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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Utah Looks to Restrict the Sale of Malternatives

Malt beverage based cocktails -- malternatives -- such a Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Silver are under attack by Utah Liquor Control Board Commissioners who claim they are aimed at underage consumers.

In a 3-2 vote, with non-drinking commissioners voting as a bloc, the Commission has sent a proposal to the Utah Legislature that would restrict the sale of malternatives to state owned liquor stores. The recommendation also calls for malternatives to be taxed at a higher rate than beer.

Commissioner Kathryn Balmforth is quoted as saying that malternatives appeal to people who don't like the flavor of beer, "especially young girls." The move to tax malternatives at the same rate as spirits comes even though the brands sold in Utah are just 3.2 percent alcohol by volume.

The Utah Legislature will meet on Jan. 22 to consider the proposal.

Bushmills Plans Special Whiskey to Mark 400 Years

They might not be Hannah Montana tickets, but you can expect the 10,000 bottles of a special blend of Bushmills Irish Whiskey made to mark the distillery's 400th anniversary to be snapped up very quickly.

Licensed in 1608 by King James I, Bushmills is recognized as the oldest licensed distillery in the world. The company produced 10,000 bottles of a blend of malt and grain whiskeys for the occasion. The plan is to distribute the bottles world wide ahead of the April 20th anniversary celebration.

Bushmills tested the waters for the anniversary blend in early December by placing 150 bottles for sale in the distillery visitor's center. It took just a few hours for the bottles to sell out.

Bushmills distillery is located in Country Antrim, north of Belfast, where spirits have been made since the late Thirteenth Century.

Georgia Beer Thieves Make Off With 2,600 Cases

Someone in Georgia has been singing "62,400 bottles of beer on the wall..." this holiday season after a pair of truck heists.

One theft in Albany, Ga., between Dec. 21 and Dec. 27 netted crooks a 53-foot trailer with 2,300 cases of beer. Another trailer with 300 cases on board was emptied nearby on Dec. 21.

For their efforts the thieves took away a hefty supply ofMiller Lite, Milwaukee's Best and Schlitz.

German Beer Consumption Slumps

Beer consumption in Germany dropped in 2007, following the trend of eight of the last nine years.

Germans drank 112.5 liters of beer per capita, still ranking them among the top beer lovers in the world. But that number dropped 3.5 liters from the previous year. In 2006, Germany hosted the World Cup soccer tournament, helping to boost sales. Germans supporters and visiting soccer fans, coupled with a hot summer, boosted demand.

Beer consumption in Germany is down 28 percent from its peak in the mid-1980s, when the per capita consumption hit a record 156 liters. Demographics in the country are playing a big part in the decline. Additionally, Germans are increasingly turning to various non-alcoholic drinks options.

Spice Company Puts Rye Whiskey on its List of Top Flavors for 2008

Whiskey lovers have been raving about the revival of rye, now cooks are discovering the joys of this American whiskey.

The newly released McCormick Flavor Forecast 2008 says that rye will be a key flavoring ingredient in the coming year. The forecast is developed by spice marketer McCormick with the help of restaurant chefs, cookbook authors and television food personalities.

McCormick says that America's escalating interest in health and wellness, authentic ingredients and cooking techniques, and the increased desire for local and artisan foods are driving forces in the changing tastes of Americans.

McCormick placed Rubbed Sage and Rye Whiskey as its number 10 flavor combination for 2008, saying the duo represents "a powerful, all-American team."

Oregano and Heirloom Beans followed by Vanilla Bean and Cardamom topped the McCormick list.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays: Christmas Tree Made Using 8,000 Beer Cans

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 40-foot tall Christmas tree made out of beer cans.

We have this special holiday treat courtesy of the Viet Nam Beer Co. and its marketing partner, the Hai Duong Advertising Co.. The giant tree, made from more than 8,000 Heineken beer cans, is on display in Hue City's Ba Thang Hai Park.

The beer can tree, which took 50 workers three days to build, is just one of several the company put up in several large cities across the country to promote Heineken for the holidays.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Anheuser-Busch Signs Distribution Deal With Starr Hill Brewery

Ever visit Crozet, Va.? Have you heard of Starr Hill Brewery? No?

Well some of the folks in St. Louis at Anheuser-Busch have. Earlier this week they announced a deal under which A-B will serve as the master distributor for Starr Hill's line of beers.

Starr Hill has six employees and turns out 5,000 barrels of beer annually. Founded in 1999, the company now has what many craft brewers 10 times their size wish they had: access to a network of 600 wholesalers from coast to coast.

What is behind A-B's decision to partner with such a small player? According to media reports about the deal, A-B wants to help Starr Hill build its brand in Virginia and then expand it from New York to Georgia during the next three to five years. If they have momentum behind the product it could go national at that point.

With craft beer sales up 11 percent during 2007, A-B has been active launching its own line of brews aimed at the segment and in signing deals with craft brewers around the country, most focused on providing distribution and sales help. The distribution deals give A-B distributors products they can use to stave off competitive inroads made by brands like Boston Beer's Samuel Adams. In most cases few consumers will know or care that A-B is helping distribute the beer. The spread of Redhook and Widmer Bros. brands under the A-B umbrella has been fairly successful.

With its willingness during 2007 to partner with craft brewers of various sizes, the makers of Budweiser may be positioning themselves as "King Makers" with the ability to take a minor microbrewery and propel it towards national prominence. It will be interesting to see how the company expands these brands during the next several years.

Lager Library: The Histories and Stories of the Best Bars of New York

Did you ever wonder about the Prohibition history of New York's famed 21 Club? How about the origins of the legendary McSorley's Old Ale House? What about the power broker gathering spot at the Waldorf-Astoria, the Bull & Bear?

Then you need to get a copy of The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York ((216 pgs., $37.95) by Jef Klein with photographs by Cary Hazlegrove.

The book is loaded with black and white photographs of many of the most famous spots for throwing back a drink in New York City.It also tells the stories of the people who run these famous watering holes. Some, like Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel are pretty famous. Others, like the Bridge Cafe near South Street Seaport or the P&G Cafe on the Upper West Side, would be easy to miss unless you were a local.

You could plan a drinking holiday in New York using the book, but even if you don't plan to travel to the Big Apple it is a nice catalog of places that are historic slices of the city's past.

It's Vodka, Well It's Sort of Vodka

The European Union has issued a ruling on vodka that angers some and leaves others feeling a bit like their glasses are half full. What do you expect when the politicians of several different countries spend more than two years negotiating a settlement?

Scandinavian and eastern European countries had wanted the term vodka to be reserved for neutral spirits made using grains or potatoes. Producers in other countries fought this because some use grapes, sugar cane and other raw ingredients. The EU answer is that potato and grain spirits can be labeled simply as "Vodka," while the other neutral white spirits can be labeled as "Vodka Made With ________."

The EU also put in place protections for using the terms Scotch Whisky and London Gin on labels. Spirits companies have alternating taking sides on the issues, at some points trying to fight cheap foreign knock offs, while at other times trying to make sure some of the products they make don't run afoul of the proposed regulations.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Utah Town Opens Taps on Sundays

The Hyrum City Council in northern Utah has voted to temporarily end a ban on selling beer on Sundays.

The move came after a gas station in the city complained it was losing business to a competitor in nearby Nibley that is able to sell beer on Sundays. Councilors say they will review the blue laws on alcohol sales early next year and could make a permanent change.

At least one member of the city council is against beer sales on what he says are moral grounds.

Beer Might Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers in Spain believe they have found a connection between beer consumption and a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

According to researchers from the University of Alcala the silicon content in beer may help reduce the amount of aluminium absorbed in the blood stream. Research has found that aluminium, a neurotoxin, absorbed in the digestive system is a possible factor in the development of Alzheimer's.

The researchers found that beer did as good a job in fighting the absorbtion of aluminium as a silicic acid supplement with double the amount of silicon as found in beer. The scientists said that moderate beer consumption should be considered as a component in a healthy diet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Six Wines for the Holidays from the Finger Lakes

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we travel to the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York for six wines perfect for holiday meals.

From the full disclosure desk: I work for Eric Mower and Associates, a marketing communications agency (www.mower.com). We developed a program for the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance called the FLWA Vintners' Roundtable. This virtual tasting is conducted via conference call, linking winemakers and food and beverage journalists. I recently played host to a FLWA Vintners' Roundtable attended by several drinks journalists, including Sean Ludford, Bill Dowd, David Falchek, Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng and Michael Cervin. You can check out their reports as they appear to measure the objectivity of my tasting notes.

The Finger Lakes region is best known for its riesling, which regularly takes home medals from various competitons. But the region has plantings from a wide array of grapes. It is interesting to see what various vineyards have in the works. The Finger Lakes were originally the home of native Lambrusca grapes, which tend to make better jam and grape juice than wine. French-American hybrids and classic vinifera are now the main stays of the more than 90 wineries in the region.

Chateau Frank 2000 Blanc de Noirs: The late Willy Frank established Chateau Frank in 1985 as a way to leave his mark on the Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. He would be proud of this methode champenoise wine. Made using 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier, this pink-hued sparkler has crisp tart apple flavor notes. One of the best sparkling wines from a U.S. producer.

White Springs Farms 2006 Gewurztraminer: Winemaker Derek Wilbur allows skin contact in this Seneca Lake gewurtraminer. "It's the most red of the white wines we make," he says. The skins allow some tannins to balance the flavor. Slight spicy and minerally flavor profile.

Rooster Hill 2006 Estate Gewurztraminer: From Keuka Lake, winemaker Barry Tortolon decided to mix two yeast strains in this wine and the result is a flowery, spicy and fruity white. A solid wine to serve as a cocktail pour or to match with a meal.

Sheldrake Point 2006 Bunch Select Riesling: Winegrower Bob Madill says the presence of Botrytis Cinerea -- Noble Rot -- allowed Sheldrake to create this wine, the fourth vintage they have pressed whole cluster grapes to create a riesling dessert wine. With 8.8 grams of acid and 6 percent residual sugar, this is a well balanced and flavorful wine perfect for concluding a meal.

Anthony Road 2006 Sweet Dream: Made from vignoles, a French-American hybrid, by German winemaker Johannes Reinhardt, about 40 percent of the crop had Botrytis. Reinhardt notes the thick skins of the vignoles stands up well to noble rot. The acid level in the 2006 is slightly higher than a year ago, balancing nicely to the 7.1 percent residual sugar. This is one of my surprise favorite wines among the dessert wines I have tasted during 2007.

Lakewood Vineyards 2005 Port: The Finger Lakes has a different climate than Portugal and the Baco Noir grape was likely not created to make a Port-style wine, but third generation winemaker Chris Stamp said this is "What happens when you leave Baco on the vine long enough." This is the fourth time and first vinatge since 2001 that Lakewood has turned Baco into a Port. Good raspberry and dark fruit tones, with a touch of cocoa.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Moves By Three Craft Brewers Illustrate Category Strength

Every day the craft beer segment evolves. At times it can be difficult to recognize exactly what the changes mean. Business conditions claim a victim here, two companies decide to merge to better compete there. A brewpub opens a new location, while another company signs a deal with a larger brewer to try to secure better distribution in return for reduced control.

Sometimes it is hard to figure out which of these moves are best for the companies or the craft brewing movement. In many cases, it might be years before we know for sure if the promise of the press release will be fulfilled.

In the last few weeks there have been a number of announcements. Three stand out in my mind as worth noting and commenting about.

Flying Dog Brewery Consolidates its Brewing Operations in Maryland: Flying Dog has been around a surprising 17 years. It is part of the Colorado craft beer scene, which is why some people raised a brow when the company acquired a brewing facility in Frederick, Maryland. The company expanded its distribution using the facility to the point where 70 percent of its beer was being made along the east coast. Now Flying Dog has decided to stop producing beer in Colorado. They will keep their headquarters in Denver, but Maryland will be the home of its brewing plant. Flying Dog explains it had to make the move because of the loss of some of its contract brewing volume and the fact that costs are going up at least 25 percent. Everything from hops to malt and energy to packaging is costing brewers more. The Maryland plant is more modern and flexible. The move makes sense for many reasons, including economics. However, one of the key elements that set craft brewers apart from their competitors is a sense of place. Flying Dog will always be a Colorado brewer in my mind, even if most of the Flying Dog I've enjoyed in recent years was made in Maryland. It will be interesting to see if the core customer base for the brand takes note of the shift and if it really matters.

Deschutes Brewery Expands Production Capacity: Deschutes Brewery is one of the best breweries in Oregon. When travel takes me on a rare trip to the western United States it is one of the brands I look for because they make high quality and interesting beers. A pint of fresh Black Butte Porter is hard to turn down. But Deschutes beer is hard to find. Now the company is adding about 40,000 barrels of annual capacity to keep up with demand. Hopefully, some of this new production will find its way east.

McNeill's Expands in Vermont: Ray McNeill started brewing beer in Vermont back in 1991. His brews have won some prestigious awards, but unless you were close to Vermont or made it to his Brattleboro brewpub, there was not much of a chance you would get to enjoy the beer. Now the company has a production facility under construction that will give McNeill's the space to increase production by 900 percent. McNeill has that quirky Vermont edge that is hard to put into words, but he makes some darn good beer.

The message of these three business briefs is clear to me. When companies that make high quality brews like Flying Dog, Duschutes and McNeill's are investing in new equipment and facilities it is a vote of confidence in the direction of the industry. Will some small brewers be hurt and go out of business because of escalating costs? Yes, but the reality is that the overall economic conditions will likely just thin the herd a little more quickly than would have taken place if times were good. The greater threat is the consumer. Will their appetite for craft beers continue to grow? Will they try some of the attempts at craft beers from the national brewers and decide that those brews are "good enough" so why bother with the stuff from small brewers? Will they shift in even greater numbers to wines and spirits, cutting down on the available share of stomach for beer? As they age will they drink less and less beer?

Those are the questions that will keep craft brewers up at night during the new year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Miller Lite Targets Craft Beer Segment

Miller Brewing Co. has seen the light and decided it is time for an expansion of its Miller Lite brand franchise into the craft segment.

Miller will test market three new craft-style brews under the Miller Lite Brewers Collection umbrella in Minneapolis, Charlotte, San Diego and Baltimore starting in February. The offering will include a blonde ale, amber beer and wheat beer. The brewery is talking in terms of creating a new "craft-style light" category, but the reality is that a number of regional and craft brewers have launched light beers in the past. The most widely available and successful of these products is Samuel Adams Light. Imports such as Amstel and Corona Light also carve out a healthy part of premium priced beer sales.

Since I am based in one of the test markets, I'm sure I will run across the Miller Lite Brewers Collection. It may require me to break my self imposed prohibition against light beers in the interests of journalistic research.

Miller Lite is by far SABMiller's largest brand in the U.S. The brand is the cornerstone that helped establish light beer as mainstream. The category now accounts for about one out of every three beers sold in the U.S. SABMiller is looking to combine this strength with the growing popularity of craft beers. Certainly, the company did not want to sit on the sidelines while brands like Anheuser-Busch's seasonals and regionals and Blue Moon took slices of the craft pie.

It will be interesting to see if the Miller Lite drinker is all that interested in craft beers, or if craft drinkers are longing for a light beer entry from the makers of Miller Lite. Perhaps the folks at SABMiller believe there is another group of drinkers out there with an unfulfilled beverage need.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christie's Holding First Liquor Auction in New York Since Prohibition

Christie's in New York is the place to be today for collectors of rare spirits. For the first time since Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s the famous auction house's New York location will place bottles of spirits under the gavel.

The auction will include bottles of whisky, Cognac, brandies and other spirits. A bottle of Macallan Scotch distilled in 1926 and a bottle of Cognac Grande Fine Champagne distilled in 1811 are among the highlights of the sale. While bidding on some bottles is expected to reach into the thousands, there are other bottles in the sale expected to go for under $500.

Christie's also will auction off a batch of more than 700 whiskies and rare wines as part of the sale.

New York became just the seventh state to allow liquor auctions earlier this year.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Session #10: Let it Snow

This edition of Beer Blogging Friday celebrates winter seasonal brews. The Session #10: Let it Snow is being hosted by the folks at the Barley Vine blog.

Regular readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of seasonal brews. Last year Lyke2Drink chronicled tasting notes for a total of 35 winter and holiday seasonal brews. Travel and business commitments will keep me from enjoying that many this year, so when Let it Snow was announced as the topic for The Session, I fully embraced the decision. It gave me a reason to go out and find a few holiday brews.

Here is a six pack of seasonal beers that I was able to taste in recent weeks. I've lumped together both winter and holiday brews, but the lines are blured on some of these beers this time of year:

SweetWater Festive Ale: This Georgia brewery has produced a rich dark ale with plenty of character. Festive weighs in at 8.6 percent alcohol by volume, but you would not know it by the way it goes down so very smoothly. There is a slight cinnamon note that lends to the holiday appeal of this brew. I would serve this ale with appetizers or to accompany a soup.

Samuel Smith's 2007 Winter Welcome: This British beer is a very drinkable brown ale that had some nice malty characteristics. Lightly carbonated, this beer is smooth and mellow. Winter Welcome would match perfectly with turkey.

Saranac Season's Best Nut Brown Lager: This mahogany colored brew has a nice malty base and a fresh crisp taste. This beer is a mild winter seasonal when compared to many high octane specialties, making it perfect for long family gatherings.

Anheuser-Busch Brew Masters Private Reserve 2007: Poured from a magnum-sized swing top bottle, this is a rich holiday seasonal beer that comes in at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Dark with a reasonable head, this brew has nice roasted malt character and clear alcohol notes. I would pair this brew up with a standing rib roast and be quite happy.

Otter Creek Raspberry Brown Winter Ale: This Vermont brewer has turned out a brown ale with a slight hint of raspberry. There is a nice sweet malt profile to this 5.8 percent alcohol by volume beer, with very little hop presence. This brew would go well with duck.

Anchor Our Christmas 2007: This is the 33rd edition of a Christmas ale from this San Francisco brew. It is a rich dark color and a festive flavor experience. There are notes of cinnamon, vanilla and a flavor that I can only call root beer-like. No, its not sweet, but it does have a hint of sweetness. I'd suggest serving this with a rich holiday dessert.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

California and Washington Release Upbeat Grape Harvest Numbers

Figures released by the two largest wine grape producing states suggest that 2007 was a good year in the vineyards.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture forecast a harvest of 3.2 million tons, up under one percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers reports a record harvest of 127,150 tons, up 5.5 percent.

Two-thirds of all wine sold in the U.S. comes from California wineries. A total of 449 million gallons of California wine were sold in the U.S. in 2006 with an estimated retail value of $17.8 billion.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Anheuser-Busch Launches Organic Wheat Vodka From Italy

Anheuser-Busch continues to expand its offering of non-beer products. The company is test marketing Purus Vodka in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Md.

Purus is an 80-proof organic wheat vodka that is priced at $35 a bottle. The product is distilled under contract for A-B in Italy's Piedmonte region by Distilleria Sacchetto. A-B's Long Tail Libations unit is managing the introduction.