Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Winners of BTI’s Annual Packaging Competition

While Beverage Testing Institute’s beverage evaluations occur year-round, our highly anticipated packaging competition is held only once annually. 

To determine the year’s best packaging submissions, we assemble a diverse group of experts: distributors, buyers, beverage directors, and designers with keen eyes for contemporary form and key insight on what draws consumer attention. Each panelist conducts a solo evaluation, taking time to consider each product individually and independently of any others within a given submission category. 

The following design categories are evaluated for each product:

Creativity Fresh and original concepts and execution

Graphic Design Images, text, and arrangement thereof

Form Shape, texture, and mass

Style Relationship of the package elements to the character of the product and its projected image

Functional Innovation Technological, pragmatic, and design breakthroughs

The panelists enter detailed observations and rank entries along a scale for each of these design categories. Once the evaluations have been completed, BTI’s proprietary analysis methodology software aggregates the data and determines the winners of that year’s packaging championships. 

And so, without further ado, here are the winners of Beverage Testing Institute’s 2020 Packaging Championships, accompanied by a little in-depth information on why our experts agreed that these products achieved their design goals. 

Beer

 

With “rich concept, illustration, color, print quality, and brand cohesion,” Indeed Brewing’s submissions earned multiple medals for their cans and case, with panelists taking a special liking to their consistent presentation of ingredients and tasting notes.

 

 

Lift Bridge Brewing’s case submission had a winning color scheme and made good use of custom illustration. 

 

 

 

“Great artwork” and a “unique approach to design and visuals” showed that Common Cider Company’s can composition was as thought-provoking as it was medal-winning. 

 

Spirits

The “classy appearance” of this glass didn’t disappoint. Panelists found it “lovely to pour into, sniff from, and sip from,” and hopefully the folks at Stölzle are celebrating by swirling a dram in this winner. 

 

 

These labels were “absolutely exquisite, beautiful, captivating, and rich with story” and our panelists send “high praise for the design team, illustrators, and printer.” Both Barnacles and Espanita would be proud additions to any bar, home or professional. 

 

 

 

Newer to the market, Belfour’s covetable decanter-style bottles and attention-grabbing catchphrase, “The Spirit of Champions,” resulted in classy packaging highlighting a brand that “you certainly can’t just walk past on the store shelf.” 

 

 

Already one of BTI’s high-scoring spirits, Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey has quality packaging to match. “It strikes all the right notes to keep it competitive within its class” and the “small touches” show that “this is a more premium product.” 

 

 

 

“Baseball fans rejoice: there’s a whiskey gift for you.” Cooperstown Distillery’s “incredible” bottle and “clever” details came together nicely in this winner. 

 

 

 

“Classy, well-crafted, incredible label work” created intricate continuity in Koval’s bottle series, leading panelists to infer that “what’s inside will also be thoughtfully crafted.” 

 

Wine

 

Jam Jar’s “lovely little 4-pack” had great pattern integration and fun design. 

 

 

 

A range of thoughtful methods resulted in these wine label winners. VARA’s “gorgeous presentation” invited panelists to take a “deeper, longer look at this package’s lovely understated crisp presentation” and Bella Luna’s rich embossing established an “elegant and classic” brand identity. Creating personal connections in their designs, Greetings from the Willamette Valley’s art direction did a good job of “evoking memories while encouraging the consumer to make some new ones” and St. Hilaire Cellars’ use of hyper-localized labels was a “powerful tool” invoking a “sense of belonging.” 

New Baijiu Flavor Wheel

The Debut of a Baijiu Flavor Wheel

Chinese baijiu is one of the oldest distillates in the world, and has been defined into 12 plus categories or “styles/substyles” based on aroma/flavor characteristics.

Several hundred chemical compounds have been defined as contributing to the composition and flavor profiles of the different styles or type of this Chinese Liquor. These include flavorful esters (often fruity in nature), fatty acids (often rancid, cheesy, goaty and dairy-like notes) and sulfur compounds – among a plethora of other flavorful molecules. These notes also include earthy/muddy and farmyard characteristics and savory, complex sweet notes, and roasted, nutty flavors. Baijiu is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Some estimates cite an annual production of 13 million kL in 2017 (1 kiloLiter = 1000L or 264.2 US gallons) or approximately 3,434 million gallons. 9.43L annually per Chinese citizen!

Two works discussing Baijiu in some detail are those of Sandhaus (see references). Sandhaus notes that around 10000 distilleries of varying sizes and capacities exist in mainland China today after peaking at between 18-36000 by the early 1990’s. Between them it is also estimated that there are tens of thousands of baijiu products available. Generally categorized as light-aroma type, strong-aroma-type, soy sauce-aroma type, sweet- and honey-aroma type and miscellaneous-aroma-type liquors. A more expanded nomenclature appears for the different styles or types as shown in Figure 1.

12 Baijiu Flavor and Aroma Styles

Figure 1. The first known flavor wheel covering the general flavor impressions or expectations from the 12 main types or styles of Baijiu.

This flavor wheel, presented here for the first time – being a work in progress – covers the general classifications – based on flavor profiles (aroma and taste = flavor) for a dozen generally recognized styles or types of the Chinese liquor known as Baijiu. English and Chinese names for each class are presented along with general impressions and a little more flavor detail. It should hopefully be a useful tool for sensory panels and in spirits judging competitions.

Unlike most alcoholic beverages known in the Western World, the raw materials, and manufacturing processes, including fermentation, distillation and aging, plus the flavor characteristics of baijiu and other Chinese liquors are all quite different from our general understanding of wine, whiskey and brandy production. This is mainly because baijiu is a product of solid-state fermentation and distillation. In a nutshell, grains and a complex starter culture of microorganisms (see Figure 2 – Baijiu Production) are mixed together and simultaneous saccharification and fermentation in a solid (rather than submerged) state takes place. The mixed-culture of organisms (yeasts, bacteria and molds) – embedded in a fermentation starter known as Daqu or Qu are actively involved and solid-state steam distillation processes are employed – sometimes with the implementation of multiple reiterations of fermentation and distillation. Aging of base liquor is then allowed to occur in sealed jars, followed by blending and bottling. Figure 2 shows the general outline of baijiu production.

Baijiu Production

Figure 2 – Baijiu Production

As noted from above in Figure 2, a very complex and time-consuming process is involved in the production of the various styles of baijiu. With all the raw materials used, the special microbiological and enzymatic properties of the varied types of Qu or daqu, the spontaneous inoculation of additional yeasts, bacteria and molds from mud pits and the surroundings where baijiu is produced, and the reactions occurring during the fermentations, distillations and aging it can be seen how the complex flavor profiles associated with baijiu are developed.

Baijiu is thus clearly differentiated from other liquors based on its distinctive flavor, taste, and production process. Each style has been the subject of extensive research and the focus of dozens of papers. While detail could not be provided here, one key fruity flavor of note in baijiu is the compound ethyl hexanoate. This ester exhibits a fruity, floral and sweet aroma and has apple-aniseed-like qualities. Its flavor/aroma potency comes through well in Chinese liquors, especially in strong-aroma type baijiu. Other esters convey tropical and other fruit notes. A potent odorant in Chinese sesame-flavor baijiu is known as furfurylthiol (a sulfur compound). This compound along with other related aromatic thiols contribute roasted sesame, grapefruit, passion fruit and boxwood characters with thresholds for detection in the parts per trillion range. Soy sauce-aroma type baijiu is also associated with some components conveying a key retronasal burnt flavor. While much more could be said about the multiple flavor components, this short review covers only an outline with the general flavor impressions or expectations from the 12 main types or styles of Baijiu being presented in Figure 1. A paper by the present author and Jamie Baxter is currently in press with much more coverage of Baijiu.

References:

Sandhaus, D. BAIJIU: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits. Penguin Books. (2014).

Sandhaus, D. Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture. Potomac Books. (2019)

Jin. G., Zhu, Y. and Xu, Y. Mystery behind Chinese liquor fermentation. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 63; 18-28. (2017).

Liu, H. and Sun, B. Effect of Fermentation Processing on the Flavor of Baijiu. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66; 5425-5432. (2018).

Spedding, G. and Baxter, J. Baijiu – An Acquired Taste? Chinese Liquor with a Range of Wild Flavor Characteristics. Artisan Spirit. (2020). In press.

5 Beer Characteristics Beverage Directors Are Looking for in 2020

With a diverse and ever-growing swath of drinkers holding their empty glasses aloft, beer professionals are under pressure to cater to individuals’ perfect pours. These drinkers’ demands are broad, but some in-depth insights are setting the foundation for producers to create brews that hospitality professionals want to sell.

Touting first-rate outlets around the globe, the Kimpton family of hotels and restaurants has bars that need to cater to all kinds of guests. One of their bar managers, Melissa Carroll, has paid close attention and has identified a major, rapidly accelerating trend: low ABV and low calorie demand is “absolutely” here to stay. “Session-able beers with full-bodied taste, without the guilt, AND you can drink a few of them without going overboard? Yes please.” Guests want to enjoy themselves when they’re out, but not at the full-calorie, total-inebriation level. This goes for industry professionals as well. With the rise of awareness of mental and physical health of the hospitality workforce, there is a growing need for ways to participate in the fun and excitement of the industry without losing sight of self-care. Low ABV and/or low calorie beer options keep the trade sharp, and consumers in admiration of the industry will want to mirror that trend as well.

Local appeal is very real. Working in Chicago, “most of our guests want to try something from the Midwest,” and Melissa opines that “this is the same of each region of the United States.” Quite right, according to Laura Newman, champion of Diageo’s World Class 2018 and owner of Queen’s Park in Birmingham, Alabama where “hyper local” brews hold the spotlight. If smaller producers are vocal about where they are and what they’re making, natives and visitors alike will want to partake in their offerings, either fortifying hometown pride or getting a total taste immersion as a tourist.

While always ready to try something new, beer drinkers still want the ability to session with their favorites. Melissa explains that many of her Kimpton guests request IPAs and Lagers, and this desire for the classics is also echoed in Asheville, North Carolina, “the Napa of beer,” where bar owner Donnie Pratt says that guests guzzle “whatever IPA or Pilsner is on draft.” In order to choose which brand, classic or not, packaging design has a big impact. Canada’s Vancouver Island Brewing, for example, mixes well-known styles into their offerings, but makes them pop with brightly-colored, contemporarily-designed labels. Melissa’s beer packaging vision is that “fun plays on pop culture are going to drive the aesthetic market in the future.”

Moving forwards in 2020, beer drinkers want to choose from a range of options, with conscious consumption, local flare, and delicious classics with ultramodern design at the top of the list; extra credit to whoever brews Melissa a “Tajin, lime, and watermelon salted Lager.” Any takers?

2020 State of Vodka with Hyatt’s National Director of Bars

As Americans dive deeper into the wave of craft cocktails, they are often at the whim of tidal trends. A new product will hit the shelves and, subsequently, local cocktail menus and bar guests clamour to taste it. But as those fads fade, there are lulls in which an imbiber will undoubtedly return to their standbys and vodka, in particular, has resurfaced as the steadfast choice for the drinkers of the world.

For a long time, vodka held a poor reputation for those looking to consume elevated beverages. Its rise in popularity occurred in the 1950s, a time when America’s culinary scene was as dismal as it has ever been and unfortunately vodka carried the infamy of this era with it. This decade’s top dishes included things like meatloaf, frozen dinners, deviled eggs, and tuna casserole and many of these meals were washed down with a crisp, “breathless” vodka concoction. Just as culinary culture at the time was removed from highlighting its individual components, so too was vodka enveloped in a blanket of blandness. Due to this lamentable history, vodka has long borne the reputation of poor quality and character. Yes, vodka has always “paid the bills,” but not often with pride.

Luckily, as distillation, mixology, distribution, and customer education have advanced, so has the quality and variety of vodkas on the market, and people around the world are starting to see the depth of possibility that the category maintains. Not only does vodka possess a range of flavors, but its textural diversity and purity have become desirable traits in the imbibing world.

With the advent of Instagram, consumers are not only able to read and select from cocktail menus before even arriving at a bar, they are now also able to follow the stories of the products available to them. In knowing the history behind the production of what they are ordering, they feel more involved in and connected to the product’s journey, and more emboldened in ordering their favorite brands wherever they go.

In a single aisle, bottles boast flavors and textures gained from different base materials, distillation methods, and filtration techniques. Latvia’s elit vodka, for example, boasts “single-source grain,” “artesian well water,” and filtration through “super-fine quartz sand” and “Russian birch charcoal” in order to attain its premium purity. Another vodka, Leaf, emphasizes its water sources (an Alaskan glacier for “pure, smooth taste” and the Rocky Mountains for “unusual richness and complexity) as the keys to its individuality. A vodka’s base materials (water, grain, corn, potato, etc) coupled with thoughtful distillation techniques can create an array of options.

If a beverage director or bartender is going to feature vodka on their menu, they want different flavour profiles to highlight and inspire the cocktail’s composition, accentuating the vodka character as a base as opposed to just using its neutrally-cloaked ABV to bolster the rest of the ingredient list.

Miranda Breedlove is the National Director of Bars for Hyatt, and her spirits selections influence a wide span of properties across the US and Canada. “If I am creating a cocktail, I will choose the brand that is priced best for that drink that has the characteristics or story I am looking for.” Bartending has become a more viable and respected career path, and beverage professionals are looking for deeper education, including consideration of the production methods that a spirit uses. “What is it made of? Where is it made? How is it made?” Breedlove consistently considers these factors when making her bottle selections. “Overall my preference is most dependent on the quality and style of the spirit depending on what I’m using it for. Secondly, I look to the brand relationship and education I have received.” Breedlove’s focus on quality and education means that producers must amplify their outreach, sharing their passion for their products through genuine elevation of industry professionals by creating educational opportunities about their product, offering opportunities to finance further study, and participating in industry-focused fundraisers. Breedlove especially pays attention to these components when it comes to premium products. “I am not generally one to pay for marketing gimmicks, but there are certain higher-priced vodkas that I will spring for during certain occasions as I have either had good experiences with them, they taste on par with their pricing, or they’re preferred by guests I am entertaining.”

2020 holds countless possibilities for the products that uphold consumer and trade expectations. Freed from its debut as a bland background for 1950s’ casseroles and TV dinners and with the right attention to quality and education, vodka is poised to stand proudly in this new decade’s spirits spotlight.