Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Let The Spirits Soar

When you have an industry that has shown nothing but growth in this century, everybody wants to get into the act.

From non-drinking mogul Donald Trump’s new self-named vodka to Redcliff, a cola-based liqueur with an American West label theme, new products keep vying for a piece of the burgeoning alcoholic spirits market.

The latest industry figures, just released by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), say spirits sales hit the $17 billion level last year, which means a phenomenal 46 percent growth since 2000.

Beer continues to dominate the market, accounting for 50.7 percent of 2006 sales, with spirits at 32.8 percent and wine 16.6. However, beer sales declined and wine sales stayed flat while spirits sales rose seven-tenths of a percent from 2005.

The nearly $1 billion in new spirits revenue for 2006 came primarily from the premium price category. The top growth segment was super premium vodka, which accounted for 23 percent of total industry growth.

But the vodka niche has become exceedingly crowded, and winning shelf space in retail stores increasingly difficult. Thus, novelty packaging and products are beginning to pop up at an increasing pace.

Here are a few of the most recent.

–Redcliff: This aforementioned new product is a 65-proof liqueur developed by Franklin Arcella, who spent nearly three decades launching products for Seagram’s. He and flavor chemist Win Adler came up with what he terms "a true American liqueur." The bottle is shaped similarly to a cowboy’s saddlebag flask, and has an original image label by a Colorado artist. Arcella won’t reveal the 15-ingredient formula, but says the basic cola flavor will quickly catch on with a domestic public predisposed to cola beverages.

–Pocket Shot: It’s not quite in the same realm as airline-sized mini-bottles or box wine, but it might have had its origins there. It’s a shot-at-a-time line of liquors in soft pouches. The San Jose, Calif., manufacturer packs ’em up at 120 units per case (10 sleeves with a dozen 50-milliliter units per sleeve). The 80- proof liquors come in vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey and gin.

–Lichido: At one time lychees, or "lychee nuts" as some people erroneously call them, were confined to occasional use at offbeat Chinese restaurants. But, with the global revolution in food availability, they’re fairly accessible. Thus, we have this new French liqueur made primarily from the Asian fruit. However, lychees (also spelled "lichees") are not boldly flavored we have the addition here of cognac, guava, peach and vodka in the drink.

–Perique: Far removed from such sweetish tastes as Lichido, we have this new liqueur based on the Louisiana Perique strain of spice tobacco often used in Virginia blend cigarettes. It was created by Ted Breaux, the New Orleans chemist and microbiologist known most widely for his absinthe concoctions. It’s 62 proof, and available in very limited quantities.

–Kajmir: This 40-proof blend of brandy, vodka and vanilla from Centerra Wine Co. (the western New York company formerly known as Canandaigua Wine Co.) is lighter in alcohol than most boutique blends. Its blended and bottled by Kajmir Distillers in Bardstown, Ky.


–Penderyn Distillery of Wales is adding vodka and gin to its premium spirits line — Brecon Special Reserve Gin and Brecon Five Vodka.

–Tired of frou-frou flavored vodkas? Moscow’s Vodochnaya Artel Yat distillery, which makes the YAT line, has come up with two new vodkas, one flavored with garlic, one with horseradish.

–It might drive purists who hate even the idea of putting ice cubes in their scotch mad, but the scotch master at Johnny Walker Brands suggests not just vodka and gin are good right from the freezer. Stuart Brown recommends the same treatment for his Gold Label Centenary Blend, an 18-year-old whisky that goes for $80-plus. Says he, "I can’t explain why it does what it does. It’s one of the few Scotches in the world that reacts this way."