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Organic Booze Poised To Be Next Big F&B Trend

The organics movement is moving from the hotel kitchen to the wine cellar. Here's why this could be big.

Monday, August 04, 2008
David Wilkening
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Bottom’s up. The next trendy drink you consume at your hotel bar may be an organic bottle of beer or glass of wine, or even an organic vodka or scotch.

“People already are looking for clean organic food, so the next step is organic alcohol,” says Jean Bridddell, general manager of the California-based Coturri Winery, which has been a pioneer in organic wine growing for more than two decades and is a supplier to hotels.

Hip hotels in California have been among the first to go beyond organic food to start serving organic alcohol as well, such as the 86-room Orchard Garden Hotel. It was the first hotel in the state (and third in the nation) to earn the LEED Certified status from the US Green Building Council.

Quite naturally, they serve organic alcohol.

“We were on the cutting edge of that. As soon as I found out about Square One early last year, we stocked our bar with it,” says Trisa Clayton, who does public relations for the hotel.

Square One became the first company in the US to offer organic vodka in 2006.

“A wonderful but scary part of all this is that as small as we are, I know we are the brand that put organic liquor on the map,” says Allison Evanow, who owns Square One with her sister, Deborah Jones. “We were the first to put it out there.”

Square One is made with 100 percent organic rye from North Dakota, and water from the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. The vodka is only distilled once.

In the short time since Square One came out, organic liquor has expanded beyond beer, wine and vodka to tequila, gin, brandy, whisky and rum.

Square One doubled its sales in 2007 and is now available at Marriott Hotels. One of its more recent new products was organic cucumber vodka.

The Orchard Garden restaurant, Roots, has a wine list of 116 bottles. “It’s 100 percent organic,” says Clayton.

It is not just trendy California hotels that have had an appetite for organic booze.

Three hotel chains -- Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Kimpton Hotels -- now carry organic beverages in their bars.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that, to qualify as an organic alcohol, the spirit must be made of ingredients grown on certified organic farms. The liquor must also be processed in a certified organic distillery. That means no pesticides or fertilizers on the grains. No nitrogen or other chemicals can be used in the distilling process, either.

Most drinkers have already been exposed to organic beer or wine. So organic spirits are the next step, says Matthew Von Ertfelda, vice president of restaurants and bars for Marriott International Inc.

“On an annual basis, we survey market trends and try to identify any emerging trends that we feel we should be aware of. The whole organic, greening trend is so widespread now, and guests are increasingly aware of it when it comes to their beverages,” he says.

Not everyone has had a huge taste for organic. Kimpton’s Muse Hotel in New York City started stocking organic wine, spirits and organic beer, such as Anheuser Busch’s Wild Hops Lager and Stone Mill Pale Ale, last summer; the new products did not initially sell well. But the taste for them is gaining an appetite, says Marissa Barr, general manager of the hotel’s restaurant, District. She removed the product but a few months ago started stocking it again.

“I think it’s something like new twist caps on wine bottles. It’s one of those things where people have to know what’s going on and get accustomed to it,” says Barr.

“Absolutely,” she says when asked whether she thinks the organic products will be popular.

She says that should be true because organic is an emerging trend not only in hotels but across the board. “People want to be greener,” she says.

Most observers think the US has been relatively slow in joining the organic trend. Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin from the UK claims to be the first organic London dry gin, while UK5 organic vodka says it is the world’s first certified organic of its kind.

Both are products of The Organic Spirits Company. That company also sells Highland Harvest Organic Scotch Whisky, Papagayo Organic White Rum and Papagayo Organic Spiced Rum.

One major reason for the growth of organic liquor may be perception.

“People associate organic with higher quality,” says Anna Jovancicevic, a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits County. “People think it’s healthier to consume things made with no artificial flavors,” she says.

The organic movement has gotten particularly prominent in the past four or five years. “But we’re only seeing it in the liquor industry in the last year or two,” she says.

In addition to citing its health benefits, advocates of organic booze often claim it tastes better and offers the benefit of reduced hangovers, which is a controversial notion.

The $6 billion organic food industry itself is expected to grow 59 percent by 2012, according to Mintel Research. Last year, organic beer sales grew 29 percent to hit $25 million, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic wine grew 13 percent to reach $80 million, the association estimates.

That’s only a drop in the barrel for the wine and beer industries, which together represent a $128 billion in sales. But the organic segment is a fast-growing category for industries that generally plod along with growth of just one or two percent a year.

No surprise perhaps, but Clayton says the organic movement is particularly robust in California though it is emerging all over the US.
“San Francisco is huge for that (movement). It started about two years ago when you began reading about the art of the cocktail with natural garnishes. God forbid you use something non-organic or not freshly squeezed,” Clayton says.

She says the organic alcoholic products have been an immediate success at the hotel and no one has complained they prefer an additional choice of non-organic wine.

“People enjoy it. They enjoy learning about it and tasting it. We often ask them if they would like to try an organic vodka. It’s a talking point,” she says.

Not only is it a conversation starter, the hotel also uses organic food and beverages in their marketing and promotional efforts.

“We market it in our restaurant where all the menus point to the fact we use as many organic products as possible. On our press releases, we focus greatly on the culture of being as organic as possible, including all our food and beverages,” she says.
David Wilkening    David Wilkening
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: David Wilkening is a writer specializing in travel and business-real estate writing. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and dot coms. He never met a trip he didn't like. He is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, DC, where he was a writer and editor covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from politics to feature stories.
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