Plymouth goes Deco to push its gin

American gin aficionadoes planning a trip to the United Kingdom can get a preview of Plymouth Gin's new look in June.

They will join domestic drinkers in the UK who will see and sample the new Pymouth before it is rolled out globally as part of a new marketing campaign.

The new design, says the Plymouth PR folks, "takes its inspiration from the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s and it is presented as a cut glass decanter-style bottle, the first major design change in the premium gin’s 200-year history."

The new look will get its U.S. debut in August. What you'll notice hasn't changed is the gin's potency, still at 82.4 proof.

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Scotch rarity on the block

A bottle of what is believed to be the oldest unopened bottle of Scotch whisky in the world could be yours. If, that is, you can outbid all others on April 4 when the Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937 goes up for auction in New York's Grand Central Terminal as part of Tartan Week celebrations.

The annual week-long festivities celebrate Scottish culture and heritage. Glenfiddich is partnering with City Harvest, a New York-based charity, to auction one of the four remaining bottles of this exceptionally rare spirit.

Rare Collection 1937 comes from one cask at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland, that yielded 61 bottles. Company officials explain that import laws required a special 750ml bottle to be made, so the item being auctioned is, therefore, the only 750ml bottle of this particular whisky ever produced. The spirit was cask aged for 64 years and bottled in 2001.

If you're interested in reserving a seat at the auction, call (212) 982.8300 ext. 111. Really.

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Laphroaig wins hearts in San Francisco test

Laphroaig found the 6th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition worth its time again this year.

The Scottish company was named "Distiller of the Year" and its 30-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch was named "Best in Show/Whisk(e)y."It's made at the distillery (seen here) on Islay, Scotland, at 86 proof and $240 a bottle.

The other "bests of show" were:

White Spirits: Plymouth Gin, England, 82.4 proof, $23.
Vodka: Zyr Vodka, Russia, 80 proof, $32.
Aquavit: Linie Lysholm Aquavit, Norway, 86 proof, $25.
Rum: Ron Matusalem 10 Year Old Clasico Rum, Dominican Republic, 80 proof, $20.
CachaÇa: Sagatiba Velha Luxuosa Cachaça, Brazil, 80 proof, no price given.
Tequila: El Tesoro El Tesoro Paradiso, Mexico, 80 proof, $121.
North American Whiskey: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye Whiskey, Kentucky, 100 proof, $13.
Brandy: Hennessy Richard Hennessy Cognac, France, 80 proof, $1,800.
Liqueur: Chartreuse Green Herbal, France, 110 proof, $48.
Fruit Liqueur: Grand Marnier Cuvée Speciale Cent Cinquantenaire, France, 80 proof, $215.
Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker Green Label, Scotland, 86 proof, $50.
Calvados: Grand Pommier XS Calvados, France, 80 proof, $300.

Full medal results are available on the event Web site.

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Cane spirits competition aglow with gold

Photo by William M. Dowd

The first International Cane Spirits Festival Tasting Competition, held in Tampa's historic Ybor City area, went off with nary a hitch but plenty of glitter.

Entries came from distilleries ranging from the expected places -- such as Jamaica -- to the surprising -- Nepal, the tiny Himalayan nation tucked between India and China, as well as from the United States, Guyana, Trinidad, Guatemala, Brazil, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, Colombia, Venezuela, St. Maarten, Aruba and Barbados in the Caribbean and Latin America as well as from Australia and the African nation of Mauritius.

With nearly every one of the 60-plus entries taking a medal of some sort, the enthusiasm of the 25-plus judge panel certainly was evident. The judges, a mix of writers, marketers, business people and hospitality industry specialists from the U.S., Brazil and the UK, awarded gold medals to 28 of the 63 entries.

However, some of that could be laid to the fact that new competitions, be they for spirits, wine or beers, tend toward large numbers of medals because only the strongest competitors are willing to enter a new event and they usually enter only their best distillations.

"While there are other respected tasting competitions in the U.S. and Europe, this is the only opportunity for sugar cane spirits to be judged on their own merit and in classes recognized by the sugar cane spirits industry," said Edward Hamilton, an internationally-known expert and author on rums who created and organized the competition. Hamilton is known for his Ministry of Rum Web site that is devoted to all things rum.

Santa Teresa, a Venezuelan distiller, earned the largest number of gold medals, taking four. Entries from Prichard's, a Tennessee distiller, and Inner Circle of Australia took three each.

Blind tastings were conducted in four sessions held over two days in Ybor City -- once the center of Florida's cigar-making industry. They covered more than 1,600 samples of cane spirits, distilled either directly from sugar or from molasses, a sugar byproduct.

While local laws and methods for producing rum vary widely around the world, the essential process is uniform. Rum is made by a process of fermentation and distillation. The clear liquid distillate usually is aged in wood casks. The majority is made in and around the Caribbean and along the Demerara River in South America, but higher-end spirits are distilled around the world as the entries in this competition show. Most commercial rum producers use traditional small batch pot distillation, then age the distillate in oak casks to obtain the brown-gold color of most rums along with various fragrances and flavors.

Rums and cachaças from around the world were judged for their aroma, initial taste, body and finish on a scale of 1 to 25 points for each attribute. Judges then added their scores for these attributes and gave a final rating which Hamilton used to calculate awards, using a bell curve system.

Cachaça, once merely a blue-collar drink in Brazil, has grown in popularity as tourists "discovered" the cane-based drink and created a demand for it once back at home, similar to what happened to tequila when it grew from a blue collar Mexican drink to a major player in the international spirits industry . Outside Brazil, where 98% of the domestic production is consumed, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks. The most popular is the caipirinha -- a mixture of muddled lime slices, superfine sugar, ice and cachaça.

Santa Teresa, this competition's top entry, is spirits royalty in Venezuela, established in 1796 and still family owned. Prichard's uses Tennessee spring water and molasses to manufacture its rums. And, Inner Circle is an Australian industry giant once made only for employees of the distillery (thus the name) and that now routinely wins major competition medals.

The gold medalists:


Gold Medals

• Santa Teresa Arakú Ron y Coffee Liqueur (Venezuela)
• Prichard's Sweet Georgia Belle Fine Rum Liqueur (U.S.)
• St. Maarten Guavaberry Rum Liqueur (St. Maarten)

Silver Medals

• Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur (Venezuela)
• Pirate's Choice Key Lime Rum (U.S.)
• Santero Coffee Rum (Colombia)

Bronze Medals

• Prichard's Cranberry Rum (U.S.)
• Canne Royale Banane Rum (Grenada)
• Guap Lemon Capirinha Cachaça (Brazil)

WHITE RUMS (inc. spirits aged less than a year)

Gold Medals

• Santa Teresa Blanco (Venezuela)
• Starr African Rum (Mauritius)
• Prichard's Crystal Rum (U.S.)
• Ron Botran White Rum (Guatamala)

Silver Medals

• Distiller's Choice White Rum (U.S.)
• 10 Cane Rum (Trinidad)

Bronze Medals

• Vodkane, Sugar Cane Vodka (Colombia)
• Inner Circle Traditional Pot Still Rum (Australia)
• Cartavio1929 Ron Blanco Superior (Aruba)


Gold Medals

• P51 Cachaça (Brazil)
• Água Luca Cachaça (Brazil)
• Guapiara Prata Cachaça (Brazil)

Silver Medals

• Guapiara Special for Caipirinha Cachaça (Brazil)
• Fãzenda Mae de Ouro Cachaça (Brazil)

Bronze Medals

• José Junqueira Guapiara Ouro Cachaça (Brazil)


Gold Medal

• Inner Circle Rum Green Dot (Australia)

Silver Medal

• Inner Circle Rum Black Dot (Australia)

Bronze Medal

• Cannes Royale White Overproof Rum (Grenada)


Gold Medals

• Coronation Khukri Rum (Nepal)
• One Barrel Rum (Belize)
• Ron Botran Solera Rum (Guatamala)
• Ron Abuelo Añejo Reserva Especial (Panama)
• Santa Teresa Selecto (Venezuela)
• Santa Teresa Gran Reserva (Venezuela)
• Pirate's Choice Molasses Reef Rum (U.S.)
• Inner Circle Rum Red Dot (Australia)
• Inner Circle Rum Blue Dot (Australia)

Silver Medals

• Ron Botran Añejo 8 yo (Guatamala)
• Cartavio 1929 Ron Añejo Reserva (Aruba)
• Sea Wynde Rum (Jamaica / Guyana)
• Ron Botran Gold Rum (Guatamala)
• Ron Barceló Añejo (Dominican Republic)

Bronze Medals

• Distiller's Choice Gold Rum (U.S.)
• Maui Reserve Gold Rum (U.S.)


Gold Medals

• Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 yo (Guatamala)
• Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
• Santero Ron 21 Años Antigua Reserva (Colombia)
• Prichard's Fine Rum (U.S.)
• Ron Macuro Ron Añejo Ultra Premium (Venezuela)
• Cockspur Bajan Crafted Rum 12 (Barbados)
• Ron Zacapa Centenario 15 yo (Guatamala)
• Ron Abuelo 7 Años Reserva Superior (Panama)

Silver Medals

• Ron Botran Añejo 12 yo (Guatamala)
• Ron Bastidas Reserva de Conquistador Añejo 23 Años (Colombia)
• Ron Barceló Imperial Rum (Dominican Republic)
• Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera (Venezuela)
• Cartavio 1929 Old Rum of Solera 12 years (Aruba)

Bronze Medals

• Canne Royale Extra Old Rum (Grenada)
• Cartavio 1929 Ron Gran Reserva, 7 (Aruba)

Photo by William M. Dowd


As one of the judges, my selections resulted in 12 gold medal votes, 19 silvers, 13 bronzes and 18 no-medal votes.

• In Flavored/Spiced/Cream Rums, I agreed with one of the three golds, my tasting notes calling the St. Maarten Guavaberry Rum Liqueur "pleasing on all levels with a just-right hint of fruit."

• In White Rums, I cast no gold medal votes but did cast a silver for eventual gold-medalist Starr African Rum from Mauritius which I regarded as "peppery; floral; and, with a long finish."

• In Cachaça, my gold vote matched that of the panel for the P51 Cachaça, my notes saying "olive-brine notes, nicely nuanced, good finish." The gold medal Água Luca I rated silver, noting it was "smooth; full-bodied with a hint of lemongrass."

• In Overproof, I didn't rate anything better than a bronze. Overall, there was just one gold among four entries in the 100-150 proof range.

• In Dark Rums, nine of the 18 entries collected golds. I concurred with two of those, my notes saying of the One Barrel "complex nose; layered flavors; pleasantly lingering aftertaste" and of the Inner Circle Blue Dot said "very good throughout; heat and flavor balanced; long finish."

• In Premium Rums, eight of 17 entries took gold, with me agreeing with half of the golds. My notes said of the Ron Abuelo 7 Anos Reserva Superior "mild butterscotch-caramel, vanilla and peat; smooth, nicely balanced." Of the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, "pleasant molasses evident in the taste, finish; heady fragrance; rich mix." Of the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 yo, "Irish whiskey style; very smooth; butterscotch notes." And, of the Prichard's Fine Rum, "pleasant aroma of candied fruit; initial taste echoes it."

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Cruzan is Absolut-ly sold

News item: Absolut Spirits Co. has purchased Cruzan International.

It's a geographic puzzle come together: Absolut, the New York-based subsidiary of Swedish spirits and wine company V&S Group (distillery seen here), buying the West Palm Beach, FL, rum producer and distributor and rum and brandy distiller.

The bigger part of the puzzle, by the way, cost $28.37 per Cruzan share it did not already own. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing puts that as worth about $80 million. Angostura owned 68% of Cruzan.

Cruzan has long been a maker and distributor of premium rums and flavored rum-based drinks. Among the products: Cruzan Rum and rum flavored with banana, pineapple, orange, mango, raspberry, coconut, vanilla and citrus.

Absolut has a wide range of flavored vodkas -- mandarin, vanilla, raspberri, pepper, kurant, apple, peach, etc.

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An Irish-Italian alliance

When you own two products that have what seems like a natural affinity, why keep them apart?

That, at least, seems to be the logic behind Castle Brands' move to package 750ml bottles of Boru Vodka with 50ml bottles of either Pallini Limoncello, Peachcello or Raspicello. The packaging, referred to as the "sidecar," has a window so the consumer can tell which flavor of Pallini it contains. The sidecar also contains recipes for tall drinks and martinis made with the vodka and the Italian liqueurs.

Boru is an 80-proof premium grain vodka produced in Ireland. It's quadruple distilled and charcoal filtered.

Pallini Limoncello is Italy's top-selling liqueur, made from a century-old Pallini family recipe -- the same family that created Romana Sambuca -- using Italian Sfusato Amalfitano lemons. The Peachcello and Raspicello are relative newcomers made, respectively, with white peaches native to Italy and wild raspberries from the Abruzzi region, blended with blueberries and black currants.

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Vodka: Bring on the grapes

The recent absence of lengthy reports on this site about the newest vodkas has been intentional. So many producers were releasing new vodkas, often with silly marketing gimmicks, at such an overwhelming pace I was beginning to be forced into a vodka-centric blog.

That self-imposed slowdown has now allowed me to catch up. And it took some doing. The pace of releases hasn't eased up -- did you know renowned designer Milton Glaser has been hired to redesign Donald Trump's signature vodka bottle? -- so I've been very selective in what I'm reporting on.

Idol, for example, shouldn't be ignored. Billed as "The vodka for wine lovers," the new release from Boisset America is distilled from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from Burgundy, France.

The grapes come from France's Cote-de-Nuits and Cote-de-Beaune regions, fermented the same way as for wine, then distilled close to the vineyards, using a seven-column continuous distillation process to extract exceptionally pure alcohol. Local spring water is blended with the distilled alcohol to bring it down to 40% alcohol (80 proof) before being filtered five times. Idol winds up with a very smooth, slightly sweet taste.

The beauty, or sometimes the curse, of vodka is that it can be made from any organic matter, so using grapes is not exactly new. It's merely a matter of quality.

As one example, Ciroc, another French grape-based vodka, actually has sort of a grapey nose even though vodka must, by definition, be essentially neutral in color, taste and nose.

For another, Jorg Rupf, a renowned maker of fruit brandies in his St. George Distillery housed in a former airplane hangar on Alameda Island in San Francisco Bay, makes a premium-priced vodka called Hangar 1.

The bottle is a cross between a sleek, aerodynamic look and the classic Russian style. The handcrafted vodka splits from the pack in its base material: the Viognier grape. My tasting notes say it stands up to any competitor, foreign or domestic, for clarity, smoothness and lightly nuanced reaction on the palate. Giving it the freezer treatment draws out the taste of the neutral grape spirits blended into the vodka.


Yazi, a ginger-flavored vodka from Hood River Distillers in Oregon, has been released in a French glass bottle that resembles a large perfume decanter.

There is no doubt this offering was created for women, and the distillers make no bones about that. Yazi includes natural ginger along with orange, lemon, cayenne, red pepper extracts and glacier-fed Mt. Hood spring water to create a spicy sweet taste. Suggested retail price is $30 for a 750ml bottle, although it's available for about $25 on line.

The packaging carries red side accents and a shiny red neck wrap, with a spiraling dagon etched on the imported glass.

"Back-lit on a bar shelf, Yazi is sure to stand out among the usual tall thin bottles favored for many other vodkas," said designer Andrew Reed of Leopold Ketel & Partners, Hood River Distillers' marketing firm.

Hood River Distillers is marking its 72nd year in operation as an importer and producer of distilled spirits. Pendleton 10-Year-Old Blended Canadian Whisky, 20-Year-Old Pendleton Director's Reserve Whisky, Broker's London Dry Gin, Cockspur Rum, Knicker’s Irish Cream Whiskey and Spudka Vodka are among its nearly 50 different labels and brands.

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The Glenlivet's Cellar Collection a '72 this year

One of the most anticipated releases in the Scotch whisky world comes any time The Glenlivet unveils its Cellar Collection. The just-released 1972 case strength single malt doesn't disappoint.

Master distiller Jim Cryle, marking his 40th year in the industry, is personally responsible for selecting the annual release. The 2006 Cellar Collection is a vatting of just 10 cases from a single day's distillation, Aug. 24, 1972.

Just 800 bottles of the 2006 release will be made available to selected U.S. markets this spring, at a per-bottle price of $700, according to The Glenlivet's PR people. However, who knows what each bottle will go for on the competitive open market.

Each bottle is individually numbered and presented in a wooden box, as seen here. Once selected by Cryle, the casks were left to rest in the Cellar Collection Warehouse, one of The Glenlivet's oldest storage structures at the distillery.

"It is truly an exquisite single malt that has responded to patience and dedication with a complexity, quality and heritage that simply cannot be matched," Cryle said.

Of course, that is what one would expect to hear from the man who selected the distillation and is responsible for the distillery's reputation. In this case, though, he's not exaggerating.

In a sampling of the Cellar Collection, I found the whisky slightly sharp at first, but that quickly changed with the introduction of one ice cube in the tasting glass, a method I often use. Dropping the temperature and letting a bit of the melt help open the whisky made it utterly top-notch.

From its clear deep-amber color to its nuanced nose with notes of apricots and prunes giving way to a touch of citrus and heather, the '72 was a pleaser. The traditional Scotch whisky smokiness is subdued, allowing the rich, velvety taste to linger in the mouth and finish long and smooth.

If the $700 price tag seems a bit high for The Glenlivet, it's not. Last year's Cellar Collection, a 1964 distillation, went for $2,000 a bottle with the same 800-bottle limit for U.S. distribution out of a total run of about 1,800.

I sampled that one when Cryle visited Manhattan for a private tasting event. Never having experienced anything in that stratospheric price range before, I expected a socko experience, but it was just the opposite. There is a certain delicate layering and complexity of flavors missing in other Scotches, even those of the expensive sort, that coats the mouth.

The 1964 is a warm, satisfying distillation, wonderfully smooth with a balance of floral and plum notes and a long, spicy finish. It was excellent by itself, sublime with a crumble of Stilton from the nearby cheese board. Each sip revealed another nuance of quality. Worth $2,000? If someone else is buying, sure thing.

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Only the Best In the World

As Bogie might have put it, out of all the whisky joints in all the towns in the world, what makes The Pot Still the best?

Whisky Magazine has named the Glasgow, Scotland, establishment the best whisk(e)y bar in the world, a title announced at the prestigious magazine's Icons of Whisky awards in London.

The Pot Still, with a history that dates to the 1870s, features walls of just about every whisky imaginable, such as the one seen here, with 483 bottles and adding. Whisky lovers from around the world have traveled to The Pot Still, some for the pub fare and ales on tap as well.

Of course, calling something the best in the world isn't something Whisky Magazine shys away from. For some examples, click here.

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In Wyoming, bigger the town, bigger the bar list

Headed for the wilds of Wyoming? If so, and you like a drink with your meals, be aware of the latest legislation and select your destination communities accordingly.

The state's House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 83 to create a new type of liquor license for restaurants. Representatives earlier rejected an amendment that would have required those restaurants to be smoke-free.

Current Wyoming law favors smaller communities by giving them proportionately more liquor licenses than larger ones communities. The number of bar-and-grill licenses allowed to communities under HB 83's formula is:

Up to 7,500 population, one license; 7,501 to 15,000, two licenses; 15,001 to 27,000, three licenses; 27,001 to 40,000, four licenses; 40,001 to 52,500, five licenses; 52,501 to 65,000, six licenses.

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Cane Festival competition judges unveiled

The first International Sugar Cane Spirits Festival & Tasting Competition will set some benchmarks for sugar-based spirits when an international panel of judges renders it decisions later this month in Tampa's Ybor City.

Spirits will be judged in the following classes:

√ Overproof
√ Flavored / Spiced / Cream
√ White Rum, including those spirits aged less than one year.
√ Dark Rum
√ Premium Rum
√ Rhum Agricole Blanc
√ Rhum Agricole Vieux
√ Cacahça, unaged
√ Cacahça, aged

The judges, in alphabetical order by nation:


Paul Artrip, Virginia
Rum collector, food and beverage writer for regional Parrot Head Clubs.

Natalie Brown, Ybor City, FL
Owner, Good Luck Café, Ybor City.

Robert A. Burr, Coral Gables, FL
Host of the "Gifted Rums" seminar in Coral Gables, FL.; editor of The Pedestrian Pocket Guide to Coral Gables and the "Coral Gables Pedestrian Guide" Web site.

Christopher Carlsson, New York
Editor, Spirits Review.

Peter Covino, Kissimmee, FL
Entertainment editor, dining critic and spirit connisseur at the Osceola (FL) News-Gazette.

Gary Crowder, New York
Senior Vice President/Resort Operations at Mohegan Sun Hotel Casino, Uncasville, CT.

Wayne Curtis, Maine
Author, ""And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World In 10 Cocktails," scheduled for summer release by Crown; travel writer and contributor to numerous Frommer's guidebooks.

William M. Dowd, Albany, NY
Editor and publisher of Dowd's Bar Blog, a blog-ring of four online sites; associate editor and chief restaurant critic for the Times Union newspaper and its two Web sites; published in literally dozens of U.S. and Canadian newspapers and such national magazines as Sante, and on numerous Web sites.

Catherine Eagles, San Francisco, CA
Rum connoisseur; president, Buzzbar Productions.

Daphne Muse, Oakland, CA
Writer published in The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury and Hungry Mind Review; commentaries have aired on WTOP-FM and NPR.

Jack Robertiello, New York
Writer and Web editor for Adams Beverage Group, former editor "Cheers"; author of "Mangia, The Best Italian Food in New York City."

Ed Schiller , Ybor City, FL
Sea captain and master mariner, has traveled the world sampling indigenous spirits in their local environs; owner of Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor City.


Ian Burrell, London
Owner of Cottons, an award-winning Caribbean restaurant in London with the largest collection of rums in the UK; rum expert for Taste & Flavour School for Spirits.


Duane Dove, Sweden
Proprietor/sommelier of Sjögräs, restaurant and bar with what reputedly is the largest rum collection in Sweden; roots in Trinidad & Tobago and Guadeloupe; known for his “Rum & Chocolate,” matching aged rums with chocolates made with Caribbean cocoa.


• Francisco Fernandez, Panama
Master distiller at Varela Hermanos, makers of Abuelo and other rums.

Following the March 22-25 festival, results will be distributed to the national alcoholic beverage media, the Caribbean travel media and posted on the Ministry of Rum and Polished Palate Web sites.

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New Zealand consumers have the spirit(s)

Think New Zealand and what adult beverage comes to mind?

Bourbon, of course.

Don't believe me? Just check with the Distilled Spirits Association of New Zealand and they'll tell you that their latest statistics show bourbon is the nation's drink of choice. Total per capita consumption of spirits and spirit-based drinks increased by 1.8% in calendar 2005, continuing the category’s steady growth trend over the last few years.

Other spirits in the top five for New Zealand consumers by volume in 2005 were (2.) Scotch, (3.) gin, (4.) vodka and (5.) dark rum.

Spirits' share of per capita volume has risen to 23% from 22% in 2000, while wine was 33% up from 30%. Beer, as is the case globally, dropped precipitously, from 48% to 44%.

Speaking of Kiwi land spirits, the country's only whiskey distillery is broadening its production and adding two lines.

Southern Distilling Co. is best known for its Hokonui Whiskey, a refinement of a basic moonshine recipe. It now will begin producing The Southerner, a whiskey liqueur sweetened with manuka honey, and a legal version of the irish moonshine known as Poitin (pronounced poteen or posheen), to which they may add a bit of sweetner

Owners Malcolm Willmott and Peter Wheeler say they expect to ramp up production to 50,000 litres a year. Willmott said Poitin would be released for St. Patrick's Day, March 17.

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