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Wine, Beer, Spirits

Champagne Pivots with the Pandemic

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Hamptons restaurateur Ian Duke is decking the front yard of his establishment with tons of bright and cheerful orange umbrellas that symbolize Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Duke owns Union Sushi and Steak, a Southampton restaurant that is working to jump-start champagne consumption after what has been a difficult year for the champagne industry. 

“When you open a restaurant, you have to decide who you are going to cater to,” explains Duke, who is catering to the kind of diner who is determined not to let the pandemic ruin their summer. 

In 2020, French winemakers and grape farmers under the Comité Champagne cut production down to the lowest levels since the Great Depression. That is how hard the year was for the champagne industry. There wasn’t much celebration going on in 2020. An 18% slump in global champagne sales cost the industry above $1 billion. 

The festivals and celebrations, duty-free airport promotions, and bottomless brunches that had champagne as a mainstay could not be relied on anymore. 

Champagne brands are now zeroing in on resort sites like Berkshires and the Hamptons to keep themselves going. 

They are partnering with restaurants, nightclubs, party planners, bars, and fundraisers to quickly make sales and turn around their fortunes. 

High-end resorts all over the Northeast are witnessing alliances between champagne makers and the hospitality industry to push sales of the bubbly drink.

At the Southampton Inn, proprietor Dede Gotthelf says that after they set up a fridge by the front desk, guests started asking for sparkling wines and champagnes. Gotthelf has seen an estimated 10% increase in grab-and-go drinks supplied to rooms directly. 

Meanwhile, Daniel Boulud who runs Blantyre Resort in Massachusets has put up a Dom Perignon-inspired champagne salon. The salon is fitted with a caviar menu and a Baccarat chandelier. 

A few Champagne makers are offering restaurants and bars more incentives. Chef and restaurant owner Salvatore Biundo has taken advantage of the incentives to create a successful Mother’s Day menu. He says Champagne offerings go up to ten from as low as four at his Hamptons Bay’ Centro Trattoria.

Biundo has found that by making Champagne more visible, sales have gone up. He has introduced a piazza deck complete with a piano and fountain. Customers are indulging in champagne as they wait for a table. “They’re getting a $37 Blanc instead of a $13 prosecco. Hey, I’m not complaining,” says Biundo. 

These higher Champagne sales are evident on weekdays as well as weekends, as one Montauk restaurant has witnessed. La Fin is a waterside restaurant that boasts among its offerings a daily ‘recovery brunch’ and stocks a wide range of champagne brands. Prices are set at $68 for the cheapest to $488 for the most expensive. 

The Southern Glazer is the second leading distributor of liquor in the US. According to the Southern Glazer SVP Lee Schrager, exactly one year ago, the company had seen 160,000 of their nightclub, bar, and restaurant accounts vanish. 

Now the company is preparing for the Bubble Q hosted by Guy Fieri – one of the most important Champagne events in the US. The Bubble Q was part of the Miami South Beach Wine and Food Festival, and Schrager is one of the festival founders. 

Moët & Chandon will be the event sponsors, something they have not done for 10 years. The brand will donate 360 cases of champagne. Even better, most of the 160,000 accounts that the Southern Glazer lost are back to working with them. 

 Champagne is an ageless drink. Now that more and more people are drinking at home thanks to the pandemic, the hospitality industry is hoping that these at-home drinkers will go for something lighter and more festive … something like Champagne. 

Lawrence Scott, an event planner says that champagne lends elegance to an event:  “Drop two raspberries into a Champagne flute, and the guy holding it sticks out his pinkie and thinks he’s elegant.” 

This summer, champagne producers are particularly keen to see their Champagne brand crowned the drink. There are still many venues that work without a complete bar. 

Cocktail hours often involve patrons sitting down, with servers circulating a tray with one kind of drink Sometimes rolling carts are serving up just a couple of liquor brands.

According to La Caravelle wines ‘chief bubble officer’ Rita Jammet, there has been a clear and strong buying pattern from female customers. Jammet who heads the boutique champagne variety sold at Le Pavillon, a new eatery. 

La Caravelle engaged female customers during the pandemic with Zoom cooking lessons as well as Goldbely promotions featuring Laurent Tourondel, Marcus Samuelsson, and Gabriel Kreuther, all top chefs. 

La Caravelle’s splits and champagne have won the hearts of many female customers. The champagne rose has already achieved half of last year’s sales between January and April alone. 

Jammet says that customers resonate with the optimism and joy that the brand evokes. “The color brings joy and optimism, which we have badly needed throughout the pandemic,” she adds.

Restaurant owners are more than ready to welcome a champagne comeback. Abraham Merchant who owns Upper East Side establishment Phillippe says it best:  “Once [diners] start their meal with a glass of Champagne, they move on to a glass of wine, and then they’ll be drinking all night long.”

Wine, Beer, Spirits

The Resilient Rise of Spirits: Outpacing Beer and Wine in Market Share

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In an era where consumer preferences are rapidly evolving, the spirits industry has remarkably maintained its edge over beer and wine, marking the second consecutive year of its market share dominance. Despite facing the headwinds of high inflation and rising interest rates, which have generally dampened discretionary spending, the spirits sector’s resilience is noteworthy. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), U.S. spirits revenue saw a modest increase of 0.2% in 2023, reaching $37.7 billion. This growth, albeit slight, underscores the industry’s ability to navigate through economic uncertainties and consumer shifts, outpacing beer and wine sales by 0.4% and 26.1%, respectively.

The pandemic era brought about a significant surge in alcohol consumption, with many turning to premium spirits as a form of indulgence during lockdowns. Vodka retained its position as the top-selling spirit, while tequila and mezcal not only secured the second spot but also widened their lead over American whiskey. The categories of tequila, mezcal, blended whiskey, and American whiskey emerged as the fastest-growing in terms of revenue, signaling a shift in consumer tastes towards more diverse and premium spirits.

Despite the overall market’s modest growth, the premium segment of the spirits industry faced challenges. Major players like Diageo, LVMH, and Constellation Brands reported weaknesses in their premium spirits and wine segments. Diageo, for instance, experienced a significant stock drop after cutting its growth guidance, reflecting the broader trend of slowing luxury spirits sales post-pandemic peak.

However, the industry found a silver lining in the rapid rise of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. This category, which includes spirits-based products like vodka and tequila-based hard seltzers, was the fastest-growing in 2023, with a 26.7% increase in revenue to $2.8 billion. The success of RTD cocktails can be attributed to their premium positioning and the consumer’s desire for convenience without compromising on quality. Companies like Coca-Cola have entered the RTD market, launching cocktails in collaboration with Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s, further validating the category’s growth potential.

The American whiskey segment, in particular, received a boost with the extension of the suspension of EU tariffs on the liquor until March 31, 2025. This agreement between the U.S. and European Union is a positive development for the industry, potentially opening up European markets for American whiskey producers and contributing to the category’s growth.

In conclusion, the spirits industry’s performance in 2023 reflects its adaptability and resilience in the face of economic pressures and changing consumer preferences. While the luxury segment may have experienced a slowdown, the rise of RTD cocktails and the strategic focus on diversifying spirit offerings have kept the industry in a strong position. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how the spirits sector continues to innovate and respond to the evolving landscape of consumer tastes and economic conditions.

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Wine, Beer, Spirits

The Art and Science of Crafting Alcohol-Free Beer and Wine: A Deep Dive into the Brewing Revolution

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In a culture where alcohol has been a staple for centuries, the rise of non-alcoholic beer and wine marks a significant shift in consumer preferences and technological advancements. This trend is not just a fleeting fad but a reflection of a deeper change in societal attitudes towards alcohol consumption.

The Growing Trend of Mindful Drinking

The concept of “mindful drinking” is gaining traction worldwide, particularly in Australia, where alcohol has been a part of the social fabric for over 240 years. This shift is evident in the expanding range of non-alcoholic beverages available in supermarkets and online retailers. Unlike their earlier counterparts, these new-age drinks are not limited in variety and boast flavors that closely mimic their alcoholic versions.

The Science Behind Non-Alcoholic Brews

The journey of creating non-alcoholic beer and wine begins with traditional fermentation, where yeasts convert sugars into ethanol. This process is crucial as it contributes to the beverage’s flavor profile. The challenge, however, lies in removing the alcohol while retaining the taste.

High-Tech Methods: Filtration and Distillation

Advanced techniques like membrane filtration and distillation are at the forefront of this brewing revolution. Membrane filtration, particularly reverse osmosis, involves passing the beverage under pressure through filters to separate ethanol from other compounds. This method is favored for its ability to maintain the integrity of the drink’s flavor.

Distillation, on the other hand, separates compounds based on their boiling points. To prevent flavor alteration due to heat, this process is conducted under low pressures and in a vacuum, allowing ethanol removal at lower temperatures, as explained in a study published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

The Craft Brewer’s Approach

Craft breweries, especially in Australia, are adopting innovative methods to produce low-alcohol beers without the need for expensive equipment. These methods include manipulating fermentation conditions and using unique yeast strains. Some breweries use yeasts that are less efficient in producing ethanol, resulting in beers with very low alcohol content, sometimes even below 0.5%. This approach not only offers a low-alcohol alternative but also introduces a variety of new flavors to the beer market.

The Future of Non-Alcoholic Beverages

Creating non-alcoholic versions that taste exactly like their alcoholic counterparts remains a challenge. Ethanol contributes significantly to the flavor, especially in wine. However, producers are continually refining their techniques. Preliminary investigations have shown that even experienced beer drinkers often cannot distinguish between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beers.

Embracing the Non-Alcoholic Wave

The non-alcoholic beverage market is not just a response to consumer demand for healthier options; it’s also a testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of the brewing industry. As technology and brewing techniques evolve, the gap between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages in terms of taste and variety continues to narrow.

The rise of non-alcoholic beer and wine is a clear indicator of a broader societal shift towards mindful consumption. It reflects a growing awareness of the health implications of alcohol and a desire for inclusive social experiences where everyone, regardless of their drinking preferences, can enjoy a flavorful beverage.

As we move forward, the non-alcoholic beverage industry is poised to play a significant role in shaping drinking cultures around the world. It’s not just about removing alcohol; it’s about adding choice, inclusivity, and innovation to our social fabric. The future of drinking is here, and it’s surprisingly sober.

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Wine, Beer, Spirits

The Great Australian Booze Shift: Beer Takes a Backseat as Spirits Soar

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In a nation where the beer has long been a cultural staple, a seismic shift is occurring. According to new data from the Australian government, beer consumption in Australia has plummeted to its lowest point in nearly 80 years. The figures are staggering: Australians consumed just 82 liters of beer per capita in 2019-20, a sharp decline from the 190 liters per capita recorded between 1974-75. So, what’s filling the void? Spirits, and not just any spirits—high-alcohol spirits like vodka, gin, and tequila are seeing a significant uptick.

The Rise of Spirits

The data reveals that spirits recorded a 10% increase between 2019-20, with Australians consuming 19% more high-alcohol spirits per capita over the year than in 2016-17. According to the government report, “This is the highest level seen since the peak of spirits consumption in 2007–08 of 2.3 liters per capita.”

But it’s not just the quantity; it’s also the quality and type of spirits that are changing. In 2007-08, spirits mixed with soft drinks made up 48% of spirits consumption. Fast forward to 2019-20, and that number has dropped to 28%. This suggests that Australians are becoming more discerning drinkers, opting for purer forms of spirits over pre-mixed beverages.

The Tax Factor

Researchers attribute this shift, in part, to changes in tax on ready-to-drink beverages implemented in 2008. This tax change led to a spike in the consumption of certain spirits. Unmixed spirits like vodka, whiskey, and liqueurs are now at their highest level, with people drinking an average of 1.5 liters of alcohol from these drinks in 2019-20.

This aligns with global trends where premiumization in the spirits sector is evident. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global spirits market size was valued at USD 378.0 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5% from 2021 to 2028.

Wine Still Reigns, But Not By Much

Despite the decline in beer and the rise in spirits, wine remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Australia, accounting for 42% of all apparent alcohol consumption. While wine recorded its lowest rate of consumption since 2015-16, it remains at one of its highest levels over the past 60 years.

The Bigger Picture

Interestingly, the report found that the total amount of “pure alcohol” available in Australia fell by less than 1% in 2019-20 but was still significantly higher than five years earlier. This change did not reflect “per capita consumption” and instead came about as Australia’s population continues to grow.

What Does This Mean for the Beverage Industry?

For the beverage industry, these trends signal a need for adaptation. Brands that have traditionally focused on beer might need to diversify their portfolios. The craft spirits movement, already a significant trend in countries like the United States as reported by Forbes, could find fertile ground in Australia.

Conclusion

The Australian drinking landscape is undergoing a transformation. While beer has been dethroned from its longstanding reign, spirits, particularly high-alcohol ones, are ascending the throne. Factors like tax changes and a more discerning consumer base are contributing to this shift. As Australia’s population continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how these trends evolve and what new preferences emerge. One thing is for sure: the Australian liquor cabinet is getting a makeover, and it’s looking more sophisticated than ever.

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