Beverage Dynamics

Beverage Dynamics - March/April 2017

Beverage Dynamics is the largest national business magazine devoted exclusively to the needs of off-premise beverage alcohol retailers, from single liquor stores to big box chains, through coverage of the latest trends in wine, beer and spirits.

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Page 75 of 87

Exotic Spirits 76 Beverage Dynamics • March/April 2017 originates in Korea, and the U.S. market is dominated by drinks giant Jinro. Shochu is produced in Japan, frequently crafted by small artisan producers. Often referred to as Asian vodka, the ABV ranges from just 20%-30%. "At Peco's, we shelve soju and shochu together, but soju gets the most pull-through," Mulvihill notes. "That's the one I get people walking in the door asking for." He attributes this interest to mentions in beverage magazines or social media. "Soju and shochu are growing a little bit," says Bolton at Hi-Time. Although he notes that most of those sales are from bars that don't have a full liquor license and want to make low- er-alcohol cocktails. "Interest is growing amongst both the cocktail creators and the spirits community. As people are more exposed to the prod- uct, they realize its potential for food pairing, cocktails and just enjoying on its own," says consultant Chris Johnson (aka The Sake Ninja). The U.S. market is still very small, he notes, but it is growing; currently there are about 400 labels in the U.S. "What makes Honkaku shochu unique is the use of koji, a mold that aids in the conversion of starch to sugars, and its focus on single distillation," he explains. Johnson regularly conducts edu- cational seminars and tasting events. "Shochu is the indigenous spirit of Japan; dating back to the mid-16th century," says Masahiro Takeda, Esq., vice president of Wine of Japan Import, Inc., a leading national importer and distributor of Japanese beverage alcohol. "Shochu is growing incrementally beyond the Japanese expat consumers, but the knowledge base and familiarity pale in comparison to sake." But, he adds: "Interest seems to be growing slowly amongst bartend- ers in major cities." BAIJIU "Baijiu it is a bit of a hard sell, Mulvihill admits. "We brought some baijiu in because it was new and interesting. It's definitely different." In terms of sheer volume, baijiu is one of the most consumed spirits in the world. However, it is little known outside of China. Dating back thousands of years, production adheres to Chinese philosophy and tradition. The base for fermentation is usually sorghum or other grains. What's unusual is the "solid-state fer- mentation" with a micro-flora agent called qu, which involves burying grain mixtures in ancient fermentation pits for several months. Baijiu uses steam distillation, which is similar to meth- ods used for perfume. Most versions are high in alcohol. Baiju is complex and complicated, classified into half a dozen categories according to "fragrances," such as sauce, rice, light and strong. It also comes in flavored versions. "The high proof and unique flavors are unfamiliar and chal- lenging to American consumers," says Yuan Liu, senior vice president of business development of Bringing Baijiu To Amer- ica CNS Imports. In China, however, it accounts for 30% of all alcoholic beverage sales, including beer, and is a big deal during Chinese New Year and a respected gift, according to Liu. Baijiu has been available in the U.S. for over 30 years, mostly in Chinese markets and stores, although it can be found in specialty retailers and large stores like Total Wine & More, according to Liu. Currently, there are about 20 brands here, all with extensive numbers of expressions. The Chinese spirit can be expensive too, with top brands like Kweichow Moutai priced well over $100 for a 375-ml. bottle. Other brands such as HKB and ByeJoe are aimed more at American palates and pocketbooks. A few bars are creating cocktails with baijiu, such as Lumos in New York and Peking Tavern in Los Angeles. And CNS Im- ports is planning extensive promotions around the 2018 Chi- nese New Year celebrations. "Thanks to our marketing, social media and seminars, baijiu is becoming better understood in the U.S.," he says. BD THOMAS HENRY STRENK is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant indus- tries. In his small apartment-turned-alchemist-den, he homebrews beer kombucha, and concocts his own bitters and infusions.

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