Sourcing Grains for Craft Distilled Spirits

two men standing at bag with grains in their palm

By: Becky Garrison

According to Michael Swanson, co-founder, farmer and distiller for Far North Spirits (Hallock, Minnesota), craft distillers have an excellent opportunity to highlight the difference between a crop grown for flavor compared to a crop grown solely for yield. This distinction affords them unique opportunities to explore how to source the specific grains that will produce a spirit with a particular desired flavor profile.

  Swanson cites rye as an example, as that’s the primary grain he utilizes in his whiskeys, and he observed how this scenario plays out similarly to many crops. As he observes, historically and across multiple countries, winter rye has been grown and sold as a commodity. There are exceptions to this, particularly in pre-prohibition Pennsylvania, where rye was grown specifically for use by the many distilleries across the state. But for the most part, rye was and still is treated as a commodity. However, when they started growing rye to distill into whiskey, they realized that their particular variety had a distinctive flavor profile.

  So, Swanson and his team conducted a three-year crop research study that was the first of its kind. In this study, they grew 15 different varieties of rye and then milled-mashed-fermented-distilled them individually. From this, they could determine that all other things are equal, the variety of rye alone affects the flavor of the whiskey. Also, after barrel aging the whiskey, they found that the aging process amplified the differences in flavor between the varieties. In particular, the open-pollinated varieties showed a much broader flavor spectrum than the hybrid varieties.

  Despite the increase in flavor in the open-pollinated varieties, the hybrid varieties have been quickly gaining acreage across the U.S., Canada and Europe because of their much higher yields. These high yields enable farmers to increase their gross revenue to the point that growing hybrid rye can be almost as profitable as a corn/soybean rotation, with much lower input costs. But growing the majority of open-pollinated varieties at this price point isn’t profitable. Hence, mass producers of whiskey aren’t willing to pay more for open-pollinated rye due to the massive number of bushels that they consume in a year.

Talking About Terroir

  Swanson has observed that craft producers who focus on producing products based on flavor rather than yield are willing to pay more for grains with a broader spectrum of flavor. To this end, craft distillers have started conversations about terroir that are very similar to defining a wine by taking into account factors such as the vineyard where the grapes came from and the AVA where this vineyard is located. Simply put, place matters, with regional differences emerging among whiskeys produced by craft distillers based on where the grains are grown.

  Miles Munroe, master blender for the Portland, Oregon-based Westward Whiskey, views barley similar to how a winemaker considers different wine styles, the different grape varietals and the various climates in which they’re grown.

  “We know that barley types, soil, and climate bring diversity and complex flavors to whiskey. The shape of our custom pot stills and the way we approach distillation allows for the most amount of grain character to come through, so we’re focused on high-quality barley that has a sense of place,” he reflects.

  In recent years, the Skagit Valley in Western Washington State, situated along the same latitude as the Scottish Highlands, has emerged as a major agricultural hub. This distinction led to Copperworks Distilling Company (Seattle, Washington), Westland Distillery (Seattle, Washington) and Westward Whiskey emerging as leading players in the evolution of the creation of American Single Malt as a new spirits category.

Sourcing from Malthouses or Direct to Farmers

  Except for a select number of distilleries that malt their grains in-house, distillers work with a malt house to source and then malt the grains according to the distiller’s particular specifications for a given spirit. These malt houses can ensure that the grain meets minimum specifications so that it can be malted.

  Some craft distillers follow the model of distilleries like Westward Whiskey, where they work with malt houses that source local barley, which gives their spirits a sense of where the grain is from. Miles Munroe, master blender for Westward, chooses two-row barley because it meets the standards of what craft brewers also expect. So, they select their malt houses with these criteria in mind.

  Others, like Tyler Pederson, master distiller at Westland Distilling, work with a network of local malt houses and brokers to source their malted barley. These partners work with regional farmers to select and procure the raw barley they malt to their specifications. Pederson describes this process, “It’s a very involved effort, and we collaborate with everyone throughout our supply chain, even going so far as funding a barley breeding program to develop new varieties for the whiskey industry.”

  Westland’s Colere editions were created specifically to reflect how different varieties of barley offer different flavors. To date, they’ve released three expressions: Colere #1, made with Alba, #2, made with Talisman and their current expression and #3, made with Pilot. How Westland sources its grains was one contributing factor to its achieving B-Corp Certification in 2024.

  A small but growing number of distillers like Far North Spirits purchase their grains directly from the farmer. According to Jason Parker, co-founder of Copperworks Distilling Company, “This represents a new way of doing business where a customer is getting better flavor, sometimes at the expense of a good yield.” He cites his experience sourcing a barley variety named Alba as an example. After they created a delicious whiskey using Alba, they found their local malt house had encouraged their supplying farmers to quit growing it because they found another barley that was easier to malt and produced a higher yield. But it didn’t taste like Alba, and now the flavor it produced is no longer possible to produce.

  To convince farmers to grow specialty grains like Alba that may yield fewer bushels per acre or perform less efficiently in the malthouse, they put the word out to farmers that they were willing to pay the farmers per acre instead of per bushel. Once they contract with farmers to bill by the user rather than the bushel, thereby sharing the risk with the distillery of planting grains for flavor rather than yield, they will contract with a local malt house, such as Link Foods, to malt the barley.

  Before contacting farmers, Swanson recommends doing research into the specific varieties of grains that grow best in one’s particular area. This knowledge will help ensure that the farmer can grow this particular grain variety in a large enough quantity without sacrificing quality such that the farmer can make a profit and the distiller can produce a quality spirit.

  Gabe Toth, lead distiller for The Family Jones (Loveland, Colorado), describes how working with Olander Farms/Root Shoot Malting, which is less than five miles from their production distillery, affords them multiple opportunities. “We can develop local, unique flavor, keep our dollars local and support local businesses. We can also reduce our supply chain footprint, reducing both our vulnerability to disruption and our carbon usage via transit and work directly with our farmers to experiment with new grain varietals. This helps us support on-farm sustainability initiatives or collaborate on other projects that are a result of having direct relationships and even friendships with them.”

Challenges in Sourcing Grain Directly from Farmers

  In Toth’s estimation, price is probably the major factor working against this approach, followed by uniformity. As he reflects, “Commodity agriculture over the last several decades has increasingly squeezed small farmers out of the market, and the relatively small farms we work with don’t have the economies of scale to leverage for competitive pricing. Local grain can also be more prone to variability compared to a large processor that can over-contract and be more selective or blend away variation.”

  However, Parker reminds craft distillers that focus on making value-priced whiskeys, as opposed to flavor-driven whiskeys, that they can’t compete with the big producers on price. Big companies have economies of scale and contracts that are not available to craft distilleries. “So, you might as well chase the one thing you can control, which is good, unique flavor. To do that, you probably don’t want to be putting the cheapest ingredients in but rather use grains and other products that make a real flavor difference.”

Liquor Licensing & Insurance 101

What Establishments Selling Liquor Need to Know

By: David DeLorenzo

When you’re operating an establishment that serves food and alcohol, being properly licensed and insured is crucial to the safety and the success of your business. Even if you’ve been in business for some time, it’s vital to stay abreast of ever-changing laws as they apply to serving liquor, specifically. Read on for some liquor licensing and insurance tips to keep your business running strong, while you protect yourself and your staff.

  First of all, it’s important to consider the type of license that you have and the insurance that will cover it. A lot of people may have a misconception about the type of license they have and the dictation for what type of insurance that is needed. For example, a No. 6 license (subject to Arizona law), which is generally a bar license that is 100 percent liquor that will have some dictation on the type of insurance that you will need. You will have to go to markets that are fully vested in the ability to write 100 percent liquor or 50 percent or more liquor, because of that No. 6 license.

  However, the license itself is not as important as the percentage. It only matters that you have a license when it comes to insurance. For example, consider a No. 12 license, which is a restaurant license that allows you to serve 60 percent of your sales in alcohol and at least 40 percent of your sales in food. The insurance agency will look at that No. 12 license, but what they really want to know is how much you are actually serving in alcohol and how much you are serving in food.

  The reality is that most No. 12 businesses may serve 30 percent alcohol or five percent — a lot less than that 50 percent (which is generally what a No. 12 license allows for). All the insurance company really cares about or looks at is the actual percentage of liquor to food. However, if you served 60 percent alcohol and 40 percent food, the insurance company may still classify you as a bar and you will likely have a higher rate even though you have a restaurant license. It’s the percentage of food to alcohol sales that really matters when it comes to your insurance coverage and rates, not necessarily the license itself.

  In the insurance world, if you serve 30 percent alcohol and 70 percent food, for example, that is generally the threshold and the maximum for you to get the most positive and beneficial insurance rate in Arizona because your liquor is 30 percent or lower. Once you exceed that 30 percent threshold, it puts your business in another category of insurance that basically does not allow you to go to those direct markets for your coverage.

  You will need to go to a secondary market, generally a more expensive market, because your liquor liability is increased when you have more people drinking liquor. You have to be insured differently the more liquor you serve and typically those direct markets don’t want to take on that risk. However, there are other markets for that.

  If at least 30 percent of your sales are attributed to liquor, you should look into an umbrella to go over your primary coverage. This umbrella will give you another layer of protection over what you’ve already purchased in terms of your insurance.

  It’s also important to carefully analyze the amount of entertainment your establishment provides and the hours of operation if you’re getting into heavy liquor service. Those two factors will impact on your rate just as much as serving more alcohol than a standard restaurant would.

  There is nothing wrong with entertainment or later hours, but you do need to understand that those factors put you in a different classification at that point. Based on that you will need to adhere to higher rates. This is because the companies that write these have actuaries that have determined what they need to charge in order to create an actual rate that makes sense for the carrier to write the business.

  When it comes to selling to-go alcohol, it hasn’t really come to full fruition as many thought it would after COVID. There are insurance companies that write liquor stores, convenience stores or even grocery stores, which is basically to-go alcohol. When you look at those types of establishments, to-go alcohol is already being sold. It hasn’t really changed the stance from an insurance perspective when restaurants are selling to-to alcohol. They just look at the total amount of alcohol sales coming out of that establishment. For example, if a restaurant is selling only three percent alcohol and the rest is food, the insurance company won’t really look at whether that three percent is from to-go liquor sales or not.

  Ultimately, it is up to the establishment to perform in the act of not overserving a customer and not serving a customer that is already noticeably intoxicated. That is regardless of whether the alcohol is served at their establishment or purchased to-go. While selling to-go liquor as a restaurant or bar is legal, is it important to be properly licensed for that.

  For any business selling liquor, it is important to review your policies once a year with your insurance agent to ensure there aren’t any changes that would necessitate an adjustment to your coverage. It is also vital to adequately train your staff, particularly in the awareness of not overserving or not serving a customer that appears to be already intoxicated.

  Documentation of this training is also extremely important. Keeping that and all other documentation in a place that is safe and yet accessible can help protect your business if something were to go awry. If you hear of an incident, even if you don’t

know whether that person was at your establishment, collect your camera footage from that evening and save it in the event of a law suit. You may or may not be liable, but it is good to have, particularly if there was a wreck or even a death near your business. It’s a good idea to collect that data just in case. Security cameras with time-stamped data can be a lifesaver to your business and your staff.

  It’s always important to work with an insurance agent that specializes in the bar and restaurant industry. They will have the knowledge to support your needs and also ensure that you have the coverage you need to protect your business, your staff

and your clientele.

  Out of his passion to serve the restaurant and hospitality industry, David DeLorenzo created the Bar and Restaurant Insurance niche division of his father’s company The Ambassador Group, which he purchased in 2009. For more than 20 years, he has been dedicated to helping protect and connect the hospitality industry in Arizona. For more information visit our website: www.barandrestaurantinsurance.com.

Tips & Trends Using Flavoring in Beer and Spirits

picture of many colors of different fruits

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Every kind of beer and spirit has its unique flavor profile, yet many producers are getting creative by adding their own flavorings. Craft beverage makers can enhance natural flavors by adding flavor concentrates that tap into consumers’ sense of nostalgia and help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Flavors can make your beverages more enjoyable than ever before. Yet, their addition to your menu should consider your target customers and be part of a strategic marketing approach that reflects their current and future tastes and interests.

  Beverage Master Magazine connected with experts in the flavoring field to help breweries and distilleries better understand this trend and how to make it work to their benefit.

The Role of Flavors in the Craft Beverage Industry

  Breweries and distilleries may use flavorings to add complexity to a beverage or to highlight its uniqueness. Flavorings can draw in new audiences that might not otherwise try a beverage and entice the imaginations of curious consumers looking for the next big thing when they go out for a drink. Adding even a single flavor can offer your consumers a sense of comfort, escapism, adventure, indulgence or reminiscent memories – all powerful concepts that go beyond simple refreshment in a glass.

  Blake Lyon, the senior applications scientist for FlavorSum, told Beverage Master Magazine that flavors provide another tool to bring your dreams to life. FlavorSum is the fastest-growing North American flavor company and has applications for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, bakery and snack foods, confections and dairy.

  “A flavor company can help create your vision of a strawberry fudge sundae beer or vodka cocktail and make little adjustments until you have a smile that shows you’re proud of something you created,” Lyon said. “Strawberry not juicy enough? We can adjust the flavor. Want to add a slight caramel note to the fudge to bring out more sweetness? Flavor can make it happen. Developing uniquely great-tasting craft beverages without flavor is extremely challenging and time-consuming. Even if your first batch meets your expectations, you may be unable to reproduce it. Flavors have your back!” 

  The type of alcoholic beverage you are developing should dictate the flavors you consider for addition. For example, flavors that typically complement beers and ciders include apple cinnamon, caramel and blueberry. Peach, strawberry and guava flavors work well with vodka, while honey, black cherry and salted caramel flavors go wonderfully with whisky. Lemon and lime flavors pair well with tequila and gin, while fruit-forward flavors like kiwi and cranberry might be perfect for your distillery’s ready-to-drink cocktails.

How FlavorSum Approaches Flavors

  Lyon at FlavorSum shared with Beverage Master that while every company has a mission statement, not all truly embody the words.

  “When I joined FlavorSum, I noticed a different tone,” Lyon said. “We treat customers more like partners, and when a partner needs help, we go further than just supplying them with a great flavor. When I started, I was given a pyramid with three key points to keep in mind for every project and every customer interaction. Our core values are to strive for excellence, be a team player and do what’s right. I try to live those values every day, and I see that commitment in my coworkers as well.”

  When asked about what considerations breweries should keep in mind when adding flavors to beer, Lyon replied, “I may deviate from other companies here, but when we partner with breweries, we first ask, ‘Is your goal to do what others are doing, or do you want to forge your own path?’ 

  The answer to that question helps FlavorSum collaborate on a framework to achieve the brewer’s objective.

  “Flavors get a bad rap in the brewing industry,” Lyon added. “If I traded roles with the brewer, I might agree since creating a recipe as pure to the art as possible is often the objective. The purist approach does constrain what you can develop. I have heard of places ‘dry hopping’ with whole pies, but that won’t have the same impact as partnering with a flavor company. With flavor, you’re more limited by your imagination than by the ingredients available. We can use natural ingredients to help make your wildest dreams come to life and formulate a beverage that stands out at the tap room and parties featuring beer.”

Flavorings from Mother Murphy

Another company that works in the space of flavorings is Mother Murphy’s, a family-owned and operated food flavoring business with headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mother Murphy’s comes up with innovative ways to serve the beverage, bakery, dairy and confections markets with flavor capabilities that extend to emulsions, extracts, liquids, powders and spray-dried offerings.

  Al Murphy from Mother Murphy’s Flavors told Beverage Master how his company serves the alcoholic beverage industry by working with craft breweries and distilleries.

  “We manufacture flavors and extracts that are used to make flavored beers and seltzers,” Murphy said. “We have over 3,000 flavors that are TTB-approved with FIDS. They are used to make flavored liquors and flavored spirits. Flavors are typically used with sugar & acid to help make flavored spirits.”

  When asked what makes his company unique while operating within the food and beverage flavorings industry, he said, “Our people, knowledge within the industry and our products set us apart from our competitors.”

Benefits and Challenges of Flavors

  Lyon at FlavorSum shared some practical knowledge with us about the benefits flavors provide to brewers and distillers.

  “Flavors can save you time – time fermenting or extracting while your product sits in tanks,” he said. “You’ll spend less time cleaning since you won’t have to climb into the tank to shovel out all the leftover fruit. Flavors also provide consistency. You won’t have to worry about how the crop will turn out each year. You won’t need to spend time adjusting your formula to dial in the same flavor you gave to people last year. Flavors are the same every time and have the same dosage. You’ll gain peace of mind. You put significant time and effort into crafting a beverage for your fans to enjoy. Now, you can turn out great products with a little less effort and a consistent profile. We’re proud of our short lead times, so you won’t have to worry about having the flavors you need to meet demand.”

  The challenges of using flavorings in beer and spirits include staying authentic to the original beverage and retaining customers with the new innovations. There are also regulatory issues to be aware of, as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau must approve flavors before they can be added to alcoholic beverages. Therefore, manufacturers need to be able to disclose the composition of their flavors to be compliant with the law.

Current Flavoring Trends

  There is little doubt that flavors are trending right now as a general concept in the craft beverage industry. An increasing number of producers are becoming interested in highlighting florals, spices, exotic fruits and dessert flavors in their beverage lineups.

  “We are watching the rise of bitter flavors showing up in craft beverages,” said Lyon from FlavorSum. “Drinks incorporating amaro (e.g., Campari) and botanical liqueurs (e.g., Aperol) have been on the rise, which shows me people are looking for drinks with a little more complexity. As people explore beverages such as an Aperol spritz, a ripple effect could lead to more consumption of gin. Cocktails like the boulevardier, which has Campari and bourbon, could increase interest in other spirits.”

  Lyon went on to share, “People may be looking for softer entries into these types of drinks, and the lower ABV found in some ready-to-drink cocktails gives them an option. We have been exploring the bitter flavors space and adding twists to classic cocktails. For instance, we put an Italian twist on the traditional Negroni to elevate the ready-to-drink cocktail experience. We used Aperol instead of Campari and added some blood orange to emphasize the sweetness in contrast to the bitterness.”

  With regard to trends, Murphy from Mother Murphy’s shared with us that his company has noticed classic cocktails and super premium and premium RTDs are extremely popular. 

  “Sweet tea RTDs are on fire right now,” Murphy said. “Flavored whiskeys are trending with indulgent profiles.”

  Mother Murphy’s has a “flavor industry insights and trends” page on its website where craft beverage producers can learn more and stay ahead of the curve of what may interest their customers. For example, flavoring trends often follow the seasons due to the types of foods many people gravitate to around their favorite holidays.

  If your brewery or distillery is new to the concept of flavoring but is interested in learning how it may expand your customer base or help you branch out and try something new, consider reaching out to these companies to discuss your options. Even just a few subtle tweaks in your recipes could open up a whole new world of possibilities and help your business stand out from others in your community. Perhaps now is the right time to get creative and see how flavorings can enhance your current lineup of beverages!

Mixology Meets Technology: Delivering Value Through Flavor Innovation

By: Doug Resh – Director, Commercial Marketing at T. Hasegawa USA

The alcoholic beverage industry has evolved in many ways in recent years, adapting to drastic changes in what consumers are looking for in their drink choices and the role that alcoholic beverages play in their lives. After years of the pandemic disrupting and influencing their relationship with alcohol, such as the growth of RTD beverages, at-home mixology and even a ‘drysolation’ low-ABV movement, consumers are cautious in their purchase decisions due to perceived economic challenges – yet still seek excitement and experience from beverages.  As consumers tighten their discretionary spending on restaurant dining and drinking, they are looking for the most value possible in their alcoholic beverage choices. The role of the flavor industry is evolving and becoming more critical than ever in encouraging product trial and experimentation through exceptional taste.

  According to Mintel research1, 80 percent of U.S. consumers feel that financial challenges would affect their alcohol purchase behavior, with more than a third of consumers citing reduced alcohol consumption in general and more than a quarter citing less alcohol purchase in foodservice. Decreasing patronage of bars and restaurants in favor of at-home mixology and drinking is a natural reaction to economic uncertainty, and North Americans are likely to continue increasing their consumption of beers, RTD cocktails, mixes and spirits at home in the future. To retain or grow their user base, brands need to continually explore creative new ways to demonstrate value to alcohol consumers, in the form of new flavors and products.

Premiumization Through Exciting Flavors

  One of the biggest shifts in alcoholic beverages resulting from economic concerns is that consumers have heightened expectations for the experience and flavor of their beverages and demand more from the category, especially when dining out. 

  In response to this shift, the prevailing trend within the alcohol industry is premiumization. Consumers are opting for ‘less, but better’ spirits, wines, beers and RTDs, and focusing on quality – buying fewer beverages to save money, but splurging for more expensive, premium brands and flavors. To many consumers, high-quality cocktails and RTDs are seen as ‘affordable luxury’ and an accessible way to treat themselves.

  One area that continually defines premiumization is compelling flavors, especially among cocktails, hard seltzers and RTD beverages. Consumer interest has never been greater in adventurous flavors,  many of which focus on delivering maximum flavor with minimum sugar. Foodservice mixologists are the forerunners of this trend, offering a broad range of sophisticated cocktails that go beyond the traditional citrus, berry and stone fruit flavors, exploring the exotic taste of botanical and floral notes and seasonal ingredients, spices and fresh herbs. Savory flavors have also grown in popularity, including chili pepper, basil and turmeric, since they help balance the sweet nature of many fruit-flavored beverages. Flavor manufacturers are focusing technology and resources on finely crafting these unconventional ingredients to produce great-tasting spirits that deliver the excitement that consumers are thirsty for in beers, RTD retail beverages or foodservice cocktails. 

  Beyond adventurous ingredients, both packaged beverage brands and foodservice operators are leveraging the power of nostalgia and fun in new flavor development. Indulgent ‘dessert’ cocktail flavors that tap-into nostalgia are growing increasingly popular, including s’mores, apple pie, churro, chocolate brownie and orange vanilla milkshake. Coffee has also experienced a major shift in demand over the last few years and is growing directionally in new product launches, including RTD “hard coffee” beverages, a fast-growing segment that is primed to appeal to younger adult consumers. Gen Z and Millennials are already decreasing their away-from-home coffee purchases and limiting alcohol intake, plus they are influenced by the influx of espresso-flavored martinis in bars and restaurants in recent years, which creates an ideal opportunity for brands to capitalize on with alcoholic RTD coffee products.

  While it’s no surprise that fruit flavors are popular across all beverage categories, the growth potential for fruity alcoholic beverages is in exotic varietals. To appeal to consumers who are seeking premium beverages, brands are going beyond traditional citrus and berry ingredients and tapping into the potential of international fruits in alcoholic product launches, such as Asian-inspired mango, papaya or dragon fruit. These unexpected ingredients encourage exploration and trial among consumers and brands are eagerly incorporating these tropical fruits in RTD spritzers, coolers and cocktails and specifically marketing these products for use in social occasions.

Leveraging Flavor Science to Deliver Value in Alcoholic Beverages

  The path to premiumization is paved by flavor enhancement technology, which is especially pronounced within the alcoholic beverage category. In recent years, several new technologies have advanced the science of beverage flavors, producing alcohol concepts with complex, intriguing flavor profiles.  California-based T. Hasegawa USA, a subsidiary of one of the world’s top food and beverage flavor manufacturers, is leading the industry in technology designed to optimize the way that alcoholic beverages taste, and even replicate the complex flavors of nature itself.

  Recently, T. Hasegawa introduced HASEAROMATM to the North American market. HASEAROMA is a proprietary novel technology that creates authentic sweet and savory flavors that reproduce the ‘first bite’ sensation of experiencing a food for the first time, packed with intricacy and nuances of flavor.

  “One of the many benefits of this technology is that it enables a higher level of specificity than other compounded flavors,” said Toshifumi Nozawa, associate director, sweet technology at T. Hasegawa USA. “While many brands in the past may have opted for a simple mango or peach flavor in product development, HASEAROMA can reproduce the specific flavor profile of an Alphonso mango or Ataulfo mango, or accurately reproduce the distinct taste of a white peach or Golden Jubilee peach. The expertise of our flavor chemists creating HASEAROMA allows us to refine flavors on a molecular level and develop products that stand out within the market and deliver value to consumers.”

  Development of HASEAROMA flavors includes an extensive sensory analysis process which isolates specific flavor molecules within food and beverages. Chemists then assemble these molecules to add depth of flavor, long-lasting mouthfeel and authentic aroma.

Lighter Libations: A Healthier Approach to Drinking

  Another major outcome of the pandemic was a notable increase in alcohol consumption for some consumers, juxtaposed with the complete opposite for others. According to a 2023 Mintel report, 17 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of and interested in a sober curious lifestyle, up four points from last year2.  More than 43 percent of U.S. consumers cited “a personal lifestyle change” as their reason for drinking less spirits, even above saving money (40 percent) or physical health (32 percent)3.

  While many of these consumers still partake in alcoholic beverages, lifestyle changes resulting from the pandemic have created lasting changes in their consumption patterns and tastes.  Despite impressive growth of non-alcoholic beverages – with more than 149 percent growth in mocktails on menus between 2020 and 2023, according to Mintel data4 – non-alcoholic beverages are not taking over. Consumers are simply taking a lighter approach to drinking by choosing low-ABV beverages that offer the intense flavor of favorite cocktails, wine and beer with less alcohol content. These options encourage moderation while still delivering enjoyment and refreshment, especially among younger consumers. Mintel research5 indicates that nearly 31 percent of adults who buy alcohol in the U.S. aged 22-44 seek out ‘healthier’ alcohol options, such as low-calorie and light beer, hard seltzer and lighter cocktails. The appeal in these products is a robust beverage flavor, often with lowered alcohol levels, for consumers who want to moderate their alcohol consumption or products with reduced sugar and carbohydrates.  

  This renewed interest in health and wellness has boosted demand for BFY (better-for-you) products, across all food and beverage categories – including alcoholic drinks in the form of low-calorie and light beer, hard seltzer and lighter cocktails. The appeal in these products is a robust beverage flavor, with lowered alcohol levels, for consumers who want to moderate their alcohol consumption while also reducing sugar and carbohydrates.  In addition to limiting sugar and carbohydrate intake, many consumers are interested in alcoholic beverages that offer functional ingredients with some type of health benefit. For example, numerous beer brands are exploring the use of adaptogenic mushroom ingredients, which claim to have anti-inflammatory benefits, while many RTD cocktails are leveraging green tea, berries and other superfoods that provide antioxidants and other tangible benefits.

  A key result of the moderation trend and shift toward healthier options is that consumers are more selective in their alcoholic beverages than ever before, which puts emphasis on delivering a heightened experience. When consumers are reducing their intake of alcohol, flavor becomes the key differentiator that leads to trial and continued purchase. The challenge that many brands face is creating clean-label alcoholic beverages that taste great with minimal sugar content while still masking the burning astringency of alcohol. Flavor manufacturers are leveraging innovative technologies and unique development processes to balance the requirements of a low-ABV and often low-calorie beverage.

  “When you remove an ingredient such as sugar or other sweeteners, the other flavors in a beverage become more pronounced or even modified,” explained Briana Tran, beverage applications technologist at T. Hasegawa USA. “Our task is to reformulate the beverage to recover the optimal flavor profile, using technologies that either mask certain unwanted notes, or amplify desirable flavors that are already in the beverage.”

  One such innovation that is being leveraged in the production of alcoholic beverages is T. Hasegawa’s BOOSTRACT®, which is a proprietary flavor modulation technology that recovers the kokumi mouthfeel and full-bodied richness. This rich mouthfeel is often lost in the filtration and distillation processes necessary to produce low-calorie fermented alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, hard kombucha and malted liquor.

  “With this new technology, we’re able to isolate the most desirable flavors in a beverage and produce the ideal representation of that flavor,” said Tran. “For example, if we’re working on a strawberry profile, we can amplify the natural flavor that’s already there and produce a much bolder, true-to-life strawberry taste – even with low-sugar alcoholic beverages.”

RTDs and Hard Seltzers – the Epicenter of Flavor Innovation

  RTD alcoholic beverages have been on a growth trajectory since early in the pandemic, as consumers at home were looking for convenient variety and were willing to explore new products withing the RTD cocktail and hard seltzer categories. While many RTDs do focus on reduced sugar and other tangible health benefits, these products are typically outliers within the trend of reduced ABV beverages. Hard seltzers are one of the fastest-growing segments in the alcoholic RTD category, and the combination of flavored sparkling waters with fermented alcohol has grown enormously popular among younger consumers in recent years as a BFY option that still offers a convenient way to add variety to at-home drinking.

  RTDs are a prime source for flavor innovation. Since they are seen as “lower stakes” in price and offer ultra convenience, consumers are willing to explore flavors in the RTD alcoholic beverages category. Flavor innovation is especially welcome within this category, including bold profiles and special offerings. Nearly half of all U.S. consumers in a 2023 Mintel survey cited limited time seasonal flavors as the motivating reason for new flavor trial in RTD alcoholic beverages, including premixed cocktails, alcoholic teas, flavored malt beverages and hard seltzers4. More than a third of participants cited bold internationally inspired flavors such as horchata or mango lassi as their motivation for trying a new alcoholic beverage within these same RTD categories. 

  Regardless of changing consumer patterns, alcoholic beverages need to deliver excitement and refreshment. As consumers seek more from their cocktails, wine, beer and spirits, the flavor industry continues to innovate and meet this demand – helping brands adapt to shifting consumer preferences with attention-grabbing flavors which deliver an immersive taste experience.

Abita Brewing: Louisiana Life, in a Can

can of Abita beer on table with crawdads and corn cobs

By: Gerald Dlubala

About 30 miles north of New Orleans, in Abita Springs, Louisiana, the Abita Brew Pub sits on the original site of Abita Brewing, which opened its doors in 1986. The brewery quickly outgrew this site, and in 1994, Abita Brewing moved about three miles up the road into a state-of-the-art brewery that now produces over 151,000 barrels of beer and 9,100 barrels of their famous root beer. Their popular lagers and ales are still brewed in small, hand-crafted batches. Quite the success story, it is the perfect example of how a dedicated and passionate team of brewery professionals combines quality, community and pride in what they do to continually grow and increase demand for their unique, hand-crafted beers and sodas.

  The Abita Brew Pub is now family-run but remains closely connected to the brewery. The brewpub serves all traditional Abita offerings and is a priority account for new releases. Additionally, the brewpub serves food, some containing Abita beers in the recipes, while also providing expert advice on pairing Abita beers with different foods. Visitors can experience Abita Brewing’s historical roots while enjoying live music, great food and patio games, and they can also sign up for interactive events like Abita’s Painting on the Patio. 

  “It really is a museum of Abita’s history, and just like walking back into 1986,” said Heidi Guerra, vice president of marketing for Abita Brewing. “The brewpub still contains Abita’s original tanks, signage and historical memorabilia, and all of the photos, articles and signage on the walls illustrate Abita’s roots. It’s a really cool vibe and kept fresh while maintaining and paying homage to Abita’s beginnings. Then, you can drive probably less than three miles down the street to see the full brewery as it is today. The brewpub has all our beers on tap and in bottles and offers a wide selection of our brands. Unlike the brewery, where we bring in rotating local food trucks, the brewpub can pair your choice of beer with food from their full kitchen. The brewpub also uses our beer in its recipes and dressings. It’s a great way to learn about the styles of beer and experience how different beers pair with different foods. The brewpub is located directly in the town square, so it’s really a cute place to visit and just step back in time.”

Local Ingredients, Artesian Spring Water and Community Involvement Are Key

  “Hands down, we will always use local farmers and source ingredients locally where we can,” said Guerra. “This community has made us what we are, so there’s no question that we will help our community whenever and wherever possible. We use local produce like Louisiana strawberries and pecans in our beers. And I think that makes us unique in some ways, that we brew these high-quantity beers while continually sourcing local ingredients and helping our local farmers. It’s true to our roots. We like to consider ourselves Louisiana through and through, so one of our initiatives is to source locally. We’ve used Louisiana oysters in our oyster stout and Louisiana coffee beans in our coffee beers. Using pure, local ingredients in our beers and craft beverages instead of flavorings keeps our products exceptionally fresh. By sticking with natural ingredients, we don’t get that sugary, fruity, hard candy-type of flavor profile that some others do.”

  “And, of course, the water,” said Guerra. “Who could forget our water? It’s pristine, pure Artesian spring water drawn from our Southern Hills Aquifer. It’s a unique point of difference for us. We drill straight down into the system. The water is amazing. It’s the perfect pH for brewing. It’s also untreated, and when you research Abita and the water, you’ll run across stories about the water containing healing and medicinal properties. It really is a difference-maker, and here in Louisiana, we know how important the water is, so it leads us into being good environment stewards for the community.”

  Abita Brewing is proud to be a good steward of the environment and its community. Guerra says they regularly offer special releases in support of different causes and initiatives close to home.

  “We were one of the first breweries to donate money from beer sales after Hurricane Katrina happened, in the amount of a half million dollars,” said Guerra. “And we have rotating beer taps at our brewery for our Son-of-a-Saint initiative, helping fatherless boys in our city. That one is always on rotation in the brewery. But suppose someone comes to us with a cause. In that case, we will support that initiative, whether it’s donating beer, letting them use our facility for a fundraiser or in some other way. We brewed beer to raise funds to support Sierra Nevada during wildfires. We’ve supported the Pink Boots Society. We consider all initiatives brought to us and look to give back to the community. They’re the reason we are here.”

Passionate Employees & Open-Door Policies Keep Abita Brewing Fresh and Innovative

  Abita Brewing remains locally owned and operated throughout its tremendous success and continued growth. The passion and success of its employees are reflected in the diverse products and in-demand Abita beverage options.

  “We have a complete open-door policy,” said Guerra. “All ideas are welcome, no matter how far-reaching they may be. Employees can always text or call me. I have a whiteboard in my office where employees are free to jot down ideas for beers, names or whatever. And they do that. Our employees have a passion for craft brewing and for the industry. We have a Culture on Tap committee to ensure we’re listening to employees and giving back to them. We buy into them and their goals just as much as they buy into us and our goals. We meet every month and hear their ideas about everything, including employee appreciation, but it’s all about having a team that’s passionate about the industry. We work hard to play hard, and our team, from top to bottom, is always ready and willing to explore new ideas, packaging designs, flavor profiles and more. Our employees get excited about new things. Pictures get circulated as soon as someone sees something new in the brewery, and text messages fly around. We have really great communication amongst all of the employees.”

  Guerra says that problems are met with an all-hands-on-deck approach, which is demonstrated by the fact that she keeps her safety gear nearby in case there is a problem in the brewery that requires more hands.

The Ability to Play While Remaining True to the Brand Are Core Principles

  “Our brewers love playing around with things,” said Guerra. “Abita has a pilot brew system that we call the brewer’s playground, where they can play and experiment with different taste and flavor profiles or styles they want to explore. They are very creative and make time to work through whatever whim or idea pops into their head. They are also very open to whatever ideas others bring to them.

  “The Fluffernutter beer was an idea that stemmed from my son having a Fluffernutter sandwich at a friend’s house,” said Guerra. “They got to making it into a beer and putting it on tap, and people loved it in the taproom, so our Fluffernutter beer went into production. That shows how open and reactive our brewers are to new ideas. They listen, but then they get to work to make the ideas come to life and see if they work. You know, we were brewing fruit and high ABV beers in the 90s before it was cool, so we don’t mind taking a risk on certain things. But we do it in the format of playing around with it in the brewery, putting it on tap and seeing how people react to it. But at the end of the day, we still want to focus on our core brands for mass production because that’s what got us here, and that happens to be our fruited beers like Purple Haze, Strawberry Lager and our high ABV beers like Andygator®.”

  Guerra tells Beverage Master Magazine that they’ve been brewing their root beer since the 90s, and it remains their most sought-after soda. “Root beer is perfect for brewing,” said Guerra. “We use Louisiana sugar cane for an authentic Louisiana flavor and great taste. It’s really a great product, and it’s gone international, which is great and crazy at the same time. The root beer is our main soda, but we also do a vanilla crème soda as our root beer’s wingman. During seasonal times, we’ll make a King Cake soda. We do soda tours so kids can have a soda flight and feel involved when their family is here. We also have an NA option, our Hop Water, so we do dabble in other things. It’s available on our website and locally here in Louisiana, but for the most part, we like to stay within ourselves, creating brand extensions off of the products that we know and love.”

Sustainability and Green Principles Are Included in Every Facet of Abita’s Brewing Process

  Abita has a long history of energy conservation, recovery and reuse. Its brewhouse utilizes a self-sustaining EquiTherm system, wherein they capture the heat of their brew kettle exhaust system and combine it with heat produced during the wort cool down. That recaptured heat gets reused to heat water, creating an efficient cycle without biogas. Abita also has its own industrial wastewater treatment plant that generates energy. They use a Bio-Energy Recovery System (BERS) to treat their wastewater, resulting in a 95 percent reduction of load on the local sewage system and a reduction of solid landfill waste.

  From Abita’s glass packaging to its truck delivery fleet, Abita uses processes to reduce materials and decrease emissions. Local farmers utilize the spent grain and hops from the brewing process as feed for their cattle.

Abita’s Future Is Exciting, Innovative & Tasty

  “A lot is happening at the brewery right now,” said Guerra. “We just completed a brand refresh for our Strawberry Lager. We have our Beeracuda coming out in cans now rather than just bottles. And we’ve deemed this year “The Year of the Gator.” So, the focus is on our Andygator®, an easy-drinking, high ABV Helles Doppelbock, our Strawgator, a combination of our Strawberry Lager and Andygator®, resulting in another flavored high ABV and Alphagator, our nine percent ABV double IPA. This gives us an awesome gator trio to offer to consumers.”

Guerra said that because Abita Brewing is known for its fruit beers, it just makes sense that it also offers a new berry variety pack. The new pack includes their popular Purple Haze®, Barney, Strawberry and Blueberry flavors in a 12-ounce can variety package.

  “Other than that, we’ll continue to play around and see if something hits,” said Guerra. “We’ve been at this craft brewing stuff for about four decades, and we’re still excited about being in the industry and hope to be involved for another four decades, at least, because we truly love what we do. Not only are we a craft brewery but also a Louisiana craft brewery, so our big thing is just putting Louisiana life in a bottle. For those who are here, have visited Louisiana or want a taste of Louisiana, we continue to try to put it out there for them. We are a craft brewery, but we are also an advocate for the state.”

  To contact Abita Brewing, view a schedule of events, schedule a tour or plan a visit:

Abita Brewing Company

21084 Hwy 36 • Covington, LA. 70433

(985) 893-3143 • www.abita.com

Keg Washing: Working Smarter to Conquer an Essential Brewery Task

kegs on conveyor belt going through wash machine

By: Cheryl Gray

Imagine a dried egg inside a frying pan. Then, imagine the bacteria that immediately begins to grow because you’ve left the problem to fester, and, well, you know the rest.

  The same premise holds true when cleaning the kegs for your brewery. If the job is not done properly, breweries are setting themselves up for all kinds of safety and hygiene problems, both inside and outside the keg. Ensuring that beer is safe to consume is not an option. It is a must.

  Beer products are very sensitive to any outside contamination. Even tiny traces of bacteria or other contaminants can ruin an entire batch of beer, costing breweries money in lost time, resources and, of course, product. 

  There are some key differences in cleaning the outside of a keg versus the inside. Cleaning the inside of a keg involves focusing on removing any beer residue, bacteria or contaminants. Success in this area can ensure that the beer dispensed maintains the quality its brewer intended and is safe to drink. A proper external cleaning, of course, guarantees the removal of any contamination or dirt that may be present on the outside surface of the keg.

  While properly cleaning beer kegs is not an impossible task, choosing the wrong cleaning apparatus can be costly on all fronts. If you choose kegs for your beer products, knowing how to protect your customers from contamination is the job of expert companies with solutions that can help. Many breweries are opting for automatic solutions to clean and sanitize their kegs.

  Fillmore Packaging Solutions, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, promises affordable solutions for keg washing designed for craft breweries of all sizes. Since owner Tony Saballa founded the company more than twenty years ago, it has focused on perfecting the mechanical side of production. Saballa says his company is all in when it comes to automatic keg washers.

  “We don’t offer manual keg washers since they typically require the same amount of labor and cost to construct as fully automated washers. We also have found that manual washers often have variable outputs with wash quality issues due to operator missteps and errors.

  Our keg washers are built to completely automate the washing process utilizing state-of-the-art UL certified electronics. Automation simplifies the washing process so brewers can apply their attention to other tasks.”

  Saballa adds that Fillmore’s keg washers are UL Certified and constructed to meet the UL508a safety code standards for the United States and Canada. The washers are constructed at the company’s St. Louis manufacturing facility.

  “We aim to deliver American-made automation that functions to the highest standards at a cost that is affordable for both startups and expanding breweries.”

  Saballa points out some major mistakes that brewers make when it comes to keg washing and how Fillmore can steer them in the right direction. One major error, Saballa says, is overdoing the cleaning process. He says that more is not better in the case of keg washing.

  “Here at Fillmore, we often find that brewers tend to over-concentrate their cleaning and sanitizing solutions, sometimes using double and triple the manufacturer recommended usage rates. More is not better. This increases the operational cost, and safety for the operator must also be taken into consideration. Other factors that exist are the accelerated wear on pumps, valves, seals and gaskets, which can lead to down time and costly repairs.”

  Saballa explains how Fillmore’s keg washers are built to operate on a special voltage and designed for different breweries of different sizes. 

  “This is important since most new breweries are not located in industrial zones. Single-phase machinery offers a solution for brewers operating in areas where three-phase power is inaccessible or installation would be cost-prohibitive.”

  Each Fillmore keg washer operates on either 120v or 220v AC and compressed air and is capable of handling advanced pressurized CO2. Equipped with an enhanced design and technologically advanced features, the semi-auto keg washers include a fully programmable interface designed for customized operation, high-capacity cleaning and advanced sanitizing for brewery kegs.

  Another company specializing in keg washers is Craftmaster Stainless, headquartered in Rancho Cordova, California. The company manufactures production equipment for multiple beverage industries, including beer, cider, wine, spirits and coffee. Its clients range from small craft brewers to large global producers. With more than two decades of experience in stainless steel fabrication, the company’s team has the capability to custom-design and build commercial beer brewing equipment.

  When it comes to cleaning kegs, Craftmaster Stainless offers the Keggernaut Semi-Automatic Keg Washer. The product features a Siemens interface that gives breweries full state-of-the-art touch control over temperature settings and wash cycle timing. 

  The Kerrernaut is equipped with dual cleaning stations designed to wash two kegs of any size.    It can clean up to 40 kegs an hour, contingent upon the length of the wash cycle. The user-friendly features allow the kegs to simply be inverted, automatically washed, sanitized and pressurized in minutes. This semi-auto beer keg cleaning equipment allows for a quick and easy option to increase productivity. 

  Craftmaster Stainless offers its customers lifetime support on all commercial brewing equipment. It also provides custom designs for its microbrewery clients. 

  Keg washers are also available from Alpha Brewing Operations. The company, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, provides fully automated options for an entire brewery. Its automation options from breweries range from semi-auto to what the company calls its fully automated package. The works include features such as a large touchscreen interface and connectivity options with mobile devices.

  For keg washing, Alpha Brewing Operations offers a product called the Alpha “Wash Dog Junior.”  It is an affordable, compact, automatic version of the company’s larger and fully automatic counterpart. The “Junior” is still highly automated but requires manual coupling to kegs and comes in a smaller package. This smaller keg washer is designed to fit into the tight budgets and tight spaces of startups and small breweries.

  Keg washers are also available from international manufacturers, such as Comac, which has its headquarters in Italy. Comac has several varieties of external keg washers, capable of washing anywhere from 30 to more than 1,000 kegs per hour. Comac offers customized keg-washing solutions for breweries of all sizes.

  Comac’s most compact keg washer is only about six and a half feet long, including a single section and one track. The company touts it as an ideal option for hot or recycled water washing. There is a larger option that performs multiple tasks for keg washing, such as pre-washing with recycled water, washing with a caustic solution to remove hard-to-clean dirt and a final rinse with clean water.

  For larger production facilities, Comac offers a dual-track keg washer to boost cleaning capacity. Other features include easy and cost-effective maintenance, quick changeover ability and savings in water consumption. Other options available for large production lines include a separate skid for components, such as pumps, valves and heat exchangers to simplify cleaning and maintenance.

  Experts agree that keg washing, inside and out, protects the beer and the consumers who buy it. For breweries large and small, the task is an inevitable necessity made easier by automated machinery designed to make a mundane task easier to manage while increasing safeguards against cross-contamination.

Uncorking Accessibility:  Ensuring Your Website Complies with the ADA

By: Vanessa Ing, Farella Braun + Martel

In today’s digital age, having an online presence is crucial for businesses, including wineries, breweries, and other beverage companies. Accordingly, it’s essential to ensure that your beverage website meets federal standards for accessibility to avoid lawsuits and fines. In this article, we will help beverage companies understand how to comply with federal law and implement accessible features on their websites.

Why is web accessibility important?

In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits businesses open to the public (otherwise known as “public accommodations”) from discriminating against people with disabilities in everyday activities. These everyday activities can include purchasing goods and services, or offering employment opportunities. 

In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice issued web accessibility guidance, reiterating that ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority for the Department. Relying on the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination and its mandate to provide equal access, Department of Justice emphasized that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web. The Department of Justice’s guidance was particularly timely given that many services moved online during the pandemic. 

In its guidance, the Department of Justice explained that people with disabilities navigate the web in different ways: for example, those with visual impairments might require a screen reader that reads aloud text to the audience.  Those with auditory impairments might require closed-captioning software, while those with impaired motor skills might require voice recognition software.  A website, therefore, should be compatible with the full range of such software. 

Is your beverage company a “public accommodation” business?

Public accommodations include businesses that sell goods and services, establishments serving food and drink, and places of recreation or public gathering.  Companies that sell drinks, wineries that offer a tasting room, or breweries that host events are all considered public accommodations.  Thus, those businesses’ websites must comply with the ADA by being accessible to people with disabilities.  

It is an open question whether beverage companies without a physical location open to the public must still have ADA-compliant websites. Some jurisdictions, like the Ninth Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington), have tied the necessity of ADA-compliant websites to the existence of a brick-and-mortar location (Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC). However, the Department of Justice, along with several federal circuit courts of appeals, has taken the position that even a public accommodation business without a physical location must have an ADA-compliant website.  

Given the increased prevalence of online-only services open to the public, it is very likely that litigation over the next few years may resolve this open question.  In the meantime, it is wise for beverage companies to take preventative caution and ensure that their websites are accessible.  

What are some website accessibility barriers?

To ensure ADA compliance, beverage companies must be aware of common website accessibility barriers.  These include poor color contrast, lack of descriptive text on images and videos, mouse-only navigation, and more.  By addressing these barriers, beverage companies can enhance the user experience for people with disabilities.

Six examples of website accessibility barriers highlighted in the DOJ’s accessibility guidance include:

  • Poor Color Contrast: Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background to aid individuals with visual impairments or color blindness. Use color combinations that are easy to distinguish.
  • Use of Color Alone to Give Information:  Avoid using color alone to provide information.  Using color alone can be very disorienting for someone who is visually impaired or colorblind.  Someone who is colorblind might not be able to distinguish between shades of gray.  One solution might be to ensure that symbols conveying information are differently shaped.  
  • Lack of Descriptive Alternative Text for Images and Videos: Provide descriptive text (alt text) for images and videos, allowing screen readers to convey the information to visually impaired users. This makes your content more accessible and inclusive.
  • No Closed Captions on Videos: Include closed captions for videos to accommodate individuals with hearing impairments. Utilize manual or automatic captioning options and review the captions for accuracy.  Free options are available on the web.
  • Inaccessible Online Forms: Make online forms user-friendly for people with disabilities. Provide clear instructions before the form, ensure that a screen reader could recognize required fields and fields with special formatting, ensure keyboard-only navigation, use accessible labels for inputs, and display clear error messages.  Note that an image-based CAPTCHA is not a fully accessible way to secure your form; your CAPTCHA should offer users who are visually impaired an audio alternative.
  • Mouse-Only Navigation: Enable keyboard-only navigation on your website to assist individuals with motor skill impairments or those who cannot use a mouse or see a mouse pointer on the screen.  Make sure all interactive elements can be accessed using the tab, enter, spacebar, or arrow keys.  Use a “Skip to Main Content” link to ensure that users employing only a keyboard can easily navigate the website’s primary content. 

To implement these features, beverage companies should discuss accessibility concerns upfront with the web developer.  Beverage companies should keep in mind that posting a phone number on a website to call for assistance, as commonly utilized by businesses, does not sufficiently provide equal access to the website and the services or goods provided.

Who can sue beverage companies?

Non-compliance with ADA standards can lead to potential lawsuits.  Although some courts have held that a nexus must exist between a private plaintiff’s disability and the web accessibility barrier claimed, a private plaintiff may easily surf the web for websites that are inaccessible.  A private plaintiff may then file a lawsuit in federal court without first notifying the business.  Further, liability under the ADA is strict, which means that the intent of the business to comply is immaterial.  Thus, it is prudent for beverage companies to proactively address accessibility issues to avoid potential legal troubles.  

Private lawsuits under the ADA can result in injunctive relief (a court order to comply with the ADA) and attorney fees.  And in some states, like California, the state law version of the ADA may enable plaintiffs to demand monetary damages ($4,000 per violation of the ADA). 

Government involvement, while less frequent, is possible in cases involving national retailers.  If the Department of Justice observes a pattern or practice of discrimination, the Department will attempt to negotiate a settlement, and may bring suit on behalf of the United States. At stake are fines of up to $75,000 for the first ADA violation, and up to $150,000 for each subsequent violation.

What are the rules for website accessibility?

Although the ADA itself does not spell out the rules for website accessibility, several sources provide detailed rules that can aid beverage companies in building accessible websites. 

First, the ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to enforce the statute.  Accordingly, the Department develops and issues regulations explaining how businesses must comply.  Specifically, § 36.303 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations specifies that a public accommodation shall provide auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities, and that a public accommodation should consult with people with disabilities whenever possible.  The Department also issues administrative guidance, such as its March 2022 guidance described above.  

Second, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, provides detailed guidance concerning the display screen ratios, status indicators, audio signals, and other accessibility features. 

Third, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1), which were originally designed by a consortium of four universities, provide highly specific web accessibility guidelines grounded on the idea that information on the web must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.  These guidelines are widely referenced in court cases and settlements with the Department of Justice, as the guidelines address numerous aspects of web accessibility and offer three different levels of conformance (A, AA, AAA). Beverage companies can consult the WCAG 2.1 guidelines (including a customizable quick reference guide, at https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/) to ensure their websites meet ADA compliance. 

Looking Ahead

Web accessibility standards evolve over time, with updates being released periodically. Beverage companies should stay informed about changes and updates to ADA compliance regulations. For example, the WCAG 3.0 is scheduled for release in the latter half of 2023, further refining accessibility guidelines.

In sum, by understanding and identifying web accessibility barriers, and implementing necessary accessibility features, beverage companies can enhance user experiences and minimize the risk of legal repercussions. Embracing web accessibility is not only legally required but economically prudent in the long run, as it enables beverage companies to cater to a broad and varied audience, and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity in the digital realm.

Vanessa Ing is a litigation associate with Farella Braun + Martel and can be reached at ving@fbm.com. Farella is a Northern California law firm representing corporate and private clients in sophisticated business and real estate transactions and complex commercial, civil and criminal litigation. The firm is headquartered in San Francisco with an office in the Napa Valley that is focused on the wine industry.

Financial Literacy Training

By: Kary at Beerbusinessfinance.com

Financial literacy is the ability to read and understand the most important numbers in your beer business.

Financial literacy training starts with practical and actionable ideas that you can use right away to improve financial results.

All of our financial training is for non-financial owners and managers.

Here’s how our financial literacy training works:

Quarterly financial meetings

You’re invited to join our beer wholesaler financial round-table meetings.

Network with peers, share best practices, and learn specific ways to improve financial results. Right away.

Library of wholesaler financial training courses

Access over a dozen wholesaler financial training courses.

Learn how to build your budget, build your key metrics dashboard, create (or update) your wholesaler business plan, and more.

Weekly beer wholesaler financial newsletter

Each week you’ll receive financial tools and resources straight to your inbox.

Examples of topics covered: Key drivers of wholesaler cash flow, sales growth strategies, cost cutting processes that work, and much more.

Beer wholesaler webinars, workshops and podcasts

Join our webinars and workshops (or watch the replays). This is your opportunity to hear from the best of the best in the beer industry.

Past topics: How to improve gross profit, beer wholesaler budgeting workshop, the latest technology and software.

Planning templates, models, and spreadsheets

We’ve got models to help you create your sales forecast, analyze gross profit, track cash flow, and much more.

If you’re ready to learn more about beer wholesaler cash flow, net operating income, and (wait for it…) EBITDA, now is the time to invest in your financial literacy training. 

Yours in financial literacy,

Kary

P.S. Interested in learning more about our beer business financial training programs? Book a time for a 15-minute talk. 

Forecasting Business Plans in Uncertain Times

How to Plan for the Fiscal Future in 2024

a robot hand and a human hand both pointing to a dollar sign

By: Raj Tulshan, Loan Mantra

Over the past few years, small business owners have seen dramatic changes in the financial landscape, with an array of challenges and an uncertain future. Several years of global disruption have left small businesses on a rollercoaster ride, facing a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions and ongoing labor shortages. Recently, despite rising inflation and bank failures, small businesses experienced some good news, with cryptocurrency going mainstream, an increase in diverse small business owners, a rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace and more. As we welcome 2024, let’s review a few highlights of 2023.

In 2023 small businesses reported becoming more optimistic, predicted a growth in revenue and planned to hire more staff in the coming year.  They anticipated making higher investments in their companies moving forward. What’s more, we saw an increase in diversity among small business owners, and a rise in the number of small businesses across the country, which account for an impressive 99.9% of the businesses in the U.S. 

While the economic outlook improved in 2023, there are no guarantees that 2024 will be the same. And, as the new year begins, many businesses remain hesitant about the road ahead. It’s human nature to want to predict the future – and in the business world, vital for owners to have a plan to move forward. The one constant is change. Financial service professionals can help business owners and leaders manage these economic and cultural shifts to stay adaptive and resilient during the coming year and for years to come. While no financial expert has a crystal ball, there are key factors that impact the fiscal future. Here are financial considerations for making business plans and strategies that will work today and tomorrow.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

AI and ML technologies are already being used in fraud detection and investment research in the Fintech industry. ChatGPT is a new tool that is generating interest in average consumers who have interacted with it out of curiosity. Chatbots are already augmenting customer-facing service roles, increasing speed and simplifying complex transactions. Personal finance, budgeting, operations and management apps are becoming integral for business owners who want to use business data to take control of revenue and meet financial goals. Adoption of these technologies and resulting changes present large business opportunities – and a quantum shift for the business over the long term.

Digital Payments and the Blockchain

As was seen during the pandemic, the shift to digital payments continues to accelerate. Further declines in cash usage will be seen with an upsurge in alternative payment methods, including cryptocurrencies. In 2023 we saw cryptocurrencies go mainstream as patrons used crypto to purchase goods and services, real estate and more. At the same time, governments worldwide are exploring cryptocurrency regulations.  In 2024, expect to see clearer guidelines and potentially greater acceptance of cryptocurrencies in mainstream finance. In addition, the standardization of one central currency may appear called the Central Bank Digital Currency or CBDC.

The CBDC has become a highly charged issue as adoption of it would be controlled by a central entity with likely ties to a social credit system for consumers. Consumer advocates warn that the use of this would put unfettered power and control in the hands of those controlling it. The World Economic Forum states that a CBDC would forever change the relationship between the public and their money with an end to private accounts and choice over what is purchased by individuals.  The WEF states their plans are to monitor every purchase made and eventually restrict what a person could spend their money on and when. This means proposing limitations on travel, dictating how much protein is consumed per week or even collecting carbon taxes directly from accounts without personal choices of the account holders. A CBDC account could be turned on and off at will, restricted based on that individual’s social behaviors, political leanings, religious belief systems and health choices (imposing mandatory experimental vaccines, for instance) and penalize those that don’t go along with centralized dictates.

Interest Rates and Inflation

High interest rates and inflation have a direct impact on those that seek commercial loans and how much funding is available. With an economic constriction, the availability of credit opportunities for business will lessen. As challenges mount, it will be more important to have a financial education. Financial literacy is gaining recognition as a crucial life skill. In 2024, there will be a growing emphasis on financial education, with schools, organizations and governments working to enhance people’s understanding of money management.

Redefining Retirement

The concept of retirement is evolving.  More individuals are opting for phased retirement or exploring flexible work options.  This trend will continue in 2024 as people seek purposeful post-retirement activities and income streams. People will also seek more control over their money in the coming year with the use of personal financial apps becoming integral for money management.  In 2024, expect these apps to offer more sophisticated features, from AI-driven budgeting to customized investment advice, empowering users to take control of their finances.

It’s also vital to note that in the wake of the upcoming election, social security and Medicare reform will be at the bottom of the United States government’s political to-do list. Alternatively, on October 31 2023, the White House announced a Retirement Security Rule, which legally protects consumers seeking financial guidance.

Sustainable investing is also gaining momentum.  Investors are seeking opportunities that align with their values, focusing on companies making a positive environmental and societal impact. In 2024, this trend will continue to grow as investors emphasize responsible investment choices.

Hitting the Debt Ceiling.

As the past year saw banks collapse, new debt ceiling highs and potential interruptions of government created anxiety and lack of confidence in political leaders. These actions will give rise to new bank systems, options and alternatives to banking. Decentralized Finance (defi) is also reshaping traditional banking and finance.  In 2024, we can anticipate more DeFi projects and platforms emerging, offering decentralized lending, borrowing and trading options.

Economists Predict Soft Landing

According to J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, Looking into 2024, strategists now expect that while the U.S. economy is likely to slow, it should avoid recession. The lower likelihood of a painful economic crash should help with financial decision making going into the new year. Other economists are skeptical that the U.S. can maintain economic growth with interest rates so high. The Conference Board predicts slow GDP growth slowing means a “shallow recession” in the first half of the year. The nonprofit research group said wage growth is slowing, pandemic savings are declining, and U.S. household debt is spiking.

At the same time the labor market is resilient heading into the new year. The unemployment rate has risen to just 3.8%, and the economy has averaged more than 250,000 jobs created per month over the past three months. The Federal Open Market Committee projects the U.S. unemployment rate will average a healthy 4.1% in 2024, still well below its long-term average of around 5.7%. The firm said softening consumption, coupled with rising interest rates, will also weigh on U.S. business investment in early 2024.

With these points in mind, plan for the coming year knowing that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and agile will be of significant benefit.

Raj Tulshan is founder and managing partner at www.loanmantra.com. Reach him via Linked-in at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tulshan/.

How to Disrupt the Beverage Industry with New Marketing Strategies

Jorge Olson

By Jorge Olson — Co-founder & CMO of Hempacco and Green Globe International, Author of “Build Your Beverage Empire

The beverage industry is growing rapidly, with innovators entering the space year after year touting the next big idea. The global beverages market is expected to grow from $3.56 trillion in 2023 to $4.39 trillion by 2028 at a CAGR of 4.26%, allowing room for disruptors to enter the space, especially considering two of the largest growing categories in the beverage industry are hemp beverages and mushroom beverages.

If you are set on being one of those disruptive entities in the beverage industry, you will want to devise some novel marketing strategies that will set them apart from the competition. Those entering the beverage industry or seeking to retool their marketing approach need to consider several factors, including budget, target audience, and branding.

Entering today’s beverage industry

The beverage industry comprises a litany of products, from ales and liquors to flavored seltzers, hard teas and lemonades, and more. As consumer demand grows, innovators in the beverage space churn out an abundance of ever-expanding options, and as markets continue to grow, more opportunities arise for beverage companies to get a foothold.

With over 2,000 beverage companies in the United States alone, effective marketing is more important than ever before. Marketing builds awareness of your brand and is especially integral to launching and growing new businesses within the beverage space.

The cost of launching and scaling a new business — especially one tied to a physical product — can be high. If you are seeking to disrupt a long-standing industry with a new product idea, you must be savvy about your marketing budget to have the greatest impact and bang for your buck.

Every marketing strategy begins with a great idea that should be formed with consideration to what consumers are seeking but not finding in the current market. The beverage’s formula should be consistent before being unleashed onto the market, and the opinions of experts and stakeholders should also be considered. Being thoughtful about your actions before launching can help you avoid costly (or embarrassing) mistakes.

The beverage industry is incredibly competitive, but with the right product and the right marketing strategies, your product can make considerable waves.

Innovative marketing approaches

In an industry that can be as crowded as the beverage space, new businesses will be required to think outside of the box concerning marketing approaches. The old standard marketing strategies will not likely garner enough engagement to disrupt such a massive industry.

Savvy marketing can also help consumers create an emotional connection to your brand. Many beverages can be connected to moments or memories for consumers — that bottle of Coca-Cola they shared with their dad on a fishing trip or their very first beer when they turned 21. Tapping into these emotional markers can help elevate a brand and solidify the brand’s story within the current culture.

There are several innovative marketing strategies that your beverage company can leverage, but your chosen strategy (or strategies) should depend on the market you are targeting, your specific product, location, budget, and several other factors. The thoughtful pre-planning discussed in the previous section will help determine the right strategy to meet their goals.

Social media marketing

Social media marketing is nothing new, but it is constantly changing. It seems that with every introduction of a new platform or a change in an algorithm, the goalposts for marketers are moved.

Today’s approach to social media marketing utilizes a variety of platforms for a diversified strategy. TikTok is still going strong as the platform of choice for many Gen Zers, but older generations may still prefer Facebook or Instagram. This means you can capture a larger slice of your target demographic by splitting marketing among the various popular platforms.

Social media is still suitable for quickly sharing content with a large number of people and is still the best way to create a personal connection with your target market. By engaging with people across the platforms, answering questions, and sharing content they want to see, you can grow your social media following and brand recognition.

Even though social media is not a new marketing tactic, it is constantly changing and creating new hurdles for business owners. Remaining aware of changes and best practices will allow you to get the most out of social media use.

AI and new technology

It seems like everywhere you look; artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over. For marketers who know how to harness its power with predictive analytics, AI could revolutionize how products are created specifically for consumers. Through AI technology, consumer products like beverages can be designed to exactly what customers want and marketed to the market at large based on what they want or need.

Through AI-enabled packaging creation, specific segments of a market can be targeted and catered to. Branding, ingredients, feel, and culture can be considered — allowing businesses to elevate their new product above other products in the market.

AI also allows companies to gather data on consumer reactions to marketing campaigns quickly and accurately. With this data, businesses can quickly assess whether a campaign is working — or if they need to shift focus.

High-quality content marketing

The best brands are not just products on a shelf. They are entities with which people develop connections.

To help foster those meaningful connections, businesses should focus on creating high-quality content around their brand. This can include blog content that shares brand-related stories or learning opportunities. It can also include video content showing behind-the-scenes making your beverage product or people enjoying it in real-life scenarios.

The focus of your content marketing should be quality and engagement, so take a look at what your competitors do with their own content marketing and strive to do something different. Quality content marketing can drive new sales, create new customers, and help you unveil new products.

Paid advertising

Like social media, paid advertising is not a new approach but is being approached in new ways. As we enter the new year, video is still ruling the internet, so incorporating video content into your paid online ads will allow your ad to stand out over the ads that feature only static images or simple copy.

When approached correctly — and with your target market always in mind — paid ads can be incredibly effective. In fact, recent studies show that paid YouTube ads are 84% more likely to capture viewer attention than traditional TV ads, which can be far more expensive.

The way people consume media is always changing. Targeting the most viewed platforms with your paid advertisements will ensure better reach and engagement.

Seize the season

It’s an oft-repeated marketing myth that the Coca-Cola company owns the “rights” to Santa Claus. While that is not true, the company did have a hand in creating some of Santa’s most recognizable features for a 1931 marketing campaign. The white beard, the rosy cheeks, and twinkling eyes combined with Coca-Cola’s red and white branding became solidified in the cultural zeitgeist, forever connecting Coca-Cola and Christmas.

Beverage companies are positioned well to seize seasonal marketing opportunities. The dog days of summer go well with a crisp lemonade, while the dead of winter leaves many craving a hot cocoa or hot toddy.

Beverages are a part of gatherings, milestone moments, and seasonal celebrations, no matter the time of year. By connecting emotion with brand recognition, marketers can use seasonal positioning to further their reach.

Brand partnerships

With our hyper-connected world, forging brand partnerships is easier than ever before. Beverage companies have created some famous brand partnerships over time, such as GoPro and Red Bull, or Bonne Bell and Dr. Pepper.

With a brand partnership, a mutually beneficial collaboration is formed. New products can leverage the popularity of the established brand, and the partner company can have something novel to share with its audience. Brand partnerships can also allow a beverage company to create exciting new taste combinations or product ideas.

If you are interested in finding another company for a brand partnership, consider their target audience and brand identity. That potential partner’s goals should match your own to forge a successful collaboration.

Engaging events

When a beverage hits the scene, the creators often host a launch event to introduce the beverage to the market. This marketing strategy is still valid, but beverage creators seeking to disrupt the status quo should put a lot of time and effort into making their event stand out among the competition.

Knowing your audience lets you know who to invite to your event to get your new beverage in front of the right people. The proper venue and the right theme can also help elevate your event from just a simple launch to a night no one will soon forget. However, hosting elaborate launch events can be pricey, so an ROI analysis should be performed before you go all-in on the “event of the century.”

The goal of any marketing campaign is to increase visibility and engagement surrounding your new product. If you aim to disrupt an industry as long-standing and — let’s face it — crowded as the beverage industry, your marketing approach will need to be thoughtful, well-researched, and novel if you wish for it to make the intended impact.

By considering emerging marketing approaches and developing new takes on old marketing standards, a new beverage business with a great product idea can thrive.