By Micah Cheek
Bittermilk: The name is made up, but the quality isn’t. “We wanted to evoke a more southern feeling. We wanted to do another avenue of business. The idea is, the labor is in the bottle; just add booze,” says Owner MariElena Raya.
Bittermilk, purveyors of cocktail mixers, has won a sofi Award in the Cold Beverage category for its No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour. The mix, made with bitter orange peel, lemon and honey smoked over barrel staves, is made for mixing with bourbon for a whiskey sour, or tequila for a smoked honey margarita. The company, based in Charleston, South Carolina, was inspired by the experiences of owners MariElena and Joe Raya as they operated their Charleston bar, The Gin Joint, after their house-made mixers began receiving lots of attention. “We got a lot of people asking for the recipe, but coming back and saying they had trouble finding the ingredients or it didn’t taste the same.” says Raya. “People often refer to them as bitters – they have bittering agents in them. We use organic juices; we use some interesting culinary techniques like barrel aging.”
Bittermilk’s first big break, an award from Garden & Gun magazine, gave an unexpected boost to the small company. “We won as a finalist in the beverage category, for the No.1 Old Fashioned. We went to selling 10,000 bottles in December. And we’re hand bottling and capping them. We had a small warehouse that we used a lot for our bar, and then it just went nuts. That was an amazing award to win,” Raya says.
Soon after, Bittermilk products became finalists in both the Good Food Awards and sofi Awards. “The acceptance of the product has been wonderful. We spent a great deal on branding. It really paid off,” says Raya. “A lot of people want to stock the product. They love the look and it fits into their store. Customers say they bought it because it looked neat, and they come back and say it’s like they’re addicted to it.”
With a gold sofi for the shelf, Raya is hoping to increase Bittermilk’s footprint. “Buyers can recognize the award and know it’s important. We’re not sure what to expect, but we’re really excited to branch out,” says Raya. “We haven’t delved into the Northeast that much and the Midwest. California’s been a great area for us, and all of the Southeast. The Northeast is still untapped.”
Bittermilk’s strongest sales have been during the holiday season, and Raya is preparing for it with some new options. Gift sets and new packaging have been in the works, as well as seasonal flavors. “We’ve done a lot with the No.7 – we’re doing it as a seasonal mixer. Last year, we did a Gingerbread Old Fashioned. This year, we’re coming out with a Yuletide Old Fashioned with sour cherry,” says Raya.
Raya has also released a line of bar syrups under the name Tippleman’s. “The Tippleman’s line is geared more to the restaurant industry, and people who want to explore more with cocktails,” she says. “We’re selling just the maple syrup that we cook over oak staves, and the burnt sugar – you can make a really great tiki drink with that.”
The Champagne Bureau, USA announced today that 20,508,784 million bottles of Champagne were shipped to the United States in 2015, an increase of 6.61 percent from 2014. This marks the third consecutive year of growth in Champagne shipments to the United States.
“It is wonderful to see U.S. consumers buying Champagne at record numbers. The strong growth represents the real excitement consumers have for Champagne and highlights the important role Champagne plays in the growing U.S. wine market,” said Sam Heitner, Director of the Champagne Bureau, USA. “As more Americans drink wine, they are placing more value on wines that come from unique places. This desire to understand where their wines come from is a key to building long-term connections with consumers and why we like to remind all that Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”
The United States is the second largest export market for Champagne, trailing the United Kingdom, which imported 34,153,662 bottles in 2015. Worldwide, Champagne shipments totaled 312,531,444 bottles, an increase of nearly 2 percent over last year.
More than merely a type of wine, Champagne is a unique winemaking region with a long history of winemaking expertise. In fact, its historic hillsides, houses and cellars were recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore, to earn the right to label their bottles with the “Champagne” name, the growers and producers of the Champagne region adhere to strict grape growing, harvesting and winemaking regulations. In recent years, the region has also been lauded for its environmental leadership, launching a comprehensive carbon reduction effort that has already reduced the region’s carbon footprint and establishing a new environmental certification for wine growers and producers to quantify their environmental sustainability and advances.
By Richard Thompson
Breweries like Sky River Meadery and Moonlight Meadery are offering new delicious flavors – such as raspberry, blackberry, and even strawberry rhubarb – along with traditional honeyed staples in their dry, sweet and semi-sweet mead lines.
“It’s coming back as a beverage of choice,” says Michael Fairbrother, Founder and Head Mead Maker at Moonlight Meadery and President of American Mead Maker Association.
Moonlight Meadery, which opened in 2010 and is based in Londonderry, New Hampshire, offers a line of 70 different products and has seen interest in mead explode over the last year. “Production in the first two years was about 24,000 bottles (2000 cases), but we have done close to seven times as much in the last year alone,” says Fairbrother.
Kurt’s ApplePie, the meadery’s top seller, won the gold metal at the 2013 Mazer Cup International and is made with Sunny Crest Farm apple cider with Madagascar-bourbon vanilla and Vietnamese cinnamon. Its sweetness is balanced by the tartness from the added cinnamon, and the vanilla lightens it up, says Fairbrother.
Desire, a sweet mead made with blueberries, black cherries and blackcurrants, is the company’s flagship mead and won first place in the New England Regional Homebrew Competition back in 2009. Fling is made with strawberry rhubarb and orange blossom honey and has a light tartness that balances the sweet with strawberry notes. “I suggest to customers to try it with a goat cheese salad,” says Fairbrother.
Coffee in Bed, a dessert-style mead with a rich, robust honey-note, was another award winner at the International Mazer Competition that goes well with dark chocolates, tiramisu and German Chocolate cake.
Sky River Meadery, a Washington-based meadery found in the Woodinville Winery District, has been open since 1997 and specializes in traditional meads and honey wines. “We only make mead,” says Denice Ingalls, President and Wine Maker at Sky River, “We keep it simple and approachable.”
SOLAS, the meadery’s flagship mead, is a tribute to Old World meads, says Ingalls. Using saturated, smokey whiskey barrels from Dry Fly[TM] Distillery, SOLAS is a very sweet mead that combines honey and wheat whiskey flavors and is definitely an indulgence that should be sipped.
The company’s 10 different meads – with nine currently available – range from a traditional Brochet mead that has a darker, richer quality – due to the honey being caramelized before fermentation – to the Ginger mead that has a sassy ginger note with a spicy finish. “Our Rose mead is the ‘boudoir’ wine, luscious and indulgent, and pairs beautifully with meals where there are a lot of pistachios, like Persian and Middle Eastern foods,” says Ingalls.