Small but Powerful Spirits Brands are Hot – Are you Cashing In?
Size matters, but in today’s think-and-drink-local environment, there’s a new appreciation for all things small, especially those hand-crafted and bottled in small batches. No matter if the distillation and bottling takes place thousands of miles away, so long as it’s being done in small quantities by a hands-on team of passionate individuals.
Boutique spirits brands are on the rise, not only in number but also in popularity at the bar, where savvy barkeeps are pouring everything from limited-edition white whiskeys to single estate tequilas and small batch bourbons, serving them up with a smile and a story. While some boutique brands are pricey, others are downright cheap, and yet both can deliver healthy profits per pour, thanks to their uniqueness, which alone demands a higher drink price point. The real value in boutique brands, however, is that by placing these unsung heroes on your back bar, you’re offering something barflies can’t get everywhere, thereby setting your place apart from the rest. And in this hyper-competitive market, where thirsty patrons continue to watch their spending carefully, differentiation is everything.
A broad range of these specialty spirits will be on display, with the folks behind them on hand, at the first Boutique Brands Pavilion at the 2011 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Visit ncbshow.com for information and read on for overviews of the participating brands. Then come to taste, chat and explore. Among these small but mighty brands, you are likely to find the Next Big Thing for your bar. NCB — Donna Hood Crecca
Story Time with Dave Elger
HotMixology Founder Shares His Passion
What makes boutique brands so hot today is that each comes with a story. In fact, that’s the best selling point of a boutique brand, because the story behind it conveys the origin, the passion and maybe even the mystery behind the quality and care that goes into each bottle. The best way to share my passion for boutique brands is to share my personal journey of creating one.
It began years ago during my days with a big liquor company when I was wrapping up seven years of kicking off new brands in cities across the United States. During this time, I learned that you never make friends trying to convince people to buy a drink that you would never buy yourself. With this knowledge, I promised myself that if I ever were to have my own product — one I have creative control over, as well as a product that is a direct reflection of me and who I am, and what I enjoy — I would do it right. It would be a product that I’d be proud to talk about, a product so wonderful that anyone who tasted it would be impressed.
On a trip years ago to Jalisco, Mexico, — the home of tequila — I discovered my fountain of youth. While everyone in my group wanted to visit the mainstream popular tequilerias, I wanted to check out the undiscovered. I ditched the group, hired a burro and, on my own, rode to visit many tequilerias, tasting a lot of great tequila and meeting great people along the way. I was born and raised in Mexico, and I speak the language, so at the end of a long day, I asked a cab driver what his favorite distillery was out of the 160-some in the region. He described a special place, a fourth generation, family-owned distillery and told me this family grew the best agave around. It was always somehow taller, bigger, sweeter and a color blue never seen before, he said. He explained that the agave seemed to have a heart and soul of its own, with an ambition to grow up and be the base of great tequila. Some nights, he said, he could even hear the agave laughing. That was all I needed to hear. “Take me to this paradise you speak of. And rapido!” I shouted.
As we arrived at this small distillery about a mile from downtown Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco, his description could not have been more correct. “Familia Vivanco” was written simply on a small sign hanging at the entrance. And just as we turned the corner, I saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen; an indescribable color blue as far as my eye could see. The agave in the fields seemed to dance, soaking up the sun and rich soil of the Arandes region. He stopped the car and took me inside where I was greeted by a father and son, the second and third generation.
They took me on a tour of their distillery, and I absorbed everything from the makings of the tequila to the anecdotes surrounding the process. As we stood with the sun setting in the middle of this amazing 6- and 7-foot-tall Weber blue agave, I heard it. It may have been the breeze, it could have been the tequila, but I swear I heard laughter from the agave field.
At that moment, meeting artisans in the liquor business as passionate as me and seeing the bluest agave was enough to convince me that this was the place I would make my tequila. In my four hours at the distillery with the Vivancos I never once saw a fancy bottle, never once saw a T-shirt with the name of their tequila on it, and I never tasted a tequila as perfect as theirs. It was truly all about the tequila.
Late that evening, I reunited with my group. They shared stories about how big the distilleries they visited were, how the bottles they saw were hand blown, how expensive the tequila was that they tasted, on and on. Not once did I hear anyone talk about the tequila itself. Had they all missed the best part about tasting a tequila that made their spirit soar?
Phoning my twin brother, Will and telling him about my experience led to a quick decision: We should share this story with the world. That night, Muchote was born!
Will and I visited the distillery many times in the next few years as we developed Muchote Tequila. We made it our mission to ensure that Muchote is always about the tequila, to take my wonderful experience from years ago and bottle it. With that philosophy, Muchote kicked off in the U.S. in February 2008. I like its simple bottle and the under $30 price for an award-winning reposado, but the best part is making peoples’ spirits soar and, with any luck, helping them to hear the laughing agave.
In my effort to share Muchote Tequila with the world I created HotMixology, a national TV show featuring products with the same passion and vision as Muchote Tequila, products that emphasize taste over image, evoking the artisanal passion of creating the spirit over merely selling a product. HotMixology is thrilled to partner with Nightclub & Bar to sponsor the Boutique Brands Pavilion at the 2011 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Welcome to HotMixology and the passionate world of boutique brands — may these bottles fire up your business!
Here’s a look at some of the brands you can experience at the Boutique Brands Pavilion at the upcoming Nightclub & Bar Show.
Travis Hasse Apple Pie Liqueur
Crafted in Michigan, this brandy slush-type drink — popular in Wisconsin and long-time specialty shot at Travis Hasse’s Missouri Tavern — comes from the Hasse family recipe. With a few tweaks and some tinkering, Hasse produced his own 40-proof apple pie liqueur, made with various types of apples, cinnamons, spices and locally-sourced grains, with tastes of baked apples and spices. www.drinkpie.com.
RumChata is a sweet, cold beverage, and a true replica of authentic Horchata, made in the Western Hemisphere. RumChata is a combination of rice, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and is combined with five-times distilled premium Caribbean rum for a creamy and smooth after-dinner drink. www.rumchata.com.
Ed Hardy Vodka
Known more for making T-shirts, Ed Hardy now offers a super premium vodka, bottled in the Cognac region of France. Distilled five times and created by French vodka artisans, the brand is packaged in a crystal bottle with timeless and colorful images. www.edhardyvodka.com.
Twin brothers Will and Dave Elger from Denver developed a relationship with Master Tequila Distiller Don Feliciano Vivanco from Jalisco, Mexico, and produced Muchote, a handmade reposado tequila made with 100 percent hand-selected Tequiliana Weber agave, which is chosen based on sugar content not weight. Muchote comes from agave pinas, is combined with water from Don Vivanco’s artisan well and is aged seven months in charred American bourbon oak casks for a smooth taste. www.muchotetequila.com.
Made outside Detroit and in Brooklyn, McClure’s Pickles are part of a line of eco-friendly products. The produce comes from local farms to ensure freshness, and each jar is hand packed with hand-sliced cucumbers. Another feature: the labels are printed with soy and vegetables inks and created with wind-powered electricity. www.mcclurespickles.com.
Sharkwater Tropical Liqueur
After finding themselves unemployed, Jeff DeYoung and Don Rodgers turned their hobby of mixing drinks into a business endeavor by creating Sharkwater blue-colored liqueur. This 40-proof vodka-based liqueur, made at Temperance Distillery in Michigan, is a blend of tropical flavors such as raspberry and citrus fruits like pineapple. www.sharkwatershots.net.
The first of its kind, NutLiquor Peanut Butter Vodka is a 69-proof vodka made by Pandora Spirits in Temperance, Mich. The creamy, peanut butter texture with the taste of a peanut butter cup, leaves a lingering and decadent peanut butter aftertaste. www.nutliquor.me.
The New Jersey spirit company relaunched two of its most popular liqueurs in 2008: Love Potion #9 cream liqueur and The Spirit of Liberty. Love Potion #9 is a no grain alcohol, blended with mango, peach, chocolate, vanilla, pear, apple, cherry, almond and other flavors. The Spirit of Liberty Bourbon Cream Liqueur is a blend of apples, cherries and chocolate and has flavors of toffee, sweet caramel and marshmallow. www.cmscspirits.com.
Cold House Vodka
Created by Lee Palleschi and made in a Modesto, Calif., former cold storage facility, Valley Spirits LLC created its first vodka: Cold House Vodka. Palleschi uses many different distillation technologies including using his custom-built stills. The 80-proof handcrafted vodka is then filled, sealed, waxed and labeled by hand. drinkvalleyspirits.com.
This tasteless and colorless vitamin energy drink replaces the vitamins you lose when drinking while decreasing the substances that cause hangovers. It comes in a regular version, which is a liquid shot of water as well as a soda water version, so it’s mixable in any of your favorite drinks. It’s made with 60 milligrams of caffeine and a form of creatin that recycles and replaces ATP, your basic energy source, faster than your body does. www.drvshot.com.
Made with no artificial flavors and colors, this unflavored clear energy liquid is made with 200 milligrams of caffeine and has only 10 calories. It contains taurine, inositol, glucuronolactone and L-carnitine for enhanced energy, and it’s best when mixed with a favorite cocktail, soft drink or smoothie. www.hijinksenergy.com.