Dispatch from WSWA

Skeleto tequila, photo by Amanda Schuster
Skeleto tequila, photo by Amanda Schuster

You know you’re deep into adulthood when the sole reason for a trip to Orlando, Florida is about a drinks convention that’s miles away from the Magic Kingdom.

The week of April 12th, more than 2,300 suppliers, brands, consultants, writers and bartenders gathered for the 72nd Annual Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association (WSWA) Convention, held in the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes hotels.

The purpose of the convention is to showcase old and new brands from around the world, mix up some drinks with them at cocktail competitions (this year executive directed by Tony Abou-Ganim, founder of Modern Mixologist) and hold seminars discussing drink and industry trends, as well as award individual products submitted to the wine and spirits competitions.

Seminar topics included:

 

Wines of Navarra at WSWA, photo by Amanda Schuster
Wines of Navarra at WSWA, photo by Amanda Schuster
  • “Everything You Need to Know about Marijuana Legalization,” about what widespread marijuana legalization will mean to the beverage alcohol and consumer products markets, led by Dan Anglin, Managing Partner of EdiPure; Michael Brown, Director of the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Rick Garza, Administrative Director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board; and moderator Tyler Hensen, President of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.
  • ”How to Succeed in the U.S. Wine & Spirits Distribution System” with Raj Bhakta, Founder and CEO of WhistlePig Rye Whiskey; Tom Maas, Founder and Master Blender for RumChata; Stan Hastings, CEO of Moon Distributors; Ryan Moses, Executive Vice President of Best Brands Inc.; and moderator Craig Wolf, President and CEO of WSWA.
  • Closing session was “Trends in Wine & Spirits,” a panel discussion with Camper English of Alcademics; Piotr Poznanski, President of International Wine & Spirits Research; and Alyssa J. Rapp, Founder and CEO of Bottlenotes; moderated by Abou-Ganim.

As a spectator, it’s exciting to see such a broad spectrum of brands showcased, and goes to show just how relatively insular the drinks scene is in a place like New York City, where this publication is based. It’s a wild, wide world of beverages out there!

Pink Limoncello by LiDestri Spirits, photo ctsy Caren West PR
Pink Limoncello by LiDestri Spirits, photo ctsy Caren West PR

The most dominant trend seemed to be about packaging, and now that we’re over all those shades of grey, brands are definitely seeing pink! This is not only because dry rosé wine, sparkling wine and vermouth have become more popular, but because it seems women have been identified as a challenging demographic. Targeting genders is nothing new, however, it seems that with every modern advance in gender equality from a political standpoint, gender specific products tend to lack a positive and strong message. They're often manifested with the preconceived notion that women who don’t drink a category of spirit already, like Cognac, will only do so if it comes in a pink bottle (often one that’s “bedazzled”) with pink liquid. Because nothing appeals to women like a brand that takes a product steeped in centuries of tradition and finesse… and dying it pink, right?

The good news is, some brands took this concept to another level and presented tasteful (in every sense) new products that just happen to be pink, in the rosé sense of the word. The best example of this was Pink Limoncello from LiDestri Spirits, which comes in a fetching retro bottle design with a clever, tongue-in-cheek “interruptive marketing campaign” featuring bartender Mandy Lauderdale. The product tastes like pink lemonade in liqueur form - one that’s not too sweet and very refreshing on the rocks or as a cocktail mixer.

While I tasted many other products of excellent quality and revisited some old favorites, another standout for me was the portfolio of spirits by newcomer St. Petersburg Distillery. At the moment they have eight vastly different products available (vodka, gin, whiskey, three types of rum, orange liqueur and mead), and this can often signal a lack of focus. However, I tasted each product and they were all very elegantly made. I particularly enjoyed the Old St. Pete Gin and Tippler's Orange Liqueur, both of which get a tangy zing from local Florida oranges, and was surprised at how much I gravitated toward the coconut rum! The package design is also rather fetching.

The days were long and the sips were many, but it was a fun and exciting time! Special thanks to WSWA for inviting Alcohol Professor to drink everything in with them in Orlando. Cheers!