Solbeso: A New Spirit from the Tropics

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.

 

 

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From Ballet to Booze

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.

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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.

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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.)

 

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

100 tips to build your personal brand and succeed in business

book coverWhat does this have to do with the Booze Business?

Glad you asked.

James Espey, a good friend and business associate, wrote the book. James has been at the forefront of innovation in the spirits industry with such creations as Malibu, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Johnnie Walker Blue, among others. He was President of United Distillers North America and Chivas and Martell at Seagram.

If that’s not enough, he is the founder of The Last Drop Distillers LTD (producing rare scotch and cognac from literally the last available stocks) and was recently awarded the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth.

Here’s how the book is described:

Harnessing decades of experience in managing and developing top international brands, James Espey has refined his wisdom into 100 bite-sized tips in his new book MAKING YOUR MARQUE. His clear, down-to-earth advice has been carefully structured to benefit readers at all stages of their career…  At its heart is the importance of creating and nurturing your own brand – making your marque – in order to achieve business success and career fulfillment.

So, I asked James some questions about the book.

BB: What prompted you to write it?

James: I worry about the lack of mentoring and guidance in today’s world.  Everything is frenetic and instant. I have given a couple of talks at different graduate schools and this convinced me more than ever that people wanted a book addressing fundamentals but in a succinct and easy to read format.

BB: So the book is aimed at young people?

James: Not at all. There are three audiences – the young graduate starting out in life and thus the beginning of the book is crucial; the upwardly mobile 30-55 year old, the main target audience; then for people looking towards the end of their career, what to do next.

BB: Why is personal branding so important these days?

James: Everything is a brand and it’s as important to build your own personal brand, as it is to build consumer brands. Besides, it’s a very competitive business world these days and branding is vital.

BB: Tell us about your favorite sections of the book.

James: Here are some of the chapter headings.

“Your Own Vision:  Who do you want to be?”

“Who should you seek to work for?”

“Plan Your Exit from the company when they are trying to employ you because that is when you are strongest in negotiation.”

“Friends in the office – true or false”

“Be nice to people on the way up, with luck they may remember you on the way down”.

BB: Thank you James.

Making Your Marque is an entertaining and fun book but also a life guide. I plan to give as a graduation gift as well as to those changing jobs and retiring. It’s an engaging and informative guide to building a career.

The only complaint I have about the book (like most people who have read it) is that I could have used it when I was starting out. Or, when Seagram closed. Or, when I started this blog. Oh well, it’s never too late.

By the way, Making Your Marque is available on Amazon.com in hard copy as well as e-book.

James Espey
James Espey

 

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