Monday, September 9, 2019

Corporate hard seltzer strives to be cool: An actual press release

More than 90% of my e-mail is press releases. I get more than 10,000 per year. But I don't remember ever seeing the word "f***ing" (sic) in one until this gem that I received over the weekend.

It's hard for me to believe the iGeneration are such tremendous suckers that they won't see through this. That said, this release was sent by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the World's Largest Beverage Company, a company so enormous that it makes E. & J. Gallo Winery seem like a small family scratching out a living. Belgium-based multinational conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev didn't sell $54.6 billion worth of mostly flavorless beer last year by being bad at marketing.

The release worked on this level: I'm putting it nearly verbatim, on my blog, for free, which has to be a win for the people who wrote it. All I'm going to do is substitute Anheuser-Busch InBev, the company name, for the brand name of the product. The release also uses a cute nickname for the brand name so I'm going to try to replicate that. Anything I change is (in parentheses); the rest is verbatim. Enjoy, and let me know if this makes you thirsty for something sweet and corporate.

(Press release starts here, including the photo:)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Swiss wine overview: the triumph of the house palate

Vineyards in Aigle in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Can you find the lizard?
Switzerland drinks a lot of wine -- fifth in the world per capita, behind Luxembourg, France, Italy and Portugal. And Switzerland produces only a third of what it consumes. Nonetheless until 20 years ago its market was heavily protected against imports, and it still has tariffs on EU wines because it's not a member of the EU.

This is a recipe for creating a house palate -- a group of wineries and winemakers that think what they're making is great, regardless of what outsiders think.

A house palate is possible anywhere. On one single day in Napa Valley I met three different winery owners who told me they had been to Bordeaux but the wines there aren't any good because they are thin and not powerful enough. But it's more likely to happen in countries where winemakers don't travel: Argentina a decade ago. South Africa shortly after apartheid. Bulgaria and Romania.

So what's Switzerland's excuse? Honestly, I'm not sure. It's a wealthy country and you can hop on a train and be in France, Italy or Germany in a few hours. Swiss consumers surely must appreciate their neighboring countries' wines. But the winemakers ...

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

You can keep Amazon on its toes: visit its California liquor "stores"

This is Amazon's "liquor store" in Sunnyvale: a table with a button
I didn't set out to investigate Amazon for noncompliance with California law. I just thought it would be fun to visit one of the brick-and-mortar liquor stores that California law requires it to have.

But on my visit, I discovered Amazon was openly flouting that law.

Then I visited two other stores and discovered Amazon's practices had changed overnight, and it is doing the absolute bare minimum to follow the law.

I can't be an Amazon watchdog all over the state. This is where you come in.

Do you want to check to see if Amazon is following the law? It's easy!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Thank the Pink Boost Goddess: a cannabis strain that doesn't give the munchies

The munchies are never pretty. Apparently it takes a Goddess to whisk them away.

To prove it, I devised a diabolical experiment for a friend and myself. More on that below.

One of the first medical uses for cannabis was to increase appetite for cancer patients, but it also works that way for healthy people. I don't (usually) regret having an extra piece of chicken at dinner, but snacking before bedtime makes me ashamed of myself. But it feels like I can't help it.

A Holy Grail in the cannabis world is a flower that does not give you the munchies. Supposedly the cannabinoid THCV has this effect, but it hadn't worked for me in the past. A strain called Durban Poison, noted for its high level of THCV, made me crave sugar even more: this is bad.

Thus I was skeptical when Flow Kana reached out to me to try a limited-edition strain called Pink Boost Goddess which the company claims minimizes the munchies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The real story of Juyondai, a mysterious cult sake that isn't actually rare or good

This is the part of Takagi Shuzo's compound, where Juyondai is made, that they would prefer that you see.
One of the most-sought cult brands in the beverage world is ... not what it seems. Not in a good way. Even though it should be obvious to anyone drinking it, nobody wants to stand up and say this stuff is not good anymore.

Moreover, its appeal is based on a carefully cultivated image that is simply not true. I will show you, with photographs.

A "limited edition" Juyondai
This blog post isn't what I set out to do when I planned to write about Juyondai sake. I expected to write a story for Wine Searcher about the brand, which makes two of the 12 most-searched sakes in the world. It is THE cult sake, and has been for more than a decade.

Many of my readers at Wine Searcher use the site to find expensive wines. It's sometimes my job to write profiles of the wineries that make them, and often I squelch my personal taste because telling people a wine they love isn't great not only isn't my job, but is kind of rude.

As a result, I sometimes visit -- or am turned away from -- some of the world's most exclusive wineries. Some, especially in California, are open about their marketing strategy being based on scarcity. Every wine lover has heard of Screaming Eagle, but few have sampled it, which is why it costs $2500 a bottle in stores. People often ask if it's worth the money. I've tried it, and it's good wine. I'd rather have 50 bottles of good $50 wines, but it's not my place to tell people how to spend their money.

You need to know this background to know why I went to rural Yamagata prefecture, near the city of Murayama, to visit Takagi Shuzo, the makers of Juyondai, even though they told me the day before they would not speak to me. I thought, I'll knock on the door and maybe they'll meet me anyway. If nothing else, I can take some exterior photos of this quirky little sake brewery and write a story without their participation like this one I did about Screaming Eagle.

What I found was something I didn't expect at all. And I think the sake world needs to know it.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Should the FTC allow the Gallo/Constellation deal?

These and 25 other wine brands were sold in April from Constellation to Gallo, pending FTC approval
Gallo is already the largest wine producer in the world. In April, it agreed to buy 30 wine brands from Constellation for $1.7 billion. But the Federal Trade Commission is holding up the sale, presumably to see if it would make the wine industry less competitive.

I wrote a news story last week about how the FTC's investigation is making some grape farmers nervous. That led me to thinking more about the deal.

Before I go further, I will speculate that the FTC will allow the sale, if only because the business of the Trump Administration is big business. That's not the question I want to answer here.

Is the Gallo/Constellation deal bad for consumers? Is it bad for farmers?

Let's look at consumers first. The 30 brands being sold account for about 23 million cases of wine, and include big names like Ravenswood, Black Box, Clos du Bois and Hogue Cellars.

(The full list: Arbor Mist, Black Box, Blackstone, Blufeld, Capri, Clos du Bois, Cook's, Cribari Tables & Desserts, DiseƱo, Estancia, Franciscan, Hidden Crush, Hogue Cellars, J Roget, Le Terre, Manischewitz, Mark West, Milestone, Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandies, Paul Masson Wines, Primal Roots, Ravenswood, Rex Goliath, Richards Wild Irish Rose, Simply Naked, Taylor Tables and Desserts, Toasted Head, V. No, Vendange, Wild Horse)

Using Wine Business Monthly's figures from its February issue, moving 23 million cases from Constellation to Gallo gives you this new leaderboard of largest wineries (based on 2018 sales):

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sake by subscription: late millennial founds online sake shop

Genki Ito
Many American attempts at bringing sake to people are lame: some entrepreneur selling overpriced second-rate sake in a fancy bottle.

In contrast, Tippsy is the best online U.S. sake store I've seen since True Sake. Tippsy, which launched last November, is an easy-to-use site and has a legit selection of good sakes at reasonable prices.

It also has a subscription service that seems like a great way to bring new drinkers to sake. For $59 a month, shipping included, you get a box of three 300 ml bottles. You can reorder larger bottles of whichever ones you like.

I was impressed enough with Tippsy's selection to call its founder, Genki Ito. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

The Gray Report: What made you decide to start a website selling sake?

Ito: I think I can reach the existing demand for sake drinkers. There aren't many Japanese supermarkets that sell sake in the US unless you're living in a big city like Los Angeles. Some people go to nice restaurants and try sake and they become interested in buying good sake, but they don't have any clue of where to buy sake.

It's still small demand, but eventually I'm trying to convert millennial drinkers to sake drinkers. That's what this sake club is all about, giving opportunity for new drinkers to try different flavors. Sake comes in different flavor profiles just like wine.

Gray: You're a millennial yourself. Is that what inspired you to do the subscription?

Ito: I'm 35, a late millennial. I came to the US 10 years ago for a job at Nishimoto Trading. It's a Japanese importer, the largest in the US. I started my career in Hawaii, moved to Los Angeles, moved to New York, came back to Los Angeles. I finished my MBA at USC. I've been in this business and seen the growing demand for sake. There's nobody marketing sake very well.

Gray: What is Tippsy doing to market sake that hasn't been done in the past?