Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

Grand Central's New "Grab-and-Go" Depot for Beer Lovers

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, craft beer

For those of you who are commuters, you know that life on a train, a bus, or in a car can be a challenging lifestyle at times. There’s always a train to catch, a bus stop to be at or traffic to beat. In other words we find ourselves always on the go.

In the beverage world there is much talk about the “on-the-go consumer” and how they are looking for better food and beverage options. It used to be that life in the fast lane meant being in the fast food line when fast food translated to, more often than not, something fried, prepackaged or frozen. Well, that’s not entirely the case anymore. In New York City, for one, fast food can be a customized mixed salad at Just Salad or a quick pick-me- up from the Energy Kitchen or a to-go meal prepared with seasonal ingredients from Pump.

It was during one of my recent trips through Grand Central Terminal—what seemed like my home away from home at one point when I too was a commuter—that I realized just how far the “fast food” market has come.

Beer Table Pantry is a small shop located in the terminal’s Graybar Passage that offers beer and food to go. In addition to 100 craft bottled beers, its custom-built draft beer system allows customers to get draft beer to go—selections change daily and feature regional beers. Some examples from a recent menu included Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Greenport Harbor Anti-Freeze, Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre and Pretty Things Jack D’Or. Beer Table Pantry also fills standard, threaded 64-ounce growlers on a proprietary counter-pressure filling system.

The front end of the store is tiny, but when I passed it, I couldn’t help but peek my head in through the crowd at the door to get a better look at what this new spot in Grand Central had to offer.

Playing into the trend of the refocused beer bar where retail meets bar meets fine cuisine happening across the country, Beer Table Pantry offers something similar for the consumer who doesn’t have the time that day to go for a drink with friends, but just enough spare minutes to grab-and-go—something special—before they miss their ride. Life in the fast lane just got a little bit better.

When it comes to the drinking experience, sometimes it's about the glass.

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Beverage marketers are consistently targeting the female consumer. And why wouldn’t they? We are the ones with the most purchasing power, making the trips to the supermarket.

Whether it’s female-specific drinks like Chick Beer and Go Girl energy drink or an exclusive women-only group like Women & Whiskies, sponsored by Skyy Spirits (now Campari America), there’s much to be said for “girl power.” I’m not saying that pink packages and gimmick products that segregate female consumers from the mainstream market are appealing to me, but I understand the desire to tap into that audience.

I had an interesting conversation with a woman while touring Fuller’s Brewery in London this past November. During the tasting portion of the tour she whispered to me that she likes drinking beer, but wishes she could drink it in a nicer glass. She admitted that she often asks her husband to request a special glass for her when they are at a bar or restaurant because she’s too embarrassed to ask for one herself. My response to her was that different styles of beer do require different glassware and should be served that way. Our tour guide, also a female, got a snippet of our conversation and was happy to provide the woman with the proper—Fuller’s banded—glassware for the beer she tasted. I asked our guide if Fuller’s provides its on-premise accounts with appropriate stemware and if there were education programs in place. She said yes, and showed the group a selection of glasses and which beers should be served in them and why.

I wondered, why wasn’t that done to begin with? I don’t want it to sound like I’m criticizing the tour or our tour guide. It was informative, educational and well rounded. We got to see some of the old copper equipment dating back to the early 19th century through to the modern upgrades that help it produce 215,000 barrels a year. I had the opportunity to taste selections from Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve, among them an oak aged ale matured in whisky cases for 800 days—not what would typically be considered a “female-friendly” beer, but it was a highlight for me.

But the glass that a cocktail, wine or beer is served in is notably important to consumers, which was made clear by that woman’s remark. So much so, it might even deter her from ordering a beer. Certainly, drinking is about the quality of the liquid, but it’s also about the experience and the mood. There’s something sexy about holding a champagne glass or sipping from a Bordeaux glass, and there is a reason why those beverages are served in those glasses—to highlight the beverage. When she said she wished she could drink out of nicer glass, I thought, “You’re right. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?” Sometimes, it is about the glass.

Beverage brands are taking it to the streets.

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, alcohol

I’ve never been on a road trip—a real road trip that is, like one across country or down the East Coast. But I imagine they’re fun, exciting, great learning experiences and make for an even greater story…maybe something to put on my Bucket List.

It’s the story part of the road trip though that’s got me thinking HIT.

Over the past year, I’ve been hearing about brands taking their story on the road and meeting fans along the way. This isn’t necessarily a new way of marketing (in the past, start up beverage brands have traveled in branded vehicles as a way of literally hitting the street and spreading the word on a new drink that’s on the market) but lately it’s been established brands that are going the distance to reconnect with their consumers on a more relatable platform. They’re tying into a hot trend, like food trucks, or a theme like American artisans or by letting fans be the roadmap through tweets and “Likes” on Facebook.

Freixenet, the leading sparkling wine brand in the world with roots that date back to 1861, launched a Tastings & Tapas Tour to reintroduce its cava, a famous sparkling wine from Spain, to consumers while pairing it with a range of tapas—the message, Freixent is for every day and can pair well with a variety of foods from spicy dishes to barbeque to sushi.
The Balvenie, a hand-crafted single malt scotch whiskey, hit the road this year with the Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow, a nationwide search for the best craftsmen in the country from brewers, to vintners, cheese makers, tailors, apothecaries, bicycle makers and everything in between. Traveling to 20 states and 30 cities in a handcrafted Morgan Car (naturally) Balvenie ambassadors Andrew Weir and Nicholas Pollacchi honored artisans committed to their craft just as Balvenie, a brand produced by a fifth generation family-owned distillery, does. The tour, which was from March to October, was documented in a web series, which will later become a documentary.

Fernet-Branca, a bitter that is used widely among mixologists and dates back to 1845, also traveled the country this year—in a restored VW bus. The tour was powered by tweets where every tweet brings the bus closer to its next location. On its Facebook page The Fernet-Branca Tour tab has a TweetOMeter that measures the Tweet Fuel level. The more tweets @FernetBranca, the more miles the bus can go.

A brand that is said to be coveted by an “inner circle” of mixologists, was looking to broaden that circle with its consumers through interactive events, tastings and special cocktails.

At each stop, these brands got the chance to tell their stories and reignite some excitement among consumers by sharing common passions, whether it was done in person or from the virtual world. Either way, taking a brand on the open road is opening up opportunities.

Sipping Locally

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Category: General Blogs

 

Special occasions always seem to bring about special outings, don’t they? Well, at least within my inner circle they do. This time, the special occasion was my birthday. The special outing: a two-hour trail on horseback, followed by a visit to the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick, N.Y. for wine tasting and a casual lunch.

Fifty miles outside of New York City, the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery seemed like the perfect place to experience some local food and drink produced right in our backyard, so to speak, while supporting the New York wine industry, which is one that has been blossoming over the past decade. 

The number of new wineries in the state since 2000 exceeded the total number of wineries that have opened in the previous 170 years, many of which are located in nontraditional regions of the state, according to a study conducted by the New York Agricultural Statistics Service. (As of Dec. 31, 2010, there were 303 wineries in the state according to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.) Here are some other impressive numbers: Nearly 5 million tourists visited New York wineries in 2008, according to the latest study done by Napa Valley-based Stonebridge Research Group on the New York wine industry, and wine sales amounted to over $500 million.

If the crowd at the winery was any indication for the continued growth of the industry on that October Sunday, the outlook is bright.

There was a live band playing at the entrance to the main house, hayrides were in session and the smell from a large barbeque next to the outdoor patio brought back summer memories. The winery’s Pané Bakery Café, featuring menu items made with locally grown fruits and vegetables, was packed, but worth the wait. The lobster roll and pulled pork sandwich were among my favorite dishes.

Nestled on 60 acres of orchards and farmland—growing 20 varieties of apples and pears—the winery sits in the middle of the historic “Black Dirt” farming area, known for its dark, rich soil; this region was once called “the drowned lands.” It consists of the remains of a shallow lake formed as the last glaciers in the area melted away some 12,000 years ago. 

Warwick Valley Winery produces a variety of red (one notably named “Black Dirt”), white and blush wines, Doc’s Hard Cider—ranked among the top 5 ciders in the world by The New York Times—and fruit ports, brandies and cordials using an imported German steam bath still.

Inside, two tasting stations were set up and we were able to sample a selection of wines, ciders and brandies before making our purchases. In fact, the winery was the recipient of a New York State grant to develop the state’s first fruit brandies in 2001, it says. They were a hot seller that day, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the last bottles of pear brandy. I’m feeling another spirited cocktail party coming on—a sweet one. 

Spicing Things Up

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Category: General Blogs

 

It was one of the first September nights in New York City when you actually needed a jacket, but inside Brother Jimmy’s in Union Square the scene was quite warm, you might even say spicy.

On Sept. 15 Bacardi hosted a launch party for its new OakHeart Spiced Rum (check out this issue’s Showcase section). But this party wasn’t the typical media briefing for a new spirit launch. This was more like a challenge—the “OakHeart Challenge” to be exact. Between the hours of 6 and 11 p.m. the challenge was to get 25,000 people across the country to sample and celebrate the launch of this new, spiced rum. In New York City, brand master Juan Coronado made his rounds to a number of the 10-plus participating venues that were serving OakHeart neat or OakHeart and cola, among other cocktails.

At Brother Jimmy’s we enjoyed OakHeart and cola with an array of hickory wood smoked barbeque platters and southern-style specialties including hush puppies and Carolina pulled pork. (Fried pickles with horseradish dipping sauce and spiced rum make a great pairing, by the way.)

Talk about a sampling event! Bacardi’s nationwide initiative falls perfectly into the resurgence of the spiced rum segment over the past year or so where flavored and spiced rums are driving the growth in the overall rum category, according to Adams Handbook. (More than half of all new rums last year were flavored rums. In 2010 other new entrants to the segment included Blackheart Premium Spiced Rum, BlackBeard Spiced Rum and Kraken Black Spiced Rum.)

On the market today, there are roughly 50 spiced rums, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) reports. And in 2010, spiced rum accounted for 33 percent of rum category volume—that’s about 9.2 million cases.

Just as we’ve seen in the soft drink category, it seems that flavors and variety are what consumers continue to crave.

So, you’re probably wondering what the final turnout was for the OakHeart Challenge. The numbers are in: More than 28,000 conumers sampled OakHeart on Sept. 15 in 13 different markets including Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. The challenge, designed to “bring the brand to life,” did just that. In addition to getting consumers out and sampling OakHeart, Bacardi added more than 58,000 Facebook fans that day. To take the brand’s social media initiative to the next level of consumer involvement, a contest was created on Facebook where consumers come up with a three-word toast for OakHeart Spiced Rum. Then, after they “Like” Bacardi on Facebook they can enter to win an OakHeart stein. The contest is open until Nov. 23.

Looks like legal age drinking consumers are ready to spice things up.