May 3, 2013 § 4 Comments
To say I enjoy getting to know everyone who makes up the vast & ever-expanding whisky community would be an understatement, I love it. It keeps me going & it’s often the best part of my day.
As many of you know, I launched my own whisky (Brenne) on October 1, 2012 and sold it exclusively in New York for the first 6 months. However, on April 1, I did a 3 State roll-out and have been traveling around ever since, meeting a whole new wave of devoted whisky fans.
And it’s been awesome.
First, I thank everyone who has come out to support me at my events in Boston, MA and Chicago, IL and to all of you who live in Nashville, TN, check out my rockin’ line-up of events next week: CLICK HERE for current schedule!
Despite the long (ok, very long) days and even longer nights, the countless hours at airports and in rental cars, getting to meet wonderful people who share an equal love for all things whisky is truly special.
On my last night in Chicago, IL, the brilliant & easy-going Monique Huston (on twitter at @WhiskySommelier) arranged a private sold-out dinner in which Peter Currie of Duncan Taylor, Chip Tate of Balcones, & I with Brenne presented, discussed, and enjoyed whiskies with about 40 of the midwest’s – and beyond – top Whisky Geeks (for definition, click HERE). It was a special evening held in the basement of The Peasantry restaurant where we dined, sipped, discussed, debated and shared all things ‘whisky’ for hours with the likes of Mahesh Patel (of Universal Whisky Experience) and Brett Pontoni (of Binny’s).
The next morning … we were feeling a little goofy!
Suffice it to say, it was a fun trip but one that also proved to be very successful. While we’re still having some red-tape issues with the state of IL and haven’t been able to ship out their first order of Brenne, something awesome did happen during my time there. After the 2nd night (and a super-rocking sold-out massive Whisky festival at one of Binny’s stores) I got the word that Binny’s, who was originally going to do a 10-store roll out with Brenne, decided to up the ante and do a full, all locations, 29-store roll out!!! That’s pretty exciting for anyone but especially so for a can’t-get-smaller-than-mine 1-person company! Thanks Brett & the whole team at Binny’s! Can’t wait to get going there!
I can’t describe the feeling when individuals, stores, restaurants & distributors place re-orders for something that you’ve created. It’s exhilarating, exciting, sometimes in a weird way a tad bit scary, and definitely for me sits somewhere between pride & humility. There is no greater compliment then when someone buys that second drink, or second bottle, or double’s their order realizing that this is something they want to get behind. And as I’ve said since the beginning, THANK YOU, and you all keep me very humble and make me want to work even harder.
So now I’m gearing up to leave NYC again for another much-anticipated Brenne launch week and I’m feeling excited, blessed, grateful & super-charged! Next stop, Nashville, TN!!!!
March 28, 2013 § 1 Comment
UPDATE: Since publishing this post, this particular event has been cancelled. There are definitely other Balcones events going on while Chip’s here so if you’re interested, please check out NYCwhisky.com for the most current list of whisky happenings in NYC!
I didn’t mean to do 2 event announcement posts back-to-back BUT next week the whisky circus rolls into NYC with the NY WhiskyLive event, the World Whisky Conference and whatever other events everyone is doing while they’re here and I thought this other one ought to be shared!
My good friend (& extremely talented distiller) Chip Tate of Balcones will be one of the many distillers in NYC next week. And in addition to WhiskyLive, he is also celebrating the 5th Anniversary of Balcones!!!
To celebrate, he’s doing a dinner at Harlow Restaurant in NYC that is open to the public (limited tickets available). Here a copy of the press release I received – I’ll definitely be there and can’t wait! Dying to try Chip’s NEWEST RELEASE, his Fifth Anniversary Straight Bourbon [64.2%] that just took Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition!
Hope to see you there! Please share below if you’re going, have experienced the Balcones line before or perhaps if you’ve met Chip! (or anything else you’d like to share, open forum here, folks)
March 14, 2013 § 5 Comments
Look out New York, here comes the Whisky Circus!
Every year during the first week in April, it feels like most of the flights that land at JFK are filled with distillers, ambassadors and adoring whisky fans (ok, geeks ) who all clamor into town with one main agenda: WhiskyLive NY (WLNY). It’s one of my favorite whisky events of the year, big enough that you can easily fill every second of your time tasting and chatting up the producers of different brands, but small enough where you’re not run down by a pack of over-inebriated, 18yr old + up “only” Scotch demanding drinkers. Nope, not here. Not that I’ve experienced, at least.
I’ve attended the last 3 NY WhiskyLive shows as a spectator (though last year, I presented Balcones at WhiskyLive London with Chip Tate… which was awesome). But this year will be an entirely different experience for me because for the first time at any large tasting event, I’ll be presenting Brenne! I’m so excited and it’ll be such a thrill to share my whisky with such a great group of whisky fans.
And as the kind folks at WhiskyLiveUSA often give me a coupon code for my readers, this year they really upped the ante and are offering you a 20% OFF COUPON! At check out, type in “brenne” <- it’s case sensitive! Hopefully this helps a lot of you who may be on the fence.
Now this year, for something extra special, the day following Whisky Live (April 4th) is the trade-only event: World Whiskies Conference (WCC). I had the absolute pleasure of attending this last year in London (as you might have noticed … my mug was all over their marketing material this year as many people pointed out, lol). But this event travels around the world, happening each year in a different city and this year, it’s on American soil!
Just check out the list of speakers & guests: WCC PROGRAM
I look forward to hearing all of the presentations, participating in the discussions and seeing lots of my old friends! I really can’t wait.
Any plans to attend either event? Have you been in the past? Share your experiences & thoughts below!
March 6, 2013 § 10 Comments
Pour yourself a dram and enjoy the following review, I have a LOT to say about this remarkable event by fellow whisky enthusiast, Joshua Feldman.
To set the mood (and you’ll understand why later), I invite you to play Brahms Sextet in G-major as you read along.
As I enter the 6th month on the market with my whisky, Brenne (can’t believe my baby is 6 months old!), it’s extremely rare right now for me to be able to quite my Brenne-centric brain long enough to attend (vs conduct) a tasting event. However, when one of my favorite bloggers & whisky enthusiasts, Josh Feldman (of the Coopered Tot blog) announced that he would be presenting his first solo whisky tasting event where he’d be taking an audience through a carefully selected grouping of high-end chocolates + whiskies at the beautiful Morgan Library in the heart of Manhattan, and then graciously invite me to be his guest(!!!!) well, I just HAD to be there.
And was I ever thankful to do so. That night will stick with me forever.
FIRST, my company. (SIDE NOTE: One of whom is a fellow blogger -Susannah Skiver -and we thought it would be fun to post our reviews on the same day. Click to read her take!)
I went by myself which I really enjoy doing on occasion because I find that the world opens up around you in ways you might not have ever experienced otherwise. Everyone was assigned to a different table and was I ever blessed by the Whisky Angles. To my right was the enjoyable intellect, Clay Gordon (The Chocolate Life, @DiscoverChoc, chocolate expert, author, entrepreneur, etc), and to my left was the fantastic blogger and insightful taster, Susannah Skiver Barton (What Tastes Good blog, @whattastesgood). Next to Susannah was Rebekah Pizana who came up from Washington DC where she is a Gourmet Food/Drinks writer (I Write Gourmet blog, @IWriteGourmet) and across the table from us were a wonderful couple, Julie and her husband Derek, who is a professional classical musician. Our conversations ranged from food & whisky chemistry to music composition to changes in culture with a dash of psychology – and all under the umbrella of the fantastically curated pairing of chocolates by Pacari and a wide range of whiskies selected by Josh.
At this point, it would be extremely unfair of me to list my tasting notes as A) I’m afraid I might start drooling at the memory going back through all of the different combinations and B) I’ve been wanting to share my whisky-piphanies of the night with you and get your reactions to the fun! Do you still have the classical music playing? Good!
Here’s what went down:
- Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or – paired with Pacari Piura 70% regional varietal
- Compass Box Hedonism – paired with Pacari Lemongrass
- Glendronach 15 “The Revival” – paired with Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal
- Aberlouer A’Bunadh – paired with Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal
- Ardbeg Uigeadail – paired with Pacari Salt & Nibs
- Balcones Brimstone – paired with Pacari Fig
There is a debate about which comes first (no, not that age-old chicken/egg one), the chocolate vs whisky one! And it was great how instead of choosing one way, they switched it up depending on which set we were on and how they thought the two would be be experienced. Sometimes we were instructed to try the whisky first, other times we started with the chocolate. I found that I preferred to start with the whisky because I really enjoyed how the fats in the chocolate changed the whisky when I went back for a post-chocolate sip. (This was my whisky-piphany #1).
The Pacari ambassador explained that when eating a fine chocolate, to rub a piece in between your fingers first. This warms the chocolate and starts releasing some of the oils and fragrances. Second, smell the chocolate. Next, place it on your tongue and let it continue melting. Don’t chew and swallow quickly – let the chocolate roll around in your mouth just the way you do with whisky. Experience the velvety bite in all sections of your palate and then when you have a nice thin layer covering your tongue, go ahead a re-visit your whisky.
The introduction of the alcohol to the fat molecules in the chocolates release new compounds that you wouldn’t have experienced without the other. THIS was the most exciting discovery to me. After going through these steps for the second pairing, in the midst of the 3rd Clay suggested I go back and try the Compass Box Hedonism. There was an explosion of jasmine present in the whisky that was not there previously. And since our table was often jumping in to the larger conversation, Clay opened this idea up to the room and it was so cool to watch most people go back to their Hedonism and get giddy with the same discovery.
This happened in reverse on the first tasting as well, when starting with the chocolate then whisky, when most went back to the chocolate – there was a distinct rich apricot/tart berry flavor that was coming out which was not there when either the chocolate or whisky was consumed on their own. AWESOME.
My second whisky-piphany was when Derek (the classical musician) suggested that Brahm’s Sextex in G-major would be the perfect audio pairing for the Aberlouer A’Bunadh & Pacari 65% Manabi regional varietal combination. What?! Why have I not explored this notion deeper in the past? (By the way, the song at the top of this post is just that, Brahm’s Sextex in G-major Movement I).
As whisky analyzers, we pay attention (& often record) all of our other senses, sight, smell, taste & mouth feel, but what about sound? In the past, I always preferred to analyze my tastings in silence (though when I’m just sitting around enjoying whisky, I do enjoy a good flow of music and/or conversation!) But I’m curious to know, are there any specific artists, songs or genres of music that you enjoy listening to while drinking whisky, either generally, by style or by specific dram?
Sound is a vibration, a pulse, movement. As a former classical ballerina, I remember going (or often dragging) myself to class, emotionally drained from whatever else had gone on that day or night before. But the moment the pianist would play a chord on the piano, I would be transported to the present. To my time in space. I would feel the wood of the ballet barre under my hand and wake-up to where I was and what I was about to do. I love that Derek took one sip of a whisky and knew exactly which piece of music he wanted to be listening to at that moment. Is anyone out there exploring specific drams + songs?
At one point during the ongoing conversation at our little table, Clay Gordon noted an interesting difference in how we experience chocolate verses whisky. He said that whisky is often a very analytical experience, whereas when adults taste chocolate, our personal experiences with chocolate are rooted to emotional connections that we have had since childhood.
I never thought about my chocolate this way – and while I see his point (we all probably can’t remember our first bite of chocolate but can remember our first sip of whisky!) I will say that I think whisk(e)y is probably the spirit that most people have the strongest connection with emotionally. I think many people, positively or negatively, consciously or unconsciously, have a historical association to whisky. I’ve heard lots of people at my tastings say a variation of: “Oh I like/don’t like <fill in the blank> style of whisky because that’s what <fill in family member> use to drink and <fill in anecdotal story of smelling or tasting it as a child> which is why I think I like/don’t like whisky today.”
If you’d like to share your thoughts below, I’d be curious to hear from you on this point too. Do you have a past memory or nostalgic feeling to whisky or any other spirit? Do you think that influences your preferences now?
Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this post! I’m so proud of Josh – it was a remarkable evening. I learned so much about chocolate (for another day!) and truly loved the pairings listed above. I hope Josh continues with these events and that I’m able to attend many, many more! THANK YOU, JOSH!
And now, for a little showing of just how fun of a night it truly was!
February 20, 2013 § 9 Comments
As a (very) small business in the alcohol industry, when dealing with all of the various states that make up our fine nation, the one thing I can say without question is that each state is “United” on the fact that they get to make lots of money off of alcohol companies. And the higher the ABV, the deeper their pockets!
To give you a quick summary, in order to produce or import alcohol in the USA, you need to have some permits. Ok, a LOT of permits. A variety of which must be issued by various branches of the Federal Government and each of the 50 states (or at least the ones in which you’d like to do business!). AND NO TWO STATES ARE THE SAME.
This is the source of many frustrating days and nights for little ole’ me. But I believe with each new state permit, I am becoming more proficient in the poetic language one must develop to correctly and accurately understand whichever mountain of red tape it is that inevitably lies ahead.
…that is, until I get to this next one…
Recently, I was deciphering ~20 pages of various applications (all with their own set of fees!!!) to just be able to sell my 1 brand to 1 distributor in 1 particular state. This is what we all call the “Hurry Up and Wait!” game. Hurry up, fill out these tedious applications and then wait WEEKS for an agent to comb through, deposit your hard-earned check, and in return, send you a certified permit or two finally allowing you to start paying more taxes. Er… I mean do business.
I came to a particular form that said, “Note: The annual registration tax for brands of distilled spirits is $250. The initial brand registration tax of $250 on any brand(s) of distilled spirits subsequent to the beginning of the privilege tax year is to be prorated on a monthly basis from the date of registration to the end of that privilege tax year. The registration tax for distilled spirits for the subsequent first full privilege tax year shall be based on the average monthly number of cases sold at wholesale during the initial partial privilege tax year times twelve (12). There is no tax due on the initial registration of any brand(s) of wine.”
Oh how nice for wine … why am I doing whisky again? Right, labor of love. Ok. Next … HUH? $250/year, got it. Prorated, got it. But when does their year start and end? If I’m filling this out in the middle of February, where am I hitting in their cycle? I can’t find this anywhere. Now I have to call.
Alllllright. Find the phone number for the appropriate division and then hurry up and wait! The first time I called, I was put on hold for 49 minutes during which time I reconfirmed my hatred of “hold” music. Why can’t they link it up to a book on tape or something better than the same 5 bars of electronically generated orchestral music!? Finally, at 49 min and 13 sec, someone picked up and hung up.
…Well that was frustrating! And a total waste of an hour. Try again. Eventually I get someone one the phone. And here is what happened next:
Me: “Hi, I’m filling out the <insert name of form> for the first time and am just trying to figure out what your state’s annual tax cycle is as it says I need to pay a prorated fee based on the annual registration fee of $250″
Agent: “It’s every 12 months”
Me: “Yes, that much I understood, but I can’t find out what defines your state’s year. Is it based on the calender year? A 12 month cycle from the day I file the forms? Or some other date?”
Agent: “Huh? What form are you looking at?”
Me: “<insert name of form>” and wait for this person to find it herself. After another minute, I continued, “I’m referring to the note at the bottom of the instructions.”
Silence. I am sensing her frustration in my inability to understand something that is clearly not printed anywhere on these forms but despite it’s lack of black & white presence seems otherwise painfully obvious to herself.
Me: “Basically, Ma’am, you’re going to need to speak to me like I’m a 2nd grader because where things may seem obvious to you, please just assume that they are not to me. I am learning that every state has their own unique set of rules and I want to make sure I understand the specifics of yours. Now please tell me when the year ends for <insert name of state here>”
Agent: “Oh, May 31st”
Of course it does. Because THAT makes PERFECT sense.
January 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m hoping years from now I’ll look back and think, why was I ever scared to launch this? But it’s only natural and let’s face it, one’s level of fear or nervousness in having the public first witness anything by the creative individual – from a new painting to a new collection to a new whisky – can often dictate how high the level of risk you’re taking truly is.
But now that Brenne is off the ground, I feel lighter. And perhaps you’ve heard me say this before but I think it’s worth saying again: I wake up grateful every. single. day. YOU have embraced what I’m doing, supporting me along the way and continue to spread the word and share Brenne. I truly can’t thank you all enough.
This past Sunday evening, in between loads of laundry, I received an email from the whisky aficionado Matthew Sheinberg, of the awesome Manhattan-based liquor store McCabes (seriously, he has built one heck of a great whisky collection in that store) … but I digress… In his email, he told me how a woman had come into the store specifically to purchase a bottle of Brenne and explained how she had enjoyed it recently in a cocktail (by the very-creative mixologist Thomas Favorule) at the W Hotel in Union Square NYC. The email ended with “thought you’d like to know that your baby is making waves.”
Smiles all around.
Then I started to think about all of the pieces that had to come together for that one single moment to happen. While knowing that they are able to present their clients to a very new experience and set themselves apart from the competition across the street, when you really think about it, both McCabes and the W Hotel had to take a leap of faith with me and my whisky. They had to have the foresight to see it’s success and hash out a plan for how they were going to be able to move the product. These guys are part of the first 50 accounts in the world to stock Brenne and knew off the bat, as good as they believe it to be, that most people walking into their establishments won’t know what Brenne is. Every bottle and every dram is a hand-sell by themselves and their associates. THIS fact combined with the sheer number of different alcoholic beverages that are available today is why getting placements are so hard. It’s why each time a new account stocks Brenne, I take a moment to reflect on my journey and let the good feelings sink in. And this thought is also why, upon reading that email, I really truly jumped up and danced. Someone who I never met walked into a store specifically to buy Brenne. So cool.
Thanks to social media, I am continually hearing from strangers who have found Brenne one way or another and continue to enjoy it and seek it out. You all are putting the drops in the water and it’s starting to ripple out. I know these are all very tiny baby steps when you look at the giant picture but they are such important moments they can’t be overlooked.
The odds are great that a new alcohol brand will fail. But despite the enormous mountains that are in front of me to take Brenne to the next (and necessary) levels, those still aren’t my odds. I can feel it …
January 25, 2013 § 7 Comments
Y’all have spoken! I asked, you answered, more in-depth, narrative stories about my journey launching Brenne, please! I’ll certainly sprinkle in posts about other whiskey-related things I experience or am excited about as I bounce along in 2013, but you’re going to also get a little more of an inside look into the good, bad, fun & ugly of launching a whisky brand.
So here we go!
As you go about your day, you probably don’t think too much about who, how, where & when the names of items we use regularly started. Apple, Samsung, Starbucks …they’re part of our daily vernacular! But someone (or many people) at one point spent lots of time & probably lots of money to do just that: name a brand.
I haven’t written too much about my husband, Nital, but he is easily one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. And when not brainstorming business strategies with me, he’s off using his smarts to re-brands some of the top companies around the world. Many times, this includes putting together a strategy to create a name for a brand. After watching him go through this process a hundred times before, I knew what would be involved in developing the name of our whisky… and with all of his expertise, it still took us 6 months!
We didn’t start by just throwing words down on paper (though there was definitely a LOT of that later on!) but instead started with him asking me a ton of questions like, is this going to be a made-up name or a word that already exists? If it exists, in what language? Does it sing or is it short? What feelings does it evoke? And so on and so forth.
Here’s what I knew I wanted:
- 1 or 2 syllables (I kept putting myself as a customer trying to order it at a loud bar, what would someone be able to “yell” easily? What would sound good in a cocktail if it were to be mixed? What would sound pleasing to the ear as I presented it at tasting event after tasting event?)
- I wanted something that looked & sounded French but wasn’t overwhelmingly complicated to a non-French speaking person so that it wasn’t intimidating (there was an amazing study that came out by Olive Garden about having a gnocchi dish on their menu. It was not selling well at all but before pulling it, they decided to try listing it instead as “potato dumplings” rather than “gnocchi” incredibly enough, with that name switch, it quickly rose to become one of their top sellers. What’s in a name you ask? Everything.
- I felt that the name had to have a connection to the wonderful product that had such a rich story – I wanted the name to be a part of that, to feel a part of the product’s history.
So with that (and a whole lot more) we set about creating list after list of possible names. We wrote them EVERYWHERE ALL OF THE TIME. Cocktail napkins, word docs, our kitchen chalk board wall … we had scribbled names everywhere for months. No surface was safe!
While sadly, I can’t remember the exact way I first connected with my distiller, I CAN remember EVERY DETAIL of the moment “Brenne” happened.
I was in Los Angeles at the time and my husband was in New York City. He had waited all morning for me to wake up as LA is 3 hours behind NYC. At 8am LA time he called me and said, “Did you see my email?!” Being that checking my email while simultaneously saying hi to my husband are the first things of most mornings, I was already adjusting my eyes to the screen. At the same time I opened his email, he said it out loud. “Brreeenne” he cooed. Brenne …. brrreenne … like ‘men’ or ‘hen’ … Brrrreeennnne … I rolled it around in my mouth like sampling a beautiful dram, Brenne. It was perfect! It condensed all of the feelings, emotions, sounds & meanings we had been beating to death into one, tiny, single-syllable word. And he did it by finally finding the right combination of the right French word whose meaning is applicable to whisky mixed with a twist on our distiller’s family name. Done!
Next step – is it available? This is the part that always puts butterflies in my stomach. After all of this work, to hear a word and know in your gut it’s right it would be so painful to learn that you can’t get it. And in today’s fast-moving world, it’s not enough to just be available with Trademarks, but you also need your web addresses, twitter handle, Facebook, etc.! The frantic, pre-coffee search commenced. Trademarks? From what we could tell, check! (though this is not a fast process – it took months to finally learn that it was approved but initial results looked to be in our favor). Web addresses? Check. Twitter? Check. I tried to calm myself down, “don’t get too excited, Allison, this is step one in a long, lengthy and expensive Trademark and design processes!” But I knew it had to be mine – it was so right I felt like it’s been called Brenne all along!
You already know the happy ending to this story – we got the name. And after setting up my google alerts, I learned that a few more things in far-away lands also use that name but nothing damaging, comparable, or problematic in any way, shape or form.