In a bag, in a box, in your glass, mmm

Ye gods! It was bad enough to have to accept wine in a box, then wine and some drinks in a bag. Now we're being asked to accept the cross-pollination of them with a ready-to-drink Bloody Mary in a bag-in-a-box.

Daily’s, the Pittsburgh maker of fruit mixers and ready-to-drink cocktails, plans to jump into the adult beverage market with the first such drink in September.

Daily’s already sells a line of chilled cocktails including the margarita, cosmopolitan, mangotini and appletini in 1.75ml bag-in-box containers.

“The Bloody Mary is at the top of the list of most popular cocktails,” Tim Barr, Dailey's marketing director, said in a statement, "but it is not an easy cocktail for consumers to make. We have made it easy by developing a high quality, delicious premixed Bloody Mary in a compact, tote-anywhere box."

Daily’s Ready-to-Drink products and fruit mixers are manufactured by American Beverage Corp., a non-carbonated beverage company that is part of the Dutch food group Royal Wessanen. The company makes such other products as T.G.I. Friday's Mixers.

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Cinzano wooing the ladies

Cinzano isn't just the same old vermouth plus a name on cafe table umbrellas.

The Italian company is adding to its product lineup for the first time in 144 years with two new varieties of its wine-based drink, Spritzz Up, which are designed to be drunk with lemonade or tonic over ice.

"Fruity Wine" and "Cheeky Red," says the company's marketing manager, are aimed at women in the 18-30 age niche.

"We've looked at the market, done our research and believe there's a sizeable opportunity for a wine-based drink that you mix with lemonade or tonic in large wine glasses over ice," Karen Crowley said in a statement.

Spritzz Up is 14.5% alcohol by volume. The primary market will be the United Kingdom, but with an eye toward taking the drink to the U.S. in the near future.

Cinzano has been making vermouth since 1796 and is particularly known for its red, sweet version called Cinzano Rosso although it also has a white called Cinzano Bianco plus Cinzano Extra Dry, and rosé, lemon and orange versions.

The brand is owned by Campari Group.

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A toast to a fast buck

If there’s a buck to be made, does it have to be made this way?

I was sitting in a plush restaurant on the banks of upstate New York’s Mohawk River, right near the Erie Canal, an utterly gorgeous summer spot, and feeling very relaxed. Until, that is, I looked over the dinner bill for our party of four and noticed something didn’t look quite right.

Two of us had had two cocktails – Grey Goose martinis, to be precise – about an hour apart. The price was $1 more apiece for our second ones. Perhaps we’d caught the end of the happy hour discount for the first one? No. The answer wasn’t that simple.

“That’s the up charge,” the waitress explained. “We should have charged you the higher price for the first one, too, but we just missed it.”

An “up charge” usually refers to the extra cost of getting a premium brand liquor rather than what’s in the bar well. But that wasn’t what she meant.

“I mean the charge because you ordered your drink straight up. That’s $1 extra.”

You’re telling me, I carefully asked, I have to pay you extra for not putting ice in my drink, a drink that doesn’t normally come with ice anyway?

“That’s the policy,” she said with a straight face in the presence of three other witnesses.

Was this a trend I’d been missing? I’ve consumed adult beverages in a dozen countries and several dozen states and spend a lot of my time writing on the topic, but I’d never heard of such a practice. A standard martini is shaken or stirred with ice, but not poured over it. The mechanics of the thing are the same, so it’s not a matter of doing any more work preparing the drink.

In my review of the restaurant, I noted that on my next visit I’ll order a cocktail on the rocks, but also ask for a spoon so I can save $1 and scoop out the ice. Assuming, of course, they haven’t come up with a spoonage charge.

This whole thing sent me scrambling to both local sources and, via a quickie e-mail poll, to food and beverage editors around the country to get their reactions.

Among several dozen respondents locally and nationally, I found only one, Jan Norris of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, who was familiar with this surcharge.

“A barkeep here says, yes, it's built into the computer for $1 extra on ice-less drinks,” she said. “To quote him: ‘You're getting 1.5 extra ounces of liquor in the glass, which is essentially one shot, for $1. It's actually a good deal.’ “

However, that certainly is a minority view in my mini-survey.

Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune opines, “There are a couple of restaurants and bars in this area that charge 50 cents to $1.50 for ‘rocks,’ but I've NEVER heard of charging extra for leaving ice out of the glass. Outrageous! What's next, a surcharge for not slicing the bread?”

Deborah S. Hartz of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel says, “Down here we get charged extra for a ‘rocks pour.’ Supposedly a larger pour when you order a drink on the rocks than when you order it straight up.”

Ellen Sweets, food editor of the Denver Post, added, “Lordy, just when you think things can't get any weirder in this wonderful world of ours, surprise!”

Al Sicherman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune checked with his son, a Manhattan bartender. His reply: “My son says a martini implies straight up. (He) is puzzled as to at what point somebody would have said ‘That's an extra $1’ because, as noted, a martini is normally straight up, so it would be ‘extra’ compared with what?”

Barbara Durbin of the Oregonian in Portland echoes that latter statement, rhetorically asking, “Since when would a martini normally HAVE ice in it?”

However, there is no end to the imagination of people in business. My favorite came from Susan Nicholson, an Atlanta food writer and author of the nationally syndicated “7 Day Menu Planner.”

“I always get a Gibson straight up,” she said. “Last time a very casual restaurant charged me $6 for ‘well’ gin -- and $1.33 for the onions!”

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Not even the sky's the limit for pricey tequila

All those $2,000-a-bottle scotches need to step back into the shadows. They've again been eclipsed by a bottle of tequila.

Not just any tequila, and not a paltry $2,000 price tag. We're talking a bottle of Aztec Passion Limited Edition from producer Tequila Ley .925 -- for $225,000. The company's Aztec Passion -- without "limited edition" in the name -- went for $150,000 a few months ago.

Fernando Altamirano, CEO of Tequila Ley, won't identify the purchaser, but he did say the tequila was presented in 4.4 pounds of gold and platinum casing that helped bump the price up to the quarter-million-dollar figure. He said he plans to create a million-dollar tequila within a year or so, packaged in a bottle made of platinum and encrusted with diamonds.

"This is a really unique bottle of tequila and our client, a U.S.-based collector of fine wines and spirits, will treasure this prize to add to an already impressive collection," Altamirano said in a news release.

He also said he is applying to the Guinness Book of Records for inclusion as the most expensive bottle of liquor ever.

The Aztec Passion Limited Edition is part of a new line of luxury tequilas recently unveiled by Tequila Ley.

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Science separates mystery from bourbon

Talk all you want about the good old-fashioned manufacturing of bourbon. If there are improvements to be made through new technology, tradition will just have to move over.

Witness this announcement, from the folks at Photonics Spectra magazine in Pittsfield, MA:

"To enable distillers of Tennessee whiskey to produce a better and more uniform product, scientists at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Southern Research Station in Pineville, LA, are analyzing wood charcoal using mid-infrared spectroscopy. With the chemical information they gather, they hope to apply near-IR spectroscopy and other techniques for online process monitoring in the spirits industry."

Fascinating. Sort of. If you're fluent in spectro-speak. Maybe.

But, don't despair. The article suddenly appears in English just a few paragraphs down. And what it says actually is quite interesting. Among the points:

"The manufacture of Tennessee whiskey is distinguished by the use of the Lincoln County process, a days-long mellowing step in which the newly distilled spirit is filtered through a 10-ft-thick layer of charcoal made from sugar maple. Infrared spectroscopy offers distillers a means of verifying that the charcoal they produce for the process is of the proper species of maple. ...

"Given the importance of tradition in the branding of spirits and the anecdotal evidence that suggests that the quality of Tennessee whiskey depends on the species of maple used to make the charcoal, there is a strong incentive for distillers to confirm that sugar maple is the source material, explained Nicole Labbé, an assistant professor at the university’s Tennessee Forest Products Center."

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Tequila's home is sacred ground

Photo by William M. Dowd

UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has named the agave growing area of Mexico's mountainous Jalisco state a World Heritage site.

Agave, the basis of the production of tequila liquor, has helped fuel the local and national economy. The state is dominated by distilleries, breweries, cantinas and liquor stores. The majority of the 60,000 residents work in the drink industry or in its spillover tourism industry.

"We are very emotional. There is a lot of joy among people here because we have been waiting for this for a long time," said Yadira Gaytan, assistant mayor of Tequila.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which met last week in Lithuania, is responsible for implementing the 1972 U.N. Convention on the protection of cultural and natural sites around the world.

The specified area is located between the foothills of the Tequila Volcano and the Rio Grande river valle. It includes an archaeological site nearly 2,000 years old and colonial distilleries going back to the 16th Century.

"We are very happy," Ramon Gonzalez, director of the Tequila Regulatory Council, told Agence France-Presse. "It will help about 10,000 families in the region whose livelihood depends directly of the agave root."

Gonzalez said local authroities hope to turn the area into a major tourist attraction similar to California's wine Napa Valley or the wine Rioja route in northern Spain.

It is one of numerous World Heritage sites in Mexico. The others:

* Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila
* Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche
* Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco
* Archeological Zone of Paquimé, Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
* Earliest 16th-Century Monasteries on the Slopes of Popocatépetl
* Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco
* Historic Centre of Morelia, Michoacán
* Historic Centre of Oaxaca, Oaxaca, and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán
* Historic Centre of Puebla, Puebla
* Historic Centre of Zacatecas, Zacatecas
* Historic Fortified Town of Campeche, Campeche
* Historic Monuments Zone of Santiago de Querétaro
* Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan
* Historic Town of Guanajuato, Guanajuato, and Adjacent Mines
* Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Guadalajara, Jalisco
* Luis Barragán House and Studio
* Pre-Hispanic City of El Tajín
* Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque
* Pre-Hispanic City of Chichén Itzá
* Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan
* Pre-Hispanic City of Uxmal
* Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco
* Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, Quintana Roo
* Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino
* Franciscan Missions in the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro
* Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California

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One for your wish list

If you want to get in some early Christmas shopping, here's a suggestion for that person who has everything else: a 40-year-old Scotch whisky that goes for about $2,000 a bottle.

It's a 1965 Ardbeg single malt from Islay (eye-lah). Only 261 bottles were made, with 100 to be sold at Harrod's, the iconic London department store.

At that price, they're not handing out samples (although competitors sometimes do for their whiskies in that price range). So, what does it taste like?

Says Campbell Evans of the Scottish Whisky Association, "The person buying this can expect a smoky whisky with an aroma of the sea."

Previous whiskies aged 40 years plus have sold for double the price of this one.

The publicity surrounding this release, just made this week, is timely for Ardbeg. The distillery reopened in 1997 after being out of production for for 16 years. It has slowly been ramping up production and building stock under the ownership of Glenmorangie.

Unfortunately, Ardbeg is not licensed to send spirits to the U.S. or Canada, so you'll have to find your own contacts who can pick it up for you. Should you do that, bear in mind that the 40-year-old distillation is really just for curiosity's sake. Ardberg has a line of whiskies, led by its Ardbeg Ten Years Old (seen here), the first non-chill filtered whisky in the Ardbeg range.

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Vodka explosion covers maple to Maui

The boutique vodka movement has become a global phenomenon. No longer contented with various types of potatoes and grains, boutique distillers are using everything from maple syrup to Pacific ocean water to differentiate their products.

Month after month I've been witnessing the relentless march of new brands coming on the market. Some are powered by gimmicks -- ginger-flavored Yazi in its perfume decanter-style bottle, for example. Some have honest distilled goodness -- Pekonica with its combo of grain and potato.

It is no wonder so many new entrants keep appearing. Vodka is the top-selling liquor in the U.S., bringing in $10.8 billion in sales last year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Most of what I refer to as boutique brands are in the super-premium niche, selling for $24 or more per 750-milliliter bottle. That niche within a niche saw about $1.6 billion in sales last year.

Here is a sampling of some of the latest boutique entries.

• 44˚North -- This one is from the ever-widening American contingent, created by Ken Wyatt and Ron Zier, co-founders of Icon Brands in Rigby, Idaho. It's a five-column distilled potato vodka made with Rocky Mountain springwater from the Snake River Aquifer, with the added taste of huckleberries, a relative of the blueberry family, that gives it a sweet finish.

• Cold River -- This Maine potato vodka has been getting a lot of publicity since word of its impending debut leaked out last year. Now that it's on the market, it's been increasingly in demand. It's made at a new distillery in Fryeburg, ME, about 150 miles north of Boston, by Don Thibodeau, a potato farmer who owns Green Thumb Farms.

• Vermont Spirits Gold -- This is one of a trio of Vermont Spirits vodkas made at the Duncan's Spirits micro-distillery in St. Johnsbury, VT. It's handmade in small batches from the sugar of maple sap, triple distilled and lightly filtered. The Duncans refer to it as "the single malt of vodka."

• Ocean Vodka -- Hawaii is producing this entry, with the assistance of DRinc. of Idaho. Hawaii Sea Spirits of Maui will introduce it next month, touting its use of desalinated ocean water with alcohol distilled in Idaho from organic corn and rye. I'm thinking a niche within a niche within a niche. Ocean has partnered with Koyo USA Corp., maker of MaHaLo Hawaii Deep Sea Water, which markets the desalinated mineral water in Japan and operates a luxury water bar in Waikiki.

• Square One -- If Ocean Vodka is environmentally sensitive for using unpolluted water taken from 3,000 feet below the ocean surface, Square One Organic Vodka is trying to outdo it with its organic rye distillation. Founder Allison Evanow is a wine and spirits industry veteran rounded up family and friends with what she calls "socially conscious" lifestyles to back her venture: female majority ownership, a targeted percentage of after-tax profits given to nonpolitical environmental causes, and lots of touchy-feely management techniques.

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Va. blazes a whiskey sales trail

If wineries can sell their products on the premises, why can't whiskey distillers?

Well, at least one can in Virginia. And only one, at this point.

Chuck Miller, seen here, received a license from the state to sell his products to the public at his Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper County as of July 1. Before, he was limited to selling through Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) stores, which he had been doing since 1987.

"We've been dreaming about this for years," said Miller who, with his wife, Jeanette, is selling two products -- Virginia Lightning, an actual moonshine priced at $12.55 for a fifth, and Copper Fox, a Virginia whiskey priced at $17.90 a pint, from the gift shop at distillery.

Miller, 61, a retired airline pilot, credits county supervisor Steve Walker for getting the ball rolling toward Virginia General assembly approval. Walker, he says, believed whiskey distillers should be treated the same as wineries. Since the corn for the concoctions is grown on Belmont Farm, Walker suggested trying to get approval because of what he called a "value-added farm" approach.

With the assistance of Delegate Ed Scott, R-Culpeper, and a friendly ABC administration that helped write the necessary legislation, the project slowly made its way through various hearings and debates, finally getting approval and being signed into law by Gov. Tim Kaine.

Miller plans to continue selling his products through the state's ABC stores, but told a local newspaper, "This has done wonders for my business" by drawing more tourists as well as curious locals to the Belmont Farm operation.

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