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Laphroaig Unveils 2019 Cairdeas Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig has announced the 2019 release of its annual Cairdeas Scotch whisky series.

Every year, Laphroaig Distillery Manager John Campbell creates a limited-edition malt to “celebrate friendship” (“Cairdeas” in Gaelic). It’s among the most anticipated Laphroaig offerings each year.

This year’s release is a triple maturation. First matured in ex-bourbon barrels, the liquid is next goes in smaller quarter casks before finishing in European oak casks that previously held Oloroso sherry. It is then barrier-filtered and bottled at cask strength to create a “punchy dram” with Laphroaig’s signature richness and smoky taste, the company says.

Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood has a nose of polished leather and tobacco leaves, the company reports, with spicy lemon and clementine zest. Also: notes of golden syrup, heather honey, autumn leaves, hazelnuts, vanilla fudge and a touch of white pepper and nutmeg.

On the palate is rich toffee, dates, maple syrup, praline and caramel, the company says, along with grilled chestnuts with apple tart, marzipan and strong black pepper, plus cedar wood, and a touch of furniture polish and beeswax.

Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood is 119 proof/59.5% ABV. It is available for a limited time nationwide for a suggested retail price of $79.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

This follows the 2018 Cairdeas expression, which featured a double maturation in first-fill bourbon barrels, before finishing in Fino Sherry casks

Seagram’s Lime Flavored Vodka

Seagram’s has announced the launch of Seagram’s Lime Flavored Vodka as the newest addition to this American-made brand.

Seagram’s Vodka has citrus flavors with hints of lime.

Seagram’s Vodka has been made in America since 2005. The liquid is five-times distilled with American grain.

This year, all Seagram’s Vodka expressions received an updated and refreshed bottle label consistent with the full Seagram’s lineup.

Seagram’s Lime Flavored Vodka is now available nationwide in multiple sizes for various offerings at 35% ABV. The suggested retail price for a 750-ml. bottle is $10.99

Meet Marc Farrell, Who’s Reimagining Craft Rum

Photo by Clay Williams / claywilliamsphoto.com

Craft rum is a tricky space.

As craft whiskey, beer and tequila take off — and even small-batch gins gain traction — rum can seem left behind. There exists a subculture of rum nerds, of course, but beyond the aficionados and Tiki bars, you do not hear a great deal about this other brown spirit.

Marc Farrell is the latest alcohol entrepreneur who hopes to change that. Last month, he launched his new rum brand, Ten To One, in New York City. Born and raised in Trinidad, Farrell has a history of success. He attended MIT at age 16, followed by Cambridge University and Harvard Business School, and later became the youngest vice president in Starbucks history. Now he’s turned his attention to rum.

Ten To One offers a white and dark expression (SRPs: $29, and $43, respectively). Both are blends made from several different Caribbean countries. The name references Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams, suggesting that the Caribbean federation of 10 countries was stronger working together as community of one.

Ten To One’s white rum was among the tastier unaged I’ve ever tried, making me wonder what Farrell has in mind for this tricky category. Acknowledging the problems with craft rum, he believes he sees a way forward for this spirit.

Kyle Swartz: What did you want from a rum when launching in this category?

Marc Farrell: I thought of rum in two lanes: the product, as in literally the juice, and then the brand story as well.

Let’s start with the product. I’m a big rum nerd. When I walk into a bar I am looking for a delicious premium rum to sip. Oftentimes, I see these bottles on the back bar collecting dust. I think that’s part of rum’s positioning issue. Too many premium rums are positioned only as sipping spirits. They need to be part of the craft mixology culture as well, in order to cater to the modern consumer.

That’s why with our dark rum we made it so that you can drink it on its own, or mix it. It’s a combination of pot and column still, and plays well with mixology.

With white rum, we wanted to challenge the consumer expectation about what it can be. Of course, this part of the category is dominated by a specific brand and bottle. So we played around to be different, and came up with a 90-proof white rum that’s drinkable, but can still stand up on its own in a cocktail. It’s also a mixture of pot and column still.

On the brand side, I have been chomping at the bit to show a different side of Caribbean culture. I wanted to shed light on a contemporary view. Celebration is a core component of so many Caribbean cultures. We wanted to showcase different moments of celebration.

KS: How do you attract whiskey drinkers to rum?

MF: That’s all about education, and getting liquid to lips. You’ve got to educate consumers about the similarities between rum and whiskey: the distillation process, barrel aging, and blending versus single-origins. You’ve got to shed light on rum having a taxonomy that’s similar to whiskey.

Ten To One is aged in ex-bourbon casks, so drinkers can pick out reminiscent notes in our dark rum. Building on that, you can look at the climate of the Caribbean. Because of the heat, rum ages three times faster than comparable whiskey. Rum takes on barrel notes sooner than consumers would expect. That’s why you can take an eight-year-old rum and put it up next to a 15-20-year-old whiskey, and those things compare favorably.

KS: Why is mixology so important for craft rum?

MF: It’s really important for any spirit nowadays to be part of the trendy cocktail scene. Part of the problem with rum is that rum suffers from a deficit of perception when it comes to its quality as a cocktail ingredient. We need to overcome that. We need to show consumers that rum has a non-negotiable place in the world’s best cocktail bars.

A big part of this is also to introduce rum to consumers in a way that dispels preconceived notions about the spirit. Ten To One has no added sugar, flavoring or coloring. We need consumers to have the correct perception of rum. We have to introduce rum in a way that shows off its integrity.

I want to be able to walk into the greatest craft bars in the world and see those world-class mixologists working with Ten To One. But you also have to unlock every-day mixology experiences as well. That’s why we recommend consumers mix our rum with club soda, tonic, lime or coconut water. Those baseline cocktails are really critical.

KS: What is the demo today for craft rum?

MF: On one hand there are existing rum drinkers who want to trade up, and also the general population of spirits drinkers who love all things craft. That includes whiskey and bourbon drinkers who have cross-pollinated.

As for the other demo, I was at a dinner party several weeks ago, and we were pouring Ten To One White on the rocks with coconut water. I looked around and was happy to see how many female drinkers were enjoying this drink. We want to dispel the misperception that the rum category is only for men. Everyone can enjoy rum equally.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece, 11 Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2019-20.

Don Julio Launches Lagavulin-Aged Tequila

Don Julio has announced its second limited-edition, barrel-finished tequila.

Tequila Don Julio Reposado Double Cask is a traditional reposado finished for two weeks in casks that previously held Lagavulin Islay single malt Scotch whisky.

This follows last year’s launch of Don Julio Double Cask that aged in barrels from Buchanan’s Blended Scotch Whisky.

The casks that previously held Lagavulin provide pungent flavors native to the region that blend well with the traditional Tequila Don Julio Reposado, the company says.

“Working in collaboration with Colin Gordon at the Lagavulin Distillery allowed me to perfect this variant, using our expertise to ensure that both spirits authentically complemented each other and balanced the core flavor of Tequila Don Julio as well as the signature flavor of Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky,” says Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa. “After two years of working on this variant, I’m proud to introduce it to the U.S. as a limited-edition variant created for the tequila and whisky connoisseurs with an incredibly unique flavor profile that is excellent enjoyed responsibly neat or on the rocks.”

Tequila Don Julio Reposado Double Cask is available nationwide this summer. The suggested retail price is $64.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

Yelp Says Aperol Spritz Is The Drink of Summer 2019

Love it or hate it, the Aperol Spritz is shaping up to be the drink of summer 2019, at least according to Yelp reviews. Yelp’s data science team dove into the search and review data to understand which cocktails consumers will be enjoying this summer.

They looked at reviews in the restaurant and nightlife categories mentioning dozens of drinks and flavors to calculate a monthly rate of change and determine which summer drinks Yelpers sip on each year. What did they find?

According to Yelp’s report, Aperol Spritz mentions have increased 94% compared to 2018; the orange apéritif is particularly popular along the Northeast corridor, with mention rates well above average in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Other trending beverages this year include spiked seltzer, Palomas and Negronis.

What’s on the wane? The rosé trend peaked in 2018, though frosé is still the summer favorite: It’s mentioned 117% more often in the summer than the rest of the year. Frosé and rosé remain hot in the South, especially in cities such as Tampa Bay, Nashville and New Orleans.

The Mojito has been declining for a decade among Yelp reviewers, and the Moscow Mule reached its peak in 2015. But Mules are still popular in Seattle, St. Paul and the Southwest.

Melissa Dowling is editor of our on-premise sister publication, Cheers magazine. Reach her at mdowling@epgmediallc.com. Read her recent piece Craft Beer/Chinese Food Pairing Ideas.

21 Seeds Flavored Tequila

21 Seeds is a new, women-owned brand of naturally infused flavored tequilas. It comes in three initial flavors: cucumber jalapeño, grapefruit hibiscus, and valencia orange.

Founded by sisters Kat Hantas and Nicole Hantas-Emanuel, and their friend Sarika Singh, 21 Seeds “empowers an audience of Millennial women to connect across borders, share ideas, and make every drink and every moment special,” the company says. The brand began as an idea in Hantas’ home, when she decided to mix natural ingredients directly into tequila to add flavor. “She shared her infused drink around the neighborhood, and its popularity made clear that she was onto something bigger,” the company says.

The trio of founders now works with their partner distillery Casa Maestri on this product.

The branding aesthetic is purposely feminine, the company says: fun and light.

The suggested retail price is $32.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

Budweiser Releases Limited-Edition Harvest Reserve

Budweiser today unveiled Harvest Reserve Deep Golden Lager, a limited-edition beer.

At 5.4% ABV, Budweiser Harvest Reserve is brewed with all-American barley that is toasted longer for a bolder taste and a crisp hoppy aroma, the company says. The new beer is an all-malt recipe that uses 100% American grains from family farms.

Each bottle features the signature of Jim Dixon, a fifth-generation Budweiser barley farmer who collaborated with brewmasters on the recipe.

“At Budweiser, our farmers are family. While our relationship with many of these farmers goes back generations, Budweiser Harvest Reserve is the first time we’ve collaborated on a recipe together,” says Ricardo Marques, VP of Marketing Core & Value Brands at Anheuser-Busch. “Releasing this beer for the harvest season is Budweiser’s way of celebrating farmers after a year spent preparing for these precious few months.”

Budweiser Harvest Reserve will be available this month in Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska, and the surrounding areas. The beer will be available throughout the harvest season, while supplies last.

J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red Wine 2017

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines has announce the inaugural release of the 2017 J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red Wine, which will begin shipping in July and is set to debut in select states this August.

The new J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red Wine pays tribute to J. Lohr’s history of sustainable grape growing and winemaking in Paso Robles, the company says, by showcasing the winery’s most popular varietal, cabernet sauvignon, in a blend with petite sirah.

The J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red Wine will enter national markets at a suggested retail price of $26.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

J. Lohr planted its first estate vineyards in Paso Robles in 1986. Today, the company’s estate program includes more than 2,600 acres in Paso Robles, with over 2,100 acres of cabernet sauvignon and 115 acres of petite sirah. The cabernet sauvignon for the 2017 J. Lohr Pure Paso comes primarily from J. Lohr’s 266-acre Shotwell Vineyard in the El Pomar District of Paso Robles, with the petite sirah sourced from J. Lohr’s Home Ranch in the warmer Paso Robles Estrella District.

“To create the ideal sensory balance between the two core varieties, we harvest the petite sirah from the warmer Region III climate of the Paso Robles Estrella District, where it develops beautiful jammy dark berry notes,” explains J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Director of Winemaking Steve Peck. “The cabernet sauvignon grows in the slightly cooler Region II climate of the El Pomar District, which provides sophisticated savory elements. In the winery, our extraction techniques include whole berry fermentation at elevated temperatures combined with early pressing to accentuate the velvety mouthfeel and supple palate structure that we prize in our Paso Robles reds.”

The 2017 J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red Wine is a 100% vinifera blend, composed primarily of cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah, with small amounts of merlot, petit verdot and malbec.

Pure Paso aged for 18 months in barrel, with 20% new oak overall.

Buffalo Trace Launches E.H. Taylor Amaranth Bourbon

Buffalo Trace Distillery has announced a special bottling of its Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. line that uses amaranth as the flavoring grain instead of rye.

This 100-proof, bottled-in-bond small batch bourbon aged for more than a decade and is a special, one-time-only release. Other grains used in this recipe are corn (Buffalo Trace Mashbill #1) and malted barley.

Amaranth is similar to wheat, but offers flavors ranging from a nose of butterscotch and spearmint, to a finish of pecans and dark berries, the company says.

Tasting notes describe this bourbon as having a spearmint on the nose, followed by honey, with a hint of cherry. On the palate, coffee and vanilla come through. The finish is oats and honey.

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Amaranth Bourbon Whiskey will be available starting in late July in limited supply. The suggested retail price is $69.99 per 750-ml. bottle. 

This is the tenth release in the collection of  E. H. Taylor, Jr. whiskeys, which includes Single Barrel Bourbon, Barrel Proof Bourbon, Straight Rye Whiskey, and Small Batch Bourbon.

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. is a founding father of the bourbon industry, fighting for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, nearly three decades after he purchased the distillery that’s known today as Buffalo Trace Distillery. During his time, Taylor implemented several methods still used today by Buffalo Trace, such as climate-controlled aging warehouses.

11 Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2019-20

Consumer tastes never settle. They gradually change in subtle shifts and evolutions. And they can vary greatly from state to state, and across the country. That’s why Beverage Dynamics polls its readers each year on current trends.

Results from our 2019 State of the Industry Survey painted a diverse picture. Answers differed greatly, representing a broad swath of what U.S. consumers want. But even among these disparate answers there emerged common observations that pointed towards larger trends in America.

We consider these below, the prominent trends defining alcohol retail in 2019-20.

1) Cans, Cans, Cans

Canned wine is no longer the next thing coming but a popular trend that’s very much here and now. In our 2019 State of the Industry Survey, alternative packaging was the third-highest answer (14%) for the trend most impacting retail businesses, behind only the broader categories of bourbon/American whiskey and wine.

Canned wine was also the fourth-highest response (9%) in what retailers wanted to expand shelf space for, and came in third for the biggest trend of 2019 (15%).

The can movement is also at the core of the Ready-to-Drink explosion (more on that later), and has swept through craft beer, where the 4-pack of tallboy cans has replaced the 750-ml. “bomber” as the go-to premium packaging. The craft beer explosion has also made Millennials used to drinking premium products from cans, preparing them for the alternative-packaging trend in wine.

Cans are lighter and more mobile than glass counterparts, easier to transport on hikes and other outdoor activities. And they can go places that glass cannot, like pools, parks and beaches. Which all points to continued growth ahead for cans, especially in wine.

“We’re still just at the tip of the spear with alternative packaging,” says Scott Moore, SVP national accounts off premise at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. “The Millennial experience in wanting things now, with instant gratification, fits perfectly with these different forms of packaging.”

2) Brown Spirits Continue Booming

There is no slowdown in sight for bourbon and American whiskey. Much the opposite: new craft distilleries open up every day, while global corporations like Diageo, Brown-Forman, Constellation Brands and Pernod Ricard have all recently invested significantly in acquiring brown-spirits brands and/or expanding out existing distilleries. The Sazerac Company, as well, is amidst a $1.2-billion infrastructure investment in Buffalo Trace. So it’s no surprise that bourbon and American whiskey were among the most dominant answers in our 2019 State of the Industry Survey.

The straight American whiskey category grew 5.3% in 2018, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group, reaching 23.29 million 9-liter cases in the U.S. We see no reason for brown spirits to ebb anytime soon. They are in a new Golden Era.

“I’m really excited about where we’re at and where we’re going,” says Sean Yelle, category director for brown/dark spirits at Campari Group, which owns Wild Turkey. “There’s an alignment with consumer demand and what we want to put out there. The industry and consumers are lining up in a way that will lead to better drinks while making the whiskey industry a great place to be right now.”

3) Rosé All Day (and Night) and Year

Much like brown spirits, rosé wine is enjoying historically strong sales. In the past 12 months, the rosé category has grown about 48% in the U.S., according to Moore from SGWS, while wine overall is up only 3%.

The category has transcended its Provence roots to become a style commonly made worldwide. Consumers have never had more rosé options. But is that a good thing?

“Everybody who grows grapes and wants to make wine now makes a rosé,” states Michael Skurnik, founder of Skurnik Wines, during a panel at Vinexpo NYC 2019. “It’s a cash cow because you can make it in three weeks. That’s resulted in an overcrowded category, which has created a lack of clarity for consumers. What are the good rosés? What are the ones of real authenticity?”

Skurnik suggests that the category could benefit from pruning, and foresees the free market doing just that. “In the next five years it’s going to weed out a lot of rosés.”

His fellow panelists did not necessarily agree.

Rosé continues to expand as a food-pairing option | Photo by Fabien Lainé

“With the expansion of rosé’s geographies, styles and pricing points, I think it has a lot of runway still in front of it,” says Helen Mackey, VP of enterprise beverage strategy & innovation for Darden Restaurants.

Concurring with her is Patrick Mata, cofounder and CEO of Olé & Obrigado. “Millennials love rosé because it’s not complicated and it’s fun and is accessible with quality. Millennials love to discover, and that’s why I think rosé will grow with different varietals.”

Rosé continues to expand as a food-pairing option, as vineyards “develop gastronomical regional roses that pair well with a sophisticated cuisine,” says Miren de Lorgeril, president of Languedoc Wines, which promotes the Languedoc wine region, producer of 34% of all French rosés and 11% of the world’s production. Also beneficial for the future of the category, she adds, would be “cultivating rosés with complex winemaking and careful production techniques to obtain wines with good aging potential.”

While rosé has become hip to Millennials, de Lorgeril reminds retailers that “there is also an increase in the consumption of rosé by all consumers in general. Consumers between the ages of 40 and 77 are also starting to drink rosé.”

4) Craft Beer Slowdown

Craft beer still sells well. A significant amount (13%) of respondents to our annual retailers poll said that the craft beer trend most impacts their business, while 18% reported their customers most talking about craft beer. Yet there are signs of potential problems ahead.

After years of posting double-digit growth, the category has slowed to increases around 4-5% in the last several years, according to the Brewers Association. Though it’s important to remember that even those single-digit gains continue to outpace the overall beer market, which has been flat or down 1-2%.

What’s going on with microbrews? Part of the problem is that consumers today tend to drink better, but less. And when they do drink, they’re less category-loyal than ever. Whiskey, in particular, has lured away many craft-beer drinkers into spending elsewhere.

And there’s the issue of microbrewery saturation. “The number one trend I see is that there will continue to be too many choices,” says Jack Hendler, co-owner and brewer at Jack’s Abby in Framingham, Mass. “Consumers are more confused than ever with the amount of options — some that are over-the-top — that eventually people will go back to what they know.”

“The number one trend I see is that there will continue to be too many choices,” says Jack Hendler, co-owner and brewer at Jack’s Abby in Framingham, Mass. “Consumers are more confused than ever with the amount of options — some that are over-the-top — that eventually people will go back to what they know.”

Which is to suggest that the way back to greater growth for craft beer may be eschewing crazier styles for brews more drinkable and approachable. After all, part of the appeal behind the New England IPA/hazy craze that has swept across the country is that these juice-forward products are smoother and less bitter than typical beers, broadening their appeal. (Whether beer that doesn’t necessarily taste like beer is a good thing is an argument for another day.)

Mike Stevens, co-founder of Founders Brewery in Grand Rapid, MI., believes that craft should take a page out of domestic beer and focus more on key brands.

“You look at the beer industry as a whole, we’re all fighting over that same 15% market share, and not that 85%,” he says. To achieve broader appeal among mainstream consumers, “We need to focus on a narrowing handful of brands, not 28 brands, and spending money supporting those core brands,” Stevens says. “We need to free this thing up a bit so that the momentum can get back to the positive numbers.”

5) Premiumization of Everything

The economy has improved. Unemployment is down. Many U.S. consumers (Millennials in particular) who were hurt by the Great Recession in the past decade have put that economically tight time in the rear-view mirror. Not that people are spending excessively, or recklessly, but their personal budgets now include more discretionary income.

“Pre-Recession, there wasn’t anywhere near this level of cocktail culture. Now even dive bars are doing things with premium bourbons.” — David Jackson, SVP trade relations, COO for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

“It’s an affordable luxury,” says Moore from SGWS of the premiumization rise. In the past 12 months, spirits priced $25 and up have increased in sales by 13.2%, he says. This includes whiskey, vodka and tequila. “People want to treat themselves,” Moore adds. “People are not going to buy a new car every time they do something good at work, but they will have that premium cocktail that they deserve.”

Or they’ll pick up that top-shelf bottle of bourbon they’ve been eyeing. The nice thing about splurging on premium spirits is that these items (likely) will last some time, and provide the purchaser with numerous enjoyable experiences for their initial investment.

The premiumization trend is more than sipping spirits. “We have premium sodas and mixers and more, all because people are becoming more sophisticated with their tastes,” says Moore.

Agreeing with him is David Jackson, SVP trade relations, COO for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. “Premiumization, I think, goes back into the current cocktail culture,” Jackson says. “Pre-Recession, there wasn’t anywhere near this level of cocktail culture. Now even dive bars are doing things with premium bourbons. Having a well-made, handcrafted cocktail is definitely where things have been going for the past few years.”

6) Tequila on the Rise

The tequila category was up 7.9% in 2018 in the U.S., according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group, totaling 18.64 million 9-liter cases. As already covered in the trend above, much (if not most) of this growth comes from higher-end bottles, as consumers increasingly reach for the top shelf.

“With tequila, many people have gotten over just drinking the white tequilas,” observes Moore of SGWS. “They’re increasingly drinking reposados and añejos, and now mezcal as well.”

With the improving economy, consumers have become more adventuresome in their purchases. And premium tequilas fit perfectly into the trend of more people looking for “affordable luxury,” says Moore.

7) RTDs

Ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) are no longer the cheap, sugary stuff rele-gated to lower shelves. The craft movement has made major headway in this category, going as far as to turn around decades-old stigmas about RTDs being low quality.

Much the opposite is true now. A huge wave of high-quality RTD cocktails has helped this category grow double digits, year over year, in recent time. As with the canned wine craze, drivers here include convenience and quality.

“People today, particularly Millennials, are looking for innovation and quality,” explains Bob Safford, founder of Joia Spirit, which is owned by Prestige Beverage Group. The brand lineup currently includes a Sparkling Cosmopolitan, Sparkling Greyhound and Sparkling Moscow Mule cocktail. “The difference we’re bringing is the next evolution of the craft spirit. We’re taking that trend and putting it into today’s ‘convenient lifestyle’.”

Many of the retailers we polled in our 2019 State of the Industry Survey mentioned RTDs as a dominant trend at their store, or as a subject that their customers come in talking about. Especially around this time of year, when warmer weather means outdoor gatherings and activities, the convenience and variety of canned, premium cocktails fits perfectly into the modern consumer lifestyle.

The result has been an explosion in RTD sales.

“I’ve been in the business a long, long time, but have never seen anything quite like this,” says Wes Lewis, CEO of Ennoble Beverages, which is behind the malt-based canned Bloody Mary RTD called Tipsy Tomato. “We’re so inundated by consumers today looking for something new.”

8) Private Label Products

Producing and retailing your own private label products has become another manner in which stores can differentiate. “It’s a way to have something that only you can carry,” says Moore of SGWS. “Also, it enforces loyalty while being a margins enhancement.”

Producing and retailing your own private label products has become another manner in which stores can differentiate. “It’s a way to have something that only you can carry,” says Scott Moore of SGWS.

However, he warns that retailers should not overdo it with these products. Shelves should still have plenty of room for the normal brands that drive people to those categories in the first place, Moore says. “Make sure the consumer still gets what they come in for.”

Another issue with private label products is that they have become the bread and butter of Big Box chains like Total Wine. These superstores rely on sales of their private labels as significant revenue drivers, and thus direct consumers towards these cheaper options.

One way that a smaller retailer can combat these Big Box private labels? Carry them yourself, says Paul Kaspszak, executive director of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association. During a panel on the subject during the 2019 Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference, Kaspszak pointed out that in some states, legally, Big Box stores must make their private labels available to other retailers. So a Minnesota store began carrying these products so that customers bought it from them, instead of at the Big Box.

9) Single-Barrel Store Picks

Similarly, offering store-specific, single-barrel picks has increasingly become a point of differentiation for beverage alcohol retailers.

On a basic level, store-picked bottlings from distilleries like Maker’s Mark or Knob Creak can help put more high-quality product on the shelves. Consumer demand for brown spirits has outstripped supply. Many American brands, especially bourbon, fly out of stores faster than they can come in. Allocations being what they are, it’s difficult to stock even brands like Blanton’s, which were readily available only several years back, forget the likes of Weller and other red-hot whiskeys. So a store pick can help replenish high-end whiskey stock.

Store picks also help establish your business as a destination. If consumers know that you and your staff pick out great barrels during distillery trips, then customers will keep coming back for these specials, while thinking of your employees as go-to whiskey experts. But this can go both ways. A bad bottle can generate a poor reputation, while becoming a “shelf turd” that never sells.

Which is why it’s important to monitor local Facebook and other social media groups of whiskey enthusiasts, says Brad Williams, VP of purchasing and product development for Liquor Barn in Kentucky. These people will post blunt reviews online of your barrel picks, which can help you determine real quality, and what the local market prefers.

Williams is a veteran of barrel picks, having been on many through the years, and spoke on the subject during a panel at the 2019 Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference. He urges the importance of determining and maintaining a certain store identity when selecting, even if that style does not necessarily match your own preference. While Williams personally likes bold spicy whiskeys, for Liquor Barn he still picks bold, flavorful whiskeys, but tries to skew towards whiskeys that are a little more balanced and complex, creating a store-specific style with broad appeal.

10) Low-ABV, ‘Healthy’ Alcohol

Consumers today care more about what goes into their bodies. This well-established trend has already penetrated alcohol through lighter wines, sparkling seltzers and low-cal cocktails. Now it has expanded with more health-conscious beverages.

For instance: FitVine. Sponsored by CrossFit, this growing brand of wines contains less sugar, carbs and calories. Yet they still boast enough flavor to please a calorie-counting vino-lover.

Craft beer has also become more conscious of its dietary drawbacks. New Belgium’s new beer Mural, a 4%-ABV Mexican-style ale, has only 110 calories, and 0 grams of sugar. Earlier this year Harpoon released a 3.8% hazy pale ale called Rec. League, with 120 calories per pint. And Lagunitas recently launched DayTime IPA: 4% ABV, 98 calories. These brands are targeting active-lifestyle consumers who prefer their beers more flavorful than the traditional low-cal go-to, Michelob Ultra.

And what does it say about this trend that Michelob Ultra — the one macro light lager with year-over-year growth in recent time — has achieved its unusual success largely through savvy marketing aimed at active-lifestyle consumers? Many people now prefer “healthier” options.

11) No Stopping Tito’s

Nearly every craft brand that comes out now dreams of being Tito’s. Perhaps they lose track of Tito’s being an overnight success 20+ years in the making. Regardless, there’s no slowing down this freight train of a one-product brand. Tito’s grew a staggering 21.4% in 2018, according to the Beverage Information Group, reaching 7.34 million 9-liter cases in the U.S. Not bad for a brand that sold 1.2 million cases in 2013.

Tito’s is now the second-best selling vodka in America, behind only Smirnoff, which shrunk 0.8% in 2018 to 9.18 million cases. It’s likely only a matter of time before this Texas brand takes over that top spot.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece, Meet Kaveh Zamanian, Founder of Rabbit Hole Distillery.

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