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Small-batch distilleries a hot trend in spirits business, experts say (Orlando Sentinel)

By Jon Busdeker, Orlando SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 01--Move over, Jack Daniel's and Captain Morgan. Small-batch distilleries want a seat at the bar.

Spirits handcrafted by boutique booze-makers may see some growth in market share as more Americans try to support smaller enterprises, according to industry experts who spoke this week at the 70th annual Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America convention at the Grande Lakes Orlando resort.

Small-batch distillers "will continue to be a hot trend," said "mixologist" Tony Abou-Ganim, an expert on cocktails who led a panel discussion Tuesday.

More than 2,300 suppliers and distributors were in Central Florida for the trade-association convention Sunday through Tuesday. Industry insiders sampled new-to-the-market libations and competed in drink-inspired contests.

On the final day of the convention, Abou-Ganim, author of "The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails" and a guest on the "Today" show and "Iron Chef America," spoke about the $198-billion-a-year industry and where it's heading.

Much as the craft-beer movement has introduced Americans to regionally made brews, micro-distillers that produce spirits such as unique-tasting whiskey, vodka and rum are hoping to bring handcrafted sprits to American palates.

However, he said, "the market will ultimately decide" how successful these smaller enterprises will be.

The rise in popularity of small-batch distilleries coincides with the popularity of mixology bars, which are drinking establishments where cocktails are the main attraction. In the past year, two "mixology" bars have opened in downtown Orlando: The Courtesy and Hanson's Shoe Repair.

"Consumers are constantly looking for new tastes ... new products," said Jeff Solsby, a spokesperson for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

But taste is only part of marketing spirits, he said. Image and lifestyle are important factors too. The hard liquor that's so prominent on TV's "Mad Men" has pushed consumers to ask for those types of drinks.

"Your cocktail represents who you are," Solsby said.

Other trends highlighted at the convention included growth in vodka sales, the resurgence of bourbon and what's being called the "premiumization" of alcohol -- meaning that some consumers are looking for higher-quality spirits.

Alberto de la Cruz, the owner of Florida Caribbean Distillers, is banking on another trend: ready-to-drink alternatives. The Auburndale-based drink-maker showed off several of its products during the convention, including ready-to-drink mimosas. The ready-to-drink pina colada will be sold in plastic containers that look like cocktail shakers.

The drinks, many of which are made with orange wine, may be available by the end of summer.

jbusdeker@tribune.com or 407-420-6226

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(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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