The Columbian Exchange – Ever Heard of it?

One of the most important events in history

The Columbian Exchange (sometimes called the Grand Exchange) was the exchange of goods and ideas from Europe, Africa, and Asia with goods and ideas from the Americas. An historian named Alfred Crosby was said to have coined the phrase in 1972, describing the exchange of crops and livestock between the New World and the Old World.

From the Savory Spice Shop blog.
From the Savory Spice Shop blog.

For example, the New World received such staples of our diet as citrus, apples, bananas, onions, coffee, wheat and rice. In exchange, the Old World received such plants as maize, tomato, vanilla, cacao and potato.

In terms of influence consider this:

Before Columbus discovered the Americas, there were no potatoes in Ireland. By the 1840s, the Irish Potato Famine caused deaths and massive emigration. Tomatoes came to Spain from the New World and from there to Italy and forever changed the culinary style of the country.

More than just food

So far as livestock is concerned, most of the exchange went from the Old World to the New World, including horses, pigs, cattle, chickens, large dogs and cats. Not many animals went the other way, with the notable exception of the turkey. Oh, and let’s not forget that when it comes to diseases, the Old World sent far more than it received – from measles to malaria.

What does this have to do with booze?

Ah, glad you asked.

A few weeks ago, a reader of this blog named Desmond Nazareth, who lives in India, contacted me to tell me about his company – Agave India Industries Ltd. Turns out that Mr. Nazareth is an entrepreneur, a graduate from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and is producing authentic artisanal spirit made from Agave Americana. If you look at the list of New World to Old World exchanges, the agave plant is right up there.

Desmond Nazareth and an Indian Agave plant.
Desmond Nazareth and an Indian Agave plant.

He can’t call it tequila or even mescal due to appellation requirements but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck – you get the idea – it must be a duck.

Mr. Nazareth is arranging for me to see and taste his product and I’ll get back to you. I’ll also tell you how the agave plant got to India and about his extraordinary spirits enterprise.

So stay tuned.

 

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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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Product Placements

Think about E.T. and Reese’s Pieces. Smirnoff and James Bond. “You’ve Got Mail” and Starbuck’s.

Product placements in film and TV, depending on whom you talk to, are considered a critical brand building or reinforcement tool. There are some, however, who see it as low impact — it’s ok if you don’t have to pay for it.

In doing a little research on the subject lately, I’ve come across some interesting information.

First, consider this from a study on the subject: (Link)

“…the type of product-placement an advertiser opts for should depend on their marketing goals. If you want to build awareness … it’s probably best to opt for a placement that plays a role in the story itself. But if you just want to reinforce preferences for a well-known brand (say, “Coke” versus “Pepsi”), it’s probably not necessary to go to that expense. Just having your brand in the movie works just as well.

Second, I spoke to Joel Henrie who runs Motion Picture Placement, a leader in the field and an old friend who informs me that the upcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (the sequel) had adult beverage companies tripping over themselves to pay for placement. We’re talking big bucks here.

My first exposure to product placement (albeit from a distance) was shortly after I joined Seagram. It was on behalf of Herradura Tequila.

Based on film industry connections, the company had an opportunity (which I believe turned into a mandate) to place the brand in a film called Tequila Sunrise. Aside from the title as a perfect fit, the placement involved brand exposure galore — verbal mentions, bottle exposure on the bar and consumed by the actors, signage, even a bus passing by with a Herradura ad on the side. So, there was a role for the brand in the story, not a central role, but the title alone made the brand a key element.

Even more, Tequila Sunrise was star studded and sure to have target audience appeal. Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell starred; Robert Towne wrote and directed the movie. A sure thing, right?

The movie sucked and never lived up to its promise. A Variety review summed it up nicely: “There’s not much kick in this cocktail, despite its mix of quality ingredients.” Roger Ebert wrote, “It’s hard to surrender yourself to a film that seems to be toying with you.”

The small number of people who saw the film agreed.

I’ve always been a proponent of product placement and integration. To me, it makes good sense as a brand-building tool. But, I’ve learned the following:

  • Positive impact on a brand is not a foregone conclusion. No matter how well the product is shown and integrated, sometimes, the only winner is the TV or film producer. But, that’s true for all media.
  • For adult beverages, how the product is portrayed is as important as the portrayal itself. Enough said.
  • If the story doesn’t click with audiences, the brand becomes “collateral damage.” Unfortunately, there’s no real way to predict it, but worth the shot.

Have you noticed what E.T. did for Reese’s Pieces? As I’ve been told, it was first offered to Mars on behalf of M&Ms and they turned it down. Hershey said yes.

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