Redcliff a cola-based 'American liqueur'

New liqueurs don't come on the market every day. Thus, consumer tastes are pretty much locked in unless a new product can find, or create, a niche to fill.

Franklin Arcella, a Las Vegas businessman who spent nearly three decades launching new products for Seagram's, is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with his new 65 proof Redcliff liqueur.

Arcella is perhaps best known in the liquor industry for the creation of Corazon Tequila. He has been working for several years with flavor chemist Win Adler to come up with what he terms "a true American liqueur."

The bottle is shaped similarly to a cowboy's saddlebag flask, has an original image label by Colorado artist Stephen Reaves and a logo that Reaves created with a palette knife.

Inside, the cola-based liqueur is a flavor first in the industry. While Arcella won't reveal the formula, he will expound on it.

"The flavor of cola is something with which everyone can identify. However, there are a total of 15 ingredients in Redcliff which makes it very unique. Redcliff is both full bodied and complex; the first taste will be different from the next. The flavor is user friendly and mysterious."

Despite the cola base, Arcella says Redcliff has a lower sugar content than most liqueurs. How do you drink it?

"Some people like to drink it straight while others enjoy the mixability with rum, bourbon or their favorite soft drink, especially Red Bull. Because Redcliff is a very complex beverage, it is best to experience it in three stages: First, a small sip will adjust the palate to the unique blend of spices. A second, longer sip will linger on the tongue to expose the rich, warm flavor of vanilla. And thirdly, a shot of Redcliff leaves an intriguing cola finish."

The target market for the California-made product is the 21 to 35 age range. Pricing for a 750ml bottle is in the $23-$26 range.

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Beverage giant closing in on deal

At an industry tasting event in Manhattan last month, the buzz was all about the impending purchase of another tequila maker by industry giant Brown-Forman Corp.

No doubt that the deal with Grupo Industrial Herradura of Mexico will be completed before Christmas, I was told. Now comes word that although the deal is about to go through, it won't close until at least Jan. 11 of the new year.

Brown-Forman agreed last August to pay $876 million to buy Casa Herradura, as the Gudalajara company (seen here) is commonly known. It has about 1,100 employees and is the third-largest tequila manufacturer, behind Cuervo and Sauza. It reported revenue of about $200 million in 2005, with about 80 percent of its sales volume in Mexico, the rest primarily in the United States.

When the deal is completed, Brown-Forman will own Herradura and El Jimador tequila brands plus Mexican sales and distribution company that imports and distributes brands such as Red Bull, Skyy Vodka, Don Q Rum, Disaronno Amaretto and Osborne Brandy.

(Update: The completion of the sale of Heradura to Brown-Forman was announced by principals of the two companies on Jan. 18, 2007.)

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Mother Russia absorbing a vodka label

When American-born Harry Lee Danziger set up a small vodka company in Ireland, he was hoping to cash in on the international popularity of the iconic Russian drink.

Now, the North-West Oil Group (NWOG) of Moscow has purchased Danziger Gold Vodka from its founder for an estimated $20 million.

The company bottles its gold leaf-flecked product in Waterford. It also produces a liqueur version and a single-malt whiskey called John Ireland.

Danziger died last year. His son, Nick, a well-known photojournalist, has been running the operation on an interim basis since then along with Stephen Duffy, a friend of the Danziger family and a business consultant who is know to have been the driving force behind the brand.

In a statement, NWOG said it plans to invest heavily in the brand to increase sales up to 12 million bottles a year. Danziger Gold currently sells a fraction of that amount, and is available only in duty free outlets around Europe.

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New-Drinks Update

Kajmir: This blend of brandy, vodka and vanilla from Centerra Wine Co. is lighter in alcohol (40 proof, or 20% alcohol by volume) than most boutique blends on the market. Its aimed at the 25-45 age demographic which has more than doubled its flavored spirits purchases in the past four years, according to "IMPACT Databank: 2005 Edition." It's being sold in 50, 375 and 750ml sizes at a suggested retail price of $18.99 for the 750ml bottle. Kajmir is blended and bottled by Kajmir Distillers in Bardstown, KY.

FireFly:This vodka is a South Carolina product, for the most part. It's flavored with muscadine wine made from grapes grown on Wadmalaw Island, introduced to the vodka at a distillery in Florida. It's in a clear bottle with a blue label, and sells for about $16.99 a fifth. It received an 89 rating ("highly recommended") from the Beverage Testing Institute in May 2006.

Cavalli: Noted Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli has added to his spirits line by launching a new customised vodka presented in a 750ml frosted bottle with a glass serpent. It made its debut at the iconic Harrods department store in London priced at £65. That's $125+ in U.S. currency.

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Pakistani 21-year-old Scotch nears launch

If you're looking for that thoughtful-and-unusual gift for the Scotch aficionado in your life, try looking toward Pakisatan.

Murree Brewing Co., the only malt whiskey distillery in the Muslim world, is preparing a January launch of a new product, a 21-year-old single malt Scotch whisky.

The trick is, you probably have to know someone who knows someone to get some. Murree's product lines, which already include 8- and 12-year-old single malts, cannot legally be exported. And, by law, only members of Pakistan's tiny non-Muslim minority can obtain a permit to buy liquor for home consumption.

Of course, that doesn't prevent a black market trade in whiskies, especially from the Rawalpindi-based Murree firm whose chief executive, M.P. Bhandara, told the Associated Press, "Very few distilleries anywhere in the world, even the high-end ones in Scotland, produce 21-year-old malts."

The Murree Brewery was established in 1861 to provide beer for occupying British troops, thus the "brewing" in the name. While it continues to brew beer, it has been making Scotch whisky, to good reviews, since the early 1960s. Murree also manufactures energy drinks, glass containers and food products.

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UK bartenders get playful with U.S. icon

VERSAILLES, KY -- The Woodford Reserve people go to great lengths to find bartenders who treat their premium bourbon whiskey with imagination and respect. For example, running its "Bartender of the Year" competition.

This year, the fifth-annual event held at the Woodford Reserve distillery (seen here) near Versailles, again pitted bartenders from the United Kingdom and Ireland against each other, with Thomas Kirk of the Brass Monkey in Nottingham emerging as the overall winner.

The competition was created to promote the use of bourbon, particularly Woodford Reserve’s triple distilled small-batch product, in the British Isles where finding the iconic American whiskey sometimes takes perseverance in a land dominated by Irish and Scotch distillations. Winner Kirk now will be working with Woodford Reserve as a cocktail consultant at various trade and consumer events over the coming year.

Woodford, incidentally, was long known as the Labrot & Graham Distillery before changing its name in 2003. The distillery itself opened in 1812 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being designated a National Historic Landmark.

I was able to prevail on my new best friend, Samantha Henry, to put together the particulars of the top 10 recipes just in time for your holiday experiments.

From a consumer’s point of view, any bourbon can be substituted for the Woodford – Jim Beam is my house favorite for mixed bourbon drinks – and any particularly UKish brand name ingredients used here should have American counterparts available in your local stores.

1st Place: Tom Kirk (Brass Monkey, Nottingham), "Right of Passage"

-- Muscat dessert wine (25ml)
-- Woodford Reserve (50ml)
-- Cinnamon sugar (10ml)
-- Few drops of Peychaud’s Bitters
-- Zest of orange

Pour all ingredients into lowball and stir over ice to taste. Garnish with orange peel and cinnamon powder.

2nd Place: Jeremy Lucas, "The Bluegrass Elixir"

-- One 2” piece root ginger
-- 1 barspoon bitter orange marmalade
-- 3 barspoons Kombucha Cordial
-- 1 barspoon Noilly Prat Rouge
-- 2oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
-- 2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters

Stir and fine strain into an old fashioned glass and garnish with a root ginger slice.

3rd Place: Joe Stokoe (All Star Lanes, London), "Gingerbread Hailstorm Julep"

-- Woodford Reserve (60ml)
-- Fresh root ginger
-- Fresh mint
-- Sorghum

Combine ingredients. Shake and serve in sorghum bottle. Garnish with fresh piece of root ginger and mint

4th Place: Matt Keegan (Blanch House, Brighton), "Francis Bryan"

-- Pink grapefruit (1/8)
-- Black pepper (few pinches)
-- Woodford Reserve (37.5ml)
-- Crème Peche (12.5ml)
-- Liquorish syrup (few barspoons)

Muddle grapefruit and pepper. Pour in remaining ingredients. Shake and serve in a rocks glass.

5th Place: Tim Fitz Gibbon (Raoul’s, Oxford), "Thoroughbred Punch"

-- Woodford Reserve (500ml)
-- Madeira (200ml)
-- Cherry Heering (150ml)
-- Apple juice (1lt)
-- Lemon juice (200ml)
-- Orgeat syrup (100ml)
-- Cloves

Pour all ingredients into large punchbowl over large block of ice. Add fresh fruit.
Mix and serve in chilled rocks glass

6th Place: Steve Manktelow (Cocoon & Volstead, London), "Bluegrass Cobbler"

-- Fresh peach
-- Apricot brandy (10ml)
-- Woodford Reserve (40ml)
-- Vanilla syrup (10ml)
-- Lemon juice (10 ml)

Blend peach to make puree. Shake and serve in rocks glass over ice. Garnish with peach fan, dusted with cinnamon powder.

7th Place: Kobus van Zyl (Four Seasons, Dublin), "Ultimate Chocolate"

-- Woodford Reserve (40ml)
-- Valrhona Liquid Chocolate (40ml)
-- Kahlua (20ml)
-- Crème de Cacao (20ml)
-- Dash of Amarula cream
-- Crumbled chocolate shavings (white, dark, milk)

Shake all ingredients together. Serve in martini glass. Garnish with trio of chocolate shavings.

8th Place: Mike Valentyne (Cotton House, Manchester), "Woodford Wobble"

-- Woodford Reserve (50ml)
-- Ice
-- Maple syrup (2 barspoons)
-- Lemon juice (25ml)
-- Black pepper (1 grind)
-- Apple juice

Shake and strain. Garnish with fresh ginger and a cherry in a martini or rocks glass.

9th Place: Gary Hayward (Boutique, Leeds), "Getting Lucky In Kentucky"

-- Woodford Reserve (50ml)
-- Campari (10ml)
-- Cartron Caramel (10ml)
-- Vanilla sugar (2 barspoons)
-- Peychaud’s Bitters (1 drop)
-- Muddled orange rind

Muddle, then dilute. Serve in honey- and nutmeg-rimmed rocks glass.

10th Place: Sam Kershaw (Tiger Lilly, Edinburgh), "Jakey Four Fingers"

-- Woodford Reserve (60ml)
-- Buckfast Tonic Wine (25ml)
-- Damson jam (2 barspoons)
-- Pineapple juice (37.5ml)
-- Dash of bitters
-- Dash of egg white
-- Fever Tree ginger ale

Shake all ingredients (except ginger ale). Strain over cubed ice. Lengthen with ginger ale. Serve in tall catalina glass. Garnish with sprig of fresh mint.

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Enthusiasm just the tonic for gin success

Photo by William M. Dowd

NEW YORK -- Gin can be looked at in many ways.

The once-iconic Cunard luxury sailing liners used it as their premier spirit during the 1930s heyday of trans-Atlantic cruising, helping usher in the American fascination with the cocktail hour.

But it also has been used as a symbol for other levels of society. The writer John Cheever, for example, employed it to help describe “a lonely man” who, he said, “is a lonesome thing, a stone, a bone, a stick, a receptacle for Gilbey’s gin … .” And jazz great Thomas “Fats” Waller sang, “Grab your pigs feet, bread and gin, there’s plenty in the kitchen. I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?”

And then, there is Sean Harrison, who declares, “Making gin is like cooking. You want to get the flavors just right for people who truly enjoy the taste of what they’re drinking.”

Why, some may ask, should we listen to what Sean Harrison (seen here) has to say about the ancient white spirit that now is battling for its commercial life in an age of vodka?

Simple. He’s the keeper of a coveted two-century-old gin recipe and the master distiller for Plymouth Gin, the English favorite that not only won “best gin” but “best of show/white spirit” awards at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition this summer.

Emerging on top of the “best white spirit” category is particularly telling since it includes the ubiquitous vodka that is causing fits for many gin distillers even though they’re dealing with a world that has known gin since it was created in late 16th Century Holland and was, in some regions in the early 1700s, the beverage of choice because milk and water were so unsanitary.

Thus, Harrison and Plymouth are names to be reckoned with.

I joined Harrison for a private gin tasting at celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market restaurant in lower Manhattan recently. Despite a dozen years in the business since he left the Royal Navy as a lieutenant, Harrison still exhibits an enthusiasm for the process of gin making.

He was only two months or so from having made the annual selections of the seven botanicals used in Plymouth Gin -– angelica root, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root and, of course, juniper berries that, with alcohol, are the base of all gins and the origin of the drink's name -- a derivation of the French genievre for juniper.

The Plymouth recipe, developed by Coates & Co. in 1793, doesn’t vary, but the ingredients do. Sound contradictory? Harrison explains.

“We don’t buy any botanical from just one supplier because you never know the quality from year to year, or how a change in the crop of one botanical can interact with another botanical that also might be slightly different from year to year. We get several samples of each and distill sample batches to see what comes closest to our standard for consistent taste.”

Unlike its sales adversary vodka that can be made from virtually any organic matter and usually is a one-ingredient additive to neutral spirits, gin is truly an international melting pot. Orris root usually comes from Italy, juniper berries from Italy and areas of the former Yugoslavia, coriander from sources as disparate as Russia and Morocco, cardamom from Sri Lanka and angelica from Germany and the Netherlands. Thus, climate changes and weather conditions have tremendous influences on the crops.

Plymouth's heritage has given it a special place in British hearts and lore. When German bombs destroyed part of its Black Friars distillery during World War II, the Admiralty sent out a message to the British fleet which used Plymouth as its official gin. British officers in Malta reacted, so the story goes, by offering any gunners who destroyed an enemy ship or plane a bottle of Plymouth Gin.

Despite its success in tasting competitions, and sustained sales on the premium price level, is there room in the U.S. market for more gin in this era of a vodka flood and now a sharp rise in sales of tequila that further muddle the white spirits outlook and vie for a slice of the consumer dollar?

Harrison, obviously, thinks so or he wouldn’t be pushing his product in the States. “I’d much rather be at home making gin,” he says with a smile. “That’s my real job, after all.”

In addition, Harrison, who has delved so deeply into gin chemistry he has even had his ingredients check by gas chromatography -- "although I'm still not sure what that told me," he remarked in a self-effacing tone, expresses polite skepticism with gin recipes that use more than a dozen botanicals. Likewise for flavored vodkas which, he says, eventually will bring some people around to gin which, in essence, is flavored vodka itself since both have a neutral spirits base.

While Plymouth adheres to a generations-old recipe, it did make a major change this year when it redesigned its bottle, always a major undertaking as I reported back in March.

Bombay Sapphire, one of the top British brands, continues its upscale advertising campaign that features custom-designed cocktail glasses. Hendrick's, a product of Scotland, pushes its cucumber-tinged product in high-demographic magazine ads. Citadelle, a French entry, uses the botanical barrage method, trumpeting its 19-botanical recipe that includes such things as Chinese liquorice, French savory and star anise and Indian nutmeg.

These brands, it should be noted, are in the premium category, priced roughly in the $30-and-up range for a 750ml bottle.

A company called Admiral Imports apparently thinks there also is room for a less expensive gin. The American distributor has launched Iceberg Gin, made by the Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corp. from actual Canadian iceberg water, in the U.S. in five different size bottles, with the popular 750ml bottle priced at $18.99.

Of course, Admiral also imports whiskies with names like Sheep Dip and Pigs Nose from the Spencerfield Spirit Co. in Fife, Scotland, so Iceberg Gin may just be another attempt at selling a novelty in the faddish and fickle U.S. consumer arena.

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New Russian vodkas boast garlic, horseradish

Tired of all those frou-frou vodka unfusions? The citruses, the vanilla, the berrries? Vodochnaya Artel Yat, a Moscow vodka distillery, apparently thinks the world is ready for a marked departure.

Vodochnaya, which markets its products under the YAT name, has launched what it calls "bitter nastoykas," garlic and horseradish flavors, to be exact.

The company recommends YAT with Horseradish with meat dishes, "for instance jellied tongue or herring seasoned with spring onions," and YAT with Garlic as a good winter drink.

YAT, formed in 2003 by the merger of two older distillers, already offers classic vodka, as well as YAT Rye, YAT Cornbread, YAT Honey and YAT Mild, which has a slight mint aroma.

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Reclaimed whiskey helps float Jack Daniel's

LYNCHBURG, TN -- Some whiskey drinkers like an ice cube or a bit of spring water to help open the aromas and flavors of their favorites. The folks at the Jack Daniel's distillery here are finding that a lot more water is helping "create" more whiskey, something that is helping the world's top-selling brand satisfy more customers.

A total of 8.4 million cases of Jack Daniel's was sold last year, and all projections by the Brown-Forman-owned maker are for a continual increase in global sales.

That means having to make supply keep up with demand. Making more whiskey is one way to do that, Another is reclaiming it.

The distillery has begun putting 20 gallons of purified water into "empty" barrels, letting it sit for several weeks, then extracting the result. Whiskey that had leached into the wood during the aging process was pulled back out by the interaction with the water.

An average of 2.5 gallons of extra whiskey is pulled from each barrel, meaning each barrel is yielding an extra case. When one considers the distillery uses 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a year, you're talking a lot of extra whiskey that once had been ignored.

That may not make locals happy, though. As Jeff Arnett, who supervises the warehouse and bottling operations, told the Tennessean newspaper, "It was common in Lynchburg for people to take a used barrel, fill it up with water and keep it in their back yard. After a couple of weeks of rolling it around in their yard, it would be 60 proof."

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