Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

Cocktail Culture

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, alcohol, spirits, spirits pairing

We talk, and write, a lot about what wines pair well with which foods, and which beers pair better than those wines with those foods. But what about cocktails? Typically, it’s, “let’s grab a drink before dinner,” or “let’s grab a drink after dinner.” The during is usually cocktail-free. 

I attended two events last month that have reopened my eyes to the cocktail culture that continues to thrive in this country and how spirits too can pair equally as well as wine or beer with food. 

Skyy Vodka recently named chef Marcus Samuelsson as its first culinary ambassador. Samuelsson is a James Beard Award winner and also is Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars champion this year. He is the owner and chef of Red Rooster in Harlem where I got to experience first-hand what his partnership with the vodka brand will entail. From September to December, Samuelsson will focus on how to create high-quality cocktails at home that he has developed using his culinary skills through a program called Captivating Cocktails. At the Red Rooster we sampled some cocktails from the program: Basil Gimlet paired with skagen toast, an Apple Spiced Martini paired with a turkey meatball slider on a biscuit with cranberry chutney, and an Earl of Harlem cocktail made with Earl Grey Tea, coriander syrup, lemon juice and orange rind paired with chicken and waffles with spiked Skyy syrup. Other cocktails passed throughout the evening included The Savoy (made with red and white grapes, lemon juice and agave syrup) and a White Sangria.

While I’ve sampled my fair share of culinary crafted cocktails, I was surprised to find the cocktails to be light, refreshing and balanced with the food choices that weren’t your typical dinner items.

Further downtown, it was a Sunday brunch and Patrón Silver cocktails at Maya, a Richard Sandoval restaurant, specializing in modern Mexican cuisine. The newly redesigned restaurant now includes Tequileria Maya, a bar and lounge with more than 100 agave-based spirits and 30 house-infused tequilas. Cocktails that day included a traditional margarita, a pineapple sage margarita, spiked agua frescas, tequila punch and a Maria Verde made with tamatillo, chiles, cilantro, jalapeno and lime all paired with small Mexican plates like chef’s special chicken enchiladas, tacos and tortas like smoked brisket tacos and cazuelas (baked eggs served in cast iron skillets) like eggs albanil—scrambled eggs, chicharron, black beans, salsa verde and crema fresca. 

Tequila for brunch isn’t the normal go-to cocktail, but as the tequila culture continues to grow, consumers are learning that tequila can be enjoyed in many cocktails and even sipped like a fine cognac. In fact, Sandoval has partnered with Herradura to craft his own limited-edition double barrel reposado tequila. Following the traditional barrel aging process, this reposado was then rested in new toasted oak barrels and aged for an additional 30 days. Only 240 bottles are available. The tequila has aroma notes of fruit and vanilla and caramel-like flavors derived from the cooked agave and aging in oak barrels. It has a sweet finish with a light alcohol taste. Salud!  

Banning the Ban

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, soft drink, soda


span style="letter-spacing: -0.3px">There was a soon-to-be mother of two, a middle school teacher and a journalist sitting around a kitchen table in a Manhattan apartment. Sound like the start to a bad joke? It could be, but the matter we were discussing was nothing to laugh about. (I’m the journalist and the other two women at the table are my childhood friends.) As many New Yorkers have been voicing concerns, or praise, over the proposed big soda ban, the topic got the three of us debating the issue. 

Interestingly, as my friends said they thought the idea of putting a ban on soda sales was unfair, they agreed that something has to be done about the amount of sugar or fatty foods people are consuming. While something does have to change with regard to the obesity epidemic that has happened in this country, preventing people from purchasing specific products isn’t that something.

The scenario of someone buying two 16-ounce beverages gets brought up, as does the ability for a consumer to just refill his or her cup at many fast food chains in the city for no additional cost. “The Mother’s” husband chimes in saying that it’s about portion control. If someone puts a large plate of food in front of him, he’ll eat it all, but if a smaller plate of food is presented and he takes a step away from the table after eating, he’s satisfied. Point taken. But do we need a law to regulate portion control?

The discussion then turned to schools, as “The Mother” is now looking at schools in Manhattan for her daughter, and the restrictions on selling sugary drinks and fatty foods in those schools. While that may or may not be a good thing, I reminded them that when we were growing up, we had access to soft drinks in vending machines and sugared teas and French fries and pizza and chocolate chip cookies, among other things, in our school cafeteria. None of us are obese or overweight and neither were our classmates. What goes into a Coke or Pepsi or Snapple hasn’t changed (other than adding low-sugar, low-calorie options), so what has?

“The Teacher,” who teaches middle school at a public school in Brooklyn told us that her school has no vending machines, no health class and no after school sports due to lack of funding in many cases. 

Funding is where our discussion came to a halt. Why isn’t money being spent on educational programs in schools on health and wellness? Why aren’t there programs for families to help educate them on portion control? Instead of being reactive and putting a ban on a single group of items, why not be proactive and get back to the fundamentals of what being healthy means?

Today we read about universities and government offices banning the sale of bottled water as a cost-cutting initiative as well as an effort to be environmentally friendly or responsible. PET is 100 percent recyclable and if we drink bottled water, we should be responsible for recycling it. Again, the effort here should be to invest in recycling programs and education, not putting a ban on an inexpensive alternative to any beverage with sugar.

There is no easy fix. This month i>Beverage World takes a closer look at big soda ban in NY as our cover story feature; see page 40.  

Finding the Perfect Match

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, lifestyle brands

There are a lot of options out there these days. Take a close look at the shelves in your supermarket, convenience store, club store, even local gas station or food cart—there’s a drink for almost any need-state and for almost any personal preference. With so much to choose from, the question often is asked: How does one particular brand top the charts?

It’s a question I ask of brand owners and company leaders—what’s the key to success that unlocks the purchasing power of a consumer and leads them to choose your brand over another time and time again?

There’s no easy answer. And that’s because when a consumer falls in love with a brand, it’s not because of one reason; it’s because of many.

It has to do with the first time you were introduced to that brand, the taste of it, the look of it and how much it costs. From there, it’s about consistency, availability in the market and how you feel when holding that product in your hand. Today, consumers also are concerned with where the brand comes from, how it’s produced, if it contributes to society at large through promotions or its corporate structure—is the company that markets or produces the brand a good corporate citizen?

Finding a brand that matches you is like finding a partner. Initial attraction, values, timing, common interests all play a role in deciding whether a first date turns into two, into three and so on.

The brands that have been successful—such as Monster Energy, Beverage World’s Liquid Refreshment Beverage Company of the Year—often refer to themselves as lifestyle brands. Consumers choose that beverage over a competitor’s because of its messaging and what that brand represents, whether that’s hard core action sports, an organic way of living, or luxury.

Finding a match is only half the battle though. The hard part becomes keeping that relationship going and maintaining your fan base.

Jumping on the bandwagon with the latest trend isn’t going to cut it. Consumers are looking for authenticity and they want to be heard when they feel that they’ve been betrayed in some way, and expect to see solutions.

Overall, brands that have managed these relationships successfully have maintained their loyal following by otherwise staying true to what consumers know them to be. Cases in point are the recent misteps of two strong brands—Coca-Cola, with the confusion around its promotional white holiday can, and Tropicana with its packaging change that went wrong.

Even though no relationship is perfect, it’s how companies recover from the small battles that makes their bond with consumers that much stronger.  And at a time when the lines of communication are so open with social media outlets, there is no excuse to not be listening to what your consumer has to say.

Love is a tricky thing to conquer—in the beverage world or otherwise. But with a good product, hard work, a consistent product and message and open-ended conversations with your fans, finding a perfect match that can last a lifetime is possible.

‘Who Run the World? Girls!’

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, Women


For the title of this month’s column, I’m borrowing a lyric from Beyoncé’s song “Run the World (Girls).” Last month, you might recall me talking about Campari America’s Women and Whiskies program. This month, I’m keeping the female theme going.

In what once was a male-dominated industry, the beverage world has been seeing some significant female players in the market over the past several years. 

At our Beverage Forum in May, Muhtar Kent, chairman of the board and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, spoke to that point and highlighted the company’s Five by Twenty program, designed to empower 5 million women by 2020 within the Coca-Cola system. Kent said that putting women in leadership roles is “critical to our success” and says that there is a robust pipeline of women leaders within the company worldwide. He relayed that about 65 percent of shoppers are women and that there is a mismatch between who is shopping for products and the people behind those products.

One woman in particular comes to mind when discussing the importance of reaching the female consumer and tapping into her purchasing power. I had the pleasure of meeting Bethenny Frankel in New York City at the Skinnygirl Cocktails “Rocks the House” event in May where the Skinnygirl portfolio of RTD cocktails, flavored vodkas and wines were available to sample. Frankel, who created Skinnygirl Margarita and later sold the Skinnygirl cocktail brand to Beam Inc., has changed the RTD spirits business with the low-calorie offering—Skinnygirl is among the fastest growing brands in history, according to industry analysts. 

Frankel told me that it’s consumer demand (particularly female demand) setting the pace of business and new product introductions. Over the past few months, Skinnygirl has introduced a portfolio of flavored vodkas and wines among other RTD cocktails. “Women want variety, they really do,” she said. “If they can’t have it in their men, they want it in their cocktails.”

That pace of innovation isn’t slowing either, she hints. While she couldn’t divulge what might be coming next, she could share this: “Expect the unexpected.” 

The girl power continued in May with the first  Speed Rack, a national cocktail competition sponsored by St-Germain, created by female bartenders for female bartenders with proceeds going toward breast cancer education, prevention and research. After a 10-city tour, the finals were held in New York City where 10 bartenders went head-to-head in a round-robin-style timed competition battling for the best-made cocktail—four randomly selected by the judges who included some spirits industry heavyweights: Julie Reiner,  Audrey Saunders, Food Network’s “Chopped” judge Amanda Freitag and Dale DeGroff. New York City’s Yael Vengroff was crowned Miss Speed Rack USA.

Women also are becoming a driving force in the beer industry. Women Enjoying Beer is hosting its first Women + Beer Advance, slated for Aug. 2-4 in Medford, Ore., offering women an opportunity to learn more about beer and share their enthusiasm while hearing from women in the industry like Lisa Morrison “The Beer Goddess” and a scheduled appearance by Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. 

‘Who run the world? Girls!’  

Women & Whiskey

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: spirits, Women & Whiskies

If you aren’t familiar with an initiative called Women & Whiskies, here’s a little background: Launched in 2010 through Campari America, Women & Whiskies is a platform for females only to get together and chat about whiskey, sample different products and learn about different whiskey producing regions and styles.
Expanding the program into seven markets in the United States this year, Campari America recently invited a group of female editors to experience what Women & Whiskies is all about.

The evening started in the intimate setting of Raines Law Room, a speakeasy-style spot in Manhattan with sex appeal, where a group of six food and beverage media professionals sampled cocktails from the establishment’s head bartender Meaghan Dorman (also recent winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s Macbeth Mixology Contest in March).

On the cocktail menu: Lion’s Tail (2 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 1/2 ounce all-spice dram, 1.5 ounce Wild Turkey 81 bourbon; shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass), and Imperial Court (2 dashes of mole bitters, 1/2 ounce apricot liqueur, 1 ounce crema de mezcal, 1.5 ounce Yamazaki 12 year; build in rocks glass, add ice, garnish with orange twist).

From there it was off to Rye House across the street for a sampling of whiskies from the Campari America portfolio—Auchentoshan Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland), Bowmore Islay Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland), Hibiki Japanese Blended Whisky (Japan), Wild Turkey 81 (U.S.)—with small bites like Fried Pickles, “Dale’s” Truffle Beer Cheese, Truffle Grilled Cheese and Sloppy Joe Sliders with Kobe beef.

The idea is to get women together in an environment where they not only can learn about whiskey, but also gain confidence to order a whiskey cocktail or a whiskey, period, at a bar.

It’s been in the headlines for some time now that brown spirits are on the rise with more and more consumers taking to whiskey, bourbon and scotch, and as a result, the industry has seen some innovation in the category.

Wild Turkey 81 and Wild Turkey Rye, for example, are two new expressions this year from Campari America. Jim Beam has introduced some flavor extensions of its Red Stag Black Cherry including Honey Tea and Spiced. Jack Daniel’s also has joined the flavor trend with its Tennessee Honey last year.

It’s funny to me how when I order a whiskey or bourbon cocktail at a bar I still get a surprised look from a nearby male, or when dining out, the waiter or waitress assumes the dark spirit cocktail is for the male at the table.

This time around though, it was just a group of women sipping on whiskey.