Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

Hunting for the Northern Lights and Discovering Local Beer

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Skál! That’s how you say “cheers” in Iceland. But think of how a Viking would say it—that should be the delivery.


Over pints of Ölgeroin’s most popular beer, Engils Gull, two Scots, two Americans, an Australian and a Londoner learned that beer wasn’t legalized in Iceland until 1989. Yes, 1989.

One of the largest and oldest companies in Iceland, Ölgeroin (which means brewery in Icelandic) was founded in 1913 and today not only produces beer, but a number of other drink and food items.

I spent six days in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month with the main goal of seeing the Northern Lights. Mission accomplished on the last night of the trip—it was worth the wait.

In the meantime, the country has so much to offer in and around its capital city. Among them was the brewery tour at Ölgeroin Egill Skallagrímsson.

It turns out that Iceland also went through a Prohibition era of sorts that lasted 73 years. Our guide relayed that the people of Iceland voted in 1908 to ban all alcohol. The ban however, didn’t go into effect until the beginning of 1915.

Don’t think “Boardwalk Empire” though with underground bars and clubs and an Al Capone-type figure leading a squad of bootleggers. It wasn’t exactly like that in Iceland.

There was a partial repeal of the ban in 1933 when the country was threatened by Spain with a trade ultimatum. If Iceland didn’t begin importing Spanish wine, the Spanish would stop buying Iceland fish—the country’s largest export. So wine was allowed.

In 1935, the production of liquors was permitted and that was the first occasion where Iceland’s national drink called Brennivin, a schnapps-like spirit distilled from potatoes with 40 percent alcohol, became available.

Though beer was still outlawed, it was being brewed, just not for the locals. Ölgeroin was brewing beer for export, but in fact, beer like Polar Beer (a light golden lager with 4.7 percent ABV), was brewed for occupying armed forces during WWII and later to the American military base outside of Keflavík. Our guide told us that the “bootleggers” were also the taxi drivers who would have cases of beer in the trunk and sell it to their passengers.  

We got to sample Polar Beer as well as Egils Malt and Appelsín (a fizzy orange drink), which have become a traditional part of Icelandic Christmas celebrations. We also got to sample some selections from Ölgeroin’s microbrewery, Borg Brugghus, which was started in 2007. The microbrewery makes a selection of seasonal and limited-edition brews, many of which sell out soon after they hit the shelves, our guide informed us. They are numbered brews—we got to sample number 10, Snorri. It’s brewed from domestic barley and seasoned with Icelandic organic thyme that mixes a fruity nose with local wild herb flavors. The craft beers were lined up along the top shelf of the back bar in the tasting room of the Ölgeroin building, which it moved into in 2009. The building is one of the best warehouses in Iceland, the brewery proclaims.

The last thing we sampled that evening before hitting the town: a shot of Brennivin, often referred to as Black Death. Skál!

What’s in a Name?

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Category: General Blogs

I attended a professional women’s networking group last month that focuses on empowering women in their profession. Our group leader brought up attending a seminar on branding: How to successfully brand yourself to help you get the position you desire.

The group of 10, ranging in age from recently graduated college to early 40s, was keen on finding out more about how to successfully brand themselves to send out the right message. I immediately thought of successful beverages that have found success with their branding.

In the beverage world, we are always circling the importance of branding and how the right branding can help you gain consumers for life, while the wrong branding could turn off consumers entirely to your product.

Ironically, our meeting was held in a Starbucks in central London. And Starbucks is a great example of brand image that worked. The small coffee house’s green mermaid image has become so synonymous with the brand that its white cups don’t even bear the name Starbucks any more. Then, I noticed the napkin I had gotten with my tall, spiced vanilla latte wasn’t the recycled-colored brown paper napkin with green emblem. It was a crisp, white, paper napkin with a bold “Starbucks” written across the side in big, black, capital letters—black and white; statement; simple—I liked the new look.

On my journey back toward the tube to head home I started to take notice of other impactful brand imagery—the London underground symbol, the golden McDonald’s arches, the bitten apple for Apple computers. What makes these symbols so impactful and iconic that they can stand by themselves, without any words? That’s a question that new beverage brands ask themselves when creating a strategy on how best to get consumers to notice and resonate with their brand.

Walking down the beverage aisles at Tesco the successful beverage brands that have gotten it right pop off the shelf, like Coca-Cola’s white Spencerian script, Pepsi’s round, red, white and blue symbol, Heineken’s red star, Bacardi’s black bat. All longstanding brands that keep it simple, but keep it consistent.

Other longstanding brands, UK-based, that also are known for their branding is Fuller’s beer brand, which has big, capital, golden letters on a bright red background and standing on top, a Griffin with one leg on a barrel of beer. Dating back to 1845, Fuller’s Griffin Brewery is an independent family brewery that continues to offer a wide range of beers including seasonal and limited edition brews.

Another is Ribena, a line of fruit-based soft drinks, juice drinks and fruit concentrates, which has been in existence since 1938. A product of GlaxoSmithKline, Ribena has bright red lettering on a white background almost illuminating the product name and then images of the fruit inside the beverage front and center on the package.  Simple, but colorful and fun at the same time.

The beverage brands that speak to you with their branding might have something to do with your personality. Are you a clean, crisp and simple? Or are you an in your face, multi-colored and bold? There’s no concrete answer to what makes a successful brand image, but staying true to the brand is the best way to connect with your desired consumer.

Cocktailing

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: alcohol, spirits, cocktails

I love that cocktails spark conversations.

Where did the name cocktail come from? My boyfriend recently asked me that question as we were making plans to visit Milk & Honey, the speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar and members club, which has locations in London and New York. 

I didn’t know the answer to that question, but thought a simple Google search would produce one easily enough. 

I thought wrong.

It turns out there are a number of theories as to where the name cocktail came from. (In 1806, the editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository defined a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits and any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”)

Some say that the word originated in the 1800s when a tavern keeper north of New York City served mixed alcohol drinks garnished with feathers from a cock’s tail. Another reference to the tail feather of a rooster has been published in a British publication, Bartender, which says in 1936 English soldiers in Mexico were served drinks stirred with a Cola de Gallo (cock’s tail). Other references include horse tails. The word could have stemmed from a horse breeder’s term for a mixed breed—cock-tails.

Another thought is that the word cocktail came from cock tailings, what was found at the bottom of a cask of ale. The cock tailings from spirits would be mixed together and then sold at a lower price. 

Among the more interesting explanations of how cocktail came about is in George Bishop’s “The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of Man in His Cups,” which says that the word comes from the term cock-tail used in the mid 1800s to describe a woman who was “of easy virtue desirable but impure…and applied to the newly acquired American habit of bastardizing good British Gin with foreign matter, including ice.”

Well, at the Milk & Honey in London, some of the cocktails did come with ice—large cubes so as to not dilute the drinks—(no feathers though) and were mixed with great detail. 

The cocktail has been around for a long time and bars like Milk & Honey are paying homage to the classics, but with a twist. The El Diablo, for example, used fresh ginger and soda as opposed to ginger ale. Other “restorative” drinks on the menu included a Prescription Julep (cognac, rye, sugar, mint), an Aviation No. 1 (calvados, cassis, absinthe, lime) and a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger, lime, sugar, soda). 

The downstairs bar had a speakeasy vibe—small booths and tables, dark wood and leather furniture, candle light, embossed metal detailing around the bar and 1920s-style music playing in the background. It could have been a scene out of “Boardwalk Empire” with waiters and bartenders dressed in pinstriped collared shirts and suspenders.  

As the trend of reinventing or revisiting classic cocktails of the past continues, bars like Milk & Honey are taking a fresh approach—literally. The quality of ingredients used to mix with the alcohol is just as important as the quality of the spirit itself. Milk & Honey makes fresh mixers daily and says it doesn’t use any juice or extract they didn’t make themselves.

The quality is noticeably reflected in the cocktails.  

’Tis the Season

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, beverage, holiday, seasonal

Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier each year. Retail windows decorated in snowy wonderlands, Christmas tunes filling department stores and seasonal beverages appearing on restaurant and bar menus.
I always know the official Christmas season has begun when Starbucks switches over from its iconic white cups with green emblem to its red holiday cups; this year the coffee house chose snowmen, carolers and a fox in wintery scenes to welcome the holiday season.

I’m not the only one who looks forward to this changeover. A quick Google search reveals there is a website dedicated to counting down the days until the red cups return and millions of search results return for the words “Starbucks holiday cups.”

But the seasonal return of these fun and festive cups also seemed to come a bit earlier this year. It was early November when I walked into a Starbucks outside of the South Kensington tube station in London craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte only to find a menu of Christmas-themed coffees—Eggnog Latte, Gingerbread Latte, Toffee Nut Latte and Praline Mocha.

“Are you making Pumpkin Spice Lattes still?” I asked with my fingers crossed that they could still make the fall drink.

“No,” the barista replied. “I’m sorry.” So, I opted for the Praline Mocha, new for this Christmas. It’s warm bittersweet chocolate infused with the flavor of hazelnut combined with espresso and steamed milk topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of mocha sauce.

Even though I was disappointed that fall was over and winter had begun—at Starbucks, anyway—I found myself switching gears and getting into the holiday spirit, making a mental Christmas list, getting excited about upcoming holiday parties and enjoying my tall Praline Mocha, no whip.

On the alcohol side, breweries continue their seasonal offerings moving into darker beers, bourbon barrel aged ales, beers with higher alcohol. Anheuser-Busch Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, Freemont Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Abominable and Widmer Brothers Brrr Seasonal Ale are just among a few of the many beers crafted to warm us up during the winter months.

At a recent Bacardi holiday event, the brand showcased how to spice up the holiday season with drinks other than traditional eggnog. Take the Coquito for example. A traditional holiday drink of Puerto Rico, the Coquito is made with half a bottle of Bacardi Superior, one can of evaporated milk, one can of condensed milk, two cans of cream of coconut and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Slowly blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk and the cream and coconut. Then add the cinnamon and slowly add Bacardi Superior until everything is incorporated.

Brand ambassador David Cid took us through a selection of five other cocktails at NY’s Abe & Arthur’s—The Bacardi Cocktail, The Selleck, Airmail, Bacardi Holiday Punch and La Noche. Bacardi Holiday Punch, for instance, consists of 750 ml of Bacardi Superior or Bacardi Gold rum, 2 liters of ginger ale chilled, 8 ounces of orange juice, one ounce of lime juice and one and one-half ounce of lemon juice.

Now that the holidays have officially arrived, take your drink menus to the next level and introduce your guests to some new flavors. Happy holidays.

Beverage Branding Fit for a Dragon

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, marketing, lifestyle brands, innovation

 

I came across a program while in the U.K. called “Dragons’ Den,” which is similar to the U.S.’s “Shark Tank” that airs on ABC. The dragons, like the sharks, are big time moneymakers in their respective industries and are looking for their next big investment. On this episode of “Dragons’ Den,” two men, Padrig and Dewi, present their toffee-flavored vodka, Toffoc, to the panel and ask for a £75,000 investment to help expand their brand. 

Though Padrig and Dewi had the backing of Michelin-starred celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, they revealed to the dragons that while the Anglesey-based company made a profit in its first year, the following two were not profitable. Dragon Hilary Devey, an English television star responds, “Well, something is wrong there isn’t it.”

Another dragon, Peter Jones, founder of the U.K.’s first Enterprise Academy, asks why Rhodes’ name isn’t on the bottle and how much he’s invested in the brand. His advice: “Get your celebrity endorser to do more work for you.”

The duo came up with the idea to create a toffee-flavored vodka about eight years ago while skiing in the French Alps. The spirit, apparently, is a popular drink choice among skiers there. This particular brand is available in Wales and retails for about £15 for a 70cl bottle, according to its website. The vodka, along with apparel and other swag items, also is available for purchase online. It is triple-distilled U.K. grain vodka that is infused with toffee that results in a clear, golden-hued liquid.

The dragons got to sample the vodka and most seemed impressed with the flavor and quality, remarking that the smell and taste were good. However, none of the five dragons were interested in investing in the brand. In the drinks industry we’ve seen scenarios like this before. A new product that is struggling to get the word out, partners with a celebrity or a pop culture entity, and then what? Does celebrity affiliation automatically equal success? 

That depends on the celebrity and the brand. I recall going to a Sopranos wine tasting at the Trump World Tower in New York City a few years ago. It was for a range of Italian wines that were branded with “The Sopranos” TV series that aired on HBO. While there was a lot of hype surrounding the brand at the time produced by The Sopranos Wine Co./Vesuvio Import Co. the buzz seemed to fizzle out with the show. 

On the other hand, take brands like Ciroc with P Diddy or Jim Beam’s Red Stag and its affiliation with Kid Rock. Those are two good examples of celebrity done right. That’s because these celebrities do more than just attach their name to a new brand, they embody that brand, they live it and they represent what that brand stands for. In turn, consumers that relate to a particular lifestyle—luxury or rock ’n’ roll in this case—directly relate to that brand.

While Padrig and Dewi seemed reluctant to get Rhodes more involved in their brand, saying that it was “their toffee” and not Rhodes, Jones was on target with his advice. A successful celebrity endorsement needs more than just a face or a name printed on a sell sheet; it requires an authenticity that consumers won’t compromise on—and neither will the dragons.