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Cocktail Caviar: Pearl Size Can Make All the Difference

cccav

Here is an innovative new spirits product called Cocktail Caviar. It is “burst-able pearls of naturally flavored spirits.” You can toss them in some wine, or freeze them and add them to other drinks. The product is so new that there is not much about this product on the web so far.

If I understand correctly, these chickpea sized “pearls” are a giantized version of the tiny booze droplets that make up Palcohol. Here, the alcohol is encapsulated in a layer of kelp and so it not quite a liquid and not quite a solid. Maybe there is shock fatigue after the Palcohol surprise, or the size of the pearls makes an enormous difference, or it’s the upscale marketing — but it does not seem like this product is bound to raise hackles the way the powderized product has. Steven Hollenkamp, the man behind this product, explained that part of the appeal of the brand name is that “caviar” is not at all likely to appeal to minors.

I happened to meet Steven this week and he explained:

We worked diligently with TTB getting Cocktail Caviar approved. This included 240 emails, dozens of phone calls and several in-person meetings with TTB administrators, one of which was a lengthy sit down meeting with several high-ups at TTB Headquarters in DC. They were on top of it and met me half way. As a novel product, we felt being an open-book in terms of information and documents, as well as with the long term Cocktail Caviar vision, was the best way to cultivate a healthy long term relationship with TTB. I mean that, and while that may seem like a simple idea, you’d be surprised how many brands use a more guarded approach, trying to snake through the rules in a way that can only irritate TTB formula and COLA specialists.

TTB approved seven flavors of this product last month, and one of the approvals is here.

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Powdered Alcohol

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As of April 8-21, 2014, this was approved. The federal government approved this brand of powderized alcohol two weeks ago. The reviewing agency has been TTB (not FDA, as some press accounts have said). TTB is a sub-unit of the US Department of Treasury.

March 10, 2015 Update: Palcohol is back.

First and for a long time, alcohol was just liquid. Then it was whipped, solidified and almost vaporized. And now alcohol is powderized. A really good TV summary is here.

April 21, 2014, 5 pm ET, Update:  The Palcohol company has surrendered all seven label approvals back to TTB. Here is one of the labels as approved on April 8, 2014 and then the same label as “surrendered” April 21. The differing status is shown at the center of each document. TTB has not said much about the change of course. Palcohol has said:  “We have been in touch with the TTB and there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag. There was a mutual agreement for us to surrender the labels.”

May 8, 2014, 3 pm ET, Update:  Sen. Charles Schumer has blasted Palcohol and pressed FDA to step in, during the past week. Many sources and links on web. And, Mark Phillips does quite a good job rebutting most of the critics here.

I am not astonished that this is a real product — but I am absolutely astonished that this got approved. TTB approved seven versions of this powdered alcohol label on April 8, 2014. It is seven labels covering five products (two rum-like, two vodka-like, one Cosmopolitan-like, one Lemon Drop-like, and one Margarita-like).

Related points:

The person that pushed this through must be very patient or lucky and/or good. The product seems highly likely to raise a large number of legal issues and controversies. The company’s website (as of a few days ago) tended to underscore the controversies, saying:  “What’s worse than going to a concert, sporting event, etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink with tax and tip. Are you kidding me?! Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.” And:

We’ve been talking about drinks so far. But we have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick. Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment. Palcohol is great on so many foods. Remember, you have to add Palcohol AFTER a dish is cooked as the alcohol will burn off if you cook with it…and that defeats the whole purpose.

The current Palcohol website is much more tame and also has a short bio for Mark Phillips, the force behind Palcohol. Over the weekend Mark confirmed that he was in fact quite patient about this; he said:  “The TTB was cautious. It took us nearly four years to get the approval.”

California seems to have been way out in front of this with Regulation 2557. We are not aware of directly and specifically relevant TTB rules, and this may well explain why no rules blocked the initial approvals. Many thanks to John for finding these Palcohol approvals among millions of obscure government records.

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Wine Growlers

growlerEnvironmentally-conscious and corkscrew-phobic wine lovers alike will be thrilled to hear that TTB issued a ruling on March 11, 2014, allowing the filling of wine growlers by TTB-licensed tax-paid wine bottling houses (“TPWBH”). The ruling is in response to a new Washington state law allowing state-licensed wineries to sell wine off-site in kegs or “sanitary containers” (i.e., growlers) for off-premise consumption. Oregon passed a similar law in April 2013.

These laws are particularly helpful to wineries that operate both a production facility and a separate tasting room, allowing them to fill growlers for off-premise consumption at either location. The TTB ruling is somewhat less helpful to wine retailers, requiring that they go to the extra trouble of becoming TPWBH-licensed and comply with label and recordkeeping requirements.

Some wine retailers complain that it is unfair to not allow non-TPBH wine shops to sell growler fills to-go, since beer shops currently enjoy that privilege. TTB explains, the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) “has very specific requirements regarding the bottling of taxpaid wine. Section 5352 of the IRC requires any person who bottles, packages, or repackages taxpaid wine to first apply for and receive permission to operate as a taxpaid wine bottling house. There is no analogous provision with respect to beer.” The current TTB ruling interprets growler filling as bottling or packing and, therefore, restricted to TPWBH-licensed vendors.

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Distinctive Containers

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Most people call them COLAs or FLAs (federal label approvals) or “label approvals.” But those terms leave out the not so minor B — as it appears in the word “bottle,” highlighted above. TTB’s pre-market approval system extends to bottles, and it is starting to seem like many people forgot about this or never knew.

TTB’s bottle review probably does not cover run of the mill bottles. It is meant to cover “distinctive bottles.” The COLA form mentions that you must complete item 18.c. “if you intend to bottle distilled spirits in a distinctive container.” It’s not so easy to know what is and isn’t distinctive. The regulations use the term “distinctive” many times, and even explain the requirements for distinctive bottles, but they don’t explain when bottles are and aren’t.

It is good to know that Jim Beam Brands, at least, still knows how to do this right, and can serve as a good reminder to others. The above Stillhouse Decanter certainly appears to be — on the distinctive side — for a bottle. And alas, the corresponding approval is here; item 18.c. seems to be duly completed to verify that the bottle is both distinctive and approved.

Beam’s press release puts things in perspective and explains that even Jim Beam does not use distinctive containers especially often anymore:

Mirroring the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in design, the new figural bottle revives a storied piece of Beam history, while offering whiskey enthusiasts and collectors the opportunity to add to their collection for the first time in more than a decade. … “Since the early 1950s, hundreds of Beam decanters have celebrated politics, sports, history and more.” … “Beam decanters have come in all shapes and sizes,” said Fredrick “Fred” Booker Noe III, seventh generation Jim Beam master distiller.

Individually hand-crafted by Louisville Stoneware, the Jim Beam American Stillhouse decanter joins hundreds of artfully designed, limited-edition decanters on display in the new Jim Beam American Stillhouse production tour. … Only 1,000 of the limited-edition Stillhouse decanters are available for sale (SRP: $199.99) … .

Originally created to help drive sales and offer bourbon fans more eye-catching packaging suitable for gifting, the specialty bottles and decanters were designed by the Regal China Company and introduced by Jim Beam to the public in 1955. For more than 40 years, the Regal China bottles celebrated many subject areas and reflected the rich traditions of Jim Beam Bourbon. Custom bottles were produced for the Jim Beam collectors’ club chapters, which were formed in 1966 and are collectively known around the globe today as the International Association of Jim Beam Bottle and Specialty Club. Bottle production ceased in the early 1990s only to be brought back by Jim Beam in 2012.

The COLA Registry search does not make it easy to find distinctive container approvals, so here is one more example of such a decanter (from a shelf at TTB). And here are some other examples from this blog.

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Pumpkin Face

Here is Pumpkin Face Dominican Rum. Does it remind me that summer is ending and Halloween is around the corner? No. It reminds me of many other things.

It reminds me that Dan Matauch at Flowdesign has a lot of skill. I especially like the main font.

It reminds me that Mark Itskovitz was serious when he said he was thinking about getting into the spirits business.

It reminds me of the new distiller and former bartender, I met at the ADI conference — at the bar — who said bartenders hate shapes like this because they take a lot of space. But they never go in the trash can.

It reminds me of the Apple-Samsung litigation. If Apple designed this, one might expect Apple to claim a patent on certain orb-shaped decanters.

Finally, it reminds me to thank Ann and Gerard for stopping by yesterday and saying nice things about this blog. Gerard is one of the most famous chefs in the U.S., and Ann makes a pretty good veal dish herself.

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