Blog Entries in Category: General Blogs

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. 

Figuring Out Flavors

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: alcohol

 

 

Flavors—sometimes you want ’em, sometimes you don’t. At least that seems to be what is going on in the beverage business these days. For some categories, the greater variety of flavors a beverage can come in, the better. For others, coming out with a bunch of new flavors may actually do more harm than good. The trick is figuring out exactly where your brand falls when it comes to flavor innovation.

So, which beverage categories are ripe for more flavor innovation and which appear to have peaked in this regard?

One category that could see more flavor innovation in this new year is CSDs. It’s a category that could use some new excitement to help reverse declining sales, and some innovative flavors—tastefully done, mind you—could be just what it needs. So far, much of the flavor innovation in soda has been designed to appeal to younger drinkers. But I’ll bet that some grown-up flavors, using more wholesome ingredients, could catch the interest of older drinkers.

On the alcohol front, the new year brings some very interesting developments when it comes to flavors. For one thing, a study released just as 2013 was coming to a close revealed that flavored vodkas—an enormously popular trend which has really boosted this category—may have already peaked in popularity. Restaurant Sciences LLC, , an independent firm that closely tracks food and beverage product sales throughout the foodservice industry in North America, reported that the sales of on-premise flavored vodkas fell 11.7 percent from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013. Analyzing more than 170 million drink orders, the organization uncovered that flavored vodkas lost nearly one percent of their on-premise spirits market share from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013. So, it appears that while flavored vodkas remain quite popular, consumers may not be open to any additional flavors for their vodka in 2014.

Another spirits segment where flavors can be tricky is whiskey. The Wall Street Journal reported that Brown-Forman Corp. Chief Executive Paul Varga plans to take a “conservative” approach to rolling out new flavors for Jack Daniel’s. While Tennessee Honey, introduced in 2011, has done great, Varga and his team have correctly realized that for some beverages, too much flavor can go too far.  After all, when it comes to a heritage brand like Jack Daniel’s, already savored so much for its inherent flavor, too much tinkering can probably do more harm than good. 

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. 

Saving Time in a Bottle

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Category: General Blogs

 

As I write this, in the middle of November, it seems that time itself is weighing heavily in the air. There is a strong feeling of nostalgia over the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The Congress just overhauled its filibuster rules for the first time in a generation. And (as editor-in-chief Jeff Cioletti so richly detailed in our last issue) the beverage alcohol industry in the U.S. reflected this year on the 80th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition—its meanings and its lessons.

And then, of course, there’s the issue you hold in your hand. As you see, it contains our HIT List, our annual roundup of the (mostly) winning things that happened in the beverage business in the past year.

Al of this, as you could imagine, had me thinking about “time” itself and the special relationship the beverage profession has with it. For the beverage business is one of the oldest ones in existence. If anyone asks you what you do for a living, you could say, “Well, I work in one of the oldest professions,” and have them give you a funny look.

This is especially true of the beer business. The Washington Post began this year—on Jan. 7, to be exact—by publishing an article which suggests that beer may have been the crucible of civilization! Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but not by much. The article, entitled “Discovery of ancient breweries offers clues of primitive lifestyle,” details the recent discoveries of ancient brewing and feasting halls dating back 11,000 years (in Turkey) and 3,500 years (in Cyprus). It then cites archeologists who suggest the social lubricating effect of ancient beer may have served as the glue that helped rival villages bond and merge into larger communities.

So what’s different about the beer business today and the one that helped give rise to civilization thousands of years ago? I’d bet you its pace, as in, one was pretty darn slow, while the other is scatter-brained fast! And this doesn’t just hold for the beer business, but the entire beverage business.

It all makes me wonder: have we reached a point where our sense of time is so compressed that we are hurting our companies’ chances of success?

Case in point, I attended a trade show recently where I was chatting with the owner of a new beverage startup and asked him how old his company was. He told me two years and I matter-of-factly said, “Oh, so you’re pretty new.” His point-blank reply:  “Not really.” It struck me that his sense of time was different than mine. As an entrepreneur doing business in America today, he considered himself a tried-and-true veteran after just a couple of years in business.

Maybe he’s right? My gut was that he’s not. I still think it takes years and years of hard-work to really build the support structures that result in a successful beverage business, one that lasts and isn’t fly-by-night. It takes time to cement strong, deep relationships with consumers, distributors, and retailers. We may live in a fast-paced world, but relationships take time to build.

Or, am I just stuck in the past?