Category Archives: Spirits marketing and PR

A Note to My Unborn Son

Dear Son:

One of the things you’ll learn pretty early is that Daddy likes his whiskey. (Mommy’s a fan, too, but while you’re still incubating, she’s abstaining.) One of Daddy’s favorite families of whiskey is the group of bourbons and ryes made by the Wild Turkey group (although please steer clear of the 80º, k thx bye). Aside from that, I like everything else they make, so it’s safe to say, when you’re finally of age to buy booze, you won’t go wrong buying me some Wild Turkey for Father’s Day.

If you were around this year, and not simply still a wee fetus floating in an amniotic sac, you could do the world a favor and not just your old man.

Wild Turkey has an older brother called Russell’s Reserve, a small-batched, ten-year-old bourbon distilled by father-son team Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Russell’s Reserve is a damn good bourbon, but that’s not what does the world a favor.

Well, actually, it’s part of what does the world a favor, because the world needs all the damn good bourbon it can get. But there’s something more important that Jimmy and Eddie Russell are doing. During the month of June, for every bottle of Russell’s Reserve sold, they’ll make a donation to a nonprofit group called Operation Once in a Lifetime, to help provide flights home for members of our Armed Forces.

Now that, you little monster, is a damn good reason to buy anyone’s Daddy (or Mommy) a bottle of Russell’s Reserve. Well, that and the fact that it’s damn good bourbon.


Disclaimer: I received a sample bottle of Russell’s Reserve, but don’t let that bug you. I’ll be buying a bottle or two of my own this June to help the cause. (I also plan to rerun this post, or a similar version without the cutesy baby stuff, later in June to remind people.)

Bacardi Ad: The Outsider

Number 4 in Bacardi’s series of short films/long ads has hit YouTube this morning. In the interest of disclosure, Think Espionage, the agency that produced these films, invited me to attend the premiere at Tales of the Cocktail on Thursday afternoon, while munching on tasty treats and sipping a Cuba Libre mixed by Bacardi Global Ambassador David Cordoba. Disclaimer aside, I enjoy the hell out of this ad. Filmed at a real bar in London (though the speakeasy front is a fiction), the film differs from the previous three in that it stars an actual bartender, Nicolas Saint-Jean.

[Click through to watch large, in HD.]

I expect this one to spark some comments and maybe a little snark. Bring it on.

Bacardi ad: The Apothecary

Finally, the third in a series of short films (or long ads) by Bacardi. In this installment, our intrepid traveler enters a bar in what’s probably London. As with The Samurai and The Hummingbird videos, this film highlights bartending technique and skill. Take a look.

[As before, click through to watch large, in HD.]

Again, I want to point out some of the tools I covet. The handled jigger is awesome, but what I really love is the metal straw.

The firm that put these together, Think Espionage, is running a contest for the most original spin on a Mojito. The prizes are sweet: a first edition copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book (signed by Harry Craddock), a Yarai mixing glass, and a Japanese barspoon. To enter, though, you’ll need to be on Facebook. Go to the True Originals fan page and enter by posting your recipe on the wall. (If you’re not on Facebook, you can leave the recipe in the comments on this post. I’ll make sure it gets to Liana at Think Espionage.

Think Espionage is working right now on a fourth video, and I’ll have more details on that soon.

[In the interest of full disclosure: Shortly after the first video appeared here, Liana sent me a bottle of Bacardi’s limited edition release of its original 44.5% ABV formula rum, which I quite enjoyed, especially in a classic daiquiri.]

Bacardi ad: The Hummingbird

Back in mid-November, I linked out to the first in a series of “mini-movies” showcasing bartenders and Bacardi rum. “The Samurai” featured a Japanese bartender making a daiquiri cocktail for a mysterious gentleman. I mentioned that two more such videos had been produced and promised to link out to them when they were available.

The second video, the Hummingbird, is now up on YouTube, and it’s worth watching.

[As before, click through to YouTube to watch it in large HD.]

Again, I don’t think it’s practical to crack open a coconut in a busy nightclub, but it sure looks cool, doesn’t it?

I can’t tell for certain, but it sounds like the voice actor might have been recast. The actor who plays the bartender (who, if I may, is dead-sexy) was trained by Bacardi Global Ambassador David Cordoba. Her technique is great to watch, and I covet her barspoon.

Bacardi viral ads

Last week, I was catching up on my RSS feeds, when I saw a post by Helmut Adam, of the German magazine Mixology, about a series of viral ads the Bacardi company is running. The series begins with an ad called “The Samurai” (running time: 1m:59s). A man enters a Japanese bar, while a voiceover tells us, “There’s only one bartender in the world that I’d have mix me this drink. He’s so in tune with his surroundings, he knows your drink before you do.” The man approaches the bartender, who bows slightly and says only, “Daiquiri?” The man nods.

Now, watch the video and pay attention to the bartender’s tools and his technique. Both are, from what I’ve recently learned, common among the best Japanese bartenders. But just watch. We’ll talk more when you’re done:

[or click, to watch it in large HD video]

Look at those beautiful bar tools! The beaker-shaped mixing glass, the tall jigger, the spoon with the fork at the end. Lovely. (And by the way, you can buy this stuff at my friend Greg Boehm’s website, Cocktail Kingdom.) Watch how gracefully but precisely he mixes the drink. Lovely. That’s just the kind of bartender I could watch all day. And yet, he’s an actor, trained by bartender Marian Beke of London.

London, by the way, is the source of this ad, which was created by a marketing firm called Think Espionage. And if you’ve fully read Helmut’s blog post by now, you’ll know there are two more of these videos on the way. Now, I enjoyed the first enough that when I read that, I was intrigued and wanted to see them all. To my surprise, the very next day, I received a nice e-mail from a Think Espionage employee named Liana Wilson-Fricker. She described the purpose of these videos and offered to send me links and passwords to watch the next two. Liana told me the same thing she wrote to Helmut:

To give it a bit of context, they aren’t ads but pieces of film content aimed at and created for the world’s top bartenders. It’s about celebrating the unique skills that each bartender at the top of the game possess.

Now that I’ve seen the other videos, I don’t think Liana’s bullshitting me. I mean, obviously, the videos are about promoting the Bacardi brand, front and center. But once you accept that, it’s easy to see that Bacardi and Think Espionage chose to do so in a way that also highlights the skills of great bartenders. In video 2, “The Hummingbird” (1:48), the man enters a busy club. A bartender nods at him and without speaking, puts ice into a glass to chill. She slices and chunks fresh pineapple, straight from the fruit and drops that into a mixing tin with sugar. She muddles that and then (get the fuck out) hacks into a fresh coconut and pours its juice into the tin. (Helmut’s right; this just wouldn’t happen at a busy club, but it’s so damn cool to watch, I’m happy to suspend disbelief.) On goes rum, then ice. She shakes the drink and straw-tastes it before double-straining it into a chilled glass with a slice of pineapple. (Liana told Helmut that the actor was trained by Bacardi Global Ambassador David Cordoba.)

Video 3, “The Apothecary” (2:12) is set in a bar similar to PDT or Milk and Honey. As the camera pans the room, you see a shelf of vintage cocktail manuals. (I saw an old copy of the Savoy and the Esquire Handbook for Hosts, but I can’t place the rest. And one of the volumes isn’t even a cocktail manual, so I assume there’s other “filler” there.) Then you see jars of spices before the camera settles on a bartender grinding spices with a mortar and pestle. The man asks the bartender to surprise him, at which point the bartender brings out trays of fresh herbs. As he works, you see flashbacks of the bartender smelling herbs, tasting tinctures, and taking notes. He pulls down a jar of eucalyptus-infused sugar and then muddles it with mint and lemon verbena. Then ice, rum, and a splash of soda.

It’s only in this final video that you clearly see the Bacardi marque and logo. In the first two, you can make out that the bartenders are pouring from bottles of Bacardi, if you pay attention, and when The Samurai video hit the web, viewers figured out this was some sort of Bacardi viral even before Think Espionage confirmed it. That seems to be the hallmark of a successful campaign: you can figure out the source if you choose to. I think Bacardi and TE have succeeded in two ways here; one, they’re getting people talking about the brand. I don’t even normally like Bacardi, but here I am anyway. And that’s specifically because they chose to highlight good bartending and found a way to convey the skills and talents of good bartenders.

When the Hummingbird and Apothecary videos are publicly available, I’ll link out to them. They’re fun to watch.

Good touch, bad touch

So, I get a lot of PR pitches. Most cocktail, wine, and food bloggers do. Some of them are smartly targeted and personalized, but many of them are just kind of dumb. I opened my Gmail account one day to see an email that started “Dear Dash.” An amusing nickname, true, and I suppose that’s better than the “Dear <vname>” message I got one day. And, frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what the PR folks for Women’s Health magazine are thinking in sending me information on dieting, women’s nutrition, and Madonna’s organic lifestyle.

Now you’ll understand why it was a delight to read a PR email that started this way:

Hey Michael,

Hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice, from reading your blog, that you have a thing for ginger.

Pitch-perfect PR. By my rough count, there are… let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 posts that feature or mention something gingery as a drink ingredient. So thank you, Yun Yu, from Fox Greenberg Public Relations, for actually paying attention to what I do and what this blog’s about–not specifically ginger, but about creatively pairing strong flavors and fresh ingredients with spirits.

Thank you, too, for sending up a bottle of Xanté pear and cognac liqueur while all my pals were at Tales of the Cocktail. This stuff is tasty. It’s hard to balance the flavor in a product like this, to keep it from being cloying, but the distillers did a fine job on this one. Morgenthaler describes it well, in a piece where he rightly and humorously sends up its marketing (Xanté’s PR firm is great, but its marketers are insane):

The opening nose is reminiscent of pears poached in cinnamon and wine. The first sip reveals a moderate amount of heat, which dissipates quickly leaving behind an extended finish of basic sugars, pear, light caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.

I find it just a little too sweet to sip neat or on the rocks, but it blends beautifully into cocktails. I think my favorite use for it is in a sidecar variation, with lime juice instead of lemon, and the triple sec reduced just a smidge.

I also find that it pairs well with rum, in an old-fashioned, with Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. In fact, the marriage of pear, vanilla, and Fee’s warm Christmas spices reminds me so much of Yuletide that I’m going to tuck some of the Xanté away for the holiday season.

Xanté Ginger Martini
photograph by Jennifer Hess.

Now, what’s this to do with ginger? Well, Yun, in contacting me, suggested the Xanté Ginger Martini cocktail. I know, I know, I know; I’m not crazy about the name either. A martini is strictly a drink with gin and vermouth and maybe some orange bitters. It’s not a drink with cognac liqueur and anything else. But call it what you may, it’s a damn fine drink. Here’s the recipe as Yun sent it.

Xanté Ginger Martini

  • 1-1/2 ounces Xanté
  • 1-1/2 ounces lemon juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (I’d cut this back to 1/2 ounce, personally, but I was using a rich 2:1 syrup made with Turbinado sugar)
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, for garnish

In a mixing glass, muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and float garnish on top.

Tell you what. Not only is this a fine drink, where all of the elements play well together, but the ginger really helps to bring the pear to the fore. And as we found out last night, Spanish Marcona almonds make a perfect accompaniment to this cocktail. I almost didn’t want to have dinner.