New Booze Products: Brilliant and Dumb

Wine and Spirits Daily had two announcements about new spirits product recently. One makes sense and the other, well, you decide.

Highlander honeyGood Idea

The flavored whiskey category has been on fire with brands like Wild Turkey American Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and Jim Beam Red Stag among others. Now the folks from Dewar’s Scotch (owned by Bacardi) are entering the flavored whisk(e)y category with Highlander Honey, a scotch infused with honey.

Imagine, they have the audacity to try to break down the stuffiness and out-of-date sacred walls of the blended scotch category. Never mind that blended scotch growth has been declining to flat in the past decade while other whiskies (including malts) have been growing. It’s not about adapting to changing tastes, it’s about a stiff upper lip refusing to swallow change.

Check this out. The Diageo head of whisky outreach (huh? I think that’s a way of saying, ‘can I buy you a drink?’), was quoted as saying Scotch has too much “integrity” and “authenticity” to get into flavors. Diageo and integrity in the same sentence? My word! Also, the Scotch Whiskey Association is not very happy about it. Better to go down with the ship, eh, what?

Hey, it’s a good idea for the reasons I shared with Wine and Spirits Daily,

“It’s a terrific idea and well worth trying,” long-time industry exec Arthur Shapiro told WSD. ” First, the blended scotch market is declining and this could be a shot in the arm. Second, the flavored whiskey (US) brands have ‘greased the skids’ so consumer acceptance would be easier than it might have been before these brands came on the market. Third, it adds contemporariness to the scotch area and removes the stuffiness. Fourth, probably makes for a good mixed drink. Finally, I like the ‘seriousness’ of scotch and the fun of a flavored scotch product.”

Put that in your copper still and cook it.

Mama WalkerYou gotta be kidding me

Pernod Ricard, who until recently earned my respect for terrific innovations and new products, has launched what seems to be an April Fool’s joke.

They are introducing a line of new products under the Hiram Walker name called Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. Apparently it’s intended to “tap into the comfort food, sweet and savory flavor combinations” trend (or is it fad?) not to mention the confectionary/cake vodka flavors. This breakfast of champions is available in Maple Bacon, Blueberry Pancake and Glazed Donut.

Come on folks, are you serious? Next thing you’re going to tell us is that they hardly taste artificial.

Can’t you just see the ad campaign?

“A bit hung over from a hard night of drinking? Looking for something to smooth out the rough edges? Forget about the all night diner and the bacon, eggs and pancake special. Try some of Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs… we’ll perk you right up with our original comfort booze. Just remember… your Mama knows best.”


“Tired of the same old breakfast? Cereal, eggs or fruit can be soooo boring… Start you day off right with Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. What a great way to face the stress of what awaits you. Boss on your back? Kids on your nerves? Mama can help…Comes with or without a brown paper bag… But, remember, don’t eat breakfast and drive!”

Any thoughts on either product?


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The Bartender’s Bartender

ray-foleyRay Foley is many things – a bartender, writer and publisher, drink creator, storyteller, entrepreneur, ex-marine – but don’t ever refer to him as a mixologist.

Anyone who has been in the booze business knows that it’s the men and women behind the bar who build brands, invent drinks and are the backbone of the business. Let’s face it; it wasn’t a suit that created the Cosmo or any other top drink, it was a barkeep.

I first met Ray back in the day at Seagram when everyone talked about the fuzzy navel and credited him with coming up with the idea. More importantly, of all the publishers and sales reps who called on me, he was among the very few who understood the business and was a key to the important on-premise trade.

In the intervening years, he has continued to reach over 100,000 bartenders in Bartender Magazine and hundreds of thousands on Along with his wife Jaclyn, they’ve been running the magazine for over 30 years. Together they’ve created the Bartender Hall of Fame and run a foundation to provide scholarships for bartenders and their children.

Ray has written dozens of books, including Bartending for Dummies. A perfect title for an outspoken, take-no-prisoners, ex-Marine who hates BS and bartender for dummiessome of the changes he sees in the bartender profession. But, I’ll let you in on a secret – deep down he’s a kind and gentle man who speaks his mind but carries no malice.

Let’s take the phrase ‘mixologist’ for instance. Here’s a quote I found in New Jersey (where the Foleys reside) Magazine, “A mixologist is a person who really doesn’t know how to tend bar but has the money to get a PR agent.” He told me pretty much the same thing when I interviewed him for this posting but went on to say that he really has no argument with the phrase and much respect for the serious mixologists. But, it’s those who are all ego and no skill, that get his Irish up. So if you call yourself “The Bar Guru” or “Mr. Mojito” stay out of his way.

Ray comes from the school where a good bartender is partly a person who serves drinks and mainly a person who does so with personality and customer service.

When I was running new products and we needed a signature or other drink to make the brand take hold, I learned two important things from Ray. The first was to let the drink idea come organically from behind the bar – the bartender or (forgive me, Ray) the mixologist. In other words, let the professionals do it and keep the marketing suits out of the kitchen.

The second was, in order for a drink recipe to take hold, keep it simple. According to Ray, “Creating a drink with avocado juice and lemongrass doesn’t impress me…how many bars have those ingredients?”

Of all the thousands of people who read Booze Business, I generally think about Ray when I do a posting. He never hesitates to let me know what he thinks and generally, the emails from Ray have been helpful and positive.

Except when I use the dreaded ‘mixologist’ word.

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Booze Appellations: Does where it comes from matter?

carte_des_crus+Some appellations matter a great deal and provide the reassurance that what you’re drinking is what you wanted. While appellations generally refer to wine, let’s look at it more broadly, including spirits. A Scotch from the US, for example, wouldn’t cut it, nor would Bourbon from Scotland. Different ingredients, recipes and distillation processes. Different origins.

What about cognac vs. brandy? Simple — all cognac is brandy. But, not all brandy is cognac. Brandy can only be labeled as cognac if it is produced in the designated growing areas in the Charentes region of France. To me, the cognac appellation means that the product has heritage, provenance and a unique production process behind it.

Okay, how about Tequila? All Tequilas are Mezcals, but not all Mezcals are Tequilas. Tequila must be made from at least 51% Blue Agave and come from the tequila region of Mexico. Anything less, or outside of the tequila region is known as a Mezcal.

Which brings me to Champagne vs. sparkling wine.

Robert Klara from Adweek interviewed me last month about an ad from the Champagne Bureau USA. You can find the article here.

The champagne people, in an effort to recapture lost ground to such sparkling wine products as Prosecco, Cava, Moscato, Sekt and of course, California Sparkling Wine, have run an ad letting consumers know that only Champagne comes from France. Leaving aside the silliness of the ad’s execution, I believe they simply don’t get the consumer’s interest in bubbly wine regardless of the appellation.

They have reason to be concerned. Sparkling wine as a category outsells Champagne by more than 10 to 1, and has grown much faster over the last five years.

sparkling wine image

I’m a Prosecco fan. It’s bubbly, dry, pleasant tasting and fun. Is it a replacement for Champagne? Sometimes, but I’m also a Moët & Chandon fan. For me, the difference is mood, occasion and situation. While I might serve Prosecco at a party, only Champagne would meet the drink needs of a wedding. A sparkling wine would be great at a picnic but only Moët Vintage Champagne would be right for celebrating opening night for one of my plays (sigh, if only).

If the Champagne people want me to drink more of their bubbly and less Italian or California sparkling wine, they need to understand consumer needs and wants and align their product offerings accordingly.

After all, I’m not drinking ‘imitation’ Champagne; I’m drinking real Prosecco.

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