Drinking in A Virtual Reality

The pandemic has put a hard stop to on-premise imbibing (in most places), but that doesn’t mean consumers are any less thirsty. Without the guiding pours of a beverage industry professional, many bon vivants have found themselves floating aimlessly through a sea of bottle shops and grocery stores, too intimidated by the countless choices to make a solid decision, scared to wind up with something that doesn’t suit their palate, and sometimes leaving empty-handed.
Enter their lifesaver: the virtual tasting.

Christopher Quinn owns and runs the much-beloved Beer Temple in Chicago and built the foundation of his now-booming virtual tasting business within a few days of the Illinois shutdown. Quinn says that initially the tastings were a way to have “something lighthearted…a way to decompress and see other people” and they have since grown in composition and popularity in the past ten months (ten centuries?) to the point that inquiries are coming in every day. These virtual events have the capacity to serve consumer needs while simultaneously amplifying brand reach, and Quinn explains that “with the lack of a way for brands to get in front of the end consumer, [virtual tastings] can get engagement [with] more of a long-format discussion.” He believes that this outlet creates an “unprecedented” level of engagement for brands due to the fact that “[consumers] are sitting there for half an hour to an hour or more just listening” and that even in a pre-COVID world, “it’s hard to get that level [of attention].”

Another movement to creating the self-assured sip can be found in Slik Wines: an intersectionally-minded virtual wine education platform co-founded by somm trio Marie Cheslik, Kyla Peal, and Danielle Norris. Slik’s ethos is “making [wine] accessible for everyone,” and Norris reassures that “none of this has to be scary” because “if we are truly doing our job, we are creating comfort” in giving consumers “confidence when [they] go to the store.” The highly-customizable spread of offerings in their tastings bursts wine’s often-austere bubble and opens the world of wine to even the most timid tippler. Cheslik points to their inventive consumer-focused Blind Tasting 101, an exercise previously shrouded in the “serious master somm category” but that has been Slik’d into “a fun drinking game” as virtual education that both relaxes and energizes its participants.

In addition to seeing clients immediately purchase the products their tastings have introduced them to, both Quinn and the Slik team feel that the level of approachable and familiar engagement that exists in the virtual tasting sphere creates a highly-coveted intimate relationship between brand and consumer. “[Consumers] need someone to say ‘this is delicious, you gotta check it out, you’re gonna love it,'” which Cheslik says naturally leads to people going out and saying ” ‘I remember us having that and now I feel comfortable [buying it].'” The sometimes-intimidating atmosphere of a tableside somm (where often the standing professional is literally talking down to the seated self-effacing guest) is hence transformed into a casual, cordial conversation between co-humans that are alike in their potable passion.

If a brand is still on the fence about whether or not to partner up for a virtual tasting, Quinn urges that “now is the time to do it” because it’s still exciting and fresh and has potential to further lay the groundwork to “iterate off of it once we can be in-person.” Additionally, with bars and restaurants closed, holiday celebrations have been relocated to homes, meaning there is a unique chance for brands to incorporate themselves into lasting personal memories with their consumer base. Slik has taken this opportunity to the next level, curating the créme de la créme of a party by partnering with a brand to offer a stellar steal of a New Year’s Eve deal for two (i.e. a magnum of brut reserve Champagne, 50g of caviar plus fixins and two Mother of Pearl spoons, a CONFETTI CANNON, and exclusive access to Zoom festivities that will pop 2020 into oblivion).  “We are your freelance sommeliers,” says Cheslik, reiterating that Slik’s role as a “liaison” to enjoying wine “spreads the good word” and creates and educated and confident consumer base. It is through this innovation by industry pros like Quinn, Cheslik, Peal, and Norris that the platform of virtual tasting builds an inviting bridge between brands and consumers, establishing loyalty that will last long after the pandemic is in the past.

 

 

BTI’s official statement on claims that mezcal is the purest distilled alcohol.

It has come to our attention that numerous online sources have circulated a claim attributed to the Beverage Testing Institute that mezcal is the "purest distilled alcohol". As mezcal researchers, tas...

BTI Drops a Rare 100-Point Score in their 2021 World Whisk(e)y Review

Irish Whiskey is on the rise Beverage Testing Institute has published their 2021 World Whisk(e)y Review which includes a palate-popping 100-point score not seen in nearly a decade. All results can...

New York Wine Classic “Best of Class” Announced

...

Drinking to the Future: What’s Trending in 2021

As 2021 gains momentum from the burning flames of 2020, the team at BTI wanted to gather and share some trend predictions for the coming year (not included in said predictions: whatever horrific event...

2021 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...

"The consistency and broad consumer reach of BTI ratings and reviews really solidified the quality message of our artisan brand and helped us build a well-distributed and highly regarded specialty portfolio of beers."
Laurent-Xavier Gilbert,
VP Development at La Brasserie Unibroue
"The BTI rankings have an effect on what restaurants put on their wine lists, and ultimately on what you might be drinking."
Joe Gray,
Editor, Chicago Tribune
"BTI is still the outstanding tasting organization, uniquely independent. Keep up the good work!"
Jan Wells,
VP of Marketing, Cannon Wines
"Beverage Testing Institute is a professional operation with a professional approach. I like that they are committed to truly blind tastings and that their reviews are comprehensive and informative. We highlight the reviews in our tasting room and post them on social media; the consumer response is very positive. "
Edwin Richards,
Winemaker/Owner, Adastra
“Our BTI awards have helped us with our US distribution. Sales have increased form 0 cases to 250 cases in just a couple of months. We opened two new accounts in Seattle and New York.”
Eduardo Aguirre Victoria,
Terre de Vignerons
“[BTI's] Tastings.com is well known as a main reference for connoisseurs, experts and followers of spirits.”
Otto Flores,
Ron Barcelo
"We have used Tastings.com (BTI) for the last 5 years and couldn’t be happier. They always have great customer service and support! Not only do they have detailed professional reviews and tasting notes, the addition of the metallic stickers and shelf-talkers help us capture customers, and drive bottle sales. The trophies, medals, and printed awards are displayed as center pieces in our tasting room. Their website is easy to navigate and has great product information."
Mike Huffman,
Whidbey Island Distillery
“Our winery has had BTI rate our wines for a number of years. We use the bottle stickers and shelf talkers for both education and to enhance our marketing. We have had distributors request bottle stickers, and during wine pourings, we use the shelf talkers as a customer take away. We appreciate the information written by BTI since we find it to be concise, descriptive, informational, and a well rounded review of our wines.“
Janet Soderberg,
Alamira Wines, Vistaflores Estate
When we found out that our 20 year Pappy Van Winkle had been entered in BTI's 1997 World Spirits Championships and received their 99-point rating, that’s when we started getting calls from distributors around the country looking for our whiskey.

That was a benchmark moment for our business. Every time we received a high rating from BTI over the years, interest increased for our brand.

We owe a lot to the Beverage Testing Institute for our success.
Julian P. Van Winkle, III,
President, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BTI has been our go-to partner for our alcohol awards program for years now, providing quality reviews of our wide selection of wines, beers and hard seltzers. The unique quarterly submission process allows our team to highlight new, trending and seasonal offerings and the staff at BTI is always responsive, collaborative and supportive to help us reach our goals.
Carrie Reitz,
Corporate Buying US, ALDI Inc.
The trust that consumers, major retailers, distributors and suppliers have for BTI makes their reviews and recommendations an invaluable complement and a huge asset to the success of Atlas’ bespoke label brands. I enthusiastically recommend their tools and services to anyone in the control or private label beverage program spaces.
Jim Cosma,
Atlas Imports

Brand Partners