Connecticut House OKs Sunday sales bill

HARTFORD -- Connecticut has moved closer to ending its ban on Sunday alcohol sales, among other actions involving the industry.

House Bill 5021 was passed this week, allowing sales on Sunday and certain holidays. It also calls for increasing from two to three the number of liquor stores a retailer may own. The vote was 116-27.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it must be approved my midnight May 9, the final day of the current legislative session.

If approved, Sunday sales would immediately be allowed, with any other aspects of the bill going into effect on July 1.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Independent slams Beam for withholding Irish spirit

Lord Henry Mountcharles
From the Irish Independent

A decision by the new owners of Cooley Distillery not to supply whiskey to independent operators has been slammed as "anti-competitive" by Slane Castle owner Lord Henry Mountcharles.

An angry Mountcharles said he had to cut short a U.S. marketing trip for his own-label brand when he discovered that the international Beam group would not sell him any more whiskey.

"It is not what they have done, it's the way they did it. It feels like we've been cut off at the knees," he said.

Former Cooley director Willie McArthur, now working in a marketing role for Beam -- producers of the Jim Beam bourbon brand -- said the own-label sellers were unwitting victims of the "runaway" success of Irish whiskey.

"The speed at which sales are growing caught everybody by surprise, including the new owners of Cooley. They have done a full review and the sales people say we may need more whiskey than we actually have.

"We aim to create another Jameson -- we are thinking at that kind of level. We have to make sure we do not run out of whiskey in three years' time," he said, explaining that this potential shortage explained the abrupt nature of the withdrawal.

He added, "We have contracts with a few customers but most, like Lord Henry, would just place orders as required and we cannot accept new orders."

Slane Castle Irish Whiskey was launched in 1999, targeting the premium U.S. market, with Irish prices of €50 a bottle, or about $65 American.

"We were about to sign a large distribution deal in the US when we learned our supplies would be cut off," Mountcharles said.  "I told Beam I regard their actions as anti-competitive. We won't take this lying down and I'm considering whether it could be referred to the Competition Authority."

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


U.S.-Brazil pact should boost cachaça sales

Scotch whisky has long been regarded as being made in only one place. Scotland.

That is largely due to the vigilance of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), a feisty trade group that rigorously monitors the world spirits industry to be sure no one is trying to pass off their wares as "true Scotch whisky" without it being precisely that.

The same cannot be said for many other types of spirits, unlike such things as bourbon and tequila, which have specific government-enacted regulations about their creation.

I was chatting over cocktails the other day with Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA and a man who knows a thing or three about global trade. He has headed the organization since 2003 and concurrently has been president of the European Spirits Organisation since last November. Before that, he was the British ambassador successively to Croatia, Finland and Belgium, and worked in a number of other diplomatic postings around the world.

Our topic was regulation in the manufacture and quality of various spirits, and cachaça, the distilled sugar cane liquor, was cited as a prominent example, particular with the upcoming visit to the White House of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Cachaça is the base for the caipirinha cocktail that has so enamored tourists to South America in recent years that they demanded it when they returned home. That demand has been answered in many of the better cocktail lounges and bars throughout the U.S.

In my view, that means those consumers should be able to know the source of the cachaça is held to certain standards in purity and safety rather than being just anything tossed together and put in a pretty bottle. After judging several cane spirit competitions, I can attest to the fact that the latter has been the case too often and that quality has often been wildly erratic. Hewitt concurred.

"We do need some sort of uniformity in quality for such spirits," he said. "I'm not in favor of government or industry over-regulation, but there is the matter of safety and value for the money."

There are as many as 2,000 different names for cachaça in the vernacular, according to one authoritative Brazilian publication. Many cropped up over the years as illicit distillers sought to call their distilled sugar cane something that would not attract the attention of government tax collectors and regulators or even back in the days when the spirit was banned.

Now, the matter of quality seems well on its way to being addressed. In recent days, the U.S. and Brazil have exchanged letters of intent to increase trade in cachaça -- the bulk of which is made in Brazil -- and bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. This was part of President Rousseff's visit and various trade agreements discussed at the time between the two huge nations.

Specifically mentioning cachaça is a major change because since 2000, Brazil has had to label it "Brazilian rum," putting into a much more competitive market niche, because cachaça was not specifically recognized by the U.S.

Under the agreement, the U.S. pledges to recognize cachaça as a distinctive Brazilian product, and Brazil promises similar recognition for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, each of which has long been manufactured under specific regulations. Inherent in the agreement is that the Brazilian government will be monitoring the quality of the cachaça its distillers export to the U.S. and, presumably, elsewhere.

There are two types of cachaça, unaged (white) and aged (gold). White usually is bottled right after distillation, although some is aged for several months, and usually matures wood barrels for at least three years.

To understand the scope of cachaça in the Brazilian economy, it helps to know that there are an estimated 40,000 distillers making 4,000 different brands of cachaça with total sales $1.1 billion (U.S.) annually, according to the Brazilian Cachaça Institute.

Brazil, the world’s largest sugar exporter, sold $17.28 million worth of cachaça to 60 countries in 2011, mainly to Germany, Portugal, the U.S. and France.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in an e-mail, "Cachaça and bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are among the United States’ and Brazil’s most unique and well-recognized products. This exchange of letters represents a very positive development for both of our industries, and reflects our governments’ commitment to stronger bilateral trade ties.”

By definition, bourbon must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn -- although most is made of a much higher percentage, and be aged at least two years in new, charred American white oak barrels. Tennessee whiskey is a bourbon-style spirit that then is filtered through maple charcoal.

The recognition is not yet a done deal. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will publish notice of the proposed change and solicit comment. If it issues a regulation designating cachaça as a distinctive Brazilian product, Brazil then will reciprocate by recognizing the two U.S. whiskeys.

"Brazilians are rapidly acquiring a taste for the finest American whiskeys, and (this) agreement -- when implemented -- will ensure the integrity and authenticity of these world class drinks," said Peter Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS). "Formal recognition for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey producers is critical because it will ensure that only those products produced in accordance with strict U.S. standards will be permitted for sale in the Brazilian market."

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Knob Creek Rye a winner even before release

The folks at Beam Inc, couldn't have scripted it any better.

As the Clermont, KY, distiller was getting ready to release its new Knob Creek Rye to the market it wins Double Gold and top honors in the "Best Rye Whiskey" category in the well-regarded San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

That wasn't the only honor the distiller took at that competition. Its super-premium Knob Creek Bourbon and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve each took Double Gold.

The Knob Creek line was created 20 years ago by Booker Noe, grandson of James Beam and sixth-generation master distiller, with a 100 proof bourbon. His son, Fred, now the master distiller, added the Single Barrel Reserve at 120 proof last year.

"We carefully handcraft Knob Creek Rye using a blend of the finest quality rye grains in order to bring our product to life in a way that only Knob Creek can," Fred Noe said. "Being named 'Best Rye Whiskey' proves that the patience and care we put into every bottle is worth the effort."

The new rye, bottled at 100 proof, will be on the market nationally in July, at a suggested retail price of $39.99 for a 750ml bottle.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.

Italian wheat vodka expands U.S. market

"Vodka" and "Italy." Not two words that quickly come to mind in the same thought. That, however, may be slightly changed by a new marketing effort.

The maker of Purus Vodka, an organic wheat vodka imported from the Piedmont region of Italy, this month will double the number of U.S. states in which it is available.

Currently, you can find it in Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Missouri. It now is being shipped to stores in Texas, Illinois, North Carolina and New Mexico.

Purus, which made its market debut in 2011, is the flagship brand of an emerging portfolio of super-premium spirits brands owned by Pure Holdings LLC, in Clayton, MO.

Purus is distilled five times from organic wheat grown by a group of Italian artisan farmers. Pure Holdings launched the Purus brand with Grey Eagle Distributors, Missouri Eagle Distributors, and Krey Distributing in Missouri. The company has signed similar agreements in each of the four new states.

The brand received the "Superb (90-95) Highest Recommendation" from Wine Enthusiast magazine's "Top 50 Spirits of 2010," and has been named "Best in Category" and received a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits competition. Its bottle is 100% recyclable with a tree-free label and soy-based inks, water-based adhesives and a sustainable cork closure.

The suggested retail price for the 750ml bottle is $36.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Analysis: Craft distilling going nowhere but up

Anyone who has been paying attention knows the craft distillery movement in America is on the upswing. The question is, how far is up?

According to industry figures, there were 254 producing distilleries at the end of 2011, with more scheduled to come on line this year. A market analysis just released by Coppersea Distilling LLC, projects the industry will grow more than 300% over the next decade.

"Should current growth trends continue, the number of U.S. craft distillers will certainly grow to over 1,000," said Michael Kinstlick, CEO of Coppersea Distilling, located in West Park, Ulster County, NY. "Craft distilling is following the lead of the farm winery and craft brewery industries, which have both grown to support thousands of small firms."

To show the continued upward spiking of new firms, there were only a total of 24 in 2000. By contrast 50 new firms opened in 2011 alone.

"The tremendous activity and excitement in craft distilling has been increasing year-by-year," said Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute. "Customers are looking to smaller producers for unique and more authentic spirits. Clearly, American craft distillers are only getting started, and this paper points to how far they can go.”

Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), said, "The rapid growth of craft distilling in the U.S. market in many ways reflects both the recent modernization of the supplier tier and an important grassroots development in the public policy arena. The Council recognized this trend by creating a Craft Distiller Affiliate Membership program, which has grown from 12 founding members to almost 60 in two years. This paper provides important perspective on this fast-moving segment of the spirits industry.”

 Craft distillers operate in 45 states. The complete "white paper" from Coppersea Distilling can be downloaded here.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.

Legal update: VA, WV ease spirits laws

Two states have modified their beverage alcohol laws to become more consumer friendly.

In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell has signed legislation giving the state beverage control commission authority to expand Sunday alcohol sales into markets statewide, effective July 1.

House Bill 896 passed the House on January 27 and the Senate on February 23.

In neighboring West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has signed legislation allowing consumers to sample up to one total ounce of liquor at distilled spirits outlets during a scheduled event, effective June 8.

The original House Bill 3174 was sponsored by State Rep. Bonnie Brown. It passed the House on February 20 and the Senate on March 10.

"Control states across the country are updating their liquor laws to reflect modern convenience and demand," said DISCUS Vice President David Wojnar, a vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS).

"We applaud governors Tomblin and McDonnell for working with members of the beverage alcohol community and passing legislation that is good for consumers and good for the state treasury, too."

DISCUS is the trade association representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in the United States.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Tuthilltown creates 'orchard' gin base

GARDINER, NY -- The craft distiller Tuthilltown Spirits is launching a new gin with a definitely different twist.

The average gin is distilled from some sort of grain then infused with a combination of botanicals. The Ulster County distiller -- the state's first licensed operation since Prohibition -- has, instead, created Half Moon Orchard Gin from a base of wheat and apples. It is believed to be the first New York distillery taking that direction.

Half Moon, named for the ship captained by explorer Henry Hudson when he chanced upon the river that now bears his name, differs from the usual gin making approach by changing the base spirit itself.

Says chief distiller Joel Elder, "We're in the heart of the American apple industry, so it's natural for us to turn to apples to create an original New York gin. Gin has become a battle of the botanicals, with more and more complicated recipes making use of obscure flavors that get lost in the mix. We chose to keep our botanical bill small and focus attention on the base spirit which makes up most of the gin, using the botanicals to complement and enhance the delicate flavors inherent in the base."

The new product is being released regionally this spring, with wider distribution being considered for later in the year.  

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Book review: '99 Pot Stills'

"99 Pot Stills." Photos by Bill Owens & Andrew Faulkner. American Distilling Institute/White Mule Press.

Anyone at all acquainted with the distilling process knows a still when (s)he sees one. But, what they see can differ -- often greatly -- from venue to venue.

From gleaming bronze appliances with soaring graceful swan necks to rinky-dink apparatuses cobbled together in the backyard, a still is a still is a still. In other words, the operational theory remains the same no matter the design and style of the still.

Bill Owens, founder and president of the American Distilling Institute, and Andrew Faulkner put their collection of photos of various stills taken all over the country into this picture book. Even for the experienced distillery visitor, it has some eye-opening pictures. Here are some examples from the collection:

Black Heron Spirits, West Richland, WA.

Tom Cooper, Colorado Gold Distillery, Cedaredge, CO.
David Mahaffey with licensed experimental still.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Belvedere in the stew over bad ad

Belvedere Vodka's uber-offensive ad -- seen over there ➨ -- not only was a flop in the court of public opinion, it now is landing the company in court to defend against a lawsuit.

What is widely known as the "date rape ad" uses an actress/model's image which she claims Belvedere did not have permission to use.

Alicyn Packard's original image appeared in a still photo from a comedy skit in which she appeared for Strickly Viral Productions.

In a statement, Packard told KTLA television, "To be affiliated with an ad that's so offensive to so many has just been horrible."

Belvedere President Charles Gibb has publicly apologized for the ad, which briefly appeared on Belvedere's Facebook page on March 23, saying it "should never have happened. … The content is contrary to our values and we deeply regret this lapse."

Belvedere also made a donation to RAINN, an anti-sexual-violence organization.  

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.

2 new specialty vodkas released

A pair of vodka makers has added to their lines, something that has become a regular business activity for virtually all such distillers in the crowded market category.

Blue Ice Vodka today announced the release of Blue Ice G Vodka, a multi-grain recipe that is the third item in its portfolio along with the original Blue Ice Vodka, made from potatoes, and Blue Ice Organic Wheat Vodka.

The new iteration from owner 21st Century Spirits of California is packaged in the familiar raised-glass icicle bottle, but a red signature "G" for grains makes it stand out from its siblings.

Suggested retail price is $15 for the 750ml bottle.

Elsewhere, the Swedish potato vodka maker Karlsson’s has added Batch 2008 Gammel Svensk Röd to its portfolio.

Karlsson’s Gold is distilled from a variety of potatoes harvested on Cape Bjäre, Sweden. This new expression is made from a single strain of potato -- Gammel Svensk Röd, grown in the same region.

Because of the specificity of its base, it carries a higher suggested retail price -- $80 for the 750 ml bottle.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Guides home page.