Here Comes Cider

July 17th, 2014 No comments

“Alcohol cider sales booming across the U.S.…”

…Read the headline from a recent edition of the Chicago Tribune as reported by Mark Brown’s Buffalo Trace Industry Newsletter.

While the size of the cider market in the US is small relative to beer, the rate of growth has been nothing less than “explosive,” according to CSP Daily News, which monitors convenience store salesIndeed it has. In the past 10 years, cider sales have grown 16%, and in the last five, 35%. Cider accounts for only 1% of the total beer sales but is expected to climb to 5% in a few years.

(See my previous post on cider two years ago.)

Why the growth?

I think there are a number of forces at work accounting for the willingness to try cider and add it to the drinking repertoire. These would include a taste that many perceive to be crisper and more satisfying than beer; product imagery that appeals to a wide and diverse demographic base; a replacement for ready-to-drink (RTD) products that are generally made from malt. But, more recently, there is another phenomenon at play – concerns about gluten. Yes, gluten.

Check out this chart. It’s from the CSP Daily News reporting on a study by RBC Capital Markets that correlates interest in “gluten free” (via Google searches) and the growth of cider.  Not sure I buy that but there’s no question that gluten free has become an important purchase factor. In fact a recent NY Times article reported “… households reporting purchases of gluten-free food products to Nielsen hit 11 percent last year, rising from 5 percent in 2010.”

Cider sales and interest in gluten free as reported by CSP Daily News

Cider sales and interest in gluten free as reported by CSP Daily News

If you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em

Two other interesting pieces of information came my way that suggests continued, if not accelerating, growth for cider.

First, the beer folks are coming on board. Angry Orchard Cider by Boston Beer is a major player as are the products from MillerCoors – Crispin, from ABI – Stella Cidre and from Heineken – Strongbow. The big beer players sat out the craft beer phenomenon and have been playing catch up, so I suppose they don’t want to make the same mistake with cider.

The Count of Żubrówka: 1.5 oz of ZU; .75 oz Amaro Montenegro; .5 oz Lemon juice; 4 oz hard apple cider

The Count of Żubrówka: 1.5 oz of ZU; .75 oz Amaro Montenegro; .5 oz Lemon juice; 4 oz hard apple cider

Second, I came across an interesting piece in that had some mouth-watering drinks with the delicious combination of ZU Bison Grass Vodka (Żubrówka) and hard apple cider. If you’re not familiar with Żubrówka, you ought to try it.

Will cider continue its growth? I certainly think so. But, at roughly an estimated 2 million hectoliters vs. beer’s 250 million, it has a long, long way to go.

“Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits.” — Henry David Thoreau, Wild Applesapples-sea-cider1


Solbeso: A New Spirit from the Tropics

June 19th, 2014 1 comment

Introducing a new brand and new category of distilled spirit

UnknownSolbeso (derived from the Spanish for Sun and Kiss; “Kiss of the Sun”) is the first premium, distilled spirit made from cacao fruit. At 80 proof, this product has created a new category that is currently considered by the TTB as a Distilled Spirits Specialty. But it’s way more than that.

Imagine this: You’re in Peru visiting farms growing cacao on behalf of a chocolate venture. You discover that after the cacao pods are harvested, the beans are collected but the pulpy, tasty cacao fruit is thrown away. They tell you that the fruit oxidizes very quickly and soon starts to ferment so nothing is done with it. For most of us, that’s the end of the conversation.

Not for Thomas Higbee and Thomas Aabo, the founders of Solbeso. If Whiskey comes from grain, vodka from grain or potatoes, tequila from agave and cachaça from cane – why not create a new category from cacao fruit. Which is exactly what they did.

The aromatic fruit comes from family farms and co-ops throughout Latin America where cacao production has been going on for centuries. In fact, up until the arrival of Europeans, the people of Mesoamerica fermented the fruit into a low proof mead-like beverage. (In case you don’t know, tequila’s origin is pulque, which comes from an agave plant with a similar history among Mesoamericans.)

The Thomas’s decided to ferment and distill the “delicate, citrusy sweet pulp” into a spirit. By the way, the fruit bears no resemblance to the dark and bitter cacao bean, which is used to produce chocolate. Solbeso has no chocolate taste whatsoever.

So, what does it taste like?

I like it a lot. It’s a very unique taste that I enjoyed on the rocks with a lemon twist. To me, it has a slight citrus taste with an ever so slight aroma of chocolate. Definitely more complex, with a soft finish as compared to vodka consumed the same way. Unlike vodka, which is masked by the flavors you mix it with, Solbeso “plays well with others” and enhances the cocktail ingredients. You know it’s there but it doesn’t overpower the drink like tequila, cachaça or pisco .

A new spirit and a new brand

A new spirit and a new brand

Where does it come from?

Here’s the part I love. Similar to grapes, cacao fruit is influenced by terroir and as a result, it can come from a variety or areas in the tropics (between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) but currently from farms in Peru and Ecuador. Like grapes, it can come from other areas that meet the terroir requirements. In addition, they use a specialized strain of yeast that ensures consistency from region to region.

What about cocktails?

Thomas Higbee talks about the versatility of the taste and I’ve mentioned its enhancement to cocktails. Believe it or not, it makes a great Manhattan – they call it El Conquistador – made with sweet vermouth and bitters. (A Manhattan from a white spirit? What is this world coming to?)

The most interesting drink is the Picante No. 2 made with muddled jalapeño and fresh lemon juice. (See Recipe)

 Where to find it?

Picante No. 2: 2 parts Solbeso, 1 part lemon juice, ¾ part simple syrup, 2-3 jalapeño slices. Muddle jalapeño with fresh lemon juice.

Picante No. 2: 2 parts Solbeso, 1 part lemon juice, ¾ part simple syrup, 2-3 jalapeño slices. Muddle jalapeño with fresh lemon juice.

Solbeso sells for $40 for a 750ml bottle. It’s available at select retailers, restaurants and bars throughout NYC and Miami. You can find locations on their website. While distribution is limited, I think it will grow over time. The brand — as the saying goes — has legs (longevity).

What’s the outlook?

From what I can see, the Thomas’s have the knowledge, horsepower and entrepreneurial drive to make Solbeso a huge success. After all, those consumers who love to discover new products don’t often get to see a new category being created.

At the same time, their biggest challenge might be what category is it in – Distilled Spirits Specialty (TTB), New World Spirits (the name of their company) or something else — DrinkUpNY referred to it as Cacao Spirit.

I don’t think it matters. Consumers drink brands not categories.



Big Data and Booze — BeverageGrades® Website

May 27th, 2014 No comments

Move over wine experts – a new approach to wine information

If you’re the average wine buyer you probably find yourself staring at the shelf to make a selection. Maybe you look at the ratings from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast. Perhaps you select by the attractiveness of the label. Or, you rely on the wine mavens and their recommendations.

Concerning the latter, a number of experiments with wine aficionados and their ratings suggest that they are more subjective than objective. (Check out Chapter One of Think Like a Freak by Levitt and Dubner, their latest book on practical economics.)

I recently came across an article entitled, “Wine tasting is BS. Here’s Why.” The author cites a number of reasons for this judgment including – Wine experts contradict themselves; we taste with our eyes, not our mouths; and, based on a 2008 survey, that concluded with “both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.”

Introducing BeverageGrades® Website



This is a new venture developed and owned by Kevin Hicks (a former distributor) and Kevin Byrnes (an internet expert). Their website describes them as “the only resource for ‘objective’ wine, beer and spirits ratings and health & nutrition information.” You can find it here.

They claim to have the world’s largest database of wines, spirits and beer. (Although, the information they provide currently is only for wine; the other categories are in development.) I gotta tell you – it’s very cool.

First, they have conducted lab tests for all relevant flavor and aroma compounds as well as – are you ready – nutritional information including calories, sugar, pesticides, preservatives, heavy metals and antioxidants.

What happens is, you enter the criteria, wine type, region, varietal, price range, brands and you get an analysis of the wines that fit the information you entered. The brands that come up detail flavors, aromas, a Beverage Grade rating, and the average price, among other information.


The BeverageGrade system

But wait, that ain’t all

They have a feature they call Copy Cat® which, “Using science and technology, our data helps you find very similar (and often identical) tasting wines for a fraction of the price.” Nice. In the example I tried, a 2008 Jordan Cabernet at $46.98 was a 97% match with a Simi Cabernet at $18.75. They describe the match as “tiny differences detected.” They even provide what their analysis suggests is the “true” price for all wines in the database.

The site should become even more interesting when they turn their attention to beer and spirits. In effect, they have preempted the government and nutritional ratings for alcohol products.

Oh and by the way, their ratings are based on objective criteria.

But wait a minute… Does relying on the information from BeverageGrade mean I won’t be reading such interesting reviews as this?

A nose of melted plastic, burnt toast and deck shoes worn without socks, this one is a true gift. Every sip brings reminisces of sun tanning after a morning of mosquito bites and family conflict. Great for tonight as an accompaniment for anxiety and an uncertain future plus goes remarkably well with the movie Scarface. What are you waiting for? Say hello to your little friend.

Just as well.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Do you have any idea?

Do you have any idea?


Stop and Smell the Rosé

May 13th, 2014 4 comments

The Much Maligned Rosé

I was visiting some liquor stores and wine shops recently and noticed lots of displays featuring rosé wines, which I love. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about rosé and, frankly neither did the salespeople I spoke with.

In fact, as I pursued trying to increase my knowledge, the so-called mavens I know weren’t that helpful either.

So, here I am, a wine drinker who loves rosé and I’m surrounded by myths and misinformation.

I set out to rectify the situation and here’s what I’ve learned so far.

(Feel free to chime in with comments or send me an email.)


Nielsen Data. Sales of imported rosé table wines.

Nielsen Data. Sales of imported rosé table wines.

I learned that I’m not alone in my preference and adoration of rosé. The most recent data I saw indicated that imported rosé sales are growing sharply. In fact, an article in the May 5th Examiner has this to say:

“While drinking pink wine (at least publicly) was previously relegated to newbies quaffing White Zinfandel and other sweet blush wines, today’s rosés run the gamut in hue and are primarily dry in style. With a decade of growth in the U.S. market, rosé continues to be one of the U.S.’s fastest growing wine categories in retail sales; the message is clear: Rosé is here to stay.”

So there… I am not alone. I also will bet that like me, drinking rosé goes beyond just the summer, picnics and barbeques. Those of you who sass rosé can just stick it you-know-where. (Hint – it rimes with sass.)

Myth: Mixing red and white wine together is how you make rosé.

Ha. If you believe this then please leave this blog.

Lightly crushing red grapes and macerating the liquid with the skins for a period of time makes rosé. The juice is strained from the solid stuff to create a “must” which is then fermented in tanks.

The longer the grapes’ skins are left sitting in the wine, the darker the color. That’s why there are many shades of rosé.

Rosé wine colors --depending on how long the skins are left in the wine.

Rosé wine colors –depending on how long the skins are left in the wine.

Other Factoids

I came across an interesting article on Buzzfeed about rosé with some interesting “things you need to know.”

Such as:

Rosé can come from anywhere in the world but generally old world rosé will usually be drier and new world rosé might be less dry. While I love all types of rosé, I’m especially fond of those from Provence, France.

With rosé the newest vintage is the freshest so don’t be skittish about drinking it young. You won’t find anything dated more than two or three years ago and, forget about hoarding it in your cellar. Rosé is meant to be consumed young and that’s reflected in the price, which means there are great options in the $15 range.

Oh, and finally, about barbeques…while rosé is not meant only for those events, it is great with food you grill outdoors.

There you have it, a layperson’s learning about rosé. I have to tell you that writing this post has made me very thirsty. Also, I intend to scour the Internet for rosé tasting events.

Do you know any?

Stay tuned.


A glass of rosé and a sunset. What could be better?


Categories: Wine Tags: , ,

From Ballet to Booze

May 6th, 2014 No comments

Meet Allison Patel, a whisky-loving woman and former ballerina.

Allison is the owner/producer of her own whisky, Brenne, a French Single Malt made in Cognac, France. She reinvented herself into the booze business as a second career after hanging up her tutu and pointe shoes.


Brenne whisky, an incredible product.

I am very glad she did – trust me when I tell you it’s a terrific world-class whisky. It’s very unique, smooth and approachable.

Here’s the product story:

Brenne is made from estate-grown barley and is harvested, distilled, matured and bottled in Cognac, France. The expertise in distilling comes from a 3rd generation craft distiller. As Allison describes it, “It’s crafted from seed to spirit.” The taste is extraordinary and is a result of the malted barley and the barreling. Brenne Whisky starts in new Limousin oak barrels and is finished in Cognac casks, giving it a slight hint of fruit that sets it apart from other whiskies. Each bottle comes from a single barrel selected at its peak. Brenne was officially launched in October 2012 but only after many years of developing and maturing her product. So, add patience to Allison’s skill set.

Allison’s story is no less interesting:

She and her husband have always shared a passion for food and drink from all over the world. Making an effort to visit local markets, wineries, and distilleries in their travels, they have developed an appreciation of great taste experiences, especially with their favorite category — whisky.


Allison Patel with Brenne whisky

After failing to find many “non-traditional” whiskies in the US, Allison took it into own her hands and started setting up an import/export company for this sole purpose. Allison is a most interesting person with drive and tenacity, mixed with charm and humility. She launched a brand and still managed to maintain a balanced view of her efforts. One chat with Allison is all it takes to feel great about the future of the spirits industry. From Allison’s personal blog, The Whisky Woman, about being a booze business startup:

This is not an easy road at all.  Naturally, I only share publicly the highlights of this journey, but I tell people who are thinking about starting their own brand in the spirits world to not be fooled by the happy-go-lucky social media sharing; everything looks easier then it seems, even the stuff that looks impossible.  But… the moment when you start to realize your dream is becoming a reality is unlike anything else.  Its deep, exciting and can rock you to the core.

I guess that dancing on your toes is good training for the booze business.

By the way,

She and another new and exciting booze business entrepreneur, Jack Summers (Sorel Liqueur), often team up for joint promotion opportunities. In fact, it was Jack who introduced us and recently introduced me to a Brenne and Sorel cocktail called The Last Call. We’re talking amazing here, folks. (Recipe: 2 oz Brenne, 1 oz Sorel, let it rest and breath for a minute.)



Allison Patel and Jack Summers enjoying the fruits of their labor — The Last Call. Photo credit: Christina Soto-Chimelis