Rodriguez, who selected the barrel. Rodriguez remarked, "I was very honored that Lax asked me to help choose his barrel, and I was given such free reign to pick something special. The request was for a light reposado. So, this particular blend of reposado, Barrel #24 of Batch 111.2, matched what they were looking for."
Aaron Joseph has been bartending for 13 years, most of them in the Maryland-D.C. market. But it was his brief time early on in the Caribbean working for the former Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., now Belmond Ltd., that stoked his passion for using fresh ingredients in cocktails -- a passion that has helped position him as one of the best craft bartenders in the Baltimore market.
Early in his career, he learned his craft at such places as the Inn at Perry Cabin on St. Michaels and Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown. He really got traction at Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons in Washington, which led to his current position as lead bartender at Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore's Four Seasons Hotel.
"Wit & Wisdom is Michael Mina's vision of an American tavern," Joseph described, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "Our beverage program reflects craft cocktails. We use fresh ingredients, fresh produce, and we make a lot of our own bitters and syrups and things of that nature. We try and keep it as crafty and as interesting as possible by incorporating new and up-and-coming spirits. We love providing our customers with an array of flavors, and we change our menu roughly four times a year to capitalize on the different seasonal ingredients."
Before Dante Datta got into the bar and restaurant business, and way before he became bartender extraordinaire at Rasika West End, he led a very different life. "I had a nearly 10-year career in finance before this!" he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "My last job in that field was actually working for the Washington Nationals. I would write a sales report for the ownership each week."
So, what made him leave the world of numbers and number crunching? "I turned 27 years old," he recalled. "It was my birthday, and I went to New York City to celebrate. A friend of mine asked me, 'If you could do anything, what would you do?' And like many other guys, I answered, 'Well, I'd open a bar!' So, I started mopping floors in a restaurant while I was working during the day. As far as the restaurant business is concerned, I guess you can see I got into it a bit late in life."
That first part-time gig was at Ping Pong Dim Sum in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood. He took other jobs and eventually found his way to his current full-time position at Rasika, one of the District of Columbia's top Indian eateries.
You know you are talking to a person who has found his or her true calling in this world when you ask them: "What do you consider to be the hardest part of your job?" and the answer is: "Going home! When you are doing something that you love, it can sometimes be so hard to go home and just turn your brain off. You want to be back THERE!"
That "there" is Lincoln Restaurant in Washington, D.C. That happy employee is lead bartender Rachel Sergi, who has been in the business for nearly two decades now. She started her career in the nation's capital at New Heights Restaurant before eventually hooking on with Lincoln, an American small plates eatery that focuses on organically sourced menu offerings with a heavy emphasis on its fresh cocktail program, as well.
"I love creating cocktails," Sergi stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "One of the cocktails I am known for is a drink that is not on our menu right now, but I've had it in my arsenal for some time. It's my favorite, and it's called the Betty White. It's actually a beer cocktail. It uses beer and gin and a cherry liqueur. It's light and bright, and I serve it in a martini glass. It's almost like an alternative to a champagne cocktail. People seem to really like it."
Country music fans often sing of having a "hometown honeymoon." Those who like to strap on the old feedbag and stuff their faces with fried chicken, pizza, and pasta will tell you there's no better place for that than the Hometown Buffet restaurant chain. But Baltimoreans looking for a hometown beer? More and more are gravitating to Union Craft Brewing.
Founded by three local friends -- Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger, and Jon Zerivitz -- this growing operation is quickly becoming a hometown favorite to locals and Marylanders alike. Benesch, who recently sat down with the Beverage Journal on the eve of Union Craft's two-year anniversary, stated, "Being that all three of us are hometown guys, a lot of our passion for what we wanted to create here revolved around community. We really wanted to be a community-based brewery. What that means to us is hosting community-type events at the brewery, but also being very involved out in the community, whether it's partnering with local charities or coming up with ways to connect with other people in Baltimore doing great things. That could mean restaurants holding various events or local causes that we connect with. And beer is just that great thing everyone loves having around."
Among the most popular events that Benesch and his partners have hosted on site was a recently completed summer movie series. For four straight Fridays in July, they showed films on a 20-foot inflatable screen in the brewery's large parking lot that all revolved around a theme of "bro's on screen." The titles included everything from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Wayne's World" to "Top Gun" and "The Lost Boys."
I can't write about Tino's Italian Bistro with Wine Bar in Columbia without acknowledging that in a couple of days, or at most a week, I'm going to break down and go have dinner there. It's that kind o' yummy! But while it may be the authentic Italian recipes that lure customers there in the first place, most likely return for its impressive beverage selections that complement such dishes as Ravioli Chesapeake, Tortellini Bolognese, and Seafood Mare Bella.
And those who do return often come back on a Sunday for what may be Howard County's best beverage promotion. Free Wine Sundays! For every entree order, owner Chris Infantino and his staff take 25 percent off a bottle of wine from a list of 25 bottles to choose from. So, if there is a table of four and they all order main courses, they get a free bottle of vino.
During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, Infantino remarked, "The original idea was, 'Let's make it so that two couples can get together -- whether they are younger with no kids or are in their 50s or 60s and their kids are grown -- have dinner, and get a free bottle of wine. So many other places offer half-priced wine nights. I wanted to do something that had a bigger value. Come in for the food, and I'll complement the food with a wine that you normally spend $33 or $28 on. Our Sundays have literally gone up 50 percent since we started that."
One of the highlights of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL) conference was the recognition of twenty-one beverage licensees for their success in, and dedication to, the retail beverage alcohol industry with the 2014 Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year awards. This is the twelfth year that the distilled spirits company has sponsored the honor. “Thanks to the support of Brown-Forman, we’re able to honor the best bar, tavern and package store owners in America,” stated Bodnovich. “Independent beverage licensees, both on- and off-premise, are where customers discover the brands they love in settings that foster a sense of community, responsibility and hospitality.”
Among the 21 recognized were Maryland's own Ashish Parikh, proprietor of Kelly's Liquors in Ellicott City; and David Dent, proprietor of WJ Dent & Sons/Chief's Bar in Tall Timbers. Eligible retailers had to be members of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), and they had to be nominated by its members.
"It was a real surprise, and it means a lot to us," Dent said. "We're just a little country grocery store basically that has a neighborhood bar. My family has owned the business since 1978, but the business has been here since 1927. It has a long tradition in the community … for us to win such a prestigious award is overwhelming," Dent stated.