Monday, July 28, 2008

E-Commerce Learnings and Solutions

One of the disciplines BAT has been developing expertise in is e-commerce. But first a bit of background. I've been involved in bev alc e-commerce since 2000 with a couple of startups including and Neither of them made it commercially, but I learned a lot about the who, what, when, where and most importantly HOW to make it work.

Like a lot of initiatives on the internet, e-commerce for spirits, wine and beer is a work in progress with the added complications of the U.S. regulatory environment where we're dealing with 50 different states each with their own laws. (and multiply 50 by the often three different sets of regulations applying to spirits, wine and beer!) So the big quasi-national e-commerce players are still figuring out how to monetise the concept. That means there's a window of opportunity right now to run in the slipstream of those who are making it work and provide value to them rather than building a new solution on your own (Note to money and advertising dollars are not the answer, margin on sales is.)

So our strategy for clients is a simple smart...find solutions that are out there that other people are developing, and find ways to work with them. We have two solutions that are working quite well for us.

Both are predicated on the idea of understanding what drives the economy of the web, and the needs of prospective partners. By trading things of high perceived value that don't necessarily cost a lot of cash you can both win.

The "currency" of the web is traffic and's equivalent in the retail world to a great store location on a busy street. Retailers want customers in the store. Suppliers on the other hand need two equally critical things , which in the real world are for retailers to stock their products (shelf facings) and floor displays ("if it ain't on the floor, it ain't in the store"!)

Our office e-comm guru, Anthony King, is spearheading our program which generated a home page ad (think 10 case floor display as you walk into the virtual store) at one of the largest internet retailers in the Northeast, Shoppers Vineyard for our client Absinthe Mata Hari.

I'll be talking more about this at our upcoming U.S. Drinks Conference in London in Oct. but stay tuned here for more insights in the weeks to come. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TOTC Day 3 the importance of vodka

I attended the "Rediscovering the Traditions of vodka" led by Steve Olsen and learned a great lesson on how to engage an audience. Throughout the whole TOTC event, Vodka was criticized, belittled, vilified, marginalized and ultimately disrespected. It's like the old Yogi Berra line..."nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

But with 28% share of the total US spirits market, Steve eloquently made his points that it warrants respect and consideration and can't and shouldn't be ignored. He went on to walk us through a product tasting that was more about sensing the vodka as opposed to tasting it. Darcy O'Neil made the point in the sensory perception session that if you analyze vodka chemically, there aren't any flavor compounds in there... no citrus, no wheat, no potato and certainly no tobacco, peanuts or any other contrived descriptors. What there are however are components that might trigger a flavor memory or association. And that's what we're really sensing, e.g. not citrus per se, but a compound similar to citric acid that sparks an association in your mind.

Steve demonstrated a tasting protocol where you can separate the liquid flavor components from the aromatics. By coating the oral cavity with the vodka, then closing your mouth and breathing out your nose, you can segment the feel of the alcohol from the smell of the volatile compounds. Then breathe in only through your mouth to gauge the quality of the should feel cool like menthol or eucalyptus, not harsh or burning. He went on to demonstrate the difference between a number of brands and show how they not only differed, but had specific characteristics that would make a given vodka the preferable spirit for a given cocktail.

At the end of the session, he had turned a roomful of skeptics into advocates. Sphere: Related Content

TOTC Day 3 Working with Bloggers

Saturday was a day of blogger immersion. We had breakfast at Brennan's with Darcy O'Neil. Lunch at Bourbon St. with Gabriel Szaszko and his lovely wife Joanna, then dinner at Arnaud's with Jeff Morgenthaler and Jay Hepburn. Our objective was to get first hand input on how suppliers can work with bloggers...what their needs and interests are. Basically all gave the same answer...acknowledgement and respect. So many suppliers take the wrong tack in working with bloggers...mass mailings with samples of product supported with a lecture on how wonderful the brand is.

These guys (these guys?!!...I'm a blogger too!) undestand the commercial needs of business and want to write about brands. But just like old world journalists they expect brand and PR folks to do their homework. Read the blog to get an understanding of the interests and bias of the author. Participate in the conversation on an ongoing basis with comments, reciprocal links, and contributions that add value...not just talk about a brand. It's not a one night stand, it's a conversation.

Darcy's all about metrics...he's a chemist at heart and at work and while he acknowledges how widely read his blog is, he's really interested in just the facts. Gabriel's a journalist. Like me he keeps Strunk and White at the ready, appreciates it when people write in complete sentences and take the time to at least run spell check before asking for a favor. Jay's a brit that has signficant virtual presence in the U.S. but a very limited physical one. Just getting samples is a challenge. And Jeff? Well, Jeff's unique. When I asked what his needs are and ran down a long list of things we could do for him, his answer was "yes". Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 19, 2008

TOTC Sensory Perception

Great presentation by Darcy O'Neil on sensory perception. I remember a lot of this from college, but clearly there have been advances in knowledge in the past 30 years. The fun part of the event was the taster evaluation. People fall into three categories: non-taster, normal, and super taster. All refer to the ability/senstitivity to taste bitterness. There is a chemical test strip we were handed to put on your tongue that made it pretty clear what category you fit in. The key point though is if you're a bartender, chef or someone whose palate is a judge for have to know where your perceptions are before preparing for others. E.g. a super taster is very sensitive to bitters so would make a very different tasting Negroni than a non-taster. Sphere: Related Content

TOTC Day 2 The Renaissance of Grappa

I was guilted into attending the Grappa seminar led by Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wine and Spirits. My experience with Grappa,k like so many others was with what I referred to as "lighter fluid gone rancid". We used to import some grappas from Ceretto and other producers and as much as I tried to appreciate it (I'll never like it), I just couldn't. Francesco explained that producers used to just ship off the pomace to large distilleries and then essentially copacked the grappa for the wineries. The ones in the seminar...Poli and Marolo...are artisanal producers whose only business is grappa. And the results were there...well made, not harsh, aromatic and innovative.

There are five regions in Italy that are allowed to produce Grappa, all in the north. Having just been in Venice, I was particularly interested in Poli's range because that's where he's from (Bassano). Sphere: Related Content

TOTC Day 2 Absinthe Returns to America

Gwydion Stone, Paul Clarke and Jim Meehan did a super seminar on Absinthe. All facts, no hype and some thoughtful insights for where the category might be going. Gwydion gave a very clear history of how the product's renaissance in the U.S. came about. Check out details at Paul did an entertaining powerpoint on some historic absinthe recipes, some good, some awful, some just incomprehensible. Clearly this category has always been polaraizing...old newspaper articles from David Wondrich's book that Paul shared portrayed it either it was a devil or angel, but never in between.

Then Jim took a thoughtful look at where the category might go. Key point, competition is great, the category will settle out, but all of us involved in the category need to insure we all market our brands with in an appropriate socially responsible way. Equally important is to grow the category...a rising tide will lift all boats. There are so many small producers getting into the mix perhaps it makes sense for all of us to get together to pool some resources. Just a thought.
Sphere: Related Content

TOTC Beer Cocktails

A morning visit to Cafe du Monde for Cafe au Lait and Beignets and then it was back to work. Great presentation by Stephen Beaumont on beer cocktails. Certainly a category we've heard a lot of talk about but Steve did a great job of presenting the category in an understandable way: they fall into three different types: 1) beer blends (e.g. black and tan which by the way is an American, not Irish invention), 2) Spirits, juice or wine with normal size beer and 3) Beer as flavoring agent in traditional cocktails.

Some general guidelines Steve noted are that ales work better than lager in cocktails and bitter beers, especially IPA's take spirits better, especially rum. Lighter beers do well with fruit juice. One of the best combinations is Weissbier and fresh squeezed OJ.

Regarding wine cocktails he advised that since hops are naturally tannic, so don't try to pair with highly tannic wines like Cabs. And when mixing spirits and beer, measurement is critical...absolutely do not free pour.
One of the recipes we tasted was great, The Green Devil. 1 oz. Martin Miller's Gin, 2 drops Absinthe and one bottle of Duvel (he told us it's pronounced Du' vel)

I asked Steve later for a recco with Heineken and he suggested trying something like Chartreuse and also maybe some light fruit juices. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 18, 2008

TOTC Spirited Dinner

TOTC has taken over New Orleans. Hundreds of attendees fanned out across the city for specially prepared dinners matched course for course with cocktails. Sam and I ate at the Palace Café hosted by Paul Clarke of Cocktail Chronicles Jim Meehan of PDT in NY. We took over half of the top floor of the restaurant and it was a great feeling to be part of this group. We sat at a table with Karen Foley, editor and publisher of Imbibe, John Pellaton of Hine Cognac and shared some incredibly creative food and drinks. Then it was off to Muriel’s on Jackson Square for the Beefeater Gin Ruby Jubilee. A great party in an awesome location with a wrought iron balcony overlooking the square. More wonderful cocktails and samples of mini muffalettas, crawfish beignets and other twists on New Orleans classic foods. We also met Ashley Garver of Le Tourment Vert absinthe and had an interesting conversation on where Absinthe is going in the U.S. She validated what we’ve seen: people are fascinated by the concept of it having been illegal and the mystique surrounding its alleged hallucinatory effects. Initially they’ll taste it in a ritual, then straight, and then expanding into various drinks with Red Bull, Jagermeister et al. The key issue Ashley has found, as have we, is that the taste of licorice is just not an American favorite, and that lower licorice profile brands like Le Tourment and Mata Hari will likely find a home here Sphere: Related Content

TOTC Seminars and Samples

I finally made it to a seminar…Latino Libations presented by Tony Abou-Ganim. Always an entertaining presentation, Tony was helped by some fortuitous finds in the audience that almost upstaged the master. Aided by the able talents of Diego Loret de Mola, Tony gave an informative history lesson and current take on Cachaça and Caipirinhas, Pisco and Pisco Sours, Rum and Mojitos. I recognized someone in the audience and stopped to say hi and it turned out to be Stacey Smith, Beverage Director of Pappas Restaurants in Houston whom I shared a great dinner with at the Sante’ Restaurant Symposium last year. Also attending the seminar were Herbie Loebl of Pisco Monte Sierpe, Jean Francois Bonneté of Mystique Brands and Michael Trujillo, New Mexico mixologist for SWS.

Next it was downstairs to the Cocktail hour with about 30 stations serving some incredibly diverse cocktail creations. Frankly though, I didn’t like many of them. It struck me as though everyone erred on the side of “creativity” in a palette of flavors I’m not really in love with… a lot with hot peppers, unique combinations of spices and fruits, interpretations of classics substituting tequila for rum or in one case a Brandy Alexander made with Absinthe that quite frankly, smelled like mildew! We did get to meet Natalie Bovis-Nelson aka The Liquid Muse and enjoyed her creation the Nolita Heat. Sphere: Related Content

TOTC name dropping

I landed and dashed to the Monteleone to catch the end of Jamie Boudreau’s Molecular Mixology seminar, but never made it. Ran into Cort Kinker, Marissa Frisina and Shawn Kelley of Pernod Ricard, Francesco Lafranconi mixologist extraordinaire for Southern Wine and spirits (and yes Francesco, I will attend the Grappa seminar), Camper English of Alcademics fame and courtesy of Elizabeth Lang an intro to Damian Windsor of Gordon Ramsay’s of SF. Sphere: Related Content

Tales of the Cocktail Day 1

Wow. What a concept. This is one of the most unusual industry get togethers I’ve ever been at particularly because it’s such an interesting mix of attendees…brand owners, distributors and assorted other industry folk were complemented by a ton of bartenders (according to Jeff Morgenstern’s Twitter tweat there must not be a bar open in SF, they’re all here!). Also present in great numbers (total attendance approx. 1,000!?!) were regular consumers. Well not regular. These folks are passionate about cocktails and incredibly knowledgeable. John Pellaton of Hine Cognac (John, I told you I’d give you credit) summed it up well…it’s like the Sundance Festival for the spirits industry. The key question I keep hearing is, who came up with the idea of N.O. in July…it’s hot and humid. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wingin my way to N'awlins for Tales of the Cocktail

I'll be in New Orleans the rest of this week to attend Tales of the Cocktail. I've heard a lot about it and it seems there's a BUNCH of folks we know going. So if you're reading this and will be there...please reach out and say hi...and let's have a drink! Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Drinks Business TV Interview

Drinks Business Magazine, one of our sponsors for the U.S. Drinks Conference interviewed me at the LIWF/Distil show in London. Here's the link to the clip (FYI the sound quality is not so great.) Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Harry's Bar Venice

So, here we are in Venice and once again next door to Harry's Bar where we stopped for the 15 Euro Bellini (great taste but a pretty small glass). We've had some serendipitous events occur on the trip including a breakfast meeting with Andrea DiCurzio from Luca Maroni SRL, who we've since found out is the Italian Robert Parker. We've also been sampling the incredible range of Limoncello's available in the country. And, we've discovered the variations in the way Spritz is served...from a wine cocktail all the way to a long drink...last night's version being the strangest...heavy on the orange, served in a tall glass with ice and garnished with an olive and orange. At the end of the day, though, I think I've become a Negroni addict. Sphere: Related Content