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Ignite Vodka

Ignite Beverages Inc., a subsidiary of Ignite International Brands, announced today the addition of a vodka to its beverages line. The line currently includes Ignite’s alkaline PH9 water.

Ignite’s vodka is gluten free and distilled from corn.

Produced in New York, Ignite Vodka will be distributed nationally within the U.S.

“We’ve been hard at work perfecting our products for our consumers, and with the introduction of vodka, we’re continuing to push the envelope and disrupt the beverage category with our premium quality products,” says President Curtis Heffernan. “We’re excited to add vodka to our portfolio of premium products and introduce a spirit that meets the high industry standards the Ignite brand is known for.”

Devils Backbone Bright Sparkling Pineapple Ale

Devils Backbone Brewing Company has introduced a new flavor to their Bright Sparkling Ale lineup: Pineapple.

This effervescent sparkling ale has all-natural pineapple flavor, two grams of carbs, zero sugar and only 85 calories.

The beer was made with Pilsner, Pale Wheat and Acidulated malts, Amarillo hops, and pineapple crystals and pineapple extract.

Devils Backbone Bright Sparkling Pineapple Ale is 4.1% ABV.

Devils Backbone is owned by AB-InBev, which purchased the brewery in 2016.

5 Scotch Trends in 2020

Sales of single malt Scotch rose 9.6% in America in 2019, reaching $925 million total. That represents an $81-million increase over 2018. What’s driving this growth?

Scotch has evolved. For many years this category was seen by younger consumers as the whisky that their parents or grandparents drank. The spirit occupied shelves in stuffy backrooms, drank by old men seated in antique leather chairs by the fireplace. This was always an unfair comparison, given how vibrant Scotch is, how diverse.

Now Millennials may be moving past those outdated viewpoints, and beginning their journeys into the world of Scotch. It helps that the category has innovated so much in recent time. Taking a page out of the endless experimentation of American whiskey, Scotch brands have released more unique and creative expressions that can capture the attention of the modern U.S. consumer. Blends and barrel finishes have led this charge.

With all that in mind, here are five trends defining Scotch in 2020:

1) Approachable Brands

Many younger consumers are hesitant to buy Scotch because the price point poses a significant barrier. Entry-level bottles can cost $40-and-up. Add in the diversity of Scotch, which can be confusing, and it’s no wonder when younger consumers reach for the likes of Bulleit Bourbon instead.

“We know there are many fans of blended whiskies and bourbon that shy away from single malt because they find the language intimidating and the variety in the category hard to navigate,” says Brian Kinsman, master blender at William Grant & Sons. “Particularly, they are unsure about what the liquid will actually taste like. It’s a lot to ask of people to spend $50 on a bottle of something they’re not even sure they’re going to like!”

Producers like William Grant & Sons have sought to improve Scotch’s approachability. The company recently released Aerstone. This new brand has two expressions: Sea and Land Cask. The goal is to give consumers a simpler choice.

“If you know whether you prefer smooth or smoky malts when you walk up to a bar, then you’ve got a great foundation from which to explore further,” says Kinsman.

Sea Cask is smooth, while Land Cask is smoky (taking its name from the Highland malt). The kicker is the cost.

“We’ve also tried to lower the risk for people with price,” says Kinsman. “Both Aerstone Sea and Land Cask are priced at $28.99.”

Look for more brands to enter the market with better approachability in terms of both understandable flavors, and entry-level price points.

2) Scotch Cocktails

A driving factor in the American whiskey boom is mixology. This movement has largely left Scotch on the sidelines, however. With their potent flavors, these whiskies are tougher to incorporate into cocktails. And it does not help that many longtime Scotch enthusiasts consider it blasphemy to mix with these expressions.

Scotch brands are obviously more open-minded than that, and wiser to the importance of reaching younger drinkers through mixology.

“The state of Scotch cocktails is small but rapidly growing,” says Jim Brennan, SVP of marketing at Edrington Americas. “It is important to the category as it expands occasions and opens up Scotch to younger and more female consumers. That’s what we are doing with Naked Grouse.”

Launched in 2018, Naked Grouse is a blend of single malts from The Macallan, Highland Park and Glenrothes. With an approachable price of $34.99, consumers are not as hesitant to pour this product into cocktails. The brand’s silly name also helps this Scotch overcome the category’s stuffier stigma.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some brands buck the mainstream and go for even more irreverent ideas like Naked Grouse,” says Brennan.

Another example of this offbeat strategy succeeding is the social media darling, Monkey Shoulder.

“One Scotch brand that has been particularly successful with younger drinkers has been Monkey Shoulder,” says Kinsman. “It’s a blended malt, with a smooth and rich taste profile that’s made to mix. So on those occasions where you want a cocktail rather than a neat single malt, it’s perfect. My favorite is a Monkey Old Fashioned.”

Tiki Tuesday

Mixologists have recently begun playing around more with Scotch. Penicillin is the classic example, along with Blood and Sand. Other creative takes on Scotch cocktails are rapidly growing in number and diversity. During the reception for the newly opened New York headquarters for Diageo, bartenders whipped up a (delicious) Scotch Tiki drink:

Tiki Tuesday

1½ oz. Johnnie Walker Black
½ oz. Ginger honey
½ oz. Lemon juice
2 oz. Carbonated water

Serve in a highball glass, garnished with Angostura bitters and mint.

3) Reaching for Bourbon Drinkers

It’s no secret that Scotch is behind bourbon in terms of attracting younger drinkers. That’s why you hear so many people in the Scotch industry talk about what whiskies they would recommend for someone who likes bourbon.

“For the bourbon drinker, I would offer a non-peated single malt Scotch whisky to try, particularly The GlenDronach, since its robust flavor profile appeals to the palate of a bourbon drinker accustomed to the bolder taste influenced by the rich flavors from the oak cask,” says Rachel Barrie, whisky hall of famer and master blender at BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh.

However, Barrie disputes the notion that Scotch must battle against bourbon.

“Rather than competing, I think we need to change the narrative and alter perceptions,” she says. “Bourbon, especially in America, is what’s familiar, and therefore, comfortable. In order to shake things up and get consumers out of their comfort zone, we have to transcend barriers through transparent communication and education, and celebrate what makes every distillery in Scotland and America, distinctive in style and individual in character.”

Even so, it’s not hard to form a connection between the smoother, richer Scotches, and the rich profiles of bourbon. Many Scotch brands, after all, have begun finishing their products in ex-bourbon casks. This trend will continue in 2020, as producers seek to blur the lines between the two categories.

4) Age Statements Matter Less

We’ve been saying this for years: age statements have never mattered less to consumers. Quality comes first nowadays — trumping whatever number is on the bottle.

“When it comes to Scotch, the age statement is an indicator of quality and rarity, but it is not the only factor at play,” says Barrie. “Location (whether in a valley, on a hill or by the sea), the geography, fermentation, distillation and type of oak used all play a part in creating quality and flavor. Interestingly, non-age-statement whiskies allow a master blender to experiment more with the whisky stocks, and the outcome can be high quality single malt Scotch whisky with a distinctive expression of character.”

“When it comes to Scotch, the age statement is an indicator of quality and rarity, but it is not the only factor at play,” says Rachel Barrie, whisky hall of famer and master blender at BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh.

Another factor behind age statements disappearing is the sheer lack of stock. As the brown spirits boom spreads worldwide, many brands do not possess enough aged product to satisfy consumer demand. Instead, companies have released innovative, high-quality blends that help put new bottles onto retail shelves.

Consumers do not seem to mind one way or the other.

“You can argue both sides of this issue, but the relative success of non-age statements proves that consumers aren’t completely fixated with numbers,” says Brennan. “Our Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut has been a really pleasant success for us. As for blends, I think this year we will see some good innovation and The Famous Grouse’s Cask Series will lead the way. I predict we will see some growth in the category.”

To his point about both sides having merit, the Glenrothes did also bring back age statements in 2018, zigging where other brands have zagged.  

5) Connecting With Millennials

Perhaps the most important progress Scotch can make in 2020 is firmly connecting with Millennials. If the category can push past lingering stigmas, then these whiskies can offer exactly what younger consumers enjoy.

“While recent studies show that Millennials are drinking less, there has been a shift from beer and wine to spirits consumption,” says Barrie. “Millennials value authenticity, provenance and quality — the key qualities of single malt scotch whisky — and we see that they are willing to pay more to enjoy this. They also possess a sense of discovery and willingness to try new things, so why not Scotch?” 

To that end, look for more brands in 2020 to highlight what makes them worth discovering.

“There will be more education around production, aging and distinctiveness of individual malt character,” Barrie says. “Smoky and sherry cask matured malts will rise, and provenance will be more important than ever before.”

One Scotch that has excelled in building a bridge to Millennials is The Macallan. This Edrington brand runs some of the best social media in the industry, simultaneously educating and entertaining through modern digital marketing. And in doing so, The Macallan showcases the pure qualities of the product.

“Younger consumers are looking for well-crafted, flavor-forward spirits with artisanal production and an authentic, heritage-rich brand story,” says Brennan of Edrington. “If that doesn’t sound like single malt Scotch, I don’t know what does.”

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 7 Trends Driving American Whiskey in 2020

U.S. Spirits Sales Grew in 2019, But Tariff Threat Looms

U.S. spirits enjoyed another banner year in 2019 with sales and volume growth, but the threat of retaliatory tariffs still worries the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). The council laid out this positive/negative outlook during its annual economic briefing held today in New York City for media and analysts.

“While it was another strong year for U.S. spirits sales, the tariffs imposed by the European Union are causing a significant slump in American Whiskey exports,” says DISCUS President and CEO Chris Swonger. “The data is clear. These tariffs are chipping away at American Whiskey’s brand equity in our top export markets. These great American Whiskey products that have been the toast of the global cocktail scene are struggling under the weight of the EU tariffs.”

Numbers were positive stateside. Supplier sales were up 5.3% in 2019, rising $1.5 billion to a record total of $29 billion, while volumes rose 3.3% to a record 239 million cases, up 7.6 million cases from the prior year. In 2019, spirits gained market share versus beer and wine with sales rising half of a point to 37.8% of the total beverage alcohol market. This represents the 10th straight year of market share gains for spirits overall, where each point of market share is worth $770 million in supplier sales revenue.

Still, the specter of tariffs concerns DISCUS.

“We are now gravely concerned that the U.S. tariffs on EU spirits imports will have the same deleterious effect in the United States,” said Swonger.  “If this trade dispute is not resolved soon, we will more than likely be reporting a similar drag on the U.S. spirits sector, jeopardizing American jobs and our record of solid growth in the U.S. market.”

Elsewhere in the findings report, DISCUS says that U.S. consumers continue to gravitate torwards high-end and super premium products. The revenue for those price points increased 7.6% and 7.9%, respectively, and by 8% and 7% in volume.

Due to the rapid growth in super premium products over the last 10 years, the average supplier revenue per 9-liter case (12 bottles) is now more than $120.

Key spirits category drivers of sales growth in 2019 included:

  • American Whiskey, up 10.8% or $387 million to $4 billion; Rye was an important component of the overall American Whiskey category growth with sales up 14.7% or $30 million, reaching $235 million;
  • Tequila/Mezcal, up 12.4% or $372 million to $3.4 billion; Mezcal surpassed $100 million in sales for the first time totaling $105 million;
  • And pre-mixed cocktails, up 7.5% or $25 million to $351 million.

Irish Whiskey had another strong year, with revenues up 5.6% to $1.1 billion, as did single malt Scotch, up 9.6% or $81 million to $925 million.

Vodka remains the spirits sector’s largest category, representing 31% of all volume. In 2019, vodka revenues were up 2.9% to $6.6 billion. driven by strong growth in high-end premium products. 

“Sophisticated consumers, with their preference for prestige bottles and unique experiences, are the key drivers of growth in the spirits industry,” says DISCUS Chief Economist David Ozgo. “A strong U.S. economy coupled with market modernizations that provide greater access to spirits, has put wind in the sails of the super-premium spirits category.”

Ozgo highlighted a number of spirits trends for 2020, including an increase in spirits tourism; emphasis on sustainability in the cocktail craft; expanded cocktail menus featuring more flavorful low-ABV or non-alcohol drink options; and the creation of cocktails with less sweet flavor profiles like savory and sour drinks.

In the public policy arena, DISCUS secured a one-year extension of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, which equalizes the federal excise tax (FET) on spirits, beer and wine for the first 100,000 gallons for all producers.

“The one-year extension of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act was a big win for craft distillers, but our job is not done,” says Swonger, noting that the spirits sector supports 1.64 million hospitality jobs and $190 billion in economic activity. “Making this tax cut permanent will provide craft distillers with the stability and certainty needed to continue to invest in their businesses, generate new jobs and support their local communities. This is a top legislative priority for DISCUS in 2020.”

Swonger highlighted other policy victories in 2019 including:

  • Spirits tax threats defeated in 17 out of 18 states;
  • Sunday sales ban lifted in West Virginia, the 43rd state to repeal this blue law, generating an estimated $1 million annually;
  • Spirits tastings passed in North Carolina, and the limit on distillery sales was repealed;
  • A historic new law in Texas increased the license cap on package store ownership from five to 250 improving spirits access for Texas consumers;
  • Law passed in Virginia requiring localities to opt-out of alcohol sales, allowing spirits sales across the state.

Swonger, who is also the president and CEO of Responsibility.org, also reported that significant progress was made in 2019 in reducing underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving. According to U.S. government data, underage drinking and college binge drinking have fallen to historic lows, and alcohol-impaired driving fatalities as a percent of total vehicle traffic fatalities is at its lowest level since 1982.

“For nearly 30 years, Responsibility.org has been at the forefront of combatting underage drinking and impaired driving through the development of evidence-based programs and the support for comprehensive anti-drunk driving legislation,” Swonger says. “While there is more work to be done, we are pleased that these numbers are trending in the right direction.”

Founders Brewing Adds Unrivaled IPA to Year-round Lineup

Founders Brewing Co. has announced Unraveled IPA as the newest addition to the brewery’s year-round lineup.

Unraveled IPA is a juicy IPA, dry hopped with traditional hop pellets and lupulin powder, which is a hop product that separates lupulin from the hop flower. Wheat and oats form a backdrop to carry all those hop characteristics, the company says, while the pour is clear.

Unraveled IPA made its debut in the Founders taprooms as “Mucho Lupu” and was released as part of the brewery’s Mothership Series in 2019.

“This is one of my favorite IPAs to come out of the brewery in a while,” says Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki.  “The hop character is aggressive with its citrus and tropical flavors and aromas while the addition of lupulin powder — rather than relying on over dry-hopping with just pellets — helps keep the grassiness in check. It has great balance and is clean, bright and refreshing.”

Unraveled IPA is 6.6% ABV, and will be available in 6-pack cans and on draft in the Grand Rapids taproom on Feb. 11 and in the Detroit taproom on Feb. 18. It will available year-round across the brewery’s 50-state distribution network beginning in mid-February. 

“It’s not often we add a beer to our year-round lineup, so when we do it’s definitely reason to celebrate,” says Founders Co-Founder and President Dave Engbers. “Jeremy wanted to create a juicy IPA that poured clear and he hit the nail on the head with Unraveled IPA. It’s hop aroma and flavor can stand up next to even the juiciest of juicy IPAs, but its clean, crisp finish is unmistakably Founders. Unraveled IPA fits in perfectly alongside Centennial and All Day as yet another fantastic IPA option you can find from Founders.”

Malene Cuvée Rosé 2019

Malene Wines, a Provençal-style rosé producer on California’s Central Coast, has announced the release of its new Malene Cuvée Rosé 2019.

The Malene Cuvée Rosé 2019 has aromas of peach, white grapefruit and peony, the company says. To the taste, the rosé has hints of strawberry and nectarine.

Produced by New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne (Fin), this rosé is French-style with California Coast influences, the company says. The Malene Cuvée Rosé 2019 can be sipped on its own or enjoyed with a wide variety of foods such as pad thai, Baja fish tacos and chicken quesadillas.

The suggested retail price is $22 per 750-ml. bottle.

Mateus Dry Rosé 2019

Beginning in spring 2020, Sogrape, a family-owned wine producer from Portugal, will launch Mateus Dry Rosé from the 2019 vintage. This represents new branding for the product.

From the mind of Fernando van Zeller Guedes, Mateus was born in 1942. This wine was developed alongside a creative brand identity that included a bottle inspired by flasks worn by soldiers during World War I, and a label that provided a link between product and provenance. These elements became features of Mateus, establishing it as a global brand distributed in over 120 countries around the world, the company says.

The new Mateus Dry Rosé is made from baga and shiraz grapes to deliver a dry rosé with a pale pink color, a bouquet of floral notes and red berry fruit flavors on the palate, the company says. The new bottle shape — which is taller, curved and dons a contemporary silver label featuring the vintage – modernizes the original design.

“For all that it represents, Mateus is the crown jewel for Sogrape. It is the past, the present and the future that has led us to where we are, and it promises to take us even further,” says Fernando da Cunha Guedes, president of Sogrape. “The launch of the 2019 Mateus Dry Rosé is yet another act of courage in the history of our family’s most iconic brand, one that has always been innovative and ahead of its time.”  

Mateus Dry Rosé 2019 vintage will be available across the U.S. for a suggested retail price of $12.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

Doc Pepe’s Lab Negroni, Boulevardier Barrel-Aged RTDs

Doc Pepe’s Lab, based in Monterey Bay, has added two new cocktails to its existing barrel-finished product line.

The Negroni and Boulevardier join the company’s four flagships: the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, and Cuvée Reserve styles of each aforementioned.

“Through our aging process, we infuse a level of complexity, dimension and flavor into traditional cocktails,” says Christian Pepe, Doc Pepe’s Lab founder and chief cocktail architect. “Liqueurs and spirits are made in-house from scratch, giving us complete control of the flavor profile from start to finish.”

Doc Pepe’s Lab Negroni contains London Dry Gin, Italian-style sweet vermouth and bitter orange liqueur. Pepe begins his process by distilling a London Dry Gin, made from a maceration of 14 botanicals in American-made neutral grain spirits. Each of the three ingredients are prepared separately, then combined according to the classic Negroni recipe. The entire mixture spends three to six months in Kentucky bourbon barrels, which add caramel and vanilla notes to the cocktail. 

The cocktail is best enjoyed before dinner, the company says, as it can stimulate one’s appetite and aid digestion. Having a salty snack, like nuts or crackers, can calm and balance the bitter notes of the drink while making it taste a little sweeter. 

Doc Pepe’s Lab Boulevardier contains Kentucky Rye Whiskey, Italian-style bitter liqueur, and sweet red vermouth. The cocktail is bittersweet, spirit-driven and can be described as a “Whiskey Negroni.” Doc Pepe’s Lab Boulevardier includes a proprietary Italian-style bitter liqueur, which uses an adaptation of the original “Bitter of Turin” recipe — not to be confused with Amaro. The cocktail uses 10 botanicals, including Cascarilla Bark, which only grows on a few small islands in the Bahamas.

Pepe emulated the style of an early 1900’s Vermouth di Torino recipe, the company says. He uses a Muscat wine from California and historically correct botanicals. There are 18 botanicals in the vermouth, including Wormwood.

The bitter liqueur and vermouth are prepared separately, with each liqueur taking over a month to produce. The rye whiskey is diluted to 90 proof, and then all three ingredients are blended in the same tank before transfer into Kentucky bourbon barrels to age for three to six months. 

The Boulevardier can be enjoyed after dinner due to its strong flavor profile. The featured botanicals help aid with digestion, the company says.

All Doc Pepe’s Lab cocktails can be served on the rocks or “up,” meaning stirred with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass — never shaken. The products are line-priced with the Old Fashioned and Manhattan, ranging from $36 to $42 per 750-ml. bottle.

Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey, Crabbie’s Yardhead Single Malt Scotch

Halewood Wines & Spirits, an independent drinks company from the U.K., will launch two new bands in the U.S.: Crabbie’s Yardhead Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey.

Both brands will be available effective March 1.

“We are pleased to be working with Winebow in the U.S., and with their industry expertise, there’s no doubt that both Yardhead and Peaky Blinder will soon become brands that everyone wants to experience,” says Jorge Gutierrez, managing director, Americas and Caribbean, at Halewood.

“We value the enthusiasm and industry relationships they offer and are proud to be their partners for these brands,” Gutierrez adds. “Their strength will ensure there’s a national footprint for each brand immediately.”

Yardhead Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a Highland malt with a suggested retail price of $24.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

The Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey is a brand named after the original Peaky Blinder Gang — an urban street gang based in Birmingham, England. The gang existed from the end of the 19th century through the beginning of World War Ⅰ. The gang sprang from the harsh economic conditions of working-class Britain and was made up of mostly young men from the lower to middle-classes, many of Irish heritage. Peaky Blinder will be priced at $18.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

Both Yardhead Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey are also available in the 1-L size.

Woodford Reserve Unveils 2020 Batch Proof Bourbon

Woodford Reserve has released its annual Woodford Reserve Batch Proof, bottled at 123.6 proof in 2020.

This expression is part of the Master’s Collection series.

Woodford Reserve Batch Proof is the same grain bill and process as Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but bottled at a higher proof.

“Most do not get to experience Woodford Reserve at such a high proof presentation, so we are excited to have the opportunity to share this special bourbon with connoisseurs,” says Master Distiller Chris Morris. “The intensity and depth of flavor found in Woodford Reserve Batch proof is truly remarkable.”

On the nose is dried cranberry and raisin fruit spiced with sandalwood, clove, aged leather and a hint of spearmint, the company says, with notes of cocoa and dark chocolate. The palate is raisin and brown sugar sweetness balanced with a spicy leather character atop oak, almond and cedar wood notes.

This year’s edition of Batch Proof 123.6 follows the Spring 2019 release of the Batch Proof 123.3.

Woodford Reserve Batch Proof retails for a suggested price of $129.99 per 750-ml. bottle.

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