Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

Beverage World and Beyond

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Category: General Blogs

I’ve been working for Beverage World for six years. When I first joined the magazine as an associate editor, I didn’t know much about the industry other than the knowledge a general consumer would have: I like to drink [enter drink here], these are the places I can purchase it, this is how much it costs and the ingredients generally include x, y and z. Though I only knew the basics, I was ready to dive in and learn more.

Just like food, drink is a necessity, and luckily there are plenty of options on the shelf formulated to meet the many different preferences of the many different consumers across the globe. But as I began to learn about the ins and outs of the beverage world, I fell in love with the industry and became fascinated with the processes that make that world go round.

I first began writing about trends that put me in touch with why and how certain drinks got their start and what consumers were looking for, which drove the trends occurring at that time. I also was assigned the production section of the magazine and soon became a robot geek, looking forward to seeing these machines in action at Pack Expo.

Later, I became the senior editor and began writing this column, which allowed me to share my insights and thoughts with BW’s readership (I hope you’ve enjoyed my two cents!) I added packaging to my list of assignments and the magazine’s Final Tally, which recounts industry trends by the numbers. This also involved more travel and that meant getting out into the industry and seeing first-hand how the industry operates.

Then, last year, I was off to London and began working freelance for BW as a contributing editor international tapping into the European market and reporting back new products and trends giving my articles a greater global spin.

Along the way, I continued learning, discovering, sharing and growing as a writer.

Now, six years later, I’m moving on to a new adventure within the beverage world. I will no longer be on the editorial side of the business. Instead I’ll be helping brands get the word out working for a PR agency based in London, representing some of the largest alcohol brands in the world.

It’s an exciting time in the industry (it’s always an exciting time though—never a dull moment!) and I’m excited to use my writing skills and beverage expertise to continue my career in a world that I believe is one of the best to be in. I think many of you would agree—in fact, many of you have told me time and again that there is no other industry you’d rather be working in and that you too are in love with the beverage business. Hope to hear from you all soon. 

The $5 Milkshake

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Category: General Blogs

Summer cocktails are typically light and fruity and have fresh herbs like mint. They are colorful, light and refreshing, and easy drinking—think mojitos, margaritas, white sangria. But this summer I’ve turned to a different kind of warm weather cocktail that is quintessentially summer—milkshakes with a kick and cocktails made with ice cream and sorbet. While these indulgent drinks aren’t a new concept, I have been noticing more of them on menus at eateries across London.

Dining at an Italian restaurant called Fornata, instead of opting for a dessert, I chose one of the restaurant’s four summer cocktails made with ice cream. I sipped on the “Campari Sorbet” made with Campari, orange juice and lemon sorbet, while my friend Stephanie, still feeling influenced by her recent trip to Italy, chose “Affogato Al Limoncello,” a Limoncello martini with a scoop of creamy lemon sorbet served with an Italian almond biscotti.

At another restaurant, this time an American-inspired barbeque place, The Big Easy Bar.B.Q and Crabshack, grown-up milkshakes caught my eye on the extensive drinks menu. The restaurant, which serves up classic American barbeque dishes and lobsters imported from Maine, kept the USA-theme going with its hard milkshakes. Among them is the “The Dirty Girl Scout” made with chocolate ice cream, Oreo cookies and peppermint schnapps, and the “Spiked Pirates of the Caribbean,” made with vanilla ice cream, Captain Morgan’s rum, fresh mint and coconut cream.

Film buffs will probably recall the scene from “Pulp Fiction” when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) takes the boss’ wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) out to dinner and she orders the Durward Kirby Burger, bloody, and a $5 milkshake.

I recently visited a new American-inspired steak house in London called MASH (Modern American Steak House) that has its own version of the “5 dollar Milkshake” on its menu for £9.50 (about $15)—a must try for me. MASH puts its spin on the “Pulp Fiction” vanilla shake adding bourbon, amaretto, caramel and for garnish, salted popcorn. It’s served it in a wine carafe-style glass with, of course, a red-and-white-striped straw.

Burgers and shakes have been an American classic pairing for decades and remains a favorite among consumers—even abroad—and MASH takes that pairing to a premium experience.

In “Pulp Fiction,” Vincent questions the cost of Mia’s $5 milkshake and even after he tastes it, he admits that it’s good, but probably not $5 good (that was in 1994 by the way).

At a time when consumers are looking for that little something extra with their cuisine and their cocktails, this fusion of dessert and after dinner drinks offers just another option when dining out. Cheese plate, fruit, port or a milkshake with a kick—decisions, decisions.

Wine 101

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: wine

One topic that we continue to cover is wine education as it relates to the changing tastes of consumers.  

Comedians often joke about the protocol for ordering wine at a restaurant. A diner might pretend to know what exactly they are looking at when skimming a book of wines from around the world—which to most means very little—and then just narrowing down the choices solely by how much they’d like to spend and whether the company at the table prefers red or white. Then there is the ritual of tasting the wine at the table and the presentation of the bottle. How do you know if a wine has turned for the worse? And is it really okay to send a wine back if you are not happy with it, bad or not?

I recently attended the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) and sat in on an interesting discussion in the “Speaker’s Corner” led by Tim Wilson, managing director of the Wilson Drinks report called, “10 Things You Probably Don’t Know about the U.K. Drinks Market.” The talk took a holistic view of the key trends and tipping points across beer and spirits as well as wine with results based on primary consumer research, market data and independent analysis.

There were many interesting facts and figures that Wilson shared; he pointed out to the audience that many consumers confuse grape varieties with wine regions. While this is a U.K.-specific tidbit, I suspect the same would hold true in the United States. Wilson suggests that there needs to be more education done not only by the producers and distributors of wine, but also by the retailers where there is a cohesive approach to what is being advertised and then how consumers find that advertised wine.

Even I found myself confused over the characteristics of grape varieties at a recent wine tasting held at Suze in London’s Mayfair. The restaurant holds wine tastings for groups led by ThirtyFifty, a company that offers tasting and education events to demystify wines and help consumers get more out of their wine drinking experience.

That evening we tasted six wines (some blind, to see if we could identify the grape or region in which the wine was from) including wines from France, Argentina, California, Italy, Australia and Chile. I was surprised by the overall knowledge of the group of 10 women who were able to pinpoint where the wine was from. Though no one got every one correct, the group faired well, using the cheat-sheet that was provided.

The class also consisted of using our sense of smell to try and identify fruit essences. (I proudly was the only one who distinguished raspberry.) But my wine knowledge wasn’t as impressive I have to admit, and I learned how not all wines fall into their stereotype. While there are general characteristics of a particular grape, Zinfandel for example, that isn’t a definitive box.

My favorite wine of the night was St. Hallett Garden of Eden Shiraz Barossa Australia, 2010. All of the wines we sampled were under £13 (about US$20) with the least expensive being £7.49.

The industry continues to work on wine education, but there is still a lot to be done. But as the millennial consumer experiments more with different wines, the entry-level courses are sure to become a bit more advanced.

Sex Appeal

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: wine, Portugal

In the April issue of Beverage World you might recall a story on emerging wine markets that I wrote. Among the markets mentioned was Portugal, a country that is becoming more widely recognized for its variety of wines that are specifically crafted with food in mind.

Last month, I attended a Wines of Portugal event at the Paramount—one of London’s premier spots to enjoy a cocktail wile also getting to enjoy a 360-degree view of the city.

The afternoon was an opportunity to sample a selection of the “50 Greatest Portuguese Wines” chosen by Olly Smith, a British television presenter, wine expert and foodie and writer who appears regularly on BBC1’s “Saturday Kitchen.”

The theme of this year’s event was “Great Value.”

Smith writes: “Portuguese wines are a treasure trove of undiscovered gems. ‘Great Value’ is my theme for this year’s ‘50 Great’ and there’s never been a better time to explore the excitement of Portugal’s outstanding flavors across their vineyards.”

There are 250 grape varietals in Portugal that are grown in diverse microclimates resulting in a wide range of wines. Because the wines are so food-friendly, Smith also grouped his selections by cuisine—sushi and sashimi, seafood, roast lamb, barbecue and dark chocolate.

There wasn’t enough time to sample all 50, but the ones that I did get to sip really showed the wide range of wines available from the country—all priced reasonably, between £7 to £30, demonstrating great value for the quality.

FP, 2012 produced by winemaker Filipa Pato from the Bairrada region was among my favorites. It was light, fresh and flavorful without being too powerful. Another fwas Beyra Quartz, 2011 by Rui Roboredo Madeira, which reminded me of summer in a glass and dining al fresco.

Winemaker Francisco Figueiredo was present and sampling his Arenae, 2010 from the Lisboa region, one of the smallest D.O.Cs in Portugal right by the ocean. Producing only 12,000 to 15,000 liters of this wine a year, the winery uses a smaller bottle (half-liter) to have more to sell, Figueiredo told me. Retailing for £9 this wine was quite different from the rest, getting its salty flavor from the ocean. The perfect food pairing for this wine, according to the winemaker—oysters.

One of the bolder labels of the 50 was a wine from Fita Preta Vinhos—a red wine with a bright pink, almost metallic label called Sexy. Offensive? Maybe, but Nuno Maçanita, who was there representing the wine, said it’s the best-selling wine in the winery’s portfolio. Now being imported to the U.S., Sexy retails for £13 (about $20) and is described by Smith as “fruit-driven” and a “wine that’s made ready to drink.” If it brings attention to Portuguese wines or the region, Alentejo, then who can argue?

Though Portugal is known for blending its wines, there were some single varietals among the 50. Two I sampled were Casa Cadaval Trincadeira Vinhas Velhas, 2009 from the Tejo region made with 100 percent Trincadeira grapes and Julia Kemper Touriga Nacional, 2009 from the Dão region made from Touriga Nacional grapes. Both wineries have very small production runs making them that much more special.

But no matter what your personal preference, there was great wine for a good value in a great location—There’s not much sexier than that.

The Customer is Always Right

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Category: General Blogs

I dine out a fair amount. I love to try new things. That includes cuisine and drinks. But it was during a recent visit to an English pub in Clapham Junction (in the London borough of Wandsworth) that I realized how I’ve come to take customer service for granted and how very important it is.

I don’t think there has ever been a time when I’ve eaten at a restaurant and had an issue that wasn’t resolved in a professional and timely manner. That was until the second Sunday in March when my family and I went to eat lunch at a pub that is known for its wide range of rotating beers and fine malt whiskies and gins. The pub prides itself on serving quality cask-ale and has a Cask Marque seal of approval, which is an award given to pubs that meet stringent beer serving standards in areas such as temperature, appearance, aroma and taste.

On the pub’s website, it has information about a beer blog, tasting notes for its winter ales and information about a London Ale Trail. It looked like the perfect place to sample some British beers and have a nice lunch with friends and family. (And possibly write a column on my experience there.)

My high expectations for the afternoon were deflated very quickly.

Three of the six of us drank beer. One person knew exactly what he wanted. The other two needed some help—one was interested in a light, easy drinking beer, while the other wanted a dark style beer. Our waiter had no suggestions (other than a Carling) and couldn’t provide a beer list explaining that because the beers change daily, the pub did not have one.

(A chalkboard with what beers were on tap would have been a simple and easy solution for that.) “Ok, can you name some of the beers you have then?” We were met with a blank stare and a Guinness was ordered by default. I also would have had a beer, but without someone being able to tell me what the options were, I was put off and went with a soft drink.
Drinks aside, our food didn’t come out at the same time and when it finally did all come out (after about a 40-minute wait) it was cold.

Our waiter never came back to the table to check on us, no condiments were brought and an extra plate was forgotten along with a side order. You get the idea.

Words with the manager resulted in our drinks being taken off the bill and a fresh, hot bowl of fries. Later she would also take off one of our meals—reluctantly. Offering a simple “I’m sorry” and walking away with very little concern that customers were unhappy with the service.  

There is more to this story, but I realize this has become a bit of a rant. However, hopefully it’s one that can be learned from.

Here are a few tips.

Tip 1: Educate your staff on the drinks that your establishment has available and teach them how to make diners feel comfortable asking for a beer, in this case, that they may not know the name of. How? Make the wait staff experts in different beer styles and teach them how to pass that knowledge to the customer.

Tip 2: Learn how to upsell. Take a familiar beer and compare it to one at a higher price point to drive additional revenue.

Tip 3: A positive attitude can go a long way. Oh, and the customer is always right.