Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Brandy Rand

Next time a customer asks you for the ingredients in one of those fashionable pre-Prohibition era cocktails and you aren’t quite sure of the recipe, just turn to your iPhone.  Much more discreet and all-encompassing than a battered Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide, there are dozens of apps available for every type of establishment (event the home mixologist).  Just to name a few: Cocktails+, 1O1 Cocktails, Drinks & Cocktails, and Drink Genie.  If you want behind the bar credibility with your app, check out the ones designed by Jimmy the Bartender from men’s health, Jeff Berry’s Tiki+ and Flip ’N Drink by self-proclaimed “cocktail freak” Gary Regan.  And high tech twin cities Seattle and Portland have local recipes highlighted in their Cocktail Compass apps.  Suppliers have also gotten in on the game with branded apps like Absolut’s Drinkspiration, Diageo’s mobile version of, and Bacardi’s Mix Master.  Want to simplify?  Try Cocktails Made Easy, which is based on a series of British bar books called Difford’s Guides and limits recipes based on using just 14 bottles of liquor.  There’s even an app to aid in that last call ritual called R U Drunk, which is said to test the user’s sobriety with tests and a blood alcohol content calculator . . . “for entertainment purposes only”. 

Though the Japanese may have cornered the market on bar tools and ice ball making technique, leave it to the Germans to perfect glassware.  Spiegelau recently launched their innovative Tulip Glass – so thin and pristine, it frosts over when ice is added, creating a vessel that prolongs the chill of your cocktail.  The secret lies in the shape and chemical make-up of the glass.  The “tulip” contour releases the spirit’s bouquet just so, while simultaneously preserving any active compounds in the liquid.  Because the glass is made from pure sand mined from Germany that contains very little iron, it prevents discolorations and does not interfere with the taste of the spirit.  And the durable platinum glass ensures stability through the busiest bar night or raucous home party.  Though it was originally created for beer drinking (and sometimes referred to as a Stemmed Pilsner) the Tulip Glass has quickly become a favorite among
spirits enthusiasts.  Available at

Ask most consumers what mead is and they’ll likely raise their eyebrows and say “What?”.  This ancient beverage, popular among Vikings and served at Renaissance Faires, is changing its image with a growing batch of small, serious producers.  Mead is wine distilled from honey, and like grapes, the terroir from which the bees gather nectar gives each mead a unique flavor.  Ranging from 8 to 18% ABV, mead can be still or carbonated, dry or sweet, but always served chilled.  Boulder, CO hosts an International Mead Festival every February that draws producers from all over the world.  New England is home to a Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, NH, Green River Ambrosia in Greenfield, MA and Isaaks of Salem in MA.  Each producer has a variety of mead wines, from chamomile to raspberry to apple.  Sold mostly at boutique retailers or online, some mead wines sell out quickly.  The Journeyman in Somerville offers mead wines from Isaak’s of Salem.

It’s not a revelation to economists (or marketers) that hard times bring people back to what’s familiar and comfortable.  Old-cool brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Narragansett have capitalized on this over the years with their wallet-friendly price and laid back vibe.  “Bin ends” or bottles of wine remaining from a single production sold at a reduced price, are popular at retail, along with value French and South American wines that are a relief from the overabundance of Australian “critter wines”.  And restaurants are starting to get less serious, with ubiquitous menu staples like macaroni and cheese finally toning down extras like truffle oil and lobster tail.  Those foie gras and Kobe beef burgers have been redressed with local basics like Vermont cheddar cheese and Verrill Farm tomatoes.  It’s become deliciously special to indulge on chicken and waffles, BBQ pulled pork and meatloaf.  Granted, diners and dives all over the country have been perfecting this menu forever, and even celebrity chefs known for haute cuisine are investing in more downscale ventures.  Danny Meyer of New York’s Union Square Café fame has his Shake Shack, Hubert Keller from San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys has Burger Bars in Las Vegas and St. Louis, and Thomas Keller from French Laundry in Napa Valley has been looking to open a concept called Burgers and Half-Bottles for years.  Are Jell-o shots and crustless PB&Js next?

At the end of 2O1O, the US Brewer’s Association changed the definition of craft beer by increasing the cap to 6 million barrels per year (from 2 million), thus allowing craft brewers to enjoy their stupendous growth without getting kicked out of the category.  Saying craft beer is the popular kid in school right now is an understatement, with several retailers across the state expanding their craft beer section as well as adding specific events to promote, taste and sell craft beers from the states and global-local brands.  And don’t be surprised to find beer experts roaming the aisles to help consumers distinguish between that hopped-up IPA and creamy milk stout.  There’s even a crop of craft-beer only stores popping up around the country, from Good Beer in New York City, Ale Yeah! in Atlanta, and Belmont’s own Craft Beer Cellar, which boasts 552 craft beers in 123 styles from 188 craft breweries.  On-premise operators are also fueling the craze with consumer-centric events: Boston’s Post 39O has a series called Tap Wars, which pits locally made brews against each other and compiles a crowd vote for favorite style.  Taste for yourself – mark your calendar for BeerAdvocate’s American Craft Beer Fest June 3 and 4 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.

Back in 2OO9, Napa Valley winemakers started using surplus inventory to reinvent the category, making keg wine for use on-premise in nearby San Francisco.  And last year, New York City had its own vines to pull from thanks to the Gotham Project, collaboration between Charles Bieler (Bieler Pere et Fils, Charles & Charles, Three Thieves, Sombra mezcal) and Bruce Schneider (Schneider Vineyards, Schneider Selections, Vera Vinho Verde, The Carmenere Project), which began producing keg wines to great acclaim.  It makes sense in many ways for both the winemakers and the restaurants: reduction in packaging and trash, cost-effective for those by-the-glass pours, and wine stays fresher longer without exposure to air.  Many say keg wine is an old idea being made new again.  It hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from Melbourne (shiraz may be the new “Australian for beer”, not Foster’s ) to Atlanta (home of largest keg program in the country at the restaurant Two Urban Licks) to Cambridge, MA (Russell House Tavern is the state’s only bar offering locally produced wine from a keg at the time of this writing) from tapping in to the concept.

Aperitif wines, which include all vermouths, quinquinas and americanos, are finally being dusted off store shelves and back bars to be enjoyed in cocktails, or simply sipped over ice (as they were intended) before a meal.  Aperitif is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open”.  They were invented by Joseph Dubonnet, a French chemist, in 1846 as a wine-based drink containing quinine, which was used in those days to fight off malaria.  Brands like Cocchi Americano, Martini & Rossi, Lillet, Dubonnet, Aperol, and Carpano Antica are being used in cocktails again, decidedly for their bitter and herbal edge.  Launched in 1981 and only available in Europe until just last year, Cocchi Americano in particular is enjoying a resurgence both at retail and on-premise.  For classic cocktail enthusiasts, Cocchi fills the gap left by the defunct Kina Lillet, an original ingredient in the Vesper and other 19th and early 2Oth century tipples.  With summer approaching, expect aperitifs to be a big part of opening up customers’ appetites.

Greta Garbo said it best as Anna, her character in the 193O flick “Anna Christie”: “Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side . . . and don’t be stingy, baby.”  Fast forward 81 years and it seems women are once again asking for the brown stuff.  According to the Edinburgh-based Scotch Malt Whisky Society, women comprised 25% of all new memberships between 2OO5 and 2OO8.  With country crooner Gretchen Wilson belting out tunes like “There’s a Place in the Whiskey” and Jack Daniel’s whiskey holiday advertising campaign showing a group of woman with the headline “This isn’t your momma’s cookie swap”, the sell has been downright suggestive . . . and effective.  Irish whiskey brand Jameson recently celebrated a one million case milestone in the United States, and its likely ladie’s had something to do with that according to bartenders and retailers who have seen an increase in females purchasing brown spirits overall.  Skyy Spirits, whose portfolio of whiskies includes Wild Turkey, Glen Grant Single Malt, Cutty Sark, and The Yamazaki Single Malt, just launched an interactive community and event series called Women and Whiskies to capitalize on the trend.

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