What We’re Reading: Irish Whiskey in the New York Times and more

March 12th, 2012 — 5:36pm

Sod Off, Scotch – New York Times
Irish Whiskey, an Unfussy, Constant Companion

Twenty years ago, I was an undergrad smitten with Joyce, Wilde and Yeats. My plan was to spend that summer in Dublin studying Irish literature — and falling in love with a cozy, back-street pub, where I’d settle in every evening to drink a few pints and tinker with the terrible poems in my notebook. Maybe I’d meet a real Irish poet and fall for him too. It was an eventful summer. I met my poet at the pub I dreamed about, where I quickly acquired a taste for Irish whiskey.

The Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day – Liquor.com

While the jury is still out on the powers of four-leaf clovers and the existence of leprechauns, we can assure you that the rebirth of Irish whiskey is very real. Over the last decade, the Emerald Isle’s distillers have flourished, and Americans have rekindled their love affair with the quaffable spirit. We suggest you pick up these new bottlings for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Sláinte!

New Rum Makes a Splash – Wall Street Journal

Late last week, Rande Gerber, the night-life impresario perhaps better known as Cindy Crawford’s husband, introduced his first alcohol, an aged white rum called Caliche, with a party at the Stone Rose at the Sofitel in Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio, Gerard Butler and Wayne Gretzky came to toast Mr. Gerber’s latest endeavor.

Mr. Gerber said the product, made with Roberto Serralles, whose family owns a distillery in Puerto Rico, has been six years in the making. “I wasn’t in a rush,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist.” Designing the bottle took three years alone, he explained. “It’s a really unique taste that is super smooth,” said Mr. Gerber. “It’s got hints of oak, caramel and vanilla.”

Caliche is almost like a limestone or sediment rock, Mr. Gerber added. “The real meaning of caliche is ‘foundation,’” he said. “But I wanted everyone to call it ‘Cali,’ to order a ‘Cali on the Rocks’ or a ‘Cali and Coke.’”

The rum will start hitting shelves in the next few weeks. Mr. Gerber and his good friend George Clooney also plan to bring to market a tequila they’ve been drinking for the last few years. That will be called Casamigos, named after the homes they own in Mexico. Messrs. Clooney and Gerber hope to keep the tequila (and the rum) at a reasonable price point. “I don’t think we’re going to be following all the rules,” Mr. Gerber said of his endeavors. “We know we have a product we love and we drink, and other people will enjoy. The product speaks for itself.”

Diageo Bets on China’s Homegrown Baijiu – Wall Street Journal

No matter where you are in the world, drinks conglomerate Diageo hopes that when you take your next celebratory shot, you’ll skip the tequila or scotch and order the baijiu instead. Diageo, which owns Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whiskey, thinks that its newest brand, Shui Jing Fang baijiu, can conquer the globe just like some of its other famous brands have in the past. “White liquor” in Chinese, baijiu is a strong, clear-colored spirit distilled from grains including sorghum and rice.

“This is a brand with a lot of potential,” said Gilbert Ghostine, the Singapore-based chief executive for the Asia-Pacific region at Diageo.

The company took control of the traditional baijiu brand – upping its stake to 53% from 49% — last year and has since launched it in select markets around the world. Currently selling in seven countries and 40 airports, Shiu Jing Fang is the first baijiu brand in Diageo’s portfolio.

“We’re starting to take it internationally,” said Mr. Ghostine. Sales outside of China increased 68% in the past year, he added, though he admitted that the figure started from a low base.

Whether the world’s non-Chinese drinkers will take to baijiu is another question. To many who are not familiar with the drink, baijiu is an acquired taste: it has strong aromas, a powerful flavor and a signature burn thanks to its more than 50% alcohol content.

While the company hasn’t created a program of cocktails to introduce the liquor to the uninitiated, it has started introducing it in the way that Chinese people are most likely to drink it: over a multi-course Chinese banquet meal. He said the company has so far focused its international promotions on airport duty-free stores and high-end Chinese restaurants.

Meanwhile, in China, Diageo will have to convince drinkers that Shui Jing Fang is the tipple of choice. According to a 2011 survey of China’s luxury consumers conducted by Hurun Report, Moutai ranked No. 1 as the preferred baijiu brand, with Wuliangye coming in second. Shui Jing Fang didn’t appear among the top five.

So, if not baijiu, what does Diageo sell a lot of in China?

Whiskey, thanks to its Johnnie Walker label, according to Mr. Ghostine. He said that he hopes to expand market share – Johnnie Walker products already make up 36% of all whiskey sold in China – especially in what he calls the “super luxury” categories.

Last year in Shanghai, the company opened its first Johnnie Walker House, a members-only clubhouse mansion, as part of its bid to promote whiskey — and the brand — as an aspirational drink among young, wealthy Chinese. Its marketing efforts seem to be paying off: Last quarter, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which sells for 1,400 yuan (US$222) per bottle, grew 52%, making it the sixth consecutive quarter of growth that exceeded 40%.

“There’s more interest in whiskey in China than in the U.S. right now, and the consumers are both female and male,” he said.