The ChocoVine Phenomenon, or What Separates a Breakout Brand from an Also-Ran

For those of you unfamiliar with the brand, (and therefore probably snickering), ChocoVine is one of those unique new product successes we see so rarely in the industry. Not just a breakout brand, but one that flies counter to what the pundits would tell you will work. In point of fact, ChocoVine was mentioned by every panelist in our wholesaler session at the U.S. Drinks Conference last October as an example of an opportunity missed. All the folks on our wholesaler panel scoffed at the idea initially and were astounded at the brand’s success.

We’ve been watching the ChocoVine phenomenon from its early stages and while I can describe what’s been happening, I can’t explain the phenomenon. But I sure would like to be able to.

ChocoVine is a chocolate cream product but instead of a spirits alcohol base it’s made with red wine “The taste of dutch chocolate and fine red wine.” So when you first hear the name. the concepts of chocolate and wine seem at odds…a very difficult pairing in the fine wine world. The label and package are often referred to as “hokey” or “downscale”. But that’s where the criticism has to end, because this stuff is flying off the shelves. In its third year on the market the brand is on track to hit a million cases.

There’s something about the DNA of this brand that’s really resonating with consumers. As an anecdotal example of that, I was in one store where the delivery guy had just placed a case on the check out shelf for a moment, and customers came over and literally grabbed bottles out of the reshipper…they never even made it to the shelf! And just yesterday in a bar in Brooklyn the bartender mentioned the brand, the Southern on premise rep just happened to have the “Holy Trinity of ChocoVine” (Original, Raspberry, Espresso) with him. So what began as an off premise brand, is cracking on premise as well.

We spoke to Steve Katz of Clever Imports in Florida who is the brains behind the brand. He told us the idea was pretty simple. Instead of putting chocolate into the alcohol, they put the alcohol into the chocolate. And by using wine as the alcohol base, the product can be sold in a much wider set of retail stores than a spirits product. Additionally, the lower tax rate on wines means it can be priced at $10-$12 compared to market leader Bailey’s $19.99 price point and still deliver significant margin.

As the Brits say, “Brilliant!”


Cocktail Classic Takes Over NYC Tonight

Year 2 has dawned upon us and the action gets underway tonight in the Big Apple. I’m referring to the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a five-day festival through the vast concrete jungle of New York City that includes a variety of educational seminars, tasting events and not-to-be-missed parties.

Tonight’s main attraction is The Gala, where the Classic will once again take over the sprawling main branch of The New York Public Library. Encompassing four stories, two city blocks and over 25,000 cocktails, the Gala will once again be the starlet of the Cocktail Classic. I'm very much looking forward to going in the company of Mandarine Napoléon, whose table at the Gala will be serving up a classic cocktail recipe remixed by PDT's General Manager, Jim Meehan.

I’d love to hear what other events people will be attending so please share with me some of the highlights on your own calendars! I’ll most certainly be at the Gala tonight (and intermittently around the city for the rest of the festival) so tweet me up @stephaniejerzy if you’d like to say hello and share a drink.


A Visit to Scott & Co., Tucson

Well, don't I sort of feel silly now.

I have had this post title and its pictures sitting in my D4TH queue for a few weeks now following a fantastic trip to Scott & Co.. The thing is I just hadn't had a chance yet to stop what I've been doing and put my thoughts down on (virtual) paper of the mixology bar to land in my former hometown of Tucson, Arizona.

I was going to tell you about the uniqueness and "newness" of the mixology scene in Tucson. The ambient atmosphere in the bar. Its special Tiki Thursday menu. I could also launch into the great bar service we had from Ciaran and Carl; their ability to listen to the customer provided for a great drinking experience. Then there's a Bartender's Choice on the drink menu to solidify that dedication to hospitality.

But then, alas!, that darned Roberto de Tucson of BarMedia beat me to the punch with this number he wrote for Nightclub & Bar. I definitely would recommend giving Robert's article a read and I'll just provide my nickel-and-dimed version here.

I actually first learned of Scott & Co. not from a Tucson source, but rather from Tasting Table NYC, whose new Top Shelf newsletter featured an article on bars using acid phosphate or ingredients of the like, a movement I first learned about from bartender/chemist/blogger Darcy O'Neil.

I dropped in early on a Thursday evening and started the evening off with a spin on a classic - Carl served me a gorgeous-looking Pisco Punch with a twist; Scott & Co.'s Pisco Punch boasts the addition of a Chinese Five Spice blend, in addition to the traditional lemon juice and pineapple gomme syrup. My boyfriend decided to test out this Bartender's Choice concept early - ending up with a gin-based Tiki drink served in the fantastic glassware pictured far up top.

Next up for me - I asked for a Chartreuse Swizzle and, boy, did Ciaran figured me out early. He made me the beautiful swizzle pictured on the right with a float of Fernet Branca on the top. Needless to say, I was a happy camper.

Before I knew it, our small and quiet mixology bar was packed three people deep. And the gentlemen behind the bar continued to shake up the same quality cocktails as we were provided early on in the evening. After our large group captured many more of the drinks on the bar's Tiki Menu, my friend and I capped the night off fittingly with a couple of Sazeracs.

I am thrilled to see the efforts of Ciaran, among others, bringing this craft cocktail culture to Tucson and I hope it continues to thrive and grow in the Old Pueblo. The bar will most definitely be on my radar for my next trip back down, where another Tiki adventure will await (perhaps Roberto will even join me!).


Happy Cinco de Mayo

Today is a glorious day. It's Cinco de Mayo. No, it is not actually Mexico's Independence Day, but rather, it commemorates the Mexican army's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

As you can see, I spent much of last night with my dutiful hand juicer well, in hand. I've got a couple of Margarita recipes up my sleeve to entertain friends at our evening's fiesta at my home. Here's the Margarita menu:

Stephanie's Classic Triple Sec Margarita:

  • 2 parts blanco or plata 100 % agave tequila

  • 1 part Hiram Walker Triple Sec (my go-to Triple Sec over Cointreau, especially if I’m planning to make drinks for a large group like tonight)

  • 3/4 part fresh lime juice

  • 1/4 part (or two bar spoons) agave syrup (Optional, but in my mind, quite a delightful addition)

Incorporating a different taste from another of my favorite products from the broad "orange liqueur" category is the classic with quite the deeply rooted heritage

Imperial Daisy:
  • 2 oz. Tequila Anejo
  • 1 oz. Mandarine Napoléon
  • 1 oz. Freshly squeezed lime juice
Both of these cocktails can be enjoyed by shaking well with ice and straining into a chilled cocktail glass with (my personal preference) a partially salted rim.

Enjoy your day's fiestas!