Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

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.

Hunting for the Northern Lights and Discovering Local Beer

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Skál! That’s how you say “cheers” in Iceland. But think of how a Viking would say it—that should be the delivery.


Over pints of Ölgeroin’s most popular beer, Engils Gull, two Scots, two Americans, an Australian and a Londoner learned that beer wasn’t legalized in Iceland until 1989. Yes, 1989.

One of the largest and oldest companies in Iceland, Ölgeroin (which means brewery in Icelandic) was founded in 1913 and today not only produces beer, but a number of other drink and food items.

I spent six days in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month with the main goal of seeing the Northern Lights. Mission accomplished on the last night of the trip—it was worth the wait.

In the meantime, the country has so much to offer in and around its capital city. Among them was the brewery tour at Ölgeroin Egill Skallagrímsson.

It turns out that Iceland also went through a Prohibition era of sorts that lasted 73 years. Our guide relayed that the people of Iceland voted in 1908 to ban all alcohol. The ban however, didn’t go into effect until the beginning of 1915.

Don’t think “Boardwalk Empire” though with underground bars and clubs and an Al Capone-type figure leading a squad of bootleggers. It wasn’t exactly like that in Iceland.

There was a partial repeal of the ban in 1933 when the country was threatened by Spain with a trade ultimatum. If Iceland didn’t begin importing Spanish wine, the Spanish would stop buying Iceland fish—the country’s largest export. So wine was allowed.

In 1935, the production of liquors was permitted and that was the first occasion where Iceland’s national drink called Brennivin, a schnapps-like spirit distilled from potatoes with 40 percent alcohol, became available.

Though beer was still outlawed, it was being brewed, just not for the locals. Ölgeroin was brewing beer for export, but in fact, beer like Polar Beer (a light golden lager with 4.7 percent ABV), was brewed for occupying armed forces during WWII and later to the American military base outside of Keflavík. Our guide told us that the “bootleggers” were also the taxi drivers who would have cases of beer in the trunk and sell it to their passengers.  

We got to sample Polar Beer as well as Egils Malt and Appelsín (a fizzy orange drink), which have become a traditional part of Icelandic Christmas celebrations. We also got to sample some selections from Ölgeroin’s microbrewery, Borg Brugghus, which was started in 2007. The microbrewery makes a selection of seasonal and limited-edition brews, many of which sell out soon after they hit the shelves, our guide informed us. They are numbered brews—we got to sample number 10, Snorri. It’s brewed from domestic barley and seasoned with Icelandic organic thyme that mixes a fruity nose with local wild herb flavors. The craft beers were lined up along the top shelf of the back bar in the tasting room of the Ölgeroin building, which it moved into in 2009. The building is one of the best warehouses in Iceland, the brewery proclaims.

The last thing we sampled that evening before hitting the town: a shot of Brennivin, often referred to as Black Death. Skál!

What’s in a Name?

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Category: General Blogs

I attended a professional women’s networking group last month that focuses on empowering women in their profession. Our group leader brought up attending a seminar on branding: How to successfully brand yourself to help you get the position you desire.

The group of 10, ranging in age from recently graduated college to early 40s, was keen on finding out more about how to successfully brand themselves to send out the right message. I immediately thought of successful beverages that have found success with their branding.

In the beverage world, we are always circling the importance of branding and how the right branding can help you gain consumers for life, while the wrong branding could turn off consumers entirely to your product.

Ironically, our meeting was held in a Starbucks in central London. And Starbucks is a great example of brand image that worked. The small coffee house’s green mermaid image has become so synonymous with the brand that its white cups don’t even bear the name Starbucks any more. Then, I noticed the napkin I had gotten with my tall, spiced vanilla latte wasn’t the recycled-colored brown paper napkin with green emblem. It was a crisp, white, paper napkin with a bold “Starbucks” written across the side in big, black, capital letters—black and white; statement; simple—I liked the new look.

On my journey back toward the tube to head home I started to take notice of other impactful brand imagery—the London underground symbol, the golden McDonald’s arches, the bitten apple for Apple computers. What makes these symbols so impactful and iconic that they can stand by themselves, without any words? That’s a question that new beverage brands ask themselves when creating a strategy on how best to get consumers to notice and resonate with their brand.

Walking down the beverage aisles at Tesco the successful beverage brands that have gotten it right pop off the shelf, like Coca-Cola’s white Spencerian script, Pepsi’s round, red, white and blue symbol, Heineken’s red star, Bacardi’s black bat. All longstanding brands that keep it simple, but keep it consistent.

Other longstanding brands, UK-based, that also are known for their branding is Fuller’s beer brand, which has big, capital, golden letters on a bright red background and standing on top, a Griffin with one leg on a barrel of beer. Dating back to 1845, Fuller’s Griffin Brewery is an independent family brewery that continues to offer a wide range of beers including seasonal and limited edition brews.

Another is Ribena, a line of fruit-based soft drinks, juice drinks and fruit concentrates, which has been in existence since 1938. A product of GlaxoSmithKline, Ribena has bright red lettering on a white background almost illuminating the product name and then images of the fruit inside the beverage front and center on the package.  Simple, but colorful and fun at the same time.

The beverage brands that speak to you with their branding might have something to do with your personality. Are you a clean, crisp and simple? Or are you an in your face, multi-colored and bold? There’s no concrete answer to what makes a successful brand image, but staying true to the brand is the best way to connect with your desired consumer.

Cocktailing

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: alcohol, spirits, cocktails

I love that cocktails spark conversations.

Where did the name cocktail come from? My boyfriend recently asked me that question as we were making plans to visit Milk & Honey, the speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar and members club, which has locations in London and New York. 

I didn’t know the answer to that question, but thought a simple Google search would produce one easily enough. 

I thought wrong.

It turns out there are a number of theories as to where the name cocktail came from. (In 1806, the editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository defined a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits and any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”)

Some say that the word originated in the 1800s when a tavern keeper north of New York City served mixed alcohol drinks garnished with feathers from a cock’s tail. Another reference to the tail feather of a rooster has been published in a British publication, Bartender, which says in 1936 English soldiers in Mexico were served drinks stirred with a Cola de Gallo (cock’s tail). Other references include horse tails. The word could have stemmed from a horse breeder’s term for a mixed breed—cock-tails.

Another thought is that the word cocktail came from cock tailings, what was found at the bottom of a cask of ale. The cock tailings from spirits would be mixed together and then sold at a lower price. 

Among the more interesting explanations of how cocktail came about is in George Bishop’s “The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of Man in His Cups,” which says that the word comes from the term cock-tail used in the mid 1800s to describe a woman who was “of easy virtue desirable but impure…and applied to the newly acquired American habit of bastardizing good British Gin with foreign matter, including ice.”

Well, at the Milk & Honey in London, some of the cocktails did come with ice—large cubes so as to not dilute the drinks—(no feathers though) and were mixed with great detail. 

The cocktail has been around for a long time and bars like Milk & Honey are paying homage to the classics, but with a twist. The El Diablo, for example, used fresh ginger and soda as opposed to ginger ale. Other “restorative” drinks on the menu included a Prescription Julep (cognac, rye, sugar, mint), an Aviation No. 1 (calvados, cassis, absinthe, lime) and a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger, lime, sugar, soda). 

The downstairs bar had a speakeasy vibe—small booths and tables, dark wood and leather furniture, candle light, embossed metal detailing around the bar and 1920s-style music playing in the background. It could have been a scene out of “Boardwalk Empire” with waiters and bartenders dressed in pinstriped collared shirts and suspenders.  

As the trend of reinventing or revisiting classic cocktails of the past continues, bars like Milk & Honey are taking a fresh approach—literally. The quality of ingredients used to mix with the alcohol is just as important as the quality of the spirit itself. Milk & Honey makes fresh mixers daily and says it doesn’t use any juice or extract they didn’t make themselves.

The quality is noticeably reflected in the cocktails.