Millennial Drinkers Get their “Woodstock” in Brooklyn

Written by David Rosengarten, Two Times James Beard Award Winner and renowned Author and Chef.
Main image above: Peter Iglesias, C.O.O. at Royal Dutch Distillery. Photo Credit: Amjed Osman Photography.

A veteran wine writer, a Baby Boomer like me, was expressing her views to me a few years back, on a wine writer’s press trip, deep in Portuguese wine country. “You know what the rise of mixology actually means?” she asked.

“No, what?”

“It means we screwed up presenting wine to Millennials.”

I think there’s a good deal of truth in this statement. We Baby Boomers learned all about wine in our immediate post-drinking-age years. We helped create a “wine culture” in America, in which you’d darn well better know the difference between a Napa Valley Chardonnay, and the same grape variety as grown in Chablis….or why the tricky harvest of 1964 in Bordeaux created successful wines at some properties, poor wines at others.  Cocktails? The old folks had them sometimes…as in “screwdrivers,” or vodka with orange juice. And that was about it, for then. But…..

Apres ça…le deluge.

Photo Credit: Seth Stern, Bar Convent Brooklyn.

Maybe it’s true that we didn’t explain ourselves well enough to the Millennials. But whatever the reason, many Millennials did seem to take a side-step around wine, and proceeded directly to the head of the cocktails class.

So it came as no surprise to me last week…as I entered the ballyhooed Bar Convent Brooklyn trade show in Greenpoint, Brooklyn…that it practically seemed like mixology Woodstock for Millennials. BCB was one of the most highly touted spirit trade shows ever staged in America…and from the entrance all the way in, it seemed as if it had been shaped by and for these cocktail-drinking Millennials!

For starters, there was nary a man in sight who wasn’t 30-ish, with a pointy-tipped beard. There wasn’t a woman in sight, of the same age, who wasn’t tatted up on her arms and shoulders and neck.

The technology of the Millennials swept in too. I’ve been to many a trade show, but never saw so much floor space dedicated to computer tables, where Millennials could connect with other Millennials. Additionally, a usual number of booths showed open wires behind their computers, manifesting a modern love of and frankness about high-tech (not unlike the prophetic world of the film Brazil).

There was a playground-like atmosphere to it all, which could also be described in a more sophisticated way as an atmosphere of performance art. There was a “DJ” from the California Vermouth Lofi (pronounced low-fi)—spinning platters of 50s music on an old-fashioned “hi-fi” turntable. There was the equipment supplier to the show—and the country! — Cocktail Kingdom, with its mind-blowing array of cocktail stirrers, strainers, etc. presented as beautifully as rows of diamonds and precious gems in a fine jewelry store. There was Hennessey Cognac presenting Cognac cocktails—eight of them, each one made by a different mixologist from across the U.S., some of the true rock stars of the modern mixology world.

Myriam Hendrickx, Rutte Master Distiller with Kevin Joseph from Empire Oyster. Photo Credit: Amjed Osman Photography.

And then there was the Royal Dutch Distillery, which formally announced Peter Iglesias as C.O.O. of Royal Dutch Distillers who stated, “New York is one of our most important marketplaces globally and the most important one in the U.S. The Royal Dutch brand is quite timely now for being the only producer of a Gin and a Genever with Rutte.”

A highly creative company, they indulged their notions that:

  1. Cocktail-pairing with food is a Millennial obsession; and
  2. Millennials love them their oysters.

The next leap is easy. At the Rutte stand (one of the brands of Royal Dutch Distillers), presented the modern idea of cocktails-with-food—and in partnership with Kevin Joseph’s (New York’s premier artisanal oyster provider with Empire Oyster) put on a shuck-like-crazy oyster bar, with molecular gastronomy highlighting  a process of reverse osmosis to create a delicate membrane around a spirit and in this case with Rutte Old Simon Genever Spirited Pearls with Grated Horseradish Pearls and Rutte Celery Gin with Celery Leaf Spirited Pearls.

It was fun, it was delicious…and it appealed mightily to the Millennials, who queued up politely for their mollusks and gin mixes.

Peter Iglesias, COO at Royal Dutch Distillery. Photo Credit: Amjed Osman Photography.

Royal Dutch Distillers took it a step further with the American debut of a new Cuban-coffee liqueur, Bébo  You couldn’t help but be drawn to Bébo’s festive corner. Bebo was a bartender in old Havana (or so the narrative goes), who had a favorite hummingbird. And a favorite coffee liqueur. Sure enough, on the wall of the Bébo corner, was a beautiful hand-painted portrait of the hummingbird…right next to the bird’s putative cage (old-fashioned and tall)…right next to tastes of the new Bebo product. It is made in Holland from ultra-exclusive Cuban coffee beans shipped there…beans completely unavailable to Americans in any other form. How does Royal Dutch acquire them? Family secret! Myriam Hendrickx, The Master Distiller at Royal Dutch Distillers for Rutte and Bébo used to be married to a Cuban! Whatever the export intrigue, this liqueur is a traffic-stopper in itself. Certainly the best coffee liqueur I’ve ever tasted, it is only moderately sweet, with a pronounced tang of roasted coffee—and the prestige (and taste) of top-quality coffee leaping out of the glass.

Photo Credit: Amjed Osman Photography.

The highly successful Brooklyn show is the first foray out of Germany for the original BCB: Bar Convent Berlin, a spirits trade show which began in Berlin in 2007. Now approaching their 12th Berlin show, Bar Convent Berlin has its own Millennial shading—but nothing like this one in the heart of Millennial Brooklyn. It will certainly return next June, when the Millennials will be a year older…but they’ll still be Millennials!


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