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April 20, 2013

Taking the focus from being liked to being used
By Francine Cohen

Pinas in oven tight shot

The other night I found myself at the bar at Employees Only. The purpose was tri-fold; I needed to taste the entire range of spirits from the newly launched 86 Company as a story about them was pending, I hadn’t seen Dev Johnson in far too long and a semi-proper catch up was in order, and my aunt was visiting from out of town and it had been even longer since I’d seen her and had any sort of quality conversation that wasn’t overshadowed by the entire family sitting around a Thanksgiving dinner table and engaged in less intimate chatter.

So, at 6:00 PM on the nose we entered the hushed tones of EO ( Having been there myriad times, but only one other when it was this empty, it was a whole other place but one that I imagined filled with people. People coming from after work around the corner with their friends in accounting, neighbors popping in on their way home, and the expected industry folks paying homage to the bar for reasons as varied as just wanting a good cocktail to hoping to ply their wares and/or support an account.

In the quiet of the first hour my aunt and I were able to catch up, Dev and I reminisced a bit, and Vincent Vitek made us laugh. Suddenly, right next to me sat three Mexican gentlemen. There why? To pay homage to the institution known as EO and graciously introduce their line of mezcals. Interesting fellows, all, and, as happens in bars, our two parties melded and we five fell into conversation and discovered we had a lot to talk about that went well beyond the booze business (which is refreshing); and, of course, their Wahaka mezcal came out for me to taste (

Far different from the mezcal I usually order, both the ones I tasted last night opened up a whole new appreciation for a different kind of terroir association. The first immediately hit me as having a mustiness to it; as if the smoke flavor that generally gets imparted during production had been muffled by cotton wool. Not offensive, just that that was my gut reaction. One person mentioned above found it oily, another liked it. The second mezcal I tried made me feel as if the spirit were very vertical. Not just a long finish, a descriptor which to me means it lingers and coats the inside of your cheeks, but actually as if there was a very directed column of mezcal running down the middle of my tongue and picking up those spicier flavor receptors along the way.

Interesting to discover later that the second mezcal was made from a wild agave which, unlike the Weber Blue with which we make tequila, the wild agave harvested for this mezcal was tall and had a trunk. Hence the vertical? Who knows! I certainly can’t claim to be an all knowing botanist who would have immediately recognized that the origins of this liquor came from a taller standing plant and that’s why it resonated “vertical”; I just think that’s how it made me feel and so that’s what came out of my mouth when asked.

When Dev asked what I thought about the mezcals my immediate and honest reaction was to say that there were elements of it I liked and elements of it I didn’t. I wasn’t jumping up and down and raving about how wonderful they were. It wasn’t that I DIDN’T enjoy them, but I wasn’t going to unequivocally give these spirits I’d just tasted a whole hearted two thumbs up and a big snap. But you know what? That’s okay.

I felt the same way about the vodka, gin, rum and tequila I tasted from the 86 Company’s line ( They make things I would drink on its own (thank you Cana Brava) and things I’d like to sip mixed into a cocktail. But that’s just my opinion; though it has some validity given that the 86 Co. designed their spirits for cocktails. The more I taste the more I believe that it’s not so important whether or not I “like” it. This is not a popularity test. For me, despite the fact that I don’t run a bar, it’s the application that is important. Remembering that each spirit can be a tool. And that you need lots of tools in your tool belt to build a house. One of them may be the 86 Company’s products, or you might reach for Wahaka mezcals. Some you may like to use, others you have no use for at all. Chefs like Rick Bayless ( and Jose Andres ( who both carry Wahaka in their restaurant bars understand this. So do Angelo Sosa and his bar manager Josh Wortman over at Anejo ( Like every ingredient they bring into the kitchen they understand that spirit doesn’t fit into every drink or every bar.

Appreciating how they can is what sets you apart from the pack who just wants to be “liked.”



February 13, 2013

What’s with this title?
By Francine Cohen

InsideF&B OpEd Header

This column was born out of journalistic frustration that reached a boiling point. This was after one too many press releases hit the old inbox touting holiday/special event themed cocktail recipes created by, as the publicist sending the release noted, “Master Mixologist insert name here created these signature cocktails for our brand.”

Master Mixologist? Huh? Is that “Master” title anything like the “Master Plumber” title appropriated by the guy in the tax prep company’s commercial who confuses the husband in his kitchen because the two guys first met a week before when the now “Master” plumber was doing the husband’s taxes? Well, not if you ask a Master Plumber. They actually have to have years of apprenticeship and training to call themselves that.

So, back to wetting your pipes, instead of clearing them; we want to know, what the heck does that “Master Mixologist” title mean and who conferred it? Aside from the USBG – which we’ll come back to in a moment – its not as if there are numerous accredited graduate degree programs at universities, the traditional US standard bearers for educational degrees with their alphabet soup shorthand (e.g. BA, BS, MA, PhD, etc.), conferring a Master Mixologist title.

The wine world has such an accepted body; the Court of Master Sommeliers which, through its reputedly rigororous training, names a limited number of skilled wine professionals as “Master Sommelier.”

But where oh where does one go to study and attain this title when they’ve spent their career behind the bar? The USBG offers spirits testing that upon successful completion confers an earned title of “Master.” Livio Lauro, President of the USBG’s MA program, notes, “The program launched in 2009 and we currently have 118 spirits professionals (level 1), 7 advanced bartenders (level 2) and will start our first round of USBG master mixologists in the second half of 2013. This exam will be open to our current 7 advanced bartenders plus any new advanced bartenders that may graduate between now and then.”

Needless to say, none of their names have ever been referenced in these press releases we’ve received. So it leads to the question of why bartenders are being touted as “Master Mixologists” and whether we allow the perpetrators of this title (I.e. PR teams who present it and the media who accept and repeat it) to continue fooling their readers with it.

Let’s take a stand for the sanctity of bartending and marketing and professionalism and demand Continue Reading…



September 13, 2012

Announcing the Finalists of the First-Ever Louis Royer “Show Me the Proof!” High Proof Cognac Cocktail Competition

Hanna Lee Communications, an award-winning agency specialized in spirits, food, wine, and lifestyle PR and event management, announced the 12 finalists of the first annual “Show Me the Proof!” High Proof Cognac Cocktail Competition for professional bartenders and mixologists. The competition, hosted by Hanna Lee Communications and the first of its kind, spotlights the seasonal mixability of Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac, one of the highest proof Cognacs in the U.S. market today.

Exemplifying the current trend of over-proof spirits achieving popularity, more than 100 recipes celebrating the four seasons were received via from bartenders and mixologists from across the U.S.

The 12 finalists include: Brad Farran (Clover Club/Death & Co.,
NYC); Claire Sprouse (Rickhouse, San Francisco); Franky Marshall (The Tippler/Monkey Bar, NYC); Ivan Radulovic, (Macao Trading Co., NYC); Jeff Bell (PDT, NYC); Joe Campanale (Anfora/dell’Anima/L’Artusi, NYC); Liz Pearce (The Drawing Room, Chicago); Lynnette Marrero (Astor Room, NYC); Pam Wiznitzer (L’oubli/The Dead Rabbit, NYC); Sother Teague (Amor y Amargo/Booker & Dax, NYC); Theo Lieberman (Lantern’s Keep/Milk and Honey, NYC); and, Tim Cooper (GoldBar, NYC).

The competition will culminate on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, when the finalists will each Continue Reading…



August 31, 2012

By Francine Cohen

When the local drug store chain starts stocking multiple flavors of packaged beverages that turn into instant cocktails once you freeze them it is hard not to take notice. As a spirits industry professional you both want to applaud the fact that cocktails have gone mainstream to the extent they’re shelved next to the shampoo, and shudder as you wonder who, if anyone, is helping these drinkers educate their palates. Certainly not the cashiers.

While the drugstore cashier may not be any help in terms of putting great spirits in front of shoppers our pop culture mediums are doing their part; in the last few months, on USA Network alone, the nod to drinking well has been extensive. ( First there was the very evident bottle of scotch sitting in Marshall Pitman’s office during a tense scene in Necessary Roughness and then there was White Collar FBI agent Peter Burke submitting to bartender training so he could go undercover (best line:”Neal, do we have bitters?”). And of course there’s the very prominent focus on a DonQ ( bottle during the Seth McFarland silver screen hit Ted. And let’s not forget about Sheldon “accidentally” imbibing a Cuba Libre in Big Bang Theory and banging out an enthusiastic rendition of “L’Chaim” from Fiddler on the Roof.

All of this leads one to believe that Americans care more and more about beverages to the point that it’s practically become the new pastime. But, just as a true baseball fan had someone explain the rules of the game to them so the nuances made sense, so too do the new breed of drinkers need some guidance.

Enter the drink sherpas; those editorial sites and apps that dispense wet wisdom while celebrating the rising tide of drinkdom.

Ian Stanczyk, co-founder of the OnTheBar app (, comments on the rising interest in drinking and how it follows patterns the hospitality industry has seen before, “The drinking is following along the whole celebrity chef movement that started 15 years ago and now has gotten so mainstream. What happened in fine dining is what’s happening with fine drinking.”

A great thing for the spirits industry no doubt, and those who demystify it. Outlets like Hooch Life (, Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards winner (, OnTheBar, and ShakeStir ( exist to guide imbibers through enjoyable (and responsible) alcohol enjoyment; and they do it well. Creating hope for better drinking (and spirited learning) everywhere. Editor-in-Chief Noah Rothbaum is an industry veteran who has seen a significant change in consumer understanding and appreciation of alcohol over the years. Accordingly, he designs his content so that the site is the best educational tool it can be as it presents spirited knowledge for the youngest drinkers and oldest bartenders alike. handily spans the breadth of audience because they understand their readers’ needs and expectations. He explains, “We live in an age where people are no longer satisfied with just showing up at a restaurant or bar without doing prior research. Part of the eating and dcrinking experience is not just about going out. People derive a lot of joy in planning their outing. Everyone is trying to find the perfect restaurant or bar and now, with the resources on the internet, you can find something about the menu, the bartender, the chef, their feelings about cooking and mixology and what spirits they like to use. People are walking into a restaurant and bar with arguably more information than they’ve had before. It has gone far beyond eating and drinking for sustaining reasons. It transcends food, it’s entertainment. They aren’t just looking for a drink – they are looking for an experience.”

He continues, “That’s where we come in, trying to provide our readers and professional and home bartenders tips from the world’s best bartenders that are helpful to anyone of any skill level, sussing out trends, bar news that is both interesting and useful for them.”

When began they were pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness. Rothbaum remarks, “There was a void in the world for a place where people could get stories written by the best spirits writers and top mixologists. A place where they could also get great cocktail recipes in one place. That information you could find in different places piecemeal. To bring it together was something the people needed. The type of resource that as they get more sophisticated they need and they want.”

Reaching the increasingly interested drinker was an impetus for Hooch Life coming online. The site aims to provide engaging drinker edification that results in smart and informed choices. Marshall Altier, a founding partner and Senior Contributing Editor, comments, “I really like the concept of empowering the consumers by giving them an insider track into the opinions of insider pros. This goes back to what we did with How to Booze (his book); it was about demystifying the process and showing that you can do it at home.”

He continues to explain Hooch Life’s approach, “It’s intended to be smart and lifestyle driven. With [articles and input from] an elite network of people throughout the country offering opinions of where to go readers can tap into the mind of the professional bartender. We’re sort of offering people the chance to learn if they want to but not spending their entire day researching a topic. We want it to be a quick read but to make you feel like you’ve learned something and then feel empowered to go to the bar and learn more.”

While Hooch Life is inspiring readers to visit bars for more education and a good drink, the popular app OnTheBar is helping them decide just which one to choose; based on who is working that night.

This is proving to be beneficial to bars, bartenders and brands. Stanczyk explains, “The app is building loyalty with regulars, giving them means to keep track of their favorite bartenders. The more people who come in to see a specific bartender that’ll mean more tips. On the brand side the app gets itself in between two purchasing decisions: 1) ‘Where am I going to go? 2) Now I know where I’m going to go, now what am I going to drink?’ We see ourselves uniquely positioned to influence that.”

The brands definitely see the value in supporting an app that drives decision making in a closely targetted way. Scott Goldman, President Combier USA (, embraces the technology that provides real opportunities to influence consumers and move product. He says, “The spirits industry has always been an old man’s industry and is coming to the point where it’s coming into the 21st century. With advertising and PR I’m finding it’s more effective to do something online versus hiring models in short skirts to walk around with shot glass. There are more effective ways to reach your target audience. You could go into a bar to hire people to do a shot program but there’s a good chance that half the people in the bar wouldn’t be interested in your product. When you go online you can customize your audience.”

The audience to be influenced straddles both sides of the bar so it’s a good thing technology has caught up. On the trade side the result of harnessing this technology is strong community and business building. Goldman shares the thinking behind ShakeStir, “We’re setting up a community to share ideas and talk with one another. To advance the careers of bartenders and the industry in general by that sharing of ideas.”

He continues with an example, “What if I’m in Minneapolis? If I’m in Minneapolis I can get an idea of what’s going on in the rest of the country. These bartenders sometimes needed to wait for another issue of a magazine to come out to see what they’re doing across the country. Someone in Madison doesn’t need to wait for the next issue to come out to be inspired with a new cocktail idea – they can be inspired instantly by getting on ShakeStir.”

Stanczyk is inspired to learn his app is a useful business building tool. He notes, “Inspiring guests to visit a particular bar is the business building tool that OnTheBar provides to bars, restaurants, and bartenders. Anecdotal evidence comes from bartenders who use the app telling me about instances in which a customers come in for a drink when they normally wouldn’t because they received a notification that so and so bartender was on the bar.” Don’t believe Stanczyk? It’s true. Proof comes from
Rob Cryan, bartender at Osteria Morini ( in NYC who says, “A guest came in and told me she had just been walking by the restaurant when she got the notification I was on the bar. So she turned around and came in for a drink and a bite to eat. As she said, ‘I’m here. Why not?!’”

Cryan isn’t the only bartender who has harnessed the power of this app to build his business and inspire America to drink better. Michael Ray, the beverage manager and a bartender at Forum in Boston (, says, “I think these guys have designed a marketing tool that will explode in the near future. I have taken to the viral self marketing of social networks. It is the best free way to get my name and the place I work at and for out there in the public eye and what I consider my market socially and business wise. OnTheBar allows me to check in when I get to work and email notify my followers ( guests I hope and not stalkers) and it also links to my FB and twitter accounts so any and all know that I am at work. I would say that as the spectrum of local users grow and the people who pay attention to tweets and Facebook. It works.

I would say at least twice a week someone or a group of someones come in and say ‘I saw you were on the bar and came to say hi and have a cocktail.’ I love seeing who is on so I can do the same when I’m out.”

Out and about or in for the evening, there are now myriad opportunities to learn how and why to drink better and do more business. While these apps and sites are not necessarily a formalized cocktail college (though that sure sounds like fun) they are on the forefront of making sure America drinks better. Better than you’d guess when considering that people can easily spend minutes standing under the fluorescent lights debating which daiquiri flavor to throw in their basket along with the conditioner.