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RETAIL SPIRITS TRAINING GUIDE.

Essential Product Knowledge and Information about Distilled Spirits for Beverage Alcohol Retailers

DISTILLED SPIRITS

Today's beverage alcohol consumers are looking for more of everything -- more flavor, more excitement and more sophistication, and premium distilled spirits is one way they get it.

But today's consumers have questions about everything they buy, and they expect intelligent answers. For that reason alone, it has become important for everyone in the beverage alcohol industry, particularly retailers and their staffs, to have, at the very least, a basic understanding of the various distilled spirits categories and the differences between them.

In order to be able to talk persuasively to customers about the wide array of brands and categories found in most liquor stores, a number of factors must be considered, including water sources, geography, raw ingredients, production processes, cooperage and aging. All of these factors play a part in determining the character and quality of the thousands of distilled spirits products currently on the market. In addition, it's also helpful for retailers to be conversant with a variety of key product characteristics, historical details, the latest category sales trends and any other information -- such as merchandising tips for product categories -- that might aid them in selling spirits products.

That is the purpose of the following pages, to serve as a reference tool which retailers and their staffs can refer to year-round, so that when, for example, a customer asks the difference between a bourbon and a Tennessee whiskey, they can look it up (if they don't already know the answer).

Fermentation

The common denominator for all types of beverage alcohol is fermentation, which is nothing more than the natural decomposition of organic materials containing carbohydrates and the conversion of the sugars in those carbohydrates into ethyl alcohol. While fermentation is pretty much universal, historically different cultures have used whatever source of carbohydrates was most common in their region. France, Spain and Italy were all wine producing countries where grapes were plentiful; as a result they developed a tradition of distilling wine or the leftovers from the winemaking process and gave the world cognac, armagnac, brandy de jerez and grappa. In the British Isles, grain was more plentiful and, as a result, the first whiskies developed, while in Mexico fermenting the juice of the agave plant was the first step in the development of tequila.

Fermentation occurs in nature whenever the two necessary ingredients, carbohydrate and yeast, are combined in a liquid, and it was probably the accidental combination of the two which resulted in the First beverage alcohol. The liquid in which the fermentation takes place is also sometimes called the mash. Fermentation stops when the sugars in the mash are depleted or when the alcohol level reaches about 14% and kills the yeast. In making beer and wine, fermentation is the most important part of the process.

For distilled spirits, however, that's just the beginning. After fermentation, the liquid is then distilled one or more times, which reduces the original water content and greatly increases the alcohol level. Where beers on average have an alcohol content ranging from 2% to 8% and wines from 8% to 14%, distilled spirits are usually in the range of 35% to 50% alcohol, although individual products may be either higher or lower. Distilled spirits labels often list proof in addition to alcohol content by volume. The proof level is always twice the alcohol content. (A bottle of 100 proof bourbon, for example, has an alcohol content of 50% by volume.)

You've Got To Have Sugar

The carbohydrates used for making distilled spirits are of two basic types: those containing a high concentration of natural sugars and those containing other carbohydrates that can easily be converted to sugars by enzymes. Among the most commonly used materials with high sugar contents are grapes, sugarcane, agave, molasses and, not surprisingly, sugar itself. Starches that can easily be converted to sugars include grains such as corn, rye, rice, barley, wheat and potatoes.

After combining carbohydrates and yeast together in a liquid base and allowing it to ferment, the next step is distillation. The secret behind the distillation process is that the boiling points of alcohol (173.3[degrees]F) and water (212[degrees]F) are different. When a liquid containing ethyl alcohol is heated to a temperature between these two points the alcohol vaporizes. This vapor is then captured and condensed, with the condensate have a higher alcohol concentration than the original liquid. Some spirits types undergo more than one distillation in order to impart certain desired characteristics.

The earliest stills were composed of a heated closed container, a condenser and a receptacle to receive the condensate. These evolved into the pot still, which is still in use, particularly for making malt whiskeys and some gins and brandies. The biggest problem with pot stills is their relatively small capacity. The next refinement was heating the alcohol-containing liquid in a column made up of a series of vaporization chambers stacked on top of one another. In the early 19th century, large-scale continuous stills, similar to those used today, were operating in France and England. In 1831, Aeneas Cofey, an Irishman, designed a continuous still that consisted of two columns in series.

The flavor profile of a pot still product is more complex than that of a continuous still product of the same alcohol content although, on the other hand, continuous stills offer a greater consistency of product from batch to batch. In attempting to take advantage of the best of both worlds, many distilleries use both column and pot stills.

Importance of Aging

Aside from specific product categories such as whiskey, brandy or vodka, another method for classifying distilled spirits is as aged or unaged. Vodka, gin, neutral spirits and some types of rum and brandy are all unaged. Whiskies, cognacs and other products must be aged for specific periods (the minimum times are usually mandated by law) in wooden barrels in order to develop specific characteristics of taste, color and aroma.

Most commonly, the barrels used for aging distilled spirits made of oak with some experts touting the benefits of American versus French oak. White oak is one of the few woods that can hold liquids while still allowing the process of breathing through the wood's pores. This breathing process is caused by temperature and humidity differences between the liquid in the barrel and the air outside the barrel in the warehouse. Some spirits are aged in new barrels, and others in barrels that have been previously used for aging wine, sherry or other distilled spirits. We don't really know what happens inside the barrels during the course of aging, but spirits producers have never found any substitute for time.

BASIC FACTS

About Distilled Spirits

* Must start with a liquid containing carbohydrates and yeast that have undergone fermentation.

* Any source of carbohydrates can be used, including most grains and sugars.

* Fermented mash must undergo distillation in either a pot or column still.

* Distillation possible because of different boiling points of ethyl alcohol and water

* Final product may or may not undergo barrel aging before bottling.

AMERICAN WHISKEY

Although several styles of whiskey have been produced in the U.S. from the colonial period until the present, only one -- bourbon -- has been officially identified as America's native spirit. Since a 1964 Act of Congress made that distinction, we will begin our look at American whiskies with bourbon.

According to Federal regulations, for an American whiskey to be labeled as bourbon it must be made from a mash containing between 51% and 79% corn. If the corn content is higher, the product must instead be designated as corn whiskey. Bourbon is a straight whiskey and, according to the law, must be distilled at 160 proof (80% alcohol) or less and must be aged a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. As a practical matter, though, most bourbon is aged at least four years and often longer. Since it is a straight whiskey, no blending is permitted and there are no additives, with the exception of water to reduce the proof. Most bourbons are marketed as 80-proof products, but some, particularly the newer boutique, small-batch, single barrel and barrel proof products are much higher in alcohol content.

Often associated with bourbon, the sour mash method is simply a technique of fermentation that uses part (at least 25%) of the spent mash from a previous distillation in the new batch of fermenting mash. A sour mash must ferment for between 72 and 96 hours. One of the advantages of the sour mash method is that it provides a dimension of consistency from one batch of whiskey to another. The sweet mash yeasting method, on the other hand, uses only fresh yeast for fermentation.

By law, bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the U.S., but the vast majority of it is produced in Kentucky, where it must be distilled and warehoused for at least one year in order to carry the "Kentucky Bourbon" designation on the label. Another bourbon designation, "Bottled in Bond," simply means that distillers can withhold paying the excise tax until the product is shipped to retailers. Only straight whiskey can be bottled in bond and must be aged in "bonded" warehouses for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. The designation has no relation to quality.

The Ultra Premiums

Over the last few years, as consumers have demonstrated a willingness to purchase unique products at a level above premium, bourbon producers have responded with a range of small batch, single barrel and barrel-strength products. With prices sometimes as high as their alcohol content, small batch and single barrel bourbons are an ultra-premium, ultra-profitable segment of the bourbon business.

Jim Beam Brands was in the vanguard of producing so-called "small-batch" bourbons, a line of limited production whiskies, blended for consistency from a limited number of barrels, with Baker's (107 proof), Basil Hayden (80 proof ), Knob Creek (100 proof) and Booker's (120 proof). The concept caught on several years ago helping to infuse new interest into the American whiskey category. The small-batch Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve (101 proof) is one of the newest of these hand-crafted bourbons.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is the result of the marriage of Wild Turkey 6-, 8- and 12-year-old stocks. This product is a "barrel-proof bourbon," meaning it is bottled at barrel strength, with no added water to lower the proof or dilute the flavor. This also means that each batch varies slightly in proof, but is usually sold at about 108 proof.

Single barrel bourbons take this limited edition concept even further, with all the whiskey coming from the same barrel. Typically, one of these products will include information on its label regarding the time and date when the barrel was emptied, along with an age and proof statement. Brands with this designation include Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Blanton's and Hancock's Reserve, among others.

Also playing in this game are Gentleman Jack, a hand-crafted relative of Jack Daniel's made in small quantities and charcoal filtered twice and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.

In addition, in the past few years bourbon-makers have inaugurated new or refurbished distilleries to cater specifically to these specialty bourbons. Among them are Brown-Forman's Labrot & Graham Distillery, which has had good success with the upscale Woodford Reserve, and Sazerac's Buffalo Trace Distillery, which recently debuted high-end expressions of Eagle Rare.

Building A Blend

The other large category of domestically-produced whiskey is American blended whiskey, which is comprised of brands which have been created by carefully blending straight whiskies with grain spirits. At one time this category, which didn't even exist prior to Prohibition, accounted for about half the domestically-produced whiskey consumed in this country. The category's share of the total market has been steadily eroding over the past 25 years, but it remains significant nevertheless, primarily due to its two biggest brands--Seagram's 7 Crown (about 2.6 million cases) and Kessler (about 850,000 cases).

When considering blended whiskies, the important thing to remember is that they are built. The straight whiskies that go into them are distilled and aged to take a planned part in the blend. Every blend on a store's shelves has a number of straight whiskies in its formula. By law, a blended whiskey must contain a minimum of 20% straight whiskey. A premium brand may contain as many as 75 different straight whiskies and grain neutral spirits. The purpose of blending is to create a balanced, light-bodied whiskey, with a richness in taste and an individual character of its own. Balance is achieved because the blending art assembles a variety of elements into a unique and distinctive product. Another hallmark of blended whiskies is their consistency of taste.

BASIC FACTS

About American Whiskey

* Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies are straight whiskies.

* Bourbon must be made from a mash containing between 51% and 79% corn.

* Bourbon must be aged in charred, new, oak barrels.

* Tennessee whiskies are produced like bourbons but with an extra step of filtration through maple charcoal prior to aging.

* American blended whiskies are assembled from a number of straight whiskies and grain neutral spirits.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Use special displays and sections with product information cards (often available from suppliers) to emphasize to consumers that hand-crafted bourbons are among the finest whiskies produced in the U.S.

* Patriotism always plays -- appeal to consumers love of things American (especially during patriotic holiday weekends) to get them to try these top whiskies. Use supplier information that highlights the heritage of various products.

* There are some great dessert and marinade recipes that use bourbon (also available from suppliers). Use these recipes to pique consumers' interest.

TRENDS

* American Blended Whiskey, still dominated by Seagram's 7 Crown, declined again last year (-2.8%).

* American Straight Whiskey consumption last year was on a par with 1999 levels (-0.4%).

* The category, which has more than 13 million cases in volume is dominated by two brands--Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam, which together claim a market share of 51%.

WHAT IS TENNESSEE WHISKEY?

Another whiskey designation, similar to bourbon, is Tennessee whiskey. Although its grain content need only be comprised of at least 51% of any grain, corn is usually used. Basically it is made in a similar manner to sour mash bourbon but Tennessee whiskey also includes an extra step in its production process -- the distilled spirit is filtered through maple charcoal in large, wooden vats before aging in order to remove impurities. The most prominent Tennessee whiskies are Jack Daniel's and George Dickel.

SCOTCH WHISKY

Scotland is one of the world's classic whisky-producing regions. It is blessed with a combination of natural resources and climate that has proven ideal for making whisky. And as Scotland's chief export, whisky is inextricably bound to the fabric of the nation's culture and economy.

The earliest official reference to whisky-making in Scotland appears in the Exchequer Rolls of 1494-95, although Highlanders had been operating stills for several hundred years previous. By 1644 the practice had become widespread enough for the Scottish Parliament to impose its first excise tax on whisky Throughout all these years, Scotch whisky was distilled using the pot-type still, resulting in whisky in small batches.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the continuous still was developed, which led to the establishment of large Lowland grain distilleries. The column-shaped, or "patent," still worked continuously and could accommodate grains other than malt, allowing the production of lighter-bodied whiskies from less expensive grains. Then in the 1850s the practice of blending whiskies from a number of distilleries to produce a product of consistent quality and taste first emerged. These whiskies were marketed by the blenders under proprietary labels and were in essence the first real Scotch whisky brands. In 1909, Scotch gained official status when the British Royal Commission on Whisky and Other Potable Spirits declared that in order to be considered Scotch, the whisky must be both distilled and matured in Scotland.

Single Malts

Although still a small percentage of overall whisky consumption in this country, single malts, which were the original Scotch whiskies, continue to rise dramatically in popularity each year. As a category unto itself, single malt Scotch actually account for more consumption than do Irish whiskies, with U.S. sales totaling around 600,000 9-liter cases.

Making malt whisky is an expensive, labor-intensive process that involves several general steps. The grain used in the mash for making single malt whisky is specially selected barley, which has been soaked in water for sprouting. The sprouted barley is then dried in kilns fired by peat and coal. This kilning process imparts a distinctive smoky character to the spirit. As is the case with other whiskies, the malted barley is then mixed with warm water to produce a mash which is then fermented with the addition of yeast and distilled. The newly distilled spirit (about 70% alcohol) is then pumped into casks. At this point it is designated as "plain British spirits," but after three years in the barrel, it can be called whisky.

Produced by more than 100 Scotch distilleries, each single malt has a style and flavor all its own. It is also important to note that each single malt is the product of a single distillery and comes from a single batch of whisky.

As a general rule, single malts can be classified according to their geographic origin. Lowland malts are generally the lightest, both in flavor and color; Islay produces the heaviest, most full-bodied whiskies; Campbeltown malts are also full-bodied, but there are only a few malt distilleries left there; Highland malts are the most numerous by far, and are generally regarded has having the most balance, being medium in flavor and aroma. But, as is usually true for most generalities, there can be a wide range of malt character and flavor even within these locations, often based on what type of product a particular distillery chooses to produce.

Blended Scotch

Although single malts have attracted a great deal of interest in recent years, more than 93% of the Scotch consumption in this country can be attributed to brands of blended whisky.

As anyone who has ever sipped a fine single malt is aware, these highly flavorful whiskies can be an acquired taste. The object of blending has always been to "soften," in a sense, the harsher characteristics of the individual malt whiskies with the intention of producing a whisky with widespread appeal.

As the word implies, blends are the result of mixing different whiskies together, including both single malts and grain whiskies. Located mainly in the Lowlands, the 14 Scottish grain distilleries produce grain spirits (which are in fact whiskies, not, as is sometimes misinterpreted, neutral grain spirits), made primarily from corn (maize). They are distilled in tall, column stills, a method that is faster and less expensive than the pot still.

Obviously, there are numerous variables which determine the ultimate character of a blended Scotch, such as the quality of the barley, the amount of peat used in the malt kiln, the length of the second distillation and the blender's judgment about when each particular cask is ready to be added to the blend.

This last step is, according to many experts, an art as well as a science. Each Scotch house has its own closely guarded blend, and while certain whiskies are not compatible, the bringing together of the right combination of malts and grains will determine the characteristics of the brand. Usually there are 20 to 25 different single malt whiskies used in a blend, and although the exact proportions are not known, anywhere from 20% to 50% malt whisky will be used in a blend, with the rest being grain whisky.

Aging

Scotch whiskies age at different rates depending on where they were distilled as well as the location and the conditions in which they mature. Throughout the years of maturation, the whisky, which coming out of the still is a colorless spirit, gradually becomes more complex. Its color changes too, taking on an amber tint from the wood of the cask.

By law, all Scotch whisky must be aged at least three years, and few brands enter the U.S. without being aged at least four years. Those that are less than four years old must carry an age statement on the label. The spirits are normally aged in oak casks, frequently casks that have been used for bourbon-aging in the U.S. Many distillers also use barrels that once held sherry or wine. The majority of single malts spend a minimum of five years in casks, although most are aged at least eight years, and some for much longer. In blends, when a Scotch is aged 10 years or 12 years, the number refers to the age of the youngest whisky in the blend.

As is the case with Canadian whisky, Scotch can be bottled in the country of origin or it can be shipped in bulk to the U.S. and bottled here, which can be much more cost efficient.

BASIC FACTS

About Scotch Whisky

* Malted barley is the primary grain used in making Scotch whisky.

* Drying the barley in kilns heated by peat fires gives Scotch its smoky flavor.

* A single malt Scotch is the product of a single batch produced by single distillery.

* Blended Scotch accounts for about 93% of all consumption in the U.S.

* Blends can made from dozens of single malts and grain whiskies.

* Scotch is often aged in casks formerly used to age sherry, port or bourbon to impart certain flavor characteristics.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* One of the most heavily promoted spirits categories in the industry, retailers should take advantage of Scotch suppliers' marketing programs and merchandising materials to help spur sales.

* Conduct product tastings, where legal, to profile the different character and taste produced among several single malts.

TRENDS

* The Scotch category continued its downward trend last year (25.2 million cases in 1980 vs. 9.1 million cases in 2000) but at a slower rate (-0.9%).

* Four of category's top five brands (Dewar's, Clan MacGregor, Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker Black) increased in volume.

* Growth of single malts (less than 7% of total Scotch) are projected to continue.

CANADIAN WHISKY

As was the case in the U.S., early whisky distilling in Canada was an offshoot of farming and grain milling. Farmers and millers found it expedient to turn their bulky excess inventory into a distilled form of the grains, which were easier to store and could be sold at a handsome profit. Many of these settlers were also descendants of Scotch and Irish immigrants with long histories of distilling cereal grains, and they continued their long-standing tradition of creating "home-brewed" spirits in their new land. The historical connection to Scotland helps explain why Canadians spell whisky in the Scotch fashion, without an (When speaking of spirits from the U.S. or Ireland, the spelling "whiskey" is used.)

Interestingly, the Canadian government does not mandate a specific grain mixture, proof level for distillation or type of barrel for storage, preferring to let each individual distiller make those decisions. Our own government is another story, however. According to U.S. federal regulations, Canadian whisky must be produced in Canada according to that country's laws, must contain no distilled spirits less than three years of age and must be a blend. Canadian law simply states that the whisky must be produced from cereal grain.

In compliance with that regulation, Canadian whisky may be distilled from a fermented mash of wheat, corn, rye and/or barley. A common misconception about Canadian whiskies, and American blended whiskies for that matter, is that they are rye whiskies. In reality, however, Canadian distillers use seven times more corn than other grains. But because Canadian distillers have been allowed to develop their own methods, it is important to remember that each distiller's recipe calls for different amounts of the individual grains with the exact proportions being kept as closely guarded secrets.

All Canadian whisky must be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years, although most spend from six to eight years in the barrel. After aging, the whisky is dumped into huge blending vats. This is the stage at which the art of the blender is put to the test. One of the many tricks of the blender's trade is the use of whiskies of various ages in order to produce a consistent blend from year to year (the bottle label can only carry the age statement of the youngest spirit used). That's why a bottle of Canadian whisky produced today is likely to have the same taste profile as a bottle of the same brand purchased 10, 20 or more years ago. After blending, the whisky is returned to barrels to allow the newly combined whiskies to marry. Only then is it bottled and sold.

As a rule, Canadian whiskies are light-bodied, slightly pale and have a reputation for being mellow. What many people, even in the business, don't realize is how big the Canadian category is. Accounting for 10.9% of all U.S. distilled spirits consumption, Canadian whisky trails only vodka and cordials in terms of its share of the market.

BASIC FACTS

About Canadian Whisky

* Often thought to be straight rye whisky, Canadian is actually made mostly from corn and is a blended whisky.

* Canadian whisky may be bottled either in the U.S. or in Canada.

* Canadian whisky must be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years

* The age statement on a bottle of Canadian whisky is that of the youngest whisky used.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Canadian is the most mixable of the major whisky categories; emphasize this mixability to consumers, and display several different types of drink recipes (from suppliers) that customers can experiment with.

TRENDS

* Canadian Whisky continued to lose both volume (-0.9%) and share 10.5% in 2000, as it dropped to fourth place in terms of category volume.

* Crown Royal, the tenth largest distilled spirit brand overall, has managed to transcend the category and keep on an accelerated growth track (+8.3% to 2.6 million cases last year).

* Black Velvet made something of a comeback last year as volume climbed to 1.8 million cases (+6.6%).

IRISH WHISKY

According to Irish legend, missionary monks brought the secret of distillation to Ireland from somewhere in the Mediterranean between 1400 and 1500 years ago. These monks had discovered that by fermenting barley and water with yeast and then heating the resultant mash in a pot still, they could separate out and more importantly retain the pure alcohol. They called this distillate "uisce beatha" (also spelled uisge beatha), meaning "the water of life," by the Celtic population.

Although some Scotsmen might argue the claim, Irish officially became the world's first whiskey when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips a license to distill whiskey in 1608. He then established the world's first licensed distillery, Old Bushmills, by the river Bush in County Antrim on the northern coast.

That distillery still operates to this day, and is one of two primary locations where Irish whiskey is produced; the other is the Midleton Distillery. County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland.

Irish whiskey has been traditionally distilled in pot stills from a fermented mash of grain comprised primarily of malted and unmalted barley, with a proportion of other grains, including corn, rye, wheat and oats.

The barley malt is dried in closed kilns, preserving its taste. Unique to Irish whiskey is the fact that it is distilled three times, whereas no other whiskeys in the world are distilled more than twice. Producers claim that the third distillation helps discard any undesirable elements left in the spirit. Continuous stills are now used in conjunction with pot stills during the process at the large Midleton Distillery, where a wide range of whiskey types of different proofs and flavor intensities are made.

Irish whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years in seasoned oak casks, but on average most whiskeys spend five to seven years in casks, and premium brands are matured for 10 to 12 years. After maturation, the "flavoring" whiskey is mixed with a proportion of grain whiskey and "vatted" for a few weeks, as the Irish call the process of marrying the whiskeys together. The resulting product is then bottled.

One of the things that sets Irish malts apart is that the germinated grain is not dried over peat fires as it is in Scotland. Instead, the Irish dry the barley in closed kilns, which eliminates the peaty. smoky flavor that characterizes most Scotch.

Although for many years the Bushmills and Jameson families of Irish whiskies were the only brands available in the U.S. the category has been broadened in recent years. Joining the fold have been The Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Brennan's, Midleton Very Rare and Clontarf.

BASIC FACTS

About Irish Whiskey

* Irish is made from a fermented mash of malted and unmalted barley, corn, rye and lesser amounts of other cereal grains. It is triple-distilled in pot stills and aged three to nine years in oak casks previously used for aging sherry, brandy, bourbon or rum.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Position Irish as a "discovery" spirit. Few consumers of spirits are aware of how smooth yet full of character Irish whiskey is. Get them to try it and they'll thank you.

* Expand promotions beyond the obvious St. Patrick's Day-focused activity; tempt consumers to be "Irish" at other times of year, and supply drink seasonal recipes in a small Irish whiskey display.

TRENDS

* Irish Whiskey remains the smallest of the distilled spirits categories with a mere 0.3% of all consumption.

* Growth pattern continued in 2000 (+7.1% to 390,000 9-liter cases).

* Top four brands all up in volume last year.

VODKA

Vodka continues to be the most popular spirits category in the U.S. with consumption of more than 35 million 9-liter cases last year. Imported and domestic brands account for over 24% of all distilled spirits consumption outselling Scotch, Canadian and Irish whiskies combined.

According to the definition of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, which didn't even recognize vodka as a separate category until 1951, vodka is a spirit without any distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. This apparent lack of character rather than being a negative, has has been one of the secrets of vodka success, since its chameleon-like nature allows it to mix well with just about anything.

And, while for years vodka benefited from the movement of consumers towards lighter, less flavorful beverages, it is now a beneficiary of a new movement returning to the flavorful cocktails of the past, many of which have been reincarnated with a vodka base for the '90s.

Because vodka is highly neutral, with flavoring substances largely removed during processing, it is possible to make it from a mash of the cheapest and most readily available raw ingredients. Potatoes were traditionally employed in Russia and Poland but have largely been supplanted there and in other vodka-producing countries by cereal grains. Most brands today, including the best-known imports, are made from grains -- sometimes rye, wheat and barley, but principally corn.

The production of vodka begins with the distillation of a fermented mash of grain at a very alcohol level (about 95 percent), which effectively eliminates any of the congeners that usually lend distinctive flavors to whiskies, which are distilled at lower alcohol levels. The absence of these congeners is what lends vodka its flavorless, odorless qualities.

Vodka is further purified by undergoing a process that treats the spirit with vegetal charcoal. This involves a continuous flow of the neutral spirits through tanks containing at least 1.5 pounds of vegetal charcoal for each gallon of spirits. The spirits must be in contact with the charcoal for at least eight hours. Another requirement is that 10% of the charcoal be replaced after every 40 hours of operation.

A second method keeps the spirits in constant movement by mechanical means, and in contact for a minimum of eight hours with at least six pounds of new charcoal for every 100 gallons of spirits. In addition, the government has said that it is okay to produce vodka by any other method that results in a product without distinctive character, aroma or taste.

With modern distilling technology, alcohol comes from the still already about 95% pure. In the vodka-making process, the charcoal removes some, if not all, of the remaining 5% of impurities.

Of course, it is also a fact that while the primary purpose of the charcoal is to remove things, it also imparts a trace of flavor from the wood used to make the charcoal. The source of water, too, is an important factor in the final product, since over half of what is in the bottle is water. Distilled water or any highly treated water will not taste as good as water fresh from a virgin spring.

So, the eventual quality of the vodka is often determined by the finishing process -- the varieties of charcoal used, the method of distillation used, the equipment used, the water used and other factors.

Mixability was vodka's first attraction and mixability is still its strength. The Bloody Mary and Screwdriver are vodka originals. But vodka has moved into recipes originated for gin and rum and other spirits. Vodka and tonic, vodka martini, vodka and cola, vodka punches and cocktails are all part of the spirit's almost endless repertoire.

BASIC FACTS

About Vodka

* Because the end product is supposed to be without distinctive taste, vodka can be made from a fermented mash of just about any carbohydrate-containing material.

* Potatoes were traditionally used to make vodka in Russia and Poland, but today most vodkas use grain, usually corn.

* The type of charcoal used in filtration and the water source become extremely important in vodka production.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* The most versatile of all spirits, vodka lends itself to a variety of cross-promotions; display with tonics, fruit juices, limes or even olives.

* With the increasing popularity of flavored vodkas, create a "Flavor of the Month" promotion.

* Sales of the ultra-premium segment, while small overall, have been growing dramatically. Highlight these high-image, highly profitable brands, along with the more well-known superpremium and premium vodkas.

ORIGINS

As is the case with many distilled spirits categories, when and where vodka was first produced is a matter of some debate. The name takes its root from the word voda which in most Slavic languages means "water." (The word "vodka" translates literally as "dear little water.")

Russia and Poland are the two primary claimants to the distinction of being the first to discover how to produce vodka. One thing is certain, however: vodka originated somewhere in Northern or Eastern Europe, and it was consumed in Russia as early as the 14th century.

Americans knew next to nothing about vodka before the 1930s and in fact the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Fireaarms (ATF) didn't even classify it as a separate category until as late as 1951.

CLASSIC VODKA DRINKS

Bloody Mary

2 oz. vodka

5 oz. tomato juice

1 tsp. lemon or lime juice

1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Several dashes Tabasco sauce

Mix all ingredients well with cracked ice and serve in a collins glass, with additional ice cubes, if needed.

Black Russian

1 1/2 oz. vodka

3/4 oz. Kahlua

Mix both ingredients with crkaced ice in a shaker or blender. Pour into a chilled old-fashioned glass.

Moscow Mule

2 oz. vodka

1 tsp. lime juice

Ginger beer

Lime slice or wedge

Pour vodka and lime juice into a chilled coffee mug or highball glass filled with ice cubes. Stir and fill with ginger beer. Garnish with lime.

TRENDS

* Largest distilled spirits category with 24.4% of all volume.

* Category growth (+3.2% in 2000) driven primarily by imports (+17%).

* Continues to be led by Smirnoff (16% market share), with Absolut (12.5%) mounting more of a challenge each year.

GIN

Originally created by a Dutch medical doctor looking for an inexpensive medicine in the 1600s, gin quickly caught on throughout Europe, particularly in England. Gin, essentially is a flavored spirit. Without the flavorings, it would be vodka.

What we normally refer to as gin in this country is the London dry gin that English distillers developed after the invention of the continuous still in the 19th century. The original style, known as Holland or Geneva gin, is still produced in the Netherlands, but very little is imported to this country. Originally, the phrase "London Dry Gin" specified a geographic location -- that the gin was produced in or near London. Now, the term is considered to be generic and is used to describe the style of gin. (In fact, Beefeater is the only gin still distilled in the London area.) And the vast majority of gins on the market uses the term, "Dry."

At its most basic, gin is the distillate of a grain mash combined with various flavoring agents. It gets its primary flavor from juniper berries, but many other herbs and spices go into the makeup as well. A wide array of natural flavoring agents can be used in gin including dried lemon and orange peel, cardamom, almonds, carraway seeds, angelica root, coriander, cassia bark, licorice and fennel. These botanicals come from all over the world, making gin a truly international product, regardless of country of origin. And in addition to the items mentioned above, there are dozens of other possible ingredients. Each distiller has his own secret formula, which explains why, despite the universal dominance of juniper berries, no two gin brands are likely to have the same flavor profile. The English version uses 75% corn, 15% barley malt and 10% other grains for the mash. The fermentation process is similar to that of whiskey. Following fermentation, the liquid is distilled and rectified through a column still, pr oducing a pure spirit of at least 95 percent alcohol. Distilled water is added to reduce the spirit to 60 percent alcohol. The liquid is then redistilled with the many flavoring agents. Methods vary from producer to producer. Some combine the botanicals with the spirit and distill the new mixture, while others suspend the botanicals above the spirit in the still and let the vapors pass through the many flavoring agents. The spirit that comes off is reduced to bottling strength, anywhere from 40 to 48% alcohol, with distilled water.

American gin is produced using one of two standard methods -- distilling and compounding. Distilled gin is primarily made by adding the flavoring agents during a continuous process. Compound gin, a less costly method, is produced by combining neutral spirits with the oil and extracts of the desired botanicals.

BASIC FACTS

About Gin

* Gin is a distilled spirit deriving its primary flavor from juniper berries.

* Every gin producer has its own proprietary recipe of additional botanicals and other flavoring agents which give each gin brand its own distinctive flavor profile.

* London dry refers to a style of gin, originally made in and around London, but now produced elsewhere as well.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Premium brands like Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater and Tanqueray continue to benefit from the consumer's return to classic cocktails. Highlight this angle in store advertising and merchandising programs to help drive sales.

* Like vodka, the gin category has seen the emergence of several high-end ultra-premium brands, such as Tanqueray #10 and Van Gogh. Rotate displays to call attention to this new, exciting ultra-premium segment.

TRENDS

* Total category declined slightly last year (-0.6%) as both the domestic and imported segments suffered losses.

* Seagram's Gin, despite losing a million cases in volume in the last decade, remains the largest brand.

* Tanqueray (1.4 million cases) and Bombay Sapphire (+26.4%) managed to grow last year despite category trends.

RUM

Rum was first distilled on the island of Barbados in R the West Indies during the mid-17th century. Conceived as a way of utilizing excess molasses produced by sugar cane plantations, rum soon became a popular commodity throughout the Caribbean, and was an important part of the Colonial American economy.

By the latter half of the 17th century, molasses from the West Indies was being shipped to New England, where it was distilled into rum. In fact, the first distillery in what is now the United States was built on Staten Island by William Keift. This facility was already producing rum when the English seized the Dutch colony in 1664. Another rum distillery was operating in Boston as early as 1667.

Rum was America's favorite drink long before bourbon was even invented. In 1775, more than 12 million gallons of rum were consumed annually in the 13 Colonies, a fairly significant amount for a population that was still under three million at the time.

The early popularity of rum in this country lessened as a result of the Embargo Act of 1807, which made the importing of anything from England, France or their territories illegal. By the time the restriction on West Indian molasses was lifted, bourbon and rye whiskeys had supplanted rum as the settlers favorites. But use of the term rum to mean all distilled spirits was well established, and for years anti-alcohol organizations railed against "demon rum."

Distillation & Production

Rum, by federal law, must be distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 190 proof. And it can be made anywhere, although more than 80% of it is produced in Puerto Rico.

The two main types of rum are light-bodied -- generally produced to be dry with a subtle flavor, and the style of much Puerto Rican rum; and full-bodied -- produced to be more aromatic, and the style of much, but not all, Jamaican rum. A third style of rum falls somewhere in between these two.

Once the sugar cane is crushed and the juice extracted, it is boiled, resulting in a sweet, thick syrup. The syrup is pumped into high-speed centrifugal machines, which separate the sugar from other solids. The remaining molasses is then fermented and distilled into rum. At this point the process differs for light- and full-bodied rums.

Light Rum, Dark Rum

The light-bodied rums of Puerto Rico are made in column stills. Distilled at 160 proof or higher, only the liquid from the "heart," or middle stage of the process, is used. By law, the spirit then spends at least one year in oak barrels. At this point, the rum is clear and normally designated as "white" rum. Another type of light-bodied rum is termed "gold" or "amber." This spirit is aged in wood at least three years and, with caramel added, acquires a pale golden hue. The gold rum is slightly mellower and more aromatic than the white. A third type of light-bodied rum is anejo, the mellowest and most flavorful of the Puerto Rican and other light-bodied rams. They are aged in wood from four to six years, and sometimes longer.

In contrast, full-bodied rums are made using a different process. Skimmings from previous distillations -- called "dunder" -- are added to the molasses in the fermentation vats. This is followed by a natural fermentation of five to 20 days. The fermented liquid is then distilled in pot stills, and then redistilled. Again, only the middle rum from the distillation is taken, at between 140 and 160 proof. This process results in a very flavorful, aromatic spirit that, in the case of Jamaican rum, is almost always blended. Before bottling, this full-bodied rum normally requires at least five to seven years of barrel aging.

Spice and Other Flavors

Recently, spiced rums and rum-based or rum-flavored products have been gaining popularity with American consumers. More than anything, this probably reflects consumers' changing taste preferences, which are also shown in the many drink and food recipes that call for both light- and full-bodied rums. In fact, two of the top five selling rums, Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum and Malibu Caribbean Coconut Rum are flavored products. Also part of this burgeoning trend is Bacardi Limon, a citrus-flavored brand that has had tremendous sales since its introduction, as well as Bacardi's Tropico, another fast-growing rum-based flavored spirit.

BASIC FACTS

About Rum

* Sugar cane or one of its byproducts is the basic raw ingredient used in producing rum.

* More than 80% of the rum consumed in the U.S. comes from Puerto Rico.

* Light-bodied, or while, rum can acquire color through extended barrel aging (four to six years for anejos) and should not be confused with the full-bodies rums (such as those from Jamaica) made by a slightly different process.

* The best-selling spirit in the U.S. for many years has been Bacardi Rum.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Tropical-themed rum displays seem obvious, but they often work in attracting consumers, especially during the summer months.

* Rum, like other spirits categories, has seen growth in flavored products as well as an expansion of aged superpremium products, while maintaining a solid base of mainstream brands. Take advantage of these dynamics when highlighting rum for consumers.

CLASSIC RUM DRINKS

Cuba Libre

2 oz. rum

Cola

Juice of 1/2 lime

Put lime juice and rind in highball glass. Add rum and fill with cola and ice cubes.

Pina Colada

2 oz. rum

2 oz. coconut cream

4 oz. pineapple juice

Pineapple stick

Maraschino cherry

Shake liquid ingredients in an ice-filled shaker, or blend with ice in a blender. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass, garnish with pineapple stick or cherry.

Daiquiri

2 oz. rum

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp. superfine sugar

Pour ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Shake, then strain into cocktail glass.

TRENDS

* Rum is on a roll, having gained 4.5 million cases in volume in the last 10 years.

* Dominated by Bacardi (largest spirit brand) with 44% of category sales.

* Hottest brand is Captain Morgan (+1.8 million cases since '95, 17% share of rum market).

TEQUILA

It's no surprise to retailers that tequila is one of the brightest spots among distilled spirits categories, fueled to a large degree by America's continuing love affair with the Margarita. Of course that has all happened in the last few years. The history of tequila is one that stretches back to the early years of European conquest of Mexico and has its roots in the Aztec culture.

However, despite all the hoopla and romance, the Aztecs did not drink tequila, nor did they invent the Margarita. Not that they wouldn't have wanted to. Unfortunately, they had not yet discovered the secret of distillation. The firece and nobel Aztecs were however, by no means teetotalers.

The Aztecs alcoholic beverage of choice, it was actually their only choice, however, was called pulque by the Spaniards. Pulque was made by cutting off the flower stalk of the agave plant before it had a chance to bloom, then hollowing out the base of the plant and allowing the cavity to fill with sweet, milky plant sap. With no place to go, the juice would collect there and ferment into a sort of murky, foul-smelling wine.

The conquistadores brought grapes and grains with them and in an attempt to recreate the alcoholic beverages popular in Europe, tried their hand at making beers, wines and brandies. But the agave plant thrives where grapes and grain won't -- in semi-arid areas. The Spaniards didn't like the taste of pulque, and so they tried distilling it. After experimenting with different types of agave, they finally produced a drinkable spirit, which they called mezcal.

Tequila Is Not Made From Cactus

Many people mistakenly believe that tequila is made from a cactus. The confusion is common because various agave species are often confused with cacti. The main difference is that the leaves of agave plants are succulent rather than, as in the case of cacti, the stems.

About 125 years ago, several of the distillers around the town of Tequila in the central Mexican state of Jalisco began making a superior form of mezcal. They used the whole heart of a specific variety of agave indigenous to the region: the blue agave. Today only spirits made within the confines of this region can bear the name tequila. If produced elsewhere, it must be called mezcal.

These days, the blue agave is no longer a wild plant, but has become a carefully cultivated species upon which the local economy depends. On average, agave plants are about ten years old before they can be harvested for tequila production. The juicy core of the plant, which resembles a large pineapple, is harvested. Called the pina (Spanish for pineapple), the core, which sometimes weighs upwards of 100 pounds, is trimmed, cut into chunks, then baked in huge steam ovens. A sweet juice (aguamiel or honey juice) is extracted by steaming and compressing the pina. The juice is fermented for several days and then distilled at low proof. It is then double distilled to a powerful 110 proof. Tequila is reduced to 80 proof with water before bottling for export.

Going For The Gold

Unlike a grape or grain distillate, such as brandy or whisky, tequila is virtually free of congeners, so agiing is not that important. White, also called silver, tequila is drawn into vats after distilling and bottled as needed.

Some tequilas are aged in wood -- the gold and anejo -- and some are bottled clear -- the white and silver. The gold tequila rests in large 50-gallon white oak vats for about nine months to a year where it acquires a pale gold color (this is sometimes augmented with a dose of caramel coloring). By law, tequila designated anejo must be aged at least one year in wood, however, it is usually aged in smaller oak barrels for at least three years and sometimes up to seven. Some connoisseurs consider anejo tequila to be like cognac and they drink it from a snifter.

Another designation appearing on some tequila labels is reposado, which translates literally from the Spanish as "reposed" or "rested," and simply means that the tequila has been barrel-aged to acquire its color.

The margarita is most responsible for the recent popularity of tequila in this country. There are other recipes, of course, including the tequila sunrise and the tequila sour. And for traditionalists, there is always Los Tres Cuates ("The Three Chums") -- a lick of salt, a shot of tequila and a bite of a lime wedge.

Myths & Legends

Some mezcal is produced with an agave root worm in the bottle as a mark of authenticity. However, only a small percentage of this type of mezcal is actually exported from Mexico. Various legends attribute great strength to anyone brave enough to gulp it down. Great aphrodisiacal powers are also attributed to consumption of the worm.

There is also some confusion over the words mezcal and mescal. The first is the distilled spirit made from the agave plant but originating outside of the delineated boundaries of the Tequila region. The second is the name of a Mexican cactus which is the source of the hallucinogen, mescaline.

BASIC FACTS

About Tequila

* Tequila is not made from cactus, but from agave; the best tequilas are made from 100% blue agave.

* In order to be labeled tequila, the product must be produced in a specifically designated area of Mexico, in and around the town of Tequila.

* Unless designated as anejo, muy anejo or reposado, tequilas are unaged.

* Tequila does not have a worm in the bottle; that's mezcal.

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* In increasing numbers, tequila aficiandos are purchasing and consuming ultra premium, aged, 100% blue agave tequilas that boast impressive packaging and handcrafted credentials. Retailers can promote these highly profitable brands in much the same way they would a single malt Scotch or V.S.O.P. cognac, through hand-selling techniques and product tastings.

* Run a Margarita Madness promotion, displaying tequila along with the various ingredients that make up America's most popular drink. And take advantage of Cinco de Mayo merchandising materials offered by suppliers to spur additional sales of tequila.

TRENDS

* Tequila, still a relatively small category, built its volume to 7.7 million cases last year (+7.1%) and its share of the distilled spirits market to 5.2%.

* Still dominated by Jose Cuervo, which alone accounts for 45% of all U.S. consumption, despite the steady influx of new brands.

* Fastest growing brand--Sauza with a 700,000 case increase over the last 5 years (+38% in 2000).

CORDIALS & LIQUEURS

The cordial and liqueur category is the largest and most diverse in terms of the number of brands, Flavors and alcohol content. It is also the second-largest as far as total case sales, accounting for more than 11% of the industry's total volume. Products in the category encompass virtually every flavor imaginable and are used as traditional after-dinner drinks, as ingredients in many popular shooters as well as for aperitifs, digestifs, components of classic cocktails or even as a flavorful enhancement to foods. The original cordial recipes are shrouded in mystery, which is not surprising since their creators were medieval alchemists. In those days these highly-flavored spirits were used to stimulate the appetite or digestion, as love potions and aphrodisiacs and as cure-alls for various ailments, which made them forerunners of patent medicines

A cordial or liqueur, the terms are used interchangeably in this country and always appear together in governmental regulations, is made by combining distilled spirits with a variety of flavorings and adding sweeteners.

Cordials and liqueurs are usually thought of as sweet and in fact by definition they must contain at least 2.5% sugar by weight although most cordials are considerably higher in their sugar content and many contain up to 35% of a sweetening agent. The sugar may be beet, maple, cane, honey, corn or a combination of these. If the sweetening accounts for less than 10% by weight of the finished product, the resultant cordial may be labeled "dry." Most cordials and liqueurs contain between 17% and 30% alcohol by volume although some brands are over 50% alcohol.

Production Methods

One of three methods is usually used to extract the flavors needed to produce a cordial. They are: infusion or maceration; percolation; and distillation.

Fruit flavors are extracted either by infusion, where crushed fruits are steeped in water, or maceration, in which they are steeped in alcohol. Either process can take up to a year for the water or alcohol to absorb almost all of the aroma, flavor and color of the fruit. Once the liquid is drawn off, it's stored in a tank for several days and then filtered. The fruit then undergoes distillation to extract whatever flavor remains. This distillate may then be added to the original liquid to give it more character. The final step before bottling calls for the addition of syrup made from sugar or another sweetening agent to reach the desired sweetness level.

Percolation, which is sometimes referred to as brewing is similar to the process for making coffee, is used to draw flavor from leaves and herbs while distillation is used to extract flavor from seeds and flowers. In this process, the flavoring agent is placed in the upper part of an apparatus which contains brandy or another spirit in the lower part. The spirit is then pumped up over the flavoring agent and is allowed to percolate through it over and over again for several weeks or months. The flavor and aroma are thus extracted from the flavoring agent which then undergoes distillation to extract any remaining flavor. The distillate may then be mixed with the percolate which is next filtered, sweetened and bottled.

Distillation uses heat to extract the flavor from such agents as anise, caraway, orange peel and mint. After the flavoring agent has been steeped in alcohol for several hours, it is placed in a copper pot still with additional spirits and distilled. The colorless distillate is then sweetened with syrup and usually colored with vegetable coloring or food dye before bottling.

Generic vs. Proprietary

Generic liqueurs are those produced and marketed by several suppliers under the same universally used name. Some of the more common varieties are amaretto, sambuca, triple sec and peppermint schnapps. But even among generic liqueurs brand names are prominent. Proprietary liqueurs are those brands usually produced from a closely guarded formula and sold under a trademarked name by only one producer. Famous proprietary liqueurs include Kahlua Cointreau, Drambuie, Benedictine and Grand Marnier.

BASIC FACTS

About Cordials & Liqueurs

* Cordials and liqueurs are usually thought of as sweet and in fact by definition they must contain at least 2.5% sugar by weight.

* Cordials and liqueur flavors are extracted from raw ingredients by infusion, percolation or distillation.

* Alcohol content of cordials and liqueurs is usually between 17% and 34% although for some brands its as high as 50%.

* Cordials and liquers may be either generic (sambuca, triple sec, peppermint schnapps) or proprietary (Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Drambuie, Cointreau).

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* The variety of drinks made from combinations of spirits and cordials & liqueurs is limited only by the imagination, as new, interesting flavorful efforts keep appearing. Pay attention to the hottest cordial drinks in bars and clubs in your neighborhood and promote these drinks -- and the ingredients that go into them -- in your store.

POPULAR LIQUEUR DRINKS

Frozen Cappucino

1/2 oz. Baileys Original Irish Cream

1/2 oz. Kahlua

1/2 oz. Frangelico

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

1 dash light cream

Combine ingredients in blender with 1/2 cup crushed ice and blend until smooth. Serve in tall glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar.

Fuzzy Navel

1/2 oz. DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps

1 oz. vodka

6 oz. orange juice

Orange slice

Mix all ingredients, except orange slice, with cracked ice in a blender. Pour into collins glass and garnish with orange slice.

Lola's Apple

2 oz. Ketel One Vodka

2 oz. Apple Pucker Schnapps

Pour over ice and shake; use 9 oz. Martini glass; garnish with Granny Smith apple.

TRENDS

* The second largest category has demonstrated consistent incremental growth in recent years (+3.5% in 2000).

* No major brands reported volume declines in 2000.

* Imports hotter than domestic brands (+6.5% growth vs. +1.1% last year).

BRANDY & COGNAC

At its most basic, brandy is a distilled spirit made from grape wine or the fermented mash of another fruit. When used alone, the term brandy refers to grape products; other brandies will have the fruit name attached as well. Almost all brandies are aged and virtually every wine-producing country also produces brandy.

France's Cognac & Armagnac

A common misconception is that all French brandy is called cognac. Cognac comes only from one region, the agricultural district of the Charente-Charente Maritime departmentes about 100 miles north of Bordeaux on the coast of France. Natives of the region put it this way: "All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac."

The Cognac district, one of only three officially designated brandy regions in Europe (the other two are Armagnac in France and Jerez in Spain), is divided into six primary vineyard districts. In the heart of the region flourish the three best vineyard districts, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and the Borderies. Fanning out in concentric circles from these three small areas are three larger but secondary vineyard areas, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires.

All cognacs are produced from wines made from grapes grown and harvested within the demarcated Cognac region. The St. Emilion variety, or ugni blanc as it is also known, is by a wide margin the main grape type cultivated. Cognac is always distilled twice in small copper potstills. The colorless, high alcohol distillate, which by law cannot exceed 72% alcohol after the second distillation, is pumped into French oak casks for aging. The legal minimum period of wood aging is two and a half years but the vast majority of cognacs age for much longer periods, with the best XOs maturing for two to three decades or more.

Virtually all cognacs are blends of many different spirits. A VSOP may be the end result of the blending of as many as 50 cognacs. The purpose of blending is to maintain a precise standard of taste and quality from batch to batch.

The Brandies of Spain

France's other officially demarcated brandy region, Armagnac, enjoys a smaller, but remarkably loyal audience in the U.S. Armagnac differs from cognac in a number of ways, the most obvious being a single distillation. It is also notable that while armagnac production began a few hundred years before cognac, the Armagnac region is much smaller, accounting for only about onesixth as many acres as Cognac. Armagnac also often carries a vintage date on the label, referring to the year that the brandies were distilled. All brandies used in the blend must, by law, come from that single vintage. Cognac only rarely uses vintage years as an identification, preferring instead to use a lettering system.

Despite the renown of it's neighbor to the north, more brandy is produced in Spain than in any other European country. And of that production, some 95%, comes from Andalucia in the south, especially from the town of Jerez de la Frontera. There the hearty, rich, full-bodied Brandy de Jerez brandies of Domecq, Gonzalez Byass, Diez-Merito, Bobadilla, Terry, Sanchez Romate, Garvey and Osborne are matured in the bodegas that dominate the Jerez landscape.

What separates Brandy de Jerez from all the other brandies in the world is the utilization of the solera system in the aging process. This unique oak cask aging arrangement continually marries newer, fresher brandies with the mellower, more settled mature brandies in a singular dance of maturation. The purpose is to combine the best qualities of each brandy into one representative brandy that carries the stamp of youthful vigor and the grace and surety of age.

Brandy de Jerez has three levels of quality: Solera, brandies which have been matured in wood for at least six months; Solera Reserva, those which have been aged in oak for a minimum of one year; and the ultrapremium, utterly sensational Solera Gran Reservas, which are aged for at least three years.

American Brandies

American brandies are divided unequally between the giant producers like Gallo, Christian Brothers, Paul Masson and Korbel and the minuscule, boutique distillers of Oregon and California, whose influence and importance far outweigh their gross sales.

First produced by the Franciscans who established the l8th-l9th century mission chain, the state of California today accounts for over 95% of all the brandy produced in the U.S. Many critics have noted improvement in domestic brandy production in recent years, allowing these products to compete with those of any other region in the world. Paul Masson Grande Amber is a great example of the forward strides made in domestic production. In the mid-'90s, the brand underwent a makeover, with a stylish, cognac-style bottle and a longer aging period, resulting in exrtraordinary sales growth that may break 1 million cases this year. In addition, the brand recently added a higher-priced line extension brand to a higher marque. In the past few years, other large brands have followed suit, with Christian Brothers and Korbel upgrading their images and Gallo launching a higher marque.

Interestingly, the best-selling brandy in the world isn't from Spain, France, or California. This distinction goes to Presidente, which is made by Pedro Domecq in Mexico. Domecq sells more than 5 million cases annually of Presidente and another 2 million-plus cases of Dom Pedro, mostly to the avid brandy-drinking populace of Latin America.

There are many other brandies available in this country, although most have relatively small audiences. They include calvados from France and applejack from the U.S. made from apples; grappa made in Italy and now in California; Metaxa and ouzo from Greece; pisco from muscat grapes and produced primarily in Peru; slivovitz, a golden-brown plum brandy produced in the various Balkan countries; kirsch, produced from cherries in Alsace, Germany and Switzerland.

BASIC FACTS

About Brandy & Cognac

* Brandy is usually distilled from wine.

* Cognac, the most famous of brandies comes only from within a particular region in France.

* In the brandy lexicon the letter O means Old; S means Superior; V means Very, P means Pale and X means Extra (VSOP=Very Special Old Pale).

* Other famous brandies are Armagnac (France), Brandy de Jerez (Spain), grappa (Italy), ouzo (Greece), kirsch (Germany), pisco (Peru).

MERCHANDISING TIPS

* Some of the hottest products on the market aren't full-fledged cognacs, but cognacs flavored with fruit juices, like Alize and Remy Red. Promote these in displays and even non-cognac drinkers may become big fans of them.

* For upscale stores, cognacs are refining their offerings even further, with new single region/single distillery products. For special cognac customers, retailers can hand-sell these upper-echelon cognacs.

TRENDS

* Strong overall growth for total category with top six brands all reporting increased volume.

* US-produced brandy, led by E&J, boosted its volume by 5.6% in 2000.

* Domestic gains were overshadowed by Cognac's continued strong growth (+9.1% last year).
COPYRIGHT 2001 Bev-AL Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Brandes, Richard; Keane, Robert
Publication:Beverage Dynamics
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:10847
Previous Article:SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE WINES MARK PROFIT OPPORTUNITIES.
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