Blog Entries by Jeff Cioletti

The London Renaissance

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, craft beer, London, Camden Town Brewery, Sambrook’s Brewery

About six months ago, in one of my blog posts at beverageworld.com, I wrote about the bizarre experience of having an English brewery tour guide tell me that the U.K. craft beer scene is still about 15 years behind that of the U.S. Most of my visits there had been driven by the romance of immersing myself in British beer and pub culture and tradition—one that, on many levels, had influenced the craft movement in the United States.

I returned to London last month and figured I’d adhere to my usual itinerary—typically, it’s all about the pub crawl for me, having a pint or two of real ale from some traditional breweries at a variety of neighborhood locals that tend to be light on the tourist element (the way I like it). I had planned to do the same, but a friend had recommended that I integrate into my circuit one of the newer breweries that have been popping up in the city over the past few years.

I’ve been aware of the small boom in craft beer startups in the U.K., in large part influenced by what craft’s accomplished in the states. But I’ll admit I didn’t have a firm grasp on just how explosive it’s been in the past few years just in the capital city alone. So I decided to hit the Camden Town Brewery, a great little spot not too far from the Kentish Town tube stop. With brews like Gentleman’s Wit and Hells Lager, a wheat and a pale, it hits on most of the popular styles of European origin that inspired U.S. crafts. But Camden wears its U.S. influence most on its sleeve with USA Hells, a twist on its Hells Lager with American hops. While there, I ran into Mark Dredge, author of the just-released “Craft Beer World,” who noted that during each of the past handful of years, the number of craft breweries opening in London has been in the double digits and that I can’t leave town without stopping by at least a few of them. So, next I headed over to the Swansea district to Sambrook’s Brewery, one of the veterans of the new class—having opened “way back” in 2008. Sambrook’s kind of bridges the gap between the old and the new. Sambrook’s brews mostly cask real ales in keeping with the British tradition, but with an appeal to the younger generation of craft enthusiasts.

Next stop was a couple of brewers only open to the public on Saturday. Luckily, they were within a half mile of each other in the Bermondsey district. First was the Kernel, whose brews use a lot of the hops popularized in American crafts A real standout is Kernel’s Export India Porter, which successfully merges roasty with hoppy. The Kernel experience had a sort of Brooklyn Brewery vibe, circa a decade ago. The final stop was Partizan, one of the newest breweries in London, having just opened about six months ago. It’s London’s answer to nanobrewing, located in a garage-size space down what locals once considered a sketchy little alley. It, too, plays up hop varietals popularized by U.S. West Coast craft brewers and sports some of the most artfully rendered label designs on either side of the Atlantic.

So, before I knew it, my expected pub crawl had morphed into a brewery crawl as a whole new London—bathed in craft beer—has awakened.

Toasts & Spills: Spring 2013 Edition

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Category: General Blogs

There’s quite a bit to talk about this month, so I figured it was as good a time as any for another edition of my semi-regular thumbs-up, thumbs-down feature, Toasts & Spills.

Let’s start off on a positive note and propose a Toast to Justice Milton A. Tingling of New York, who last month invalidated NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugar-sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces—a day before it was to take effect. Calling the restrictions “arbitrary and capricious” and acknowledging the ban was fraught with loopholes, Tingling, at least for now, killed a misguided law that would do little to combat the obesity epidemic and a great deal to punish the beverage market and undermine consumer choice.

And while we’re at it, how about a Spill for the mayor of the great city of New York for vowing to appeal Tingling’s decision. Bloomie should just leave well enough alone and move on. I’m actually a fan of his calorie-posting initiative at foodservice establishments in the city, his efforts to get rid of trans fats and, my personal favorite, his indoor smoking ban. These, in my opinion, were smart public health actions. The big soda ban, not so much. Just let it go, Mr. Mayor.

And since we’re talking about the courts and misguided maneuvers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t assign a great big Spill to the truly ridiculous $5 million class action lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch asserting that the mega-brewer is watering down its beer. It’s silliness like this that pushes our legal system toward dysfunction and paralysis, as it’s nothing more than a colossal waste of time that does nothing but clog the pipes of jurisprudence. And if Budweiser is watered down? So what! If the beer’s not flavorful enough for some consumers, then they can go drink something else. Hasn’t anyone noticed that, when it comes to beer, there’s more choice than ever before?  

And that leads us to our next Toast: to U.S. craft brewers. The Brewers Association last month released 2012 craft beer volume and revenue figures and they’re even better than they were in 2011. The segment saw a 15 percent rise in volume and a 17 percent increase in dollars, earning total retail dollars of $10.2 billion. Craft share of overall U.S. beer volume reached 6.5 percent, up from 5.7 percent in 2011, while dollar share cracked the 10 percent mark.

Among the many beneficiaries of such robust craft beer business has been the publishing industry, as craft-themed books have become a genre unto themselves. Our final Toast goes out to author and frequent Beverage World contributor and BevOps craft tasting host John Holl, as his latest tome, “The American Craft Beer Cookbook,” is about to hit stores. The book features a collection of 175 recipes contributed by craft brewers, brew pubs and others in the craft scene throughout the U.S. My wife and I were lucky enough to be guinea pigs when John was testing out a couple of recipes and I can confirm that the book will be worth every penny of the $12.36 pre-order price at Amazon.

And that is where I must end things for this edition, as I am now too hungry to continue writing.

Distilling the Meaning

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: Distilled Spirits Co, DISCUS, spirits

 

We’re focusing a great deal on craft beer this issue (major congrats to Oskar Blues for earning our inaugural Craft Brewer of the Year Award), so it’d probably be appropriate for me to write about craft beer. But, I’ve written a lot of about the subject lately (including in this issue) and I think I want to talk about spirits. 
 
There were a great many statistical nuggets I took away from the Distilled Spirits Council’s (DISCUS) annual media and analysts briefing last month. For one, total spirits volume grew by 3.0 percent in 2012—an impressive number for any mature beverage category, especially when compared with the likes of U.S. beer and carbonated soft drinks. Volume reached 202 million case equivalents. Total revenue was up an even greater 4.5 percent, rising to $21.3 billion
 
A good deal of overall spirits growth is thanks to the premiumization trend, as a sizeable portion of the category’s growth came from the top two spirits price segments, high-end and super-premium, which grew by 4.8 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively. The two segments on the lower half of the price spectrum, value (the lowest) and premium, grew by a much more modest 1.8 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. Additionally, the super-premium segment is having a much greater impact than it had 10 years ago. In 2003 the value segment’s total revenue was just under $3.8 billion, while super-premium’s tally was a tad lower than $1.5 billion. Ten years later, value’s annual revenue was only a slightly higher $4.1 billion, but super-premium is getting pretty close to matching it at $3.9 billion.
 
There were plenty more facts and figures DISCUS president and CEO Peter Cressy and chief economist David Ozgo presented at the meeting, but I wasn’t struck so much by what was said, but by what wasn’t said—or at least wasn’t said until the final minutes of the presentation. In the same event held in in each of the past few years, the speakers wouldn’t get five minutes into their presentations without uttering the word “recession” or even “economy” (not including Ozgo’s economist title). But this year I was already packing up my laptop (reporters notebooks are for suckers) before a passing reference to the state of the economy was made late in the session. 
 
And I don’t think that was an accident. When your numbers are as good as spirits’ have been—not to mention steady, as 2011 was similarly positive for the category—it’s perfectly safe to get a sense that things have returned to some form of normal. And when the top-shelf price segments are doing as well as they are, it points to a sustainable trading-up trend that, after a brief recessionary hiccup, is back in full-swing. The gravitation back toward affordable luxury over the past three years is a sign that times could actually be heading back into the “good.” 
 
This in no way is meant to cavalierly dismiss the 7.9 percent unemployment elephant in the room. There’s still a considerable way to go until we collectively reach full recovery. But with some consistently solid numbers coming out of the spirits market, it’s okay to surrender to one’s inner optimist.  

Lowering the Bar

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, craft beer, bartending, customer service

So, a man walks into a bar. He wants to order a pint of fine craft beer so he motions to the bartender. The bartender walks past him, not making eye contact. A few minutes pass and he continues to motion the bartender. Again, no acknowledgment whatsoever. After a few more minutes pass, he finally gets the bartender’s attention. She shoots him a “What do you want?” look and he shouts his order above the noise in the crowded pub. She shouts back, “I can’t hear you,” and walks away. Waiting for the punchline? There isn’t one. This, sadly, is no joke. This sort of thing happens more often than it should. The man in the tale is yours truly. It happened last month.

Look, I get that it was crowded and crowds and noise can be overwhelming. But that’s no excuse for poor customer service. In less-crowded situations I’ve sat at the bar and managed to engage the barkeep a little more easily. This time I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to order so I asked for a little insight on one of the many artisanal brews on tap.

Me: What style is it?

Bartender: It’s like Bass.

Me: But it says it has an ABV of 9 percent. That’s a bit high for that style.

Bartender: Well, it’s the same color.

This pub prided itself on its vast selection of craft beers on draught. But it seems that management was more concerned with quantity over quality—the quantity of its taps versus the quality of a trained, informed serving staff.

We seem to hold wait staff in restaurants to much higher standards of human interaction than we do bar staff. What’s the reason for that? There isn’t one, at least there shouldn’t be one. Bartenders are salespeople, just as waiters and waitresses are. They’re there to get you to buy stuff and answer any questions you may have about that stuff so you can make a more informed purchasing decision. I’m not saying that these bars are the rule—but they’re not the exception either. They’re somewhere in the middle of the exception-rule continuum.

And that costs sales, regardless of how negligible that loss would be in the grand scheme of things. It’s certainly not something that the companies that own the brands and the wholesalers that distribute the brands the bar is supposed to be selling take lightly.  

The staff and the owners could argue, “Well, the place is packed, so we’re obviously doing something right. So back off!” But why would anyone ever want to take customer traffic for granted? Exactly how loyal are the customers that happen to be packing that bar on a given night? Maybe they just pushed their way into that particular place because all the other establishments in the neighborhood were even more crowded. And if the managers and staff are giving them no reason to come back, they won’t.

Here’s another thing to consider: social media. If someone has a bad experience in a pub, that place can expect an instantaneous, unflattering tweet or a rather damning review on Yelp.  

The joke may begin with the man (or woman) walking into a bar. But no one’s laughing when the woman (or man) walks out of the bar a few seconds later…and never comes back. 

Let the Games Begin: BevStar 2013 Call for Entries

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, beverage, alcohol, brew, awards, soft drink, soda, tea, cider, sake, mead, wine, spirits, liquor, functional, sports drink, water, bottled water, enhanced water, coffee, innovation, energy

With the dawn of a new year comes a new chance for your brand to shine. Whether you're playing in the alcohol or non-alcohol space (or both even), you are cordially invited to submit your product to our third-annual BevStar Awards competition. It's our annual celebration of innovation across all of the major beverage categories. And the best part? It's absolutely free to enter, aside from whatever shipping costs you need to incur to get a sample of your product to our judging team.

Since this is about innovation, we ask that your product be new(ish). That means it should have been launched no earlier than Sept. 2011. If it hasn't been launched yet, that's fine. As long as you've got a product, a package and a plan to roll it out before summer 2013, it's eligible. (The product has to exist. Ideation is great, but execution is critical.)

Once again, we'll be awarding gold, silver and bronze awards in the following categories:

• Carbonated Soft Drinks

• Water/Enhanced Water

• Functional Beverages (including sports drinks, but not including energy drinks—those get their own category. We got a ton of energy entries last year.)

• Energy Drinks

• Beer

• Mead, Cider and Sake

• Wine

• Spirits

• Ready-to-Drink Tea & Coffee

We'll also present special achievement awards for marketing innovation, social media initiatives and environmental sustainability.

To enter, please e-mail the following to bevstar@beverageworld.com :

1. Product Name

2. Parent Company Name

3. Contact Info (address, phone & e-mail)

4. High-resolution product image

5. A brief description of the product and why you believe it should win a BevStar award.

6. The names of any packaging, label design, ingredient and branding companies or individuals that helped develop or market your product.

If your product passes the written test, we'll send you instructions on where to ship product samples for the practical test. We ask that you limit the samples to one bottle/can/carton/etc. per product entered.

Keep in mind, tasting is only one component of our selection process. Your product has to offer the whole package, which includes, well, the package and its overall market positioning.

The submission deadline is March 1. Winners will be notified by June 1 and we'll showcase winning products in the July 2013 issue of Beverage World.

If you've got any questions you can e-mail me directly.

We're looking forward to your entries!