Blog Entries by Jeff Cioletti

Fernet-aissance

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: brewing

Ever get the feeling you’re being followed? That’s exactly the sense I’ve been getting recently from a certain herbal digestif that’s been popping up in my many travels for the past year. I’m talking about Fernet, the classic spirit whose flavor has been described as a cross between black licorice and minty-fresh mouthwash. It’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts, clues of which it seems to have planted, “Doctor Who”-style—at various points in space and time for me to see.

It started last year in Buenos Aires. Before I departed for South America, the spirit barely had been on my radar, little more than a curiosity that I’d see behind the bar at some taverns and Italian restaurants. But as I was researching local tipples in Argentina I discovered that it’s enormously popular there. Italian immigrants and their descendants comprise a significant portion of the Argentine population. They pretty much brought the spirit with them.

Several months later I was in San Francisco and there it was, just about everywhere I turned—not just in bars but in ads for Fernet Branca, the leading brand, strategically posted throughout the city (I never noticed the ads all the other times I’d been to San Francisco, so it supports my theory that some nefarious time-jumping force had retconned it into my personal chronology). It’s had quite the cult following there since pre-Prohibition (and during). I asked my cousin, Tom, a previous resident of the Fog City (now residing in Los Angeles), what the deal is with Fernet. “It’s a restaurant industry thing,” said Tom, an accomplished pastry chef. “Everyone in or around the restaurants in SF drinks it...Hang with any cook and you’ll wind up drinking some.”

And, last fall, when I was in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, a friend told me I just had to try Odell Brewing Co.’s porter aged in, you guessed it, Fernet barrels. The best way I can describe that combination is to ask you to imagine eating a handful of Andes Candies and Good ‘N’ Plenties at the same time. Not quite, but that’s about as close as I can get. But good on the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery for being at the forefront of a spirit-ual renaissance.

And a true renaissance it is, as noted by the folks at Sensient in last month’s issue detailing the flavor company’s 2014 Taste to Trend report: “Long seen in a small number of cocktails, Sensient researchers report that Fernet has taken the bar scene by storm. Bar patrons appreciate the vintage feel of classic cocktails, but with a contemporary spin.”

In light of that, I suspect that a great many consumers will be experiencing that “am I being followed?” sensation this year—all the way to the bar.

Customizing the Future

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Category: General Blogs

I got a call from CNBC to offer a few thoughts on the news that Coke was taking a 10 percent stake in Green Mountain for a cool $1.25 billion. It'll certainly give SodaStream a run for its money and it'll be interesting to see how Pepsi responds in the coming days/weeks. (Another deal in the near future, perhaps? Pepsi is mum).

"Gamechanger" is CNBC's word, not mine. I think it's a bit strong. The deal doesn't necessarily change the game. It does, however, make it a bit more fun to watch.

Here's a link to the segment:

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000243774

 

Brave Brew World

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: craft beer

I know I’ve written about this a bunch of times before, but every time I go abroad I am absolutely floored to discover just how much American craft brewers have been influencing the craft scenes—both established and burgeoning—around the world. And each time I’m in Europe, the extent to which that impact is felt always seems far greater than it was on my prior visit.

Just in the past two months, I returned to a trio of Western European markets known for their own venerable beer traditions. It was those same traditions that previously influenced craft brewers in the U.S. I’m talking about Belgium, Germany and the U.K.

In a column last year, I rhapsodized about the craft beer renaissance in London that very much mirrored the early days of the U.S. boom. I won’t spend too much time on that particular market, except to say that the American craft influence—what I like to call the “brewmerang effect,” wherein beer countries that had inspired small U.S. brewers are now home to a new generation of brewers inspired by the Yanks—seemed far more pronounced than my previous visit, just seven months prior.

Belgium was a true revelation. It had only been two years since my last visit, but the number of breweries making U.S.-inspired hop-forward beers seems to have increased exponentially in that time. They’re also producing styles like imperial stouts and porters and ramping up their whiskey barrel aging activities—including in cooperage that once housed that most American of spirits, bourbon.

American craft brewers have gotten quite adept at producing their own riff on classic Belgian styles. The Belgians are now returning the favor. Of course, it’s not just out of admiration. There’s a real commercial reason. Since about 60 percent of the output from independent Belgian breweries is exported, Belgian brewers now need to compete with the 2,600 or so brewers in a country that was only too recently treated as a punchline on the world brewing stage. That is far from being the case now. And, when it comes to the Belgian styles that American beer consumers have come to love via stateside craft producers, the Belgians might just be asserting themselves a little bit and reminding the world where those varieties were born.

Surely the same dynamic couldn’t be playing out in that other Western European bastion of centuries-old brewing heritage, the lager-centric home of the Reinheitsgebot, Germany. All I needed to do was step foot in the new Berlin gastropub Das Meisterstück to discover how wrong I was. The portrait of Brooklyn Brewery brew master Garrett Oliver on the wall of Das Meisterstück was a pretty good hint as to the types of delights available on tap and in bottles in the Berliner bar/restaurant. We’re not talking just pils and weissbier here. Imperial brown ales, IPAs, stouts, farmhouse ales and other decidedly non-German styles were on the menu—most of which were not imports, but were from new Deutschland breweries.
Europeans no longer find American beer a joke; in fact, U.S. brewers are having the last laugh. 

Happy New Year: Now Get Those BevStar Entries In!

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Category: General Blogs

I hope 2014 is treating you okay so far.

A new year means new opportunties to reap the spoils of victory. Well, the most we can offer you is bragging rights--in the form of a gold, silver or bronze medal in our Fifth Annual BevStar Awards.

We've made a few tweaks this year to the competition that recognizes innovation across all major categories of liquid refreshment and beverage alcohol.

This isn't a traditional contest where the judges taste and grade. While the tasting is a key component of our judging criteria, we also select the winners based on innovation in ingredients, packaging design, market positioning and the overall value proposition the product represents.

We'll be selecting winners in categories we always have, with a few tweaks here and there. (The quality and quantity of entries we've received in the past guides us in fine tuning those categories.)

Those categories include:

• Carbonated Soft Drinks

• Bottled Water (including enhanced/value-added water)

• Beer

• Energy & Functional Beverages (or "New Age," if you will, though the segments aren't so new anymore)

• Hard Cider (This exploding segment gets its own category this year)

• Wine, Sake, Mead & Alternative Alcohol Beverages (FMBs and flavored alcohol beverages also fit in here)

• Spirits

• Ready-to-Drink Tea & Coffee

• Juice & Juice Drinks

You can enter as many products as you like, as long as they were introduced to the market between June 1, 2012 and March 1, 2014.

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

1. Product Name

2. Parent Company

3. Contact Information

4. High-Resolution Product Image

5. A BRIEF description of the product and why you think it should win (maximum: 75 words)

6. Names of any packaging/labeling design, branding, ingredient and closure companies that played a role in helping to create the brand (very important).

If your entry qualifies, you'll receive an e-mail detailing where to ship a product sample.

If you make it to the product sample phase of the competition, I'd like to request that for the sake of the environment, tidiness and (mostly) sanity, please do not use foam packing peanuts when shipping your beverages.

Any further questions, don't hesitate to contact me directly at jcioletti@beverageworld.com (but only if you have questions. Entry e-mails must be sent to bevstar@beverageworld.com).

The final deadline is March 1.

Good luck!

 

 

The Big Apple

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Category: General Blogs

 

Since this is our ninth annual HIT List issue, I’ve been doing some thinking about which beverage category would qualify as the most HIT-worthy. It didn’t take too long for me to decide. As we noted on the cover of our May 2013 issue, few segments are enjoying the kind of momentum that cider has been experiencing. Growth has been in the mid to high double digits and the large beer producers have been taking notice, marketing their own interpretations of the classic category. The real tipping point came in 2012 when MillerCoors bought the artisanal cider brand Crispin, one of the real standouts among modern cider brands. And Boston Beer has been one of the top innovators in the space with its Angry Orchard line.

Now, like craft beer, the category is starting to get its own specially designated weeks. October brought New York Cider Week, a sizeable success, especially from an educational standpoint. It really highlighted just how diverse and culturally dynamic a product fermented apples (and often pears) can be, well beyond just the sweet, low-ABV products American consumers have traditionally encountered in mainstream channels.

And, when we think of cider-producing countries overseas, there’s a lot more going on across the continent, beyond the U.K. and Ireland.

Spain, specifically its Asturias region, boasts a rich cider heritage, with offerings whose flavor profiles are more reminiscent of the wild ales of Belgium than the sweetness-forward brands that have made up the lion’s share of the category’s U.S. volume. The Spanish also have their own pouring method: The pourer holds the bottle up high, a good five or so feet above the glass and lets a perfectly linear stream artfully descend toward the serving receptacle. It’s not just theater; the practice actually aerates the liquid and cuts some of the sourness.

Back on U.S. shores, those transitioning from craft beer likely will be enamored of this next concept: Gianni Cavicchi, beer sommelier at Café d’Alsace, part of New York’s Tour de France restaurant group, teamed with Warwick, N.Y.’s Doc’s Cider brand to produce  a wet-hopped cider (Check out our video at beverageworld.com/videos).

That roar you hear is the sound of IPA fans nationwide yelping with delight.