Spirits Sales Struggle but Cocktail Competitions Thrive

The numbers are out, and what bartenders have known all year long has been backed up by research: While overall volumes for the spirit industry grew 1.4 percent, restaurants, bars, hotels and nightclubs suffered badly last year, with spirit volumes down three percent on-premise.

Tequila grew significantly, as did rum and Irish whiskey, and vodka continued its dominance, now accounting for 30 percent of spirit volume sold in the U.S. The question now is, will consumers continue to drink more at home and keep buying the lower priced brands they’ve discovered or returned to? Customers likely will balk at top-shelf prices when they’ve discovered for themselves that sometimes the differences between super-premium and premium are hard to discern in a cocktail. So far, most bars and restaurants already charging $12 and up for a drink seem to be holding the line, but pressure to keep prices down, despite recent reports that restaurant volume is up, may start hitting more cocktail-focused operations as the recession enters its third year.

The deadline to enter the second Spirits International Prestige (SIP) Awards is approaching. Although all materials must be in by April 30, those who enter by March 12 get a reduced entry fee ($275 rather than $325). This spirits competition differs from others, as it allows a panel of 100 educated consumers rather than experienced judges to rid the competition of brand bias or marketing pressure, says Ali Samsami, event coordinator. Platinum, gold, silver and bronze awards are given. For more information, visit www.sipawards.com.

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Would you like to have one of your original cocktails presented by Gaz Regan at this spring’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic? Five bartenders will get the chance by creating drinks using Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, Rittenhouse Rye Whisky, Lunazul Tequila, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur or Dubonnet Rouge. Gaz (the bartender formerly known as Gary) will pick one winning recipe for each of the products and present it at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in May. Gaz will look for creativity coupled with simplicity in this competition. Cocktails should show an understanding of ingredients, and they should also be relatively easy to prepare, “so don't go smoking lavender over mesquite chips and infusing shochu with it, OK?” he says. Details and submission info are available here.

Bar folk are invited to elect their favorite bartenders in the “Cocktail Kingdom Top 50 Cocktail Bartenders in the U.S.” (a.k.a. The CK50). Voters are required to register and are asked to consider the following: “Who is making the best and most consistent cocktails? Who is the best host? Who has the greatest cocktail knowledge, both historical and modern? Who has a superior shake or a magic stirring style? Who is the master of the garnish? Who just has that special something that keeps you coming back?” Votes will be accepted from any member of the cocktail and spirits industry. Winners will be announced in early spring. Vote here.

Tales of the Cocktail invites bartenders to submit a recipe for the official cocktail competition at the eighth annual event, held in July in New Orleans. The theme? Create an original Tiki drink using the classic Planter’s Punch recipe. As judge and drink historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry says, almost every famous Tiki drink is based on Planter’s Punch. As for guidelines: “Your drink must contain (but is not limited to) rum, citrus and sweetener. Using more than one of each element is not only permitted, it's encouraged; for example, the original Zombie mixes three different kinds of rum and two different citrus juices, sweetened with three different syrups and a liqueur. Your goal here is not to create a pointlessly complicated recipe, but a harmonious one that balances sweet and sour, strong and light, fruity and dry, providing new layers of taste from the opening notes to the mid palate to the finish.” Enter here.

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