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.”

Ready To Drink Cocktails are Here to Stay

canned cocktail cans with one being opened and exploding with spray

By: Kris Bohm – Owner of Distillery Now Consulting

Canned cocktails also known as ready to drink cocktails (RTDs) are taking the distilled spirits market by storm. RTD sales in the US grew 24% from 2022 to 2023. (Neilson) Part of this growth came from breweries branching out into spirits by canning cocktails using their existing packaging equipment. There are many ways to create canned cocktails and an abundance of variety in flavors of canned cocktails. Moving from an idea to a finished product is a lengthy and challenging venture but there is immense potential in the RTD market. This article will take a dive into how breweries are producing RTDs and the lessons learned from launching ready to drink cocktails for a few different companies. Let’s learn about canned cocktails!

  Many breweries are looking to the next trend in beverages to grow their business. While some folks say non-alcoholic drinks are the upcoming trend, we believe RTDs are the answer. 5 years ago, RTDs had a sense of uncertainty among those working in the distilled spirits industry. The uncertainty came from the fact that the perceived price point was too high for canned cocktails compared to beer and retailers were not willing to give RTDs space on their shelves. Flash forward to today and canned cocktails are thriving and selling at a much higher price point per unit than beer. Consumers have become more health conscious of what they drink and low calorie spirit based drinks fit that bill. If your brewery is debating between getting into producing seltzers or RTDs there is no question that RTDs are the way to go. Before you jump right into making your own RTDs let’s talk about how to develop a product.

Product and Process Development

  Whether you are a distiller or a brewer looking to produce RTDs there are many aspects to consider to achieve the goal of creating an RTD. Below is a list of the questions that you should answer before putting a product into a can.

•   What kind of flavor or style of cocktail?

•   What is the desired ABV and what kind of spirits will go into the cocktail?

•   What will flavor the product? Extract flavors or raw ingredients?

•   Will there be sugar in the product?

•   Will there be juice or other natural ingredients and are they readily available?

•   Is the recipe and product shelf stable?

•   How long of a shelf life can you expect?

•   Does the product require refrigeration once packaged?

•   Will the product be highly carbonated, lightly carbonated or noncarbonated?

•   How will the product be branded and marketed?

  It is essential to answer these questions early in development. RTDs are a very different product than beer or distilled spirits. Take the time and diligence to give careful consideration to the product formula, flavor, cost, packaging process and shelf life. Time spent in development will save you money and avoid problems as your project moves from idea to a finished product. 

  Selection of the packaging itself is important to give consideration to early during the planning and development phase of creating an RTD. The package itself will dictate the equipment used, the label on the package and many other key factors. Cans are by far the most common and affordable choice for packaging. Cans come in a variety of sizes, shapes and different liner types. A second option for RTD packaging is aluminum bottles. Aluminum bottles are closed with a screw cap or crown top. Aluminum bottles cost more than cans but aluminum bottles also are unique and provide differentiation to stand out in the sea of canned beverages. Volume and shape of the packaging must be selected early, as part of the TTB formula and label approval process must include this information. The options are numerous for packaging in most instances the best choice is to package in containers that are compatible with your existing equipment.

Packaging Lines

  Hopefully your business already has most of the equipment for packaging of RTDs. If you do not have all the equipment there are numerous vendors who build the equipment necessary to package RTDs. A few key components and pieces of equipment are essential to transform distilled spirits into canned cocktails. Below we have detailed equipment and steps needed to produce a carbonated canned vodka soda.

  A water filter is a key tool to produce clean and sterile good tasting to make a good cocktail.

A chiller and a brite tank are essential to build the product. The chiller provides the cooling capacity to bring a liquid down in the tank to the proper cold temperature, which makes it possible to carbonate the beverage and fill cans with minimal foaming. The product is transferred from a brite tank to a packaging line anywhere from 34 to 40 degrees F. A canning line is a complex piece of equipment that handles the movement of the liquid and cans in sequence to clean the cans, purge cans of oxygen, fill with liquid, then place a lid on the can and seal the can. Canning lines can vary in speed from producing a few cans a minute to over 100 cans a minute.

  Several manufacturers build reputable canning lines suited to canning or bottling RTDs. A critical component to consider before selecting your canning line manufacture is the beverage itself. Some packaging equipment is built to handle high levels of carbonation, while some equipment will only work with lower levels of carbonation. Determining the complete formula of your RTD is important to do before producing the product on the packaging line. It is prudent to discuss the specifics of your concept product with the equipment manufacturer, including product PH, carbonation level, gravity. 

  An alternative option to buying a packaging line for canning cocktails is to partner with a mobile canning company. Nearly every large city in the US has at least one company who offers mobile canning service. A mobile canner will come to your facility with all of the equipment needed to can cocktails. Mobile canning is an excellent choice if your business is looking to quickly produce products but might not have the space and or resources to install packaging equipment. It is important to consider the downside to mobile canning is the additional cost per item. The cost of packaging through a mobile canner is typically twice as expensive as canning using equipment that is owned.   

  There is also sometimes a cost per unit added to the total cost to hire a mobile canning company. The plus side of utilizing mobile canning is that there is no major capital investment in equipment required to get started which means you can start canning cocktails sooner rather than later.

  Creating canned cocktails is a challenging endeavor with strong potential for success if done well. There are many steps and much complexity to producing RTDs.  Developing a successful RTD will certainly be a challenging and serious project. Good equipment and knowledgeable people are the two most important things needed to get it done. Sales of canned cocktails are growing tremendously year over year. Take the leap and join the RTD revolution. Canned cocktails are the future of spirits and can be the key product to grow your beverage business.

  Kris Bohm is the owner of Distillery Now Consulting, who loves pursuing outrageous adventures. Bohm has also helped to create successful RTD products for Grand Canyon Distillery and Toddi Cocktails. He can be reached at distillerynow@gmail.com

Packaging Helps Meet Consumer Wishes Efficiently

Market Continues to Expand

By: Rebecca Marquez

With consumer demand rising, the craft beer and spirits market is forecast to grow from a projected 75.2 billion units in 2024 to 78.1 billion units in 2027, a 1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), according to Craft Beer and Spirits: Success Through Packaging, a white paper and infographic published in February 2024 by PMMI Business Intelligence, a division of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. This growth will be achieved primarily by double-digit gains in the craft spirits segment and a shift toward hard cider and non-alcoholic craft beverages to compensate for flat demand for craft beer.

  Metal packaging will continue to dominate with a 58% market share, followed by glass at 38% and rigid plastic at 3%. Liquid cartons, which account for an estimated 0.3% of the market, will experience the strongest CAGR, 2.2%, followed by metal at 1.5% and glass at 0.4%. The growth in these three formats will be at the expense of rigid plastic, flexible packaging, and paper-based containers.

  Driving forces include a greater reliance on the e-commerce channel and a growing preference for ready-to-drink cocktails, as well as for variety and multipacks. As a result, craft beer and spirits producers face multiple challenges:

•    Expansion of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and

      formats

•    Sustainability demands

•    Input costs

•    Need for product differentiation and shelf impact

•    Operational changes to meet evolving needs.

Expansion in SKUs/formats

  The number of SKUs in the craft beer and spirits space has exploded in the past decade, resulting in an ever-growing array of packaging formats and sizes to address shifting consumer preferences.

  E-commerce is emerging as an important channel and is likely to continue growing in share. However, the more frequent and rougher handling experienced during distribution means craft beer and spirits producers, who wish to sell in this channel, may need to make packaging changes and related packaging line adaptations to ensure products arrive undamaged. Additional tracking and product verification features also may be necessary to succeed in this channel.

Sustainability Demands

  Highly sustainable aluminum and recyclable glass packaging dominates the industry. So, craft producers must think creatively to find ways to increase sustainability and communicate those efforts to consumers.

  It’s also essential to be prepared for a stricter regulatory environment. California, for example, has put regulations in place that require a 25% reduction in plastic packaging by 2032. The regulations also specify that all non-plastic packaging be recyclable or compostable by 2032 and set a sliding scale for recyclability requirements for single-use packaging at 30% by 2028, 40% by 2030, and 65% by 2032.

  This is prompting makers of craft beer and spirits to take a more holistic, operation-wide view to improve the sustainability of packaging and production processes. More than half (55%) of survey respondents report adopting sustainability strategies such as

•    Reduce or eliminate plastic

•    Use less material, e.g., lightweighting

•    Adopt 100% recyclable packaging

•    Switch to material with post-consumer recycled content

•    Implement returnable packages

•    Adopt a tethered cap.

  Labeling decisions are particularly important since ink and adhesive choices can determine whether a package is recyclable.

  On the production line, sustainable operations mean minimizing product and packaging waste as well as conserving water and electricity. Efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of a product not only cut costs for processors but also boost sustainability credentials and reputation with consumers. 

Input Costs

  Stubbornly high costs for ingredients and packaging materials have compounded with shortages, particularly for aluminum cans, to create price pressure for craft producers. This should become less of an issue as inflation eases and new can capacity comes on line.

Differentiation and Shelf Impact

  Craft consumers are accustomed to a huge variety of choices from a range of single-serve sizes to mixed 12-packs. This variety makes it harder to stand out on crowded store shelves. So, craft producers are turning to packaging to differentiate their products, project a premium image, and connect with consumers. Thus, producers adopt eye-catching labels, novel materials, unique shapes and sizes, multipacks, mixed packs, and special releases.

  Special releases such as rare and limited batches, seasonal offerings, one-off collaborations, and rotating unique iterations, enhance a product’s image and draw a loyal following. According to the report, “These unique offerings tap into the premiumization trend by creating scarcity and uniqueness and speak directly to craft consumers’ desire for new and novel offerings that expand their overall craft consumption experience. Specialty offerings also create a sense of community for individual brands and go a long way toward building a unique brand identity.”  

  The appeal of premiumization, one of the most durable consumer trends in the craft industry, is expected to continue. That’s because even in the face of inflation, a substantial number of consumers buy quality over quantity and enjoy giving themselves a treat.

  To deliver a premium product, craft beer and spirits producers must consider both packaging and labeling attributes. Strategies include the adoption of unique and novel packaging shapes; bundling with additional ingredients or mixing utensils; and dual-chamber bottles, especially for ready-to-drink cocktails. 

  On the labeling side, the focus is on visual aesthetics, tactile features, and smart, interactive label technologies like radio frequency identification, near-field communication, QR codes, and augmented reality, which link consumers directly to content designed to curate a luxury experience. Visual aesthetics are particularly important to product identity and include elements such as high gloss finishes, metallic flourishes with ink and foil, and clean lines with sharp colors. For cans, these features increasingly are supplied by shrink sleeves and digital printing, which can deliver the desired upscale image. Applying sleeve labels or digitally printing cans on-demand also can overcome supply chain constraints by eliminating the need to inventory pre-printed cans. 

Operational Changes

  Packaging lines are changing to adapt to the shifting needs of craft beer and spirits producers with the most desirable equipment features being sustainability (smaller carbon footprint, reduced waste), flexibility to handle a variety of formats and sizes, automation, and preventive/predictive maintenance-capable.

  Investments include changes to accommodate e-commerce shipping, automate the assembly of variety and multipacks, and differentiate products. Thus, it’s no surprise that 46% of craft producers report they plan to purchase labeling, decorating, and coding equipment.

  Multipacks and variety packs, which often require  manual assembly, pose a production challenge. Thus, 24% of craft producers are planning to update operations by adding feeding, loading, and accumulating equipment, 15% are installing lines dedicated to multi/variety formats, 12% are investing in additional packaging equipment, 10% are increasing machine integration to coordinate runs, 9% are changing primary packaging format, 9% are changing secondary packaging format, and 9% are automating physical processes.

Collaborative Suppliers

  To grow the market, makers of craft beer and spirits seek collaborative packaging material and equipment suppliers who can provide turnkey solutions and extraordinary technical service. Third-party manufacturing and packaging services also are in demand.

  New equipment must be flexible enough to handle multiple formats and sizes and accommodate variations in packaging materials. Other machine requirements include quick changeover, simple operation, and compatibility with washdown conditions.

  The Craft Beer and Spirits: Success Through Packaging white paper was compiled from the opinions and responses of craft beer and spirits industry professionals. Participants were asked to expound on their experiences to better understand craft producers’ packaging needs and the future trajectory of the industry.

  Explore the latest craft beverage processing and packaging innovations at PACK EXPO International (Nov. 3–6, 2024, McCormick Place, Chicago, Ill.). Ranking as the biggest packaging and processing event on the planet in 2024, the show will present 2,500 exhibitors spread across more than 1.2 million net square feet of floor space and foster idea-sharing among 40+ vertical industries. Highlights for craft beer and spirits producers include free educational sessions, a myriad of networking opportunities, and solutions to address automation, production efficiency, sustainability, flexibility, and e-commerce needs as well as other hot topics and trends.

 For more information, visit packexpointernational.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

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.

Women Preserve History While Creating Their Own   

photo of two women pouring whiskey into glasses

By: Cheryl Gray

They own distilleries, take charge of day-to-day operations and hold court as master distillers around the globe. We’re talking about women in the spirits industry, breaking barriers and making it possible for other women to do the same.

  In this largely male-dominated industry, there is an increasing number of women who have earned major roles, from building distilleries to creating the blends that put those distilleries on the map. Those blends are either passed on from generation to generation or come in the form of new taste sensations. All are designed to appeal to an unquenchable consumer demand for innovation and tradition.

woman in front of a beer bar

Victoria Eady Butler can speak with authority on both subjects. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Nathan “Nearest” Green, a former slave and the first-known African American master distiller who taught Jack Daniel – yes, that Jack Daniel—how to make the legendary Tennessee whiskey that bears the Jack Daniel’s brand name. Daniel would later hire Green to be his master distiller, a historical link between the two men widely acknowledged by Jack Daniel’s parent company, Brown-Forman.

  Five generations later, it is Eady Butler’s turn at making history. She is the first African American master blender for a major spirits brand, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, named after her great-great-grandfather. Eady Butler’s legacy is the foundation for award-winning bourbons and whiskeys branded by Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Since its brand launch in 2017 by founder and CEO Fawn Weaver, the company reports it has generated more than $100 million in sales, with products sold in all 50 states and 12 countries around the world.

  Eady Butler explains how Weaver brought her on as part of the company’s leadership team, first as the vice president of administration but soon thereafter, as its master blender.

  “I had no idea that this was down the road for me. Fawn Weaver, our CEO and founder, and I talked and she knew that I was considering retirement. Everything unfolded from that conversation. I retired from my previous career and started with Uncle Nearest within a few days. Now that I’m here, I fully get it. Whiskey truly is in my blood. To carry on a legacy that lay dormant for more than 160 years, it’s just unbelievable.” 

  Under the discerning palate of Eady Butler, the Uncle Nearest brand has won multiple industry awards while she has won consecutive top honors bestowed upon her by industry peers.

  “When our 1884 Small Batch launched in July 2019, the whiskey family took to it immediately and we started winning awards right out of the gate. So, I blended the second batch. The awards and accolades kept coming. Soon thereafter, I was elevated to master blender and have blended every batch since. Also, when I was named ‘Master Blender of the Year’ by the American Icons of Whisky Awards, I was the first female to ever earn the title.”

  Preserving the heritage surrounding one of Puerto Rico’s most famous exports, rum, is partly what drew Liza Cordero to the spirits industry. Cordero used her background as a chemical engineer to become master blender of the world-renowned Destilería Serrallés and oversee the distillation process of its Don Q rum, made in Puerto Rico for more than 150 years.

  Born in San Juan, Cordero knew early on that she wanted to be engaged in chemical engineering and was involved in both the petrochemical and biotechnology industries. She says that she found her true passion, though, in working with rums. For more than two decades, Cordera has been directly involved in the fermentation and distillation processes and is responsible for quality control at the landmark distillery. She describes how taking a chance turned into a rewarding new career.

  “The company was recruiting an assistant manager for the distillation and fermentation process area. As soon as I saw this, I did not hesitate to accept the challenge to work for the best distillery in Puerto Rico, which produces the best and most authentic Puerto Rican rum. In the 21 years that I have been working here, I can truly say that my decision was the right one!”

  Cordero describes her role at the distillery.

“I am the rum distillery master blender and work hand-in-hand with the First Maestra Ronera (Master Teacher), Silvia Santiago, who has been with the company for 50 years. I am responsible for developing Don Q products that follow today’s market trends, which can be enjoyed in cocktails and sipping rums, all while honoring Don Q’s origins. These products need to be different from others in the market, which we achieve by carefully selecting blends that will be part of our premium and flavored rums and choosing natural ingredients that will guarantee an outstanding tasting experience. In order for me to achieve what we want for rum aficionados, it is important to understand the differences among the aged rums that we have available. Each one has its own characteristic taste and aroma.”

  Cordero says her mentors include other women like Santiago, who have helped to guide her through the industry. The advice she gives to other women who want to enter the business is to the point.

  “Throughout my career, I have learned that in order to prove that women can equally execute and be involved in the same tasks and assignments that are performed by men, it’s important to employ your knowledge and experience, to prove your point and to take a position on matters. It is crucial that decisions are made based on something solid that can withstand any questions or critical analysis. They cannot be made based on opinions or personal points of views. It is in this way that women can earn respect, and that we get assigned to key decision teams and positions in organizations.”

  Valerie Colella is an award-winning single barrel specialist and national ambassador for Castle & Key Distillery. Most recently, Colella was recognized by the Bourbon Women Association as a finalist for the “2023 Brand Ambassador of The Year.”

  “As single barrel specialist, I help execute our single barrel program along with our very talented team in Frankfort, Kentucky, and I also have the pleasure of hosting our VIP industry and trade groups. As national brand ambassador, I help support our sales team across 24 markets by creating fun educational and pairing experiences for our partners and consumers.”

  Colella relocated to Kentucky after working in West Virginia at Smooth Ambler Distillery. Collela cites a key mentor who helped her to get her footing in the industry.

  “Most of my foundational understanding about what makes a craft distillery tick, I learned in my eight years from Smooth Ambler under head distiller John Little. He demanded a very high level of dedication and execution from all of us. He took great pride in the spirits we were producing in West Virginia, and so did we. Whether it was the retail or consumer-facing side of the business, distribution, sensory, analysis or branding strategy, he gave me so many opportunities to work really hard, learn and grow personally and professionally.”

  Collela points to women mentors that include Lisa Wicker, president and head distiller for Widow Jane of Brooklyn, New York, Sherri Carter, master blender and co-founder of Old Carter Whiskey Company based in Louisville, Kentucky and Jackie Zykan, former master taster for Brown Forman’s Old Forester and creator of the newly launched whiskey, Hidden Barn. Collela says the work these women have accomplished in blending and maturation inspires her.

  “When you’re navigating your own professional growth and you’re trying to find your footing or voice in a male-dominated industry, no one understands the challenges that come with being a woman in spirits except the ones who walked through the fire and helped pave that path. From Iron Root Republic to Milam & Greene and Uncle Nearest, so many ridiculously talented female master distillers, blenders and owner-operators are absolutely blazing all kinds of trails. It’s such an exciting time to draw inspiration from.”

  The number of women in the spirits industry keeps growing, Collela says, and the industry’s expansion requires new talent.

  “That being said, I think we’re going to see a diverse new generation of whiskey-makers, and spirit-blenders into the next decade. What we see across all aspects of the aged spirits industry is that there still continues to be an incredible demand for whiskey. There doesn’t seem to be a saturation point. NDP’s and distilleries keep on expanding, and there’s a whiskey for every palate. There’s not just the collector and the enthusiast anymore. Whiskey is becoming a multi- dimensional demographic.”

  Eady Butler of Nearest Green says that for women entering the business, tenacity is particularly important.

  “The key is to be committed, dedicated, eager to learn and put everything you hold dear into it. In addition, it’s imperative that you surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable, patient and in my case, willing to share their experiences and wisdom. The biggest thing is setting aside your fear of failure and just go for it.”   

Hand Barrel Bourbon: Three Friends, One Idea and the Perfect Partnership

photo of 3 small hand barrel bottles in different colors

By Gerald Dlubala

We’ve all heard the phrase about loving it when a plan comes together. When it’s a plan that three friends come up and run with, we love it all the more. And that’s just what happened to Jim Hand, Scott Pirello and Beorn Brueckner, founding members of Hand Barrel Bourbon Company.

“It kind of started when I got recruited by Scott Pirello, a college friend, to play on a men’s softball team,” said Hand. “Scott was working on a project to make cool bottles for packaging. I thought it might be cool to make a whiskey bottle that resembles a real barrel and fill it with quality whiskey to sell. The initial idea was honestly as simple as that.”

Hand and Pirello were both fans of brown spirits and always considered the whiskey industry an exciting arena. They also believed that their bottle idea might just be good enough to attain what would become their first goal of surviving their first year in business. Well, they’ve not only reached that goal, which occurred the last week of October 2023, but they’ve done very well in their first year with an idea that admittedly seemed backward.

“Our approach was different, going from packaging first to the product inside,” said Hand. “But getting into the spirits market without some huge backing is tough. We brought in a third partner, Beorn Brueckner, who attended high school with Scott. Beorn was the GM of a bar in Boston during the pandemic and was now looking for something else. His industry experience fits in perfectly with what we needed, and he currently runs many operations within the company. Scott is our CEO and numbers guy. Additionally, Scott has an entrepreneurial background and experience starting and selling businesses. Without him, there would be no Hand Barrel Bourbon. He had the know-how to start this thing up and run with it. I come from a software sales background and now handle the sales and marketing aspects of the business. So, that’s the whole company, three friends and equal partners.”

Using Unique Packaging to Tell a Story

Hand tells Beverage Master Magazine that it came down to three friends getting together with an idea for a different and unique packaging idea and decided to put premium bourbon into it to sell to the public. Hand says that they knew they would run the risk of consumers thinking their bottle may just be a gimmick to sell their product. But the Hand Barrel Bourbon bottles are instead a motif, providing packaging that tells a story of what is inside the bottle. 

“We sell our single barrel, small batch in the white barrel bottle, signifying the unique minerals and deposits found in the Kentucky water,” said Hand. “Our double-oaked comes in a black, charred finish bottle, signifying the barrels and type of exposure the spirit encounters along its journey. These are specific ingredients and attributes to Kentucky bourbon whiskey, and we want to recognize, respect and make note of those attributes through our packaging.”

Partnering with the Right Contract Distiller is Key

After settling on the bottles, packaging, and message they wanted to send, the group had to find a contract distiller. Hand says they didn’t have the time or capital to start up and wait five or six years, so the search was on to find the best partner for them and their situation.

“We happened into Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown, Kentucky,” said Hand. “We tried their products, looked at their facilities and met the people behind the brand. From that day forward, they became the perfect partner and our contract distillery. It really was a slam dunk for us, and we are now completely vertically integrated with them. They are a state-of-the-art distiller with the best column in the industry. It is our mash bill that we use, a 64-24-12 sweet mash recipe. It’s not the traditional higher corn content (70 to 78 percent) of many bourbons. We wanted to try something a little different. There aren’t as many high-rye mash bills out in the market. We come in at 105 proof, which we believe is the sweet spot for bourbon and the perfect place to land. And because our bottles are preprinted, we don’t deviate from that number. Our barrels age at Bardstown’s facilities, and we use their blending team and bottling line. Our responsibility is to provide the mashbill, the marketing and the cool bottles to package our product.”

Hand says its goal is to provide a bourbon experience that positively appeals to all the senses, including touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

“We want our bourbon to be a total experience,” said Hand. “It’s an excellent-tasting, authentic Kentucky bourbon whiskey wrapped in a unique bottle that consumers will proudly display in their home or on their bar.”

One of those unique bottles was a special-release camouflage bottle.

“All three of us have connections or ties to the military somehow,” said Hand. “The camouflage bottle was our first special release and offered us the opportunity to give back 10 percent of sales to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SWOF) to benefit families of our fallen Special Operators. We feel that anytime we can give back to one of our military organizations, it’s absolutely worth it. It was a huge success, and we’re looking into other partnership releases. We’re considering things like NCAA or professional sports teams as well as personalized bottles for special occasions”.

Hand says their bottles would make perfect gifts for weddings, groomsmen’s and bridesmaids’ gifts or to celebrate and commemorate special occasions for clubs, groups and organizations. He also mentioned single-barrel picks to make the occasion even more distinctive.

“The bottle is one thing we can change to meet our customer’s special occasion needs,” said Hand. “That’s our edge in the marketplace. You can really only stretch one mash bill about three different ways, ending in a small batch, single barrel and double-oaked, similar to what we did. But we can also change the bottle to create something unique, distinctive and special for our customers.”

Pinpoint Focus and Smart Decisions Will Shape the Future

“We’ve been in business and on shelves for over a year now,” said Hand. “We started in just two states, Massachusetts and Kentucky. We had a minimal release our first year, maybe 6,000 bottles, and sold out within the first two to three months. That was a testament to the acceptance of our idea and gave us the confidence to try to gain market share. We’ve since added 19 more states to our distribution areas and are looking toward expansion and continued growth. We’ve had talks with Canada, South Korea and Japan, who all have interest in our bottles.”

“You know, we have a potentially wide footprint with customized bottles,” said Hand. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also very daunting because we can go in many different directions. Since our path can go in so many different and diverse ways, we, especially as a small business, must focus on the best opportunities for us. If we have so much as a flop of 2,000 to 3,000 bottles, it would be very detrimental to us. We have to be careful about our choices and focus on what we need to do to build our business and gain customer commitment. We have to focus on who can commit to the best volumes early to get that extra volume and padding for us as a business. We’d love to eventually be able to do as little as six to 12 bottle orders for weddings or parties with names and dates, offering that custom gift for the guy or girl who has everything.”

Joining the Welcoming Community of Distilled Spirits

“The biggest surprise I’ve had along this journey is the general welcomeness of the bourbon industry. I mean, it really has been noticeable,” Hand said. “I was sitting with other bourbon reps trying to launch a market, and we were all sharing drinks, ideas and information. Unlike some other businesses, there weren’t any highly secretive behaviors or unwillingness to share our experiences. It helps everyone to grow with a better chance of success. This industry uniquely welcomes newcomers; everyone I’ve come into contact with has been willing to help and give quality advice. This industry is such a big piece of the overall spirits pie that we can all succeed. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, which is a truly refreshing and beneficial approach. Spirits consumers traditionally welcome variety. We love to build our bar cart with a variety of diverse brands. It’s just fun to build your display to share with friends, whether for a hobbyist or a serious collector. It’s a pretty straightforward sales approach.”

Displaying Products Together Boosts Sales

Hand tells Beverage Master Magazine that he learned a ton about the industry, which was expected. What sticks out for Hand and the other founders of Hand Barrel Bourbon is that along their path, they’ve noticed a distinct advantage to having all their products together on a shelf displayed as a suite or grouping. Because of their unique bottles and the meanings behind those bottles, when the products all stand together in unison on a shelf display, they combine to show and tell a story that ultimately leads to an increase in sales. Hand Barrel Bourbon’s sales are better when their products stand together, even if that means giving up less width on the shelf in return.

“When it comes down to it, we are just three friends who raised a little bit of money and came up with an idea that we thought was pretty cool, and we want to make an impact on the market with quality products that we are proud to offer, and that consumers are equally proud to own.”

Find more information on Hand Barrel Bourbon at www.handbarrel.com.

Flavored Malt Beverages: Origins and Applicable Federal Regulations

6 bottles of different beers lined up on a table

By: Brad Berkman and Louis Terminello, Greenspoon Marder

There is a strange concoction that lurks within the bowels of the brewer’s tank. It is formed with malt, but is not beer, it is something other whose mere mention may frighten beer aficionados to the essence of their being. This mysterious liquid soon slithers through tubes and to the bottling line where 12oz bottles are filled with this ethereal liquid. The bottles make their way to the grocery shelf where it is soon removed from its cold box perch to the refrigerators of eager consumers. There the potion rests until its top is popped and it’s brought to the lips of the drinker. A first sip and this bottled creature metamorphizes to a glorious nectar, causing a love affair that is reflected in astounding Nielsen numbers. To the disappointment of any beer geeks, the flavored malt beverage or FMB is a darling of the brewing industry, not for its purist nature but for the sound of jingling coin that comes from the brewer’s pocketbook after each batch is made and sold and drank and asked for more of. The FMB is a clear consumer favorite.

  The FMB as a category, has an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), codified definition. Before we get there, however, the reader should be aware that the style of drink isn’t a new phenomenon. The drink made its way first on to the shelves of certain European countries in the late 1990’s, among other places, and caused quite a bit of controversy for its generally sweet flavor profile, small bottle size, and perceived target audience.

Of course, it bears refreshing the memory that these drinks were and are offered as beer alternatives. They are meant to be, in most iterations, a light, flavorful alternative to traditional beers. Initially, they were referred to as alcopops, and now are more commonly called Ready-to Drinks or RTD’s (there are many drinks formulas that fall into the RTD category, including spirits based and non-malt based (see hard seltzer), but certainly FMB’s are a leader in that general category. Another publication reports that beer RTD’s “make up the vast majority of overall RTD’s sales with 42.7% of RTD dollar sales coming from FMB’s.  

  Some early precursors to contemporary FMB’s, the reader may recall, were Smirnoff Ice, WKD and Hoopers Hooch. In fact, this writer recalls from his prior career in “the industry”, travelling to the UK and witnessing the small cold-boxes stationed below virtually every back bar and thinking that the English will drink anything and wondering how long it will take before these drinks make their way across the Atlantic to the shores of the United Sates. Woe is me, if I only had bought stock.

  Well, the answer to the above question is, arguably 1993 with the introduction of Zima by the Coors Brewing Company. Buffs of the history of the drink will clearly remember Zima, (and the pun is intended), as the first clear, citrus-like malt-based beverage to make its way onto the beer shelf. Offered as a light alternative to beer, it had a modicum of success at introduction, but its popularity faded quickly (it was in fact re-introduced in 2017 but sales quickly sputtered out).

  The origins of RTD’s likely stemmed from restrictions on the activities permitted on the brewing premises by federal law. Creative brewers looked to unique formulations using permitted brewers’ ingredients only. A driving force behind limiting ingredients and production processes at a brewery is to ensure that tax revenue generation is not jeopardized. As the reader likely knows, malt is taxed at a different rate than wine which is taxed at a different rate than spirits and never shall the thrice be combined.  I point the reader to the following section of the Internal Revenue Code (the IRC):

26 USC 5411:

  The brewery shall be used under regulations prescribed… for the purpose of producing, packaging, and storing beer, cereal beverages containing less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol by volume, vitamins, ice, malt, malt sirup, and other byproducts and of soft drinks; for the purpose of processing spent grain, carbon dioxide, and yeast… and for such other purposes as the Secretary by regulation may find will not jeopardize the revenue.

  As we see from the above the purpose of the brewery premises is limited to the production of beer and storing certain brewing materials. Also, the code section below has arguably a more profound limiting effect on the materials permitted on the premises. But here, I caution the reader to pay careful attention to subpart (b) of the following and different code section. It is here that lays the codified origin of the FMB.

 § 25.15 Materials for the Production of Beer

(a) Beer must be brewed from malt or from substitutes for malt. Only rice, grain of any kind, bran, glucose, sugar, and molasses are substitutes for malt. In addition, you may also use the following materials as adjuncts in fermenting beer: honey, fruit, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, herbs, spices, and other food materials.

(b) You may use flavors and other nonbeverage ingredients containing alcohol in producing beer. Flavors and other nonbeverage ingredients containing alcohol may contribute no more than 49% of the overall alcohol content of the finished beer. For example, a finished beer that contains 5.0% alcohol by volume must derive a minimum of 2.55% alcohol by volume from the fermentation of ingredients at the brewery and may derive not more than 2.45% alcohol by volume from the addition of flavors and other nonbeverage ingredients containing alcohol. In the case of beer with an alcohol content of more than 6% by volume, no more than 1.5% of the volume of the beer may consist of alcohol derived from added flavors and other nonbeverage ingredients containing alcohol.

  The above code section limited the amount of alcohol from flavors and nonbeverage ingredients containing alcohol to 49% but that didn’t stop brewers and drinks makers from creating unique products with malt base and taxed at the beer rate, making for a competitively priced product on the beer shelf. In fact, TTB permits the use of mixed cocktail names such as Margarita or Moscow Mule on malt-based products that resemble these cocktails. Many brewers have done a fine job of emulating these mixed drinks flavors under the FMB rubric. Of course, that hasn’t stopped consumers from bringing civil actions against producers arguing that these drinks have been mislabeled and are untruthful but that is a topic for another days.

  I’m sure it’s obvious to the reader that the hard seltzer craze finds its origins in the FMB category, many of which, but not all are malt based. The bottom line here is that this category of malt beverage finds its roots in three factors; consumer demand for variety of taste profiles, the brewer’s ability to create these brews within the confines of government tax revenue regulations and using ingredients that do not jeopardize revenue collection w maintaining the desired shelf price. This writer for one looks forward to watching how consumer demand for unique flavors pushes brewers to come up with creative FMB formulas which surely will lead to greater excitement in the category.