2015 Is Definitely Here

January 22, 2015 § 11 Comments

I blinked and it was January 22, 2015. Not just January… But nearing the END of January.
january-calendar

Running your own business (no matter the industry) is an extremely humbling experience. Every day I metaphorically climb mountains and hike through strange new lands – each time requiring that I quickly learn the local dialect, customs and culture.  Good thing I love to dance & am quick on my feet!

As a solopreneur working extremely hard to build awareness of my Brenne Whisky, I have found a bit balance this past year by running regularly and meditating (the inspirations for which I share often on my personal Instagram page). When I take stock of where things are with Brenne at the moment, I’m simply elated. By November 2013, we were available in 4 States around the USA. By November 2014, Brenne was available in 28. TWENTY-EIGHT!!!!! That’s an average of 2 states per month consistent growth over the course of 12 month. And we just opened Maine this week. The wider availability of Brenne in the US market coupled with the showering of amazing press of even just the last handful of weeks(!!) (Forbes, CBS Morning Show, Men’s Health, Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, NY Observer!!!) confirms for me that I’m on the right path.

If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve probably tired of my “OMG, ___x___ Magazine just wrote about me/Brenne!” posts. (Sorry). I try not to do that too many times but I do want to share, shout out & give thanks for those in the press who have taken the time to share my story. Yet last week – just 7 days ago – I was in a prestigious restaurant in NYC and the after tasting Brenne, the head bartender looked up at me and said with a genuine smile on his face, “It’s really different, in a good way … Has anyone written about it yet? I mean, in the media? That would probably help bring some awareness to what you’re doing.”

Internally, I was laughing and shaking my head in disbelief. Externally, I thanked him for the advice, mentioned a few of the recent articles we’ve received but ultimately, was grateful that clearly he liked Brenne enough to try and offer his two cents as to how I could grow my business.

There is always more work to do, however, I feel that the U.S. finally has the beginnings of a great foundation. We’re growing steadily (thanks to many of you!!!!) and I have lots of hopes for this year ahead, including the release of something extremely special, super limited and, in my humble opinion, ridiculously delicious coming to you this Fall.  …Yup, you’ll want to stay tuned!

In the mean time, one more lucky country is about to get Brenne … Who you ask? I’ll be back soon with the details!

So as we near the end of the first of only 12 months in what I expect to be another year of fleeting, albeit beautiful moments, I raise my glass to you: Cheers to you, your friends, families and drinking buddies. I hope 2015 is a year filled with special experiences, love and plenty of great whisky.

Cheers#DrinkBrenne

 

Unexpected Emotions – Brenne Turns One

October 16, 2013 § 15 Comments

For those of you who follow this blog with any sort of regularity, you know by now that I have been sharing moments this past year of my experience bringing my own whisky to the market.

Brenne_Blue

Thanks to Johanne McInnis of THE WHISKY LASSIE blog for this awesome photo!!!!

It’s been exactly 12 months since Brenne first became available to anyone anywhere in the world, and I decided to launch it in my home city of New York.  3 weeks after our launch, Hurricane Sandy hit – but we persevered.  We had our lives, we had a roof over our heads (however dark and cold it was!) and we had drive.  That famous mach-5 New Yorker drive that inspires and challenges so many – it’s the collective heartbeat of the people of this fine city that, when tapped into, can compels you to greatness (or craziness … or both!).

I had a plan when I launched Brenne – a detailed one and a skeletal one.  The detailed one went out the window on day 1.  The skeletal one provided the framework & focus but allowed me to be flexible – learning the industry and market as I went along each day.  And I’m GLAD I threw out that detailed plan, for the end goal in my first year looked a lot different then the reality, and the reality is AMAZING.

When asked what has surprised me most about this year, I can honestly say EVERYTHING.

When asked how I feel, aside from the obvious (TIRED!) – I am grateful, humble, and much to my surprise – a bit emotionally overwhelmed … I think a good (happy) cry-fest may be in order. 🙂 (or a good long run!).

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I have lived, breathed, loved & birthed Brenne from nothing and it’s at times overwhelming when I’ve been greeted with honors, applause, hugs and congrats.  I know this is just whisky at the end of the day – but to me it’s a lot more.  It’s a dream, a goal, a passion … I feel blessed that I have been able to get this off the ground, to put my money where my mouth is (literally, I invested my entire life savings to do this), quiet all of the doubt and chatter in life to commit myself 100% to a dream.

People must think I’m nuts when I thank them 1000 times for telling me they enjoy my whisky but it’s genuine because without people liking it enough to buy it, well, then I’d have a lot of whisky to consume by myself and not much of a business!

Here’s where I started in October 2012:

NYC with roughly 40 individual accounts primarily in the West Village neighborhood, a small subset of Greenwich Village, in Manhattan to whom I often hand-delivered bottles & cases.   … and oh right, I also had a lot of bottles of Brenne to sell!

Brenne_Deliveries

That’s me making a Brenne delivery (a common sight in NYC this first year!) and are those Brenne bottles peaking out of my purse!? 🙂

_____

Here’s where I am as of October 2013:

6 States with plans to cover a majority of the US over the next 12 months, 5 (FIVE!) brand ambassadors across the US, an Icon of Whisky award, a feature in Food & Wine Magazine as their ONLY WHISKY for their Best New Spirits picks of ’13… and did I mention? We sold out. 🙂

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Me accepting our Icon’s of Whisky award

I started saying recently that my company is 2 people big: 1 is me, 1/2 is my incredible husband (the brains & support system behind this crazy lady) and the other 1/2 is the #WhiskyFabric family.  I owe a massive THANK YOU to so many of you in our blogger community for helping me in this first year.  THANK YOU for including Brenne in your whisky discussions, for sharing my posts on your own blogs and around social media, for doing what we do best; spreading the word.

I have only 12 months under my belt but think it’s off to a really strong start.  It hasn’t come without a daily dose of challenges, lots of headaches and hundreds of sleepless nights – making it to any degree in this industry is not a blissful adventure by any stretch (regardless of how many smiley faces I put everywhere) 😉  but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.  And what’s even crazier is that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my goals.  There is so much more to come from me + Brenne that I hope you’ll continue to stay with me and be present in this wild journey.

Welcome to the beginning.  Again.

With that, I’m off for a vacation in Japan … where of course I’ll be gathering some great info & stories for this blog! See you when I’m back!

**All of my “Brenne Journey” posts are collected together on THIS PAGE (<click that link) should you wish to read through.**

ABS = Always Be Selling

January 9, 2013 § 7 Comments

ABS. Always. Be. Selling.  You’re probably more familiar with “ABC” (Always Be Closing) which works great in both the business & dating scenes but I like to believe the original version to be “ABP” as in “Always Be Pimping.”  And if any of you have had the pleasure of spending even a second of time with Compass Box Whisky’s phenomenal US Ambassador, Robin Robinson (@CompassBoxRobin on twitter) you may have heard him utter this phrase once or twice.

For sales people like us, it’s hysterical, and true. Always Be Pimping Your Brand.  And for someone like me who oozes with excitement at the smallest opportunity to share my passion (Brenne, duh!) with anyone, “always” has a truly literal meaning.

The other day I had a very minor procedure which required me to be temporarily put to sleep.  If anyone has had anesthesia before, you may agree that it’s a bit of a mind game.  One minute you hear the anesthesiologist saying, “Ok, you’re going to start to feel the effects of the medicine….” to then waking up (minutes? hours?) later in a room you’ve probably never seen before with people dashing by your bed and most certainly the unpleasant sound of someone moaning in the background.  But while you try to confirm that you still have all of your fingers & toes before you’re knocked out again in another wave of medicinally induced sleep (that stuff takes a while to wear off!) you have these movie-like snap-shot moments that you start recalling after the medicine has fully run its course.

The first time I woke up, all I remember saying was, “I was drinking wine with my husband in Tuscany…” To which someone asked, “Have you ever been?” And I simply said “No” before falling back asleep.  The next time I woke up, however, the ABS train was in full throttle.  I became aware of this as my eyes focused on the activity the rest of my body was engaged in: Orchestrating a full-court press of just how perfect my whisky was for all of the nurses!  And what surprised me most, was that I became aware of this in the MIDDLE of writing “www.DrinkBrenne.com” on a prescription pad with a scribbled note that read, “My whisky, it’s great!”

Yup.  In my drugged out, 1/2 conscious state, I was selling my whisky to any nurse who came near me!  Ridiculous.  And people think alcohol is addictive?  Try sales.  I’m hooked!

RX_Pad_Brenne_Whisky

I survived! … a reflection of 2012

January 2, 2013 § 18 Comments

Yup. Survived captures exactly what I’m feeling right now.  I actually woke up this morning with a little extra spring in my step (though I do feel inclined to mention that my NYE partying is still taking its toll on my head & I’m sure my liver thus my “springing step” is more of a sloth-like meandering around my office which compared to yesterday, is a massive improvement).  I am just so excited that we made it through in one piece!

2012 was a big one for me.  My husband and I bought, renovated & moved into our new apartment and I launched my whisky, Brenne, with what I can only describe as incredible success (thanks LARGELY to the continued sharing, tasting, buying & chatting about by you all) despite having Hurricane Sandy shut us down for arguably the 2 most important selling weeks in the year.

Whisky inventory management is a whole different ball game than any other commodity I’ve ever managed.  The lead-time is years.  To know how much whisky to create in the first place is a major guessing game (how does anyone really know how well their spirit will sell almost 10 years from the day the process is started?).  Then once you have a spirit that has aged as long as you think creates the balanced profile you are looking for – it’s entirely your call as to when to pull the barrels, how many to bottle, and – in my case – how much to put on a boat and wait patiently for it to travel 1/2 way around the world (all the while you’re barely sleeping as the nightmares of a tsunami or freak storm or anything damaging all of those years of hard work and money keep you up in nervous sweats — and yes, whisky is now looked at as ‘years’ verses simply a ‘product’).

To say I really had no idea how much whisky I could/would sell between October 1st and December 31st is a gross understatement.  I spent about 2 years market testing Brenne in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco while asking nearly every bar tender I had ever met how many bottles of any particular brand of whisky they sell through per month (usually the answer was this: “vodka and gin I go through multiple bottles a night, whisky you say? About 1 bottle per brand per month. Why don’t you want to make vodka instead? You’ll make more money”)  Yikes.  This wasn’t a “get rich quick” business for me – I’ve been building this out of my love for whisky, my passion for the influence & effect terroir plays on the aging product, and the impact that true craftsmanship can have on such an amazing spirit!

Still, I had the number I was looking for (1 bottle per brand per month … that’s 1 case a year per account -or 2 cases if you do 6 bottle cases like I do).  That seemed really low and a little upsetting – after hearing that from a lot of people I do remember running the numbers and thinking, “I can never do this!!!  How does anyone make any kind of living off of whisky? Should I just fold this up now? No one will ever know!  We can sell this in bulk to someone else and let it be someone else’s headache.  We’re too small a company to compete!”  But my husband kept encouraging me to move forward and something deep inside of me agreed.  Knowing that a new brand (and one from a “new” country) would need to be hand-sold by bartenders & shop keepers, I had to figure that my product would take even longer to move through on the shelves.  Which meant I really needed to buckle down, create a very focused plan for launching Brenne, and go back to our college days of living off of the cheapest food I could find. We are in this for the long haul!

After much analyzing of whatever data I could get my hands on – my husband and I agreed to bring in a small amount of Brenne to start.  Mind you, we were only selling this in New York and even then, only focusing on a few areas within the Manhattan area so I really had my work cut out for me to launch this with any type of success.  There were a lot of days leading up to our launch that I thought, “I could pull the cord on this now, I don’t HAVE to move forward, no one is forcing me and again … no one will ever know! – I kept Brenne quiet for years, there was no need to change that! ” Which I knew was all fear talking so again, I kept moving forward.

Then one day you turn the corner and realize that with one more step, you’re jumping off the cliff and there is no turning back.  The future is most certainly unclear but once this step is made – it’s seriously GO time.  I happily & nervously danced my way right over the edge.  Major decision making became as regular a part of my day as my morning coffee.  And with never having done this before in this industry, I’ll be the first to admit there was a lot of “follow your gut” guess work.  There still is!  You do the best with what you have and then, you just keep moving forward.

If I didn’t launch October 1st, I knew I would have had to hold it until January 1 (this week!) as it’s impossible to launch anything new during November and December.  So I did it – pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, hand selling this to every single account who would take an appointment with me.  I didn’t launch this with a distributor – I decided to distribute it myself – and I was SHOCKED with just how well Brenne has been received.

That number of “12 bottles of whisky per brand a year per account” was grossly underestimated.  I have one bar going through about 12 bottles a WEEK!  I have stores on multi-case bi-monthly ordering schedules and the initial quantity which I assumed would supply many unique account was satisfied by only a relatively small handful.  Brenne was definitely exceeding the “12 bottles per year per account*” estimate and I woke up each day with more excitement, confidence, humility and gratitude then I have ever felt.

So after what can only be described as a marathon of tasting events this holiday season, I woke up today alive and happy.  And started to arrange for my next few pallets of product to be loaded up from our distillery in Cognac and brought over to the US.  There is still a TON of hard work ahead and many, many long days but if these first 3 months with Brenne are any indication of our future, then I can not WAIT to keep moving forward and see where were are this time next year.

And just to leave you with a little something – I did ring in the New Year with my husband and dear friends at the very cool new NYC whiskey bar, The Flatiron Room, which I will blog about next time!

I hope you all have a safe, healthy, and wonderful start to 2013!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Allison_Patel_Whisky_Party_NYE

*Just clarifying for those who really like to get down to the nitty-gritty, the “12 bottles per account per year” was based off of no published statistics but rather gathered by myself by simply speaking with bar tenders around the USA.  Also, the type of account I’m referring to with these numbers are only for on-premise (meaning a bar, restaurant or lounge).

Life is full of little surprises

December 4, 2012 § 11 Comments

I don’t know about you but I sometimes find my days so nuts that if I don’t zero in and take it one detailed piece at a time than I think I would look at the whole day, become so overwhelmed I’d throw up my hands and fold.  Perhaps crawling into whichever hole was closest (which, this being NYC, would probably be a subway station …).

As an aside, please accept my apologies now for any and all unanswered emails, tweets, comments, posts, etc.  I THANK YOU for staying with me despite my slight disappearing act from this blog.

But you don’t come here to hear me lament about how ‘busy’ I am – we are ALL busy.  Especially this month.  And in the whirlwind that is my life – I often step back and think about my fellow bloggers & whisky enthusiasts in awe.  How do you all do it!?  How do you continually publish quality, well written and well researched posts that are both educational and entertaining on a regular basis!?

Salvador Dali's 'The Persistence of Memory' while art historians can debate it's meaning, to me, I often think about this when

Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ – while art historians can debate it’s many meaning, to me, I often think about this piece when I feel like time is slipping away, melting into the calmness deep within the chaos of daily life

When I started this blog, I set a goal for myself of posting one article a week and I think I did a pretty good job of keeping to that until October 1 of this year when I launched my own whisky.  And then as soon as the 1st month of Brenne’s introduction in the market was coming to a close, we got hit badly by hurricane Sandy.  And then as soon as we dusted ourselves off, flicked the light switch on (& actually got light!) and hit the ground running, we ran into Thanksgiving and kicked off the always-busy holiday season.

So there I am; blinders on, bulldozing through the minutes, hours, days and weeks with time whizzing by faster than ever that I found myself Sunday evening happily standing behind a table pouring Brenne (Estate Cask, barrel #261) at the amazing whisky event Robin Robinson put together to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims.

Corsair_logo

Standing there talking to one wonderful whisky lover after another, I spotted the ever familiar white Corsair logo against a black T-shirt peaking through the crowd coming my way.  My eyes quickly glanced up from the T-shirt to the wearer of said tee and realized that it was Darek Bell (co-founder & distiller of Corsair Artisan Distillery).  Darek and I have crossed paths at many events and I could definitely pick him out of a line up (watch out, Darek!) but we had never before had the opportunity to spend more than a minute conversing until then.

It didn’t take us long at all to jump right into full whisky geek talk (and I love being in the company of true geeky distillers like Derek, there is so much for me to learn and as soon as he started asking me questions about our still configuration – I felt like it was my birthday!)  And then he said it, those words you hope you never hear but, whenever you truly expose yourself – like an artist at his debut or an author publishing her book – you have to be ready for: “Allison, I do, however, have one complaint. ”  Eek!  Sound the alarm! Brace yourself! Wait. No. Calm yourself.  Listen & learn.  Ok, you can do this. …. “Oh yea?  What’s that Darek?”  “Ever since you launched Brenne, you’ve kinda ignored your blog.”

George Costanza

Huh?  That’s the complaint?  You A) read it  B) noticed my fewer post publications and C) cared enough to mention it?  I’m FLATTERED!  I feel the redness leave my face (in the anticipation of a different kind of complaint) and I smile broadly … and somewhat quizzically.   Reading my expression, Darek then said, “Yes Allison, people do read your blog and frankly, I like your take on things.”

As I drifted off to sleep the night before last, I was thinking about my backlog of whisky posts.  The events that I have been wanting to share with you, the unique whiskies I’ve been buying up as I travel from one whisky store to another hand selling Brenne, the people I have met and the amazing whiskey-based cocktail creations I have experienced.  And how I have been getting to the end of my Sunday evenings thinking, “Oh crap, I missed another week … now my post will be too dated.”  But last night as I thought about this, I also remembered one of my favorite aspects of whisky; it’s a true art of time.  My whisky that is aging in barrels is constantly reminding me that no matter how hard I work or how quickly I move from one thing to the next, the whisky everyone around the world is distilling today still won’t be ready any faster.  We all still have to wait years, a decade or even longer until we can pour into our glasses what is being now being distilled through copper vessels.  With that in mind, I was thinking how I love that whisky takes so long to age and then stops abruptly as soon as it enters a bottle, almost as if that glass frame is the spirit’s own time-capsule.  Perhaps then too, these posts that I have been worried about being just a bit too old will, like our whiskies, get a little better with age and then once they launch themselves into a published post only then do they stop changing, or rather ‘aging’.  Perhaps that is a little too philosophical for some of you but I’m sticking to it. 🙂

And until I dust off those recent memories and commit them here, I leave you with this; THANK YOU.  Thank you Darek for giving me a bit of a kick in the you-know-what to log back in and continue the conversation.  Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me and continue subscribing even as my posts have become less regular.  And the biggest Thank You to all of you who have not only stayed with me but picked up my slack!  Your comments, emails, tweets, re-blogs, and perhaps most importantly, your own personal blog posts mentioning me and/or Brenne have simply made me speechless (… almost 😉 ).  I can’t thank you all enough.  It’s super fun to get to know you and talk about one of our favorite topics together!!!

thanks

You Know You’re A Whisky Geek when..

November 9, 2012 § 20 Comments

This morning, after hanging with 2 incredibly beautiful and also incredibly “geeky” whisky women, I started laughing to myself as I thought about our conversations last night.  I can only imagine what non-whisky people may have thought if they had overheard the three of us rattling on with exuberance about every aspect of whisky production.  Realizing that some may think we’re a bit ‘strange’ but knowing that we are certainly not alone, I write this post for YOU.  My fellow “whisky geeks”

You know you’re a “Whisky Geek” when…

10) All of your tweets end with #whisky AND #whiskey

9) You’ve taken tasting notes again when at a busy, packed bar because you MUST remember what you’re experiencing! (insert eye-roll from spouses & friends everywhere)

8) You know from memory what type of oak all of your favorite whiskies have been in and for how long

7) You know what type of flavors specific varietals of oak attribute to whisky

6) You probably spend the first 5 -10 minutes just nosing your glass before even taking your first sip

5) You consider being called a “whisky geek” a very high compliment

4) You can pantomime with ease the different shapes of stills with your hands

3) You can drink a whisky blindly and guess correctly its age within a year or two up or down

2) You’re heart starts racing with excitement at the thought of talking “yeast strains”

1) You actually use this phrase to describe a whisky: “the ester profile is…”

Come on, I know you have some you want to add … 😉  Share below!

A shout out back to you, Tony Kornheiser & PTI

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The day before yesterday, Monday Nov 5th, was the first day the New York Tri-State area felt like it was starting to get back to work post-Hurricane Sandy.  And it felt great.   Just like the old saying: you never know how much you love/need something until it’s not there.  Well, I need to work! 🙂

After a full day, I was ready to happily dedicate my night to my now over-full inbox and various social media platforms.  I started by skimming through comments on this blog and saw one that I thought for a moment might be spam.  It read:

From: Bonnie Berko

Date: November 5, 2012

Allison, listen for your shout out at the end of PTI today! Send more product!

In hindsight I can’t see how I ever thought this was spam but in that moment and in the context of a whisky blog, I didn’t know what “PTI” was, nor who Bonnie Berko is (sorry Bonnie!), nor knew what “send more product” really meant.  More?! When did I ever send her any Brenne?

Thanks to google for quickly clearing this up for me.  Bonnie Berko is the producer of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption show with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon – which is one of the top shows on ESPN.  Feeling confused and excited, I quickly tuned in and caught the end of the show with Tony calling out my name.

huh? shock. giggle. breathe. question. smile. belly laugh.

Something like 3 million people tune in to PTI nightly.  I put my computer on my lap and watched in awe as tweets, g-chats, facebook messages, etc from friends, acquaintances and total strangers started coming in.  What does one do when that happens?  Well, if you’re me, you slide off the couch and have yourself a little impromptu dance party!

Funny Dancing Stickman

Then I put the pieces together.  A very enthusiastic friend bought a case (6 bottles) of Brenne the week it launched.  I then find out that he sent a few bottles down to Tony Kornheiser who proceeded to mention it on his other ESPN show: The Tony Kornheiser Show.  Then he mentioned it again … and again.

And then Tony gives me, “Allison Patel, Whisky Woman” a shout-out on Pardon the Interruption!

ESPN PTI Episode 11/5/12 … go to around minute 22:25 for Tony’s shout out

http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=8597874

So Tony, if you’re reading, here’s my shout-out back to you.  THANK YOU for liking Brenne French Single Malt whisky and for continuing to share your thoughts with your audiences.  I sincerely appreciate it.  One person can make a difference.  You’re awesome.

Cheers!

#DreamComingTrue  Go Small Business!

Hurricane Sandy; a personal experience from lower Manhattan

November 1, 2012 § 9 Comments

I struggled with where to begin this post because this has surely been the strangest month of my life.  It started with the successful launch of my own whisky, Brenne, which while I planed it for over a year, I quickly realized that you can never really be ready for what happens … (foreshadowing?) nothing could have prepared me for the speed at which I would zoom through life from Oct 1st right on through to the end of the month where suddenly, life came to a screeching halt with the presence of Hurricane Sandy.

Photo credit: Bloomberg News

I’ve lived in Manhattan for just short of a decade.  I joke that I came out of the womb saying, “Sorry Mom, but I’ve got to go to New York!”  To say that I love New York is a vast understatement.  I love NY.  I am NY.  My identity is here, my life is here, my friends & family are here (or are close enough that most past through quite often).  I love the pulse, the energy and also the community that is New York City.  So naturally, when events happen that change the beat, I admire and jump in as New Yorkers rally to help, protect, and support each other and our city.

During my time here, I’ve lived through a few landmark events, including the Black Out of ’03, the Transit Strike of ’05, and Hurricane Irene ’11.  The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to me feels like a combination of all three on steroids.  Four days in, we still have no heat, cell towers or power and based on the latest reports it looks like we have another 2 more days to go until the electricity comes back on.  Many subways are still under water and the trees that used to line the cement below my window have either been stripped bare, cracked in half or totally uprooted.

(Below is my corner after 3 hours of clean up work had already taken place Tuesday morning.  During the storm, I watched a tree beat an air conditioning unit out of my neighbors window.  Violent winds.)

Walking around the West Village, Soho and Tribeca on Tuesday, October 30th, the day after Sandy tore through NY & NJ, I couldn’t believe how much the city looked both like itself and not at all.  The buildings still stood in their original positions, the roads were still there, most of the signs and traffic lights were swinging in their places – except there was a dark gray feeling of doom that weighed heavily on everything.  In our 1hour walk around our neighborhood I can’t tell you how many hoses I saw emptying streams of water onto the sidewalks from the depths of basements and even lobby’s.  It seemed like every 5 blocks or so there was another street closed as brave workers carefully & quickly broke down tens of thousands of feet of scaffolding 10, 18, 20 stories high that had been pulled away from the buildings during the storms – or worse – had pulled building off with it and crashed to the sidewalk below during the night.

Cold and wet, we turned our faces into the wind and rounded another corner as the rain temporarily let up, this time walking into a moment that filled us with happiness and light.  A tiny bodega run by three energetic guys who had made it to their shop flipped their metal NYTimes New Stand upside down, set a charcoal stove on top and got to work making hot coffee right there on the side walk.  They were so happy, shouting gaily that they had fresh coffee, cream & sugar for $2.  But let me tell you with that money, you weren’t only buying piping hot caffeinated warmth, you were also buying a piece of social connectivity.  The ConEd (electric company) workers joined in, the fire men pulled a hook & ladder right in front and instead of shutting them down, got in line.  Locals and displaced tourists started huddling around and for the next few minutes, we connected, smiled, and knew this was just another one of those moments in New York’s history that we will not only live through but thrive from.

When the power first went out – everyone in my building entered the dark hallways, checked on neighbors and hosted impromptu “black out dinner parties.”  Kids made shadow puppets on the walls with their hands and flashlights, the adults broke into their wine stocks, and more and more neighbors realized just how big our whisky collection really is. 😛

(This is about 2/3rd of the collection at best)

It’s like stepping back in time every night as we gather around our battery powered radio and walk through our apartment using only candles to light our way (you have to save your batteries/flashlights for the stairwell and streets! Stores -if even open- are out of batteries for miles!).  Last night, I got a little annoyed as Mayor Bloomberg reminded us over the airwaves to dial 311 is for downed trees, 911 for emergency and an 800# for FEMA.  All I could think was, “that’s all lovely … if only we could actually make calls!” If we have an emergency now, I will need to run down 5 pitch-black flights of stairs onto an equally dark street and go to my nearest police or fire station.  That’s not the most comforting of thoughts … But luckily, we have our lives, our health, our neighbors and our city.  Our building has never smelled better with all of the scented candles burning practically 24 hours a day.  And I am so thankful that everyone I know is safe, dry and have a roof over their heads.  There were many who were not so lucky.

On Wednesday, we learned that my husband’s office in midtown had power, internet, hot water and best of all, cell coverage!  We were able to get a ride up and spent the day catching with with family, friends and of course, work.  I looked out his window and saw “The Crane” dangling & swaying in the breeze …

It was well into the night before we got transportation to take us back home but it was a drive that I will never forget.  We started at the edge of Central Park going down 5th Avenue.  The shops brightly lit the sky and we watched as the New York pre-Sandy seemed to be coming back to life.  People were packed on the sidewalks going in and out of stores and restaurants, life seemed to be buzzing all around us.

And then we crossed 34th street. 

It was as if we had crossed over into apocalyptic New York.  It was black; pitch black.  Not a street light or building gave any indication of their whereabouts.   There was hardly anyone out on the streets – despite it being Halloween – and only the occasional taxi.  It felt eery.  And a bit scary.  In a “Hollywood movie you can almost hear the depressing orchestral music” kind of scary.  We made it back to our very dark building and climbed the pitch-black stairwell past our floor to our roof.  We needed to see this on a grander scale.  There before us were the shadowed outlines of buildings who make up the Manhattan skyline.  The Empire State building clearly marking the end of “dark, apocalyptic, New York” and the beginning of “bright, shiny, vibrant New York.”  We live in the “dry & dark” part of the city.  But even below us, there is a city that is still underwater. I’ve heard people talking about the “3 New York’s” right now – all unique, all real, all extremely different from each other, and yet all connected by miles of concrete and asphalt.  To travel from one end to another is a totally surreal experience.

We, like so many others, lost our family’s beach cottage on the New Jersey shore that my 101 year old Grandma bought for the family decades ago.  I spent my childhood summers there just like my dad and his cousins.  It is sad, of course.  But nothing is as serious as loosing a life.  As my Grandmother told me just today, “Walls can be rebuilt, the memories we have will stay with us forever.”

Photo credit: I did not take the flooded subway station photo.  It was shared by a friend on Facebook.

I snapped the above photo of my TV right before the power went out Monday night.  This was being filmed in lower Manhattan.  Moments before we watched a huge piece of metal float behind him.  He was saying that he was standing just a few blocks from “the bull” – an incredible sight.

I wish you all a safe, healthy, and warm start to November.

Apologies if I don’t respond quickly to comments – I will be back online as soon as I can.

Interview: Caskers.com co-founder Moiz Ali

September 10, 2012 § 11 Comments

As I stand on what feels like the edge of the tallest mountain looking down into the weeks, months & years ahead as I prep the launch my own whisky, Brenne, I am proud to find myself in like-company.  There are a handful of other entrepreneurs who are in the midst of introducing their own whisky-focused companies – it’s an amazing feeling to be in this place in life period, but to be in this moment with others who have also brought to fruition their dreams is, well, magical.

Following the heels of last week’s post where I published my interview with the blogging team of the It’s Just the Booze Dancing crew, I thought it time to shine some light on more of these amazing whisky-loving folks.  This week I present to you one of the two co-founders of Caskers.com.  A very new and very cool craft spirits sale site.

And if you like what these guys are doing, they’ve given you the invitation code WHISKYWOMAN to use HERE which lets you skip the “request invite” step & gives you immediate access to their site.

Caskers.com co-founder Moiz Ali

What is Caskers.com? (Why is it so unique and what makes it different?)

Caskers is a website where we curate, market and make available for sale craft spirits.  We work with industry experts, master distillers and mixologists to find the best craft spirits being distilled today, and then feature those spirits on Caskers.  Our goal is to help customers discover great spirits and help craft distilleries earn brand-recognition among consumers.

We don’t aim to be the Walmart for spirits and stock every item ever made.  Our goal is to feature only amazing craft spirits and only for limited periods of time.  This way, we can help customers discover great spirits and eliminate the clutter that currently fills up the shelves of most liquor stores.

When did you launch Caskers.com?

We launched into public beta on June 18, 2012.

How long did you work on it until the time you were ready to launch?

My co-founder, Steven Abt, and I recognized the problem while we were both in law school in Boston.  After a few weekend trips to places like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, we realized that we couldn’t get access to spirits that we tried in other major cities when we came back to Boston.   We knew there had to be a better way.

In late 2010, we came up with the idea of Caskers and then at the beginning of 2012, we quit our jobs and began focusing on Caskers full time.

That must have been a thrilling feeling!  But your based in New York, right?  Fill in the gap for me, please.  How did this become a concept in Boston to a full-blown company in NYC?

We are based in NYC.  While we came up with the concept of Caskers in law school (we both went to Harvard in Cambridge, MA), my co-founder and I both ended up taking jobs as lawyers in NYC.  He worked at Wachtell Lipton and I worked at Simpson Thacher.  Even while we were lawyers, we always kept talking about how this concept would be a great business venture.  And while being a lawyer was fun, we knew this would be better!  We quit our jobs at the beginning of 2012 to found Caskers!

Tell me about the types of products you feature in your flash sales?

We like to think of them as private sales rather than flash sales, because we don’t want to imply that the products we’re selling are being discounted because of quality or that we’re having some type of close-out sale.

The products we feature are the best craft spirits being distilled today.  We get recommendations from industry experts, master distillers and mixologists (not to mention customers!) and then our team tries everything to see what spirits really stand out.  Once we find a sprit that we think is amazing, we work with the distillery to feature it on Caskers.  We really are looking for the best stuff out there – we’ve already rejected a number of distilleries that reached out to us because they weren’t the right fit for Caskers.

Who should join Caskers.com?

Everyone!  Well, everyone over the age of 21 actually.  The spirits we feature are incredibly unique.  They have distinct aromas and flavors.  While we readily admit that people have different palates and preferences (for instance, Steve prefers rye and I prefer bourbon), the spirits we feature are amazing and you’ll be able to find something you love on Caskers.  And even if you don’t drink, you’ll like the stories that we tell on Caskers.  At Kings County Distillery, the label on each bottle was originally created by a typewriter the master distillers found on the street in Williamsburg.  At Caledonia Spirits, the owner of the distillery was a beekeeper for nearly 50 years before he decided to incorporate his organic, raw Vermont honey into gin and vodka.

Caskers has something for everyone.

What does it cost to join?

Caskers is free to join!

What was your inspiration for creating Caskers.com?

Steve and I both took a number of weekend trips during law school, and realized that the spirits we tried in Chicago, LA, New York and San Francisco just weren’t available back in Boston.  To us, that was crazy and we knew there had to be a better way!

You have had tremendous growth and success in the short time since the site has been live, what do you attribute that too and where do you hope to be this time next year?

I think we’re just filling a need that has been there for awhile.  Spirits aren’t like soft drinks – you don’t just choose between Pepsi and Coke when you’re young and stick to that brand the rest of your life.  You want to try a broad range of spirits and taste everything out there.  We know people have limited resources, both in terms of time and money, so we help people try the best spirits being produced today.  So long as we do a great job curating spirits, I think we can continue to grow quickly.

What were you doing (professionally) before Caskers?

I was a corporate lawyer for about 2.5 years before starting Caskers.  I worked at a firm called Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, after graduating from the University of Florid and Harvard Law School.

Steve was also a corporate lawyer before starting Caskers.  He worked at a firm called Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, after graduating from Princeton and Harvard Law School.

Have you always loved craft spirits?

If you’re a cop, I’ve loved craft spirits since I was 21.  Otherwise, yes! I love that they have original flavors and love thinking about master distillers when I drink them.  These guys and girls work tirelessly to produce something unique and interesting.  They really are pioneers.

How has running your own business, particularly in the Spirits industry, changed your life?

It makes me want to run to work everyday!  It makes me love craft products – not just in the spirits industry but in everything.  I want to eat food from farmer’s markets, sit on chairs made by an artisan whose passion is to make great furniture, and live in a unique home that was designed by an architect who knows what he is doing.

Would you do it all over again if you could?

In a heartbeat.

Final thoughts from me to Moiz Ali & Steve Abt: Thank you so much for sharing your story and for letting us have a peek behind the curtain! I love that you’re really helping edit down & pick out the great craft spirits from a sea of choices for the educated consumer – which in today’s busy world is very much appreciated.  Job well done, guys!

Interview: It’s Just the Booze Dancing blog crew

September 5, 2012 § 17 Comments

It was 3am.  I was staying up late to put the final edits on a blog post I wanted to publish the next morning.  Naturally, I was nursing a dram and tabbed over to my Twitter account to see if anyone else was sharing in my late-night debauchery.  Why yes!  Two of my favorite blog & twitter friends, @BoozeDancing & @CooperedTot.  After a quick round of witty whisky banter, I asked them what they were both doing awake.  Same answer: editing blog posts.

A couple people I’ve met asked (only after they assumed “yes”) if I was a “full time blogger” to which I had to laugh.  Did they really think I hung out in coffee shops all day tweeting around ideas that would come together in my weekly posts?  Sounds good! But no, for me, as it is for many of my fellow bloggers, blogging is a passion-project only. Something I think we all actually loose money on (I know I do!) and something we do in between balancing the thousands of other things on our plates.  Why? Because we love it. Because I LOVE the #WhiskyFabric community.  Because I LOVE the conversations that evolve from the topics we are all living & writing about.

I thought it time to interview the Dancers – shine a light on some of my late-night editor companions and let you in to see a glimpse of what it’s like to run a successful blog.  I asked the following questions to each of the 4 writers of the It’s Just the Booze Dancing blog and I love how each of their uniquely wonderful personalities shine through in their different responses.  Please enjoy their truthful, funny, thoughtful & of course, entertaining responses:

IT’S JUST THE BOOZE DANCING – Interview

Who are the writers of the BoozeDancing blog?

G-LO: The Wookie, The ROK, Limpd, & G-LO

The ROK: I go by the alias ‘The ROK’ on the blog.

LimpD: LimpD will suffice.

The Wookie: is a 38 year-old booze, brew, travel, and food lover that like the other Booze Dancers lives in South Jersey just outside of Philadelphia.  By day I am a civil engineer and construction management expert consulting on large scale building projects around the world.  When not at work I love exploring new brews, spirits, and foods.  Beyond booze and food I enjoy cold weather sports and outdoor sports like skiing, ice hockey, snorkeling, and sailing.

How did you all come up with your pen names?

G-LO: G-LO is derived from my real name, and was coined by a guy that used to do improv comedy with my wife about 9 or 10 years ago. I’m not really sure how it happened, but the neighbors caught wind of this nickname and it stuck. There is nothing funnier than hearing yourself called Mr. G-LO by The Wookie’s youngest daughter. And in a whisky related story, Joshua Hatton referred to me as G-LO when he asked Dr. Bill Lumsden of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie a question that I posted on his Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society Blog. Dr. Bill asked, “G-LO? As opposed to J-LO?”. Dr. Bill was very disappointed when he find out that I was a guy.

The ROK: Not much creativity here, ROK are my initials. At neighborhood gatherings, I would write my initials Toby Keith style on the red solo cup and so it kind of stuck as a nickname since its kind of like ‘rock’

LimpD: When we began the blog, I was in need of a hip replacement and had a pronounced limp.

The Wookie: The definition of wookie is “a tall, hairy alien species”.  Since I am 6’5″, an incredibly hairy dude, and a bit off center “The Wookie” seems to fit well.

When and why did you all start the BoozeDancing blog?

G-LO: Prior to the formation of the blog, the four of us spent a great deal of time sitting around the fire, drinking whisky, and just talking into the wee hours of the evening. About a month or two prior to the blog’s launch, one of us joked that we should record our fireside chats and start a podcast. Although the podcast never materialized, the blog eventually did.

The ROK: G-LO is really the creative force behind the blog. We got the idea one night sipping whisky on G-lo’s patio. We talked about it for a few weeks and then GLo just went and started it.

LimpD: We began the blog as a somewhat feeble effort to pass off our backyard drinking as research. Additionally, as we ventured further into beer and spirits, it became apparent that we had a fairly significant knowledge base that with G-LO’s urging could be used to both amuse and educate.

The Wookie: You could say that, two years ago, we started the blog to share with the world our thoughts on the “finer things in life” but that would be total bullshit.  G-lo was (and still is) the mastermind behind the blog and depending on when/who you ask you may get different answers to “why” we started.  Some of those answers include:

1 – We had a few too many and thought the world actually cared about our musings on booze and life
2 – We were trying to score free stuff
3 – We were looking for a public forum to poke fun at each other
4 – We were trying to legitimatize our “exploration” of booze and food

…. and the list goes on.

How frequently do you publish new posts?

G-LO: We typically publish between 3 and 5 posts per week.

LimpD: We aim for three posts a week and try to divide the work load based on our other commitments.

The ROK: My postings have become less and less frequent as job and family responsibilities have taken up much of my time.

The Wookie: Currently we are publishing about a post per day, Monday through Friday.

On average, how much time would you say each writer spends writing and promoting/marketing his posts per day or week?

G-LO: Writing has never been one of my strengths, so depending upon the subject matter, and my level of inspiration, it could take me anywhere from one to three hours to write a post (sometimes more, but rarely less). This does not include the time I spend fussing with the photos or actually evaluating what I’m drinking. As far as the promotions/marketing side, once again, it depends. Since I manage the Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram feeds, several of the post promotions are performed automatically through WordPress. Thanks to people like yourself and other blogging buddies we’ve made along the way, promoting and marketing has been getting easier every day. I like to call it “good blogging karma”. 

The ROK: I mostly just write. G-Lo had really gotten into the social media aspects and promotes the blog on facebook and other sites such as digg and reddit.

LimpD: I spend about three hours a week writing, responding to comments and forwarding our posts out to sites like Reddit.

The Wookie: G-lo and LimpD do the lion’s share of the writing publishing 1-3 posts per week.  I write more like a sniper picking select targets to write about a few times per month.  As far as marketing and promotion goes, G-lo is our social media wizard promoting everyone’s writings through Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc..

What have been some of your biggest surprises as booze bloggers?

G-LO: Of course the biggest surprise is that people actually seem to enjoy reading our blog! The second biggest surprise is how much I enjoy interacting with all of the other great bloggers out there. It always makes me smile when I stumble upon all of the comments that we leave on each other’s blogs. We’re all so connected!

The ROK: The biggest surprise is that anyone actually reads it. I never expected to find such a large community of people who share our enjoyment of whisky and who are willing to share their experiences. In addition, the amount of time it takes to put together a well thought out posting was surprising. Whisky, beer, and just about any spirit can be so complex to try to distill the essence of the experience into 1 or 2 paragraphs takes more effort that it might appear.

LimpD: We actually seem to know what we are talking about and have provided a creative outlet for an expanding “hobby”.

The Wookie: It was and still is surprising that people actually read what we write.  I think we all write just for fun, as a hobby.  The fact that we get regular feedback from others including distillers, brewers, and the like is surprising and very cool.

What were some of your biggest hurdles/learning curves?

G-LO: I’ve been drinking whisky and beer for a very long time, but I never really sat down to analyze what I was drinking until the past few years. I always thought tasting notes were utter nonsense, but until you actually try to sit down and write them, you don’t realize how difficult it really is. Also, writing in general has never been easy for me, so the fact that I have written so much and actually enjoyed doing it is a friggin miracle!

The ROK: For me, it was broadening my taste palate. When we first starting writing, I wrote mostly about bourbon. I have a sweet-tooth so whiskey based on corn fit right in with me. Over the years, I’ve expanded into Irish and single-malt whisky’s and I find now more and more I reach for a highlands malt over the bourbons I used to favor.

LimpD: We started a little behind the curve and G-LO has invested a significant amount of time pushing our blog with Twitter, Facebook, etc. I found that my taste preferences (softer beer, unpeated whisky, shiny packaging and no demon bourbon) were a bit of mixed blessing. While I certainly had a comfort zone, I was initially a little unwilling to expand my horizons and that hindered my posts.

The Wookie: It took us a bit of time to figure out how to promote what we do and bring all the social media tools together.  G-lo is our social media “guru” and helps keep the blog’s visibility high.

How do you stay motivated?

G-LO:  I will be the first to admit that there are days when I’m not very motivated to write, but then someone comments on a post, or throws a #FF our way on Twitter, and I remember why I enjoy doing this so much. 

The ROK: This is the hard part for me. It gets harder and harder to find the time to down and focus on a blog post. G-Lo keeps it going.

LimpD: Now, I really like to try things and as the Philly/South Jersey area has expanded its offerings, there seems to be a new beer or whisky or bourbon that catches my eye.

The Wookie: It’s still fun.  For my part the blog is more a place to catalog my exploration of new things than to share it with anyone.  Trying new things is the motivation, writing is just a record of my experiences.

What do you like best about being a blogger?

G-LO: Here are just a few of the things that I like best about being a blogger: interactions with our readers and other bloggers; interactions with brewers, distillers, bar/restaurant owners, and other industry professionals; the thrill of finding the next “Holy Grail” beer or whisky, and then sitting down to write about the experience. There are so many more things that I love about blogging, but I think you get the idea.

The ROK: The free samples. The folks at Master of Malt have been generous in sending us samples to try. It’s really great to get to try something that would probably never make it into a review and be able write about it.

LimpD: The comments and feedback. It is great to write a post but it is even better to have someone respond even if it is to critique the review.

The Wookie: The blog has gotten us invites to and tastes of new things that many others would not get to try.  It seems the more we write about things we like the more we are asked to try things we like.

What do you like least about being a blogger?

G-LO: My only complaint is not having the time to write as much as I’d like.

The ROK: To do it well, really takes a lot of time.

LimpD: At times, I find it hard to objectively review something that to me is just awful. You want to review a product and provide some insight without just slamming something.

The Wookie: Until there are paparazzi camped out in front of my house I don’t think there will be anything I don’t like.  You write when you want to write and stop when you don’t feel like it.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still have started?

G-LO: Most definitely! My only regret is not knowing as much as I know about Social Media when we first started out. Lots of trial and error in the beginning as far as getting the word out about our blog. 

The ROK: It was really G-lo that started it all, so if he started it again, I would freeload off his efforts again, too!

LimpD: Absolutely, I just wish we had started sooner.

The Wookie: G-LO was the mastermind and just took us all along for the ride.  I guess if he says yes to doing it again I would say yes to jumping on board for the ride.

Any tips for people considering starting a blog?

G-LO: The common thread in all of my answers has been about how much I truly enjoy the interactions that occur because of the blog. The best way to gain readership is to read other people’s blogs and to leave thoughtful and relevant comments. There is a plethora of great writing happening across the blogosphere. Get out there and get to know the writers. And most importantly, never take yourself too seriously, and try your best to have fun with your writing!

The ROK: You need to consistently post fresh material in order to build an audience. It takes some time, but if you publish consistently and continue to learn about the subject you are writing about, like minded people will find you.

LimpD: I would suggest that collaboration is a key to starting a blog. That spreads the workload and varies the opinions as each writer has some preference. For us, G-LO tends to smokey, peaty whiskies; the ROK is a big fan of bourbon; the Wookie likes to find things off the beaten path; and I look toward the softer, mellower whiskies. The same goes for the diversity in our preferences in beer. I would like to think that this difference has allowed each of us to expand our palates and enhance our knowledge. Also, you don’t want to drink alone; where is the fun in that.

The Wookie: My number one tip is to start blogging with a group of friends/writers rather than going it alone.  Producing blog content as a single writer makes it tough to publish regularly and tough to get feedback.  If you start with a group of writers you can pick up the slack for each other when someone does not feel like writing and also provide feedback to each other.  If nothing else your little group becomes your primary audience and you can just have fun writing things for your circle of friends.

Final thoughts from me to the BoozeDancing crew:  I continue to be inspired by your humility & dedication – not just to your own blog but to mine and so many others.  You all are important members in the whisky community and as both a reader & blogger, I thank you for your continued support & commitment.  Cheers!

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