Orkney Wine


The Orkney Islands are an archipelago located above the far northern tip of Scotland. These rugged, wind-swept islands have a tremendously rich history dating back to Mesolithic times and have been inhabited for over 8,500 years. They were a Viking stronghold for several centuries and many of the families currently residing on the island can trace their ancestry back to the Norsemen. The current population totals just over 20,000 with many of these people employed in traditional sectors of the economy such as farming, fishing, and food production. The world famous Highland Park distillery is a major employer and is perhaps the reason that many people have heard of the Orkney Islands. This whisky is frequently called the ‘best in the world’ by various experts and is certainly amongst the most highly rated. Organic farming has been established in Orkney for many years. The local people are very proud of their domestic produce. Beef, lamb and other agricultural produce from the Orkney Islands are often regarded as being amongst the best that the British Isles has to offer. It should therefore come as little surprise that there are a number other smaller companies building on the prestigious reputation Orkney has of producing first class quality products. One of these companies is The Orkney Wine Company.

The Orkney Wine Company was founded by Emile van Schayk in the late 1990s. Essentially, after Emile was given a few traditional recipes from an old retired shepherdess his hobby of home winemaking took off in a big way. A true labor of love, he won several local competitions for his homemade wines which encouraged him to set up commercially and it has gone from strength to strength from that point onwards. Demand outstripping his production capabilities, he move his company first from his kitchen to his garage and then to its current location, a factory on the island of Lamb Holm, where they also have a shop retailing their extensive range of products.


The company now produces a range of fruit wines and liquors made from berries, flowers and vegetables which are sourced locally whenever possible. These beverages are entirely handmade and are 100% natural and sulfur free. Not using sulfites allows for the full fermentation process to run its course in the traditional manner. Additionally they use bentonite, a type of natural clay to filter the wine rather than gelatin or animal products which ensures that their full product range is suitable for vegetarians. The production is certainly not a quick process, ranging from 6 months for Orkney White up to 2-3 years for the Elderberry or even 10 years for some of the limited edition cask bottles.

They’ve done a great job with their innovative branding, using sophisticated looking bottles and labels. Thy have also fully embraced social media marketing which was how I initially became aware of their products.


I wanted to find out more about this exciting company so I passed a few questions to Colin van Schayk, Emile’s son.

BevTalk: Hi Collin. What is your personal involvement with the company?

Collin: I’m pretty much involved in every aspect of the company, from making the wine, to graphic design and web design right down to selling the wine direct to customers or through wholesale. 

BevTalk: Out of all of the range which is the most popular and why do you think this is the case? Which is your personal favorite?

Collin: The most popular without a doubt is the Orkney Red, I think partly due to the name, but also because people can relate it to their favourite red wine. My personal favourite is the Black Portent, it’s rich, smooth and almost too easy to drink.

BevTalk: How important is it that the product range is produced in Orkney and how does this influence the types of beverages you produce?

Collin: Being called the Orkney Wine Company it’s very important that everything is made and bottled here in Orkney. As well as, as much as possible grown here in Orkney which is what influences our range the most. We like to use fruits, flowers and vegetables that grow well here on the Island as it means we know we are getting high quality ingredients.

BevTalk: How does the local community up in Orkney feel about your products? Do you get much support from the local infrastructure?

Colin: I’d like to think we get a fair amount of local support and that a lot of people will have a favourite wine or liqueur. The wholesalers and retailers are good to us, most of the main shops, including the local Tesco, and tourist spots stock our products.

BevTalk: What problems have you encountered launching a brand in the UK beverage industry? Was it all plane sailing?

Collin: I think we’ve faced the usual problems that any business has when starting out. The main problem in the UK is the Government, the ever increasing alcohol duty certainly doesn’t help. In recent years there have been more and more alcohol licensing laws which are becoming stricter all the time making it more difficult, but it’s just something we have to stay on top of. It’s probably the same in most countries because alcohol tends to be a high tax product.

BevTalk: Do you have plans to export your products? Which markets do you think would most appreciate your products?

Collin: We have exported to several places all over Europe in the past, but it’s not been a constant thing. I think the best market for us would be in the U.S we get a lot of requests for our products out there. We wouldn’t need to change the product labeling much which helps; it’s the logistics we need to figure out.

BevTalk: What’s next for you as a company? Do you have plans to expand and will this always be focused in Orkney?

Collin: We have several exciting plans in the pipeline, the main one involves branching out and launching an entirely new product. We can’t say too much yet, but it’s not beer, whisky or gin.

BevTalk: Thank you Collin.

Some great insights there from Colin, and I couldn’t agree more regarding the UK governments meddling with taxation rates. I wish them the best of luck with their products as they certainly have a very genuine approach to the industry. It’s refreshing in this day and age to see people making products they love themselves rather than exploiting the industry purely for commercial gain.  I for one am intrigued as to what this new product will take the form of and will watch them very closely. I agree with Colin, in that I think Orkney Wine’s would be very well received in the USA and I hope a few of the importers reading this will be interested and get in contact with the company.

Please visit orkneywine.co.uk for more information.

As always, I am @BevTalk


Polugar, Russian Perfection

bottles3Those of you in the wines and spirits industry will perhaps have noticed a rather intriguing new kid on the block who’s making some serious impressions in bars, clubs, restaurants and liquor stores alike. This new kid is a very special alcoholic beverage called Polugar. In reality he is not that much a new kid but in fact the grandfather of the Russian Vodka industry.

It is however, absolutely not vodka as we currently know it, but a product that stands out in its own unique category. It’s a rye distillate otherwise known as bread-wine. Originally produced by Russian noblemen on their vast estates in the 18th and 19th century, it was lost to the world for 115 years until commercially resurrected in 2010 by the Russian pioneers Rodionov and Sons. It was the equivalent loss to the beverage industry as the loss of the Amber Room was to antiquities.

Vodka, as it is known today, is a product of a relatively advanced technology using rectification columns. Basically speaking the final product is a clear mixture of water and ethyl alcohol. There is some charcoal filtering involved and the addition of minor elements such as glycerol, but that’s basically all it is. Whether it is distilled from wheat, rye, potatoes or anything else makes only a little impact to the overall characteristics of the final vodka as after all it is essentially tasteless.


Now think back to the mental imagery conjured up by historical figures such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Dostoevsky and you should imagine them as being patrons to a rather differently tasting beverage all together. This beverage, Polugar, meaning ‘half-burned’ was produced in traditional copper pot stills from rye. The ‘half-burned’ concept arises from the 1842 decree of Tsar Nicholai I stating “Polugar wine must be of proper quality. To determine it, wine shall be poured into an official annealing container where half of it should burn off”.

Due to the pot still distillation method it retains many of the delicate characteristics of the rye and thus has a gentle, pleasantly refined taste. It is very much like a single malt whisky and should be drunk in a similar manner, ideally accompanied by a fine cigar.

Rodionov and Sons was founded in 2010 by the well-known Russian vodka historian, writer and academic, Boris Rodionov after he discovered the treasured recipe for this aristocratic beverage in an old book in 2002. Further intensely laborious endeavors resulted in the launch of Polugar Classic Rye and have since led to the addition of a supreme range of spirits now encompassing Single Malt Rye Polugar, Wheat Polugar, Barley Polugar and an ever growing range of related beverages.

POLUGAR1-4SMALLERNow it is one thing to resurrect a lost, historically significant, alcoholic beverage and restore national pride in the Russian craft distillation industry, but that is not where the story ends for Rodionov and Sons. In such a short time, what they, as a Russian independent producer, have managed to achieve on the world stage is phenomenal. Polugar is currently the toast of London and New York City alike, with the substantial key accounts to support this. I have worked in this industry for many years and I can assure you that USA accounts such as Astor Wines in Manhattan and the Binny’s Beverages chain in Chicago are not easy to acquire, to say the very least. In terms of exposure and industry acclaim it has to be one of the fastest growing super-premium beverages currently on the market.  Added to that, it’s from Russia, which until now has not had a tradition of supplying luxury beverages. Whether this success is due to the unique nature and quality of the product or the remarkable business acumen of Rodionov and Sons, I cannot tell you, but as a former USA importer myself, I can tell you it is absolutely flabbergasting. I could not be more impressed.

XRAY5553Left to right, Ilya Rodionov, Boris Rodionov and Alexey Rodionov.

I’m clearly not the only one impressed. The Spirits Review rate Polugar Classic Rye at 10 out of 10. It has a full set of 5 star ratings on vivino.com and this month entire Polugar range received a ‘highly recommend’ rating from the respected Spirit Journal by Paul Pacult using words such as ‘impeccable’, ‘perfect’ and ‘flawless’ to describe them. Additionally, Polugar No. 2, a garlic and pepper infusion, recently received a coveted 5 star rating from the renowned Difford’s Guid. The list goes on.

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I wanted to delve further into this success so I posed a few questions to Alexey Rodionov, one of the company’s founders.

BevTalK: What’s your secret Alexey, you guys seem to be doing everything right?

Alexey Rodionov: Honestly, we probably could’ve done better, but we didn’t have any experience in the spirits industry before 2010, so whatever we are doing, we are doing with mistakes and learning from them. One thing that we are sure of, is the outstanding quality of our product. Probably this is the main cause for the respect on the market from the industry professionals and private consumers.

BevTalk: The experts seem to adore the taste and quality of your products but you also have some very impressive packaging. What’s the story behind the bottle design?

Alexey Rodionov: Since you know we didn’t just create a commercial product, we did a full revival project. We reconstructed the spirit itself, we took the name Polugar, we took the ABV corresponding to Polugar and also we took the bottle which is a copy of a bottle owned by Empress Elisabeth, dated 1745. It’s a really old-fashioned Russian bottle.

BevTalk: What’s next? Where do you see the brand in 5 years’ time?

Alexey Rodionov: I would like build on the success we’ve had on the Russian market. Also, I am busy developing new (for us) world markets. I don’t want Polugar to be referred to only as a drink for Russians or for Russian cuisine. People don’t consume the world’s best distillates based on pairing with local cuisines only. People consume cognacs, whisky, rums, tequilas just for taste and pleasure. Polugar is another great distillate available now for consumers.

BevTalk: I can see the brand is doing really well in the USA and the UK, but how well is it going down back home in Russia? Is the Russian beverage industry ready to accept super-premium brands such as Polugar?

Alexey Rodionov: When we started in 2010 in Russia, Polugar was very new for the market. It hasn’t been produced since 1895 so there are no people alive who remember the taste. Due to our history (revolutions, Soviet period) we didn’t have any private cellars left at all. Everything was either destroyed or nationalized. So we started from scratch, explaining to people about what their ancestors were drinking. During the first year we hardly sold 2000 bottles. But we are stubborn and continued our educational process despite this fact. The next year we sold 10000 bottles, the next year 30000 bottles and the next year 120000 bottles. This clearly shows that Polugar is extremely well received and accepted in the Russian market.  At the moment we sell only in the Moscow and Saint Petersburg regions so there’s a lot of work ahead.

BevTalk: I’m sure there are a lot of beverage industry professionals looking very closely at your brand. What type of people would you be interested in making contact with to further proper Polugar’s success?

Alexey Rodionov:  I never even though of this opportunity as we are such a small family brand. The volumes that we are making now are literally small for the spirits industry. I doubt that someone is paying attention to what we are doing. On the other hand we are always interested in new contacts and ideas. So if someone would have an idea how to bring up Polugar to a completely new level of sales and distribution then I would happily discuss it. I am sure we have the potential to become an internationally recognized brand in the future.

BevTalk: Thank you Alexey.

I love this brand and I think Alexey is being a little modest with regards to the headwinds Polugar is making on the international beverage market. However, it is abundantly clear that their pride in producing a quality product takes preference over the commercial drive. It’s an incomparable product made to the very highest standard. A great deal of meticulous thought has clearly gone into every stage of the production. Rodionov and Sons deserve to be very proud of themselves, and they certainly deserve the respect of the international beverage community. I totally recommend their products, but then I am now just at the end of a long list of others totally recommending their products!

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CHOYA Umeshu

Recently, whilst at the Japan Foodex exhibition in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of sampling the renowned Japanese ambassadorial beverage, CHOYA umeshu. It was a unique and pleasant experience. Sweet with the initial sip it swiftly balanced out with a rounded sourness. In my opinion it’s somewhat reminiscent of sherry liquor but also a little nutty. It has a rich aroma of almonds and a cognac like viscosity. To be honest, it was very difficult for me to explain to the exact characteristics so I asked a few friends for their opinions. Finding it equally as intriguing, they confirmed my perceived concept of sweetness and nutty aspects followed by a sour nature deeper on the palate. One thing that was resoundingly clear was that we definitely liked it and agreed it was ‘dangerously’ moreish with one lady commenting that it was ‘not at all like drinking alcohol’!


What exactly is umeshu, I hear you ask? Well, it is made from something called ‘steeping ume fruits’ (prumus mune). These originated in China, the tree of which was brought to Japan hundreds of years ago, essentially just for its aesthetic appeal. Those of you who have visited Japan will understand why this was indeed the case, as the pumus mume trees can be found all over Japan today, the flowering blossoms of which are exceptionally beautiful in early spring. The Japanese, having the ingenuity that they are famous for in most aspects, soon realized that the fruit of the said tree could be turned into the delicious liquor that has become modern day umeshu.


Essentially, umeshu is a blend of ume fruit, sugar and alcohol. In addition to its unique taste, it is also highly regarded for its medicinal benefits. Containing a high dose of vitamin C, including many organic acids such as citric acid, it is well documented for its relaxation benefits. It enhances appetite by stimulating saliva and gastric secretions and also possesses a sterilizing effect that purifies the body’s internal organs and relieves diarrhea. All in all, raising a glass of umeshu really is a toast to the very best of health!

CHOYA, headquartered in Osaka, is the biggest producer of umeshu in the world and it’s the biggest for a reason. Fundamentally what sets CHOYA apart from its competitors is its incredible attention to detail and pride in using only the very best ingredients available. Shigehiro Kondo, the CEO, and Kiril Skakov, CHOYA’s export manager, both emphasized to me the deep professionalism CHOYA as a company has in only using the very best ume fruits available and their environmentally responsible production methods which demonstrates the respect they hold for the land that produces their treasured fruit. The company handles all aspects of the production of its beverages, from cultivating the fruit together with local ume growers to bottling and marketing the final products.  Kirill took great pride detailing CHOYA’s perfectionism regarding how hundreds of workers would sift through millions of individual ume fruits after the maceration period and discard any fruits that had even the slightest of blemishes. It’s very apparent that only the very best fruits are good enough for CHOYA products.  Additionally and contrary to the production methods used by some of their competitors, they insist on a minimum production period of 1 year for even the Classic version thus ensuring that the essential ingredients can be fully extracted from the ume fruit. During the production process, the whole fruit is steeped which means that in addition to the flavors from the soft pulp of the fruit, the soaking of the pip releases the characteristic nutty tones into the overall complexion of the finished beverage.


CHOYA is a company that perhaps unusually in this day and age, is universally respected by its peers. Established over a hundred years ago in 1914, initially as a viticulturist, its substantial product range now encompasses a multitude of liquors, wines, non-alcoholic beverages and even food products all produced from the treasured ume fruit. It has built a reputation of quality and integrity and continues to innovate in order to maintain its position at the forefront of the Japanese beverage industry. Going forward the company is very well positioned in this modern time of a more informed and environmentally conscious consumer as their products contain absolutely no artificial additives, colorings or flavorings.


Now you might be expecting this to be an expensive product. Well, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The CHOYA Classic (15% Alc/Vol), which is widely available can be purchased for little more than $10 in Japan for a 650ml bottle and less than $15 in the USA for a 750ml bottle. In all honesty, that’s half of what I would expect a product of this nature and quality to be priced at. Added to this surprising price point, it seems I am not the only one impressed by their product range. Most recently the Classic version achieved a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (2015) and gold at Monde Selection (2015).

While I’m talking about competition medals, I must also point out that CHOYA produces another range of multi-award winning brandy based liquors. One of these deserves special recognition in this article as I also had the pleasure of sampling it at the Japan Foodex. Now, I am sure you have worked out that I am now a dedicated follower of CHOYA products in general but this one is definitely my favorite.


CHOYA Gold Edition is a 19% Alc/Vol, a true masterpiece of ume liqueur based on 100% French cognac. It’s a fabulous invention, infusing the warming, soothing nature of a good brandy with sour nutty elegance of the ume fruit. It’s a little more full bodied than the original and if you are not sufficiently excited already, it contains real gold flakes in a similar fashion to some of the ultra-premium vodkas currently on the market.  Demonstrating the company’s innovative track record I have little doubt that this is going to be a big international success. I admit that I see a lot of growth potential on the world market for the Classic version. People just need to try it. It’s great as a neat beverage and also as key cocktail ingredient. Additionally, the Gold Edition, does in my mind, have tremendous potential to make some serious headwinds on the USA nightclub scene. Being such a lavishly packaged product, with a fabulous flavor and quality components that it will appeal to the affluent intelligentsia in such a way that it will be a welcome addition to high end nightclub bottle lists. Smart move CHOYA, and I’m excited to see what additional products you come up with in the future!

CHOYA certainly has the thumbs up from me and I thoroughly recommend all of their products. If you would like to find out more about the company and its distribution channels, please contact Kirill Skakov at kirill.skakov@choya.jp or telephone +81 3 3786 0906.

As always, I am @BevTalk



Russian Wine

Over the last 15 years or so, I have been fortunate to have spent a great deal of time traveling in Russia. It’s an exceptionally beautiful country with a fascinating history and in many instances is incomparable to anywhere else in the world. While the Russian people have a reputation for their strength and resilience, I must also say that their openness to accept visitors as part of their families is equally as impressive. Almost every time I have visited Russian friends in their homes, I have been sat down at a table overflowing with delicious locally made produce and really enjoyed everything that Russian hospitality has to offer. Furthermore, I am sure that any foreigners such as myself, who have traveled around the country, or indeed any Russian nationals reading this article, will agree that the people of southern Russia, the major wine producing area, are considered the most hospitable.

Drinking is an important part of family dining in all Russia. I can’t recall a single time I have been invited to dine in someone’s home when I have not been offered at least one alcoholic beverage. Yes the stereotypical reputation of vodka consumption is somewhat prevalent and toasting everyone at the table’s health on a shot by shot basis considered a tradition, but there is also a deeply established tradition of wine consumption at least in the south.

If you search the internet for information on the subject of Russian wine, you will find numerous articles that will lead you to the impression that wine production and consumption is a relatively new concept in Russia. Apparently the Russian general public drank little to no wine before the 1917 Revolution and wine production didn’t really take off until the Stalinist era. Even then, it is claimed, that Russia produced nothing but huge quantities of cheap, sweet, plonk using poor quality grapes and concentrates. Basically, while being a major producer, larger in volume than the USA, they produced nothing of any quality worth taking notice of.

While I don’t doubt that there is a great deal of truth in this impression of Russian wine during the Soviet period, it is far from the full story. If one takes notice only just the major cities of Saint Petersburg and Moscow and the major population pockets stretching across the central belt from the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok then I don’t doubt that in general there was very little exposure to wine over the last couple of hundred years. However, please also remember that even in the time of Catherine the Great (1761-1796) the Russian Empire stretched well into modern day Poland to the west, included the Crimea and stretched as far south as to include most of its modern day boundaries in the Caucasus regions. By 1914 it stretched even further south, beyond the Caucasus Mountains, encompassing the famous wine producing regions of modem day Georgia and Armenia.

It is said that the world’s first cultivated grapevines and wine production occurred in Georgia more than 8,000 years ago in Neolithic times. I have also heard it claimed that Alexander the Great, himself sourced his personal wine from this region. Modern day Russian are just as ethnically diverse as the Empire was at its greatest extent, my point being   that the Russian people clearly have an affiliation with wine and the production of it, that extends as far back in time as anyone else on this planet.

One of the most fascinating regions I have visited is North Ossetia. Here, I was welcomed into an Ossetian home as part of the family and treated to local ‘home-made’ wine. Poured from an old two liter plastic Coca-Cola bottle into a cow horn tankard, we downed the full horn in one go to toast each other’s health. The wine was produced by my friend’s father from grapes grown in his garden. I don’t profess to have any idea what the production techniques were or even the grape variety. It was a somewhat thin, semi-sweet, easy drinking wine which I doubt would have won any awards. It was however fabulous and intensely memorable due to the ambience of the whole experience. To this day I insist that factors influencing the enjoyment of any alcoholic beverage is dictated at least in part by the ambience of the situation during which it was consumed as much as the product itself.

It’s a fact that the most renowned wine writers are fairly critical, and that’s an understatement, of modern-day Russian wine. While in terms of the mass produced varieties and definitely the producers that use concentrates and imported components, I have to say that I agree with them. I do however think that taring the entire national produce with this single brush is somewhat unfairly dismissive and provides a severely blinkered impression of the industry as a whole. It’s a fact that people have different palates and appreciate different things. Variety is indeed the spice of life and should be encouraged in my opinion wherever possible. It’s true that when I was younger, in my naivety, I was always unfairly critical of wines from new world regions such as California. I just didn’t like the mental imagery of the more modern and technically advanced production techniques compared to the ‘olde worle’ lure of the historic producers.  In my mind new world varieties couldn’t possibly be as good as wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Brunello.  I have since experienced Californian wines that have blown the socks off some of the old world varieties and I’m sure many people reading this will have had similar experiences. Soon, the same will be true of Russian wines, I guarantee you.

Differences in terroirs, grape varieties and winemaking techniques dictate the characteristics of the eventual product. Is Russia ever going to be able to produce a wine that tastes exactly like the best Chateauneuf-du Papes? Possibly, eventually, or at least something very close to it in the same way that Japanese whiskey producers now produce some of the finest whiskey in the world emulating Scotch. Should they want to? Well, I can see the appeal, at least financially but additionally I think they should also embrace their own grape varieties and produce some varieties that are quintessentially Russian. It is not necessary for everyone in the world to behave like sheep and declare their love for the products that they perceive others to value the most. As with Georgia, Armenia, Greece and other historic wine producers, Russia does produce some native semi-sweet varieties that deserve recognition even if they do not conform to current trends.

Please bear in mind that a major influencer of the global appeal of the ‘best’ Western European wines is scarcity and the aspiration to enjoy a sort after, expensive product. Soviet production methods emphasized quantity not quality. Wine was meant to be enjoyed by the masses with variety being seen as a bourgeois extravagance. These methods lead to vast vineyards, thousands of hectares in size and wineries that basically resembled large chemical plants producing wine as cheaply as possible.  The best Western European vineyards on the other hand arose from small scale family run production where quality not quantity was the prime influencer. The quality and scarcity dictated that very high prices could be achieved. Russian wine is still on the whole very cheap but times are indeed changing.  Some modern Russian producers have drastically cut back on scale and shifted towards producing quality wines for the luxury sector of the market and many small western style vineyards have sprung up over the last several years. Lefkadia, Fanagoria and Chateau Erken are prime examples. Russian producers  are currently  experimenting with new grape varieties, employing experienced winegrowers from countries such as France and using the most modern and up-to-date technologies in their wine productions. They deserve credit for their development work and this will undoubtedly lead to some renowned Russian wine varieties being present on the international stage in the not too distant future. In addition, it would also be fabulous to see development and more appreciation with regard to true Russian wine varieties.

According to the “Oxford Companion to Wine (2006)” by J. Robinson there are over 100 different varieties of grapes used in the production of Russian wine. By far the most prevailing grape is the Rkatsiteli which accounts for over 45% of production although common varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat and Riesling are now well represented.

The predominant regions producing Russian wine are Krasnodar Region, Rostov Region, The Crimea and the semi-autonomous regions around the Caucasus Mountains. In addition to some excellent terroirs, these regions also offer tremendous tourism potential due to their fabulous landscapes, favorable weather and hospitable people. Wine tourism is growing at an impressive rate although admittedly it currently caters mostly to Russian nationals. This will undoubtedly change in the near future as the industry matures and it would be a delight to see the local population benefit economically from further touristic endeavors.

All aspects of the industry are modernizing at an impressive rate. Everything you would expect from a modern developing industry is currently taking place. World-class rebranding including impressive new brand imagery and wine blends to suit more international tastes are being developed. Wineries have embraces a multitude of educational programs often inviting the local populations to experience the ins and outs of the new production techniques first hand. In addition, social media is playing an important part by spreading the word and numerous wine related special interest groups now have thousands of eager members. Passionate industry ambassadors such as Dmitri Kovalev, are the forefront of the industry’s resurgence by helping to establish a genuine love of the nation’s domestic wine produce. Wine tastings are events are now as common as anywhere else in the developed world and boutique wine stores are becoming abundant. As with most developed countries, the national produce is easily available to consumers not only in conventional sources such as stores and restaurants but also through innovative online stores such as alkolavka.ru. Other information sources such as the fabulous publication Russian Wine Guide by Arthur Sarkisyan are also helping to educate and cement national pride in Russian wine production.

Over coming months I will be developing the website initiative “RussianWine.org”. Along with my Russian collaborators I will be highlighting developments and innovation advancements within the Russian wine industry. I will be exposing exceptional Russian producers and documenting the best wine currently produced. Additionally, I intend to provide a channel through which global importers and distributors will be able to gain access to producers wishing to export.  Why? Well, firstly because I have worked in the alcoholic beverage all my life and have sufficient experience to know that Russian wine has a vast untapped potential on the global market. Secondly, I believe that Russian wine and producers deserve to have the opportunity to present their products in a far better light than they are currently receiving and that by working together we will be able to gain a deserved recognition from the international community.



So you want to enter the USA alcoholic beverage market?

This is a quick post as I have had a few requests from people eager to start selling in the USA who are sharing similar issues.

Firstly, make sure you have registered and own the trademark for the brand you wish to sell in the USA. If you have the UK or Europe trademark it does not protect you in the USA, you need a USA trademark. While not having a trademark, will not necessarily prevents you trading, you would have to be completely crazy to think you stand a chance of building any brand value without it. If someone else owns a trademark even similar to yours I would advise you think again or risk wasting your time and money.

Secondly, check what bottle sizes you want to sell in the USA. For beer and wine there are no major problems but for spirits there are different conventional sizes in the USA. 750ml and 1.75L are the conventional sizes for retail and 1L is the preferred size for the on-trade. 375mls and 50mls are found in some stores as are some 1L bottles.  Your, 200mls, 700mls, 1.5Ls, 3Ls, 4.5Ls are no use to you in this market. While we are talking about sizes, I will just add that if you are a white spirit producer then make sure you have 1.75Ls in your portfolio. Regardless of the quality of your brand, you shouldn’t be considering the USA market unless you are producing 1.75s ECONOMICALLY in addition to 750ml (and perhaps 1Ls). It is of such major importance for your off-trade customers.

It takes time to get your product onto the market so don’t expect immediate results anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar. In the case of spirits, your importer first needs to obtain recipe approval, then label approval, and then register your brand in the states they want to sell do. You are talking 6 months here although it varies a little.

It’s a complicated and restrictive market. Compared to Europe it is very hard to do business in the alcoholic beverage industry. Lots of things you are used to doing in Europe are simply illegal in the USA.

Remember it is a three tier system:  importer, distributor and retailer. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience trading as a distributor in NYC. You are generally not allowed to do anything to financially motivate an individual to purchase alcohol. The distributors have to publish their prices on a monthly basis so that any ‘deals’ are available to everyone. The importer has to report what has been sold to each state they sell to on a monthly basis too so they can’t go around trying to entice new customers with ‘special deals’. Additionally, although I know a long list of people who have been fined for breaking this rule, you may not give away free stock to motivate someone to list your stock. You can’t pay a liquor store for a window display, you can’t pay to advertise in a liquor stores brochures. You can’t give free drinks away in a club if there is an entrance fee (as it’s not open to everyone). You are limited to spending up to $500 (plus 20% tip) up to 3 times per year at your customers bar. The list goes on and on. Basically the point I’m making is that it is a far more complicated business then say London where you can pretty much do anything you want.

Finally, this industry is full of charlatans, not completely, but it has a fair few. Every one of them can apparently make all your dreams come true while there is the sniff of money around. It’s not difficult to get a federal basic permit and call yourself an importer. 1000s if not 10,000s of people have them.  Nine times out of 10 you will be talking to a low level rep who has been working for a larger company and has split to set up by themselves. Respect where respect is due, this is how most big companies start, but please chose your importer wisely and have a very good idea of their experience and what they have done themselves rather than as part of another firm. Remember it takes at least 6 months to get the whole process going and that this importer’s name is going to be on the bottle. I know of people who have signed contracts with ‘importers’ if I can call them that, sent a container of product on ‘sale or return’ and then the importer has turned around and said they can’t sell a single bottle without a load of financial support. You can get stuck in a very difficult legal situation if something like this happens to you so be warned and do your research. Talk is cheap in the USA and Americans can talk better than most!

If you are still reading this, and I haven’t just destroyed your dreams of doing business in the USA, then I wish you good luck. I’ve done it and been burnt at times as badly as anyone. It’s a steep learning curve and be patient, don’t be emotional and realize it will take time to penetrate this market. Slowly is better or you (or more likely your money) will get eaten up!  Succeed in this market and you have succeeded in the best most lucrative market in the world! If you don’t lose your head this will be the market that makes your brand and you will love the feeling of well-deserved success!

As always, if you have any questions, I am @bevtalk.

Organic Alcoholic Beverages

Like many others, I try to buy organic fruit and vegetables. I’m not obsessive about it but given the option,  I will choose organic. Thinking about why I do this, I can narrow it down to several reasons. Firstly there is the health aspect. There have been suggestions, true or not, that the chemicals used during the non organic farming process can lead to deadly diseases such as cancer. I know a million other things are now apparently bad for us but I still get that nagging feeling when buying anything rumored to be harmful.

Secondly, I have the impression, however inaccurate, that organic farming is a good thing to support. I know this is a vast generalization but I imagine organic farmers to be nicer people than the big corporate farmers slaughtering the land to make a big profit. I believe that organic farmers use more traditional, sustainable methods, and are genuinely sincere custodians of the land. I have the mental impression that they are smaller, family run farming enterprises and feel an obligation to support them much in the same way I support the craft beverage industry.

It is very possible that the organic marketing machine has worked its magic on me well and is laughing all the way to the bank but currently unless I am presented with more information I will continue to support organic farming.

Consequently in principal, I must also support organic vineyards and beer producers. Essentially the natural ingredient of these products is straight from ‘a field’ with very little processing.  I’m little embarrassed by how few organic wines and beers I have actually tried. The very nature of why I support craft producers should dictate that I insist on organic ingredients being used where possible. I support craft enterprises because I strongly believe that more care and attention has gone into the production of their products and that the quality of the product is higher than that of the mainstream producers. I also believe that craft producers are the real innovators of the industry and responsible for the surge in variety were now have in the alcoholic beverage market compared to just a decade ago.

By their very nature organic products must be more expensive than non-organic products. The main ingredients cost more to produce, it’s as simple as that. This is probably why I have not tried enough organic beers and wines as my price sensitive nature has dictated that when buying from stores I admittedly have purchased on price and have ignorantly assumed that an organic product would have the equivalent taste of a cheaper non organic competitor. I now know this not to be true and I will in future make myself buy the organic option and I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the taste!

Now let me consider organic spirits. The whole principal of distillation is to turn a low alcohol solution into a solution as close to pure alcohol as you can get. While, that original solution at 8% alcohol may very well contain undesirable elements from nonorganic farming methods, I really doubt that the final distilled solution of 95.6% pure ethanol contains any trace compounds that are going to give me a single sleepless night. There are thousands of undesirable compounds in that initial solution that are removed through the distillation of any grain and I believe even arsenic is one of them, whether it is organic or not. The quality of the distillation equipment and the skill of the particular distiller are surely of far greater importance to the quality of the end product than whether or not the original source was organic.

In terms of the product being of any higher quality just based on its organic nature, I am really not convinced. I am however, aware that many of the organic spirit producers are also small craft producers. I this case I do support the product because the organic aspect is just an addition to the whole small scale craft nature of their production where they have endeavored to use the very best materials available to ensure the quality of their product is the very best achievable.

Basically, for beer and wine, I agree, organic is better. For spirits, sorry, on its own it is not going to influence my purchasing decisions. That said, it would make me look closer  at the whole operation of a particular spirit producer as it is possible that, by being organic, the producer has a policy of only using the very best ingredients. In which case there may be a multitude of other reasons why I should choose their product. As always, I am @bevtalk.

What does 3, 4, 5, 20 times distilled mean and why is it necessary?

What on earth does 3 times, 4, times, 5 times, 20 times distilled actually mean? Surely the more times vodka is distilled, the better it is and therefore the more I should be willing to pay for it, right?

Well done, Grey Goose! If you weren’t the first, you were certainly the first to engrave that… ‘Wow, it’s 5 times distilled’ mentality into me. It’s very clever marketing, justifying why one mixture of clear spirit and water is worth more than another mixture of clear spirit and water.

Let’s face it; we are not talking about 20 year old single malt here. A malt whisky has been sat maturing in an in an oak cask and has certain aspects to it that cannot be easily replicated. So why are some people willing to pay the same price for a white spirit?

I was told by one ‘super-premium’ vodka distillery that the total process from grain to bottle takes approximately 4 days and I dare say some can beat even that timespan. When you ask questions about how much it costs to produce the vodka in that $50 bottle you will be given an evasive answer set out in terms such as the investment required in the distillery’s infrastructure as there is no way the ‘variable cost’ of that spirit is even $1. The most expensive production cost of a full white spirit bottle is often the bottle closure!

Why do you think new build distilleries are so keen to produce vodka and gin? Could it be because they can produce it from the day the distillery is operational? They are waiting for the scotch or bourbon to mature. This takes years and they need to build these stocks up gradually. They obviously need money to support that whisky venture and that means they want to sell super premium vodka and gins. That means making a product just like Grey Goose and hence, surprise, surprise most of the vodka’s are 5 times distilled (or if they want to be cleaver 6!). None of these new ‘craft’ distilleries are making value vodka are they? That’s because it is a totally different set-up to mass produce vodka. Now in my opinion, the craft distillers have a better set up and it’s one I’d like to see develop. To many of us, it’s not just about producing and bottling a chemical substance as quickly as possible. Some of us do care about the ambience of the location a product is made in along with who and how it has been made. However, my point is that they are not and never will be value producers but rather niche producers.

The mass produced spirit set-up throws the logic of this multiple distillation concept out of the window. I am referring to vodka, gin, white rum and to a certain extent blended whisky. For simplicity I will talk about the vodka production process as its the one I have first-hand knowledge of.

Vodka is quite simply a mixture of ethanol and water. In addition to this there are what is referred to as ‘impurities’. While this may strike you as something that should be removed from the end product at all cost, they are also somewhat responsible for the taste of the final product. While we have become accustomed to ‘tasteless’ vodka often being considered as the higher quality product, this is certainly not the case in all countries, especially those with as strong vodka heritage.

Some impurities come from the distillation of the alcohol, and this is why you can often taste the difference between a rye, wheat, corn, or potatoes vodka. Some impurities come from the water. Water containing large amounts of minerals is a bad thing, not a good thing, in the case of spirit production. Calcium is really bad so basically you want the water as soft and as mineral free as you can get when you are producing white spirits. They use all sorts of filtration methods to ‘clean’ the water, ranging from sand filtration to ‘diamond’ filtration to the highly technological ‘reverse osmosis’ filtration that several of the major producers employ. Finally some impurities are added when the spirit and water is combined. These are often a ‘secret’ but can include fruit, sugars, flavoring chemicals etc. For the USA, strictly speaking these shouldn’t be there or you are dangerously close to being considered flavored vodka from the TTBs perfective.

The spirit used is in many cases of less importance than the water. You would be surprised by the quantity of major producers who do not distill their own spirit. It is often purchased from a specialist ethyl alcohol producer who supplies not only numerous alcoholic beverage producers but also the likes of paint and cosmetic companies or indeed anyone that require ethanol in the production of their product.

How many times is this spirit distilled? It’s difficult to say. On a massive scale, it is distilled in flux columns which are very different to pot stills (think whisky distillery). It is a more technically advanced process where tradition is sacrificed for speed and purity of production. Distilling it once this way is the equivalent of pot still distilling it 4 or 5 times. It depends a little on the particular flux column as the larger and taller the column the purer the ethanol it produces. Once you have the spirit from this process it is as pure as you are going to get. The resulting liquid will be 95.6% pure ethanol. Any more than that and the water from the air will condense into your spirit to bring it back down to 95.6% anyway!

As far as vodka is concerned, once this spirit is produced or bought, it is filtered through a carbon product which is generally a form of charcoal. The type of charcoal used is dependent on the producer and I know of several variations. What I will say is that the type of charcoal used should be one with a very consistent nature to ensure a consistent product. While the charcoal does take out some remaining impurities, it is also responsible for some of the taste characteristics of the final product.

To surmise, for a small producer, using a pot still, yes it probably makes a difference the more times a product is ‘distilled’  and it certainly increases the cost of production. It is unlikely to make any difference to the product by distilling it more than 4 or 5 times and I still doubt the spirit would be as ‘clean’ as that produced in a flux column. If it takes more, then I would question the quality of their equipment and what chance they have of producing a consistent product over time.

For mass produced spirit, passing through the flux column once is as good as multiple pot still distillations and may well result in a cleaner spirit. Why does cheap vodka taste cheap? Well it’s probably due to a lack of care filtering the water or the way they handle the spirit prior to bottling. If I wanted to be critical, I could suggest that that the fact many of the companies produce super-premium vodka in addition to value ranges could have something to do with their desired ‘flavor’ of their value range! I would love to hear an explanation from a major vodka producer stating that their vodka is distilled numerous times if they have used flux columns in the distillation process or purchased the spirit from a third party. That doesn’t make any sense to me and I really do suspect that it is nothing more than a clever marketing statement to join the ‘luxury band wagon’ of the smaller pot still producers. As always I am @bevtalk.

Beverage Industry Marketing. A waste of time and money. Or is it?

I have never found it particularly easy to connect with people involved in liquor marketing. This is because almost all of the people I have come into contact with in liquor marketing were trying their upmost to sell me something.

If you have any experience of this industry then you will surely have come into contact with that overzealous, pushy, persistent, almost bullying type of salesperson. A definite ‘no I am not interested and I never will be’, translates in their minds to ‘probably, give me a call tomorrow and let’s finalize.’ You want to throw your phone and change your number when that particular name pops up on caller ID and you want to run and hide when that stabbing projection of a voice ‘Darling, Darling…I was in the neighborhood and…” bellows at you from across the street when you approach your office. You know the people I’m talking about, right? Anyway, I have always tried to avoid them like the plague.

It is this type of person who will recommend you spend thousands upon thousands on multiple marketing campaigns. They want to ‘work with’ glossy magazines nearly always connected with high fashion. They want to spend your money supporting a project or event of which the benefits to your particular brand are what is known as “unquantifiable huge”.  At the end of the day you have spent an absolute fortune and those unquantifiable benefits have resulted in zero extra sales and zero in sales leads. They on the other hand have made money from you, from the commissions they have received, from the venues that you have paid to support, oh and they are now very busy working with a new victim who the preyed upon at one of those such event using your brand as leverage.

I have run several brands in the USA, mostly spirit brands along with a few small food brands. My phobias of these marketing people lead me to do all of my apparent ‘marketing’ myself. I placed a few adverts in the beverage media to show current distributors and potential distributors that there was support coming from myside. I’ve printed 10’s of thousands of flyers and shelf talkers. I have paid for probably 1000s of tastings and participated in all nearly trade events I was invited to. I have engaged in fairly aggressive pricing campaigns, if I was 1 cent in profit and I could get an extra sale I’d more than likely go for it. And I have also ensured that there are decent incentive schemes for the reps on the ground to push my products. What I did was totally quantifiable. I have Excel sheets showing the financial planning, success and the direct effect on sales.

‘My way is the correct way to build a brand in the USA. The industry veterans who have worked all their lives in this industry will in majority agree with me. If you want to survive and make money, you do it my way.’

There is however, a distinct possibility that I may in fact have been wrong all these years and I have honestly changed my perspective.

Why do we drink and what do we most enjoy drinking? Yes, some of us drink every day because it has become very much part of our lifestyle. In my case I would stop almost every day on my way home from work at my local Irish pub, have three pints of Guinness (It had to be 3 because the third one was on the house) and then pick up a bottle of wine from the store at the end of my street to drink while cooking and while eating. It became a total habit which I got very little satisfaction from in the end. However, if you had tied to take that routine away from me then you may as well have taken the air I breathe away in terms of how upset I would have been. What I have just describes, was not a good thing and I’m please I’ve since sorted my lifestyle out for the better. However much I used to love Guinness, I don’t drink it anymore because I associate it with the times I have sat by myself miserably at the end of a bar.

I do enjoy drinking. This is because it is possibly closely linked to the odd occurrence of utopic happiness I have had.  I remember to this day in my early 20s, sitting on the outside veranda of a small family run restaurant in Corfu for hours on end. I was with good friends, the food was perfect, and we were drinking liters of the local red wine poured from a barrel at the back of the restaurant.  It was one of the best wines I have ever tasted and I have bought 100s of bottles of wine from the same region and half of Greece trying to find something similar. I never have. Of course I never have, because I would need the exact ambience and to be in exactly the same mood and stage in my life for that experience to be replicated. Likewise, I nearly bankrupted myself trailing around New York City after convincing myself that a certain Brunello was my drink of choice after a similarly utopic experience in Patsy’s Italian Restaurant on 57th Street.

The point I am making is that an alcoholic beverage does taste differently under different circumstances. I now accept that. I also accept that the design of the bottle will influence the taste of the product as will anything else influencing the drinks state of mind when consuming that product in particular the mental imagery the thought of that product and experience of drinking it conjures up. Some of the old-school boys will genuinely believe that I have completely lost the plot or at least that I’m on the 3rd or 4th such bottle of Brunello I was talking about. I am not and I genuinely believe this. I have seen the light as they say!

It has massive implications to the way I would now run a liquor brand. I would want to build an aspirational brand that inspires that deep inner glow in people. One that conjures up the utopic experiences I describe. I would absolutely not be discounting the product to make it available to people wishing to drown their sorrows that don’t care what they are buying. I would endeavor to keep it so far away from negative energy of problem drinking. Unlike what I was previously told, a good product will not sell itself and excluding taste experts and connoisseurs the public can be ‘educated visually’  to perceive ‘quality’ without the need to taste. The old saying ‘you eat with your eyes’ applies just as strongly to the liquor industry, you ‘drink with your eyes’ too!

I’m not saying I am a now an evangelist of all absolutely forms of marketing but only that brand perception is a major factor of ‘perceived’ brand quality. I believe done well, a previously unpalatable product can be changed to one that is regarded as one of the highest quality by marketing and building that mental image of the customer.

I am a little disappointed in my own stubbornness and arrogance not to open my eyes a little earlier to this concept. Most of the lessons I have learn have been from a certain level of learning through experience and failure. You may not agree, and you’ll probably make more money for several years or decades by following my old approach. But to make a market leader, a brand famous across the World in a good, positive way, I do believe that good consumer marketing is essential. After reading what I have just written, I am now eager to launch another product and make it into that famous product I describe. As always, I you have any questions you believe my experience could help you answer please feel free to email me. I am, as always, @bevtalk.

The Real UK Alcoholic Beverage Market

I have been living in the North of England for a year now and have a few more weeks here before I leave for Japan. I live in a little village in the Pennine hills called Haworth, which is renowned as the birthplace of the famous literary sisters, the Bronte sisters.

I lived in New York City for almost four years before this and central London for 10 years before that. Living here, traveling around ‘the North’ and Scotland has been a real eye-opener in terms of what the real UK beverage market is really like so I wanted to share some of those enlightenments with you.

Firstly it is an indisputable fact that London and the North are polar opposites. London may as well be a separate country at the other end of the world in terms of any synergy in terms of market characteristics with the rest of the country. Yes, there is some seepage from London and things are slowly changing but it really is at a snail’s  pace and cities in third world countries have more chance of catching up to the London trends before the Northern towns ever do.  An overgeneralization? Of course, but I think people who have worked in both markets will have some empathy for my comments.

London is a buzzing, multicultural, cosmopolitan, beehive of activity, much like New York City. There is innovation all around and a populace keen to develop and  experience new things. It is also where most of the money is and where most international brands decide to ‘set up shop’ when investing in the UK.

Step North, my friends, and you enter a world which is decades behind the trends of London and very much set in its traditional ways. If you step over a boundary, you are expected to fall. Now,  there are bars and restaurants very much like London in the cities such as Manchester and Leeds and yes, their range of products offered does in most cases match that of the best London venues. There are of course people of sophistication and the necessary income all over the country who love to experience the best places and indeed the best that life has to offer.  Most of them are well traveled, well-educated and in many cases originally from London or the South East. Some on the other hand are soccer stars!

My generalization is regarding the larger Northern populace and those who do not frequently visit the city centers. Go into a Northern pub and you will notice that most people are drinking beer, bitter to be exact, man and woman alike. Rarely will you see a wine drinker unless it’s accompanying a meal, in which case it will probably be a house wine of the cheapest variety. Spirits may be purchases but generally as a ‘last order’ or if there is some serious reason why you can’t drink beer.

Cost is everything. It is built into the psyche here to gravitate towards the absolute cheapest option available. Discussing how much money has been saved on a purchase and moaning about all cost increases whatever the reason is a standard way of opening conversation with a stranger in the same way that moaning about the weather is. Ordering a quality beverage at a premium cost carries a social stigma to it and often leads gasps from the venue’s patrons. I joke, but only a little.

I have tried to sell premium products in the North. If it is a pretty bottle then it is not that difficult to persuade a keen bar manager to stock it. You can generally tell as soon as you walk in. If Smirnoff Red is the ‘top shelf’ option then you stand to be fighting a losing battle.  However, if they do agree to stock it, then it is likely to be one bottle and in the absence of a small miracle, that bottle will still be sitting on the shelf unopened when you return the following month.

What about, cocktail and wine lists, I hear you ask? No, just, no. The word cocktail is a form of obscenity that could lead to you vacating a drinking establishment head first or in the more cultured venues relates specifically the likes of a ‘rum and coke’ or ‘vodka and orange’. Wine lists, again no. Where they exist, the socially acceptable bottle to order is the second cheapest. Regardless of whatever it is, this is the way to demonstrate to the company you are with that you ‘are a real wine buff’ because after all if you weren’t you would just have ordered the ‘house’. Apologies again to those with experience  who order by taste and in some cases obtain a real bargain of a bottle at a silly low price such as a £14.99 bottle of Chateauneuf Du Pape (don’t bother messaging me, I’m not going to tell you where this is before I’ve drunk them all). This is because the bar’s owners equally have as much an idea what they are purveying as the customers know what they are purchasing. The cocktail thing is developing slowly and I must say there are some talented bartenders in the city centers who would cater with flair to all your desires however in 9 out of 10 places where cocktails are available it will probably be a premix.

Beer on the other hand is doing very well. And I mean that nationally. I’ve not seen the figures but I would go as far to say that the craft beverage market is developing with a stronger structure and support outside of London and the city centers. A lot of this is in my mind due to the suburban and country bars establishing their own quality craft brands and being able to offer them at competitive prices to the mainstream.

Another point, I would like to bring up, is that a greater proportion of people in the North are ‘home drinkers’ rather than ‘bar drinkers’ and this influences their tastes when the do venture into the bars. They have become accustomed to what the Northern retailers supply.  Although there are some excellent independent ‘Liquor stores’, the retail market is dominated by the huge grocery stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the like.  Unlike the USA, they are allowed to sell the full spectrum of beer wines and spirits and do so 7 days a week.  If you are a small independent beverage supplier to one of these companies then I will take my hat off to you, especially if you have managed to remain on their shelves for more than a year. It is so difficult to get into these places in the first place, let alone try and compete with the major companies which are backed by some serious price discounted marketing strategies.

Let me summarize, for the benefit of brand owners looking to sell into the UK market. If you have a value product that you believe can infiltrate the market based on the value principal alone then you will do well across all of the country. The quality of the product is a consideration but has a limited weighting in comparison to value.

For quality products, specifically spirits and wine. You will be very well received in London in particularly with the on-trade. It’s arguably a more receptive on-trade than even NYC.  I do however warn you that it is very hard to get on-trade sales to filter through to the off-trade and although your brand may appear to be doing really well, please don’t expect the volumes to be anywhere near what you could achieve in the USA. The volume sales are very much the territory of the major internationals. In terms of the North then if you expect to be in more than 20 top end venues in the cities then you may well be disappointed and that’s really because there are in my opinion only really 20 or 30 top places in most of the cities. You are unlikely to do much volume and success here will likely take many years of nurturing. I can’t really comment in terms of beer as I have been surprised by the success of many brands and I take back everything I have said in terms of the peoples’ unwillingness to experiment in the North, but in this field only.

I recommend doing your research properly. Travel around the country and make sure you step more than a few miles outside the country. Base your financial projections on what you are ‘sure’ London can deliver and you’ll be fine. If you base your plans for the whole country based on what you have experienced in the best areas in central London then you are destined to lose a lot of money.  Just be patient with the North, it will develop over time, and think of it as a growing child! As always, if you have any questions, or if I can be of any help for the last few weeks I am here, please get in touch. I am @bevtalk.

WSWA and USA Liquor Industry Exhibitions.

I just wanted to write a quick post for new brand owners about my experience with trade show events in the USA and more specifically the forthcoming WSWA in April 2016, and why you should be going!

Now I am a firm believer is most of these events as you can do months’ worth of business in just a few hours if you play your cards right. You have to support your distributors, so brand owners; you are making a big mistake if you don’t go to the state holiday shows hosted by your distributor. I know you might have a product that no one really wants to taste at these big events (like I had) but it is as much about bonding with your distributors reps and making yourself part of the team. These guys are the ones who will push your product on a daily basis so do everything you can to make yourself part of that team!

The WSWA (Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America) convention is held every year around April. This year it starts on April 18th and is in Caesars Palace in Vegas. It is here every other year with the alternative year being held in Orlando. It is the best trade event I have ever been to in the World and that includes the food events I have also attended. It is one giant industry party and anybody who is anybody in the liquor industry is probably going to be there. More specifically there will be distributors from every state in the USA there looking for new brands to take on.

Many of the distributors have private suites where they host meetings, there are parties, tastings and an exhibition hall packed with new brands and industry service providers.

If I was launching a brand now, yes, I think it is a good idea to participate in the exhibition area, but it is expensive and if you are going to bother to do it you should do it correctly and make some noise. The liquor industry is still a man’s world and making a noise at such an event really does involve having half a dozen models wandering around with trays dragging potential customers to your trade stand. I have contacts who spend $50K plus on this event for small brands. The big guys will be spending a significant multiple of that!

Now as much as I love Caesars, hanging around by the pool and losing my lunch money on the blackjack tables, the Florida event in my opinion is better. This is really just because it’s smaller, and most of the people in the hotels are liquor people. In Caesars it’s possible to walk around like a headless chicken and miss half the people you know are there. In Orlando, just sitting around the central bar area and chatting to the people around you should facilitate a lot of leads.

It is expensive to get a badge. It’s around $1000 although you do get really good rates at the hotel if you book through WSWA. This gets you into the big exhibition hall hosting the new product showcases, the opening party, and tasting event. I’ve always paid for one but then it wasn’t my money I was paying with. A lot of industry veterans don’t bother paying as they have all their meetings pre-arranged and you don’t need a pass to get into the hospitality suites. The last few years I have been I’ve missed the parties and tastings as I’d meetings concurrent with them and hence I didn’t really need the pass.

If you are launching a new brand or even just considering it, go to this event and you will see what the industry is about. Finally, if you are struggling to find distributors in some states and having difficulties getting responses from distributors arrange a meeting with them or even just walk into their suite. This business is so much easier face to face. If I can be of any help, I’m @bevtalk.