Photo by Joe Urcioli

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) 75th annual convention convened last month at Caesars Palace, bringing together more than 2,700 suppliers, distributors, influencers and a record number of attendees for three days of networking and deal making. The WSWA hosted competitions including the Wine and Spirits Tasting Competitions and the Call for Cocktails Mixology Competition, and the tradeshow filled two exhibit halls and numerous hospitality suites, featuring some of the most innovative products available. The following is a rundown of interesting products that caught my eye and entertained my palate.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a theme, but I discovered several cream liqueurs, all of which I found to be quite enjoyable. My favorites included the five-times distilled DeMarco Cream Liqueur, made with Wisconsin cream and Caribbean rum in flavors of Hazelnut Caramel and Premium Vanilla with a one-year shelf life; Jackson Morgan Southern Cream, made with Tennessee whiskey with a plethora of options including Brown Sugar & Cinnamon, Banana Pudding, Peppermint Mocha, Salted Caramel, Peaches & Cream and Whipped Orange Cream; and Bom Bom, made with Caribbean rum in flavors of Coco Mochanut—gluten-free blend of chocolate, coffee and coconut—and Nilli Vanilli—gluten- and dairy-free blend of almond milk and natural cookie flavors.

Some very enjoyable flavors were to be found in the infused liqueurs of Cold Hammer Stills, with unique versions of Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Cappuccino, Gas Light Cinnamon and Almond Enjoy (yes, it does taste like the iconic similar-named candy bar).

The state of Nevada was well-represented by Frey Ranch Estate Distillery, which was spotlighted in The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional October, 2016 cover feature. The family-owned and -run farm, in operation since 1854, grows all of the grains used in the making of its spirits—corn, rye, wheat and barley—producing award-winning vodka (2016 Tastings Spirits Review gold medal) and gin (2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition double gold); and available starting in 2019 will bring the same dedication to quality to a host of bourbon and rye whiskies. 

Some very fine wine was to be had at the Bellissima suite. Bellissima is Italian for most beautiful, which is how I would describe Christie Brinkley, who introduced the sparkling wines to us two years ago at the WSWA and returned this year with a new offering: Bella Sprizz, a delicious infusion of elderflowers and lemon peels. Also introduced was Bellissima Bambini, a smaller 375ml packaging of Bellissima Sparkling Rosé, Bellissima Zero Sugar and Bellissima Brut Prosecco. 

Another highlight was the delectable Ginja 9, a sour-cherry liqueur from Obidos, Portugal that earned a silver medal in the 2018 WSWA Wine and Spirits Tasting Competitions. Ginja is Portuguese for sour cherry and the tradition of this drink dates back to the Portuguese monks of the 17th century who infused sour cherries in alcohol distilled from rice and cereal. This modern day hand-crafted representation balances sweet and tart and is 100% natural with no added artificial coloring or preservatives. 

We’re used to aged whiskey, but not so much aged rum, but it is every bit as interesting, and while we usually expect it to come from the Caribbean, Don Papa Rum hails from the Philippines, where the higher temperature and humidity accelerates the interaction of the liquid with the barrel during aging. It is created in the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon, where the finest sugarcane is milled to produce sweet, rich molasses, which is reflected in the sweet rum. 

Another interesting non-Caribbean representation of the spirit was Antelope Island Rum, with flavors of roasted nuts and banana leaf finish. Made by the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Dented Brick Distillery, it uses organic and non-GMO raw materials and snowmelt water from the Wasatch Front. The distillery is situated on the same land and artesian well on record where Utah’s first distillery was located (Hugh Moon & L.W. Hardy dating back to 1857). 

Further proof that whiskey is not just for men is the women-owned Crooked Fox Bourbon Whiskey, which is a well-rounded blend of Kentucky and Tennessee bourbons crafted in small batches and comes to us from the founder of BuzzBallz.

Ever thought of mixing spirits? The Red Eye Louie’s company did and merged tequila with rum and vodka with its Rumquila and Vodquila, both of which have won numerous competition awards including San Francisco World Spirits and WSWA Tasting Competitions. 

I found Fabrizia’s Italian Margarita—made in New Hampshire from sweet Sicilian lemons, limoncello and tequila—to be a very refreshing ready-to-drink cocktail that is conveniently packaged in 12oz cans.

The WSWA convenes yearly, stopping in Las Vegas on even-numbered years. The 76th Annual Convention & Exposition is set for March 31-April 3, 2019 and will be held at Grande Lakes Orlando. 

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