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The IMC Unit of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center is very appreciative of the crab cake platters prepared by Costas Inn and paid for by Drug City Liquors.

Off-Premise Establishments Help Front Line Heroes by purchasing Meals from On-Premise Establishments to then be delivered to Healthcare, Law Enforcement and Community Services ... Sound Like a CHALLENGE?  It Was!

Six years ago, the world became captivated by the Ice Bucket Challenge, an initiative that involved the dumping of a bucket of ice water over a person's head to promote awareness of and raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. The challenge encouraged nominated participants to be filmed getting doused and then nominating three others to do the same. If the nominees either didn't comply within 24 hours or simply refused to get soaked, they would have to make a charitable donation to an ALS organization. The campaign raised over $220 million in research funds.

Flash forward to 2020. The Year of the Pandemic. Maryland, my Maryland. Packaged goods stores have been allowed to open, but restaurants statewide have been subjected to some of the strictest coronavirus-related shutdowns and limitations around. At the same time, thousands of everyday heroes have been putting themselves on the front lines of healthcare, law enforcement, and community service. 

Enter a new challenge. The #BCLBA-MealsForHeroes challenge!

Jane Springer, Executive Director of the Maryland State Licensed  Beverage Association (MSLBA) recalled, "It really just started from an e-mail we sent out to all of the members to see what they were doing to protect their customers and help in the community. We started getting information about people who were donating meals and helping to support frontline workers. We started sharing those positive stories and got the idea to help out all around. Many of our liquor store members were doing fairly well, but some of the restaurants obviously were not. 'What can we do to help each other and the community?' we asked. Jeri Zink got the ball rolling."

Zink, Executive Director of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association (BCLBA), recalls that when the pandemic started really taking hold earlier this spring, it quickly became clear how badly it was going to affect healthcare and local businesses and how disproportionate the impact was going to be on restaurants. 

"BCLBA members were strongly voicing the desire to do something," Zink said. "Liquor stores were deemed an essential business. So, they actually saw an increase in demand, whereas restaurants had to resort to carryout and delivery just to have some income to support their staff. We designed our initiative to allow the liquor stores to make meal donations to their local healthcare workers, but purchase the meals from local BCLBA member restaurants. So we're supporting both our healthcare heroes and also our members."


Dugans Liquors and Firehouse Tavern teamed up to deliver dinner from Monaghan's Pub to LifeBridge Health.

The association made it a social media challenge in order to create visibility and awareness for its members' efforts. Zink added, "And also because we know our members are naturally competitive and would want to get involved if they saw their peers participating."

And participate they have! Marty Kutlik, owner of Ridgely Wines & Spirits, remembered receiving a call "out of the blue" one day from Zink with her idea.  "Genius!" he exclaimed. "Two good deeds at once. Jeri had BCLBA challenge Ridgely Wines & Spirits to buy lunch for one of the Saturday afternoon shifts at St Joseph's Hospital in Towson [approximately 55 lunches, as it turned out]. My preferred on-premise colleague to perform the catering was Casa Mia's of White Marsh.  As we accepted and met the challenge, we then tossed the next challenge to Cranbrook Liquors to do the same."


Casa Mia's of White Marsh prepared 55 Crabcake platters courtesy of Ridgely Wine & Spirits for frontline workers at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson.

He continued, "From there, the challenges continued. Jeri coordinated. She kept it going! Last I heard, other counties wanted to duplicate the initiative. It doesn't get any better. And while there are many opportunities throughout the year as an off-premise licensee to give back to the community, this was very timely and particularly gratifying."

Joe Carolan of Casa Mia's said his establishment was delighted to be part of the #BCLBAMealsForHeroes challenge. "Our philosophy is always to give back to the community in a time of need," he remarked. "When we realized the amount of time and dedication healthcare workers were performing, it was natural for us to donate crabcakes."

The initiative did indeed expand to other Maryland counties, chiefly Anne Arundel. Becky Ebner of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association (AACLBA) remarked, "We kind of copied BCLBA's challenge, but changed it up a little bit and called ours the 'AACLBA Support for Heroes Challenge,' because some of our establishments made other donations besides meals to hospital workers. AACLBA does not have a Facebook page, so we used the MSLBA Facebook page to post the challenges. The association president, Joe Gray from Festival Wines & Spirits, started by donating meals and then he challenged the next person."


That next person was Kim Lawson of Fishpaws Marketplace. She got particularly creative and opted to give the gift of the grape. "We sent 175 gift bags with a bottle of Pinot Noir and a box of Wockenfuss chocolates to Baltimore Washington Medical Center Critical Care/Covid Unit doctors," she said."We were indeed challenged by Joe Gray at Festival, and we forwarded the challenge to Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits."

David Marberger, owner and operator of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, stated, "We accepted the challenge and donated $1,000 to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. We didn't do it to benefit ourselves. We did it more as a service to the community. There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs -- a lot of restaurant employees, a lot of hotel workers, a lot of service industry people -- and they've needed to take advantage of such social services. The food banks are getting decimated. If we could help restock those food banks in some way, shape, or form, we thought that would be a good thing."

Not to be outdone, Hops & Vines proprietor Amrish Vyas donated 33 restaurant gift cards totaling about $1,000 for the month of May and June each (66 gift cards total) to the various "Healthcare Heroes" that live in his store's immediate area of Piney Orchard. "We bought gift cards from our neighbor -- Mamma Roma, an Italian eatery -- to help them out in their business during these challenging times," Vyas noted.

Vyas' friend and colleague Bimal "Bill" Katwala of Sun Valley Liquors also rose to the challenge, "I have provided 100 meals to the staff of the COVID-19 floor at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. We had also donated $900, which was the proceeds from selling hand sanitizers to Maryland Food Bank."

Ebner credited Dan Donnelly and his staff at Donnelly's Dockside in Arnold, Md., for getting the meals organized for the different departments at the hospitals and delivering them. Julianne Sullivan, operator of Bella's Liquors, also gave high marks to Donnelly's Dockside in helping her provide crabcake meals to five different first responder locations in her store's area. "We provided our meals to the Arnold Volunteer Fire Department, the U.S. Naval Academy Fire Department, the Department of Natural Resources, and Maryland state police at the Bay Bridge and the Cape St. Claire Volunteer Fire Department. We also had a box for customers to drop off hand-written cards, letters, or store-bought cards, and we gave them to the first responders we served."

Paul King from King Liquors in Baltimore stepped up and furnished meals for the COVID-19 unit at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Rosedale. His reasoning? "I know in an emergency, pandemic, or any other situation, the staff at Medstar and all of the first responders will be there for all of us."


Meals Decorated by Nieces and Nephews from White Marsh Plaza Liquors.

And for the various packaged goods store owners and restaurant operators, the benefits went far beyond just "feeling good." According to Zink, "It's created substantial recognition of what we've always known: that local businesses like to give back. By creating this as a social media challenge, we're able to leverage the followers of all of these restaurants, liquor stores, and even hospitals, who are all sharing and commenting on each other's posts. For example, one picture of Casa Mia's crabcakes generated thousands of impressions. So now thousands of people recognize how delicious their crabcakes look, but also that they're dedicated to their community."

Casa Mia's Carolan concurred, adding, "Many of the healthcare workers were already existing customers. We received many calls thanking us, which also helped boost employee morale. Responses from our crabcake picture on Facebook received over 3,000 views, as well."

Sullivan of Bella Liquors has also taken full advantage of social media. "We posted pictures of some of the men and women we served on Instagram and Facebook and received a ton of positive feedback from our customers and the first responders we served," she noted.

Vyas  and his staff also got back just as much from the community as they gave to it. "Although we did this simply out of our need to be a good member of the community," he said, "we have gotten countless 'Thank You' notes and appreciation messages for doing what we did. We are proud and happy that, at this time of need, we were able to help."

Zink concluded, "It’s also brought awareness to something that is pretty unique to local businesses, as opposed to the big chain retailers. Local businesses are really a part of their communities. They understand their communities' needs in a way that big chains just aren't set up to understand. The restaurants have also been very appreciative of the business, but they would have been involved even if it wasn't benefiting them. For instance, when I called Bill's Seafood, and told him about the initiative, he said, 'Sign me up! How much should I donate?' And I said, “No, Bill, this is to benefit your business, as well! We’re paying you for the food!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:59:25 -0400
Struggle for Small Agave Producers Photograph courtesy of Cascahuin

Photograph courtesy of Cascahuin

Largely dependent on American bars and restaurants, Mexico’s craft distillers face a fractured pipeline

By Ferron Salniker

Cascahuin Tequila is among the many boutique agave spirits championed by U.S. bartenders who have pushed the diversity of Mexico’s distillation traditions into the spotlight. 

But shortly after the American on-premise sector shut down due to COVID-19, the distillery paused production. By the end of April, sales had decreased 70 percent. 

“We’re trying to maintain, not just to survive, as a company, but to also support our employees,” says Salvador Rosales Trejo, a third-generation tequila producer in El Arenal, Jalisco.

Trejo’s pain is echoed across Mexico. Mezcal fever in the U.S. made the American market—specifically bars and restaurants—the most important sales channel for small agave distillers in rural communities. While large brands with wide distribution are benefiting from the uptick in retail sales, smaller tequila and mezcal producers have seen sales plummet. Now they are scrambling to keep workers employed and trying to find new ways to reach consumers. 

Eduardo Orendain is a fifth-generation family member working at for Arette Tequila, which had been sending 90 percent of its production to U.S. bars and reataurants. Photograph courtesy of Arette.

Eduardo Orendain is a fifth-generation family member working at for Arette Tequila, which had been sending 90 percent of its production to U.S. bars and reataurants. Photograph courtesy of Arette.

Big Tequila Wins, Small Brands Squeezed 

Initially, it seemed as though tequila and mezcal sales might fare well in the U.S. during the pandemic. Retail purchasing surged amid stay-at-home mandates; compared to the same period last year, tequila exports were up 17 percent from January to April, according to Ramón Gonzalez Figueroa, the general director of the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), in part due to increased consumption at home. But most tequila producers are not benefiting from this retail sales growth. “Without a doubt, those that represent the majority of that volume are the larger companies,” says Gonzalez Figueroa.  

“All the small producers are 50 or 60 percent down in sales, no matter who you talk to,” says Eduardo Orendain, a fifth-generation family member and sales manager for Arette Tequila. Arette is hurting: 90 percent of the brand’s volume is exported to the U.S., and the majority of the company’s revenue relies on it being a bartender favorite. 

Fresh-cut agave piñas at Cascahuin. Photograph courtesy of Cascahuin

Fresh-cut agave piñas at Cascahuin. Photograph courtesy of Cascahuin

As of early June, mezcal exports are down 60 percent, according to Hipócrates Nolasco, the president of the Mezcal Regulatory Council (CRM). 

Some importers’ mezcal sales may look robust, says John Bedell, the spirits portfolio manager for T. Edward Wines, but not across the board. He reports that New York sales of the Alipus espadin expression—the distillery’s entry-level mezcal—are doing better than they were before the pandemic, but higher-priced expressions from the same palenque (distillery) are not. “You can extrapolate that to the rest of the category: higher-end bottlings, more obscure, more remote palenques or vinatas [another word for distilleries] I have seen fall to zero,” he says.

Roman Romaya, the vice president of retail shop Old Town Tequila in San Diego, which offers one of the largest agave selections in the country, says that bottles in the range of $75 to $150—where much of the mezcal category hovers—have taken the biggest hit. “People were also stocking up on the more popular brands, I think, because they were nervous about money,” he says. 

“Our U.S. importer told us it was going to be a hard year, and they recommended we don’t launch anything.” – Asis Cortés, Dixeebe Photograph courtesy of Casa Cortés & Dixeebe

“Our U.S. importer told us it was going to be a hard year, and they recommended we don’t launch anything.” – Asis Cortés, Dixeebe Photograph courtesy of Casa Cortés & Dixeebe 

Devastating Ripple Effect 

Like spirits and wine producers in other regions, many tequila and mezcal businesses also rely on tourism revenue. With travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic, those income sources have dried up. 

The combination of dismal tourism and decreased sales could have a ripple effect for local economies, which have grown to depend on both. Eduardo Ángeles, the maestro mezcalero of Mezcal Lalocura in Santa Catarina de Minas, Oaxaca, says that about 120 people directly depend on the local mezcal industry, not including the extended supply chain, such as drivers and agave farmers.  

Lalocura typically exports about 20 percent of its production, but much of its revenue relies on tour groups. Ángeles is maintaining some work for his staff of about 20 people through domestic sales, plus pre-sales from international followers—a new practice, dubbed “mezcal futures,” which other brands are replicating. 

Ángeles warns that other mezcal-producing families that depend on sales to importers and tourists won’t have the capacity to plant agaves and crops they typically depend on for income or consumption. He and other producers also fear that the pandemic could influence the price of agave, which cycles up and down with shortages and surpluses. After price increases over the past few years, independent producers could be at an even greater disadvantage against larger brands when they attempt to purchase these prime materials. 

La Luna exports multiple expressions. Ensamble is a destilado de agave, made from the same agave as La Luna's mezcal. The agave for Cupreata is roasted for 90 hours underground, then fermented for 120 hours, then double-distilled. Photograph courtesy of La Luna.

La Luna exports multiple expressions. Ensamble is a destilado de agave, made from the same agave as La Luna’s mezcal. The agave for Cupreata is roasted for 90 hours underground, then fermented for 120 hours, then double-distilled. Photograph courtesy of La Luna.

Turning Toward Off-Premise

Producers understand that it’s essential to pivot toward retail to drive sales right now, but the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. beverage industry as a whole has complicated things. The closures of on-premise accounts have restricted cash flow among importers and distributors, preventing them from ordering high volumes—or any quantity—of tequila and mezcal products to sell to retailers. 

Daniel Arellano Martinez, founder of San Bartolo Mezcal, has been living in Brooklyn, since 2007. He had a plan to introduce his own mezcal—the first ever from the San Bartolo Yautepec Valley of Oaxaca—in 2020, starting with NYC bars and restaurants. Though it hardly filled the gap left by the bar shutdown, working with retailers, he helped get 200 bottles delivered by bicycle.

Although several mezcals have been acquired by larger companies, the majority are smaller brands like San Bartolo that arrived recently; in the past eight years, the number of certified mezcal brands exporting went from 68 to 277, according to the CRM. 

Category pioneer Del Maguey also relied on business from restaurants and bars, but the company was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2017, giving the brand a wider network and more resources to weather the pandemic, notes  Lucia Creed, the brand leader for Del Maguey. 

T. Edward Wines’ Bedell warns that distributors may also be constricting their SKUs, which could limit the pathways to market for new brands. “We will definitely tighten up what we are able to offer,” he says, “and if something hasn’t been proven successful recently, it will be a little while until it’s made available again.”

Virtual Efforts Help, But… 

Like other companies in the beverage industry, agave spirit brands have taken to the virtual world to connect directly to consumers. Media and education organization the Mezcalistas launched Conversations in Agave, a weekly series featuring Zoom talks with stakeholders in the industry.ell-known brands Mezcal Vago and Ilegal have hosted Instagram Live sessions.

Despite the challenges, the shift toward virtual education has presented opportunities for some companies, such as La Luna Mezcal, which produces in Michoacán. Without the advocacy of on-premise bartenders, Salvador Chavez, the company’s CEO and founder, says that his distributors have been more flexible and eager for education. 

“I feel like we’re accomplishing more because even on a market visit with a distributor, it never really meant that I was going to talk to the whole team,” he says. “On Zoom, all 30 people from that team are hearing your voice. They’re asking questions, and you’re moving the ball.”

Meanwhile, La Luna is hoping to entice fans and mezcal novices with smaller bottle formats, a trend buyers should expect to see more of. Lalocura’s importer is also making plans to launch smaller bottles this summer. Romaya says small bottle sales increased across all spirit categories; he suspects shoppers are testing the waters of e-commerce and taking advantage of a lower price point to try something new. 

As brands have turned to virtual education and social media to reach consumers, one bright spot might be a wider appreciation for a complex spirit like mezcal. Chavez, who hosts daily Instagram Live chats and shared a tour of his palenques in Michoacán on Zoom, says that much of the feedback and questions he’s getting virtually have clearly been from customers new to the spirit.

“The amount of connections that we, and the category as a whole, have been able to make virtually is giving people a deeper understanding of what mezcal is,” he says, “and I think it would’ve taken years to accomplish what we’ve done in this time period.”

But Zoom meetings are still no substitute for face-to-face communication. Family-owned Casa Cortés, which has already built an American following, had hoped to send youngest-generation family member Asis Cortés into the market to export a father-son project of limited bottlings called Dixeebe and several new expressions of Origen Raiz, a Durango-Oaxaca collaboration mezcal, which was also expected to make its debut in Europe. 

All of that has since changed. “Our U.S. importer told us it was going to be a hard year, and they recommended we don’t launch anything,” says Cortés.

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) August 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:36:27 -0400
The New Can That’s Saving Breweries Photograph courtesy of Crowler Nation

Photograph courtesy of Crowler Nation

Sales of tap beer to-go—canned on-site In ‘crowlers’—skyrocket amid shutdown and beyond

By Nickolaus Hines

Wild East Brewing Co. started brewing beer in Brooklyn in late December 2019. It distributed a small amount of beer to local shops through February while working toward opening a taproom in the late spring. And then New York City shut down.

The new brewery was stuck with kegs of fresh beer and no taproom for people to drink it in. So Wild East pivoted almost entirely to “Crowler” sales. By filling 32-ounce open-top cans by a draft line and sealing them with a Crowler machine on-site, the brewery was able to open to the public despite the inability to serve on-premise. In those first weeks of business in March, Wild East was selling as many as 250 Crowler cans a weekend. “It was quite a rollercoaster when we first started,” reports Tyler March, cofounder and head of operations. 

Wild East is one of many brewers that turned to Crowler cans when nationwide shutdowns occurred. According to Google Trends data, searches for “Crowler” shot up the week of March 15 and reached an all-time high in April. Sales at Crowler Nation, which sells Crowler equipment and is a middleman between Ball Corporation and breweries for the cans, mirrored that spike, says Jeremy Rudolph, who runs Crowler Nation and was instrumental in creating the Crowler concept around 2012 when he was the packaging manager at Oskar Blues Brewery.

“March 16 was ‘Crowler cans became toilet paper day,’” Rudolph says. “That’s when the mad rush happened, and we had about 37 times the normal order volume that day.” By late May, sales had leveled out to about seven times the previous average amount, and Crowler Nation is selling at least one sealer machine a day. 

Just as cocktails to-go became a lifeline for many bars and restaurants, Crowler machines have been a savior for some businesses.

“Crowler cans were always in our business plan, but they weren’t as big a part,” March says. “I’d say it might have been 10 percent of our projected revenue, and now because of distribution and taproom [restrictions], it was near 100 percent.”

Now that the Crowler is rapidly gaining more mainstream consumer recognition, it offers tremendous growth potential for breweries, bars, and direct-to-consumer retail shops (in states where to-go draft beer is legal) well beyond the pandemic shutdown. 

Advantages of the Crowler are its light weight and recyclability compared to glass growlers. But the real payoff for beer lovers is simply enjoying draft beer at home; Crowlers keep beer fresh for about a week. Photograph courtesy of Crowler Nation

Advantages of the Crowler are its light weight and recyclability compared to glass growlers. But the real payoff for beer lovers is simply enjoying draft beer at home; Crowlers keep beer fresh for about a week. Photograph courtesy of Crowler Nation

The Format’s Appeal 

The term “Crowler” is a registered trademark of the Ball canning company. The process is simple. First, a 32-ounce can without a lid is labeled and filled with draft beer. Then a sealer machine secures a pop-top to the body of the can. (The can-sealing machines are also sold by Crowler Nation; about $4,000 for the basic version, or $6,000 for one with additional safety ratings.) Any spillage is wiped off, and it’s ready for the customer to drink by the fresh date written on the label by the business that fills it, which is usually around a week after purchase. 

“In a week from when you order, you can pay off the machine” with about a thousand can sales, Rudolph says.

The draw for the consumer is that cans are lighter than glass growlers. They’re also recyclable and can go places glass can’t. SanTan Brewing Company in Chandler, Arizona, was one of the first breweries in the nation to adopt the format in the mid-2010s, which the brewery calls Canzillas.

SanTan Brewing in Arizona was an early adopter of Crowlers, which have proven especially appealing to millennials. Photograph courtesy by SanTan

SanTan Brewing in Arizona was an early adopter of Crowlers, which have proven especially appealing to millennials. Photograph courtesy by SanTan

“About 5 to 7 percent of customers purchase Canzillas regularly, with that number spiking to almost 15 percent during peak outdoor weather months,” says Anthony Canecchia, founder and brewmaster at SanTan. “We have found that it’s really a younger demographic who is drawn to them. They like the convenience and the ability to easily dispose of and recycle the cans.” 

As is the case with other breweries, SanTan’s Crowler sales increased during the nationwide shutdown as it completed sales through third-party delivery, online ordering, and curbside pickup. 

Rudolph has heard success stories like this first-hand from people placing orders. During one call, Rudolph says, a brewer told him that Crowler sales were “the best thing that’s ever happened to us during the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.”

Bar & Retail Appeal As Well

As demand far outpaced supply, Ball and Crowler Nation introduced the “Twistee” can, a 16-ounce can with a twist-on top, which eliminates the need for a sealer. Wild East’s March says that having Twistees in the lineup fits the brand better than the plastic sippy cups that some bars and restaurants in New York City have turned to for newly legal to-go drinks.

In the past, Crowler sales have largely focused on breweries because of the patchwork of state laws that regulate to-go beer sales. Rudolph says that only about 20 to 30 percent of Crowler sales were to businesses other than breweries. Yet during the recent mandatory shutdowns, many states, including California and Colorado, relaxed laws to allow retail shops to sell growlers and Crowler cans. 

Shangy’s, in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, an off-premise-only shop with thousands of beer options, including 40 taps for growler fills, sells about 2,500 Crowlers a month. Shangy’s sealing machine can seal a range of sizes, but owner Nima Hadian says the 32-ounce Crowler outsells any other size they fill 10 to one.

In addition to the Twistee cans, Crowler Nation is continuing to evolve with new offerings on sizes, colors, and pre-decorated cans. March sees Crowler sales of 32-ounce and 25-ounce cans continuing to be an integral part of Wild East’s plans. Canecchia of SanTan anticipates more permissive laws for alcohol delivery, which would increase delivery sales. Rudolph estimates that sales volume for Crowler Nation in 2021 will average around three-and-a-half times more than pre-coronavirus volume.

“When they open up bars and restaurants, it’s not going to be normal again,” Hadian says. “You don’t need to leave  home anymore” for entertainment and good food. And if there’s a big increase in places filling Crowlers, it’ll be easy enough to crack open a fresh draft beer at home as well.

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) August 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:15:56 -0400
The COVID-19 Crisis Hasn't Dented Chief's Bar Chiefs_Door_Sihgnage_20200624-135832_1.jpg

Chief's Bar is the kind of place people REALLY miss going to when there is a snowstorm, a tropical storm, when  they're traveling … or when there's a global outbreak of a deadly coronavirus. The business has been a community hub in Tall Timbers, Md., since 1927. David Dent is the second generation of his family to own the business since 1978. He has come to appreciate both Chief's history and the place it has in people's hearts.

"Chief's is truly 'Your Neighborhood Bar,'" he declared, during a late May interview with the Beverage Journal. " I am always amazed at the number of guests who celebrate their birthdays with us. We have hosted birthday parties for guests as young as one year old to guests well into their 90s.

It helps that Chief's is more than a bar. It's more than a restaurant. It's also a deli, a store, and a caterer. Having so many different areas of operation can be challenging. "I find several key factors that make a business successful," Dent said. "You must have great systems and consistent training to set your staff up for success. Chief's most important asset is our employees. Invest in your employees, and your guests will be well served."

But even the best employees have never experienced anything like the shutdown orders, business restrictions, and social distancing guidelines that were imposed when COVID-19 started take hold of the country and Maryland. This is where steady leadership is so important. "Since the start of the closure," Dent stated, "our sales are down. But we are at least open and still able to serve our community. Although most of our full-time staffers continue to earn a paycheck, it has been necessary to adjust our food service procedures and reposition some of the staff members. But all things considered, we've been very fortunate during the pandemic."


The challenges haven't diminished his love for the work. Dent says it is has been especially rewarding to help preserve certain long-standing St. Mary's County food and beverage traditions.  "Our county is the home of the 10-ounce Budweiser and Stuffed Ham," he noted. "Ten-ounce Bud and Bud Light beers are staples of county life. Nothing is better than eating a Stuffed Ham sandwich while drinking a 10-oz."

Still, being the boss does have its personal challenges. "I find communication can be very challenging," Dent shared. "To be a good communicator, you must also be a good listener. You must take the time to listen to others to be a problem solver."

He credits his dad, a retired Senior Chief from the U.S. Navy, for instilling in him the qualities of a good decision-maker. "He led by example and instilled in me a strong work ethic," Dent remarked. "He taught me to set goals, then to enjoy the rewards of working hard. It's amazing how lucky you can get when you work hard to accomplish goals." 

Dent also learned much as a past president of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). He enjoyed his time while at the reins and was also an active participant of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL). "I have been associated with the MSLBA for many years," he noted, "and I have found the association to be an integral part of our success here at Chief's.  In Maryland, the alcohol beverage business is regulated at the local level to ensure responsible retailers are looking out for the best interests of their community.  Chief's is the definition of a local 'Mom and Pop' store. As part of the MSLBA, not only do I have access to important information concerning legislation that directly affects my bottom line, but I have a voice that allows me to help not only my business but other small businesses. I would urge all alcohol retail licensees to join MSLBA. During this COVID-19 crisis, the association has been an invaluable resource to help licensees navigate the executive orders, guidance, and support available for small businesses."


Looking ahead, Dent is eager for a time when Chief's and Maryland, in general, have moved past the virus. He is cautiously optimistic that the second half of 2020 will go well. As of May 29 when this interview was conducted, restaurants and bars were permitted to begin reopening with outside table service. 

At that time, he commented, "We are focusing on a plan to safely reopen for outside service and hope that will soon lead to the lifting of closure orders and allow us to reopen for regular business. There is so much pent-up demand, so I am sure we will have the opportunity to be successful … as long as everyone practices common-sense measures."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Wed, 24 Jun 2020 09:39:40 -0400
Reopening: Clearing The Air Billy_Martin_Martins_Tavern_0001.jpg

On-Premise Establishments Are NavIgating The Fog of Reopening

Nationwide, restaurants, taverns, and bars are gradually reopening in the pandemic era. And to ensure the return of nervous customers concerned with their health and exposure to a virus still active in the population, some are taking some pretty bold steps. In St. Louis County, Mo., chef-owner Robert Zanti has installed transparent, Plexiglas dividers between tables in his dining room to put guests at ease. Dan's Place Restaurant in West Greenwich, R.I., has retrofitted its indoor HVAC system with an ultra violet light and metal catalyst that effectively kills viruses in the air. 

Closer to home in Maryland and Washington, D.C., our intrepid owners and operators are being similarly aggressive. For example, several popular eateries have purchased ActivePure air purifiers from Vollara Health & Wellness. Dana and Alex Theodoropoulos, proprietors of the Black Forest Taphouse in Fallston, Md., are among them.

Said Dana, "We've purchased two air purification systems – one for the bar area and one for the [dining room]. Vollara's ActivePure technology is the most powerful air and surface purification technology and is the same technology used by NASA for the space shuttles. It's used to treat problems such as mold, mildew, viruses, bacteria, and allergens in the air.  They use ultraviolet light with a fan system to pull in air and then push out the clean air up to 3,000 square feet."


Dana Theodoropoulos, proprietor of the Black Forest Taphouse in Fallston, Md. is pictured above with their Vollara ActivePure unit.

Local Vollara representative Wade Gowl notes that his company's air purifiers were popular back in the days before smoking was prohibited in restaurants and bars. Fortunately, the technology has endured. "Everybody is going to be wary of eating out, maybe from now on," he stated. "They want to not only feel safe, but be safe. Coincidentally, we just happened to have the proper technology to take care of their concerns. You just plug it in and turn it on. There's sometimes a little adjustment that needs to be done. But it's nothing complicated. You don't have to talk to the landlord about putting it in either. It basically looks like a stereo speaker. It should be placed where most of the people are. The more wide open your interior is, and the more air flow there is, the better job it will do."

His colleague, Leia Ryan, added, "Indoor environmental conditioning is what we are doing. Restaurant owners' No. 1 priority is keeping the customer safe. The nice thing about our technology is it's filter-less technology. You set it on a counter, and it will indeed take care of a 3,000-square-foot area and two to three levels."


Also proving popular is an anti-microbial fogging spray championed by Tony Anzelone, owner of Bianchi Fogging Services in Virginia. The historic Martin's Tavern (where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in one of the booths) in D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood contracted his service, and Anzelone is looking to expand his clientele into Maryland.
Anzelone typically comes in around closing time when everything is being shut down and fogs the entire restaurant with the anti-microbial spray. He focuses on hot spots like the entryway of the restaurant, the entry of the kitchen, behind the bar -- areas that get the most foot traffic. 

"But I do hit every nook and cranny that I possibly can," he said. "And I also focus on hitting the ducts, the vents, and the air registers. It's a quick process. The average restaurant is around 4,000- to 5,000 square feet. From the time I set up to the time I leave, it's right around 45 minutes to an hour. You then come in as the proprietor the next morning and do your normal set-up. wiping down the countertops, the condiments, and so forth and that's basically it."

Bianchi_Fogger.jpgHe added, "The good thing about fogging as opposed to just spraying with a bleach bottle is fogging gets every nook and cranny. These anti-microbial sprays are live bacteria. They stay alive and in that property effective for up to 90 days. So, if someone comes in with COVID-19 and they start touching things, all of your spraying goes right out the window. It's only good until somebody comes in who's infected. An anti-microbial spray has live bacteria that eats bad bacteria, that stays on the property for 90 days while you are open."

So far, Martin's Tavern owner Billy Martin is impressed. "Tony's service has given us a lot more peace of mind," he remarked. "We still do the day-to-day wiping of everything down. But it's the areas that you can't get to or can't see where the fogging is really good."

Martin and the Theodoropouloses aren't the only ones dealing with the "new normal." When the word came down in late May from Governor Hogan and the state government that Maryland restaurants could only start serving customers on site via outdoor seating, Lenny Wohlfarth, owner of Oliver's Old  Towne Tavern in Laurel, Md., took steps to offer outdoor dining for the first time ever.

"We did a trial run and things went pretty well," he noted. "We have five tables, and we can fit four to a spot. We're taking reservations for Noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. We've been asking people to be patient with the situation and be able to have their tabs closed at 15 minutes 'til the next reservation. That gives us time to sanitize things properly."

"We have sanitizing spray available for the customers that the servers can bring over," he added, "sort of like our version of Olive Garden coming to the table with the grated parm! We also are using the front door only for carry-out. We let the outdoor diners know that they can use the restrooms. But they use the side entrance, and a mask has to be worn to come inside."

Alex Theodoropoulos is taking a page from some of the national fast-food and casual dining chains that have been open throughout the crisis with curbside pickup and delivery. "All employees will be temperature checked upon arrival during the reopening phases," he pointed out. "According to CDC guidelines, if we detect an employee's temperature to be above 100.4, we should ask for you to leave and be tested. I am reducing the 100.4 guideline to 100.0 flat.  You will be required to provide proof from a doctor with a return back-to-work date."

He and Dana are also encouraging customers to use their electronics to view the Taphouse's menus. Billy Martin is also going the technology route: "Right now, we're using one-time-use paper menus. But we're looking at getting QR codes with our menus on them so that people can look everything up on their phones and order off of that. We're working with a couple of companies to get a good price on that and should have up and running shortly, too." 

Chris Richards, owner of Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Md., is another proprietor who is looking forward to a full reopening. He also has installed Vollara's air purifier in his restaurant's interior. What are some other steps he's taken? "We have a COVID-19 sanitizing training [program] that we will be doing for returning waitstaff. We'll continue to keep an hourly log of wiping down door knobs and anything that gets touched on a regular basis. Every hour on the hour, we've been doing that. We'll be wearing masks. We've increased our hand washing frequencies. We won't have any communal condiments on the tables either. We'll have things like single-serve packets of ketchup, salt, pepper, and so forth."


Chris Richards, owner of Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Md. prominently displays signage that lets his customers know he's using the Vollara ActivePure system in his establishment.

 Everyone interviewed for this article agreed that taking such measures means very little if customers aren't aware of what they've done. Vollara's Gowl and Ryan concur that signage is key. The latter remarked, "We offer 8.5-inch x 11-inch signage. It says to the customer that this area is being treated by ActivePure and that is a solution to problems like viruses, bacteria, allergies, asthma, smoke, VOCs, odors, mold, and mildew. We also have 18x24 window and door signage, so basically your clientele on the outside can tell, 'Hey, they're doing something different in there."

Martin has been especially aggressive in getting the word out. "We have touted [the anti-microbial fogging] on social media. We have some signs up. And we've gotten some big 'Thumbs up!' from people as a result, saying, 'That's great!'"


Billy Martin of Martin's Tavern in the DC's Georgetown neighborhood let's his customers know his premises are protected with the Bianchi Fogging System.

Anzelone concluded, "You want to take the steps to let everyone know they're safe when they're entering your restaurant. That means you have to get it out communication-wise. You have to let everybody know that you've taken the steps that need to be taken for your customers to come back and have a good experience. Nothing is 100 percent. But you have to do everything you possibly can to make sure people are taken care of."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   


Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Tue, 23 Jun 2020 13:51:32 -0400
Marty Kutlik: A Cut Above the Rest Ridgely_Marty_0001.jpg

Martin "Marty" Kutlik got into the beverage alcohol business right out of high school in 1977. While others his age were watching Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star that summer or the Bandit run circles around Smokey, Kutlik was working long hours as a cashier/clerk at Dutch Liquors in Parkville. Four years later, he landed a job as a salesman with McCarthy-Hicks, then Maryland distributor for Seagram's brands.

But he dreamed of being his own boss. That opportunity came in 1986 when he purchased Ridgely Liquors in Lutherville and eventually transformed it into the popular Ridgely Wines & Spirits of today. 

The store is located in the heart of Lutherville-Timonium, so Kutlik's clientele is mostly mature, well-established local families. "That being said," he remarked, "we have a full cross section. There is a Light Rail Station close by bringing us urban residents, and we are close to [Towson State University], Loyola, and Goucher colleges, bringing us young consumers. Our advertising is pretty extensive so we can draw folks from as far away as Pennsylvania."

And these folks have kept coming, even in the era of the coronavirus. Like so many of you reading this, business has changed dramatically amid government restrictions, social distancing, and diminished consumer spending. For Kutlik and his staff, it's been one of the bumpiest roads to navigate ever. But navigate they have.

"At the beginning of the crisis," he said, "we experienced a lot of panic buying. In the initial weeks of Maryland's State of Emergency, sales easily exceeded our holiday sales. People were not buying a 30-pack of beer; they would buy five or 10 30-packs, not bottles of wine and liquor. The consumer obviously feared that liquor stores might soon be closed.

He continued, "Ours is a neighborhood store so things are tight under normal circumstances. But with all those customers coming in at once, my management and staff started expressing concerns about their and our customer's safety."

To best protect his staff and the paying public, Ridgely Wines & Spirits quickly adopted a "contact-less, curbside service" policy with reduced store hours. "It took a little time to perfect," Kutlik conceded, "but we were able to bring it to a point of running seamlessly. It's intense, taking twice as long to wait on a customer, but it was the right thing to do. We have always offered delivery. And, as you might imagine, that is in high demand right now [this interview was conducted in late April]. Our employees have been provided with [personal protective equipment], and the store is kept sanitized throughout the day."


Customers have been coming to Ridgely because of its service, product selection, and competitive prices. Of  course, 34 consecutive years of continuous ownership has also helped create brand loyalty. In those more than three decades, Kutlik has seen his share of changes. The biggest? "That would have to be the 'Post & Hold and Multi-case Discounting' ruling. Retailers were forced to change their buying patterns and dig up more money and space. At RW&S, I re-capitalized my business and purchased heavy-duty storage racks to take advantage of the unused overhead space in our backroom. … But the most challenging thing, still today, would have to be protecting our interests in Annapolis. Threats to the small guy in our business are non-stop; you can't drop your guard for one minute."

This has prompted Kutlik to become politically active over the years. He served as President of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association (BCLBA) from 2002 to 2004. Three years later, he served as President of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) until 2009. He currently chairs BCLBA's Political Action Committee.

He has especially fond memories of his days at the helm of the MSLBA. "MSLBA has perfected the art of protecting licensees," he remarked. "I challenge all non-members to join, because everyone needs to do their part. This is our watch, and we need to make sure that nothing bad happens on our watch!"

He added, "The thing I recall most was how organized and effective Jane Springer, the Executive Director, and her staff were!" he exclaimed. "They made me look good. The proudest thing would have to be when I had the privilege of naming Tom 'Goose' Kaiser as 'Man of the Year.' That man is an industry giant!"

Along the way he has taken inspiration, even counsel, from people like Kaiser and others. So, was there some business advice given to Kutlik early on that has stuck with him over the years? "Yes! Carl Yarema, the gentleman who I bought the store from told me: 'Marty, customers are easy to lose … hard to get … and even harder to get back!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2020 Editions Wed, 03 Jun 2020 14:31:24 -0400
Coronavirus and the Local Market COVID-local_0001.jpg

Boordy Vineyards is taking orders and payments over the phone and will bring your wine to your car.

beveragemedia_may20_retail_covid_BMG_covid_logo_Some are getting by with a little help from their friends. Or, in the case of Jimmy Spiropoulos, operator of Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, a few special customers.  "We're now working behind sheets of Plexiglas that we have installed," he said. "They're hanging from the ceiling at each one of our five checkout counters. Basically, I went and bought five large sheets, and I had one of my local handymen -- who's actually a customer of mine -- install them. Customers seem to really appreciate the steps we've taken to try and protect everyone."

He continued, "There is another customer of ours named Mike. He's an IT guy along with his wife, and they've basically set up our website to have an online ordering form for curbside pickup or delivery. Those orders are keeping us very busy. The challenge is the time it takes to put each one together is probably five or six times the normal transaction."

Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify whose clients include the Maryland Wineries Association and the Brewers Association of Maryland, singled out Brendan and Bailey O'Leary , owners of True Respite Brewery in Derwood. They have created an app called "Miermi," which organizes and automates the ordering/delivery process. One of their partner/investors created it within a day of the initial shutdown and has offered it for free use by the brewing community.

Others are surviving these tough times by putting even greater reliance on their employees. Ben Golueke of Mt. Airy Liquors in Carroll County said he and his staff have been busier than ever. "March ended up like a December," he stated, "which is our busiest month of the year. Other changes have been the amount of cleaning we are doing. It really has become after every single customer. Not to mention the constant wipe downs of carts, hand-trucks, beer box handles, door knobs, phones, etc."


The new Plexiglas now installed at Friendship Wine & Liquors' in Abingdon.

Just the opposite, Marshele Burgess, proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, has had to deal with losing a large chunk of her business. She lamented, "The biggest change for us is the restaurant is closed to dine in and I have 104 employees that count on Rip's for a living. We have gone to carry-out only. Daily, we are trying to be more creative with that. Restaurant sales are down 90 percent. We're keeping restaurant staff employed with jobs at the liquor store and maintenance projects in the restaurant -- painting everything, deep cleaning refrigeration, etc. We are also taking the time to work on retraining staff. They are taking online courses with ServSafe to have all up-to-date information."

And still for others, it's been the operational changes that have been among the most challenging to get used to. Just ask Mike Scheuerman of Friendship Wine & Liquor in Harford County. In addition to implementing curbside pickup for the first time, which may become a permanent part of the store's business model after the pandemic is over, he and his staff have reduced store hours. "Specifically closing time, which we have scaled-back by two hours both weeknights and weekend nights," he said. "Also, we have substantially reduced our 'floor service,' but have added a position specifically for replying to e-mails and answering phone calls. We also ceased hosting in-store tastings immediately back when this all began."


Mount Airy Liquors in Mount Airy is offering curbside pick-up and is ensuring all carts are continually cleaned for their customers.

E. Randolph Marriner, chairman and founder of the Victoria Restaurant Group and Manor Hill Brewing, chimed in, "As a brewery that self-distributes in Montgomery County, we've added more delivery days to our weekly calendar. This has two purposes. One, it allows our retail partners in the county to be more flexible and re-stock more quickly. And, two, it allows our driver to take the time to ensure he's being safe on the road and in stores. Fewer deliveries per day means less rushing and making sure all the safety steps of sanitizing and cleaning are being followed."

Of course, more than just packaged goods stores and eating and drinking establishments are having to change in this time of pandemic. Maryland's wineries are scrambling also. Boordy Vineyards has remained open for carryout bottle sales, but has had to close its Tasting Room and postpone all on-site events, private tours, winery rentals, and casual visitation.

Boordy President Rob Deford commented, "The immediate impact is huge, and its ultimate severity will depend upon the duration of the shutdown.  As a result, we've put an indefinite hold on all discretionary expenses and capital projects and have idled all part-time staff who work our events. There does appear to be a mitigating factor, which is that our sales in stores have increased since March 14 when the first restrictions on social interaction were imposed.  Also on the positive side, our Internet sales have increased dramatically -- a by-product of folks being confined to their homes."

Local Help From
National Resources

Another positive is the stepped-up help many of the beverage industry's national trade associations are offering. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) sprang into action on Capitol Hill. Lisa Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, pointed out, "We were successful in getting a provision in the recently passed CARES Act to ease tax regulations so that distillers producing hand sanitizer would not have to pay federal excise taxes on the alcohol used."

She added, "There were other important provisions DISCUS lobbied for in the CARES Act to help craft distillers, including Small Business Administration loans and emergency grants. . . . As Congress works to provide additional economic relief to affected businesses, we are reaching out to legislators to underscore the important role of distilleries in boosting their local economies, and their connection to the hospitality, restaurant, and tourism industries.  The closures of craft distilleries in Maryland would be an incredible loss to the state's economy. We are asking Congress for additional stimulus measures including federal excise tax relief; suspension of tariffs on distilled spirits; robust no- and low-interest loan assistance; and the creation of an industry stabilization fund."

The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) has also tried to stay out in front of the crisis for its membership. President and CEO Craig Purser stated, "NBWA has been in constant communication, sharing best practices from across the country with our members. We're getting them the tools they need to be successful during this uncertainty, from the cleaning products to have on hand to the best ways to structure their operations for social distancing. We're also sharing best practices they can tap into to help the community, like donating refrigerated trucks to food drives or giving water and other non-alcoholic drinks to first responders."

Maryland State Licensed
Beverage Association

On the state level, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) has been doing its part. Steve Wise, MSLBA's legal counsel, said the first and most important thing the association is providing its members is "accurate and timely communication. Governor Hogan has issued numerous Executive Orders affecting bars, restaurants, and package stores.  Members have called literally while the Governor is still speaking at press conferences, asking, 'What does this mean for us?!' We're helping members by reading the Orders carefully, verifying our understanding of them with state officials, and then getting concise information out to members quickly."

Wise further noted that the MSLBA is trying to provide as much information on small business loans and grants as it can. It's also sharing recommendations provided by health officials for protecting employees, customers, and the community.

Still, there is no doubt the ongoing pandemic represents the biggest crisis all concerned have ever faced from a business and just a sheer survival standpoint. Everyone interviewed for this article feel they are being tested like never before. Town Center Market, for instance, had just completed a new, $250,000 outdoor patio that was barely open before having to be shut down. "We were also a big lottery retailer, and those commissions have essentially gone to zero," Spiropoulos lamented.

Marriner added, "In an industry that relies on scheduling and planning months down the road, the uncertainty is a big test. But it's compounded by how quickly things are changing, as well. We have an incredible team of hardworking individuals who look to us for answers during this time. And there aren't a lot of answers we can provide. Or, the answers we give are subject to change on a daily basis."

Burgess, meanwhile, was not afraid to admit that the biggest test of her leadership has been "trying to keep the employees calm, positive, and not see the stress that ownership is under! The biggest test is to hold the business together for everyone until this passes."

Association executives are dealing with the pressures in their own way. Ever the proactive organization, DISCUS recently held a virtual #SpiritsUnitedToast to bring industry folks together. More than 400 people joined the toast. Hawkins said, "As part of the virtual event, Justin Cara-Donna, one of D.C.’s top bartenders at the Columbia Room, led a cocktail demonstration featuring tips on how to create the perfect at-home cocktail. During the virtual toast, we raised an additional $10,000 for [the United States Bartenders Guild's] COVID-19 relief fund." 

MSLBA President Aashish Parikh's thoughts turned more inward. He said, "We have duties as officers of the Association, so we have to remain calm and think ahead about how we can respond to not only the immediate needs of our members, but also what will be needed in the months ahead when hopefully we start to recover from this. We have already started thinking of ways to help get on-premise businesses back on their feet as quickly as possible."


Unused seating at Town Center Market's new $250,000 patio in Riverdale Park.

And, yes, for many of the industry professionals interviewed, they do see light at the end of the tunnel. Some of them are planning for when people will once again be crowding bars, stores, restaurants, wine festivals, and other gatherings where social distancing will be just a memory.

NBWA's Purser commented, "Of course, we're looking ahead. In addition to distributors' work helping others, they are also making sure the beer will be fresh and well-stocked when it's finally time to grab a pint together. As the backbone of the beer industry, distributors will be ready to help the entire industry bounce back when this is behind us."

Deford of Boordy Vineyards added, "Our recovery will depend upon the manner in which the restrictions to social interaction are lifted. Will it be incremental, or simply a green light to resume normal life?  We can modify our activities accordingly, but at this point there's no reason to speculate. We are maintaining a nimble approach, and are working with our vendors and other contractual partners to be flexible as well."

Most of the interviewees were like Mt. Airy Liquors' Ben Golueke in their outlooks. He concluded, "I have not thought too far ahead as of now, but I do plan on paying my employees as long as possible if they are still physically working or are staying home. Hopefully this will make for a seamless return to work when all of this is over and we return to our new normal. We as a business are also supporting our local restaurants and bars daily. I order food for our entire staff from a different local place every day. I hope this helps in the long run so our local restaurants will still be here when this is all over." 

Local Distilleries Shift From Liquor to Hand Sanitizer

Distilleries throughout Maryland and elsewhere have been making a product that's become more valuable than liquor.  The need for hand sanitizer became evident as the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in severe shortages of the product locally and nationally.

Among the earliest to make the switchover was Baltimore Spirits Company. Co-founder and CEO Max Lents remarked, "I have a list [of customers] right now that is long enough that we'll probably never make enough hand sanitizer to satisfy demand. So, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in terms of where the next batch is going and whether you give a full volume to one super-important account like Johns Hopkins or whether you divvy it up to numerous other essential businesses that are at risk because they have to stay open and interact with various people like postal offices, UPS drivers, and the like. You want to help them, as well, and some are asking for a lot smaller orders."


Brad Blackwell, owner and founder of Lost Ark Distilling in Columbia, has been making similar decisions. "The requests are so big right now," he marveled. "I'm also Vice President of the Maryland State Distillers Guild. The last message I got from them just a few days ago [this interview was conducted in early April] was they've collected a backlog of requests that totals about 15,000 gallons of hand sanitizer! We have gotten requests from local businesses like a small home pest company to calls from Amazon and BG&E."

Of course, these are good problems to have in such a time of crisis and further proof of how vital the state's beverage business is. No one is complaining Meg (MacWhirter) McNeill of MISCellaneous Distillery in Mt. Airy commented, "As soon as we closed our tasting room, we made the decision to pivot our focus to hand sanitizer. It took a few days to source the additional inputs needed and begin to create the first batch for donation to non-profit partners. Our primary donations have gone to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland . . . though we have been able to help with other requests from local non-profits, as well."

Blackwell said it wasn't a huge changeover in terms of equipment. The biggest change has been the packaging and Lost Ark's supply chain. "That's been a huge challenge, transitioning and figuring out where to buy the specific bottles and caps and have the labels designed in order to be printed," he said.

Lents concurred, adding, "Everybody has a different set-up in the way their distillery works. For us, we don't have an automated bottling line. Even the bottler that we have isn't really equipped to handle the style of bottles we're putting hand sanitizer in. So, we're bottling by hand. We essentially have a spigot on the bottom of a big tank. Once we blend up a new batch of sanitizer, we stick one bottle at a time under there, fill it, cap it, then label it."

Other area distilleries that have followed suit include: Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, which is using a recipe of ethanol, glycerol, lemongrass oil, Vitamin E oil, and aloe vera gel; McClintock Distilling in Frederick, which is combining the alcohol they normally make with glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide; and Cotton & Reed distillery in Washington, D.C., which has been giving away hand sanitizer with every purchase of rum in addition to giving away sanitizer to local service industry workers.

Lents concluded, "We can all come together and fill the need. We're part of a direct response to a need created by this crisis. We're happy to be part of the Resistance!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Apr 2020 09:10:55 -0400
The On-Premise Pivot Powered by to-go packaging, new signage, and a dose of social media, restaurants like Route 66 in Manhattan shifted gears to stay open after the dine-in shutdown. Photograph courtesy of Route 66

Powered by to-go packaging, new signage, and a dose of social media, restaurants like Route 66 in Manhattan shifted gears to stay open after the dine-in shutdown. Photograph courtesy of Route 66

Fine dining turns to takeout to save (some) jobs during the coronavirus shutdown

By Kathleen Willcox 

beveragemedia_may20_retail_covid_BMG_covid_logo_Forced into survival mode by the coronavirus pandemic, many restaurants and bars shuttered. Those that stayed open have had to drastically rework their businesses, many pivoting to takeout and delivery for the first time. Menus were scaled down and revamped, pricing was adjusted, and beverage service was completely reimagined.

Canlis in Seattle was an early adopter, making the switch on March 12 from a $140 prix-fixe menu to $12 burgers-to-go in order to retain their entire 115-person staff. The menu has since evolved to more elaborate fare, and word has quickly spread that the restaurant is now offering elevated family meals for curbside pickup and “no-contact” delivery along with sommelier-paired bottles of wine.

“We already have a waitlist 1,000-1,700 people long for every night next week,” shared co-owner Brian Canlis. “The enchilada night is the most popular. Clearly people need comfort, but they also need for it to be special. We’ve been getting pictures from guests who dress up, open our box and then open up our livestream, where we have our in-house piano players performing. They’re recreating Canlis at home and bringing just a moment of joy during this terrible time of uncertainty and stress.”

Understanding the Cost of Delivery Apps

Third-party delivery services, such as ChowNow, Seamless, Instacart, GrubHub, Caviar, DoorDash, and UberEats, charge as much as 35 percent per order. (Under pressure from mayors in major cities, many providers dropped the steep fees for non-chain restaurants during the pandemic.) “We experimented with UberEats and a few others, but the 33 percent cut they want is insane,” says Matt Stamp, Master Sommelier and co-owner of Compline Wine Bar in Napa. “It shows a complete lack of understanding about a restaurant’s revenue structure. I’d rather just handle the deliveries myself, even if that means a lower volume.” 

Canlis started with burgers, then expanded to a family-meal concept—with selected wines for sale as well. Photograph courtesy of CanlisBesides, keeping deliveries in-house can mean retaining jobs. By shifting front-of-house staff to drivers, Colorado’s I.E. Hospitality Group, with Dry Storage, Basta, Bruto, and The Wolf’s Tailor, was able to keep most staff employed. Other operators use some delivery services, while encouraging customers to order directly as much as possible. Stacey Sosa, who has owned Argentinian Estancia 460 since 1995 in New York City, listed with Seamless years ago, in order to retain one of her biggest clients, CitiGroup. But she incentivizes customers to order directly: “We offer customers a 25 percent discount on orders over $40 if they order through us, and for orders over $75 we include a free bottle of wine.”

Restructuring Menus & Prices 
Canlis started with burgers, then expanded to a family-meal concept—with selected wines for sale as well. Photograph courtesy of Canlis

New emergency rules in some states have made temporary exceptions that allow restaurants to deliver alcohol during the shutdown period, providing a window of opportunity to increase profitability, and get creative. Sosa reported offering cocktails in coffee cups at happy hour prices from 12 to 7pm has led to an impressive “uptick in orders.” Some restaurants are offering bottled cocktails. 

In general, at restaurants that already leaned toward upscale comfort, like Compline and Estancia, the menu shifts have been subtle: replacing fish entrées with sturdier proteins and pastas which hold up better while traveling.

In Los Angeles, the Michelin Star-winning chef Anthony Alaimo’s 101 North Eatery & Bar is also offering a slightly condensed and discounted version of its regular menu. “We want to accommodate the masses and ensure our food is accessible to all during these times,” Alaimo says. The menu is diverse, with $12 short rib sliders and an array of salads and pizzas for $14 to $22, and cumin-rubbed rack of lamb for $31. When Alaimo and his team added beer, wine and cocktail kits to their menu, he says, “business and revenue picked up.”

Getting the Word Out

Forgoing delivery apps puts the marketing burden on restaurants, but many restaurants are finding that their customers are eager to help spread the word.

In Colorado, Dry Storage is relying on social media as an informal advertising vehicle. “We’ve been using social media to promote our takeout and delivery, and our community has been very helpful in spreading the word on social media themselves,” says Colton Steiner, head miller. “This has been a huge learning experience for us, and it has made me realize how much we rely on each other, and our community.”

While no one can predict when the shutdown will end, or what the restaurant landscape will look like when it does, one thing is certain: The key ingredient for survival now is flexibility.  

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    


Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 11:08:04 -0400
Restaurants Reeling Beast PDX was among many that had hoped to open for take-out, but after weighing costs and benefits, chose to temporarily close. Photograph courtesy of Beast PDX

Beast PDX was among many that had hoped to open for take-out, but after weighing costs and benefits, chose to temporarily close. Photograph courtesy of Beast PDX

Slammed by unprecedented shutdowns, the restaurant industry braces for a hard-to-predict future

By Beverage Media Editors 

beveragemedia_may20_retail_covid_BMG_covid_logo_The two-week stretch from St. Patrick’s Day, 2020, to the end of the month, will surely be recorded as the biggest shock in restaurant history. Mandatory dine-in shut-downs in every state left millions of servers, dishwashers, line cooks, and bartenders suddenly jobless.

But if the second half of March represented the new Dark Age of restaurants and bars, April was shaping up as a gray area at best. The pandemic only began in the U.S. in March; the impact is bound to be layered and progressive. The consequences are unpredictable, not only because of the complexity of the economy, but more so because the situation keeps changing.

Witness the flurry of relief funds, the pivot to takeout and delivery, and the fast response of Congress, passing the CARES Act; these efforts could play out positively for some operations. On the other hand, a statement by the Independent Restaurant Coalition ( called the short-term relief “insufficient to ensure independent restaurants can stay open and continue to employ over 11 million workers.” Jobs were the point, the Coalition had argued when lobbying Congress. As Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier and owner of Frasca and four other restaurants in Colorado, put it: “Saving the restaurant industry [would] save more jobs than any other industry asking for money.”

At the same time, with people continuing to hunker down and reinvent daily living, who knows how everyone will behave once the virus has passed? “Just how busy are restaurants going to be when we reopen?” asks Naomi Pomeroy, chef/owner of Beast PDX, a 26-seat fine dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where the entire staff was laid off in March and applied for unemployment—including herself. “Will people want to sit in a crowded dining room when we still don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19? Plus, the financial beat down we have all taken and the possibility of a major recession do not bode well for restaurants. We have no idea what we are looking at on the backside of this.”

Grim Numbers, Many Unknowns

Based on a survey of 4,000 of its members, the National Restaurant Association estimates that during the first 22 days of March, the restaurant industry lost $25 billion in sales and more than 3 million jobs.

  • 44% of operators temporarily closed their restaurants; 54% of operators switched to all off-premises service;
  • Seven in 10 restaurants laid-off employees and reduced hours (roughly half of them anticipated more layoffs and hourly reductions over the next 30 days)
  • 3% of operators had permanently closed their restaurants and 11% anticipated permanently closing within the next 30 days

Moreover, as we learn more about the virus and how society reacts, many unknowns are bound to surface—and bring more change—in coming weeks. Among them:

How fast can financial help arrive, and how far will it go? The CARES Act, passed March 27, promised loan deferrals, grants, and hiring incentives. But many fear that most of the aid is going to be steered toward chains, leaving independents still struggling. Meanwhile, the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund began accepting applications on April 2 from industry workers who were adversely impacted by COVID-19 financially; one-time $500 grants are certainly welcome, but not sustaining. 

Signage at Gott's Roadside was representative of efforts to support employees who lost jobs or hours.

Business insurance is shaping up to be a legal wild card. The law firm that sued insurers on behalf of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in California and Cajun Conti in Louisiana formed a coalition to take on the insurance industry. The Business Interruption Group (BIG), with celebrity chefs and restaurant industry groups on board, is demanding payment for restaurants that have business interruption insurance and don’t have exclusions for viruses. It may take months, but this could be a game changer, positioning more than half of impacted restaurants to file successful claims.

This is an election year. The hospitality industry could become a political football, just like imported wines got run through the news wringer at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020. At the same time, localities are not going to sit back idly; expect efforts in local communities to take aim at sustaining or restoring local food providers. And while much of the political near-term is unsettled, it stands to reason that industry associations representing the industry in state capitals are going to be critically important.

Restaurants are already taking steps to liquidate their inventory, promoting specific wines with menu options and some even offering bottles from their entire lists. In New York City, for example, wine-centric Marea began offering 25% discounts on full bottles off the Reserve List. And Mister Paradise, a bar in the East Village, began selling house-bottled cocktails that serve two or three as well as full-blown cocktail kits with a bottle of liquor plus mixers and trimmings.

Frasca Hospitality Group in Colorado closed all of its restaurants; 10 percent of the state's workforce—285,000 people—is employed by the restaurant industry. Photograph courtesy of Frasca Hospitality Group

Frasca Hospitality Group in Colorado closed all of its restaurants; 10 percent of the state’s workforce—285,000 people—is employed by the restaurant industry. Photograph courtesy of Frasca Hospitality Group

Future Without Focus

How will restaurants be able to regroup? The pandemic caused ripples of hardship; issues of transportation, schooling and child care are going to continue to hamper a return to “business as usual.” Restaurants may have to rebuild their staffs when they reopen. And with many in the workforce not even going back to their old offices anytime soon, the entire nature of food service may be changing. 

The future is still fuzzy in terms of what the restaurant landscape will look like and function like eventually; the sheer length of the shutdown will be a factor. In a recent New York Times interview, restaurateur and author David Chang, said he felt the industry was already moving toward a delivery-driven model, and the pandemic may push us there faster.

Indeed, people have to eat, but who says they need to eat in restaurants and be served by waiters? Catering may undergo a resurgence, or perhaps private chefs. Or maybe food co-ops will swing back into the mainstream. New delivery options may develop as well. The future of food and beverage in America has never been less clear.

“I believe this is going to reshape the industry as we know it,” says Joel Gott, founder of Gott’s Roadside, a Napa-based restaurant chain, who is desperately trying to weather the pandemic. Five of of seven Gott’s locations remained open through March and into April for delivery and take-out business, which has been brisk. Yet it’s far from sustainable: “Our daily payroll is larger than our revenue,” he reports. In spite of this, he is donating all sales to his employee relief fund to offer support to the workers that have been most affected by the crisis.

Some predict one-third of restaurants will not be able to reopen, because the cost of reopening is extremely high, even for small establishments. Chall Gray, co-owner of Slings & Arrows Consulting and Little Jumbo bars in Asheville, North Carolina, laid off all nine of his employees, yet he still feels luckier than most, as he was able to secure a three month deferral on his bars’ mortgages and has a small emergency fund. “I’m hearing numerous stories of other bar operators and restaurateurs already saying they simply won’t have the money to reopen,” Gray says. “It’s so much more expensive than simply turning the lights back on.” 

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 11:00:42 -0400
Retail in the Coronavirus Era Vine Wine in Brooklyn was among many retailers setting up new store protocol. Photograph courtesy of Vine Wine.

Vine Wine in Brooklyn was among many retailerssetting up new store protocol. Photograph courtesy of Vine Wine.

After seeing early sales spikes, merchants deal with shifting consumer behavior and regulations

By Courtney Schiessl 

beveragemedia_may20_retail_covid_BMG_covid_logo_The industrys one bright spot during the devastating coronavirus pandemic has been the recent weekssurges in wine, beer, and spirits off-premise sales across the country. Even as the on-premise sector shuttered and Americans were confined to their homes, consumers were very much drinking. For many alcohol retailers (deemed essential businesses in most states), business boomed as consumers stocked up on alcohol, alongside toilet paper and household disinfectants.

According to Nielsen, U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages increased 55 percent in the week ending March 21—the same week that California became the first of many to enact a statewide order for residents to stay at home. The alcohol delivery service Drizly, which is releasing sales data twice weekly, saw sales growth slow slightly before spiking once again to 488 percent over baseline during the week of March 30. Large grocery chains, in markets where they are permitted to sell alcohol, are posting very high double-digit growth in beverage alcohol.

For independent wine retailers, the impact on sales has been variable. Some, like Le Dû’s Wines in New York City and Schneiders of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., have seen sales normalize after an initial spike in purchasing. For others, like The Wine House in Los Angeles, they continue to soar. We have not seen a dip in consumer purchasing, and we are very fortunate for that,” says part-owner and wine buyer Jim Knight.

But with the rapidly changing realities of daily life in the U.S., the precarious economic climate, and new health regulations and concerns, its far from business as usual. 

Understanding New Purchasing Behavior

The retail sector is the undeniable beneficiary of the on-premise fallout. Its a great time to shop at a wine shop,” says Talitha Whidbee, the owner of Vine Wine in Brooklyn, New York. Were picking up all the allocations from restaurants.” Faced with the loss of purchases from on-premise accounts, many importers and distributors are slashing prices dramatically to offload inventory, allowing retailers to offer excellent value on wines as well. 

While some retailers initially saw consumers splurge on more expensive bottles, for the most part, the average per-bottle price point is skewing lower than usual. The average wine bottle price since the uptick has been $17.99,” says Gary Fisch, the founder and CEO of Garys Wine & Marketplace, which is roughly 32 percent lower than the average bottle price in the past year, which was $25.” The Wine Houses average bottle price has been about $20, according to Knight, which is also slightly lower than normal.

That lower per-bottle average is typically offset by greater quantity, however. Drizly reports that quantity per order is up as well—about 40 to 50 percent more than usual.

However, the drop in average price point has been difficult for some retailers. Many [independent, fine wine] stores are reporting lower sales,” says Tom Wark, the executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR), in large part because the vast majority of retailers are also seeing their average price per bottle sold significantly reduced since March 1.” He adds that between 30 and 40 percent of fine wine retailers have laid-off or furloughed employees.

Schneider’s of Capitol Hill lowered the minimum for free delivery and began offering curbside pick-up. Photograph courtesy of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill

Schneider’s of Capitol Hill lowered the minimum for free delivery and began offering curbside pick-up. Photograph courtesy of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill

Managing New Protocol

As Americans comply with stay-at-home orders, retail operations that once relied on foot traffic have had to adjust to decreased or nonexistent walk-in business. To adapt, Wark notes that many retailers are increasing delivery efforts, adding curbside pickup options, and widening digital outreach. Though 40 percent of The Wine Houses initial sales bump was walk-ins, once the state put a stay-at-home order in place on March 19, Knight was slammed” with curbside pickup and delivery orders. The situation led him to cease walk-in business entirely on March 23.

But for shops that do not offer delivery, walk-in traffic remains crucial even under stay-at-home orders. Restrictions on delivery in Michigan, a control state, make it complicated and expensive to deliver. Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, being in Rochester Hills, Michigan, does not offer delivery, though it does have an e-commerce site offering shipping. Our model, which is so heavily dependent on in-store traffic, would just about come to a halt,” says wine director Michael Descamps.

To mitigate the risk, Descamps has reduced hours and is working with a very small team (many staff members have opted not to work). Other protocols enacted by wine shops that continue to offer walk-in business include canceling in-store tastings, staggering staffing, limiting the number of shoppers allowed at once, sanitizing surfaces regularly, and requiring employees to wash hands and wear gloves.

Investing in the Delivery Model and E-Commerce

Even if shelter-in-place orders allow consumers to shop in-store, many are opting for web or phone sales to minimize contact with others. According to Nielsen, online sales of alcoholic beverages rose by 243 percent during the week ending March 21. Its been a boon for alcohol delivery services like Drizly and Minibar and large online marketplaces. During the week ending March 29, wine app Vivino experienced a 209 percent increase in year-over-year gross merchandise value for their online marketplace—much of that from new customers.

People who previously used Vivino for scanning, rating, and reviewing wines are now buying online because they are at home, online, and looking for delivery to their door,” says founder Heini Zachariassen. Our numbers indicate that [e-commerce and delivery are] essential.”

Independent retailers are seeing results from this shift, too. Almost all our members report moderate to significant increase in traffic to their websites,” says NAWRs Wark. For businesses that have delivery or shipping systems in place, this shift away from walk-in traffic is smoother.

Particularly for small shops, delivery may indeed be the only way to remain operational and profitable. I strongly recommend that small mom-and-pop stores invest heavily in their delivery and pickup capabilities,” says Fisch. He suggests retailers look into all e-commerce options, such as hiring a third-party delivery service or back-end technology provider. Whidbee also recommends having all inventory online and linked to the stores POS system to reflect real-time availability.

Managing pickup and delivery operations and coronavirus health protocols is also essential. To keep business manageable with just a few staff members, Vine Wine conducts local delivery on Mondays, ships packages on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and offers pickup for four hours each day from Tuesday to Saturday.

Zero-contact is increasingly important. Some retailers place a card table outside the front door of the shop so that consumers cannot get too close, or staff members wear gloves to place orders in car trunks. For delivery, the team at The Wine House asks the customer to show his or her ID through the window and leaves the order on their doorstep.

Its critical for retailers to communicate directly with customers through social media and emails about their delivery services—particularly for shops without robust e-commerce platforms. 

Theres a lot of uncertainty as to whether shops are even open, so just sending out an email or posting that youre open is very advantageous,” says JT Robertson, general manager of Le Dû’s Wines. More often than not, people will choose to support their small businesses.” He has also been using sponsored Instagram and Facebook posts highlighting the shops delivery radius to target the local community, noting that even if couriers are no longer allowed to operate, he can personally deliver bottles a few blocks away.

Alcohol delivery services like Drizly have seen huge increases in orders. Photograph courtesy of Drizly

Alcohol delivery services like Drizly have seen huge increases in orders. Photograph courtesy of Drizly

Planning for an Unpredictable Future

Several wine and spirits distributors predict the boom will continue to slow for independent retailers, particularly in states where grocery stores are permitted to sell alcohol and consumers increasingly opt for one-stop shopping. I anticipate that with the stay home order, we will continue to see some slowdown,” agrees Elyse Genderson, the vice president at Schneiders in D.C.

In the face of this uncertainty, many are practicing caution. Every indication is that the initial stocking up will end at some point,” says Wark, and the impact of the U.S. entering a depression economyfor some time will hit sales very hard. 

Some are anticipating unexpected disruptions in other parts of the industry, such as the winery supply chain. I still feel like we have to overbuy,” says Whidbee. Im worried that theres going to be a travel ban or theyll close down the ports for two weeks.”

Flexibility will be key to both short- and long-term success. I think were looking at a drastically different wine landscape in the future,” says Robertson.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 10:54:07 -0400
Fishpaws Marketplace Is Off the Hook Fishpaws_0001.jpg

Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, Md., features a unique tag line both in store and on its website: "It's not a shopping trip … it's an experience!" And that is truth in advertising. This independently owned  business has operated at the same location since before Prohibition. Today, it offers an extensive selection of imported and domestic wines; an assortment of craft, microbrew, imported, and domestic beers; and a broad array of liquors and gourmet cheeses and foods.

Kim Lawson is the proprietor. And she is a firm believer that experiential retail is the way to stand out in today's crowded and intensely competitive market. Touting her store's features, she said, "We have a 12-tap draft system to accommodate crowler and growler fills. We have a Napa Technology Wine Station -- we call it the Wine ATM -- which allows customers to sample one-, two-, and four-ounce pours at any time. And we employ a certified cheese specialist, who will assist you in pairing your cheese or charcuterie course with your beverage of choice."


Fishpaws also offers in-store tastings from all departments. In addition, Lawson and her staff offer special wine, beer, and spirit dinners and classes. "We pick one-of-a-kind single barrel bourbons, whiskeys, and tequilas which our team personally select at distilleries," she added. "We then collaborate with breweries to age private-barrel, aged beers to offer on the growler station. And we participate in many off-site charity events, providing our unique products to offer fundraising opportunities."

But a lot of the fun has been sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic. So far, Lawson and her staff have been up to the challenge. But there have definitely been changes and compromises.

"Our policies are changing daily as new guidelines are put in place by our governor," she stated. "We are social distancing with six-foot tape put down throughout our store. We have limited our hours to let our team deep clean and stock nightly. We have new barriers around our registers to protect our cashiers. We have gloves, wipes, and hand sanitizer at every register, phone, computer, and work area. We also have a table at our entry for customers, offering gloves and a sanitizer liquid for their use." Fishpaws offers delivery service, too. 

Lawson says her biggest challenge since the crisis began has been making decisions for the safety of her employees and just staying open to keep her staff employed and Fishpaws customers served. "We are so looking forward to returning to business as usual!" she said. "This has been extremely stressful, especially for my managers. I plan on doing something special for them … not sure what yet. I'm definitely going to take them out for a relaxing dinner and probably give them some extra time off. We all just want to get back to normal soon."


It helps that she has been active for many years with the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association, and she is also a member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). Lawson remarked, "MSLBA is a great organization. I have learned so much from the other retailers that you interact with from all over the state. That knowledge and idea exchange has been very important for my success. I believe being informed about the industry and the legislative process is important. Our industry is so dependent on the legislative process that we all really need to participate to protect our industry and businesses. I've developed such great personal and professional relationships through my involvement in the MSLBA."

In  turn, Lawson is one of the association's most decorated members. She has twice been named Retailer of The Year by the National Association of Beverage Retailers in 1996 and 2016. And in 2014, Lawson with Fishpaws Marketplace was selected as the Small Business Administration’s Family Owned Small Business for Maryland.

In times of both success and hardship, she remembers the words of wisdom her parents, Brad and Chris Lawson, imparted on her. They were entrepreneurs also, owning gift stores and other retail outlets. She concluded, "They taught me I could accomplish anything if you worked hard and were fair. They also taught me the need to know how to do every job that you ask your staff to do."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 10:01:46 -0400
Coronavirus: Resources for The Trade beveragemedia_Apr20_COVID19_glass2

As the Beverage Journal continues to closely monitor reports concerning the COVID-19 outbreak and the guidance being provided by the relevant health and government authorities, we want to ensure you that our Dynamic Search database is fully operational. 

State/National Resources

Industry Relief & Activist Efforts

Resource Hub for Customers

  • Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits has launched — an online hub for trade customers, providing COVID-19-related updates and resources for businesses in the hospitality industry. It includes federal and state-specific guidance for employers and employees; SGWS customers can also sign up on the website to receive email updates as new information is posted on the site. 

News Impacting the Industry

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) April 2020 Editions Wed, 08 Apr 2020 09:36:54 -0400
B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors BK-Miller_HOME.jpg

Miller Continues to Blaze a Family Trail

There is a special kind of pressure that comes with running a legacy business, a family business, a business that has been in operation in one form or another for over 100 years. Many people aren't able to handle that pressure and cash out. The Millers of Prince George's County are a
different breed!"

In 1913, B.K. Miller Sr. opened a general store in Clinton, Md., across from where B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors is located today. Over the decades, that store sold everything from groceries, meats, and lottery tickets to clothing, building materials, and even coal. At one time, it was a beer distributor.

Current proprietor Blaise Miller III remarked, "My father and my uncle owned the store after my grandfather. My cousins and I have since owned it. I am the third generation. And my son, Colt, has worked here now for 20 years, and he's fourth generation. I actually have my cousin's grandkids working here, and they're fifth generation. We just try to run the business the right way and do right by the community."

He continued, "I'm very proud of our family and what we've done in the town of Clinton. We've changed with the times. We were a grocery store around 1970, and then Giant Foods came to town. My father and my uncle said, 'Hey, we have to change, because we're going to get killed by these chain stores. So we became B.K. Miller's Super Liquors. We just kept a little part of our meat business, which we've grown a lot over the years. But we're still the little store on the corner in Clinton."


Generations of Millers: here's Blaise with his son, Colt Miller and his Aunt, Mary Ann Miller.

So, what's the real secret to staying in business now well past the century mark? Miller was quick to reply: hard work! "It's nothing more complicated than that," he said. "A lot of people might think, 'Blaise, you're third generation. You're very lucky!' But each generation has worked their tail off to keep this store open and a success. What it is is we've had the opportunity to work since we were kids. I worked at the store when we were a grocery store when I was six years old! My son and my daughter both worked here when they were 12 years old. We've all grown up saying, 'Yes, sir' and 'Yes, ma'am.'"

That's not to say there aren't any special challenges to running a business like B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors. There are. "I have 48 employees," Miller said with a slight laugh, then adding, "and that means I have 48 personalities! Fortunately, they're all good. Two of them have been here 60 years and worked for every generation!"


In addition to the service he gets day in and day out from his dedicated staff, Miller has succeeded by being one of the more politically active store owners in the state. A proud member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), he has been at the forefront of both championing and combating legislation that affects Maryland's beer, wine, and spirits trade. He pays especially close attention to any new bills that target small businesses.

At the time of this interview in early March, he declared, "It looks like we've defeated House Bill 291 for the year! That would have allowed beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores. We worked very hard to get that knocked down. Half of my alcohol sales are beer and wine. I'm sure if the chain stores could sell them, that would greatly affect my business in a negative way. But I'm sure the issue is going to come around again. I've been around a long time, and there's so much pressure on legislators from chain stores who say, 'We're not going to make it without beer and wine.' But we all know they're very successful. And most aren't based in Maryland."

He now hopes for calm in Annapolis, at least for a while. "We've all invested our money with the laws the way they are. Things are working. Let's leave 'em alone!"

But there are always challenges to deal with in the state capitol. And that's why MSLBA membership is so important. Miller touts, "Membership in MSLBA keeps us up on what's going on. We send newsletters out that tell you what's going on. MSLBA has a regular crew who show up monthly in Annapolis for meetings. If you're a member, you're going to hear from MSLBA more than anyone else on what's important. Let's just say a lot of this stuff that we deal with? It ain't in the papers every day."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2020 Editions Tue, 31 Mar 2020 13:47:58 -0400
Hard Seltzer’s Race to Differentiate beveragemedia_apr20_hard_seltzer_hard_seltzer_ hero_truly_whiteclaw_barefoot2520x1420_01

Photos courtesy of Truly, White Claw and Barefoot Hard Seltzer

As brands proliferate, beer and wine companies push the category in new directions to gain a competitive edge

by Joshua M. Bernstein

This winter’s National Football League playoff season featured a different kind of Budweiser commercial: Randy Diaz, the fast-talking fictitious mayor of Seltzer, Pennsylvania, professing affection for Bud Light, as well as another beverage inside a slim, lanky can.

Surprise! It’s Bud Light Seltzer, a 100-calorie spinoff sold in four fruity flavors that “taste great,” irrespective of your opinions on low-calorie lager. “If you don’t love Bud Light, you’ll love Bud Light Seltzer,” promises the mayor.

Within weeks of its launch, the Bud Light–branded seltzer became the third largest brand in the exploding hard seltzer category. “The seltzer craze is on,” says Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light. Instead of simply surfing the wave, he said, “we’re bringing our biggest brand into the category to really help it grow.”

Recently launched Bud Light Seltzer is already the third largest hard seltzer brand

Recently launched Bud Light Seltzer is already the third largest hard seltzer brand

Brewers large and small are beginning to see seltzer’s potential to “bring people back into beer from spirits and wine,” says Bud Light’s Goeler. Because the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) classifies malt- and sugar-based hard seltzers as beer, they are taxed and distributed like beer (rules vary by state). Facing declining sales for its workhorse, Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) has leaned hard into seltzer, with Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, Natural Light Seltzer, and now Bud Light Seltzer, which was in development for 18 months. Goeler hopes it has a halo effect on the entire company, reengaging Bud Light drinkers. He does not see hard seltzer as a soon-to-fade beverage trend such as alcoholic sodas or root beer: “It’s a reestablishment of the industry.”

Hard seltzer is still in a rush-to-market phase, and though Bud Light Seltzer may be the most significant new player, it’s but one of dozens of new brands: Nielsen predicts the players to double in 2020 alone. It’s a branding arms race, as beverage companies try to break away from the pack with new flavors, fresh fruit infusions, sports partnerships, and alternative sources of alcohol.

But even rapidly growing categories can become too crowded, and many of these beverages will fail. As the category matures and consumers become more demanding, which direction will the category take? How does a brand gain a competitive edge when the objective is flavored, bubbly water that cloaks the taste of alcohol?

Gallo’s Barefoot Hard Seltzer is new this year, and based on wine.

Gallo’s Barefoot Hard Seltzer is new this year, and based on wine.

Seltzer’s Original Success Formula

Hard seltzer, a carbonated beverage typically made by fermenting sugar, burst onto the scene in 2013 with Spiked Seltzer (which became Bon & Viv), and seemingly overnight morphed into a pop-culture phenomenon, powered by the twin engines of White Claw, from Mark Anthony Brands, and Truly, from the Boston Beer Company. According to Nielsen, 2019 sales of hard seltzer in off-premise channels rose more than 300 percent, topping $1.5 billion in sales. Financial advisory firm Evercore ISI recently predicts hard seltzer will grow 144 percent this year, and reach 11 percent of the beer industry’s total volume by 2022. 

The hard seltzer segment is now swarming with clones honing in on a formula: sugar fermentations filtered to taste neutrality, infused with “natural flavors,” such as black cherry, and packaged at 5 percent ABV and 100 calories (or even less). The category has successfully capitalized on larger trends of health and wellness, enticing consumers with its low-cal, low-alcohol proposition.

Seltzer is an equal opportunity category disruptor, stealing share most notably from beer, but from cider, spirits, and wine as well. In 2019, Drizly saw hard seltzer sales grow to nearly 10 percent of its combined beer, cider, and seltzer category, while lager shrunk more than 3 percent. Publicists for White Claw (which declined interview requests) claim that hard seltzers are sourcing a whopping 48 percent of drinking occasions from beer, compared to 28 percent from spirits and 24 percent from wine.

White Claw continues to lead the category, and recently introduced its first new flavors in over a year.

White Claw continues to lead the category, and recently introduced its first new flavors in over a year.

Taste Increasingly Matters

Hard seltzer is typically mild in flavor and acidity, but companies are discovering that a delicious flavor profile will be increasingly important as the category matures. “We’ve learned from our drinkers that they do want more flavor and to be hit with aroma when they open a can,” says Casey O’Neill, the Boston Beer Company’s product development manager and inventor of Truly, which comes in 13 flavors, from watermelon-kiwi to pineapple.

In response, the company revamped Truly’s formula last year to create a cleaner, crisper profile and elevate the flavor Truly’s latest trial—what O’Neill calls “flavor differentiation”—was released earlier this year: four Truly Lemonade Hard Seltzers. “It was natural to bring out something that’s a little bigger in flavor,” he says.

Just this March, White Claw made a similar expansion move, adding tangerine, watermelon, and lemon to the original five and Pure (un-flavored, launched in 2019). The new trio plus mango will now populate an all-new 12-can Variety Pack. That is important to case-stacking retailers as White Claw’s “Flavor Collection No. 1” (with black cherry, ruby grapefruit, lime, and raspberry) is currently the best-selling variety pack in the category, according to IRI data.

Amy Walberg, the founder of Press Premium Alcohol Seltzer, believes bold, fruit-forward flavors are the key to success. “Lower calories matter, but taste also matters,” Walberg says. “That’s how we’ve been able to grow.” She launched her Milwaukee, Wisconsin–based company in 2015 with a rotation of culinary flavor combinations, including grapefruit cardamom, blood orange chili, and lime lemongrass, layered on a gluten-removed malt base that sits at 4 percent ABV. The company’s offbeat flavors and lower alcohol stoked sales of around 482,000 cases in 2019; the brand is aiming to hit 1 million in 2020. (A recent minority investment from Constellation Brands will help, too.) 

Truly Hard Seltzer refreshed both the brand packaging and formulas in 2019.

Truly Hard Seltzer refreshed both the brand packaging and formulas in 2019.

Playing on Wellness, Adjusting Ingredients

While hard seltzer is widely perceived and promoted as a low-calorie, seemingly “healthier” alcohol option, the average consumer has no idea what’s actually inside the slim cans. Now, other beverage categories are entering the hard seltzer sweepstakes, promoting alternative alcohol bases and natural fruits to entice ingredient-conscious consumers.

In some cases, the alcohol base is being tweaked. Schlafly Beer, a craft brewer in St. Louis, offers the Boomerang line of 90-calorie mead spritzers. E. & J. Gallo Winery’s play is twofold: the vodka-fueled High Noon Sun Sips and the wine-based Barefoot Hard Seltzer. High Noon gets its extra juice, so to speak, from real fruit juice and no added sugar. Barefoot’s new entrant, just launched in February, is based on wine but labeled as a seltzer, not spritzer. Anna Bell, vice president of U.S. marketing for Barefoot, believes the 70-calorie seltzer in 8.4-ounce cans, will meet underserved “taste preferences,” appealing to longtime Barefoot fans and customers fresh to the brand.

Molson Coors Beverage Company infuses its new 100-calorie Vizzy hard seltzers with “Antioxidant Vitamin C from acerola superfruit.” Miami Cocktail Co. makes canned 110-calorie spritzes with organic grapes and fruit juice.

For Chicago-based Phusion Project, the magic ingredient is… more alcohol? The 12 percent ABV Four Loko Hard Seltzer is sold as the “hardest seltzer in the universe.” It’s tempting to call that hard seltzer’s jump-the-shark moment, but then Evil Twin, the try-anything craft brewery in Ridgewood, Queens, rolled out Evil Water, a hazy “pastry seltzer” made with marshmallows. 

The Power of Branding and Distribution

As the category accelerates, we are sure to see more innovation (and gimmicks) as well as increased investment. There’s been a recent uptick of sports sponsorships from large brands (Truly is the official hard seltzer of the National Hockey League) and small (Braxton Brewing’s Vive is the official hard seltzer of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals). This June, Mark Anthony Brands plans to open a $250 million production facility in Arizona to prevent another shortage that plagued the company in 2019. Last year, San Juan Seltzer opened America’s first hard seltzer taproom, Seattle’s San Juan Seltzery. Guests can sip Old-Fashioneds with ice hewn from Fuji apple hard seltzer, then order Dungeness crab cakes paired with huckleberry hard seltzer.

The fizzy euphoria surrounding hard seltzer is still bubbling. But now comes the hard work of building sustainable brands that meet real consumer needs and stand out from the pack. May the best bubbles win. 

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) April 2020 Editions Tue, 31 Mar 2020 13:40:07 -0400
Town Center Market's Jimmy Spiropoulos Mar20_Town_Center_Market_0001_20200306-170646_1.jpg

"I graduated from Clemson University in 1990. I graduated on Saturday, I drove home Sunday, and went to work
Monday … and I haven't stopped since!"

The Clemson alum is Jimmy Spiropoulos. His home is Maryland. His place of work? Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, a store his father Pete started in 1988 with the purchase of Dumm's Corner Market. The Spiropoulos family moved the business from that 1,700-square-foot location to its current and much bigger address on Queensbury Road in May 2012 and changed the name.

"My father basically signed over the business to [my brother Ted and I] years ago," Spiropoulos recalled. "But he still comes to work every day. He's 81, and you'll see him outside watering his beloved plants or cleaning up. We're here together on a daily basis, and it's been a good run."


Brothers Ted and Jimmy Spiropoulos of Town Center Market in Riverdale Park.


That said, he doesn't miss the old days at the former location. "The fruits of our labor never seemed to show there," Spiorpoulos said. "We were handicapped by space and lack of selection. Ever since we've been at Town Center Market, the hard work has definitely paid off. We've seen the growth. We've seen our customers more thankful for what we do."

He continued, "Town Center Market is unique in that we do so much all under one roof. We go to great lengths to cater to every demographic in Prince George's County. We have 34 taps along with an Austrian-made growler machine. So, there could be a customer getting a 'fill' at one end of the store, while at the opposite end someone could be purchasing a money order or making a bill payment. Typically, those two customers are from two different walks of life. But both are very important to us."


But Spiropoulos and family have seen their fair share of struggle. Four years ago in P.G., liquor stores were open six days a week and closed on Sundays. "At that point in time, Town Center Market was only a beer and wine store," he noted. "We didn't carry liquor, and that meant we were allowed to be open on Sunday."

When the county decided to let liquor stores open on Sundays, Spiropoulos went on what he called a "self-lobbying mission" in the state capital. "Delegate Anne Healey sponsored a bill that allowed stores like mine to be able to upgrade to sell liquor in order to better compete with the liquor stores that would now be open on Sunday," he stated. "The bill failed in subcommittee. That next year, we experienced a 30 percent loss in business on Sundays.  . . . Several of the delegation members who voted against me pulled me aside and said, 'We feel you're trying to get an upgraded license for free, and we think you should do what everybody else has done. Purchase a license if you can find one and petition to move it.'"

He ended up buying such a license for $200,000 three years ago. "Today, I still owe a $100,000 balance on it. And now, just a few weeks ago, a bill was submitted by Del. Wanika Fisher to allow beer and wine sales in all supermarkets countywide. I feel like my family has played by the rules over the years, and we get punished for doing the right thing."

It helps to have colleagues who know their way around state and local politics. One of the biggest allies has been the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "Typically, the MSLBA doesn't like to get involved in the more local issues," Spiropoulos said. "But clearly they understand the impact of beer and wine in all grocery stores in Prince George's County. If beer and wine becomes available in P.G. grocery stores, it's just a matter of time before it's statewide."

As evidence of the potential dangers he and other store operators face, Spiropoulos pointed to Colorado. Starting in January 2019, beer -- just beer, not wine -- was allowed to be sold in all grocery stores in the state. "Thirteen months removed, the average drop in overall sales in Colorado liquor stores is 20 to 40 percent," he stated, "and 200 stores have gone out of business with more on the cusp of closing."

Spiropoulos plans to continue being vocal in hopes the county and state can avoid Colorado's dark fate. "We once employed four people," he concluded. "Now, we employ over 20. We have a small-group health plan in which I pay for four of my managers' health coverage in full. None of my employees are minimum-wage earners. We are what the county has promoted! The simple fact of the matter is a store like Town Center Market makes its living off selling alcohol. A store like Whole Foods does not."

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 12:01:04 -0500
Irish Whiskey’s Craft Boom Why should Scotch have all the grand-finale fun? Egan's is among many Irish distillers finishing their whiskey in sherry casks; “Fortitude” ends up in PX sherry barrels.

Why should Scotch have all the grand-finale fun? Egan’s is among many Irish distillers finishing their whiskey in sherry casks; “Fortitude” ends up in PX sherry barrels.

No Other Whiskey Category has Exploded Quite Like Irish has this Century

By Amanda Schuster

Irish whiskey’s reputation as a mellow, one-dimensional spirit is being upended by an unprecedented amount of innovation and diverse new entrants. According to the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), the high-end premium Irish whiskey category, representing SRP of $20 to $35, grew 1,106 percent between 2002 and 2018. And entries over $35 grew by a staggering 3,385 percent.

This flourishing movement represents the next phase in the evolution of Irish whiskey, whose overall U.S. sales topped $1 billion in 2018 and now account for 12 percent of the spirit market by value. With eclectic barrel finishes, age statements, heritage grains, and distinct pot still expressions, 21st-century Irish distillers are succeeding by challenging stereotypes and winning over premium consumers.

The Sexton, made by one of a few female master blenders in the industry, uses oloroso sherry barrels.

The Sexton, made by one of a few female master blenders in the industry, uses oloroso sherry barrels.

Bridge Between Old and New

Understanding Irish whiskey today calls for a dram of history. In the 20th century, Prohibition and the Irish War of Independence were catastrophic. The country’s two main markets for whiskey—the U.S. and the U.K.—disintegrated. By the 1950s, all but two distilleries—Bushmills in the North, and Midleton in County Cork (producer of Jameson and Powers)—had died off.

While the industry’s most explosive growth has taken place in the 21st century, the seeds of renewal were effectively planted in 1987, when John Teeling converted a potato alcohol plant in County Louth into the Cooley Distillery. Though it was always intended for large-volume production, one could argue that Cooley propelled what became a wave of modern craft Irish whiskey distilleries. Cooley is where then-emerging brands Connemara (which started the Irish peated whiskey movement), The Tyrconnell, and Kilbeggan were produced. (Cooley and its brands were eventually sold to Beam Suntory in 2011, and some operations have shifted to the once-shuttered Kilbeggan Distillery, where the first modern-day Irish small-batch rye has been produced.) 

Bushmills was ahead of the curve in terms of age statement single malts and intriguing finishes, such as rum and cider.

Bushmills was ahead of the curve in terms of age statement single malts and intriguing finishes, such as rum and cider.

The years following the sale of Cooley were marked by further expansion. Brands and distilleries either grew from the dust of shuttered businesses or sprouted as new entities. In 2011 there were four distilleries operating in Ireland; today there are close to 20, and a dozen more are in planning. 

In 2015, John Teeling’s sons, Jack and Stephen, launched Teeling Whiskey in Dublin, initially using some of the barrels they acquired from Cooley. “Irish whiskey at this time was very one-dimensional,” says Jack Teeling, “[and] based around heritage brands with a very accessible taste. To us, it was crying out for a more craft-oriented premium Irish whiskey with a unique full flavor and distinctive brand personality to capture the imagination.” 

Startup Culture

In retrospect, the commercial success of Jameson both drew in thirsty consumers and compelled other brands to develop effective points of distinction. The Irish startups of the 21st century are pursuing a range of profiles and identities, creating a wildly diverse landscape not seen before in the category.

Some chose to release matured, sourced whiskey—typically single malts but sometimes single grain and pot still whiskeys as well—with sophisticated wine and spirit cask finishes. These include Egan’s, The Sexton, Knappogue Castle (most recently single malts finished in Marsala, Barolo, and Bordeaux casks), and Lambay (which is finished in cognac barrels), among many others.

Slane, like many brands, is both old and new. Slane Castle has been in the hands of the Conyngham family since it was built in the late 18th century. In the modern era, Slane has become well-known for its rock music festival, first staged in 1981; and now Irish whiskey, created in 2017 in collaboration with Brown-Forman.

Slane, like many brands, is both old and new. Slane Castle has been in the hands of the Conyngham family since it was built in the late 18th century. In the modern era, Slane has become well-known for its rock music festival, first staged in 1981; and now Irish whiskey, created in 2017 in collaboration with Brown-Forman.

Some distilleries, as many of their American counterparts have done, chose to source and bottle whiskey until their own distillate is matured—these include Pearse Lyons (now distilling in a former church in Dublin’s Liberties neighborhood) and Clonakilty in County Cork. Tipperary Distillery, located at Ballindoney farm, is using its own water to cut sourced distillates while its heritage barley whiskeys mature. 

With increased sourcing, greater attention to blending naturally followed. Louise McGuane is a leader in the revival of bonded whiskey in Ireland; she operates on a family farm in County Clare, where she’s bringing back the J.J. Corry brand (named after a legendary nearby whiskey bonder). McGuane blends and matures whiskeys from multiple sources. Her first release, The Gael, features whiskeys that are from 7 to 26 years old. 

Whiskey tourism is catching on in Ireland. Tipperary Distillery has partnered with Dundrum House Hotel and Golf Resort to build a much larger distillery at the hotel and begin welcoming visitors in 2021. Pictured, right: Tipperary co-founder Jennifer Nickerson.

Whiskey tourism is catching on in Ireland. Tipperary Distillery has partnered with Dundrum House Hotel and Golf Resort to build a much larger distillery at the hotel and begin welcoming visitors in 2021. Pictured, right: Tipperary co-founder Jennifer Nickerson.

Bernard and Rosemary Walsh launched their company in 1999, initially bottling their Irish coffee recipe but a few years later switching to whiskey proper. The Irishman Founders Reserve is a blend of two styles—single malt (70 percent) and single pot still. Writers’ Tears Copper Pot, launched in 2009 (the name honors Irish poets, novelists, and playwrights), is 60 percent pot still and 40 percent single malt, aged in American oak bourbon casks.

Part of what has fueled the American craft movement is an emphasis on local ingredients; Ireland’s 21st-century startups are no different. West Cork (one of the few distilleries in Ireland to boast actual Irish ownership) uses Irish barley exclusively, as well as fresh local spring water. On the finishing end, West Cork’s Glengarriff Series features specific chars (e.g., Peated and Bog Oak).

Startups focused on distilling their own whiskey are gaining traction. Glendalough, in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, first made a splash with its unaged poitín (the Irish equivalent of moonshine, also known as potcheen—a style that had been illegal for centuries) but is now in the pot still and single malt game, recently with a 13 Year single malt finished in Japanese mizunara casks. 

A vintage scene from Midleton Distillery, where Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, and the Spot whiskeys are produced.

A vintage scene from Midleton Distillery, where Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, and the Spot whiskeys are produced.

Tapping Strengths

Larger, established brands, which have greater stocks to work with, have answered the growing craft demand by increasing their age-statement single-malt expressions—again, often with intriguing finishes. Bushmills now has single malts aged 10, 16, and 21 years, the latter two finished in port and madeira casks, respectively. The Tyrconnell last year added a 16 Year Old finished in casks seasoned with oloroso and moscatel, joining a trio of 10-year-olds. 

Tullamore D.E.W. opened a new facility in 2014 that brought whiskey production back to its home in County Offaly for the first time in 60 years. Tullamore has branched out with cask finishes of Caribbean rum as well as cider, and it’s the only distillery in Ireland dedicating separate stills to grain, malt, and pot still production. 

Although the pot still whiskey tradition—a distinctly Irish creation with a mash of both malted and unmalted barley—has been embraced by many of the new distillers, it’s a style that was given premium status by Irish Distillers. Midleton distillery began releasing Redbreast single pot still (like a single malt in that it originates from a single distillery) age-statement whiskeys in the 1990s, and its Spot pot still labels (Green, Yellow, Red) several years later, as well as premium releases of heritage label Powers, such as Three Swallow.

Lambay ages its whiskey in ex-cognac barrels.

Lambay ages its whiskey in ex-cognac barrels.

As would be expected given recent growth and Ireland’s famously vibrant culture, the current U.S. Irish whiskey market is peppered with brands that connect with Irish culture. Claddagh and Donegal Estates conjure images of the Emerald Isle. The Pogues Irish Whiskey is the toast of the punk band’s fanbase. Slane is familiar to rock ’n roll fans, thanks to the famous Slane Castle Concert series. Then there are the two Irish whiskeys with a rough and tumble image: mixed martial arts champ Conor McGregor’s Proper No. Twelve; and John L Sullivan, recalling the legendary Boston-based boxer.

Selling—and mixing with—Irish

Bikram Singh, the owner of Norfolk Wine & Spirits in Norfolk, Massachusetts, keeps more than 50 bottles of the store’s more than 90 selections of Irish whiskey open, including those from independent bottlers like Blackadder and Exclusive Malts, so that customers can become accustomed to the various styles. “The diversity of whiskeys from Ireland has really grown over the last few years,” Singh says. 

Cocktail-focused bars with extensive Irish whiskey selections, such as The Dead Rabbit in New York City, see the emerging range of styles and flavors as new opportunities for mixing. “One of the beauties of using Irish whiskey in cocktails is its versatility,” says Jillian Vose, The Dead Rabbit’s beverage director and managing partner. “A pot still will make a much different drink than a single malt, blend, or single grain.” For its signature Irish Coffee, the bar uses Bushmills because of its lighter style, to match the coffee and cream. “Put in a pot still like Powers John’s Lane and it’s all wrong,” says Vose, “even if the whiskey is a gorgeous one.” 

Vose advises using Irish whiskey in other types of cocktails too: “I like using the stone fruit and floral notes of, say, Knappogue 12 Year Old to make lighter-style Manhattan variants. Pot stills are heavier and go well in darker Manhattan and Old Fashioned-style drinks.” 

What will the new decade bring for Irish whiskey? “I am a firm believer that there are still huge opportunities for Irish whiskey,” says Jack Teeling, “It’s my view that we are in the middle of a long-term up-trend for premium Irish whiskey.” 


Jameson: Leading & At the Cutting Edge

The craft movement sweeping the world of Irish whiskey has only benefited category leader Jameson. Accounting for roughly three out of every four bottles of Irish whiskey consumed in the U.S., Jameson has carried the Irish category to new heights, maintaining double-digit annual growth even as the brand enjoys near-complete market saturation. While the shot-friendly triple-distilled flagship whiskey remains king, Jameson has been hugely successful with innovative, premium spin-offs as well.

Black Barrel, launched in 2013, presented Jameson in twice-charred barrels. Jameson Caskmates followed, with five editions, each featuring Jameson finished in casks that were seasoned in a specific craft beer; the Stout (2015) and IPA (2017) editions became part of the permanent line.

The latest and perhaps most provocative variation—Jameson Cold Brew, a 60-proof combination of triple-distilled Jameson and cold-brew coffee. Just as Caskmates packed natural appeal for beer lovers, the new Cold Brew is expected to attract coffee lovers.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 11:52:41 -0500
Argentina’s Higher Ground Matias Michelini's Passionate Wine vineyard. Photograph courtesy of Matias Michelini

Matias Michelini’s Passionate Wine vineyard. Photograph courtesy of Matias Michelini

Newly defined subregions in the high-elevation Uco Valley are producing some of the country’s most exciting wines 

By Kristen Bieler

We make mountain wines here,” says Sebastián Zuccardi, stating the obvious. He’s standing in front of the solid-stone winery he built two years ago in Uco Valley’s Altamira district at nearly 4,000 feet above sea level where his estate vineyards practically hug the snow-capped Andes Mountains. 

Since joining his family’s Maipu-based wine business, founded by his grandfather in the 1960s, Zuccardi has been convinced that Uco Valley is the future for Argentina, and he has devoted most of his energy and resources to getting as close to the mountains as possible.

“The combination of calcium carbonate-rich, alluvial soils at this elevation is unique to Uco Valley,” he explains. “We can make fresh, mineral-driven, high-energy wines here—totally different from the fruity, formulaic Malbecs that people associate with Mendoza. Uco is barely two decades old, so we are just now beginning to understand our terroir.”

Zuccardi is among a growing group of passionate producers working to classify Uco’s high-elevation terroirs and petition for Geographical Indication (GI) status for the emerging districts that, although young, are responsible for Argentina’s paradigm-shifting wines.

Photograph courtesy of Adrianna vineyard

Photograph courtesy of Adrianna vineyard

Too High, Too Cold, Too Harsh

When Nicolás Catena planted his Adrianna Vineyard in Uco’s Gualtallary district in 1993, most believed he would fail. Lower Uco had some vineyards, but no one had dared cultivate grapes at 5,000 feet above sea level; the risk of frost was extreme, and growers assumed grapes couldn’t ripen in the harsh, high-desert landscape.

But Catena was determined to find the coldest place in Mendoza to grow grapes, and the introduction of drip irrigation to the region meant that viticulture at higher sites was finally possible. He set up weather stations throughout the region and discovered that while temperatures were similar to Champagne, the brightness and extra hours of the sunlight could result in the holy grail of winemaking: “Grapes on the edge of ripeness with fully mature tannins, natural acidity and only 13% alcohol,” explains daughter Laura Catena, now in charge of her family’s Bodega Catena Zapata. 

Around the same time, Dutch entrepreneur Mijndert Pon saw similar potential in Uco’s higher reaches. But instead of a single vineyard, he bet much bigger, planting hundreds of acres of mostly Malbec vines between 1996 and 1999, and constructing a massive, gravity-fed winery, christened Bodegas Salentein. The first to put “Uco Valley” on its labels, Salentein is locally regarded as the region’s “locomotive.”

The results from these pioneering vineyards were evident within several harvests. Grapes grown here possessed higher minerality, more acidity and firmer tannins than lower sites. “I had never seen acid levels like this in Argentina before,” describes Salentein’s winemaker of 20 years, José “Pepe” Galante (formerly winemaker at Catena). “They are the same as Chablis.”

Word spread quickly. The last two decades have seen explosive growth in Uco with dozens of new wineries and high demand for Uco fruit from producers outside the region. Vineyard prices have increased twenty times in some coveted districts. Trailblazers have continued to test limits, planting successful vineyards well over 5,000 feet and others are pushing higher still: José Lovaglio, owner/winemaker of Vaglio, and the son of Susana Balbo, has planted a Pinot Noir vineyard (not yet in production) in Uco’s La Carrera district that sits above 6,500 feet.

Laura Catena identified more than 200 distinct parcels in the Adrianna vineyard which she now vinifies separately. Photograph courtesy of Adrianna vineyard

Laura Catena identified more than 200 distinct parcels in the Adrianna vineyard which she now vinifies separately. Photograph courtesy of Adrianna vineyard

An Appellation Renaissance

As many of these original vineyards come of age, the terroir conversation has shifted from simply elevation to soils, a topic Uco winemakers are obsessive about. During my week in Uco Valley, I must have crawled into dozens of calicatas—eerily grave-like pits dug in the vineyard to expose various layers of subsoil. Some reveal large round boulders, others marine fossils, pebbles or chalky calcium carbonate deposits; various combinations of material left behind when glaciers and rivers pushed alluvial deposits down the slopes of the Andes millions of years ago. 

Zuccardi dug 180 calicatas in his Piedra Infinita vineyard alone (source of the prized single vineyard Piedra Infinita Malbec), which uncovered 40 different soil types. Laura Catena identified more than 200 distinct parcels in the Adrianna vineyard, which she now vinifies separately. For producers here, the tremendous diversity of soils and microclimates is what makes Uco so distinct from Mendoza’s two other growing areas—Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo—and what they believe calls for a more specific classification system.

“Our growers have been pushing hard for this GI system in Uco to focus on regional specificity,” says Jonathan Chaplin, co-founder of Brazos Wine, a Brooklyn-based import company which represents many of the new small-scale Uco Valley producers. “No one in Argentina was talking about regions ten years ago, and today that’s all we do—we bring maps everywhere.”

This new laser focus on terroir coincides with a move towards a fresher wine style in Uco—and not only from the younger generation of producers. “Today we make wines that are focused on the place, with less new oak and earlier harvest dates,” says Zuccardi, who installed 160 concrete eggs and large foudre at his new winery. “Working with concrete and large vats is a return to the winemaking culture of the 1930s.” Salentein and other established names like Matías Riccitelli and Paul Hobbs report picking their fruit as much as a month earlier than the past and using more whole-cluster fermentation for added freshness. With less alcohol and extraction, a clearer picture of Uco’s regional diversity is coming into focus.

Zuccardi's solid stone winery in Altamira, which has installed eggs, amphora and conical cement tanks for fermentation. Photograph courtesy of Zuccardi Winery

Zuccardi’s solid stone winery in Altamira, which has installed eggs, amphora and conical cement tanks for fermentation. Photograph courtesy of Zuccardi Winery

Gualtallary: A Sunnier, Drier Burgundy

In a corner of Uco’s Tupungato region with vineyards climbing to a mile above sea level, Gualtallary stands out for its rocky, alluvial, chalky soils. Convinced this high mountain oasis was ideal for organic farming, Languedoc vigneron Jean Bousquet planted vineyards in the shadow of the Tupungato mountain in the early 1990s. Today, Domaine Bousquet is the largest exporter of organic wine from Argentina, producing 300,000 cases of (shockingly affordable) wine. Bousquet just debuted their first unoaked, sulfite- free wine, Virgen Malbec.

“Gualtallary is freshness and elegance,” says daughter Anne Bousquet, who now runs the domaine. “We get bright red berry, mineral, and floral notes in our wines, as well as more structure.” Indeed, The Catena Institute research center found that the unique luminosity of mountain sunlight in Gualtallary increases tannins in grape skins. 

Gualtallary producers find intense terroir expression coming from even very young vines. Edgardo (Edy) del Popolo and David Bonomi left jobs at commercial wineries to plant bush vines that naturally yield 40 percent less fruit than the region’s average—under one pound per plant. Their first vintage, 2012, showed an aromatic complexity and fine-grained tannins that would take years to develop in young vines grown in other regions, Popolo believes. “In Gualtallary we are able to craft wines with rare purity that really speak of their landscape.” (Gualtallary has yet to be officially approved as a GI because the name is a registered trademark owned by a single producer.)

Cabernet Franc is generating a lot of interest here today; though less than 1 percent of plantings, it’s the district’s most exciting grape, many think. “Gualtallary is the best place for Cabernet Franc in Argentina—it needs elevation,” says Matias Michelini, who founded Zorzal with brothers Gerardo and Juan Pablo in 2007. Fermented and aged in concrete eggs, Zorzal’s Eggo Franco is peppery, savory, and earthy with electric acidity. Domaine Bousquet, Rutini, and Andeluna are also big Cabernet Franc champions here.

Eduardo Soler, founder of Ver Sacrum, specializes in Rhône grapes in Chacayes.

Eduardo Soler, founder of Ver Sacrum, specializes in Rhône grapes in Chacayes.

Paraje Altamira: Structured, Savory Malbec

In the southern Uco Valley, the Paraje Altamira district broke away from the larger La Consulta region in San Carlos in 2013—the first GI declared based on terroir research, not political boundaries, which paved the way for Uco’s GI system’s evolution. Achaval Ferrer’s Finca Altamira is arguably the district’s most famous wine; more recently Zuccardi and Altos Las Hormigas have built wineries here.

Altamira features heavier soils than Gualtallary, with loads of silt and calcium carbonate—and some very large rocks (which makes planting vineyards costly and difficult). Wines here tend to be fuller-bodied with dark fruit and herbs; Malbec—by far the district’s star grape—shows power and concentration with fresh acidity. Zuccardi’s Poligonos Altamira, one in a series of single vineyard Malbecs made in different districts, illustrates Altamira’s unique underlying salinity. “The calcareous soils here force vines deeper and add structure, which the Malbec variety can often lack,” Zuccardi explains.

San Pablo: Uco’s Coolest, Wettest District

San Pablo is Uco’s newest GI, approved in 2019 following a three-year research effort led by Zuccardi, Patricia Ortiz’s Tapiz estate, and Salentein. A newer area with a remarkably distinct microclimate, San Pablo sees more rain and humidity than other districts—and often snow. “San Pablo makes wines with tension,” says Galante. “It’s not common to see this relationship between low pH and alcohol, which gives aromatic intensity and freshness.”

Salentein’s Nogales vineyard, at the southern end of San Pablo, gets enough rain to make dry farming possible—an extreme rarity in Mendoza (which has the lowest rainfall of any wine region in the world). Its Las Sequoias vineyard—the highest in San Pablo, planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—is lush and green, surrounded by 80-year-old redwood trees, a bizarre sight surrounded by desert. “A microclimate within a microclimate,” Galante describes. 

Zuccardi picks his nine-year-old San Pablo vineyard—source of his salty Fósil Chardonnay and peppery Poligonos Cabernet Franc and Malbec—almost a month behind his other sites, and the grapes still result in wines with lower alcohol levels, he reports.

Domaine Bousquet, Argentina's largest exporter of organic wine. Photograph courtesy of Domaine Bousquet Winery

Domaine Bousquet, Argentina’s largest exporter of organic wine. Photograph courtesy of Domaine Bousquet Winery

Chacayes: Hotbed of Experimentation

Granted GI status in 2018, Chacayes has long been an innovative area. Francois Lurton pioneered the region in 1996 when he came “looking for freshness,” reports Piedra Negra’s winemaker Thibault Lepoutre. The region’s rocky, non-fertile soils are extremely difficult to plant, he explains; those undeterred are rewarded with wines high in natural acidity, tannin and color—and the ability to farm organically without too much effort.

The trend here has moved towards natural, non-interventionist winemaking. Lepoutre has transformed Piedra Negra’s icon bottling, L’Esprit de Chacayes, picking one month earlier, fermenting in concrete eggs, and moving away from new oak. He’s also now making a sulfite-free Malbec, a project that took him five years to perfect.

At their SuperUco winery, the Michelini brothers (of Zorzal and Passionate Wines), have been working biodynamically since 2012, and plant vines in non-traditional concentric circles based on ripening cycles; they ferment with native yeasts in egg-shaped clay amphora. “Because of the very low pH we have at harvest, it’s so much easier to make natural wine here; bacteria is less of a problem,” says Matias Michelini.

Chacayes terroir suits a wide range of varieties beyond Malbec. Piedra Negra grows a ton of Pinot Gris, and their impressively ageworthy Gran Lurton White is based on Friulano and Viognier. Luis Reginato, another leading force in Chacayes (and director of viticulture for Catena Zapata), is making a skin contact, concrete-fermented Gewürztraminer under his Chaman label.

Eduardo Soler founded Ver Sacrum in 2012 to focus on Rhône grapes with cuttings from an old Maipu planting. “For years, color and quality were perceived as the same thing, so Grenache disappeared from Argentina—we want to bring it back.” His bush-vine Garnacha and Monastrell (Mourvedre) are both marked by floral, white pepper, cool-climate character; the Ver Sacrum Geisha de Jade, a Marsanne-Roussanne blend aged 12 months on lees under a veil of flor, is honeyed, nutty yet bright. “My aim is to challenge the image of Argentina as a producer of only overripe, high alcohol wine,” says Soler.

As experimentation continues in Uco, new GIs are carved out and maturing vines become increasingly expressive of place, a new perception of Argentina will undeniably supplant the old.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 11:47:03 -0500
Balancing The Back Bar Raised by Wolves in San Diego has its back bar in the round.

Raised by Wolves in San Diego has its back bar in the round.

Making Difficult Inventory Decisions In An Era Of Rapid-Fire Releases

By Jack Robertiello

Consider the back bar. Part billboard, part shelving, this humble swath of bar architecture has become a battleground for a multiplying field of brands vying for a scant number of slots. “With back bar space being at a premium these days, it is very cutthroat when it comes to bringing in new product,” says Steve Walton, head of beverage at High West Saloon in Park City, Utah.

The bounty of options for spirits buyers has never been greater. But how much of a good thing is Just…Too…Much? Like for a Netflix binger on a chilly winter weekend, the surfeit of choices can feel overwhelming even as they entice.

For Gary Gruver, senior manager beverage, Marriott International, which has  7,000+ units in operation, a product’s relevance within a program is paramount. “Other than the obvious value/quality of said spirit, of course,” he says. “Taking in spirits just for the sake of a placement really doesn’t do anyone any good, including the supplier—if it’s something that’s not going to play into the brand, it will ultimately be dead stock and won’t move. 

In Marriott’s case, that “brand” is generally a hotel bar, and while local outlets may have mandated core-list products, those operators can make locally relevant decisions on their own, especially with craft or regional brands. “That only strengthens locality for our concepts,” Gruver says.

But the appeal of craft and local only extends so far, says Kellie Thorn, bar manager at Atlanta’s Empire State South. “We like to work with smaller, more craft brands, but we won’t carry a product just because it’s ‘craft’ or ‘local.’ It has to be well made,” says Thorn. “We aren’t anti-Big Brand, by the way. Those producers are often the benchmark and we look to them to set an example.”

Kellie Thorn at Atlanta’s Empire State South believes there is room for big brands and craft alike behind the bar.

Kellie Thorn at Atlanta’s Empire State South believes there is room for big brands and craft alike behind the bar.

Chris Patino, co-owner of Raised by Wolves, a bar and spirits retail shop in San Diego, believes there has to be “synergy” between a bar’s ethos and products they offer: “While you can’t completely ignore the trends, or the wants and needs of your clientele, I think that it’s important to stay the course and stick within the lines of the program that you create.”

A brand’s backstory can be a factor, too. Or not. “We love brands that have great stories, but they have to be genuine/authentic,” says Patino. “I spent enough years on the marketing side of this business, working with giant spirit brands that spun made up artificial origin stories to give their brands a more interesting meaning. Ironically, a lot of those brands did have great stories regarding their quality and production methods, but those weren’t the stories being told because they weren’t ‘sexy’ enough for consumers.”

Dave Fisher, beverage director at New York City’s Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar, disagrees slightly. “To me the story is a bonus. I’m all about what’s in the bottle and its value proposition,” says Fisher. At his operations, initial brand selection is based on product quality, bar theme, cocktail program, and filling niches—until his bar guests vote with their wallets. “If customers are continually calling for a brand, then naturally that comes into consideration. The integrity of the venue is still the most important driver, but at the end of the day, we are here to provide people with what they like,” he adds.

Dave Fisher at Peppi’s Cellar in New York City filters selections based on a combination of factors, starting with quality and value, but also taking into account bar theme and category niches.

Dave Fisher at Peppi’s Cellar in New York City filters selections based on a combination of factors, starting with quality and value, but also taking into account bar theme and category niches.

Venue Relevance VS. Demand

Meeting consumer demands, of course, is sometimes a matter of accounting for the masses. Alberto Miranda, who owns Nobody Told Me in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, notes, “We are in the hospitality industry and that’s always part of the context when making inventory decisions. There are brands that you just need to carry because of the loyalty their consumers have—Tito’s and Hennessy come to mind. In certain markets, not carrying them is akin to being inhospitable to large demographics.”

And then there’s personal preference and relationships. Tommy Flynn, beverage director at Paper Daisy in New York, says, “Like anyone else, I have a couple of categories, mezcal and gin, that I am particularly fond of. A lot of my friends have made the jump from bartender to brand ambassador over the years. I like to support where I can and bring their products in. 

Bars that specialize can find it easier to decide, especially if their goal is to stock a comprehensive range of a category. “I like to always have a few interesting bottles to geek out on with my customers,” says Miranda. “Right now it’s Fabriquero Sotol. Not only is it delicious with very pronounced leather and grass notes, but it helps out parts of Mexico that haven’t benefited from tequila production. 

Buzz doesn’t do it for all buyers, unless the demand becomes insistent from customers, though. “What is in the bottle means more to me than buzz,” says Flynn. “To be honest, I’m kind of weird when it comes to this. The more buzz something has, the less excited I am about it. I love a good backstory but if the juice doesn’t live up to the story then there isn’t much interest.”

Patino has perhaps the best explanation of what gets bought, served, and displayed at most thought-out operations: “For us, the absolute most important thing when it comes to selecting new products is quality, followed closely by price, and finished by answering one simple question: Would we be proud to serve this to our friends and family at home?”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 11:29:17 -0500
Chuck Ferrar of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits Bay_Ridge_0003.jpg

Chuck Ferrar, proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, turned 77 this past year. And while he says things like, "I still love the interaction with customers, but I'm fading out," there's no doubt his light is going to continue shining in Maryland's beverage business for some time to come.

"I'm retiring," he said in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "and my son-in-law David [Marberger] is going to run the store every day as he has for the last couple of years. I also have a grandson in college who wants to come in, too. So, we're anticipating three generations."  Then, he added, "because David runs the store now, I can afford to be active in the various associations and spend time with the Legislature when it opens up. Many people hate it, but I thoroughly enjoy it!"


The three generations of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annpolis: Chuck Ferrar; his grandson, James Marberger; and his son-in-law, David Marberger.


The associations he speaks of are the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), American Beverage Licensees (ABL), and the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association. Ferrar currently serves on the boards of all three and is a past president of both MSLBA and ABL. 

He has especially fond memories of his two-year term as MSLBA's head. He is most proud of "expanding the membership, opening up a dialogue with the Indian groups, and bringing in many Asian-American members. They are probably the majority component now."

So, what has compelled him to be active on the political side of the business all these years? "Our business is dependent on regulations and politics," he replied. "We're one of the few independent family-owned small business industries left in this state. To protect ourselves and the future business for my son and grandson, I had to get involved. In fact, more people like me should get involved. It's their lifeline."

Born and raised in Prince George's County, Ferrar was working for Houston-based Sysco in 1989 when he had a heart attack. He decided to come home to Maryland and open up a small business. According to Ferrar, Bay Ridge was a store that was "going downhill" at the time, so he bought it with financing from an aunt. "It was a very tiny store back then," he recalled. "But it was the right place at the right time, and we've been lucky to grow. We're a large store now and well-known."

Over the past 30 years, he has seen numerous changes in the business. The biggest, in his opinion, has been the relationship between the distributors and the retailers. "When I went into business, most of my distributors were Maryland-owned. companies," he said. "Now all of the big distributors are nationally owned companies … and they just don't have the same level of care about what goes on in Maryland as much as they do the big picture. The big picture used to be Maryland."

That leaves guys like Ferrar to fight the good fight on the state and local levels. Looking ahead to 2020, he said he wouldn't be surprised if national encroachment once again became an issue. "I look for pressure for beer and wine in the grocery stores," he stated. "That's going to be a fight at some point, and it would be devastating to our industry. Every place where there is a supermarket or grocery store, there's an independent liquor store next door to it or in the same center. They would be devastated. The Liquor Boards aren't going to be giving two licenses side by side in the same center. And the shopping center owners? Who are they going to side with? The 80,000-square-foot supermarket or the 3,000-square-foot liquor store? They're going to side with that Giant or Safeway."


He added that store operators should continue doing a good job showing legislators and customers why it's better to shop for beer, wine, and spirits at that their neighborhood packaged goods store and not some big chain. "You have to have an educated staff," he declared. "We have sommeliers working in our wine department. We also have trained personnel in our beer department. We have people specially selling spirits. Most places just put the spirits on a shelf, slap prices on them, and walk away. We've spent a lot of time and energy having our people trained on all of our products."

But as much as he plans to continue fighting the good fight, Ferrar also hopes to take it a bit easier in 2020. "To enjoy life more, that's my personal New Year's resolution," he said. "I'm just going to take advantage of what I have, enjoy it … and let my son-in-law do all of the really hard work!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 13:26:33 -0500
Maryland's Beverage Alcohol Industry Holds Legislative Reception  MSLBA_Leg_Recep_HOME.jpg

Enjoying the Maryland Beverage Alcohol Industry Legislative Reception are Del. Sid Saab, Dist. 33; Del. April Rose. Dist. 5; Del. Haven Shoemaker, Dist. 5; and Del. Matt Morgan, Dist. 29A.

The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland (LBDM), and the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association (MBWA) welcomed industry members and Legislators to their annual Opening Day Legislative Reception at the Governor Calvert House in Annapolis on January 8.  The event is held annually on the afternoon of the opening day of the Maryland Legislative session.  

The event is a great opportunity for members of Maryland’s beverage alcohol industry to interact and voice opinions with their elected officials about proposed bills that will have an affect on their businesses.

For additional information and how to get involved contact MSLBA at 410-871-1377 or

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 12:53:37 -0500
MSLBA Annual Meeting and Legislative Update MSLBA_Leg_Recep_0001.jpg

John Bodnovich, Executive Director of MSLBA's national affiliate - American Beverage Licensees (ABL), administers the oath of office to the newly elected MSLBA officers.  L to R: MSLBA Recording Secretary, Kevin Storm of Frederick Wine House; Vice President, Mike Scheuerman of Friendship Wine & Liquors in Harford County; President, Aashish Parikh of Cranberry Liquors in Carroll County; Treasurer, Marshele Burgess of Rip's Country Inn in Prince George's County; Financial Secretary, Pete Samios of Carroll County, and
John Bodnovich of ABL.


Bars, clubs, restaurants and package stores throughout Maryland - members of Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) - held their annual members' meeting on January 8, 2020 at the Governor Calvert House in Annapolis.  MSLBA President Darren Barnes, proprietor of House of Liquors in Westminster, was at the helm for the majority of the meeting but finished by handing the gavel over to the newly elected president Aashish Parikh of Cranberry Liquors in Carroll County.  Darren served two years as president of MSLBA and vowed to assist Aashish in continuing the association's efforts to advocate for local beer, wine and spirits retailers.


Newly elected MSLBA President Aashish Parikh accepts the gavel  from MSLBA Past President Darren Barnes.


The meeting also served as preparation for MSLBA members to talk with their legislators in the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) later in the day during a reception that MSLBA was hosting along with the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association and the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland.  MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise briefed MSLBA members on currently proposed and expected alcohol related legislation in the 2020 MGA session.  Steve also reviewed the many leadership changes that have occurred in the Maryland House of Delegates and the Senate since the end of the 2019 session - emphasizing the importance for MSLBA members to talk to legislators about their concerns for their business, their employees and their community.  Each year there are hundreds of important legislative proposals that affect the livelihood of local alcohol beverage retailers.  


Jane Springer, MSLBA Executive Director speaks to members at the annual Members Meeting and Officers' Installation.


For additional information retailers can contact MSLBA at 410-871-1377 or

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 12:35:22 -0500
When Counting Really Counts Bay Grape in Oakland, California / Photo by Becca Wyant

Bay Grape in Oakland, California / Photo by Becca Wyant

Improving your physical inventory system saves money, headaches—and yes—even time.

By Christy Frank

Nobody opens a wine shop because they love to track inventory. But any successful retailer knows that routinely taking complete stock of your shop’s largest asset—that’s right, every single bottle—is essential to long-term success. Inventory is cash in liquid form, so closely monitoring it is key to identifying best- and worst-selling items, reordering efficiently, and spotting possible theft.

Whether your New Year’s resolution was to implement a more formal, regular inventory process, or simply to fine-tune what you’re already doing, the winter lull is an ideal time to reassess the procedures you use in your operation.

Know Your Starting Point

With so many potential reasons for variances between what’s on paper and what’s actually in the shop, you want to make sure that your starting point is correct. As Jeffrey Wolfe, the owner of Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe in Coral Gables, Florida, notes, “Getting the right information into the computer system is paramount, so receivables need to be dead on.” One mis-entered delivery can turn into multiple miscounts on the next physical inventory. Make certain your process for receiving and recording new product is solid.

Also take some time prior to diving into a physical inventory to make sure your tracking spreadsheets reflect the layout of your shop. For example, if a given bottle could potentially be located in multiple places (e.g. the stockroom, a shelf, a display table, the cooler), then add those columns to make it easier to track where you have counted.

All these details will enable an inventory process that’s less painful and more impactful. Not only will you spend less time counting, but you’ll avoid double checking work you have already completed. With a more efficient process, you’ll save hours and also be more inclined to conduct inventory frequently, says Andrea Hillsey, owner of Square Wine Co. in Madison, Wisconsin, who takes a full physical inventory every month: “If you take care of the small details, the large ones will take care of themselves.”

Erin Scala, of In Vino Veritas in Keswick, Virginia, takes inventory during the slowest day of the week.

Erin Scala, of In Vino Veritas in Keswick, Virginia, takes inventory during the slowest day of the week.

Mitch Ancona of Ancona’s Wines in Ridgefield, Connecticut, hires a third-party service to streamline the process.

Mitch Ancona of Ancona’s Wines in Ridgefield, Connecticut, hires a third-party service to streamline the process.


How and When to Count Bottles

Taking a full physical inventory sounds simple: Compare the bottles you have in the shop with the bottles you have on paper and look for any discrepancies. It’s just counting, right?

Definitely not right. Accurately inventorying multiple items from the same producer or multiple vintages and sizes of the same item is anything but simple. Generally, this is easiest to do when the shop is closed; set aside a chunk of time dedicated solely to stock checking.

Estimating the amount of time needed follows the same rules as planning for a renovation, suggests Mitch Ancona, owner of Ancona’s Wines in Ridgefield, Connecticut: “Estimate the time you need, then double it. And that still won’t be enough.” To streamline the process, he hires a third-party inventory service to lend helping hands. Ancona finds this saves time and insures a smoother process, but that fine tuning is still always necessary after the third party team departs.

Stevie Stacionis, owner of Bay Grape in Oakland, California, takes an all hands on deck approach to physical inventory, which is taken quarterly. Stock levels from the POS system are exported into an Excel spreadsheet. The staff breaks up into teams of two and each pair is given a section of the shop to work on. “It’s a regimented process,” she explains. “One person on the team calls out the wine, the second repeats it. The first person gives the count and the second person repeats it and inputs it into the spreadsheet.”

After everything is counted, Stacionis reviews the variances, assigns recounts (multiple SKUs for a single producer are often miscounted), and announces the final dollar variance as a way to drive home the purpose and impact of what the team has just accomplished. “I’m teaching them how to run their own shops at some point, so this is a real learning experience,” notes Stacionis. “I’ll explain why they are here and why this is important.” Of course, ordering in some food and opening a great bottle of wine makes the effort feel more team-building and less chore-like.

Smaller shops may find it possible to manage a full physical inventory while they are open. During her shop’s slowest day of the week, Erin Scala, who owns In Vino Veritas in Keswick, Virginia, focuses on individual sections, counting out small groups of items, adjusting the counts in the POS system immediately and noting any losses or overages in emails to her team. By the end of the day, she’s able to run an inventory-on-hand report for the entire shop.

Andrea Hillsey, of Square Wine Co. in Madison, Wisconsin takes a physical inventory once a month / Photo by Dtucher Photography

Andrea Hillsey, of Square Wine Co. in Madison, Wisconsin takes a physical inventory once a month / Photo by Dtucher Photography


Break it Down: Cycle Counting

If the phrase “physical inventory” grips you with fear of all-night counting sessions, cranky staff, and cold pizza, consider cycle counting. Rather than tackle the entire store in one day, break the shop into sections to cycle through, counting each section every month or quarter, depending on your inventory period.

At Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York City, Lauren McPhate conducts a count of wines before the start of an in-store tasting or prior to sending out an email offer. Ancona will have a stock check done whenever a new order is received. At Irving Bottle in Brooklyn, Erin Bender runs a monthly report to identify items with a stock level of three or fewer and then checks that they are still on hand. These periodic checks help keep stock levels closely in line with what is on paper and reduce the need for full-store inventory check.

beveragemedia_Feb20_ InventoryManagement_BayGrape_BwyantPhoto__125

Bay Grape (left) is owned and operated by Josiah Baldivino and Stevie Stacionis (above), a husband-and-wife team / Photo by Becca Wyant


Getting Behind Variances

You’ve counted and re-counted. So now what? You need to update your stock levels, which depending on your inventory management software may be as simple as pressing a button or uploading a file. Or it may involve a more manual effort. If so, Sarah O’Kelley at Edmund’s Oast restaurant in Charleston recommends working with “one lucky staff member” to take that last step of entering all the data into the computer while the numbers are still fresh.

The final step is analyzing those variances, understanding the reasons behind them, and reducing them moving forward. Theft is always a possibility; taking regular inventory will help you spot any patterns and take action.

Other reasons for the “ones that got away” often include bottles opened for in-store tastings or staff trainings, breakage, comped bottles to customers, or similar bottles that are rung up incorrectly. Minimize these variances by developing and training staff on procedures for tracking these specific situations. At my shop in Copake, New York, our POS system makes it easy to set up “customers” such as trainings or breakage; we log these bottles as zero-dollar sales in real time and attach a note if needed. Lower-tech tools can be as simple as a paper spreadsheet where staff can keep a running list to be entered weekly or monthly.

Counting bottles and wrangling spreadsheets doesn’t have the same romance value as pulling corks. But having a streamlined and accurate process in place leaves more time and energy to focus on the wines and spirits you are selling, which is why you are in this business after all.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    


Read More]]> (Beverage Network) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 11:59:00 -0500
Harris Crab House: An Enduring Family Legacy Continues HarrisCrab_0001.jpg

Bill Oertel has worked for the family business for 35 years now. He grew up in it. And this year, he is its new, incoming President. That business is Harris Crab House & Seafood Restaurant, which is situated on the Kent Narrows Waterway just four miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Oertel's grandfather, Bill Harris, started the operation -- initially a seafood processing business -- 72 years ago. And for more than seven decades, Oertel said, "we've been in business on the Eastern Shore selling and buying seafood. Around 1980, he wanted a place where all of his grandkids could work. So, he started a little crab shack on the [front dock of the W.H. Harris Seafood Processing House] that had picnic tables and just sold crabs and shrimp. Pretty much all of his grandkids worked there and grew up there. Most of us haven't really left."

The old processing house, which indeed began operations in 1947, is still home to Harris Seafood Company LLC. But when Granddad was ready to retire years ago, Oertel's parents, Karen (Bill's daughter) and Art Oertel, and his aunt and uncle, Jerry and Pat Harris, bought the restaurant. Oertel noted. "In the early '90s, the family built a new, 450-seat restaurant and that's what stands today. We're open year-round, and we serve as much local seafood as we possibly can. It can be tough to get local crabs in the wintertime, but we do our best. Our recipes have been handed down from my grandparents and my great-grandparents, and that's how we operate."


Just because Harris Crab House has an almost total focus on seafood, that doesn't mean there isn't some thought given to the beverage component of the menu. "No surprise. Beer works well for us!" Oertel exclaimed. "Remember, though, we're a family restaurant, so we don't really pride or tout ourselves as, 'Come on down and make us your bar!' As best we can, we offer Maryland beers, and we carry the brands of our local distributors."

For Oertel, it's been more than a family affair. It's also been a love affair. "I met my wife at the restaurant," he said. "We got married there. She was a server, and I [chuckling] was a 'whatever in the kitchen.' . . . This past summer, we opened a coffee shop and dessert bar on the premises. We deal with Rise Up Coffee based out of Easton, and they have some of the best coffee around. We love to pare with local folks as much as possible."

And while Harris Crabhouse prides itself on being as much local as possible -- the business buys its seafood from approximately 350 local watermen and employs nearly 140 people from the community -- its clientele is diverse. "Many of our customers are folks who come across the bridge," Oertel noted. "They love the slower pace of the Eastern Shore. I would say half our customers are from the 'Western Shore.' We also have a lot of local folks, of course, who come to us for birthday parties, anniversaries, and other milestones. We're trying to promote more to Eastern Shore customers, mainly because the bridge is such a hassle right now."

He continued, "My favorite question is, 'Where are you guys from? What brought you over here?' Everybody loves to come over the bridge and just go, 'Ahhhh, I'm out of that rat race for a little bit!' We get so many different bus parties, too. A lot of them are from Baltimore, and a lot are from D.C.  We have people who come down from Philadelphia and from Wilmington. We're the first Maryland seafood crabhouse that you run across when you're coming down from that way."

And as much as family, friends, and customers from far and near keep the business going, Oertel and his staff also get by with a little help from their friends in the business. Chiefly, the family's long-time affiliation with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) has paid dividends.

Oertel concluded, "I love how the MSLBA members stick together and help each other out. There is, of course, the political lobbying component that's good for everybody. My mother [Karen Oertel] was on the board for a long time, and she was very active. Our most recent [officer] would have been my cousin, our outgoing President Michael Harris. As I get my feet wet this year, I very much hope to participate in the administration end of the MSLBA. I look forward to it, in fact! Keeping a voice in Annapolis for the local, one-off type of restaurants … that is a very important thing."

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:12:38 -0500
A Bev Biz Look at the 2020 Legislative Session in Maryland 2020-Session_0001.jpg

A year ago at this time, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) and other small business interests were gearing up for a 2019 General Assembly where nearly 30 percent of the members were new. That was a lot of new flesh to press, a lot of new ears to tug, a lot of new hearts and minds to win over to our industry's issues and concerns.

But guys like MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani and attorney and MSLBA lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise were definitely up to the task.  "It was a learning year for a lot of folks," the former conceded, "especially with regards to alcohol legislation. It can be a difficult learning curve, and we know that. So, we did our usual Lobby Day and made sure our members connected with their legislators. All we ever want is an opportunity to explain our side. Sometimes legislators agree with us. Sometimes they don't. At the end of the day, you just want to feel like you were listened to."

Wise agreed, adding, "I think the combination of our Opening Day reception that we do on the first day of session as well as the Lobby Day we do during the session coupled with the regular outreach of our members to legislators helped tremendously. But it's still a full-time job to educate lawmakers on issues that are important to us, because they have a thousand different subject matters to deal with. It's a tough job. So, it's incumbent on our folks to get out there and tell them what's important to retail, to alcoholic beverages, and to small business interests."

This past year, Wise said he and his colleagues spent a lot of time working through some modifications to the brewery law. The law's update was dubbed the "Brewery Modernization Act" and was one of two brewer-backed bills state legislators passed this year and Gov. Hogan signed into law. The second makes it easier for breweries to end or renegotiate their contracts with distributors, beginning Jan. 1. 

"I think that was a success story for the whole industry," Wise said, "because we were able to come together with the brewers, the beer wholesalers, our retailers, and we worked out something that gave craft brewers the predictability they were looking for. But all concerned also recognized there had been significant changes to the structure of the industry.  Many people had entered the industry under a different set of rules. So, the changes had to be done in a measured manner to respect the existing rules of the game, but also reflect that the times have indeed changed. It truly was a compromise in the best sense of the word."

He continued, "We also worked a bit with a legislator this past year, Delegate Steve Arentz, who was trying to make some changes to the alcohol awareness laws to require that someone with alcohol awareness training be on premise at all times. His bill actually went a step further and said that, basically, anybody that serves alcohol on premise or off would need to have alcohol awareness training. We're working through that with him. So, that could be back on the table in 2020, but it's been a cooperative thing. He's been willing to hear what the industry has to say, but he's interested in enhancing those requirements. And we understand.

Now, with 2019 almost in the books, both Wise and Milani are looking forward to the challenges and (hopefully) successes of a new year. Wise noted, "We have been trying for some time to get a bill passed regarding underage sales and IDs. When it comes to underage sales, today's fake IDs are terribly difficult to identify because the technology has gotten SO good at creating them. The moment a state has passed a change in the look of a driver's license, somebody online has figured out how to reproduce a fake one. But the retailer is, of course, still directly held responsible for underage sales. So, we're trying to put scanner technology into the law that would say, 'If a retailer has used a certified technology to check an ID, they should be able to use that as evidence if there is an underage sale.' It would be part of their defense, but not an absolute defense. We haven't been able to get this done, but we're going to keep working on it in 2020."

Of course, MSLBA members are always on guard for any chain store legislation being proposed. As of press time, neither the Beverage Journal nor Milani or Wise had heard a bill is imminent or even in the works. "But I would certainly tell our members to prepare like there is," Milani cautioned.

Marshele Burgess, MSLBA Treasurer and proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, remarked, "Each business has different issues that are hot-button issues to them, so it is important to keep tabs on those items. Being part of MSLBA and going to the weekly meetings during legislation really helps you to be able to be up to date."

Perhaps the MSLBA's biggest hot-button issue heading into 2020 is a tax one. Any retailer that collects sales tax gets what is called a vendor allowance. So if, for example, you're sending $1,000 to the state in sales tax, you get to keep $100 for the processing of that and so forth. 

"When our industry's sales tax went up to 9 percent, that amount was not adjusted," Wise noted. "That's been coupled with the fact that all retailers are now experiencing considerable fees when credit cards are used, and consumers are increasingly paying with credit cards. So, our costs per transaction have gone up. At the same time, the amount of the transaction has gone up because of the sales tax. That's causing retailers to have to fork over more dollars to the credit card companies. We're looking at coming in with some legislation that would adjust that vendor allowance to reflect that the higher sale tax is increasing our costs. Right now, we're trying to get a handle on what would be an appropriate adjustment."

It's a concern for Milani, as well. "We're trying to figure it out," Milani, the owner of Monaghan's Pub in Baltimore, said. "It's not easy to talk about any bill that comes with a price tag. We need to key in on, 'Hey, please help us out with that extra 3 percent the average retailer doesn't have to pay.'"

So, does Milani have a New Year's wish for the industry and Annapolis? When asked this question, he had to laugh first. Then, he replied, "Hey, I always have to play defense. I almost never get to play offense! I guess I would just hope that more legislators come to really know that Maryland is set up for the small business folks who work in their communities. When a bill comes in, we'd love for them to consider, 'What will this do to our small retailers?' And weigh that prior to doing anything. We also have to do our part. And when we do call up about something that affects small business, take a couple of minutes and talk to us. Our story is real, and it's getting harder out here in this age where people want total convenience. They want everything to be delivered right to their front door, and they don't think about the cost that may come with that."

There's no doubt that this is a critical time in state politics, especially where alcohol legislation is concerned.  For many reading this, the goings-on in Annapolis can appear overwhelming.  But Burgess, Wise, and Milani all urged Beverage Journal readers -- from packaged-goods store owners to bar and restaurant operators to brewers and winery proprietors -- to get involved.

"They need to be members of MSLBA, because we do employ a full-time lobbyist who looks out for our interests. We also have a legislative committee that meets weekly during the Session to monitor legislation. Anyone who is new to business reading this must reach out and talk to their local officials in their area. Introduce yourself, let him or her know how many people you employ, and what you're doing in the community. Don't wait for an issue to make your first introduction to a delegate or a senator. Make that introduction now, and try and develop a relationship. If nothing else, they may call you and ask you a question about a bill. Be a resource for them."

Burgess concurred, adding, "It is SO important to have relationships with your local politicians! A good place to start is come to the MSLBA Opening Day legislative reception and Lobby Day."

Perhaps Wise summed it up best: "You can never stress enough how much the legislative process matters to small businesses. It's the old saying, 'Get into the politics … or get out of business!'"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:06:43 -0500
REVEL: A New Brand and Category Revel_0001.jpg

Revel's Avila is not just a new spirit – it represents the formation of a new category under the agave umbrella.  Like tequila, Revel Avila is distilled using 100% Blue Weber agave; however, that's where the similarities stop. Avila can only be produced using agave grown and distilled in the Morelos region, a small state in the south central part of Mexico with a distinctive terroir that's evident in the taste of the final product.

Unlike the Tequila region, which has been in operation for 400+ years, Morelos (the only place Avila can be produced) is new to agave growing, boasting pristine, alkaline-rich soil. The farmers and distillers share an unwavering commitment to authentic processes and techniques like natural bat pollination and the use of volcanic roasting pits.  

The world's first Avila, Revel is an ultra-premium agave spirit handcrafted using both roasted and steamed piñas, a process that marries the old-world characteristics of mezcal with newer tequila-like techniques. Revel Avila provides a truly one-of-a-kind profile.

The Revel brand is the brainchild of former music executives and colleagues Micah McFarlane and Jacqui Thompson who teamed up with McFarlane's childhood friend and sales executive Susan Clausen. But the Revel Spirits concept didn't fully materialize until they met the fourth member of the partnership—Héctor Ruiz—a chef/owner of several acclaimed Minneapolis restaurants and a Morelos native whose family owns and operates the farm and distillery where they produce the spirits.

Revel Spirits is setting out to lead and grow a full-fledged movement, educating trade and mainstream audiences on agave options outside of tequila. What's more, the growing tequila shortage means Avila, and spirits like Mezcal, Bacanora and Sotol are poised to fill a tangible need in the market, offering consumers an attractive alternative to tequila.

Revel Spirits is working closely with the Mexican government to build out their operation to neighboring farms. Prior to Revel Spirits' and the new category of Avila, the Mexican government had invested in Morelos' agave farms, but there hasn't been a plan in place to help the farmers distribute their product, until now.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Revel Spirits is the sole manufacturer and importer of Avila, a new category of agave-based spirits.  Revel Avila offers a unique profile which has garnered the brand significant awards and accolades since its 2018 debut.

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 13:48:57 -0500
ViVi from Roberto Mascarin ViVi_0001.jpg

The Vineyards of San Valentino were born from a dream and a great passion for the land and its fruits.  The vineyard is located in the region of Emilia
Romagna (Italy) on the hills of Rimini, but a few steps from the sea. Roberto Mascarin and his family have been producing wines from this territory bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and by the first peak of the Apennines to the west since 1990.

Their ViVi, Colli Di Rimini Rebola D.O.P. 2017 Organic Selection, wine is dedicated to Valeria Vivian, wife of Roberto Mascarin. The first vintage he made for this wine was the 2017, which is when he lost his wife to cancer. 

“Roberto called the wine ViVi,” explained Maurizio Farro of Cantiniere Imports.   “ViVi was how his wife was known and, in Italian, means LIVE.  Meaning live your life, and I would say, to the fullest.” 

ViVi bravely fought against her cancer for years.  Her bravery in her battle against her disease is why Roberto chose a painting of Wonder Woman for the label of the wine that bears his wife’s name.  

The original Wonder Woman painting that is now on the ViVi wine label is by Antony Lister, a contemporary Australian-born painter and installation artist, best known for inventing ‘adventure painting’.

As well as Antony Lister’s Wonder Woman, also adorning the label is the following text written in ViVi’s own hand: 


Prologue ... 

Life is worth living... always

for a smile, for a joy

for a tear, for a fight

for a love, for a pain

for a surprise, for a happy event

for a sad news, for a win

for a defeat

      Being there




  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 13:36:55 -0500
Friendship Wine and Liquor FriendshipW-L_Scheuerman.jpg

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.

Of course, being a fan of the old "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," this journalist couldn't help but ask, "How … hard core … are you?"

His reply? "We're so hard core, we're open 365 days a year! That's right. We've been at this location for 13 years, and we have never closed a single day. And that includes blizzards and Christmas. Our customers don't ever have to think about, 'Are they open today?' We're open every day!"

That kind of dedication clearly flows from a man who loves the beverage business and loves his store. Scheuerman makes no apologies. "I live and breathe this!" he exclaimed. "Even when I'm on vacation, I go into liquor stores at the beach. Or if my wife and I are heading up the Jersey Turnpike, I'll say, 'Let's go check this place out! Let's see if there's something we don't carry that we can inquire about.'"

Scheuerman was born and raised in Baltimore, graduated from Loch Raven High School, and earned his undergraduate degree from Towson University. The beverage biz bug bit him throughout his college years during which he worked as a bartender. Upon graduation in 1985, he went to work for the Kronheim & Co. Inc. for four years before deciding he wanted to be his own boss.

He opened Friendship Wine and Liquor at a former Harford County location in March 1989, then moved the store to its current address in 2006. Over the years, the business has become a family affair. His wife, Sheila, works at the store full-time as does his 25-year-old son, Zach. His 21-year-old daughter, Sara, is also an employee.


Then, there are those employees who are like family. "My wine director, Blair Halsey, I've known longer than anyone in my family," Scheuerman declared. "He got hired at Kronheim three weeks before I did. We have a tremendous amount in common. Same age, graduated college the same year. He virtually runs the fine wine department here."

In addition to wine, Friendship also caters to craft beer and bourbon aficionados. "Service is No. 1," Scheuerman stated.  "We have competitive prices, lots of community involvement, and lots of promotions.  We do everything under the sun -- Military Day, Seniors Day, Wine Day, Craft Beer Day. We try to cover it all."

But it's being open on Christmas and Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and every other day of the year that Friendship Wine and Liquor has become known for locally and countywide. So, how does this work from a staffing standpoint? "We pay all of our employees handsomely with regards to holidays," Scheuerman said. "It's basically overtime. But say you want to sign up for Christmas Day. You are then guaranteed off Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. We're open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas. So, it's not really that hard to get people to pull that shift."

Scheuerman says another reason for his and his store's success is membership in the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "MSLBA certainly keeps us abreast of the goings-on on both the state and national level," he remarked. "Even if something doesn't look good in the forecast, we're the first to know about it so we can prepare. And when there are conventions and things like that, it's great to meet other retailers within Maryland that aren't your competition. It's great to know other owners in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and Carroll County. You don't have to be guarded. They're like your comrades. It's not the guy across the street."

When asked what his advice was to anyone reading this who used to be like him -- a bartender, a manager, a wholesaler -- and now dreams of opening his/her own business, Scheuerman was quick to reply. "Be ready for the hours. When you're starting out, you had better be there. I knew when I opened that I certainly wanted to be here all the time. Blair and I, we're here Friday and Saturday nights unfailingly every weekend night of the year. Me working the floor Monday morning is not going to get me off the hook for not being here the previous Friday night. If you're going to be the boss, you'd better be there when the store is busy!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 11:17:04 -0500
Prestige-Ledroit Celebrates 10 Years  Prestige-Ledroit-10-years.jpg

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.

After Smith’s death, his father and area beverage legend Jimmy Smith stepped in to help complete the merger and see that the newly formed company launched properly. Smith was determined to cement his son's professional legacy. He still is as Prestige-Ledroit's Chairman. "I had planned to be retired by now," he said, in a recent sit-down interview with the Beverage Journal. "But, instead, I go to work every day, five days a week, and I look forward to it. My goal is to cement Joey's legacy by growing his vision. That's what I'm all about. In a way, it's like I am starting all over again … and I love it!"

For years, Jimmy Smith was the chairman of Breakthru Beverage of Maryland. His father founded Reliable Liquors in 1947, which merged with Churchill Distributors in 2002 to form Reliable Churchill and then with Breakthru Beverage Group 14 years later. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Prestige-Ledroit-10-years_0001.jpgIt's quite the family legacy.

"Joey was always interested in the industry," Jimmy recalled. "He grew up around the business, and he was always reading about wine. He was fascinated by the personalities in the industry, but he never expressed a desire to work in the industry. He just liked to read about it and so forth. In early 2009, he got a call from the guy who was running what was then Chesapeake Beverage. That man used to work for me, and he asked me, 'I think the company's going to be sold. Do you think Joey would be interested?' Joey was in Florida at the time and working in real estate. But he was on a plane the next day, and he bought the business"

He continued, "He got his own financing. He did everything on his own. It was like his passion for this business was locked up inside of him and got let out. Even when he was sick and he was getting treatment, his energy was through the roof. It was contagious! To be honest, he revitalized my interest in the business. He'd call me at the end of most days and talk about his work. And he would be so excited talking about the industry. He'd go on and on and on."

Joey Smith, who was a 2001 graduate of Boys Latin High School and a 2005 graduate of Tulane University, clearly learned firsthand from his father and grandfather about customer service and professional camaraderie in the distribution business. His whole operational philosophy became centered around matching customers with products that fit their needs.

According to his father, "he believed his No. 1 asset was people. He treated every account as an individual account. He always preferred focusing on the people over the product. It had to be a good fit. What was good for one account might not be good for another. He would try to individualize every account and their needs, and he never wavered from that philosophy. Even with suppliers, whether they sold him $1,000 worth of product or $10,000 worth, he treated everyone with the same amount of respect and gave them as much time as they needed."

His belief was when salespeople focus on the needs of the people they are selling products to rather than on the products themselves, everyone ends up benefiting. "There wasn't a product that came in the door that Joey didn't hold educational seminars about and made sure the staff knew the story, that they knew the history of the supplier, so that when they went out they could impart that knowledge to the customer."

And then there are the successful products that Prestige-Ledroit represents. Instead of zeroing in on a particular style of winemaking or focusing on niche producers, Prestige-Ledroit represents a wide array of styles and regions from around the globe, focusing on wine, spirit, and beer producers -- everyone from Four Roses Bourbon in Kentucky to Heitz Wine Cellars in Napa Valley to Singha in Bangkok.

"He knew what was coming with the craft spirits," Jimmy Smith said. "We all in the business could see it, but Joey had a real vision. He would say, 'This is where the next chapter of the business is going.' He wanted to develop the spirits along with the wines, and our portfolio reflects that now. It's a very well-balanced portfolio."

Prestige-Ledroit is based in Elkridge, Md., and also boasts offices and warehouses in Newark, Del., and in the nation's capital. In total, Prestige-Ledroit represents more than 750 products from over four dozen suppliers. And by making smaller, more frequent shipments to its on- and off-premise accounts coupled with pairing new products with specific buyers who have a market for them, Prestige-Ledroit has proven it can move bottles more efficiently for all concerned.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Prestige-Ledroit-10-years_0003.jpgSmith believes his son would be proud of what his dad, Cherner, and their combined staffs have been able to accomplish. "Joey was my hero," Smith stated. "He started a business, he got married to a wonderful woman named Natalie, all while he was getting cancer treatment for many years. And he never complained and never asked 'Why me?' He just did his business. He'd get up when he felt well and be here. Even if he didn't feel well, he would be at work. People didn't really know how sick he was during that period from 2009 to 2016. But he overcame that."

The elder Smith went on, "He was a great people person, too. He had a presence about him when he walked in a room. And he was always in control. Highs or lows, you could never tell. That's what they say about the great athletes. Winning or losing, you can't tell. Joey was also about giving back to the community. He tried to raise money for lung cancer research. And he never missed a family event. Besides the business, he was driven by a sense of family, service, and community. And he picked suppliers that were family-owned. He wanted that sense of family that sold products that reflected his values."

And to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the younger Smith making his triumphant debut in the beverage business, his father and colleagues have a couple of special events coming up in late November. "On Friday, Nov. 22," he said, "we are going to have at a private restaurant club in Baltimore a celebration with senior management. And then on the 24th of November at the warehouse, we're having an open house for every employee and their families. There will be moon bounces for the kids, food, it's going to be a lot of fun and we're hoping everybody will be there celebrating."

Those who knew Joey Smith best almost uniformly express confidence that he would have loved how his company has grown and flourished, especially post-merger with Ledroit. No one is more confident of this sentiment than his dad. "I didn't meet Mike Cherner until after my son's funeral," he concluded. "But I told him that Joey's wish was to put the two companies together, which we did in August 2016. Every day since, I know Joey has been here in spirit and I know he's been smiling, because we have been fortunate to grow his business, adding more people, and I know he's just smiling and loving it. I don't think there is a day that goes by where I don't talk to a supplier who says, 'I knew your son, and I hope you don't mind me talking about him.' And I just smile and answer, 'No, I don't mind. I love to hear all the stories!'"

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:45:10 -0500
The Wine and Cheer Cart WineCheerCart.jpg

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.

Today, all sorts of innovations are impacting retail, from self checkouts to digital coupons.  But Tom and Charlotte Santolli believe the shopping cart will once again trump them all. Together, this husband-and-wife duo out of New Jersey have invented and patented The Wine & Cheer Cart specifically for beer, wine, and liquor stores.

The cart is designed to hold bottles of varying sizes upright while shopping. The secret is the Santollis' patented mesh of "safety rings" built into each cart. Preventing breakage and near-constant bottle clanking is the most obvious benefit. But that's just one of the cart's pluses. Based on multiple principles of human behavioral science, the Santollis believe customers will naturally feel compelled to fill more rings than leave unfilled -- i.e., more sales for the retailer!

Tom Santolli, an insurance broker for over three decades, said, "There was a study done in the early 19th century by a psychiatrist, and it had to do with a person's desire to complete a project. When you see those holes. people are going to want to fill them simply because they're there. We knew we couldn't have 50 rings because that would kill the effect. This one has 16, and we might have one that has eight or 12 for smaller, liquor stores."


Charlotte came up with the basic idea. A stay-at-home mom who raised their two daughters, she was shopping at a liquor store one day. When she got home with her purchases, she expressed how annoying it was that every time she shopped in that store, she had to do so with "this big, stupid cart. No matter how I would position the bottles, they'd always roll around!"

She continued, "What I said next was, 'I have an idea! Those cup holders they use in carts so you can go around the store with a cup of coffee or drink, that's just one holder. They should do a grid of them. Then, you could put the bottles in and they'd all be secure.' And Tom immediately jumped up and was like, 'That's a great idea! We have to run with this!' 

Tom recalled "I went upstairs, got on the computer, and Googled every shopping cart manufacturer in the world. You could see all of their product lines, all their accessories. I looked everywhere. I couldn't find it, and I just knew it didn't exist." They contacted a lawyer, started an official search, realized nothing like what the cart they were looking to invent existed, and went from there. 

Both agreed that securing a patent has been the toughest part of making The Wine & Cheer Cart a reality. Charlotte said, "Everything we'd heard was, 'Strap in for the long run! It's going to take a dozen years!' Well, we got it in three and a half."

Tom chimed in, "We had a couple of challenges in the back-and-forths with the patent examiner in Washington. But not nearly as many as most people. He even conceded when I was on my conference call with him and my attorney, he said, 'Two things. First of all, the simplest inventions are always the best. And second, I've never seen anything like this!' So, I knew we had a good shot."

Now, the Santollis believe they have a good shot at making their cart a major success with retailers. A physical challenge was to get it to "nest," the industry term for stacking. One cart has to push in to another when storing them. They overcame that with simple engineering. The fun since has been showing the carts to prospective clients. 

Tom remarked, "I've taken it to a lot of liquor stores. I love getting the automatic, 'Aha!'  I don't even have to explain the benefits. They're pretty obvious when you see it."

Charlotte concluded, "We take the cart to liquor stores and put it with the other carts. And customers of every age love it, especially older people and people with bad backs. Because with the grid, you don't have to bend down into the cart and lift things out for the cashier. And just being able to operate and navigate the cart and not hear the clinking of bottles? 'Aha!' indeed!"

For more information, contact CFS Inventions, LLC at 201-264-1223.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:21:53 -0500
Home Team Bubbles beveragemedia_scharffenberger-cellars-brut-excellence-non-vintage-photography-high-res2019_57

American-Made Sparklers are also enjoying the bubbly wave

By W. Blake Gray

As stores prepare to stack up cases of sparkling wine for the holiday season, U.S. bubbly producers are rubbing their hands with glee.

Even without a competitive boost from the U.S.-E.U. trade war—sparkling wines are exempt from tariffs imposed in October—the market for U.S.-produced sparkling wine has never been better. Some of this is the rising tide of bubbles in general. Sales of all sparkling wines in the U.S. rose 5.6% by volume and 9.6% by value between 2014-2018. The U.S. now spends more money on sparkling wine than any other country—25% more than France, which is second—and is third in the world in consumption by volume, after Germany and Italy, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

But even in this sparkling market, the growth in American bubblies stands out. “The domestic portion of the sparkling wine market is one of the fastest growing slices of the market,” says Schramsberg vintner Hugh Davies. “It is exciting. It’s not that people are celebrating more. Sometimes they’re just drinking sparkling wine because they like how it tastes.  

In recent years at industry forums, speakers have tended to dismiss rising sparkling wine sales as a by-product of a boom in Prosecco. But now, some of Prosecco’s early adopters among consumers are looking to move up.

“More people are drinking sparkling wine every day,” says Enore Ceola, CEO and Managing Director of Freixenet Mionetto USA (which also owns Gloria Ferrer). “They’re looking for what’s next. What’s next after Prosecco? If you’re not ready to jump to Champagne, the next level is quality sparkling wine from California. Many producers from Sonoma [County] can provide a high-quality wine on the level of Champagne for half the price.”



Roederer Estate and Gloria Ferrer have well-made bubblies priced advantageously between Prosecco and Champagne.

Mid-Teens Sweet Spot 


Indeed, many of the fastest-growing U.S. bubblies are priced in the sweet spot between $15 and $30—right in between Prosecco and Champagne. Gruet Brut sales rose 21.7% between August 2018 and 2019, the highest growth rate of U.S. sparkling wines over $15, according to Nielsen. Gruet Brut Rosé was second at 19.8%.

“You have your Prosecco that’s $10 or $12. You have Champagne that starts at the $30 price point. And Gruet slots in right between that,” says Brad Mayer, Senior Vice President of producer and marketer Precept Wine. “Where American sparkling wine is finding its cadence is in that price point. I think when American sparkling wine starts to be too pricey and starts to compete more directly with Champagne, that’s when it becomes a more difficult battle.”

But there is also some movement on higher-priced U.S. sparkling wines. This is partly because there has been an explosion in the number of small premium sparkling wine brands, aided by the fact that it has become practical to make sparkling wine at custom crush operations. There are also now cult U.S. sparkling wine brands like Ultramarine and Caraccioli that sommeliers seek out. Those wines might not be important to retail stores, but they do help convey to diners the message that U.S. sparkling can be special and worth paying more for.

American bubbly isn’t just succeeding on price, though. California, and also Oregon in its new warmer climate, have developed a taste profile that seems to fit American drinkers even better than Champagne.

“The depth of fruit and the essence of fruit in California is pretty darn exciting,” says Schramsberg’s Davies. “At the end of the day, the essence of fruit from Pinot Noir that you get from coastal areas of California is really exciting. That’s not to say anything negative about Champagne. But it’s pretty exciting to taste all this fruit. We’re only making 11% alcohol base wines. They’re not that ripe.”

Ceola, whose company produces and sells millions of cases of bubbly from Italy, Spain and California, agrees, saying, “Generally speaking, people feel that sparkling wines from California, they’re more approachable. They’re not overly toasty or overly yeasty. They’re more fruit-forward.”

Ready for a Fundamental Shift?

Indeed, it’s possible that U.S. sparkling wine might be on the cusp of a Napa Cab-like moment. In the 1980s, much Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was made more like Bordeaux and had an inferiority complex. (Indeed, the whole Meritage category sprang from this dialectic of modeling after Bordeaux but wanting to break free.) In the 1990s, first vintners and then consumers began considering the possibility that while stylistically it was different from Bordeaux, fruit-forward Napa Cabernet might be equal or even better than Bordeaux for their personal taste. The Napa Cab market took off and has never looked back.

The time is nearly (dare we say it) ripe for a similar reconsideration of the taste profile of California and Oregon sparkling wine. 

“I don’t think anybody in the California sparkling wine industry is singing the blues about sales,” says Eileen Crane, CEO and founding winemaker of Domaine Carneros. “We’re always busy at the chateau. We occasionally have to turn people away.”


Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.      

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:03:51 -0500
Burgess Is on a Tear at Rip's Country Inn RIPS_MSLBA_0001.jpg

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."


Rip's has remained a base for customers over the years by staying focused on pleasing the paying public. Burgess and her staff are constantly working on customer service. "On the liquor store side," she stated, "it's knowledge. I've worked hard at hiring people that have a lot of knowledge in the field. I have a liquor buyer, a wine buyer, and a beer buyer, and they all cross over. I'm very blessed to have employees who are so willing to share their knowledge with the customers and help them find products they want to try."

Burgess' first job out of college was working for a national retailer. But after a year in that sector, she went to work for the family business-- a wholesale food distributorship. Soon after, her parents bought Rip's Country Inn at a public auction. "The liquor store had been closed, so we had to start from scratch," she recalled. "Rip's was built in 1952 and was also a family-owned business. We've had it since the late '70s. We actually took over the restaurant before it went to public auction. And then, when it went to auction, we bought the whole she-bang."


Her father was friends with the founder, Rip, whose real name was Armstead. When Armstead played baseball as a young man, he would slide into the bases and often rip his pants, hence the nickname. Burgess learned a lot from her dad and gradually took the reins. Over the years, she's had to adapt to a changing playing field in the state, the county, and the town. "Running a business these days is more challenging with all of the new laws imposed on us," she lamented. "It keeps me and my staff quite busy making sure we're up on all of the regulations, that we're paying everybody right, that we're not breaking any of the new liquor laws. With the restaurant, there's the new Styrofoam law. Even straws may eventually become an issue."

Burgess credits her affiliation with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) with helping her navigate the often choppy legislative waters. "MSLBA is this great resource to go to and ask, 'OK, where are we on this law? How does it affect me? How do I make sure I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing?'' With the new Sick Leave Act that got put in a little over a year ago, if we hadn't had MSLBA to help us through that, I wouldn't have nearly as much confidence that I'm doing everything correct by the law. The association gets our plans across to the legislators. To have your voice heard? That's a great thing."


And being friends with so many MSLBA members, it's only reinforced her beliefs on what it takes to be successful in this business. When asked what advice she'd have for any new owners or operators reading this, she was quick to reply. "You're in for a lot of hard work," she said. " It's all-encompassing of your life. I've raised children, and my husband and I work here together. And it didn't dawn on me how much our children have absorbed what we do until one day when we were sitting in the restaurant, my daughter who was eight years old at the time said, 'Mom, you have to talk to that busboy who's touching the silverware! He can't touch the silverware before he puts it down on the table!' And I'm thinking, 'You're eight?' So, yes, when you make that choice to become a business owner, you make that choice for the whole family!"

   Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:50:22 -0500
New Vodka Looks to Win the GAME Game_Vodka_0001.jpg

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.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Game_Vodka_0002.jpg"It's a really crowded market," Brockett declared. "There are a hundred different vodkas. You really have to have the balls to be different, excuse the pun. We figured what brings a lot of folks together and what people celebrate outside of holidays is sports. There are a lot of vodkas available that are marketed pretty much along the same avenues. We're geared for sports. We want to capture that arena."

To be sure, Brockett comes from outside the beverage arena. A pharmacist by trade, he has used his chemistry background to distill a product that he and Caughman feel will be on the top end of the category. "It's eight times distilled," Brockett said, "five times filtered, made from sweet corn, and is gluten free."

Caughman, a 22-year U.S. Air Force veteran who currently works for the federal government, also comes from outside the industry. He is hoping to put his MBA to good use in this new venture. "We wanted to develop a vodka that tastes good and that was priced to sell," he remarked. "We've done that. Also, instead of marketing it wide, we wanted to keep it within this region first to get some traction before going outside of the area."

Consequently, that means appealing to Redskins, Ravens, Nationals, Orioles, and Wizards fans alike. "It's a great working class market overall," said Brockett. "And we feel that based on our price point below $20, we fit right into that sweet spot. Washington, D.C., in particular, is a big sports market with D.C. United [and the other teams].  It's a town that's very up on sports, sports radio is really big here, and there are a tremendous number of sports bars."

b2ap3_thumbnail_Game_Vodka_0003.jpgThis isn't Brockett and Caughman's first foray into the spirits biz. They were previously part owners in AnestasiA Vodka, which was known for its exquisite packaging. But the product never quite gained traction. Brockett recalled, "Customers would buy it once and just hold it as a novelty item. They wouldn't drink it! You can't run a business if you don't get the repeat buyer."

He continued, "I got some great advice from Guillaume Cuvelier, creator of Svedka Vodka.  I met him at a beverage show about seven years ago. We were campaigning with AnestasiA. And he walked up to me and said, 'GREAT packaging … it's not gonna sell!' And I was like, 'Who in the hell is this guy?! ' But he handed me his card and we started talking. He said, 'Listen, I sold Svedka for $384 million. Vodkas above $20 don't sell.'  So, I ended up using him as my point of reference through this whole new journey. He's been very supportive."

One lesson learned is the GAME Vodka bottle is more streamlined and geared specifically for its target customer. "We strategically made the bottle so that it kind of feels athletic," Brockett noted. "It's very comfortable in the hand for bartenders. And you won' t mind throwing it away after drinking it, then buying another. Our game plan is to sit on the shelves of every sports bar. To sit in every stadium, whether it's Oriole Park at Camden Yards or Capital One Arena. This is a passion we have. Bruce and I have been friends for a lot of years. And most of the times Bruce and I've really spent time together have been at sporting events. Sports bring people together."

Looking ahead, the partners intend to open a distillery later in the year "to control our own distribution and production," Caughman said. "To better control the game."

   Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:39:28 -0500
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple Jack-Apple_0001.jpg

The Jack Daniel Distillery has introduced the newest member of the Jack Daniel’s family … Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple is a blend of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey with finely crafted apple liqueur.

“Mr. Jack was known for being an innovator and always exploring how to do things differently, including adding different flavors and ingredients,” said Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett. “Tennessee Apple couples the character of our Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey with the taste of crisp, green apples. It’s like a freshly picked apple in a glass of Jack.”

A Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple launch event was recently held at Breakthru Beverage Maryland.  The excitement was palpable and all enjoyed the apple-bobbing and pie-eating contests.  

“We feel like it’s a good time now to offer Apple. Flavors have been driving a lot of interest in the whiskey category,” Arnett continued. “It’s been a game changer for Jack Daniel’s, even a brand that’s been around as long as we have. We found that flavors tend to attract a different consumer and/or they fit into a different occasion. Maybe an after-dinner drink or something where our whiskey wouldn’t necessarily be poured.”

At 70 proof, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple features a perfect blend of green apples enhanced by the sweet bold notes of Jack.


At the Breakthru Beverage Maryland Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple launch event are Joe Giardina, James McCray, Bruce Richardson, Dave Houseknecht, Forrest Costantino, Kevin Dunn, all with Breakthru Beverage; Gwen Kinsella, Donald Greenlee, both with Brown-Forman; Michael Schneider, and Jeff Scarry, both with Breakthru Beverage Maryland.


The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple event included an old-fashioned bobbing-for-apples contest where the competitors had a certain amount of time to acquire as many apples as possible from their assigned tub.  The crowd was enthusiastic and entertained at the efforts of the contestants.  April Douville and Aundre Jordan (pictured), both Breakthru Beverage Maryland sales representatives; took away top honors for their Apple-Bobbing proficiency.

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.     


Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:05:12 -0500
Single Malt Scotch Keeps Pace beveragemedia_kil2_hrv-372019_16

Single Malt Scotch Distillers Keep Pace with Whiskey Boom

By Jack Robertiello

When a city like Edinburgh, once a center of whiskey-making, gets its first distillery in 100 years, you’d think it would make some noise across the pond. But like with the opening and restoring of other distilleries in Scotland in the past few years, the news of Holyrood Distillery goes mostly unnoticed.

Meanwhile there is a host of new malt facilities blooming in Scotland, which now boasts about 120 distilleries in operation. Some, like the expanded and recreated Macallan, are well-known, while others­­—the ninth malt distillery on Islay, called Ardnahoe, Ardgowan in Inverness, Lagg on Arran—are among many which have opened in the past few years without the American market noticing, probably because it will be some time for the whiskies to make it here.

The redesign of Glenfiddich’s core line includes a “V” cut into the bottle face—Glenfiddich means “The Valley of The Deer”—and the stag symbol, embossed in gold, sits within the V.

Still, the growth and innovation that has typified American whiskey lately has been making headway in Scotland. Established brands are taking the lead, in fact, with their own tweaks and twists.
Take the malt category leader, Glenlivet: in 2019 they rolled out a redesign of the core range; launched what they say is the first malt finished in Cognac casks (The Glenlivet 14 Year Old); and released another edition in their “mystery” series, Enigma, which challenges consumers to guess the make-up.

“The packaging on the 14 includes bright purple to cue shelf impact,” says Shefali Murdia, the brand’s director of engagement. “We wanted to make the category more approachable.”

The redesign of Glenfiddich’s core line includes a “V” cut into the bottle face—Glenfiddich means “The Valley of The Deer”—and the stag symbol, embossed in gold, sits within the V.

Glenfiddich, too, has been toying with the basics—in the last few years they offered the Experimental Series expressions IPA Cask Finish; Winter Storm (finished in Canadian Icewine casks) and Fire & Cane (peated and finished in rum casks). Their most recent release is Glenfiddich Grand Cru, a 23 Year Old finished in French oak pre-sparkling-wine casks.

The Limited Editions have done well for Glenfiddich. “Consumers are always exploring for new and interesting whiskies, and limited editions allow us to fulfill that need and also allow our malt master [Brian Kinsman] to push the boundaries of the highly regulated single malt Scotch whisky category and challenge some of the conventions of that category,” says Brand Director Michael Giardina.

Owner William Grant & Sons has also created new expressions for The Balvenie—most recently the trio released earlier this year as “The Balvenie Stories”, comprising The Sweet Toast of American Oak, 12 years old aged in twice charred American oak; The Week of Peat, 14 years old, an evolution of The Balvenie Peat Week; and A Day of Dark Barley,  26 years made with a heavily roasted barley.


One of the old “new” distilleries, Bladnoch, was licensed in 1817 but resumed production in 2015.

New Kids on the Block

One of the oldest “new” distilleries in the Lowlands, Bladnoch, was first licensed in 1817 but only resumed production in 2015 after being bought by an Australian businessman. The brand had a barrier to climb that most new imports eventually face: the 50-state, three-tier system, says Head of Commercial for Bladnoch, Will Pitchforth.
“We’re in an unusual position compared to other Scotch distilleries in that Bladnoch has 200 years of history, but in many senses it really is a brand new brand. With previously low exports, to most consumers and a vast majority of whiskey stores it’s a novel brand with 200 years of history but not 200 years of sales history,” he says.

Others have faced similar issues. When Kilchoman opened in 2005, it was the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years, the first total farm-to-bottle operation—growing, malting, fermenting and distilling all in one location. Sam Filmus, President of importer ImpEx, says that self-sufficiency, plus the long fermentation and distillation times, have helped Kilchoman win fans.


Kilchoman opened in 2005; it was not only the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years, but also the first farm-to-bottle operation.

He credits the boom in Islay as well: “In the old days people didn’t like peaty, medicinal brands, but the growth of Laphroaig and Lagavulin has helped bring in younger consumers,” as has the growth in non-age-statements, which Kilchoman has always employed.

Also receiving greater attention lately in this market are the three brands purchased in 2016 by Brown-Forman: GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh. They have been gaining momentum, growing distribution and awareness, says Brand Manager Diana Brey.

“As the interest level in all types of whiskey continues to increase, single malt Scotch whisky is benefiting from the overall category popularity,” she says. GlenDronach has long had a reputation among whisky lovers, but it’s BenRiach, with its peated and non-peated ranges, a collection of barrel finishes as well as a limited release triple distilled variant, where new ideas are emerging.

Team Holyrood: (back) distillers Ollie Salveson, Elizabeth Machin and Jack Mayo and (front) founders Rob Carpenter and David Robertson.

Team Holyrood: (back) distillers Ollie Salveson, Elizabeth Machin and Jack Mayo and (front) founders Rob Carpenter and David Robertson.

Grand Experiments 

The Game of Thrones Single Malts Scotch Whisky Collection

The Game of Thrones Single Malts Scotch Whisky Collection

New ideas are what Holyrood is about, says owner Rob Carpenter: “We intend to be quite experimental,” he asserts. “You need to stand out in the market. We want to use different kilning approaches—using chocolate, crystal and caramel malts and playing with yeast and casks and other things. We’re really intrigued by that.”

For other smaller brands, like Glencadam, building awareness with consumers and retailers remains key, says Iain Forteath, Global Brand Ambassador for Angus Dundee Distillers. “Due to the size of production at Glencadam we are never going to have a profile akin to the ‘big brands’ but we get a good reputation amongst the more niche brands. The whisky boom has helped us as the consumer preferences are now changing to seek out new and exciting whiskies that they haven’t heard of, and Glencadam is a great example of a whisky that offers a different flavor profile [compared] to some of the whiskies that buyers are used to.” The brand’s profile—small scale, old school style of eastern Highlands whisky—is said to be crisp and fruit forward, but the distillery has recently started experimenting with a variety of casks types. So even small and traditional operations believe the future is in variation.

Putting Magic In the Bottle

Scotland has earned a reputation as the elder statesman of the whiskey realm, but even the biggest brands are countering the expectation of conservative marketing. The Game of Thrones Single Malts Scotch Whisky Collection, released in 2018, was the most successful innovation to date in Diageo single malt history. The series delivered the good stuff to two enthusiastic fan bases—pairing eight Houses of Westeros to eight distilleries in Scotland—each representative of local terroir. .

Now, Diageo is hoping to catch a similar wave of interest for Mortlach, according to Senior Brand Manager Jamie Young, who calls Mortlach “the best-kept secret in Scotch.” Mortlach’s three expressions—12YO Wee Witchie, 16YO Distiller’s Dram and 20YO Cowie’s Blue Seal—gain robust and meaty flavors (unlike most Speysides) through a “fiendishly complex” process created by doctor-turned-distiller Alexander Cowie. “Mortlach uses a distilling process called ‘The Way,’ which has remained unchanged since it was first developed in the late 19th century,” says Young. “The stills produce a peculiar hum as they work, earning them the nickname ‘the singing stills.’ This unique and complex distilling process reveals the primal and elemental character of the Scottish water and malt, a character that is dark and earthy, complex and rich.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.     

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) October 2019 Editions Tue, 08 Oct 2019 16:15:14 -0400
Success at Mt. Airy Liquors BenGolueke-HOME.jpg

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!"

Another thing that distinguishes Mt. Airy Liquors is the growler station Golueke put in three years ago.  "Not every store has invested in this," he noted, "and it does set us apart from others around the area. We also added a crowler machine this year, which allows people to fill our Mt. Airy Liquors-designed disposable 32-ounce can. It's great for when someone forgets to bring in their growler."


With two teenage daughters, Golueke has naturally kept up with the latest trends in technology. In recent years, for instance, he has built his store's following on social media. "Social media has enhanced the way we can interact with all of our customers," Golueke stated. "It's a great tool when we want people to know about monthly sales; events;  tastings; odd and obscure beer, wine, and liquors that we receive; and, of course, all of the hard-to-get bourbons these days. We use e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Untappd."

Mt. Airy Liquors also does event planning. In fact, this aspect of the business has really taken off in the last five years. "Weddings are big events in people's lives," Golueke noted, "and I enjoy helping make that day one they'll never forget. Our website has an events page that people can fill out and e-mail in directly to me. It has our policies for events on it and basic party/event guides to help with the decisions that must be made. We take great pride in these services."

For the most part, though, Golueke is there front and center for the day-in, day-out challenges and even drudgery of running a small business. He states, "I still enjoy the daily grind at Mt. Airy Liquors. Coming up with new ideas and new events is fun. We always try to keep it fresh and never let it become boring for our customers or employees. I enjoy the strategy of pricing, too. Maryland’s quantity discounts have become frustrating and overwhelming at times, but it's still intriguing setting up our pricing to pass on the best deals possible to our customers and still remain profitable."

He also enjoys his affiliation with the Maryland State License Beverage Association (MSLBA), even serving as one of its directors for Carroll County. "The MSLBA has kept the playing field even for all of us that own liquor stores in Maryland," he remarked. "MSLBA is always tracking everything that happens in our industry from county to county. I've been fortunate enough to meet many great people in the industry at MSLBA events. too, and I call many of them friends."


Golueke added, "Being a director in the MSLBA means I need to be present and aware of political issues in my county and the entire state. Every year, bills are presented to our legislators that could change the face of our industry. It's important that I stay involved with my senators and representatives [regarding] all of the industry issues and news."

And whenever times do get tough, he remembers the advice of his father, Steve Golueke. He concluded, "When I worked at his store, he always told me to get out from behind the counter and ask people if they need help. As a teenager, it bothered me because it was more work for me. Needless to say, I now know how important it is in what we do as a retail store. Talk to people, make them feel welcome. It's really simple, but so many just don't do it anymore. Something else I remember from those early days is always take product out to people's cars for them.  Two things that are easy to do and SO important for being successful!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2019 Editions Fri, 04 Oct 2019 09:49:02 -0400
R.I.P. Joe Stanley: A Winner in Life and in the Beverage Business JoePamStanley.jpg

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!

Throughout the 1990s, Stanley and his longtime friend and colleague Larry Brookman would go to every Orioles' Opening Day. One particular Opening Day, they and a group of F.P. Winner employees sat around talking old movies. Guys being guys, they discovered a mutual admiration for "Cool Hand Luke," specifically the scene where Paul Newman's title character was dared to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs.

Brookman recalled, "So, we finish lunch at the Camden Club and Joe calls over the waitress and tells her, 'Bring me 50 pot stickers!' We'd been [there] all day, and we start making bets as to whether or not Joe can finish 50. Joe gets his first plate of pot stickers and downs 10 in no time at all. He gets down 20 with no sign of stopping. At 25, he starts to slow a bit. Some of us are doing our best George Kennedy, rubbing his stomach and jaw to help get more down. I remember the number. He got to 38, and he said, 'That's it! I can't do anymore … but, uh, could you bring me two large Guinnesses to wash these things down?!' The Camden Club went crazy. He was larger than life!"

Stanley's brother-in-law, Kenny Irwin, used that same term when describing the man. "He had a larger-than-life persona," said Irwin, who's also been in the business most of his adult life. "His heart was in the on-premise side of the business. That's where he cut his teeth, and that's what he taught me when I came in. I spent my whole life on the on-premise side, and he sure opened doors for me. I've had a pretty successful life, and I attribute that to him."

Stanley started at Milton S. Kronheim in Washington, D.C., as a salesman in the early 1970s, eventually working his way up to vice president status. His ambitions brought him to F.P. Winner where he was given even more responsibility. One of those who worked closest with him was Amedeo "Emery" Coccia. "I was Joe's Spirit Brand Manager at F.P. Winner," he said. "We had three brand managers, a spirits manager, a wine manager, and a beer manager."

He continued, "Some of my favorites memories were Joe and I getting together once or twice a week in his office after hours  We'd just pick each other's brains and come up with strategies for different brands. He and I had the same thought process. We'd get a LOT accomplished."


Of course, Joe Stanley's greatest collaborator was his wife, Pam. In speaking with her, she had more insight into Joe away from the job. One of his passions was coaching basketball, football, and Little League baseball. "He loved coaching kids," she said. "There were so many stories at Joe's funeral about how he got some of his former players into the business. You'd hear about this once-cocky kid that Joe saw something in at 18, and that kid would go on to have this great career." 

So, how would Joe Stanley like to best be remembered. Each of those interviewed had their thoughts. Coccia remarked, "I think he'd like to be remembered as the kind of guy who worked hard and put 100 percent effort into the brands we represented being successful."

Irwin stated, "He'd want to be remembered as the type of person who supported his workforce. Joe thought of this industry as a fraternity, a brotherhood. When people would get let go from a wine company or a distributor, he'd tell them, 'This business will not let you down. It will recycle you and keep you in the fraternity.'"

"He'd like to be remembered for always making a difference," added Brookman, who grew up with Stanley and knew him the longest. "Joe didn't have quit in him. He was a great athlete. He was always the guy that wanted the ball for the final basket or to run that last play as the QB. He knew the game was best in his hands."

But Pam Stanley summed up her husband best: "I put this on his prayer card. He would like to be remembered as an 'afterglow.' He welcomed everybody, and he would always want everybody to have one last drink with him … and one last drink for him. So, cheers, Joe!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 16 Sep 2019 08:35:46 -0400
Boordy Uses Special Events to Create Special Customers Boordy-Vineyard-SIGN.jpg

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."  


For visitors, it's a chance to come to a working winery, enjoy some good food and drink, and just unwind "in the country." For Boordy, it's a chance to promote the brand.  "These events are powerful marketing tools," declared Boordy Vineyards President Rob Deford, "and they have a broad impact since we have visitors from all over Maryland and from neighboring states.  When people enjoy a beautiful, festive afternoon or evening at Boordy, it builds a familial bond between us that translates into brand loyalty.  I can say this with confidence, because when we started our concert series over two decades ago, sales in our regional stores picked up in direct relationship to the growing popularity of our events."

Bruce Wills, Boordy's National Sales Director, concurred. He pointed to the last Farmers Market Boordy put on just prior to our interview in late June. The 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. event drew nearly 1,000 people.  "And most probably drank a glass of Boordy at some point," he remarked.  "So, there is a 1,000-person group who will go back into their communities and hopefully go to their local wine store and buy additional Boordy wines.  And, yes, these folks come from all over the place.  They come from southern Pennsylvania and Delaware.  I've met folks here from Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.  Boordy has become a destination place for nice wine, nice people, music, and food.  That impression seems to travel out into the community and throughout the mid-Atlantic region."

The Retailers' Perspective

Skeptical at first, store owners and operators are beginning to acknowledge that events like the ones Boordy, Fiore, and others put on around the state create new customers for them. Among them is Larry Dean, proprietor of Bel Air Liquors. "It's helpful, because they really do drive people to the local stores," he said. "If they're going there for a specific event, whether it's a band they want to see or to buy things at a farmers' market, they also get exposed to the product line. I think it not only drives them to us in the retail market, but it also gets people to ask for the wines or beers or what-have-you when they go to restaurants."

He continued, "We're just far enough away that I would say our customer base will buy, say, Boordy's wines here as opposed to making the trek and going all the way back to the vineyard. And, yes, we do hear, 'We went to this concert at Boordy last weekend, and we loved their wines!"


Wills and Deford insist that store owners and operators like Dean should never feel their sales are threatened by such on-site events. The former commented, "There is no conflict in pricing.  We might actually be a little bit higher by design here at the winery than at a local wine shop.  And it's not unusual for people to stop at any of the wine shops in this Baltimore County area and buy Boordy wine before they come to the concert.  The local wine shops should know they will get residual business from the visitors to Boordy.  Hopefully, the people who visit here have such an enjoyable experience that they go back to their homes in York, Pa., or Mt. Airy, Md., and buy Boordy."

Deford added, "It is often at a farmers market or a concert that people are first introduced to our wines.  However, since Boordy is not located on a convenient route for routine purchases of our wines, repeat sales are made more in retail wine shops and restaurants around the state.  When I wear a shirt with the Boordy logo, I encounter people in all walks of life and all over our state who stop me to say that they have enjoyed an afternoon or evening at the winery and cherish the memory."

Longevity is Key

The Boordy events have been going on for so long and are so well-known that Deford, Wills, and Co. have to do very little promoting at this point. "We no longer have to aggressively advertise," Wills confirmed. "It's on our website, It's on our Facebook page. We sell out to capacity just about every week. We know we're going to get 1,700 people for the Mahoney Brothers or 1,500 for Mood Swings. People go on the website, see who's playing next, buy the tickets, and it all just seems to come together."


So for any other winery or brewery operator reading this who is interested in putting on similar events, do Wills and Deford have any advice? Wills, who has been with Boordy since September 2015, was the first to respond. "It's a handful," he acknowledged, with a slight chuckle. "It is crowd control-plus!  You have to have a really crack team of people who just do the concerts, and we do.  We have security.  We sell tickets.  It's all very well orchestrated, organized, and monitored.  And it's not an easy thing to do until you get a lot of experience.  So, my advice would be to start small, take baby steps, and learn what's involved in growing into a larger event and venue."

Deford agreed, adding, "I have two recommendations for anyone considering hosting events at their facility.  One, remember that the quality of your product is your most important asset.  So, don't let events distract you from this primary focus.  And, two, be a good neighbor!  Do not over crowd your events.  Keep them in proportion to the size of your property and to the capacity of public access roads, and be sensitive to noise levels.  We have taken many steps to mitigate the impact of our events so that we are in harmony with our community, and this ensures a positive and sustainable relationship well into the future."

Deford concluded, "I have attended so many concerts and farmers markets over the years here that it would be impossible to single out one memory, but I do have a favorite composite memory: it's of a clear summer evening with dusk just settling in, a good band is playing, people are dancing, enjoying our wine, food, and good company, and a general air of happiness and joy is prevailing.  Wine and the celebration of life have belonged together for thousands of years.  We are simply continuing that wonderful tradition!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 09 Sep 2019 12:48:37 -0400
J. Scott Ridgell: Busy at Buzzy's Natalie-Grace-Photos-37.jpg

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!'"


Clarence and Jean lived at and operated the store. So, it was truly J. Scott's home throughout his childhood and adolescence. He recalled. "It was a general store, and we didn't sell liquor or wine. It was strictly beer. Back in those days, these places were known as 'gro-bars' -- combination grocery stores and bars. You could actually come in, drink a beer on premise, give the grocer your list, and he would fill your order. Through the years, gro-bars gave way to 7-11's and the like. Very few of us are left. We're technically a store. But, in reality, we're a bar. The law grandfathered us in, having transferred the license from dad's name to mine." 


Having been at the reins now for more than a decade, Ridgell has come to love the people aspect of the business the most. He left a six-figure job with management responsibilities to become the store's operator. But, for him, the intangibles ultimately outweighed money and position.

"It's been very much a homecoming," he stated. "I get to hang out with all of my old running mates, people I used to hang out with and party with. Some of my old friends, I see three or four times a week. [laughing] I forgot how much I liked some of them!" 

On the downside, Ridgell wishes the administrative side of the business wasn't so demanding. "You're always juggling paperwork!" he lamented. "I knew the business from the customer service side -- stocking the shelves, sweeping the floors, and so forth. But as far as the paperwork and filing the sales taxes monthly and having to file your employee withholdings, that's pretty hard."

He continued, "When I run into some young buck who's wanting to start his own business, I tell him, 'You may be good with people and you may be good with sales, but there is a whole paperwork side you're going to need some help with. If you don't know how to do it, you're either going to have to learn or pay somebody to do it."


Even his long-time friends don't quite grasp how hard Ridgell works. "Some of my buddies are like, 'Wow, you have it great! You get to 'shoot the sh*t' with people all day and laugh," he remarked, shaking his head at their misconception. "But I tell them, 'You don't see the underbelly. You don't see me down here at 7 a.m. having to meet the beer guy, who wants to work from my end of the county up.'"

Fortunately, Ridgell had a great role model in his father, whose "Clarence-isms" often resonate in his head as he goes about the business of running the business today. "Dad always treated people fairly," Ridgell recalled. "One of his favorite sayings was, ''Don't rip people off.' It's tempting and you can do it. But my dad was always stressing two things, 'Treat people the way you want to be treated' and 'You get what you give.'" 


Ridgell has found new counsel as a member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "I like seeing the big picture," he concluded. "[Membership] has helped me keep an eye on the issues going on. And I really enjoy talking to my fellow members here in the county. Many of these guys have been in the business all their lives. And it's always good joining up with them and going to the meetings. You can't beat the camaraderie!"

Photography Credit: Natalie Grace Photography

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:34:32 -0400
When Julianne Came Home to Bella's Bellas_Liquors-HOME.jpg

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."

Sullivan has been at the helm as Bella's proprietor since December 2017, having left a cushy executive's post in the Big Apple. What's been the big difference? "Retail never ends!" she exclaimed, with a laugh. "I was in apartment management specifically. When I left, I was at the very high corporate level. I had paid holidays and weekends off. But retail? Retail is all day, every day. You get your orders in, then you make a new order. And over and over again. It's never-ending. It's been a huge learning experience for me these 18 months-plus. It's been like being fresh out of college and learning a brand new job."


But it's been the Hallmark/Lifetime moments that have made the lifestyle change worth it. "I do love meeting people," she said. "We're a small community. Cape St. Claire has that old town feel. We have a 4th of July parade. We have a big strawberry festival each June. You can walk to your local grocery store or to where you get your hair done or to the Ace Hardware store. I did graduate high school from here. So, I came back to something that was familiar."

She also came back to a lot of relatives. "Pretty much everybody in the family has worked here!" she noted. "My mother works here now. My Aunt Christine, my sister, my nephew, and my stepdaughter all work here. Of course, I work here."

Sullivan was set to become the full owner of Bella's Liquors on July 10 (this interview was conducted nearly a week prior).  "The Liquor Board has to approve me buying everybody else out," she noted. "I'll basically be buying out my mother and aunt." Moving forward, she hopes to do her grandfather -- who passed away in May 2018 at the age of 99 -- and his memory proud. 

She also hopes to take a little of what she learned in real estate and apply it to packaged goods. "In apartments, customer service is key," she remarked. "If your customers aren't happy, they're not coming back. So, whether it's happy with their apartment or happy with the wine selection you're offering, it's all about the service you provide. We may not carry everything, because we're a small store. But we're happy to order whatever you want or refer you to another local store in the neighborhood."

She especially loves pointing customers to Maryland brands. "We're a big Navy area being so close to Annapolis, so we get a lot of out-of-town people here. If they're driving, they're like, 'What can I take home that's 'Maryland?' And we'll tell them, 'This is from Baltimore, this is from Dundalk, this is a Boordy wine.' Whatever the case may be."

Finally, she hopes to continue gaining insights and assistance from the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), of which she is a proud member.  "For the last year, I've been attending the meetings and learning all of the different laws. It's also been good to network with the owners of different businesses that are very much like your own. It's been especially interesting to learn the intricate nature of how legislation affects us, affects small businesses. For someone like me who came from the corporate world where I didn't realize how such laws can affect you, it's been a real eye-opener!"

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 219 editions Wed, 31 Jul 2019 11:45:24 -0400
Trade Wars … Tariffs ... Taxes ... Trade_Tax_Tariff_HOME.jpg

Over the past few months headlines repeatedly scream about an impending trade war between the U.S. and, depending on the week, just about everybody else. Among the debated questions – who really pays the higher tariffs?  Of course, the media could never be helpful enough to explain that the ultimate consumer price/producer profit impact will vary with the product in question, strength of demand, availability of alternate products or sources, etc. Suffice it to say that adding costs is rarely a good thing, and that increased government revenue from tariffs will almost always be an expense shared in varying degree by buyers and sellers. 

The beverage alcohol business is in the unenviable position of being a weapon/victim of both the U.S. and many trading partners. Alcohol beverages often seem to be selected for new tariffs that will get the attention of the other side. Even though trade disputes about unfair practices impacting free trade in alcohol beverage products are generally fairly minor, we keep getting drawn into the battles we initially played no role in. 

Enough is enough! Leaders of the U.S. industry have issued a rare joint letter asking to please be excused from fights that don’t really involve us.

Comments were submitted to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) urging the removal of spirits, wine and non-alcoholic beer from its draft list of European Union (EU) products being targeted for proposed retaliatory tariffs.

The preliminary list of targeted EU products includes brandy, liqueurs and cordials, wine and non-alcoholic beer, as well as many other EU products. The issuance of the proposed list is part of a long-standing dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding civil aircraft subsidies and is unrelated to the beverage alcohol industry.

In the submission, the beverage industry groups stated they “strongly oppose the inclusion of beverage alcohol products in the proposed retaliation list” and warned that the tariffs will have numerous unintended negative consequences, including on U.S. jobs, U.S. consumers and on U.S. companies that export to the EU, some of which already face retaliatory tariffs to that market.

The proposed retaliatory tariffs on certain beverage alcohol products could lead to a loss of approximately 6,600 to 45,800 U.S. jobs, according to an industry analysis.

The EU responded to the U.S. draft list with its own preliminary list of U.S. products that it would target for retaliatory tariffs in a related WTO dispute, which included wine, rum, vodka, and brandy.

The groups stated, “We are gravely concerned that this escalation would compound the negative impact of the tariffs on a sector that is already feeling the damaging impact resulting from unrelated trade disputes.”

The joint comment was submitted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, American Craft Spirits Association, American Distilled Spirits Association, Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Wine Institute, WineAmerica, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, American Beverage Licensees and the National Association of Beverage Importers.

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) July 2019 Editions Wed, 10 Jul 2019 10:16:42 -0400
Vodka: All-American Spirit… Or Nyet? Tito’s Handmade continues to be a market leader and the centerpiece of Texas’s burgeoning vodka scene.

Tito’s Handmade continues to be a market leader and the centerpiece of Texas’s burgeoning vodka scene.

By Jack Robertiello

When Burnett’s, a top ten vodka brand with dozens of flavored versions, underwent a redesign last year, those in charge of the brand decided it was time to proclaim front and center: “Made in America.”

Is the renaissance of American whiskey alerting consumers that some pretty good clear spirits are made here? Perhaps it is social, or political, or even just a regional trend? Whatever is behind the boomlet, American vodka is suddenly considered something worth cheering about. Thirteen of the top 20 best-selling brands are American-made, as are many fast-emerging brands. Meanwhile, as the ultra- and super-premium tier of the vodka business sags, the price tiers below are filled with growing American brands.

All in all, a great time to be an American vodka. 

“American-made vodka trends are the strongest they’ve ever been,” says Frank Polley, VP of Trade Marketing for Tito’s, now second only to Smirnoff in U.S. volume. “We’re also seeing the expansion of the American-made vodka segment with many new brand and line extension launches throughout the year. American-made vodka is definitely driving growth in the category.”

Vodka being famously fast to market, the category has seen a remarkable number of new brands succeed. “Over the past decade, the lines between domestic and imported vodkas have blurred as Americans are purchasing more domestically-produced vodkas,” says Michael Sachs, Director of Spirits Marketing at E. & J. Gallo Winery, whose New Amsterdam Vodka debuted in 2011 and is now a top seller. “American vodka brands are focusing on quality of original ingredients and the care put into production.”


“American vodkas are in a good position as competition among higher-end brands leads to price slashing,” says Reid Hafer, Senior Brand Manager in charge of Burnett’s and Deep Eddy for Heaven Hill Brands, although she notes competitors in the $10-$15 and $15-$25 tier where most American vodkas sell are also cutting prices.

While the flavor craze churned vodka sales madly a decade ago, that tide has receded; unflavored vodka commands 85% of all vodka consumed in the U.S., points out Bernadette Knight, Senior Director of White Spirits for Skyy-owner Campari America: “American-made vodkas are in a strong position. Vodka remains the number one spirit consumed in the U.S. and the category has shown small but consistent year on year growth. Consumers are looking for authenticity, quality and provenance, three things that American-made vodkas, especially Skyy, have been able to deliver on.”

Brands that have focused on particular regionial markets have shown that organic growth sometimes works best. For example, a majority of Seagram’s business is off-premise and in the West, predominantly California, says Katherine Foley, Seagram’s Brand Manager at Infinium Spirits. (By comparison, Infinium also sells Crystal Head, which sells globally.) Meanwhile, new legal-age consumers are up for grabs, says Foley: “The growth with American vodka is spurred by Millennials, and this consumer market communicates and purchases dominantly through digital platforms, particularly social media.”

Skyy’s latest flavored vodka is trendy Cold Brew Coffee.

Skyy’s latest flavored vodka is trendy Cold Brew Coffee.


While talk of “terroir” is usually the turf of wine, not vodka, regionality still plays an important role in some vodkas, increasingly so with craftier producers. No discussion of regional vodka can get far without mentioning “Our” Vodka—a group of distilleries (doubling as bars) in major global cities, each existing precisely to create a namesake vodka for their locale. American outposts include LA, Detroit and New York, with Miami coming soon. The project attracted the attention and investment of Pernod Ricard.

One might infer that vodka is the new “oil” in Texas, where Tito’s Handmade, having emerged stronger than ever after a labeling controversy, is now surrounded by a bevy of Texas-made vodka brands. Deep Eddy has big plans, having just opened a brand new Tasting Room (replete with round-trip transportation available from downtown Austin). Western Son and Dripping Springs have added to the local lore, especially with respect to flavors (Western Son’s portfolio includes prickly pear; Dripping Springs makes one from hand-zested Texas oranges). Just launched, Frankly Organic, made in Austin, is certified organic, non-GMO and gluten-free—in five all-natural flavors.

Water quite naturally is a favorite point of distinction in vodka, as it comprises 60% of the finished liquid. Water is so central to Leaf Vodka that they produce two—one from Rocky Mountain mineral water, the other from Alaskan glaciers. Ocean Vodka boasts of the high mineral content of water drawn off the Hawaiian coast. American Harvest proudly taps water from “deep beneath the Snake River Plain.” Spring 44, located in Colorado’s Buckhorn Canyon, is literally named after its water source.

Ingredients are another area where small producers can stand apart from the big distillers. The top-rated American vodka at this year’s Ultimate Spirits Competition was Boyd & Blair, made from potatoes near Pittsburgh. BET (pronounced “beet”) is made in Minnesota from sugar beets (not red beets, so the vodka is still clear); Comb (Port Chester, NY) is made from honey; Clear Creek (Oregon) distills apples into vodka, while Core (Hudson Valley, NY) starts with apple cider. In Nevada, Bently Heritage distills Source One Vodka from 100% estate-grown oats.

Hangar 1 Vodka, launched in 2002 and made from a mix of grain and wine grapes, recently took it one step further to create Hangar 1 Rosé Vodka, which blends the straight vodka with a Northern California rosé wine.

Of course, let’s be realistic: authentic vodka can sprout up practically anywhere; and sometimes the image is as carefully crafted as the spirit. Consider “Blood x Sweat x Tears,” made in Oregon from Pacific Northwest winter wheat and pure Cascade water. But that’s not all… it’s made in a converted laundromat, “handcrafted with grit and fury,” and its matte black bottle is illustrated with Oregon landmarks.


Some American vodkas have used the local platform to expand nationally. Maybe the best example from Texas is Deep Eddy, whose Ruby Red Grapefruit helped the brand break out. Idaho’s 44 North and Dry Fly Washington Wheat Vodka are two more in multiple states. The New York metro area has at least two brands that have thrived regionally: Recipe 21 and Voda.

Recipe 21 was created in 2012 by Roc House Brands’ owner LiDestri Foods as an on-premise-focused brand for local distributors to expand their market, says Joe Ragazzo, VP of Sales for Roc House. The 12-flavor brand now distributes in 11 states. “We have a favorable quality-price proposition, with good packaging and taste that over-delivers for the price. That got us into many on-premise accounts in the well, and now we are moving off-premise, too,” notes Ragazzo.

Voda may sound imported but it’s all-American, says Charles Lynch, VP of Spirits Sales & Business Development for Royal Wine Company, which sells the brand in five states and the metropolitan NY area. “There is a consumer that is very price-sensitive who is looking for value and quality,” reasons Lynch. “You can say that vodka is six different categories, and while the super- and ultra-premium are taking price cuts and fighting for market share, that is good for those brands like Voda that are already aggressively priced.”

Square One Botanical, Basil and Bergamot, all of which use between 7-8 botanicals each.

Square One Botanical, Basil and Bergamot, all of which use between 7-8 botanicals each.


With purity always a vodka signature, it should be no surprise that organic vodkas are proliferating.Nationally distributed organic vodkas include Ocean (Hawaii); Koval (Chicago), made from local rye, milled on-site; and Prairie Vodka, made from organic Minnesota corn, in cucumber as well as neutral. In California, Humboldt Distillery’s Organic Vodka is filtered through virgin activated-carbon made from coconut shells; and Crop Harvest Earth’s full line claims to be distilled so efficiently that it needs no filtering.

Allison Evanow, Founder and CEO of organic producer Square One notes that their brand has distinct appeal for consumers, “who prefer quality over marketing hype,” and bartenders. “Because of their knowledge of spirits, they know that this is a big commitment for us as organic rye is not as readily available nor as easy to distill as organic wheat or corn yet it delivers a fantastic flavor profile. Bartenders have really embraced our multi-botanical approach to three of our spirits.”

For American vodkas overall, the ascent of organic offerings is just one of the numerous consumer trends that bode well for the future. As Tito’s Polley puts it: “Over the last ten years, American-made vodka has slowly built a reputation for producing some of the best-tasting vodkas in the world. The changes in the economic landscape across the world have led people to reevaluate their priorities and that’s impacting their choices.”



Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.     

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) July 2019 Editions Wed, 10 Jul 2019 08:49:36 -0400
Botanicals Without Borders MSS_Spritz_Lifestyle

Hendrick’s Gin, widely credited with opening new botanical frontiers in the 1990s, released not one but two extensions this year, Orbium and Midsummer Solstice.

By Jeff Cioletti

Ever since it emerged on the scene more than three centuries ago, gin, for all intents and purposes, has been identified as a quintessentially British spirit—or, at the very least, British by way of Dutch, thanks to the influence of the latter’s genever on the former’s iteration.

The most iconic brands—Beefeater, Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Bombay and their ilk—hail from either England or Scotland and tend to adhere to a “dry,” juniper-forward style with “London” in its very name. It wasn’t until the 1990s when Hendrick’s came along and pushed the boundaries on what the spirit could be that people and the industry really began to think differently about gin.

And two decades after that, gin has become about as untethered to a geographical place as it is to a singular style, becoming a spirit that truly belongs to the world. That’s thanks to a combination of factors: evolving drinking habits worldwide, the global craft spirits movement and, in no small part, the elevation of the dusty, old gin and tonic to a classy, stylish drink.

Iberia As Trend Setter

The industry has bartenders on the Iberian peninsula to thank for that last point. The Spanish “Gin-Tonic” (sans the ‘and’) emerged in stemmed, wide-mouthed goblet glass with fresh, innovative garnishes complementing the particular flavor profiles of the gin in the vessel. Gin culture exploded in Spain and Portugal and spread across Europe.

“What happened in Spain had more to do with the on-trade,” says Spiro Malandrakis, industry manager for alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor International. “Bars continued to move more and more toward premiumization, mixing [gin] with better mixers, adding a little flair to the actual cocktail ritual.” According to the market research firm, global on-premise gin revenue totaled nearly $9.4 billion, while off-premise sales topped $6 billion—a combined $15.4 billion—in 2017.

The active gin market has attracted an appropriate wave of new labels. It also helps that, unlike whiskey and other brown spirits that call for barrel-aging, gin is faster to market. “On the production side of things, the story is how these small-scale producers have popped up everywhere in a category that was sidelined,” Malandrakis says. With craft gin producers springing up on every populated continent, you might say the hottest trend in global gin is the explosion of new local-minded ones. Gin’s juniper mandate is proving to be like a bloodline that keeps the multi-generational family connected as it grows. Beyond juniper, botanicals are being gathered and infused as never before, not merely as points of distinction, but as genuine captures of terroir.


A decade ago the prevailing trend was to source pedigreed botanicals from all over the globe. Today the pendulum is swinging toward a mix of traditional (juniper, coriander, angelica root, citrus, Orris root, cardamom, licorice, cassia, cinnamon) and local botanicals.

Global, Meet Local

Consider Germany’s Black Forest, a region best known for schnapps production, with more than 10,000 mostly minuscule farm-based producers turning surplus fruit into brandy. But, since 2006 it’s become home to a gin brand that has built a sizeable cult following: Monkey 47. The 47 is the staggering number of botanicals the spirit contains, a third of which come from the Black Forest itself, including angelica root, acacia flowers, bramble leaves, lingonberries and spruce shoots. 

The gin bug has crossed the Pacific as well. Two years ago, global spirits giant Beam Suntory launched Roku Japanese gin—“roku” meaning “six,” a nod to the number of Japanese botanicals in the brand, which are combined with eight traditional ones. “The Japanese botanicals—Sakura flower, Sakura leaf, yuzu peel, sencha tea, gyokuro tea and sansho pepper—are harvested in accordance of ‘shun,’ the tradition of enjoying each ingredient at its best by only harvesting at its peak of flavor and perfection,” says Marilyn Chen, Brand Manager for House of Suntory. A selection of different pot stills are then chosen to ensure the best flavor is extracted from each botanical.” Chen says the result is a “complex, yet harmonious gin” with a smooth, silky texture. 

Global start-ups aside, we need not worry about England or Scotland being left behind. Among the notable UK-based brands launched this century: Bulldog, the first gin infused with poppy and dragon eye (related to lychee). Others popping up to reinforce the U.K.’s spiritual claim to gin importance: Brockmans, Cotswolds, Fifty Pounds, Portobello Road and Carounn. The Botanist Gin, launched in 2010 by the whiskymaker Bruichladdich, features 31 botanicals—nine traditional ones plus 22 that are foraged on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. 

On top of myriad botanical combinations, gin makers are tinkering with unusual distilling and finishing techniques. In Finland, Kyrö Distillery makes two rye-based gins, both including some botanicals foraged from local forests. Their American-oak-matured Koskue typically accounts for 10 to 20% of Kyrö’s gin sales, but in the U.S. it’s more of a 50-50 split, notes Head Distiller Kalle Valkonen: “The barrel-aged product, really seems to fit your palate on that side of the Atlantic.” Barrel-aging is picking up advocates, such as FEW and Koval in Chicago; Bluecoat (PA) and Tom’s Town (Kansas City). Big Gin (Washington State) uses bourbon barrels. In California, Benham’s and No. 209 both batch gins in ex-varietal wine barrels. 

As with botanical recipes and wood-finishing, distillation techniques can provide interesting selling points. Many distillers boast of vapor infusion; others. infuse before and/or after distillation. Hepple Gin, and English gin launched in 2015, uses a threefold process for extracting botanical flavors: heavier ones are distilled with the grain, lighter examples are vacuum distilled, and juniper is extracted using carbon dioxide.


Selling Complexity 

With Euromonitor predicting robust growth of 5% CAGR, vaulting annual U.S. sales from $15.4 billion in 2017 to nearly $20 billion by the end of 2022, the “new normal” in the gin market presents some novel challenges for bars and retailers alike.

Fortunately, gin does have some natural hooks on which re-sellers can hang their hats. In some cases, a stand-out botanical can become a simple selling point. Like citrus? Malfy, from Italy’s Adriatic Coast, has two lovely citrus-forward gins, one lemon, another blood orange. New Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle incorporates sun-dried lemon peels, lemon verbena and “vapour-infused fresh hand peeled lemon,” leaving no doubt as to its citric intentions. Brockmans showcases blueberry; Carounn has apple; Puerto de Indias and Beefeater Pink lead with strawberry. With the simplicity of an “alpha” botanical comes the simplicity of usage: using a signature botanical as a garnish often makes a naturally copacetic Gin & Tonic.

Though hardly sweet, Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill Gin is finished with raw Vermont honey. On the savory side, Hendrick’s got the party started with its cucumber and rose character. Dry Town Gin from Colorado features sage; Gin Mare from Spain incorporates rosemary, thyme, olive and basil; Uncle Val’s (California) makes a “peppered” gin. And for something really different, from Ireland comes Drumshanbo, infused with dried gunpowder tea 

Gin points of distinction go even further than botanical and origin. O.R.E 118 is the first raw vegan Gin. Prairie and Farmer’s gins are both made in America and organic. Tanqueray Malacca and Fords Gin both lay claim to being “bartender’s gin.” Pink gins (in addition to the strawberry-tinged Beefeater Pink and Puerto de Indias) include Gin Lane 1751, Wölffer Estate and The Bitter Truth.

Geography is also a selling point. Nothing says gin has gone global like a display that features spirits from India (Jaisalmer); Brazil (McQueen and the Violet Fog); Australia (Four Pillars); New Zealand (Scapegrace); Roku (Japan); and Germany (Monkey 47).


Gin also appeals to big suppliers; Beam Suntory created Roku in Japan in 2017.

Gin’s Next Gem: Old Is New Again?

Gin’s globalization accelerating, plus a vibrant craft gin movement here in the U.S., but don’t be surprised to see an ancient type of gin join the party. Genever (pronounced juh-NEE-vuhr) remains the largest spirit category in the Netherlands and Belgium, might best be thought of as the “O.G.” (“Original Gangsta”) gin. Used in Medieval times for supposed medicinal benefits, genever by the 17th century was one of Europe’s largest exports; recipe books from the 1880s show that about one quarter of U.S. cocktails were based on the spirit.

Genever all but disappeared from the world stage following the two World Wars and Prohibition. But today, genever is in the midst of a three-year U.S. marketing campaign, keyed by five genever brands (Bobby’s-Notaris, Bols, deBorgen, Rutte and Smeets). Genever’s main distinction, being distilled from malted grain mash and often aged in oak casks, lends itself easily to being positioned as “the missing link between Gin and whiskey,” notes Sandie van Doorne of Bols International. She asserts that genever’s character—“smooth and malty with a botanical finish”—makes a great alternative in cocktails such as the Collins and the Martinez. Bols has carved out a special cocktail niche for the Red Light Negroni—Bols Genever, Campari and sweet vermouth, served in glasses shaped like inverted light bulbs.

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) June 2019 Editions Mon, 17 Jun 2019 11:25:47 -0400
BCLBA Rockin’ at the Races MD-BEV-JOURNAL-81_20190609-120752_1.jpg

Some VIPs in attendance were Jane Springer, Executive Director, MSLBA; Goose Kaiser, Past President, BCLBA; Dan Minnick, Former Delegate and Owner of Minnick's Restaurant; Jeri Zink, Executive Director, BCLBA; Paul King, President, BCLBA (King Liquors); and Jack Milani, Legislative Chairman, BCLBA/MSLBA (Monaghan's Pub).

Members of the beverage alcohol industry recently gathered for the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association’s (BCLBA) Rockin’ the Races event at the Timonium Fairground Grandstand Concourse.  Industry members from all three tiers and from all over Maryland joined the fun.  Attendees enjoyed live music, bartender competitions, corn hole toss competitions, beer, wine and liquor tasting stations, local restaurant tasting stations, pig on a pit, pit beef, raw oysters, money wheels, liquor wheel, betting on the ponies and much, much more.


 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) June 2019 Editions Sun, 09 Jun 2019 08:05:11 -0400
Brown-Forman Retailers of the Year B-F_Home.jpg

Seventeen independent beverage licensees from states across the country have been recognized as Brown-Forman Retailers of the Year. Nominated by their state licensed beverage associations for commitment to their state associations, dedication to the beverage alcohol industry and their success in business, these licensees were honored in a ceremony at the ABL Annual Meeting. 

For more than two decades, the Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year awards have celebrated retail beverage licensees who engage in the responsible sale and service of beverage alcohol, are committed to their state beverage associations, and demonstrated excellence in innovative retailing. ABL congratulates all of the honored businesses and licensees for their outstanding and continued contributions to their state associations, the industry and their communities.

“America’s independent beer, wine and spirits retailers support a dynamic and exciting industry, while striving to both encourage and promote the responsible enjoyment of beverage alcohol by adult consumers,” said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich. “These retailers have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty in their businesses, their state beverage associations, and their communities with their commitment to outstanding beverage alcohol sales and service.”




Michael Ball | Silver Run Liquors | Westminster, MD:

Michael Ball is the owner of Silver Run Liquors in northern Carroll County, MD.  Ball has been in business with multiple lo
cations for over 25 years.  He is an active member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) and serves as a member of their Board representing Carroll County.  He also is a long-time supporter of local charities (High Schools, Fie Departments and youth sports) in the community his business is part of.




Gary Rogow | ABC Liquors | California, MD:

Gary Rogow is the owner of ABC Liquors in Lexington Park, MD.  Rogow serves as Secretary for the Saint Mary’s County Licensed Beverage Association and is on the MSLBA Board of Directors and Legislative Committee.  In his local community, Rogow supports Hospice, Community Alcohol Coalition, Ambulance, Fire Company and Police organizations.  


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Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) June 2019 Editions Sun, 09 Jun 2019 07:25:38 -0400
The 2019 Maryland Legislative Session: A Final Report StateCircle_Cap_Sign_HOME.jpg

Despite the profound sadness over the passing of Speaker Busch the day before, work continued on Monday, April 8, until the curtain closed at midnight (sine die).  With that came the end of 90 days filled with new faces in both chambers, and new Committee leadership in the Senate.  This was the first year of the four-year term, following the 2018 election, which brought nearly 60 new legislators or almost a one-third turnover in the 188 member General Assembly.  New legislators constituted over half of the membership of the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee (EHE), where alcohol bills are considered.  That Committee also had a new Chairman in Senator Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who kindly spoke to those who attended Lobby Day on February 21st, as did new House Alcohol Subcommittee Chairman, Delegate Talmadge Branch (D-Balt. City).

The goals of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) for this year were largely achieved, thanks to the efforts of our members and in particular our Legislative Committee, which reviewed, discussed and took positions on each of the 164 bills we identified as impacting the industry, amidst the nearly 2,500 total bills filed.  Our Legislative Committee’s work was made more difficult than usual, since nearly half of the bills were introduced just ahead of the deadline during the week of February 4th, almost 30 days into the Session.  This was a symptom of the 2018 election, which gave legislators, particularly new ones, less time than usual to prepare their legislation.

Below is a summary of the major issues and their outcomes.  A detailed summary of the outcomes of all local legislation is avaialble from the MSLBA.


Senate Bill 801/House Bill 1010--Brewery Modernization Act of 2019 passed after a compromise was reached between the MSLBA and the Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM).  This was the culmination of 2 years of MSLBA’s time and attention, following the passage of legislation in 2017 on these same issues.  Despite substantial brewery growth in the State in recent years, both in the number of them and the barrelage produced, BAM sought further changes in the law.  While BAM also sought changes during the 2018 Session, there was really no communication among the interested parties that year, and no legislation was adopted.  Early in the 2019 Session, MSLBA met on numerous occasions with BAM representatives and reached an agreement that the General Assembly ultimately agreed with and adopted.  The terms of the agreement are as follows:

> No change in operating hours for Class 5 Breweries (grandfather provisions still apply);

> Law remains that Class 5 Brewery “may” receive retail license, not “shall”;

> BAM will not introduce, support or instigate local or state legislation on these provisions for the rest of this 4 year term.

> Increased tap room limits of 5,000 barrels for both Class 5 and Class 7 (microbreweries);

> Class 7’s can brew up to 45,000 barrels per year (which was already the law in two counties);

> Microbreweries can have two locations with separate tap room limits, but law will clearly state that a person cannot have more than 2 microbreweries anywhere in the State.

> There are other minor provisions.


Also on the brewery front, SB 704/HB 1080 Alcoholic Beverages - Beer Franchise Agreements - Notice of Nonrenewal or Termination passed.  This bill reduces, from 180 to 45, the number of days that a brewery must wait before terminating a franchise agreement, if the brewery produces 20,000 or fewer barrels of beer per year. Such a brewery is authorized to terminate or refuse to continue or renew a franchise agreement without good cause and is no longer required to give its franchisee an opportunity to correct a deficiency if that is the reason the agreement is being terminated. The bill requires a termination agreement and arbitration, and takes effect January 1, 2020. For a brewery that produces 20,000 barrels of beer or less each year and that is party to a franchise agreement existing before January 1, 2020, the terms of the agreement relating to compensation and repurchasing of inventory must continue unless otherwise mutually agreed by the parties.

With these two pieces of legislation, the law is settled on breweries for a number of years and the industry can now spend its time promoting all Maryland products through our “Buy Local” efforts.


We had numerous local bills that proposed to allow manufacturers to sell products other than their own.  This is part of a national trend and one that has taken hold in our surrounding states, so we can expect this to be a battleground in the coming years.  One of these passed, but most died.  HB 866/SB 667 Allegany County – Alcoholic Beverages – Licenses passed, which allows the Board in Allegany to issue a Class L license to any manufacturer, allowing them to sell their own products or products of any other manufacturer.

HB 354/SB 104—Washington County-Alcoholic Beverages—Wineries—Special Event Permits failed.  The legislation sought to make permanent a bill that passed two years ago, allowing wineries in Washington County to sell beer and liquor at special events.  MSLBA opposed this because it sets a precedent of allowing manufacturers to sell alcohol other than what they produce.  In the end, we had agreed to extend the legislation for another year to work on a long-term solution, but for whatever reason, the amendments to accomplish this were not adopted.

HB 936 Harford County - Alcoholic Beverages - Multiple Licensing Plans, and SB 928/HB 1337 Carroll County—Alcoholic Beverages-Class D Beer, Wine and Liquor License, would also have allowed manufacturers to sell products other than their own, but were defeated.  

HB 549 Class 1 Distillery License - On-Site Consumption Permit also passed, which authorizes a local alcoholic beverages licensing board in the State to issue an on-site consumption permit to the holder of a Class 1 distillery license. The permit authorizes the sale of mixed drinks made from liquor produced by the distillery for on-premises consumption. A local licensing board must require the permit holder to abide by all applicable trade practice restrictions and comply with existing requirements for alcohol awareness training.


HB 508—Prohibited Acts-Defense to Prosecution for Sales to Underage Individuals  failed.  For the second year in a row, this legislation fell victim to the political process and died in the Senate.  In 2018, it died in the House.  So it has passed both chambers, but unfortunately not in the same year!  This bill was an MSLBA initiative that would update the law setting out a good faith defense to serving a minor to include reliance upon an ID scanner for age verification.  We will try again in 2020.

HB 1057—Alcohol Awareness Programs Certification Requirements-Alterations was withdrawn by the sponsor after it had passed from the House to the Senate.  This bill would have required anyone serving alcohol to have alcohol awareness training.  MSLBA did not object to the bill, but on further analysis agreed that there were issues that needed to be considered in more detail before any bill was passed.  These included laws in some jurisdictions that permit some employees to serve but not pour alcohol, and the availability of training programs in certain parts of the State.

HB 180—Motor Vehicle Administration—Licenses and Identification Cards—Electronic Credentials passed, which enables the MVA to create an electronic credential that can be issued in addition to, but not in place of, a normal hard-copy identification.  MSLBA asked for and got an amendment to the legislation clarifying that this credential MAY be accepted as proof of age, but does not have to be.  The credential requires an electronic verification system operated by the State, so if a retailer does not have that system, they do not have to accept the credential and can demand the hard copy of the identification.



HB 109/SB 285—Environment-Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Products—Prohibitions was passed, which prohibits, beginning July 1, 2020, a person from selling or offering for sale in the State an “expanded polystyrene food service product”.  These are defined as a product made of “expanded polystyrene” that is (1) used for selling or providing food or beverages and (2) intended by the manufacturer to be used once for eating or drinking or generally recognized by the public as an item to be discarded after one use. It includes food containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, trays, and cartons for eggs or other food, but does not include (1) food or beverages that have been packaged in expanded polystyrene containers before receipt by a food service business; (2) a product made of expanded polystyrene that is used to package raw, uncooked, or butchered meat, fish, poultry, or seafood; or (3) nonfoam polystyrene food service products.

SB 694/HB 777-Credit Card Processors-Merchant Processing Agreements passed, which prohibits a credit card processor from assessing or charging a fee, fine, or penalty of more than $500 if a business entity cancels a “merchant processing agreement” before the expiration of the initial term. Additionally, a credit card processor may not assess a fee, fine, or penalty if a business entity terminates the merchant processing agreement after the expiration of the initial term. The bill does not apply to an agreement that may be terminated without fees, fines, penalties, or liquidated damages, or to a business entity that employs 50 or more employees or estimates that it will generate more than $2 million annually in credit card or electronic commerce transactions. The agreement must disclose the amount of any early termination fee, fine, penalty, or liquidated damages, the expiration and renewal dates of the agreement, and the customer service contact information of the processor. The information must be provided on the signature page of an agreement and be initialed separately by the business entity.

MSLBA was formed to represent the interests of the retail alcohol beverage operator in legislative and executive matters in connection with the sale and distribution of beer, wine and liquor, and to promote friendly relations between members of this association and allied branches of the beer, wine and liquor industries.

Beverage Alcohol Licensees who are not already members are encouraged to join.  Membership information is available by contacting the MSLBA office: 410-871-1377, 410-876-3464 or

The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, Inc., is a non-profit trade association whose members are alcohol beverage licensees throughout the State. 

    Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read More]]> (Stephen Patten) May 2019 Editions Sat, 11 May 2019 14:21:43 -0400
Cannabis: Friend or Foe to Alcohol?  HOME_cannabis.jpg

Know this much to start: the United States is embarking on its greatest decriminalization effort since the end of Prohibition. Until the federal government gives its legal green light to cannabis, a confusing and difficult transition will remain difficult and confusing. But the states-rights pattern has been established, and while no one can (yet) say for certain what will happen in regards to beer, wine, and spirits consumption, cannabis is entering the Conversation faster than you can say “don’t bogart that joint.”

“My friends in Colorado, Washington and Oregon are quite candid about potential lost sales, but most are sanguine about the future,” says Kansas City’s Doug Frost, MW, MS. “It’s tremendously challenging because no one knows how the next steps unfold, other than that every state will want a piece of the cannabis tax pie. Regardless, the genie ain’t going back in the bottle.”

Knowing that, what’s the best way to prepare for what’s going to happen? First, understand the parts that make up the legal cannabis market, from a joint to weed-infused consumer products. 

Second, accept that the legal and regulatory hurdles will remain hurdles even after cannabis goes mainstream—becoming, perhaps, even more complicated than alcohol’s three-tier system.

Finally, recognize that the alcohol industry is at the biggest crossroads since the end of Prohibition. Younger consumers, who seem less interested in beer, wine, and spirits than their parents and grandparents, will have another option for their time and money.

Moving forward, usage patterns, product development and legislative action are all areas that promise to impact the beverage alcohol industries.



From an overall industry viewpoint, it makes sense to position cannabis as an addition to the adult arena of recreational options. As Chris Stenzel, President of Constellation Brands’ Wine & Spirits Division, noted in a recent interview with Beverage Media, the firm’s $4 billion investment in Canadian company Canopy Growth reflects a belief that cannabis can complement alcohol. “At Constellation, we talk about the three stool legs of the business: Spirits, wine and beer, and we believe cannabis will become the fourth leg to the stool,” said Stenzel.

The operative golden question—“Will people drink less alcohol?”—is beginning to be asked and answered. There is some data on the issue, but several studies contradict each other about whether legal marijuana will cannibalize beer, wine and/or spirits. A 2017 Georgia State study found legal cannabis reduced alcohol consumption over the long term, and alcohol “purchases decreased by 15% in counties in states with medical marijuana laws.” On the other hand, a 2018 study from the Distilled Spirits Council which analyzed data from 3 states with longest track record (CO, WA, OR) found no such change after recreational legalization. Utilizing state-level tax receipts and actual alcohol shipment data in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon for the two years prior to recreational marijuana legalization and post-legalization, they concluded: “overall alcohol sales mirror national trends and there is no pattern of declining spirits sales in any of the markets analyzed.”


The ink is barely dry on a detailed report by IWSR Drinks Market Analysis and BDS Analytics, released in February 2019. “Though not yet mainstream, cannabis adoption is certainly growing in states where it is legal and does pose a risk to the beverage alcohol industry in the future,” said Brandy Rand, IWSR’s U.S. President. Among the nuggets in their report:

  • Up to 40% of adults 21 and over consume cannabis in states where it is legal.
  • Millennials represent 45% of “dualists” (those who consume both cannabis and alcohol).
  • Two-thirds of cannabis users in fully legal states also consume alcohol; however, only about one-third of alcohol consumers in these markets also consume cannabis.
  • On average, cannabis and alcohol dualists are more likely to drink beer (especially craft beer) and spirits; fewer drink wine.

There may be evidence that legal weed slows beer sales in general, on the theory that younger consumers will smoke a couple of joints or pop edibles instead of drinking a six-pack if the price is about the same. But, analysts caution, that decline has been traced to slowing consumption among aging beer drinkers and not competition from cannabis.

There also seems to be a sense, says Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, that any change in alcohol consumption will happen at the lower-priced end, in mass-market wine, beer and spirits. Producers like Grahm aren’t worried about “weed as one of the existential threats to the wine business.”

And legal cannabis may boost alcohol tourism. Anecdotal evidence from Colorado suggests the possibility of increased tasting room sales, thanks to the influx of legal weed tourists. “It’s almost as if we’re getting a new audience,” says Karen Hoskins, owner of craft rum producer Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte, CO, describing been her experience in the aftermath of Colorado’s legalization. “They’ll come into the tasting room, and when they’re done, ask us to recommend a dispensary.”

Ultimately, presuming recreational cannabis becomes the norm, availability is going to be a critical factor in whether smoking will hit alcohol more at higher or lower price points. Another wild card is “vaping”—and how the youth-driven popularity of this intake method impacts smoking and drinking.


Not to be discounted in any discussion of cannabis: follow the money. Legalization in Canada has opened the faucet on investment—and it is big fish entering the pond. Constellation Brands, most notably, now owns 38% of Canada’s Canopy Growth. “Constellation has been pretty good at identifying long-term consumer shifts and reacting—buying and exiting assets,” notes Rob McMillan, Executive Vice President and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division in Napa. “They are shedding some wine assets and some point to that being an end to wine and a nod to cannabis and beer, but I think it’s more to do with shedding lines that aren’t in line with premiumization strategies.”

More signs of marijuana mainstreaming: Southern Glazer’s Great North Distributors subsidiary has agreed to distribute marijuana producer Aphria’s products in Canada to both provincial and private retailers. AB InBev formed a $100 million research partnership with Tilray Inc.’s Canadian subsidiary High Park Co; and Molson has teamed up with Quebec-based Hexo Corp. Both big brewers plan to develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages. And possibly a tipping point, PR-wise: Martha Stewart will advise Canopy Growth on a line of hemp-based CBD products—for both people and pets.


Of course, as the Canadian example is rapidly proving, the free market system is raring to go with new product development. Here, it becomes critical to distinguish types of products we are likely to see—some THC-based, some CBD-based.

Looking at beverages specifically, one 2019 estimate found that U.S. sales of cannabis-based drinks was worth $86 million in 2018 but were likely to grow to more than $1 billion by 2023 and $1.4 billion by 2024. Another, by Canaccord Genuity Group, similarly, forecast a $600 million market for cannabis-infused beverages by 2022. 

Sounds big. Now for the catch. For one thing, as of now, beverages represent less than 1% of the overall legal cannabis market. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a cost-effective infusion process for THC drinks, which analysts see as crucial to the category’s growth. Essentially, alcohol is water-soluble and cannabis is not. That means alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but the THC in cannabis takes far longer when ingested rather than inhaled—people feel the effects of beer, wine or spirits within a drink or two; it can take an hour or longer for a marijuana brownie to kick in. So the trick with cannabis-infused drinks will be to find a way for them to mimic alcohol’s effect on the drinker, which has met with mixed results so far.

One person in position to assess the direction of new product development is Smoke Wallin, who started in his family’s traditional distribution business, and is now CEO of Vertical Wellness, a company specializing in CBD products. As Wallin sees it, CBD products are the hotspot to watch, especially since 2018’s Farm Bill gave hemp legal status since hemp is a good source for CBD, but not THC. Even more important: “The number one characteristic of CBD is that it is anti-inflammatory,” notes Wallin, which means new CBD products are going to compete with over-the-counter medicines like Advil. He estimates that Health & Wellness products will comprise about 60% of the CBD market, and food and beverage about 40%.

Vertical Wellness currently has 12 beverages in active development. However, as a veteran of the industry, Wallin knows the products will have to taste good: “If it doesn’t stand alone as a beverage, it won’t work. People will just switch.” The one thing that is absolutely not in doubt: CBD-laced beverages are apt to enjoy a quick route to market. Wallin reports, “We are seeing huge demand from major retailers and distributors. They are all looking for a way to play in the space.”


It should surprise no one that distributors are positioning themselves to seize opportunity. Case in point: Southern Glazer’s officially partnering with a marijuana producer in Canada. The interest in cannabis may be seen as a defensive move, at least in part, to protect splintering market share. “Cannabis concerns me because it’s the shiny new thing that consumers are attracted to,” Steve Slater, EVP, General Manager Wine Division, Southern Glazer’s, said on a “Trends” panel at Vinexpo New York in March. “There is a share of discretionary income that can be used for beer, wine and spirits—and now cannabis.”

The next pressing question: Will alcohol’s three-tier system be used to regulate legal cannabis? Analysts expect the Treasury department’s Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees alcohol, to handle marijuana regulation. But that’s all anyone agrees on. 

Most legal states use the opposite of three-tier—a vertically integrated system that doesn’t separate the producer and retailer. It’s OK for a company to grow marijuana and sell THC products in its own state-licensed retail outlets, something that three-tier was designed to stop. But the situations are different, confirms attorney Rebecca Stamey-White, a partner with Hinman & Carmichael LLP in San Francisco: the goal with vertical integration was to emphasize local control, and to avoid the complications of three-tier.

On the other hand, notes Ron Kammerzell, a consultant for the legal weed industry and former senior director of enforcement for Colorado’s department of revenue, three-tier is almost inevitable once the federal government gets involved. How else will it be possible to collect federal taxes? And if cannabis commerce becomes national, businesses will naturally want to trade across state lines and states will want to collect taxes from out-of-state cannabis producers. Three-tier, with its reliance on wholesalers who have almost 100 years of experience in dealing with these concerns in alcohol, can do all of that, Kammerzell says. Plus, the second-tier has the confidence and trust of state regulators.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association, the trade group that represents alcohol distributors, showcased a plan to Congress in December 2018 that would set up a national three-tier cannabis distribution system based on the alcohol model. “We think long-term this is really better for the industry, for society, for our businesses to provide the model of the beverage alcohol industry as an example of what effective safety and regulation looks like,” Michelle Korsmo, WSWA’s new President, told Beverage Media in a recent interview.


As pot history gets written (and rewritten and rewritten), much will ultimately hinge on how the states fall, domino-like. New Jersey and New York are of special interest. Both Governors have already expressed their support for legalization. And the proximity and ease of transverse from NJ to NY means that if one state legalizes, it will put instant pressure on the other.

A behind-doors committee in New York has already begun work on suggested guidelines for legislation. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, many believe their state provides the best evidence that a distribution system for cannabis can and should be modeled on the state’s alcohol control. Fred Leighton, second-generation retailer of Bayway World of Liquor in Elizabeth, NJ, contends: “As a system that both controls a substance in terms of public safety, and has made a wide range of products available, no state does it better than New Jersey.”



    Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   


Read More]]> (Beverage Network) April 2019 Editions Thu, 11 Apr 2019 08:09:57 -0400
Irish Eye's Reasons to Smile Bushmills043

Irish Whiskey keeps growing—in size, selection and value

With all the new distilleries, brands and line extensions emerging from Ireland, whiskey retailers have an unprecedented array of choices that show no sign of narrowing. Accordingly, the proverbial Irish eyes are still smilling broadly at this vibrant sector. Powered by Irish whiskey’s inherently smooth style and the swelling popularity centered on a handful of powerful, widely available brands, the category is not just small and mighty—it is expanding dramatically in breadth.

Take two recent additions stretching what Irish whiskey can be: Dingle and The Sexton. Dingle produces distinct small-batch single malt releases—the third finished in ex-bourbon and Port barrels. The Sexton arrives as an especially young (four years old) malt whiskey meant for category novices and cocktail makers.

After decades of relying on the light and fruity blended triple-distilled spirit that predominates, Irish styles are exploding. Single malts and pure pot still expressions, of course, but also grain whiskey, double distilled variants, peated malts and extended aging and finishing in non-traditional barrels—rum, marsala, or exotic woods like acacia. There’s even an Irish rye now. 

Just about everything good that is happening in whiskey overall is happening with exuberance in the Irish sector.

“There are some great opportunities in innovation,” says Colum Egan, Master Distiller of Bushmills. “There are a lot of consumers who have been drinking Irish whiskey for some time who looking for something new and innovative within the category. Most of us are coming out with different and new expressions that appeal to different sectors of the market.” Bushmills jumped in two years ago with Red Bush, aged in ex-bourbon barrels rather than a mix of those and Sherry casks.

Egan recently ended his chairmanship of the Irish Whiskey Association, and says ensuring that traditional techniques and understanding were available to new entrants—about 20+ distilleries now operate, up from four in 2014, with as many as 20 in development—was the reason the group was founded.


The Caskmates program has brought Jameson critical recognition beyond the brand’s identity as a favorite shot.

The Field Thickens

Major producers are tickled in general with the competition. “It is great for the category, for the growth of Irish whiskey in the U.S. and for the consumer,” says Sona Bajaria, Vice President, High End Irish Whiskey, Pernod Ricard USA. “At Midleton we have an open-door policy. We want to maintain the quality and integrity of Irish whiskey and as such offer our support and expertise to these distilleries in their set-up phases.”

The basis for optimism is strong: Irish whiskey remains one of the fastest-growing categories. Sales internationally are predicted to hit 13 million cases by 2020, up from 10 million in 2017. Recent Nielsen reports put Irish at an annual 12% growth rate here with Ultra-Premium Irish up 7.4%. “We predict the category will continue to grow rapidly as consumers explore new innovations,” says Bajaria.

On the flip side, younger brands are certainly aware—and appreciative—of the way that Pernod Ricard’s Jameson in particular has popularized Irish whiskey, setting the table, so to speak, for new entries.


As the Irish shelves are already not nearly as crowded as more established sectors like single malts and bourbon, the playing field has a wide open and level feel to it, which spurs innovations—like Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish

New & Different

Launched in 1999, Bernard and Rosemary Walsh scored in Ireland with their ready-to-drink Irish coffee, which became the Hot Irishman, and cream liqueurs years before developing two distinct Irish whiskies. In 2007 they launched The Irishman; Writers’ Tears Copper Pot debuted here in 2015.

The Teeling family had been in the whiskey business since 1782, but brothers Jack and Stephen have the family name in the spotlight by experimenting with diverse barrel finishes; releasing a rare “single grain” whiskey; and opening the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years in 2015.

Operating on her family farm in County Clare, a mile from the coast, Louise McGuane is a leader in the revival of whiskey “bonding,” which practically disappeared in the 1930s. For the J.J. Corry brand, named after a legendary nearby whiskey bonder, she blends and matures whiskies from multiple sources.

Lambay Irish Whiskey is a crossover project between the House of Camus and the Baring Family’s Revelstoke Trust. Lambay Small Batch Blend is malted barley and grain whiskies, blended, triple distilled and matured in bourbon barrels with a Cognac cask finish. Lambay Single Malt is unpeated, tripled distilled and finished in Cognac casks that have been exposed to the sea air and maritime winds on Lambay Island.

But no new entry in Irish whiskey has come close to the impact of that latest new name: Proper No. Twelve. Created by mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor, Proper No. Twelve sold out its initial run last fall in less than one month. A blend of Irish grain and single malt whiskey, Proper No. Twelve pays homage to Crumlin, aka Dublin 12, the neighborhood where McGregor was born and raised and which is known for its rich soil and pure spring water.


Red Spot is among the multiple ultra-premium Spot whiskies produced by Pernod Ricard at the Midleton Distillery.

Emerald Road Ahead

Most industry watchers expect robust growth to continue. “I see Irish whiskey still only scratching the surface of consumer interest in the U.S.,” says Powers Brand Leader Ken Reilly. “Irish whiskey only represents 6% to 8% of the U.S. whiskey market, well behind American and Scotch whiskey. The challenge for all non-Jameson brands is to overcome the lack of understanding of Irish whiskey as a distinct subset of whiskey, and to reinforce the unique profile that Irish whiskey offers the drinker.”

“With several Irish whiskeys already bringing to market limited releases, other innovations and special bottlings will likely become a mainstay as the category grows,” says Slane Irish Whiskey co-founder Alex Conyngham. “There will be challenges resulting from increased competition in the marketplace, although this will encourage brands to further differentiate through innovation and flavor profile, which means more choice for consumers.”



Bushmill’s is supporting Red Bush with aggressive online content and social media marketing.

Eye on American Tastes

The U.S. market has been dominated by Jameson with Tullamore and Bushmills the most prominent other brands. But the popular style has its limits, says Jack Teeling, Managing Director of Teeling Whiskey Company. “Shifting consumer tastes are driving the segmentation with consumer and trade interests in more unique and interesting Irish whiskey.”

“By continuing to introduce new offerings that drive interest and relevance among brown spirits drinkers, we’ll continue to generate growth within the Irish whiskey category,” says Ivan Hidalgo, Managing Director, Kilbeggan Distilling Company.

Others are eagerly looking to expand the palate. “We always strive to be at the forefront of trends in the industry,” says Conor Neville, Brand Manager, Tullamore D.E.W. “Innovations such as Caribbean Rum Cask and Cider Cask were two of our most recent successful launches. Because of their popularity, we’ve incorporated Rum Cask into our permanent portfolio and have reintroduced Cider Cask for a second fall season,”

Some distilleries focus on particular areas of tinkering. Teeling not only explores finishes, but tweaks its yeast mix and malt selection. Slane uses three types of casks, one a heavily toasted and medium char virgin oak cask, unusual in Irish whiskey.

Jameson has had success with Caskmates done in exchange with craft brewers, notably Caskmates Stout and Caskmates IPA. “With Jameson Caskmates, we have seen the power of crossing over categories by tapping into consumers’ love of craft beer,” says Jameson’s VP of Marketing, Paul Di Vito. 

For the high-end Pernod brands, finishing techniques, like Redbreast Lustau, and Red Spot, launching in the U.S. in early spring, are significant. Recently, The Spot Range experimented with the releases of Green Spot Château Léoville Barton and Green Spot Chateau Montelena, the first single pot still Irish to be finished in wine casks.

And if consumers respond to the new iterations, the flood will continue. “Trying out different woods and flavor profiles wouldn’t make sense if the market wasn’t open to it,” says The Sexton’s Master Blender, Alex Thomas. “The consumer wants something different and for me as a blender that’s a dream come true.”


    Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2019 Editions Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:41:32 -0500
It's Miller's Time … with National Premium Beer National_Premium_0001.jpg

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?'"

But it wasn't until eight years later, when a Wall Street Journal ad touted an old brand auction in New York City, that he decided to climb that particular mountain.  One of several beer brands up for bid was National Premium, an old Maryland beer originally marketed as the upscale version of National Bohemian (i.e., "Natty Bo").  What he purchased that day were basically the words "National Premium Beer." He would soon add the trademark, then the original formula with help from brewer Ray Klimovitz.

Miller then connected with Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Del. After speaking with CEO Jim Lutz, he contracted with the company as his brewery, Jack Ehmann as his brewmaster, and together they relaunched National Premium Beer just prior to Memorial Day in 2012.

b2ap3_thumbnail_National_Premium_0003.jpgNearly seven years later, Miller is in the early stages of self distributing. "We've been doing self distribution now for about two months," he confirmed, during our chat in mid-January, "and we've really been connecting with our customers, the stores, the restaurants.  We still have distributors in some parts of the state, and we're very, very happy with them.  And, sure, I could always go out and talk to a store operator or owner all I wanted.  But I couldn't really sell them anything.  I'd just hope that everything went through after I left, which it usually did.  But it's just nice to have direct sales feedback from what you're doing."

Along the way, the former oilman has come to learn a lot about the beverage some call "suds," others call "brewskie," and still others call a "cold one."  He remarked, "People love beer!  They love talking about it.  They love drinking it.  They love hearing stories about it.  I've found they want to know everything they can about National Premium.  The questions and stories keep coming, too.  I'll get, 'Oh, my grandfather was a pipe fitter at the original brewery.' There's always some kind of connection."

He remembers being immediately attracted to the colors of the National Premium label, specifically purple for the Baltimore Ravens and orange for the Orioles. "There's a lot of heritage with that crest and the classic look of it," he said.  "And there is the nostalgia factor. We have the classic beer taste (Pilsener) that might remind you of a beer you stole a sip from your dad or your grandfather.  It's crisp, clean, and satisfying."

b2ap3_thumbnail_National_Premium_0002.jpgOver the years, he has expanded his company with the addition of the old "Wild Goose Brewery" assets and subsequently re-released Wild Goose Snow Goose and Wild Goose IPA.  But it's his re-launch of National Premium that continues to garner the most attention. 

He stated, "At its peak, the Wild Goose brands were in 13 states, and National Premium was a global brand.  I think it was everywhere except the Middle East.  We've been out for seven years in May.  We've done Delaware and some other areas, but for now we're focused on Maryland."

Looking ahead, in addition to stepping up self-distribution, Miller is eagerly anticipating the new canned version of National Premium beer becoming available.  He concluded, "The brewery in Dover that makes National Premium just got a canning line.  They've done a couple runs of it.  So, maybe by mid- to late April, it'll all be ready.  We're really excited about getting cans.  Pools, boats, golf carts -- National Premium will become even more of a warm weather, summertime kind of beer."

For more info, call 410-310-3553 or email

    Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2019 Editions Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:33:24 -0500
Smart Short-Cuts Bee-Hive

Bar Biz: Some save time, some add flair… 
little things can really elevate a bar’s game

While most of the attention in Cocktail World lands on bars and restaurants pushing the limits or carving out narrow niches, the vast majority of operations that serve drinks have a myriad of concerns beyond drink-making. Given that and increased customer knowledge and expectations, what is the average bar and restaurant to do to up their cocktail game?

Kim-Mixing_hi-resIf you ask  consultant and author Kim Haasarud of Liquid Architecture (pictured), for clients that are relatively new to craft cocktails, keeping it simple but better is the right approach.

“Those simple, three-ingredient cocktails are really in fashion right now and there are so many really good spirits out there. You can make some pretty great drinks using simple ingredients,” she says. Drinks like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds score very high on most drink menu surveys, she notes, and any number of tweaks—adding a dash of Chartreuse to a Margarita, or an amaro to spice up a Whiskey Sour, or using split bases, like bourbon with Cognac or tequila with mezcal—can smartly customize standard recipes.

A Visit to Tweakville

As limited drink menus with perhaps a dozen cocktails have become common, non-craft bars can easily take advantage of the trend by creating a list of classics with special tweaks. Among those three-ingredient classics, Haasarud suggests that the broad range of vermouths and amaros well-priced and with a wide flavor palate allow an operator to tweak drinks like Negronis and Manhattans. For example, suggests menuing a Negroni three ways, changing the gin and sweet vermouth brands to craft something unusual.

Another easy change: tap into the wide selection of adult sodas available to improve the Highball game in Palomas or Cuba Libres, for example.

Some upgrades are even more basic, but can easily create a higher-level cocktail game, says David Commer of Commer Beverage Consulting. “Ingredients are the big thing, like fresh lemon and lime, and other better ingredients like fresh juices. One of the things I struggle with in consulting with newer beverage operators is they want to pick wings off butterflies to make drinks with and it doesn’t have to be that complicated,” he says.

Simple Does It 
Three-ingredient classics such as an Old Fashioned and a Cosmopoliltan are especially ripe for tweaking.

Fresh juices and house-made simple syrups with flavor tweaks can move complex drinks into the realm of possibility for the average bar, Coomer says. “Infusing syrups is a good way to get cool flavors done in advance so that drink assembly is simpler—things like rosemary lemon sour or hibiscus tea-infused vodka.” For restaurant-first operators, prep cooks accustomed to measuring and mixing can easily take on pre-batching and ingredient assembly, putting the tasks in professional hands.

Both agree that from mixing ingredients together for speed scratch it is a short hop to batching drinks in advance. “For clients that are high volume, they should definitely consider batching. This is something the pros are doing at some of the top mixology bars in the nation and with this you can have very complex cocktails that can be created in three steps,” says Haasarud.

Speed scratch and batching also help create a level of consistency that is hard to achieve in the average bar with a varying level of bartender skill and experience.

For one client, Omni Hotels, Haasarud added smaller versions of new cocktails as shots. “They are like small tastes that allow a group to come in and instead of ordering a round of Kamikazes they can have some of the new cocktails in shot form. It allows guests to be more experimental at a lower cost—$5 rather than $15. It’s an easier way to sell cocktails and helps guests be exploratory,” she says.

First and foremost, though, is better training, says Haasarud. “If you’re going to invest anything in your program, don’t invest in a huge amount of spirits a bartender doesn’t know how to use, invest in training so they know how to shake and stir a cocktail properly.”

   Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2019 Editions Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:14:11 -0500
Hunter Douglas of Hank's in DC IMG_3291

Hunter Douglas is the bar manager at Hank’s Oyster Bar Dupont Circle and just-opened Hank’s Cocktail Bar, part of the Washington, D.C.-based Jamie Leeds Restaurant Group.

Beverage Journal: How does Hank’s Cocktail Bar, an industry hangout that originated in Petworth and is soon to re-open in Dupont Circle, differ from the oyster bar, where guests eat lobster deviled eggs and sip libations like the I Dream of Pralines (pecan-cinnamon-infused bourbon, Licor 43, burnt sugar, ginger/orange bitters)?

Hunter Douglas: Hank’s Cocktail Bar is our playground and a space to dive into some of the District’s most exciting beverages, but both concepts share the philosophy of JL Restaurant Group by featuring the use of fresh produce and seasonal ingredients. Customers leave having experienced consistently well-made cocktails to fit their mood, and there is an opportunity to play and be overly adventurous, enjoy a slight variation of your favorite or stick to what you know and love in either place. 

BJ: There are now four locations of Hank’s Oyster Bar. How has the group’s beverage vision evolved along with the growth of the JL Restaurant Group portfolio? 

HD: JL Restaurant Group establishments now have regionally-recognized bar programs that are built on the success of our past initiatives. The aim is to be playful while remaining grounded in classics. For example, a few of the new menu categories at Hank’s Cocktail Bar are “We Invented the Remix,” “Beertails” and “Size Matters.” We’re serious about our cocktails, but want the atmosphere to be comfortable, social and a D.C. must-visit.

BJ: Eco-friendly measures are thankfully becoming more prevalent behind the bar these days. How are you responding to this shift?

HD: We’re currently focusing on developing and implementing sustainable practices. I want to move beyond simply making cordials and adjusting acid in old juices to reconfiguring how we view everything from water usage to the products we carry to utilizing waste. One of the cocktails on the new menu, She Who Lives in a Shell, uses recycled oyster shells that are shucked during service and washed to infuse dry vermouth with a briny, mineral flavor.

IMG_3289Upshur Street Familia

An unlisted ingredient in this cocktail is progress. Or perhaps nostalgia. Upshur Street was the previous location of Hank’s Cocktail Bar, which relocated to the second floor of the Hank’s Oyster Bar near Dupont Circle. 


1 ¼ oz Lunazul Tequila Blanco

¾ oz PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur

1 oz fresh Pineapple Juice

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Ginger Syrup*

1 oz Dry Cider (Austin Eastciders Original recommended)

¾ oz Angostura Bitters
Method: Build all ingredients, except bitters, in tin and shake. Pour over a footed highball filled with crushed ice. Garnish with Angostura Bitters, an orchid, and dehydrated lemon.

*Ginger Syrup: Peel ginger and blend with equal parts sugar and water by weight. Strain and refrigerate.

   Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read More]]> (Beverage Network) March 2019 Editions Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:00:48 -0500