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DoorDash announced it is changing to a tiered pricing system for restaurants that allows them to pick from three plans with different commission levels. The company is also lowering pickup commission rates and making changes to Storefront, its ecommerce store product for restaurants. As restaurants emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, fees like this will continue to have a strong impact on their survival.

Changes to Commissions

The new pricing structure for the DoorDash app has three plans that set commissions at 15%, 25% or 30% of an order. Pickup commissions are set to 6%. However, DoorDash’s Storefront is commission-free except for payment processing fees, but it requires restaurants to turn their websites into ecommerce stores.

“Our new Partnership Plans for restaurants will support local businesses by providing choice and flexibility to meet their individual needs. We know a one size fits all option doesn’t work and we encourage restaurants to identify which plan best fits their business,” said Kevin Huang, VP of merchant strategy and operations at DoorDash.

One positive aspect of the changes is better transparency for restaurants. In the past, commission rates varied, and restaurants did not have the ability to choose them. Many were not able to negotiate the rates in their favor.  

Survival After the Pandemic

Since DoorDash is available in 4,000 cities and all 50 states, these pricing changes will have a significant impact on local restaurants. The company controls about half of the meal delivery market in the U.S. The coronavirus pandemic played a major role in the increase of food delivery as customers were stuck at home and not able to eat out.

However, restaurants are now emerging from a world of lockdowns and quarantines caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They are faced with options that could affect customer loyalty and the long-term success of their businesses. For example, those who choose the DoorDash Premier plan will have to pay 30% in commissions, but customers will have the lowest fees. Should they select lower commission rates or consider consumers’ fees?

Another question that restaurants face is the potential impact of warmer weather and fewer restrictions on going out. Will consumers change their food delivery habits, or have they become reliant on the convenience of ordering food from an app?

“As we approach the summer months where consumers will be looking for grab-and-go options, we hope that merchants will see increased profits with reduced pickup rates,” said Huang.

Ultimately, food delivery puts the burden of fees on either the restaurant or the customer. Although there are some models that allow them to share the costs, there are no ideal situations. DoorDash’s revenue will not suffer from the new pricing structure, but it will be interesting to see how restaurants are affected.

It seemed like a ready China business-book hit: Juan Antonio Fernandez and Laurie Underwood, two business professors in China, last year updated their successful book from 2006 “China CEO” with a new look at how foreign companies have been faring in the country’s fast-growing economy. “China CEO II” highlights hiring, digitalization and consumer power through interviews with 25 leading multinationals including leaders from McKinsey, Microsoft, Bayer and Coca-Cola.  

Then Covid upended business globally. GDP contracted, work-from-home has become a global normal, Zoom meetings have been adopted by millions, and transportation has become disrupted. Hundreds of thousands have died, variants are still wreaking havoc from India to Brazil, and geopolitical tension has increased globally.

China’s economy has been something of an outlier. Business rebounded earlier than elsewhere owing to effective early control of the pandemic.  The country enjoyed 18% year-on-year growth in GDP in the first quarter, and IPOs from the country’s businesses have been snapped up globally.  

What’s ahead for multinational companies in China? To learn more, I exchanged in April with the two “China CEO II” authors.  Fernandez is a leadership professor at the China Europe International School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, and Underwood is a senior consultant at Sino Associates and adjunct professor with the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, an international business school in Suzhou. The two have an audiobook version of “China CEO II” coming out in June. Excerpts follow.

Flannery: How has the business outlook for foreign companies changed in China since your book was published a year ago? What’s the impact of Covid-19 for foreign companies, and how are they adapting?

Underwood: Because China passed through the pandemic much more quickly than most of the rest of the world, the impact on businesses here has been vastly different. Generally speaking, foreign companies in China went from the initial disruption into a ‘new normal’ faster and more efficiently than counterparts outside China.

The new normal for MNCs in China post-Covid varies mainly based on industry. As in other countries, China’s e-commerce and delivery models flourished during lockdowns and then just continued booming. Covid fueled already strong ecommerce platforms and gave rise to new ones which identified underserved consumer segments. This helped retail and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) players who had already embraced digitization – especially those expanding into tier two and three cities, where consumer power is growing fast. MNCs which follow China’s massive e-commerce shopping days (11-11 and 6-18) and leverage trends such as livestreamed ecommerce using Chinese KOL ‘super sellers’ are flourishing. L’Oreal is an example of MNCs fully mastering China’s unique e-commerce ecosystem.

On the other hand, for MNCs that view China as one piece in their global supply chain and primarily consider China as a manufacturing site, Covid has caused more uncertainty. The pandemic, as well as poor trade relations with the U.S., has disrupted logistics and complicated customs and deliveries. Post-Covid, many international manufacturers in China who previously sourced internationally are now sourcing more from within itself China to reduce uncertainties.

Fernandez: China went into the pandemic with stronger economic growth than nearly any other nation, then quickly came out of the pandemic to see rebounding economic growth. Thus, China-based MNCs with a business strategy focused more on China have rebounded fastest. Both finance and technology came out stronger after the crisis, with growth of 6% and 13%, respectively. For the service sector, any MNCs in China focused on travel, hospitality or education all suffered the most.

Generally speaking, before Covid, many MNCs were racing to embrace and take part in China’s digitization. This trend has only increased in speed and scale post-pandemic. Foreign companies which were highly digitalized have had a milder impact from Covid.

Flannery: In the book, you note gains behind made by women in the C-suite over the years in China. Do you expect that to continue in the future? 

Underwood: The increase in women in C-suite positions is probably unstoppable in China at this point. The increase in female CEOs heading MNCs in China was one of the most encouraging trends we saw in the release of our new book in 2020 compared with the original book published in 2006. Women CEO interviewees were among the most impressive top executives in the book.

Turning back to the impact of Covid, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the professional advancement of women worldwide because women have disproportionately borne the brunt of family burdens caused by school closures as well as more often facing job cutbacks or loss. This situation has been less serious in China, but one area still lacking is the enforcement of protections for pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, as well as equal pay for equal work.

Fernandez: While none of the 20 China CEOs interviewed in our first book were women, the China CEOs of IKEA, Bayer, Manulife-Sinochem and Standard Chartered – all women – were interviewed for the second. Today, the top executives for China at Apple, McDonalds and Starbucks are also women. This is a trend that will surely continue. In addition, today’s China also offers women opportunities in entrepreneurship. The digital revolution has made launching e-commerce businesses accessible for many women. Finally, we see very encouraging trends toward more women joining MBA, EMBA and GEMBA programs in China. In many cases, the ratio of women to men in Chinese business school programs is now close to 50-50.

Flannery: You mention in the book that great potential for businesses can be found in China’s less developed regions. To what extent has Covid fallout in China’s economy affected that outlook for the next few years?

Underwood: China’s less developed regions offer vast potential to MNCs and are generally booming across many industries now. Evidence of this can be seen in the meteoric rise of the e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, which launched in 2017 and now – amazingly — rivals Alibaba in revenue. Pinduoduo smartly targeted two consumer segments which were overlooked by Alibaba and JD.com – China’s elderly and consumer’s in less developed cities. The strategy has clearly worked.

Fernandez: When you travel in China today, you see the relentless and very rapid growth and development of the developing regions. One of the biggest drivers has been the central government’s support for eliminating poverty and supporting infrastructure modernization such as the rapid spread of the world’s best high-speed train network. Another factor: while Chinese are not traveling abroad due to Covid, they are traveling within China. Domestic travel is booming, creating vast opportunities for savvy MNCs.  

Flannery: To what extend will the global push for net zero carbon create opportunities for foreign businesses? 

Juan: MNCs in China are definitely taking the new net-zero deadline seriously. One example: Apple in China has already nearly reached the level of zero emissions. For MNCs, achieving net-zero is not just about money but also improved reputation and helps to attract top talent to their organization. Many MNCs are taking the lead in purpose-driven strategies, which serves to attract young Chinese who seek to make a difference with their careers. In today’s China, fewer young professionals are attracted to manufacturing; more gravitate toward the booming digital sector.

@rflannerychina

More and more drinkers are switching up their consumption patterns, be it full-on teetotalling or taking more breaks from boozy nights. 

This shift in consumer behavior has fueled massive growth in the low- and no-alcohol categories, beckoning in new brands and drumming up exciting category innovation. Beverage analysis firm IWSR expects the category to increase 31% by 2024.

The IWSR just released a report assessing the performance of both categories in ten key markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, UK and US). Collectively, those countries make up 75% of the global consumption of no- and low-alcohol beverages, according to IWSR data.

Overall, no-alcohol is outpacing the low-alcohol segment. In these ten key markets, the no-alcohol category increased +4.5% over 2019 and 2020, while the low-ABV segment declined -5.5%. IWSR cites the decline is caused by the poor performance of low-alcohol beer in Western Europe.

IWSR defines non-alcoholic beer, cider, wine, spirits, RTDs and alcohol replacements as products that contain less than 0.5% ABV. Low-alcohol beers and ciders contain between 0.5% ABV and 3.5% ABV, while low-alcohol wines check-in under 7.5% ABV.

Though both categories are driven by overarching health and wellness trends, the no-alcohol category is showing more impressive growth globally. The IWSR’s findings note consumers are largely looking to take an entire break from alcohol, switching between regular drinking nights with full-strength alcohol and ‘nights off,’ where they opt for non-alcoholic options.

“Consumers are able to moderate their alcohol intake by enjoying sophisticated products while still having the occasional full-strength drink. Moreover, consumers who choose to abstain from alcohol, or moderate their alcohol consumption, are still able to remain part of the drinking occasion,” remarks Sophia Shaw-Brown, senior insights manager at IWSR.

When it comes to low-alcohol propositions, consumers seem confused; unsure of how to serve low-alcohol spirits or wary about how many drinks they can consume before, say, operating a motor vehicle. They’re largely lacking that educational outreach and experience.

“Consumers don’t necessarily know that an alcoholic spirit brand normally sits at 30-40% ABV, so they don’t always know what a 20% ABV spirit means for a gin brand, or how a 20% ABV spirit might relate to a 5% ABV wine or a 1% ABV beer,” explains Shaw-Brown. 

Diageo-backed Distill Ventures noted similar feedback in a report released in January, finding that without the educational teachings of bars and events, the sober-curious are not being indoctrinated into the low-ABV world as quickly as in the pre-pandemic times. “As these brands become more visible and well established and the quality improves, there is a real opportunity for growth in low-alcohol,” describes Shaw-Brown.

Nonetheless, spirits giants are starting to offer lower-alcohol offerings of familiar favorites. Smirnoff, Ballantine’s and Beefeater all sell lower-ABV alternatives to their flagship bottles. 

It’s not just the Dry January partakers, the sober or the designated drivers that are reaching for no- and low-alcohol beverages: it’s a new slate of health-minded millennials. According to IWSR consumer research, 58% of no- and low-alcohol consumers report they still drink but in moderation. 58% of consumers are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than last year while 61% of consumers want better choices when it comes to NA drinks.

So why aren’t these health-conscious drinkers opting for low-alcohol beverages?

Shaw-Brown points out that much of the confusion is because low-alcohol brands focus on health rather than moderation. “Brands in the low-alcohol space tend to have a healthier, ‘better for you’ premise, rather than being completely about moderation,” explains Shaw-Brown. Low-alcohol brands that target consumers looking for that moderation have the opportunity to recapture attention.

While the no-alcohol segment is performing strongly overall, individual markets are interacting with both categories differently. American consumers prefer low-ABV products over no-alcohol proxies. Specifically, low-alcohol wine has captured 86.8% of market share compared to its no-alcohol counterpoint. The ‘clean’ wine trend, one that originated in the US, is fueling this performance.

On the flip side, the UK heavily favors no-alcohol spirits. The market share of low- and no-spirits in Australia and Germany is evenly split. 

One promising new avenue for the no- and low-alcohol segments? RTDs. 

Non-alcoholic beer has been around for ages, but non-alcoholic canned cocktails have been slow to grow. While it’s a small segment of the RTD sector, the category shows promise, particularly as the NA shift and hard seltzer crazes algin.

Of the 10 key markets studied, the US is the low-alcohol RTD market leader, with low-alcohol RTDs making up approximately 70% of the country’s no/low RTD segment.

With major brand funneling money into both the RTD and the NA category (Canadian-owned non-alcoholic brewery Partake drummed up $4 million in funding while CleanCo secured $12 million. Diageo recently acquired a minority stake in Ritual Zero Proof), it will be exciting to see what the next year of releases brings.

A few minutes outside the city of Playa del Carmen, in the Caribbean coast on Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort is a haven for food enthusiasts with an ongoing commitment to showcasing Mexican cuisine, culture and traditions. Their latest offering is a cocktail program based on the Maya Zodiac, a mixology festival featuring ancestral local ingredients and spirits from all corners of Mexico.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya bar manager Cecilia Sierra and her team came up with the playful idea to create delicious, visually appealing cocktails that reflect the Maya cosmogony.  “Today’s travelers are seeking out new experiences to immerse themselves in the culture of an environment,” says the talented young mixologist. “They are looking for Instagrammable activities, innovative tastings, learning opportunities and presentation of food and beverages in innovative ways, among other things.”

“Our goal at Grand Velas Riviera Maya has always been to break the mold of expected, traditional food and beverage, continuously going outside of the box to create new, exciting experiences for our well-traveled and culinary-driven guests,” says Sierra. “Wherever possible, these are inspired by Mexican history, culture and traditions, which impart a rich sense of place.”

The Grand Velas Riviera Maya is a AAA Five Diamond all-inclusive, named #12 luxury resort in Mexico in TripAdvisor’s 2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards. It’s centerpiece restaurant Cocina De Autor, a concept from famed chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso, was named one of the “100 Best New Food & Drink Experiences” in the entire world by Food & Wine in 2010, and is the only AAA Five Diamond Restaurant in an all-inclusive resort.

Some of the resort’s unique foodcentric experiences have included a gourmet cenote experience that took guests 60 ft. underground for lunch in one of the destination’s relatively undiscovered cenotes. Pre-pandemic, guests could also tour the kitchens of some of the property’s six restaurants and even take cooking classes with their award-winning chefs, which the team hopes to offer again when it’s safe.

“From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to design a program that both preserved and honored the values and traditions of Mexico’s ancestral spirits and gastronomy, which is why I sourced the ingredients for the cocktails from all over the country,” says Sierra.

Sierra received a Bachelors’ degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Universidad Del Valle de México in Tampico, Tamaulipas in 2016. Upon graduation she traveled to the Riviera Maya, where she began her career at Grand Velas Riviera Maya as hostess. Her curiosity, discipline and perseverance led her to further learning in the food and beverage area for a year and a half, during which she found a passion for creating beverages.

Her efforts paid off recently as she achieved her current position as bars supervisor for the entire resort, encouraging her team to offer new experiences for their guests. In 2019, her team launched an ancestral drink tasting featuring bacanora, sotol, tuxca and pox.

“These are relatively unknown Mexican spirits to many travelers, and [the program] was very well received. Guests learned how these [spirits] came about, how they are being reinvented and reintroduced with cocktail recipes. Now, the Maya cocktails are the next iteration.”

The cocktails are inspired by a modern-day zodiac which is loosely based on the 13-month calendar developed by the ancient Maya. Each month is represented by a regional animal, whose characteristics are meant to reflect the personality of the people born under each sign. Sierra and her team chose ingredients and combinations that also mirror these characteristics.

For example Kutz – meaning turkey in Yucatec Maya and interpreted in the zodiac as a peacock – rules those born from November 15 to December 12. Peacocks “have a compelling need to excel; they are unique and must prove it all the time. They love to be the center of attention and climb to the top.”

The showy cocktail combines pox, rose syrup and agave nectar, presented in a martini glass adorned with colorful tropical fruit. Pox, a ceremonial spirit from the highlands of Chiapas, embodies the essence of corn in multiple colors that come together in a smooth and elegant liquid.

Balam, the jaguar, is a strong and mysterious combination of mezcal, coconut water, mint leaves and citrus, served in a clay cantarito frosted with Tajin and adorned with spicy liquor “caviar.” Ma’ax, the monkey, is a playful and tropical combination of raicilla (an agave spirit from Jalisco), Xtabentún, mango and lychee nectars. Xtabentún is a Maya liqueur made from honey from the native flower of the same name, which is a common element in Maya legends that have been passed down generation after generation.

These exotic cocktails are available to all guests at the Sky Bar overlooking the ocean, and will be prominently featured at Chaká, the resort’s Maya cuisine restaurant which is set to reopen soon. In the meantime, here is one you can make at home while you book your flights.

Ma’ax – Monkey

Playful and tropical like it’s namesake, this cocktail will transport you to the Caribbean shores.

1 oz. Xtabentún

1 oz. Raicilla

2 oz. mango nectar 

2 oz. lychee nectar 

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Serve in a glass with ice.

Decorate with a skewer of fresh mango, lychee and mint leaves.

“Did you know that Filipino slaves—the ones brought to Mexico by the Galleon Trade—taught Mexicans to distill?”

No. No, I did not.

That was how my first phone call with Rebecca Quiñonez, a longtime spirits educator, started. In that moment, I felt massive shame that I had zero clue that the agave spirits I enjoy today were in fact a product of a clandestine Mexican and Filipino collaboration while both nations were under hundreds of years of Spanish rule. The sharing of knowledge and skills were basically a show of brotherhood, if you will. After all, Mexico and the Philippines are colonial cousins.

“In fact, if you really want to take a deep dive, tequila was birthed out of colonialism because the Spanish-Mexicans owned the land they grew agave on,” Quiñonez explained further. “While mezcal is truly ancestral, because it’s made by the indigenous communities of Mexico, who own their own land and the agaves they cultivate in it.”

It was heady stuff to digest for sure. But it’s no secret that Quiñonez certainly knows much more than the usual spirits professional. And I’m glad she brought up all this historical information, while many others often hesitate to go that far back and shy away from inconvenient facts. In that sense, she’s fearless—talking about heritage, culture, and people without any of the usual marketing jargon. Instead, she used her 20-year career working in the spirits industry—15 of which was spent as a global brand ambassador for Diageo—shedding light and dispensing valuable intel that go way past what’s trending at any given time.

“My romance with agave and Aztec culture began as a teenager in the ’90s while growing up in Eastside San Jose, California—where I enrolled in Mexican and Aztec studies at local colleges to understand the history, language, and mythology,” Quiñonez says. “I’m a first-generation Nicaragüense and I was raised in a diverse and culturally rich community dominated by hard working Mexicanos from Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. My first experiences with tequila were mainly during celebratory and joyful occasions: family gatherings, weddings, and holidays. And the brands that resonated with my early years were Chinaco, Siete Leguas, and Tres Magueyes, because they had always represented quality and tradition.”

Today, Quiñones is still in the spirits industry, but she’s made the leap to become her own boss: She’s now the CEO and founder of her own boutique consulting firm, which specializes in global route-to-market strategies—focusing on agave-based beverages, cannabis, and the multi-cultural luxury world at large, where she works only on projects and clients she truly believes in.

“I can proudly say that I’ve had a unique front row seat into the world of tequila, not only within my own career and extensive travels throughout Mexico but through my mother’s as well,” Quiñonez says. “She ignited a new and early passion for the industry—as she was an amazing bartender and cocktail waitress for 25 years. I was learning about tequila, rum, Cognac, and fine Scotches from the age of 14, so my early love for history, culture, and hospitality created the perfect foundation to an illustrious path into the world of fine spirits.”

Here, Quiñonez listed some of her favorite tequilas and mezcals—many of which are not part of the “Big Boys” club she had previously worked with: Beyond that she’s also worked with the the “Big Boys” of tequila—Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Cazadores, and DeLeon. Instead, she wanted to highlight more offbeat distilleries than aren’t going to be in every single big box store or retailer. These picks are more artisanal in nature, and in its own way, truer to the way locals—not Americans—drink.

“The curated list is a tribute to the legacy, art, and craft of the unsung heroes in the industry: the agaveros, los jimadores, tequileros, and mezcaleros. For centuries they have honored a past that connects tradition, the magic of the land, and its people,” Quiñonez emphasizes. “The tequilas and mezcales that I selected are the finest representation of Mexican heritage, in my opinion…not only for their exceptional taste but in the manner with which they’re produced. All use mindful and sustainable cultivations practices. Several continue to use pre-Hispanic milling methods such as the tahona—an art and rarity in the 21st century. There’s the fractional aging of reposado and añejo tequilas; techniques seen in aging fine Sherry wines; and the hand selecting of the most mature agaves to deliver the most remarkable profiles, styles, and flavor combinations. And although Cinco de Mayo is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, it does represent the most important holiday for tequila and mezcal sales in the United States. I only hope that whatever agave-based spirit that you choose to celebrate with, you appreciate not only its great taste but its unique origins.”

The Best Tequilas and the Best Mezcals for Cinco de Mayo—and Beyond


EL TEQUILEÑO REPOSADO GRAN RESERVA ($56)

“El Tequileño Reposado Gran Reserva is a favorite among tequila drinkers, judges, and connoisseurs. El Tequileño, located in the heart of el Valle de Tequila with its 60-year-old tradition and legacy, has created one of the best-tasting reposado tequilas in the market,” Quiñonez says. “This blend of eight-month-old reposados and reserve 18-month añejos create absolute perfection from start to finish. Bold notes of vanilla, nuts, dried fruit and spice. I really enjoy sipping on this with a large cube of ice and great company.”


FORTALEZA STILL STRENGTH ($48)

“This expression comes from an incredible distillery with heritage, using tradition and artisanal methods with five generations of production and history,” Quiñonez says. “‘SS’ is a very special sipping-style blanco at 46% ABV. A must have for any tequila lover, it boasts of beautiful earthy notes combined with bright fruit and cooked ripe agave. I like to sip SS on the rocks or with tonic and a lemon peel.” 


TEQUILA OCHO SINGLE ESTATE LAS AGUILAS PLATA ($47)

“Terroir plays a vital role in tequila production, as it does in most fine spirits and winemaking—and the single estate grown agaves yield some of the sweetest piñas from the highland region,” says Quiñonez. “A wonderful bouquet of herbal, citrus, and floral aromas deliver balance and elegance with every sip. I really enjoy drinking this plata style on the rocks. You’ve got crisp notes of green apple, fresh herbs like basil, and yerba buena and sweet tropical fruit.”


CASCAHUÍN TAHONA BLANCO ($69)

“Cascahuin Tahona Blanco is a true display of harmony, ancestry, and balance,” Quiñonez says. “There are powerful notes of cooked agave, herbal, sweet fruit, and mineral essence. It’s my favorite tequila among the ‘tahona-style’ tequilas for its purity and elegance.” 


FUENTESECA EXTRA AÑEJO 7 YEAR ($214)

“I highly recommend that you record the day and time you taste this,” Quiñonez insists. “This is yet another masterpiece from destilería La Tequileña, where only the finest most mature agaves are able to make the cut. Their use of fractional aging, combined with the different styles of barrels used for maturation, such as French Limousin oak, American white oak, and wine casks deliver an exceptional liquid with an even more exceptional finish. Notes of cooked agave, dried fruit, spice and caramel offer a sensational añejo style for any agave connoisseur.”


DON FULANO BLANCO ($55)

“This expression, from destilería La Tequileña in the heart of el Valle de Tequila, only utilizes hand-selected estate-grown Highland agaves to produce Don Fulano Blanco, which provides exquisite beauty and elegance. Blanco tequilas—to be properly classified—are typically unaged. So to sample a six-month-aged tequila reinforces the bounty of the land and the maguey. The aging creates more delicate fruit, herb, and spice notes to deliver one of the best tasting blanco tequilas in the market.”


FORTALEZA BLANCO ($50)

“Fortaleza Blanco is another beauty from NOM 1493. You can pour Fortaleza Blanco in a mixed drink, neat, or on the rocks—and it will not disappoint,” Quiñonez says. “It’s all sophisticated and refined sweet notes—with hints of citrus, butter, and white pepper. Copper pot distilled, alongside the use of the traditional tahona milling method, adds mineral notes—making it a standout tequila for me.”


CASCAHUÍN REPOSADO ($56)

“This is a true beauty,” Quiñonez says. “This reposado is aged for six to eight months and it’s everything that you would want in a classic ‘valley-style’ reposado. Notes of cooked agave, honey, and vanilla produce depth and body with a silky rich finish. I prefer to sip on this reposado with orange wedges to enhance the spice and honey notes.”


EL TEQUILEÑO REPOSADO RARE ($200)

“El Tequileño Reposado Rare is absolutely unique, not only for its aging method—as they blend añejo tequilas that have been aged for over six years in a ‘pipon,’ which is a wooden oak tank that’s able to hold more than 23,000 liters of tequila—but for its depth of flavor and deep finish,” Quiñonez says. “With its elegant notes of dried fruit, ripe pineapple, honey and cooked agave, I recommend using a tequila glass or a champagne flute to truly take in the expression’s bold flavors and luxurious taste.”


TEQUILA OCHO CERRO GRANDE REPOSADO ($60)

“This is the perfect daytime drinking style reposado of the bunch! This reposado is rested for a little over eight weeks in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s got a rich fruit-forward nose with notes of honey cooked agave, tropical fruit, mango, and apricot—the perfect reposado to have neat or in my favorite cocktail, the Paloma.” 


LA GRITONA REPOSADO ($25)

“La Gritona reposado is such a special tequila from Distillery NOM 1533, not only for its great taste but for their standout master distiller, Melly Barajas,” Quiñonez says. “Only a small number of female master distillers produce tequila—and an even smaller number have an entirely female production team! La Gritona utilizes nine- to ten-year-old mature agave from the highlands region of Jalisco—so these agaves yield more sugar and tend to be sweeter and more aromatic. This reposado is incredible: so many exploding flavors such as cooked tropical fruit, honey, spice, hints of clove, and aniseed deliver a wonderful reposado style tequila from start to finish.” 


G4 AÑEJO ($65)

“Master distiller Felipe Camarena has created such a refined, elegantly crafted, rich sipping style añejo,” says Quiñonez. “It’s incredibly expressive on the nose with hints of cooked pear, apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove spice. It’s a stunning representation of flavor, complexity, and harmony—with elegant hints of oak, honey cooked fruit, and spice on the palate. Certainly one of my favorite añejos on the market.” 


CLASE AZUL REPOSADO ($139)

“This is the perfect dessert-style reposado, to sip neat or with a large cube of ice,” says Quiñonez. “It has a velvety feel with notes of chocolate vanilla, cinnamon, and butterscotch with complex spices such as chile de arbol and clove. Expressive from nose to finish. The pretty bottles make for interesting conversation as well.” 


EL TESORO REPOSADO ($57)

“I absolutely enjoy the bold earthy, smoky, and herbal notes that this reposado delivers. The honey and white pepper notes carry forward along with hints of fresh cut herb, wood, and citrus peel—creating a rich long dry finish,” says Quiñonez. “I recommend pairing this with oysters or ceviche, on the rocks or in a long drink.” 


CORRALEJO AÑEJO ($48)

“Such a great classic añejo style from the incredible state of Guanajuato. This añejo is aged for 12 months in oak barrels, is bottled at 38% ABV, and delivers bold flavors of charred wood, herbs, nuts, and sweet piloncillo. Such rustic classic flavors from beginning to end.” 


CABALLITO CERRERO BLANCO ($80)

“Founded in 1873, the Santa Rita factory has been producing tequila for 15 generations,” says Quiñonez.  “This jewel of a blanco offers complexity, harmony, and depth. It delivers a range of rich flavors—from wild honey, cooked agave, fresh cut grass, tropical fruit, citrus, and smoke. As a higher-proof blanco at 45% ABV, it creates a long rich finish, one of the best tasting blanco tequilas on the market!”


ARRETE AÑEJO ($45)

“I absolutely love this añejo: so expressive on the nose with notes of bourbon, butterscotch, dried fruit, figs, and raisins,” says Quiñonez. “Beautifully rich on the palate with a silky finish. I recommend enjoying this añejo with a dessert or cigar pairing.” 


DERRUMBES ZACATECAS TEQUILANA WEBER MEZCAL JOVEN ($83)

“This expression is the perfect link to bridge the old world to the new. This joven mezcal delivers a well-rounded body and a sophisticated finish,” Quiñonez says. “The floral hints of cooked fruit, smoke, and spice create the ideal introduction to a traditional-style mezcal made in the fashion of tequila. Produced in the small village of Huitzila, Zacatecas, near the Valley of Tequila, master distiller Jaime Bañuelos continues the tradition of pre-hispanic artisanal production methods, while maintaining complexity and balance with every sip.”


SAN BARTOLO MEZCAL ESPADÍN ($35)

“What an incredible treat to have gotten my hands on this beauty,” says Quiñonez. “San Bartolo is produced in the gorgeous village of Yautepec by award-winning mezcalero Valentín Martínez López, who was recently recognized by the CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal) for his historic 50-year contribution to the production of mezcal! So much harmony and balance: a fine blend of floral, citrus, and tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and mango—with light pepper and smoke flavors that deliver a refined and elevated liquid. This made me smile from ear to ear. A wonderfully refined representation of the category.” 


TOSBA JOVEN MEZCAL ESPADÍN ($65)

“Tosba mezcal from the remote village of San Cristóbal Lachirioag in Oaxaca embodies passion, heritage, and an outstanding commitment to community and the land,” Quiñonez says. “Bold and expressive, its earthy, herbal, vegetal, and smoky notes deliver an outstanding full body and perfectly balanced espadín mezcal. I recommend sampling this neat in a Champagne flute to truly appreciate its rich complexity and elegance.” 


DERRUMBES SAN LUIS POTOSI SALMIANA CRASSISPINA MEZCAL JOVEN ($36)

“This expression is made with wild agave that naturally grows in the high plateau of San Luis Potosí. From the village of Charcas, the mezcal cultivated in the desert delivers a more sweet, floral, and herbaceous mezcal—unlike in any other place in Mexico,” Quiñonez says. “Maestro mezcalero Manuel Perez showcases the expression’s beauty, balance, and intensity by foraging for dry salmiana leaves and quiotes to use as fuel during the cooking process.”

As the ready-to-drink category continues to explode, non-alcoholic aperitif brand Ghia is veering into the space, launching the brand’s first RTD offering.

It’s great news for fans of the cult-loved brand, but for the larger RTD category it poses the question; is the next wave of RTDs booze-free?

Ghia launched its signature non-alcoholic aperitif last summer to much acclaim. InStyle declared “designers, celebrity hairstylists and Instagram girls all sip this hangover-less cocktail,” while Vogue called it, “an elevated option for mothers-to-be, nondrinkers, or those who just don’t feel like another glass of wine.” 

Starting today, the brand is adding an effervescent, booze-free spritz-in-a-can to its line-up. The single-serve cans riff off Ghia’s bitter, herbals flavors, adding a dose of sparkling water and skipping the addition of sugar, relying instead on fresh hits of yuzu and rosemary. White Claw could never.

“Since we launched last June, the most popular drink recipe among customers was the Spritz,” describes founder Melanie Masarin, a Glossier alum and former Forbes 30 Under 30. “We designed Ghia to be as simple to drink as pouring yourself a glass of amaro, but we realized that people were still intimated by mixing their own drinks at home.”

Offering a canned iteration offers Ghia’s fans a low-effort way to drink cocktails and gives the brand a stake in the rapidly-expanding canned cocktail and RTD market.

“The RTD format not only makes this drink more accessible but provides a non-alcoholic alternative to canned cocktails, a market that was steadily growing before the pandemic— according to BevAlc Insights this market boomed at the onset with a 57% increase in year-over-year off-premise dollar sales growth,” continues Masarin.

The spritzes average $4.50 a can and are available in packs of 4 ($18 SRP), 12 ($54 SRP), 36 ($135 SRP) and 108 ($350). “The shape of our 4-pack box is reminiscent of classic ‘happy meal’ boxes and includes a prompt for customers to crack it open, turn on the music, taste the bite, enjoy the night,” she notes. Ghia will also offer monthly or seasonal subscriptions in the future.

While we’ve seen upwards of fifty non-alcohol spirits brands enter the market over the last few years, most bill themselves as hangover-free alternatives to whiskeys, gins, vodkas and the occasional wine proxy. 

While Ghia is far from the first NA brand, Masarin has uniquely positioned the brand to be incredibly digital fluent, from its high-fashion digital presence to packaging designed for an Instagram generation. While other NA brands offer themselves as less-fun versions to regular spirits, Ghia has earned a dedicated following via its punchy, persuasive personality and air of European joie de vivre.

The celebrity co-sign speaks volumes; names like Priyanka Chopra, Antoni Porowski, Jessica Alba and Jen Atkin all count themselves as fans.

Ghia’s success falls in line with the meteoric rise of the sober-curious movement. “We’re also stocked in a growing number of restaurants and hotels and are excited to be part of the next phase of restaurant re-openings. Over the course of the pandemic, people have re-negotiated their relationship with alcohol at home and we’re proud to be a part of how that shift translates outside the home. And we know it’s just the beginning.”

While the brand has expanded to over 180 retailers since launch, they saw a 40% increase particularly during Dry January and earning a 35% return rate beyond the largely dry month.

The continued rise of the sober-curious movement also lines up with the explosion of RTDs. Every major spirits brand now seems to offer some canned iteration. New canned cocktail brands and hard seltzer riffs are racing to enter the now-saturated market.

The question is, will we see the two categories combine for a new wave of non-alcoholic RTDs?

While this launch points to yes, we’re starting to see more and more interesting spirit-free RTD options. Blind Tiger makes knock-out spirit-free cocktails, looking to ingredients like juniper berries to reproduce flavors of gin, while Curious Cocktails bottles up fascinating no-ABV cocktails.

The non-alcoholic RTD market is expected to be valued at $800-billion by the end of 2024.

“My goal with Ghia was to create an inclusive, spirit-free beverage that changes the way we think about drinking and socializing,” says Masarin. “Ghia was truly created for drinkers and non-drinkers alike and with our new cans we’re able to make Ghia even more accessible to people. With that said, to date we have a wide, cross-generational range of customers between the ages of 25-55 all over the country with a wide range of lifestyles. We’re excited to see who the Spritz appeals to most.”

“We’ve already received so much excitement from retailers,” she continues. “We now know that our existing customers are looking forward to being able to enjoy Ghia in another format—one that is easy to hold in your hand and keep in your fridge year round or share with friends and family. The cans also help us introduce Ghia to new customers with less barrier to entry.”

Joe Rosenthal (they/them) never expected to become a veritable confessional for the abuses of the restaurant industry.

The Minnesota-based applied mathematician was, “just taking pictures of food. My spouse was like, ‘Joe, your pictures are garbage, take better pictures.’ So I started doing that, and building out a network of people I knew in the food world. I started to learn about what was happening, who the players were, and the harms that were coming from them. And so I would talk about that too.”

23.8K followers later, Rosenthal’s mostly stopped posting food photos.

Using anonymous sources and publicly available information, Rosenthal has broken major restaurant news, and their Instagram stories are a seemingly infinite merry-go-round of injustice. In July 2020, they reported on the abusive labor practices and lax food safety standards at famous LA restaurant Sqirl. In January 2021, a single Tweet prompted them to delve into the 1 star Yelp reviews of Prince St. Pizza, where they found shockingly racist and harassing statements on the part of owners Frank and Dominic Morano, eventually leading the restaurant’s leadership to step down. Their website Richard Eaglespoon is a little treasure trove of information on pizza, steak, and bad actors.

Rosenthal has been called a troll, a bully, and plenty of other less savory things since they began posting about restaurant drama. To be fair, they don’t pull punches.

Rosenthal is a self-described food antagonist, and, “It’s not that I haven’t done things to pick on people in the course of what I do. It’s kind of hard not to, existing on the Internet in 2021. But overall I’m earnestly trying to change things. To call me a troll is incredibly reductive and dismissive of the things that I’ve accomplished.”

Since Rosenthal’s not a chef, their followers don’t have to worry about facing reprisal for sharing stories of abuse, and since they’re not a journalist, they feel they have: “This power to take on cases for people that just won’t get attention otherwise.” The restaurant industry is notoriously prone to abusive labor practices, and the food world’s recent high profile scandals from Mission Chinese to the LA Times have barely made a dent in changing its culture. Therefore, “People are scared. They want to keep their jobs if they’ve got them. They need to keep those jobs, and they don’t want to make waves at this stage of their career. I mean, I talk to people at all levels, but… there’s a pervasive idea that if you talk shit, you’ll get yours.”

Angelo Womack, a pizza consultant who worked at Brooklyn’s famed Roberta’s Pizza from 2008 to 2013 and has an NDA against former coworker Anthony Falco, echoed this sentiment, noting that: “A lot of people in the restaurant world feel marginalized… I dealt with that for so long. I dealt with not going to the labor board for working however many hours a week. I dealt with my superiors saying racist or sexist or abusive shit and kind of laughing it off. I’ve been there before… It’s traumatizing.”

Womack, who also runs the pizza meme account @radtimespizza, said that when he worked there, Roberta’s was a broey “Lord of the Flies” environment. He has some fond memories of the place, but it was highly toxic. “It’s time to be like, ‘Yeah, that was wrong. That was not cool’… It’s different there now, though. It’s kind of awesome because it’s not ‘fun’ anymore.”

Getting rid of that particular kind of fun on a grander scale might sound like a lofty ambition, but Rosenthal doesn’t mind: “I’m on a fool’s errand. Everything I do is a fool’s errand… I could destroy worlds if I put my notes out there, but I won’t because [people talk to me] under the assumption that it’s off the record.” The anonymous nature of those conversations is incredibly important to Rosenthal, especially when they’re writing about people and restaurants with power in the form of fleets of lawyers and PR.

However, it also makes it difficult for the stories they cover to get mainstream attention. “I had to scream about Prince Street Pizza to get it covered. Nobody wanted to cover it. I made three vaguely viral posts on Instagram. One of them got shared something like 7,000 times. That’s what it took.” Rosenthal has screamed about several other stories that have not received the same kind of coverage, recently focusing on dangerous canning and fermentation advice in Brad Leone’s It’s Alive videos and gatekeeping behavior by Clarence Kwan, a chef and social media influencer whose Chinese Protest Recipes cookbook received tons of press coverage in February.

Womack put things more bluntly, saying of Rosenthal that, “Everything Joe has shared has been in email form, or in direct message form, or even court documents. So, it’s like, what are we trying to hide here? If someone has a really horrible past, why wouldn’t we be allowed to talk about it aside from someone trying to profit off of it? That’s actually kind of evil, in all honesty.”

I asked Rosenthal how they would go about fixing restaurants and the all-consuming, broken PR machine of food media, and they pointed out that while the problems in restaurants are especially extreme, workers across the board are not well-protected right now, and bigger societal problems—from healthcare to the wage gap—significantly impact what’s rotten at the core of the restaurant industry.

In their day job, they have been applying mathematical models to the massive problem of COVID-19, so they were disturbed learn that nearly 8% of those who’ve received an initial dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are not returning for their second. Rosenthal figures that a not insignificant number of those people are restaurant workers terrified of missing even a single shift, and feels great empathy towards them: “These are people that are living possibly paycheck to paycheck. If they miss work, they may not have a job to go back to.”

And this attitude, this determination to not treat human beings as disposable, is at the crux of why Rosenthal keeps posting, “My mission with my entire Richard Eaglespoon presence is to try and move us towards a world where I don’t need to exist… I would love to see people being able to talk to journalists about this stuff without the threat of lawyers stopping it or feeling like you’re going to lose your job… To actually answer your question of why I do what I do, I feel like I have to.”

They don’t see that happening any time soon, but if and when it happens, they’ll gladly shut up.

For the first time since 2016, Italy was the No. 1 importer of wine into the United States in 2020, accounting for 27% of the total.

Here are a few of the 52 countries that bought more in U.S. wine exports than Italy last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data:

  • Togo
  • Oman
  • Cambodia
  • Iceland
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Vietnam
  • Barbados
  • Guatemala
  • Latvia
  • Nigeria

In 2020, the United States exchanged wine — one way or the other or both — with 151 nations. It exported wine to 136 nations. It imported wine from 74 nations.

In fact, for the four years prior to 2020, U.S. wine exports and imports topped $7 billion, the four best years on record. The 2020 total of $6.93 billion is the fifth highest on record.

But the gains were driven largely by U.S. imports, an American desire for the wines of Italy, France, New Zealand, Austalia, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, Germany and South Africa, the top 10, respectively.

Although the list of countries to which the United States exports was almost twice as long as the import list, the value of wine imports was more than more than four times greater.

Total wine exports in 2020: $5.62 billion. Total wine exports? $1.31 billion.

That is principally because the top two nations, Italy and France, send so much wine to the United States.

Those two countries alone accounted for 52% of all U.S. wine imports in 2020, the fourth consecutive year above 50%. It was actually higher in the early 1990s, routinely above 60%.

But neither purchases much U.S. wine, particularly the Italians.

Looking at U.S. exports as a percentage of total wine trade, Italy’s purchases accounted just four one-hundredths of a cent on the dollar in 2020. Expressed another way, it would look like this 0.04%.

The “golden” years for Italian purchases of wine were from 2005 to 2015, when the annual total ranged from a high of $59.84 million in 2009 to $39.57 million in 2012. In those years, exports to Italy routinely a still relatively unimpressive 3 cents on the dollar, even topping 4 and almost 5 cents on the dollar a couple of years.

In 2020, a different story. The total fell below $1 million for the first time since 2002, to $784,661. In some crowds, that’s one good case of wine or less.

U.S. exports to France also fell in 2020, also losing quite a bit of ground though not nearly as much. Exports to France, which has been subjected to tariffs issued during the Trump Administation, part of the longstanding tussle between Boeing

BA
and French-led consortium Aibus, fell to a level last in 2011.

Nevertheless, France ranked among the top 10 purchaser of U.S. wine exports, well above Italy, which ranked No. 53.

Given the value of imports from France, exports still accounted for less than 2 cents on the dollar.

That is not to say that the United States does not have a surplus in wine sales with a number of countries. It certainly does, chief among them Canada.

But that $409.26 billion U.S. surplus pales in comparison to the $1.92 billion deficit the U.S. ran with Italy in 2020 or the $1.69 billion deficit it ran with France. It’s even less than the $486.97 million U.S. deficit with the third-largest importer of wine, New Zealand.

Way back in 2013 — long before craft brewing innovation meant something other than fermenting sugar water and adding fruit flavors — sales of New Belgium Brewing’s flagship beer, Fat Tire amber ale, accounted for 52% of the company’s business.

This year, Fat Tire will make up roughly 25% of the company’s sales.

That mix shift is partially by design, according to CEO Steve Fechheimer.

“We looked at the growth of the IPA category, recognized the uniqueness of the Voodoo Ranger brand, and saw how fans were interacting with it,” he said. “It gave us confidence to make it our lead brand.”

For years, many drinkers saw the Colorado-headquartered beer maker as the “Fat Tire Brewery,” and for good reason. Fat Tire was one of the best-selling craft beers in America, and a regular feature at bars and liquor stores throughout the early 2000s.

But as thousands of new craft breweries opened across the U.S., and as consumer taste preferences began to change, New Belgium was stuck with a lead brand that fewer distributors and retailers were energized to sell.

So, in September of 2018, with the company’s overall sales declining 11%, Fechheimer made a switch.

“I got up on stage at our distributor meeting and very intentionally said that Voodoo Ranger was our number one priority,” Fechheimer said.

A little more than two years later, New Belgium — ranked by the Brewers Association as the fourth-largest craft brewery in the U.S. — now boasts the top-selling IPA brand in the country, according to market research firm IRI.

So how did they do it?

“We’ve stepped away from a lot of other brands, and we’re really clear and consistent about our focus,” Fechheimer said. “One thing that New Belgium — and other players in our industry — are guilty of is moving back and forth between brand priorities. And since that meeting in 2018, we have never diverged from Voodoo Ranger being our top priority.”

The company also forged relationships with consumers who were passionate about things like gaming to help drive meaningful connections with the brand.

“Gaming might be their primary passion, and beer might be a second, third or even a fourth passion for them,” Fechheimer explained. “We haven’t asked them to step out of their community and engage with New Belgium in our brewery or in our craft beer world. We’re going into theirs.”

According to the Fechheimer, craft beer companies too often make their own breweries or beer making process the focus, instead of fitting into what consumers already care about.

The strategy has paid off: Year-to-date through March 21, off-premise sales of Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA were up 61%, to more than $25.6 million.

New Belgium now has five Voodoo Ranger SKUs on IRI’s list of the top-30 best-selling craft beers, including Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA which is up 105%. Collectively, they have racked up more than $52.6 million in sales through the first three months of the year.

New Belgium’s focus on the IPA category helped boost volume by about 7%, to around 950,000 barrels in 2020, Fechheimer said.

And while he wouldn’t commit to an official projection for 2021, the company is poised to ship more than one million barrels for the first time ever.

Some of that volume growth will come from the company’s new Fruit Smash hard seltzer, which launched into a $4.3 billion hard seltzer market last month.

To help bring the brand to life, New Belgium has enlisted the help of social media influencers and podcasters Tom Allen (who goes by the name Chad Kroeger, a nod to the lead singer of Nickelback), and JT Parr.

The house party-defending duo, which routinely crashes city council meetings to make absurd requests like constructing a statue of the late actor Paul Walker, or establishing a second Independence Day, is now “smashing hard seltzer shame” in a series of new videos.

Before the creative was unveiled, Fechheimer described the marketing campaign to me as “edgy and bold.”

“Bringing some fun to the category is really important, and from a brand perspective we think there is a real opportunity here,” he said.

So far, Chad and JT have mostly relied on sexual innuendoes and other sophomoric jokes, such as traveling to Ding Dong, Texas to “check out the dongs” and asking strangers if they “like to smash.”

It remains to be seen whether the so-called “party bros” can help New Belgium sell more of its 4.7% ABV hard seltzer, but if not, there’s always NSYNC’s Lance Bass.

Another promo — called Say Bye to Basic — offered consumers a 30-minute window to speak with Bass and compete for a chance to win a year’s supply of hard seltzer.

“We have reason to be confident about the brand and we feel really good about what we’re putting in the cans,” Fechheimer said.

Among the wine producers affected by France’s Gelée Noir (“Black Frost”), dampened spirits along with the icy vineyards 

As most wine lovers know, several regions in Europe were affected by severe frosts, when temperatures dropped to -7°C (19°F) and stayed there for several days. The cold snap damaged vines in large parts of Italy and France with some estimating at least 50% crop loss and in many areas, 80%.

“The devastation across France is greater than anything I can remember, but most growers will tell you they need a few more weeks to really understand the complete level of devastation,” says David Hinkle, who leads the French wine portfolio at Skurnik Wines & Spirits in New York City.

Generally, producers are prepared with warming systems that can help mitigate frost damage, but this year was particularly troublesome as many vineyards were in bloom after a spurt of unseasonably warm temperatures in March. In some areas of Burgundy, the frost hit both high and low-lying regions—an unusual circumstance—forcing farmers to make decisions on which vineyards to focus their limited resources. While most producers have equipment for dealing with limited frost conditions, most are not equipped for a full-estate disaster.

Hinkle has been reporting on the situations on a week-by-week basis this month. We spoke for a summary of on-the-ground conditions as producers continue to assess the damage and strategize their efforts as frost risks remain until mid May. He said growers are walking the vineyard to assess damage, but it’s a waiting game to see if the buds are damaged beyond repair, if they will recover or if a second growth will appear.

“Most of the experienced growers who have been through this many times say it’s an impression the vines are damaged beyond repair, but they have been able to recover more than what was previewed in the midst of the initial debacle,” Hinkle says.

“Producers are incredibly resilient and farming has improved so much in the last 10 years that I do think the vineyards are healthier than ever—the farming has never been at a higher level with organic [cultivation] and the vines are probably more resilient than they would have been 30 years ago when more industrial farming was the norm,” he said.

Thibaud Boudignon in the La Possonnière commune in western Loire Valley is one such producer Hinkle spoke with.

“Despite the devastation to most of my vineyards in Anjou, my morale is better this year. In some ways it’s sad, but my vines have known frost for many years now: 2016, 2017, 2019 and now 2021 has put frost into their DNA,” he said. “In many ways our vines are finding ways to adapt under the most extreme circumstances. I also believe strongly that because my team and I have been in the vineyards so many of these nights of extreme cold, fighting Mother Nature with candles and everything we could to help protect them, that it is has helped. Organic farming, biodynamic treatments, whatever it is, I have more hope that despite the devastation this April we will continue to improve how we work in this new normal and our vines will continue to persevere and get stronger.” 

Reports from Skurnik’s French wine team:

The week of April 4

Depending on the area, wine farmers across Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Mâconnais, Chablis, and beyond, have been looking at vines that are seven to eight days advanced with bud-break. The week of April 4 brought three consecutive days of rare severe cold—earlier than the typical frost season, which is more focused in late April. The regions affected were broad and very few growers have enough candles, hay bales, and/or fans to protect all of their vineyards and have adopted strategies about where and what to protect.

To complicate things further, there has been a lot of wind that made it hard to even light the candles or effectively situate them in some areas. Many growers are outside all night waiting for the wind to calm down or deciding whether to light candles or save them for the battles to come over the next days and weeks. For now, growers are focusing on protecting their vines and not getting discouraged.

Jean-Philippe Blot in the Loire: Really difficult to focus on the destruction to date. Probably looking at something like 50% loss as of now. We just purchased more candles and hay bales. April will be long and difficult. The frost season is just getting started. I don’t have time or energy to look at the destruction as of today, I’m just doing as much as I can to keep protecting the vines moving forward. —

Frantz Chagnoleau in the Mâconnais: Catastrophic despite all of the protections that were in place with our candles. Every single one of our parcels was frosted. We’re barely able to estimate the damage at this point.

Vincent Dampt in Chablis: Another day of lots of destruction. The snow complicated things because when it melted it filled the buds with humidity. The cold then finished the job, burning the buds. I already have fears that the crop is going to be virtually nothing in 2021. In talking to friends elsewhere, it could be the same in much of France. On top of that, it’s just the beginning of April. I can’t say that we’re not a bit discouraged as of today.

Thibaud Clerget in the Volnay: [It is] very, very complicated. I’m guessing about 50% loss in many of our more advanced vineyards.

In the second week, Hinkle reported, “Everywhere in France there is fatigue and discouragement both over the frost of the last seven days and the potential for more damage for weeks to come. Global warming is real. These growers are adapting as fast as they can and throwing as many different ideas at this evolving challenge.”

“Vines can surprise us with unexpected recovery and find ways to put a little bit of fruit out despite the extremes mother nature throws at them. There are signs of courage and extraordinary resilience during this spring onslaught of winter cold from mother nature.”

Monday, April 12

Thierry Pillot of Domaine Paul Pillot in Chassagne-Montrachet: [It is a] very tough moment to take your temperature in the heart of disappointment. It seems to get more and more difficult every day. 2021, especially for whites, has been a spring that nobody has ever seen. My father and I just got through walking through the vineyards. We are so fortunate to have some of the greatest premier cru in Chassagne-Montrachet. Late yesterday afternoon there’s almost 0 buds left, it’s absolutely crazy. Everything burnt. 100%. I have a tiny concern about this being a two-year problem. And it’s not just our village: It’s a nightmare everywhere. The best-case scenario is that we finish with a very small harvest. 

Vincent Dureuil in Rully: Yesterday when I was walking through the vineyards, I saw nobody. Everybody is demoralized at the moment. I let my team go home and take a break. There’s really not much to protect at the moment. My father who is now in his 80s has never seen anything like this; he said he has rarely seen any issues on the slope higher up like what happened this year. It was almost like you didn’t know what to try to protect. Mother nature can be cruel.

Tuesday, April 13

Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups & Domaine de la Butte in Montlouis-sur-Loire & Bourgeuil: I have a glass half-full outlook and am hoping for the best. Economically this is so discouraging for our friends across the Loire and beyond. We are battling and last night we won with our fans and candles saving the day. The team is exhausted.

Joseph Colin in St. Aubin: Since I started working the vineyards in 1992, I’ve never seen anything like this. My father was talking to friends who all have many vintages between them and they concluded that to see this kind of frost damage across the villages and different slopes, you have to go back to the 1921 vintage. There were so many nights last week with no sleep and we tried everything – nothing worked. There are places like en Remilly and Roche Dumay in Gamay that never frost and yet, this year virtually 100% is lost. Even if a few buds come back it’s going to be very little production.

Marc Bachelet of Bachelet-Monnot in Dezizes-les-Maranges: We are looking at such complete destruction as of today in many of our best vineyards and hoping for something positive. The premier crus in Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and our Batard look to be zero at this point. Easily one of the most devastating weeks ever for my family. We hope to have a small harvest and will recover, but this has been very hard to swallow.

Laurent Fayolle in Crozes-Hermitage: Our vines in the villages of Crozes-Hermitage and Gervans we’re hit harder than anything I’ve ever seen. Maybe 60 to 70% of our white vineyards are lost for 2021 and 40% and of our red vineyards in this northern sector. For our top site, it looks even worse, maybe around 70% loss. I always hope for surprises and miracles, but the frost season is not over for us yet.