Rendezvous: An In-depth Look at RTD Cocktails

According to a new The State of the Industry Briefing from Distilled Spirits Council Of The United States (DISCUS), pre-mixed Cocktails — including spirits-based RTDs (Ready to Drink beverages) — are the fastest sectors of the U.S. spirits market in terms of both revenue and volume. For those in the industry, this is not surprising considering the low level where RTDs started plus the rapid acceptance by consumers. From 2020 to 2021, revenue increased 42.3% or $429 million from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion and volume increased 55.9% or 13.1 million 9 liter cases. That being said, spirits-based RTDs comprise only eight percent of the overall RTD market. According to DISCUS, 62% of craft distillers are not producing spirits-based RTDs because of prohibitive and unfair taxes levied on their production. For instance, just in Arizona at 5% abv, spirits-based RTDs are taxed 18 times more than malt-based RTDs (1.5% versus 28.1%).

That being said, the spirits-based RTD market will continue to increase and thus BevFluence is launching the Rendezvous: An In-depth Look at RTD Cocktails campaign. BevFluence created the BevFluence Collaborations Campaign (BCC) to expand influencer engagement by leveraging the BevFluence community. We have devised and tested a proprietary methodology for accelerating social media distribution that we require our members to adhere to throughout the campaign. This methodology includes scheduling social media posts at the optimal time, sharing, and working with brand participants to engage within our platform. 

For the Rendezvous: An In-depth Look at RTD Cocktails campaign, your ready-to-drink products will be presented to a combination of industry experts, mixologists, bartenders, creators, bloggers, writers, and other media. We curate only the most diverse palates and those who will be tough but fair. You will get to know these creators as part of our community through group tastings and one-on-one settings.

You can view more information about this, and other campaigns, on the BevFluence Collaborations platform.  We have discounted the usual price for campaigns to $75 per entry and for each entry, the brands must send (6) -12 oz samples to each BevFluence Regional Office as well as (2) -12 oz samples to each Influencer we assign (five influencers). That equals 22 total – 12 oz samples and all of these requirements are outlined in the campaign’s guidelines once you login to the BevFluence Collaborations platform.

What is BevFluence?
BevFluence, LLC (BevFluence) was founded in 2017 and is made up of active members of the food & beverage industry experts with decades of experience. This group of well-respected and highly sought-after professionals is dedicated to building and strengthening the professional food & beverage media community through education, collaboration, and expanding access for both brands and creators. Founded by media professionals to create the change for our clients that define the future. You get us all, for the cost of a single consultant in some other companies, a team dedicated to growing your business over the long term. Our Team is made of wine, whiskey, technology, marketing, social media, hospitality, culinary, and beverage industry experts.

Training Your Senses for Evaluating Cider

The crew at BevFluence are major cider fans based on past professional and consumer experiences. We strongly feel that other influencers should share a similar affinity towards the industry. And there are definitely cider tasting opportunities for most of us on the coasts, the MidWest, and in Canada; theCompass Craft Beverage Finder reports over 660 cider tasting rooms operating in North America. But how do we evaluate these ciders? Many of us are inadequately trained to discern apple varieties, faults, or quality.

The Certified Cider Professional certificate is offered by the American Cider Association (ACA) and is intended for a broad overview of cider, covering history, production, and serving. There are two levels of certification. The online Level 1 CCP is designed for people who would benefit from a deeper but still introductory level of cider knowledge. The more advanced in-person Certified PommelierTM test covers more in-depth cider knowledge, including sensory evaluation. For influencers, the Level 1 CCP certification should be sufficient and is what I will be taking this Spring.

Justin, our CEO, was required to earn the Certified Cider Professional certificate as an employee at Virtue Cider. Because he already had a decent level of cider experience, he did not find the exam terribly difficult. However, “it’s definitely something that requires a level of understanding very similar to WSET and some of the other certifications. The certification provides deep knowledge of the specific types of apples and pears, the fermentation processes, and what comes next: Brandy.”

Another education route is through the Cider Institute of North America (CINA), a non-profit organization “made up of passionate cider industry professionals and educators with a mission to create a quality-driven and sustainable cider industry through education and research”. The CINA offers science-based courses specifically targetting cider making such as Cider & Perry Production – Foundation, Essential Laboratory Testing of Cider & Perry, and Essential Sensory Analysis of Cider & Perry. According to Nicole Leibon — cider blend consultant LeNose Knows, “probably more than someone with passing curiosity would want to take. We are, however, working on a short Cidermaking 101 class that is intended for a broad audience, as well as a few other short-format courses, hopefully, available within the next year or two. We intend for those to be more approachable and to provide a taste for folks who want to learn more about making cider”.

This Cidermaking 101 short course makes perfect sense. Influencers discussing cider should understand the basics of good cidermaking in order to better assess its quality. Ms. Leibon continues, ” For example, if you recognize where faults come from, like poor yeast management creating sulfer notes, you can better recognize high-quality ciders”. Until this course is launched, influencers can review two CINA publications: The Professional Handbook of Cider Tasting and a Cider Faults Wheel.

At CiderCon 2022, I will be attending a couple of sessions that I hope will elevate my sensory perceptions of cider. The first is A Cider Among the Faults where Nicole Leibon, Chris Gerling, and Jocelyn Kuzelka will present five suspect ciders. Only one cider is faultless and the other four are “fatally faulted by the usual (and maybe unusual) suspects”. The second is How Chemistry and Sensory Parameters Lead to Style Outcomes presented by Virginia Tech professors Amanda Stewart and Jacob Lahne. Sadly, the most relevant seminar, Introductory Palate Training by Darlene Hayes is sold out. Ms. Hayes is also the instructor for the Certified Cider Professional program so I should receive a similar education when taking this course.

We look forward to sharing our cider experiences at CiderCon 2022 and stay tuned for details of our upcoming BevFluence Collaborations Cider Campaign.

Wine Influencers – Can They Help You Sell Wine?

Last summer, winery publicist Carl Giavanti published an article with this title on his blog and it must have made an impact within the industry because it was recently picked up by the Wine Bulletin.

The article starts with the sentence: “Wine doesn’t sell itself. Storytelling sells wine. If you believe this statement please read on“. Obviously, BevFluence believes the affirmative, and Carl’s article details how influencer marketing can help a brand sell wine depending on the brand, messaging, and target audience. He follows with, “Experimenting with individual content creators on a one-off basis or as opportunities arise is one approach, and doing pilot projects as proof of concept to show results is a good way to test your strategy“. He continues “…the goal for wineries would be to drive their visitors’ traffic to the tasting room or website where the winery is now in a position to engage and hopefully sell wine. At the very least, you are reaching outside of the wine-interested world into new communities in hopes of creating new fans and followers“.

BevFluence has adopted these and other strategies Carl suggests within our BevFluence Collaborations Campaigns and Experiences. We identify content creators whose engagement will drive traffic to a brand’s website and social media accounts and provide the analytics behind these engagements.

Please read the entire article and visit the BevFluence Collaborations site to view current Campaigns and Experiences.

CiderCon 2022 – Preview and Interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt

I will be attending CiderCon 2022, the annual trade conference of the American Cider Association that will be held in Richmond, Virginia from February 2nd-4th, with excursions scheduled for two days prior. The conference consists of about fifty speakers participating in dozens of educational sessions from guided sensory exploration of ciders to historical heirloom apples to finding faults in cider tasting. Check out the speakers and schedule.  I will be posting producer and content creator focused information here on BevFluence and more consumer-focused content on the WineCompass Blog

The Keynote Address will be given by Diane Flynt, the proprietor of Foggy Ridge Cider in Dagspur Virginia and the first licensed cidery in the South. Community members who attended the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference may have met Diane or tasted her exceptional Serious Cider or HomeMade ciders. For two decades she was the face of the Virginia cider industry and at times on a regional and national level and a valuable grower of American heirloom apples and traditional English and French cider apples.  Her keynote at CiderCon 2022 is titled Lessons for the 21st Century: The Surprising History of Southern Apples & Cider and What This Means for Modern Growers & Makers and is based on research she has conducted for a book that will be published by the University of North Carolina Press. 

Ms. Flynt was gracious enough to answer a few questions I posed regarding the cider industry and how content creators can assist in promoting the industry.

What have you been doing since the last release of Foggy Ridge ciders? 
Since releasing Foggy Ridge Cider’s Final Call blend in 2018, we have sold our apples to cidermakers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In early 2020 I signed a contract with the University of North Carolina Press to write a general trade book on the history of apples in the South. This book focuses on the stories and history behind the South’s almost 2,000 apple varieties. Through research at University Special Collections, the National Agricultural Library, and interviews with multi-generation apple growers I’ve learned surprising stories about southern apples. The book should be published in 2023. 

What headwinds is the cider industry facing today and in the near future? 
Apples are a more expensive ingredient than grain or other ingredients used in beer and spirits, yet consumers are not yet willing in large enough numbers to pay a premium for cider. The connection between cider and beer—as opposed to cider and wine, grapes being also expensive to grow and ferment—has diminished our industry’s ability to command prices that lead to sustainability for producers who make cider from apples that confer complex flavor. As an industry, we need to make a stronger connection—an authentic connection—between apples and cider. And I’d add, for complex fine cider, the connection should include place. 

Within the industry, have apple growers convalesced around a few apple varieties, or is there more experimentation with unique and unknown heirloom varieties? There are two directions here—academic-based apple breeding programs are producing more modern apples, geared to market research on consumer preferences as well as production factors. And a small but growing number of orchardists are going back to varieties that flourished in earlier centuries, in part to satisfy demand from cidermakers but also to explore varieties that will perform in a warmer climate.

What can content creators do better or more in helping to promote the cider industry?
Many in the cider world are proud to say we are a “big tent” industry, and that there is a place for every price point, every method of production, and every quality level for ingredients…from apple juice concentrate to estate-grown cider apples. While this view has merits, it also flattens the discussion. I’d like to see content creators dig deeper into the ingredients and production methods of top-quality cider. Content creators are smart people, “thinking drinkers” if you will, and you should be able to see what is a “marketing message” from producers and what is an authentic practice or value that is carried out in cider-making every day. I see too much content that seems generated by a PR engine for a cider company large enough to hire a PR engine. 

What should producers be focused on to strengthen the industry? 
Authentic stories about ingredients. And if the producer is also a grower and actually grows enough apples to have “place” reflected in their cider, they should certainly be talking about the influence of terroir or the history of place has on their cider and methods.

And for a little amusement, here is Diane and I a decade ago discussing Foggy Ridge Cider with the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.

World Whiskies Awards

Earlier this month the BevFluence team was invited to participate as judges in the Whisky Magazine Awards America 2022. The awards ceremony, in association with American Whiskey Magazine, will be held on February 8th, 2022 at The Flatiron Room in New York City. The judging occurred on November 11th, 2021 at the whiskey haven Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington DC. During this tasting, 32 judges sampled through 250 American whiskeys divided into 17 categories. The judges reflected a large cross-section of the spirits industry including distillers and distillery owners, writers and educators, as well as other industry professionals. The categories were very specific and consisted of Blended, Blended Limited Release, Small Batch Single Malt, Bourbon, Blended Malt, Rye, Tennessee, Corn, Flavoured Whisky, New Make & Young Spirit, Pot Still, Wheat, Single Malt, Single Barrel Bourbon, Small Batch Bourbon, Single Cask Single Malt, and Grain. We will post the winners two months from now. Cheers.

The BevFluence #1299Challenge

In December 2020, BevFluence invited a community of wine enthusiasts to select a retail outlet (supermarket, large beverage retail chain, or online wine store) and purchase several wines under $12.99 to review. The concept was to show the availability of very drinkable and affordable everyday table wine. The reviews show that apparently, Spain is still a reliable resource for such wines, but value gems can be found throughout the world – even in the United States.

“Narrowing the field to $12.99 somehow still broadened wine horizons. It made me pay even closer attention to ways of finding wine value at any price point. A good challenge.” -Mary Beth Vierra of Crush Course

Good old Charles Shaw better known as house brand for Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck hit the shelves at the chain in 2002. Since then there have been many discussions of cheap vs. expensive wine. The fact remains that most wine purchased in America is still consumed that day or within a few days. The fancy labels, limited releases and once-in-a-lifetime bottles may dominate the magazines, social media and our dreams, but everyday wine is a much larger factor than many talking heads give it credit for. 

We at bevfluence got together with some of our community all who love wine, write about wine and have great palates and made them buy the cheap stuff. “It’s always refreshing to know there is excellent wine at every price point. Several followers appreciated the options!” Thea Dwelle

We threw down the gauntlet to the crew to go and find wines they enjoy and spend less than 13 bucks a bottle. This challenge meant taking people who review hundreds of wines a year, often single vineyard rare wines and getting them to buy everyday bottles. The challenge was met head-on with the community which is not nearly as snobbish as some think. The fact is that those of us who review wine, beer or spirits regularly love to drink different things often and enjoy the change to challenge our conceptions. Our community is full of diverse, fun and thrill seeking people who reject the snobbish, sommelier style instead embracing a down to earth enjoyment of wine. 

We had fun shifting through various stores to find interesting wines and the results while not shocking were surprising.  Wine does not have to be expensive, in fact it should be an affordable luxury and far more accessible. It was not hard for most of us to come up with good points in these wines, no one struggled to say nice things. “This exercise was an excellent reminder that with a little work, you can find tremendous value and drinking pleasure in this price range.” – Jim VanBergen

Even tasting the under five dollar wines for this challenge meant being impressed with how approachable they were. It is easy to see why cheap wines are popular. 

For our team at bevfluence it  this was eye opening since we often only get the chance to try wines we are sent. Buying wine from $2.99 to $12.99 and everything in between produced a wide range of reactions. We are impressed at the quality and even bought wines that others had recommended in their posts to try. 

Everyone who enjoys wine knows that not all wine needs to have a huge price tag to be good. This project has proven once and for all what many have known forever, you do not have to spend a ton of money to drink good wine. “Truth be told, I thought I was going to be drinking these wines just for this challenge only and that would be the end of it. Turns out I am heading back to Bottles to pick up more of the Bobal and the Sangiovese. These will be perfect on a Tuesday. Maybe even a Thursday. Thus I am reminded that inexpensive does not necessarily mean cheap, poorly made or bad.” – Rick Dean Link

Below is a list of all of the wines tasted by this group although there are plenty more outside of this. We shared some laughs but mostly some good recommendations of inexpensive wine.

Check out these blogs and follow these people who love wine and sharing stories about their journey in the beverage world! ….

Mary Beth Vierra (CrushCourseWine) – Trader Joes
Emma Reichert Gewürztraminer, Pfalz, (Qba) 2018, Germany ($6.99)
Ruggero di Bardo Susumaniello IGP Puglia 2019, Italy ($10.99)
Vignobles Lacheteau Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie AOP, France ($7.99)
Adaline Bodegas Verdejo, 2018, Spain ($4.49)
Roustabout Meritage 2018, Paso Robles, California ($7.99)

Fred Swan (NorCalWine) – K&L Wine Merchants
2019 Atance Cuvée No 1 Valencia DO Spain ($12.99)
2018 Foris Pinot Gris Rogue Valley, Oregon ($12.95)
2019 Tahbilk Marsanne Nagambie Lakes, Victoria Australia ($12.99)
2017 Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell Jumilla DO Spain ($11.99)
2016 Niepoort Rotolu Tinto Dao DOC Portugal ($11.99)
2020 Viña Maitia “Aupa” Pipeño Red Wine Maule, Chile ($12.99)

Jim van Bergen (JVBUncorked) – Total Wine
San Gregorio Single Vineyard Las Martas Garnacha 2018, Calatayud DOC, Spain ($9.99)
Latitud 42 Rioja Ecologica 2018, Rioja DOC, Northern Spain. 100% Tempranillo ($9.99)
Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2017, Apulia, Italy ($12.99)
Seastone Albariño 2019, DO Rias Baixas, Spain ($11.69)
Herederos del Marques De Riscal 100% Rueda Verdejo 2019, DO Rueda, Spain ($5.49)
San Gregorio Single Vineyard La Muela Macabeo 2019, Catayud DOC, Spain ($11.99)

Kelly Cohen (Off the Beaten Glass) – Wine.com
2018 Ballard Lane Chardonnay, California ($11.99)
2019 Ruffino Pinot Grigio Lumina, Italy ($10.99)
2019 Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand ($8.99)
2019 J. Lohr Bay Mist White Riesling, California ($9.99)
NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava Brut, Spain ($11.99)

Rick Dean (Strong Coffee to Red Wine) – Bottles, Mount Pleasant, SC
2018 Mont Gravet ‘Old Vine’ Carignan, IGP Pays D’ Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($9.99)
2019 Atance Bobal, Valencia DOP, Spain ($12.99)
2019 Vina Galana Verdejo, Chinchilla de Montearagón, Albacete, Spain ($12.99)
Trevini Sangiovese, NV, Rubicone IGT, Trevini, Italy ($7.99)
Broadbent Vinho Verde Sunflower, NV, (50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura, & 10% Pedernã) Portugal ($9.99)
Moulin de Gassac Guilheim Rosé 2019, (40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 20% Carignan) IGP Pays d’Hérault, Languedoc, France ($12.99)

Sandra Crittenden (Wine Thoughts) – Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods
Dibon Cava Brut Rosé, Spain ($10.99)
Vallobera Rioja Blanco 2019, Spain ($12.99)
McPherson Piquepoul Blanc Timmons Estate 2017, Texas ($11.49)
Domaine Vigneret Côtes de Provence Rosé, Provence France ($12.99)
Girasole Sangiovese 2017 Mendocino County ($12.99)
Le Vassal de Mercues Malbec de Cahors 2018, France ($12.99)

Todd Godbout (WineCompass) – Wegmans
Fox Run Vineyards 2018 Simmons Vineyard Traminette, Finger Lakes NY ($11.99)
Emilia Natura 2018 Carmenere, Chile ($9.49)
Koenig Pinot Blanc, France ($10.99)
Hugl Gruner Veltliner, Austria ($10.49)
Fontana Candid Frascati 2019, Italy ($8.49)
Vinos de Arganza Lagar de Robla Mencia Premium 2016, Spain ($9.99)

Thea Dwelle (WineBratsSF)Bottle Barn
Broadbent Gruner Veltliner, Austria ($9 – liter)
Murgo Etna Bianco – 70% Carricante 30% Catarratto, Italy ($)
AIA Vecchia Vermentino Toscana 2019, Italy ($10.99)
Bodega Sierra Salinas Mira Salinas Monastrell, Spain($12.49)

This project, or campaign or whatever you want to call it was beyond fun, and more than just a little informative. It was a killer good time and exercise that gave our community the chance to dive deep into wines that may not be cellar worthy but certainly deserve a look.  

Cheers,

The BevFluence Team