Ever get the feeling you’re being followed? That’s exactly the sense I’ve been getting recently from a certain herbal digestif that’s been popping up in my many travels for the past year. I’m talking about Fernet, the classic spirit whose flavor has been described as a cross between black licorice and minty-fresh mouthwash. It’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts, clues of which it seems to have planted, “Doctor Who”-style—at various points in space and time for me to see.
It started last year in Buenos Aires. Before I departed for South America, the spirit barely had been on my radar, little more than a curiosity that I’d see behind the bar at some taverns and Italian restaurants. But as I was researching local tipples in Argentina I discovered that it’s enormously popular there. Italian immigrants and their descendants comprise a significant portion of the Argentine population. They pretty much brought the spirit with them.
Several months later I was in San Francisco and there it was, just about everywhere I turned—not just in bars but in ads for Fernet Branca, the leading brand, strategically posted throughout the city (I never noticed the ads all the other times I’d been to San Francisco, so it supports my theory that some nefarious time-jumping force had retconned it into my personal chronology). It’s had quite the cult following there since pre-Prohibition (and during). I asked my cousin, Tom, a previous resident of the Fog City (now residing in Los Angeles), what the deal is with Fernet. “It’s a restaurant industry thing,” said Tom, an accomplished pastry chef. “Everyone in or around the restaurants in SF drinks it...Hang with any cook and you’ll wind up drinking some.”
And, last fall, when I was in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, a friend told me I just had to try Odell Brewing Co.’s porter aged in, you guessed it, Fernet barrels. The best way I can describe that combination is to ask you to imagine eating a handful of Andes Candies and Good ‘N’ Plenties at the same time. Not quite, but that’s about as close as I can get. But good on the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery for being at the forefront of a spirit-ual renaissance.
And a true renaissance it is, as noted by the folks at Sensient in last month’s issue detailing the flavor company’s 2014 Taste to Trend report: “Long seen in a small number of cocktails, Sensient researchers report that Fernet has taken the bar scene by storm. Bar patrons appreciate the vintage feel of classic cocktails, but with a contemporary spin.”
In light of that, I suspect that a great many consumers will be experiencing that “am I being followed?” sensation this year—all the way to the bar.
I can’t say I agree with a lot of what Newt Gingrich says, but when he raised the possibility of building a base on the moon during the past election, he got my serious attention.
Allow me to explain.
I’m a huge fan of science-fiction and that goes hand-in-hand with keeping an open mind. So while Newt’s lunar proposal generally was greeted with guffaws and accusations that he had totally lost it, personally, I found it to be one of the only lucid things he said during the election. I think the U.S. benefits in a whole host of ways by its ambitious space program, in ways so far-reaching most of us take it for granted. If you were growing up in India 30 years ago, for instance, and were interested in space exploration, you yearned to go to the U.S. where the opportunity was. The best and the brightest from all over the world wanted to come here because of our space program.
Along these same lines, when Jeff Bezos recently announced during his now infamous “60 Minutes” interview that he wanted to deliver Amazon products using flying drones, he was also generally met with guffaws and accusations that he had totally lost it. Again, my personal view is that such tech advances that seem crazy today often create the future, and maintaining an open mind is the best course of action. Imagine if you had told someone in colonial America that they’d be able to fly in 6 hours from New York to the Pacific?
So when an email recently appeared in my inbox from a company called Emulate3D with a link to a youtube video demonstrating the use of drones for material handling in a warehouse, I did anything but hit ‘delete.’ Qimarox of the Netherlands, a supplier of material handling system components, commissioned Emulate3D to make the video, the link to which is on my blog at beverageworld.com. It demonstrates how drones may soon offer a cost-effective and scalable alternative to traditional palletizing methods. With little superstructure or extensive hardware to install, a drone-based palletizing solution could be deployed rapidly, and should be capable of a relatively high-sustained load throughput, according to Qimarox. Imagine entering a warehouse with drones flying around, carrying bottles or cases of soda or beer or wine from one end of the building to the other? If there are supply chain efficiencies to be gained, this may not be science-fiction for very long. Live Long and Prosper.
I got a call from CNBC to offer a few thoughts on the news that Coke was taking a 10 percent stake in Green Mountain for a cool $1.25 billion. It'll certainly give SodaStream a run for its money and it'll be interesting to see how Pepsi responds in the coming days/weeks. (Another deal in the near future, perhaps? Pepsi is mum).
"Gamechanger" is CNBC's word, not mine. I think it's a bit strong. The deal doesn't necessarily change the game. It does, however, make it a bit more fun to watch.
I know I’ve written about this a bunch of times before, but every time I go abroad I am absolutely floored to discover just how much American craft brewers have been influencing the craft scenes—both established and burgeoning—around the world. And each time I’m in Europe, the extent to which that impact is felt always seems far greater than it was on my prior visit.
Just in the past two months, I returned to a trio of Western European markets known for their own venerable beer traditions. It was those same traditions that previously influenced craft brewers in the U.S. I’m talking about Belgium, Germany and the U.K.
In a column last year, I rhapsodized about the craft beer renaissance in London that very much mirrored the early days of the U.S. boom. I won’t spend too much time on that particular market, except to say that the American craft influence—what I like to call the “brewmerang effect,” wherein beer countries that had inspired small U.S. brewers are now home to a new generation of brewers inspired by the Yanks—seemed far more pronounced than my previous visit, just seven months prior.
Belgium was a true revelation. It had only been two years since my last visit, but the number of breweries making U.S.-inspired hop-forward beers seems to have increased exponentially in that time. They’re also producing styles like imperial stouts and porters and ramping up their whiskey barrel aging activities—including in cooperage that once housed that most American of spirits, bourbon.
American craft brewers have gotten quite adept at producing their own riff on classic Belgian styles. The Belgians are now returning the favor. Of course, it’s not just out of admiration. There’s a real commercial reason. Since about 60 percent of the output from independent Belgian breweries is exported, Belgian brewers now need to compete with the 2,600 or so brewers in a country that was only too recently treated as a punchline on the world brewing stage. That is far from being the case now. And, when it comes to the Belgian styles that American beer consumers have come to love via stateside craft producers, the Belgians might just be asserting themselves a little bit and reminding the world where those varieties were born.
Surely the same dynamic couldn’t be playing out in that other Western European bastion of centuries-old brewing heritage, the lager-centric home of the Reinheitsgebot, Germany. All I needed to do was step foot in the new Berlin gastropub Das Meisterstück to discover how wrong I was. The portrait of Brooklyn Brewery brew master Garrett Oliver on the wall of Das Meisterstück was a pretty good hint as to the types of delights available on tap and in bottles in the Berliner bar/restaurant. We’re not talking just pils and weissbier here. Imperial brown ales, IPAs, stouts, farmhouse ales and other decidedly non-German styles were on the menu—most of which were not imports, but were from new Deutschland breweries.
Europeans no longer find American beer a joke; in fact, U.S. brewers are having the last laugh.