On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” co-hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the wine regions they believe are not getting the credit they deserve.
For the Friday tasting, the group tries Twisted Tea for the first time, cracking open 24-ounce cans in two different flavors. The verdict? Listen to find out and join in reminiscing about flavored drinks before hard seltzers.
Plus, listen in on an interview with Kascadia Wine Merchants owner VJ Gandhi, who joins for a conversation about British Columbia wines, and why she believes more American consumers should be drinking them. Gandhi grew up near the breathtaking Okanagan Valley wine region. Since moving to California, she has built her business importing, selling, and educating other markets about Canadian wines.
Tune in, plus learn more about Kascadia Wine Merchants and British Columbia wine at KascadiaWineMerchants.com.
OR CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters — and the phone booth — I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Yeah, that’s right. We are still coming to you live from the VinePair headquarters and the phone booth inside the VinePair headquarters. And Zach’s in his basement.
Z: I am in my basement, surrounded by wine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
J: Sounds pretty good.
A: For this Friday episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about unrepresented wine regions or wine regions that a lot of people don’t talk about as much as others. Every wine region has its champions. Every wine region has places where there are tons of people who love them — whether they’re people in the trade, reps, or other people — but they’re not as well known by consumers. Zach, you have a fun interview coming up with someone who represents one of these wine regions. I thought, to kick off this Friday episode, we’d each talk about one region we think is underrepresented. I feel like Zach, since you have the interview, you should go first.
Z: Sure. I’m not going to talk about B.C. and the Okanagan Valley because longtime listeners will know I’ve actually talked about this on a podcast like way back in the day.
A: Oh, we know.
Z: I get into that with our guest, VJ Gandhi, about her work importing wine from B.C. You can hear more about that coming up later in the episode. Another place that I really believe in as a great wine region, and it baffles me that it is surprisingly hard to find wine from, is the Margaret River in Australia. It’s in western Australia. Australian wine in general gets a really weird and bad reputation here in the U.S. Some of it may be deserved. There was a lot of mediocre wine — critter wine, as it’s often called — Yellow Tail and others that came over in the ’90s and 2000s, that really set the impression of the market. Then, on the other side, you have your Penfolds Grange and those huge, very expensive, full-bodied red blends. The Margaret River is totally different than that. I’ve never been. I would love to go. It’s much cooler and kind of has a Mediterranean climate. You have a lot of beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon and some Syrah, plus Riesling and other aromatic whites. Yet, for some reason, it’s maddeningly hard to find a good cross-section of wines from that part of Australia in particular, here in the U.S. That’s at least been my case in Seattle. Having talked to people throughout the wine industry, it seems that that’s true even in other parts of the country. Part of this is maybe, like I said, a little bit of overexposure of certain kinds of Australian wine. I also think, weirdly, there’s been so much fascination in wine circles with every last corner of Europe. I love Europe. There’s lots of great wine there. Certainly, here in America, there’s a lot of interest in American wine, which is also great. Weirdly, people are not curious about Australia. I don’t understand why. It’s a continent. There’s a lot of different growing conditions. There’s a lot of different things that are possible there. Yet, people seem very closed off to the notion that there could be truly great wine from Australia. A lot of the wines I have had the chance to try, I’ve been really, really impressed by.
A: I think that happens a lot with the New World. With American and European drinkers, it just seems to be a lot harder to get them excited about any sort of New World region that’s, dare I say, affordable or budget. It’s just really hard. We’ve done a lot of work in the past with Wines of Chile. They have amazing high-end, premium wines from the country, and it’s always been difficult. As Americans, we’re happy to find our wine regions that we think are premium and support them, like Napa. It’s just weird, though. For the rest of the world, it’s really difficult. You don’t have people saying, “I’m going to start collecting Australian wine.” I don’t know why. Joanna, what about you?
J: We’ve certainly written about this before on VinePair. Adam, I think you’ve written about it. I was going to say the Finger Lakes. I think a lot of people, when they think of New York and East Coast wine, they think of Long Island and the North Fork. I feel like I very rarely see wine from the Finger Lakes on menus, even in the city. It’s definitely an up-and-coming region for Riesling, but also probably for more. Right, Adam? For other grapes?
A: For sure. It’s always been a region that has Riesling for sure. It’s also a region that hasn’t truly figured out what red varietal it wants to be known for. You have some producers, like Nathan Kendall who are making incredible Pinot Noir. Then, you have other producers that are making really great Cab Franc. Ravines is one of those producers. There’s Hermann Wiemer that we’ve talked about before. It totally depends. The region’s figuring that out. But, yeah, I agree. New York somms really talk a lot about the Finger Lakes, because it’s a place that they can go up to pretty easily and do harvest. They become obsessed with that region because they did harvest there, but it’s not as well known, even like two or three states to our south. People are like, “Wait, the Finger Lakes? They make wine?” Even though it’s now considered a world-class Riesling region, it hasn’t really expanded as much as it should outside of certain places.
Z: I wonder if that’s also just a capacity issue. It’s still a pretty small region in terms of production. When you get outside of New York State, you may very quickly run into issues where there might be people interested in it in Missouri or Arizona. If all that makes it into those states are three cases of wine, it’s pretty hard to get that into people’s hands.
A: That’s really true. I mean, It’s so difficult with what the capacity looks like. There’s the question of if people were more aware, maybe they’d plant more.
Z: For sure.
A: I’m going to do one that I think is a little bit of a curveball, because some people are going to tell me that they think a lot of people know this region. I think it’s one that is not as well known as it should be. That’s Santa Barbara. I think that most consumers who are aware of wine from California are very aware of Napa and Sonoma. They may now have heard of Paso, but they actually are not aware of Santa Barbara. That’s always so shocking to me. Even when I talk to my friends who live in L.A., and say, “You know, you have a pretty world-class wine region close to Los Angeles.” I’ll tell them it’s Santa Barbara and they’ll respond, “Oh yeah, it’s got the most beautiful beaches. We go there all the time to go to the beaches.” I’m like, “Yeah, but you should go there to taste wines.” Some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I’ve had from California has come from Santa Barbara. It’s a region that could have the issue that you said, Zach. There’s not a lot of it. It’s really hard to get wines from there, but some of my favorite wineries and winemakers are in that region. It’s been one of the most memorable visits I’ve had because it’s still a region where I find there to be very little pretension. Everyone’s really fun and having a great time. Santa Barbara also has a downtown area where you can sort of do a crawl to different tasting rooms. People have a great time. A lot of the wineries from the region have setups there. You can see what people are doing and get really excited about it. Lots of great people are making wine there. So, mine would be Santa Barbara, which I think some people are going to say is crazy. I really do think it’s one that not enough people know, in the same way that I think Finger Lakes is that. In a lot of ways, regions in Australia and the one you’re about to talk to in British Columbia is as well. So, Zach, we’re going to let you get to the interview.
A CONVERSATION WITH VJ GANDHI, OWNER OF KASCADIA WINE MERCHANTS
Z: From Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe. Today I’m speaking with VJ Gandhi, who’s the founder of Kascadia Wine Merchants, a wine importer and retailer focused on the wines of British Columbia. VJ, thank you so much for your time.
VJ Gandhi: Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure.
Z: I’m very excited about this because, as listeners of the podcast will know, I’m a big fan of many of the wines from British Columbia, and from the Okanagan Valley in particular. It’s always exciting to talk to other people, especially people here in the U.S., who share my passion. One of the sad things about the wines is that, until recently, I think it was very hard to get them in the U.S. We will talk about that. Let’s start with this question, VJ. What is your background with B.C. wine? How did you come to decide that importing wine was what you wanted to do with your life?
VJ: You mean, when did the wine bug bite me?
Z: You know, yes, I suppose that would be one way to put it.
VJ: Actually, I don’t have a huge background in B.C. wine. Wine happened to come into my life after I had a corporate career in behavioral health. It was mostly about gaining an understanding of how we were going to create a business for B.C. wines in the U.S., so that they had some sort of platform here to sell their wines. I moved to California seven years ago. I grew up in Vancouver. People in Vancouver go to the Okanagan Valley during long weekends or in the summer with our family members. Of course, we’re there for the lake. There’s this beautiful lake that runs right down the center of the valley. You enjoy barbecues and have fun with your family. What you do on one or two of those days is go to the wineries. There’s, I believe, over 200 of them in the Okanagan Valley. I was very familiar with wine tasting in British Columbia. When you go to local restaurants in Vancouver, we’re so spoiled for local wine and incredible food. When I moved out here to California, I was exploring the restaurant culture in California and in the Silicon Valley. It’s pretty amazing in the peninsula here. I would see wine from Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and just about every country that you can think of that grows fantastic wine, except for Canada. That really bothered me. I thought, “Wow, this is really a missing link, because we’re just a two hour flight to British Columbia from California, and I cannot believe it has not crossed the border.” I began to research. I reached out to a few friends that were familiar with B.C. trade in the U.S. That started my journey into B.C. wine.
Z: I want to talk more in this conversation about what getting B.C. wine into the U.S. has been like and what some of the challenges have been. Many of our listeners will not be familiar with the Okanagan Valley and with British Columbia wine more broadly. You mentioned the lake. Can you talk about some of the more important aspects of the region stylistically, or even in terms of varieties. What kind of wines are we talking about?
VJ: Absolutely. The Okanagan Valley, I believe, is known as the fruit bowl of Canada. It’s always been a growing region and it starts at the 49th parallel and works its way all the way down to the Washington and B.C. border. The reason why I bring up Okanogan Valley is because it’s the biggest growing region in British Columbia. There are also other growing regions like the Similkameen Valley and Fraser Valley. Maybe I’ll get into that a little bit more later. The Okanagan Valley in particular, if you want to picture it for the folks that live out here in California, think of the Napa Valley and then think of a 50-mile lake that runs right down the center. That is the best way for me to describe it to someone here. What you can experience around that is a lot of lake life, food in our culture, and, of course, a lot of beautiful vineyards. There’s a big education piece to this for U.S. consumers. I put a lot of time and effort into telling stories and sharing geographic traits and things like that about the valley. When I first started showing photos, people would compare it to Lake Como in Italy, because it does look like this Mediterranean lifestyle. The really unique thing about growing wine in the Okanagan Valley, though, is that there’s microclimates throughout the Okanagan Valley. As you are further north and you’re working your way down to the center and south, you can grow very different types of grapes in each area. The most prominent in conversation recently has been the Sonoran Desert region. It starts at the bottom of British Columbia, right along the border there in the Osoyoos region. It works its way into Washington and Oregon, actually. Folks aren’t really familiar with the Sonoran Desert region, but it’s the only desert that exists in Canada and it is right smack dab on the border of Washington and British Columbia. What growers are growing fabulously out there are really nice, big, red, Bordeaux sort of wines. You can find Bordeaux style, Syrah, Cabernet Francs, Petit Verdots. Those are what we’ve seen come out of there that do really well in the U.S. Of course, people are not looking for something very fruity, but we’re also getting a lot of herbaceousness and big reds. As you work your way further north, you can expect to see really great Burgundian-style wines as well. Kind of in the center, I would say, there’s some fantastic Pinot Noir — I think some of the best we’ve ever had. There’s a Chardonnay. As you work your way even further north, you get Pinot Gris, really beautiful dry Riesling, which Canada is known for, and Gewürztraminer, which I think is another fantastic one. One of my recent favorites from Canada is Grüner Veltliner. It’s just mind blowing, specifically one winemaker who we’ve been purchasing from. It’s just been doing so amazing in the U.S.
Z: Very cool. You’ve hit on one of the key features, I think, of the Okanagan Valley, which is this incredible diversity of, as you said, microclimates, the potential for a number of different varieties to thrive, and different styles of wine. I’m based here in Seattle, and a concern I’ve heard at times from people in the wine production trade here in Washington, is that it’s sometimes hard to sell to an export or distant market a wine region whose strength is everything. You know, it’s sometimes easier. The Willamette Valley in Oregon has had an easier time branding itself globally as the spot for Pinot Noir than it would have if it were trying to showcase six or seven different varieties or styles. Obviously, you’re not yet able to import the full gamut of everything that’s grown in B.C., but is it challenging or an advantage, from your perspective, to be able to say, “Here is a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from Osoyoos and here is a Gewürztraminer, and here’s everything in between?” Does that diversity make it easier or harder for you?
VJ: I think the diversity makes it easier, actually. A comment that I received very early on when I started Kascadia was, “Are you crazy? You want to sell Canadian wine in the Napa Valley wine region?” People here, the demographic, is very wine educated. When you have a wine-educated demographic, they’re looking to try new things. I’m not trying to say that the Okanagan Valley wines are going to compare to wines from other parts of the world. I think what’s really beautiful about it is that winemakers are really showcasing the land there. They’re growing things that really complement the soil and geography there. For example, a Riesling from Okanagan Valley, which is pretty well known across the world now — I think Karen MacNeil talks about in the “Wine Bible” and I’ve seen it in a lot of different prints — is much drier than what you would get from something in Europe. For example, it’s the same thing with Sauvignon Blanc. Some of these wines that you would get in New Zealand have a little bit more tropical fruit on the nose. It would be a little bit more minerality, grass, and lemon here on the Pacific Northwest side. I’m not trying to compare it to anything in the U.S. I’m just saying, “Hey, this is something really beautiful.” It’s kind of New World now. I feel like it’s not as New World anymore in my eyes, because, based on the attention we’re getting here on our products, more people understand it and are starting to recognize it. That’s especially because it’s landing itself in so many publications. The 2017 Red Icon from Painted Rock was awarded Wine of the Year for Decanter last year. That’s a big deal. There’s plenty of wines in our portfolio, if you take a quick peek, that do have many accolades. Even then, you still have to taste the wine and understand it for yourself.
Z: Gotcha. Let’s talk a little bit about this education piece that I know has been a big part of your business. I would imagine that, for many people that you have talked to, the first hurdle you have to get over is when people say, “Wait, they make wine in Canada?” Maybe subsequent to that is the revelation that they make something besides ice wine. Starting out with people, how do you get them over their assumption that all of Canada is tundra?
VJ: When I began purchasing for our portfolio, I opted not to purchase ice wine and I did get a slap on the wrist from a buyer one time. It was actually a pretty well-known buyer out of Los Angeles. He said to me, “Why do you not have ice wine in your portfolio?” I simply replied with, “Because I really want you to know what else we’re excited about. I really want you to know the other varietals and types of wines we’re growing out in Canada.” Ice wine is predominantly grown, of course, in the Niagara Peninsula region and the Ontario region. It’s the biggest style of wine in Canada. I was introducing, right from the get-go, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay. These were things that I feel like captured our audience. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t showcasing something to compare it to something here. It was completely individualistic. This is coming from this particular region, and this is what you’re going to taste, smell, feel.
Z: Makes sense. You started out by bringing in some of these wines and consciously steering away from the ice wine stereotype or what people’s expectations would have been. You were in California, around Napa Valley and Sonoma and these places that are so acclaimed for wine themselves. You mentioned before in our conversation that you found that audience to be actually receptive to B.C. wine because wine is a big part of their life. As much as they might love Napa, Sonoma, or California wine generally, that’s not maybe the extent of what they want to drink all the time. You sell to over 30 states. As you’ve looked to expand beyond California, are you finding that the people who are coming to you for wine are people who are Canadian expats or otherwise already have a fondness for wines from British Columbia? Or are the people who are really looking to discover something new and, one way or another, come across your wines?
VJ: Great question. To begin with, the audience was definitely more familiar with Canadian wine, As we’ve grown over the last two to three years, we definitely have a lot of new consumers who are not Canadian and who are purchasing our wines regularly. We have regular customers from Maine, Texas, Florida. Sometimes the customers went up to the Okanogan Valley with their family one time, They’ll say, “I heard that they grow a ton of grapes now, so I’m just curious what you’ve got in your portfolio.” Actually, I have a lot of consumers that reach out to me by email to talk to me about the B.C. or Ontario wine portfolios that we have, which is really nice. That’s what I love about our business being a smaller, boutique-style shop. It’s easier for people to shop around and learn a little bit about something new. We initially started off with our consumers who were either from Canada or had family members in Canada and have visited out there. There was a lot of familiarity. That grew, of course, on our social media. It’s really amazing what an incredible platform social media can be for directing consumers to your website or product. I think right now, on Instagram, we have over 10,000 followers and that really cultivated itself over the last couple of years. We get a lot of engagement there. People are very curious. We get a lot of traffic from our social media to our website for purchases.
Z: That makes sense. You also, obviously, have a pretty big direct-to-consumer piece. Did you see even more growth once the pandemic started and people had to find sources for wine that could get delivered to their door and were probably looking for adventures without leaving the house?
VJ: Yes, exactly. It was an adventure for all of us. We did see growth in direct-to-consumer sales during the pandemic. That was especially, like you mentioned, because of the convenience. We’re completely an online store. You’re easily able to purchase on our online store and have it delivered to your preferred address. We were also hosting many virtual tastings. For the virtual tastings, there were more U.S. consumers that had no attachment to Canada at all. It was great, because that’s just folks that are curious and feeling adventurous. That was a really interesting part of last year’s growth. It was driving more U.S. consumers to venture out into Canadian wines, whereas before that, maybe we did have more Canadian expats, visitors, or family members of Canadians purchasing. So, last year was huge for us.
Z: Gotcha. I actually want to step back. I realize we kind of skipped over some of the genesis of this whole idea. We talked about your background. One big obstacle that I had seen in talking to people throughout the wine industry about getting wine from British Columbia into the United States has been, A: a limited amount of production. The production in B.C. has grown a lot lately, but it’s still not enormous, especially when you start entering the global market. B: I’ve heard that a lot of wineries in British Columbia, quite candidly, didn’t see the point of selling wine for export or selling wine into distribution as opposed to through your wine club or whatever — meaning that they probably had to sell the wine for less so that it can go through import duties, the three-tier system here in the U.S., and still be affordable-ish for people. I don’t want to get into all the intricacies of that, particularly. But, I do want to ask, VJ, was it challenging to get wineries in B.C. on board or did you find that most of them were really excited about the opportunity to be in the U.S. market?
VJ: It’s a fantastic question, and I understand what you’re saying. I see how that is a challenge. Initially, when I started to work on this project — maybe because I’m Canadian and I was overly passionate, and I’m not saying other importers are not — I was really gung-ho about making sure I could make this happen. That’s where my head was at right from the beginning. The big challenge was figuring out how much B.C. wineries know about exporting into the U.S. This is not just an education piece for U.S. consumers. This is also an education piece for B.C. wineries to export into the U.S. I had worked with a wine consultant from the U.S. quite closely, who had 30 years-plus experience of working in many different facets of the industry out here. He helped coach me into how I could help coach wineries from B.C. and what would be expected of them here. That is what I’m doing today. For example, once I’ve met with a winery and we’ve decided we’re going to work together, I really do take care of all the customs, transportation, and any sort of licensing that is required. I want to make them feel at ease, so that the things that we can work through are things like pricing, helping them understand what the pricing structure is like in the U.S. Wineries are excited. They’re very excited. The hurdle for them is having to understand what is expected of them. I’m very transparent when it comes to pricing strategies. It’s because I do everything exactly by the book. We do Excel spreadsheets or whatever I need to do to show them that this is where the price points need to sit so that it’s competitive with the pricing in Canada. That’s a very important piece for marketing your brand in the U.S.
Z: For sure. You probably find that you have to be both competitive in price with what the wine costs in Canada, but also competitive in the broader American marketplace. To some extent, the wine is a specialty item. People might not be expecting to get a B.C. wine for $7. At the same time, you did mention there’s been a lot of press more recently and some very glowing reviews. That creates demand, or at least the notion of a premium experience, which maybe supports your price point. It’s interesting to talk about how a lot of the people who have purchased from you, who are just wine consumers. I imagine you have some trade component to this, too. I know I’ve certainly talked to plenty of wine buyers, sommeliers, et cetera, who have maybe even been to B.C., and like me, have been frustrated by the inability to then include any B.C. wines in their program. How do you interact with the trade and where do you see some of your wines popping up?
VJ: As you know, I’m an importer. We’re also a distributor for retail, restaurants, wine clubs, brick and mortars, and things like that. For someone like yourself, what I find that my wholesale clients feel when they look at my portfolio is that they do see that we’re picking the best wines from the regions that we’re sourcing from. Whether the accolades speak to that or they’re familiar with the winemaker or the particular brand, it is like picking from a needle in a haystack. First of all, our portfolio is attractive for buyers, direct-to-consumer, or wholesale. Secondly, I do walk them through the price points. I find that our wholesale clients seek us out, sometimes. I haven’t pushed the retail buyer or the restaurant buyer as much, but we do have a really fantastic portfolio of buyers there as well. Sometimes, it is still an education piece. Hopefully, when the borders open up in a comfortable manner again, we can continue to fly. We have flown out to the Okanagan Valley with some buyers in the past, so that they could meet with winemakers and we could visit facilities. These are buyers that have become advocates for B.C. wineries. In the long term, they start off as a restaurant buyer or a somm that we worked with that eventually becomes a B.C. wine ambassador.
Z: Very cool.
VJ: It’s been a really fantastic experience. I personally feel that I have a fantastic relationship with my regular restaurant and wine club buyers.
Z: The last question I want to ask you is a little bit broad, but at the same time, I think it is a fun thing to discuss. We talked a little bit about the styles of wine that you can find in British Columbia, especially the Okanagan Valley. We talked about what makes it a great place to grow grapes and to make wine. You mentioned, and it is true, that going to Canada is doable, but there’s some questions about how much people want to travel, et cetera. Have you thought about, in addition to taking trips with buyers and stuff like that, is there any part of the business model down the road that involves some kind of wine tourism? Is that something you’re going to leave to the wineries up there?
VJ: We actually did have a tour company reach out to us last year. There were a couple of fantastic ladies — I’m not sure if I can mention brands or names yet — but a couple of fantastic females. They’re running a business that does wine tours and more adventurous trails in between. I do have a couple of clients here in the U.S. that would be interested in that. We’ve been in discussion of possibly partnering in the future to create an unforgettable experience from clients from the U.S. that want to do something like that.
Z: I’m editorializing a bit. I’ve been to a lot of wine regions in the world. Few of them are as beautiful as, in particular, the Okanagan. Actually, the Similkameen as well is also very strong.
VJ: Oh, it is.
Z: They afford a lot of exciting non-wine activities. I don’t know why you would bother. Some people like to go hiking or whatever. There’s a very large lake that people do things on. There’s lots to see and do. When I talk about B.C. and the Okanagan in particular, I think it’s important to note that, not only are the great wines there — which is certainly true for the region — but it is a strikingly beautiful place to visit. That’s certainly true of other wineries, but it’s not true of all.
VJ: In the Okanagan, there’s activities throughout the whole year. Yes, there’s wine tasting in the warmer months, but people go snowshoeing and they still go wine tasting. They love hiking. I’m just so blown away. Growing up in Canada myself, I’ve always been an outdoorsy person. I love hiking, bike riding, and camping. These are aspects of Canada that are very exciting, I think, for consumers from outside of Canada. If you create an experience like that — and wine tasting, meeting with winemakers and growers is a part of that — that’s just mind blowing. That’s definitely something that’s in the works. Right now, it’s just a waiting game for when life gets back to normal a little bit.
Z: For sure. Well, VJ, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it. Very excited to learn that there is some expanding access to B.C. wine here in the States. For people who are interested in the wines and in Kascadia, what’s the best way to find out more?
VJ: You can check out our website at KascadiaWineMerchants.com. There’s an About Us page there. We try to keep your shopping experience simple and give you very easy access to some of the most fantastic wines you’ll have from Canada that will be shipped right to your door, to over 30 states.
Z: Fantastic. Thank you so much, VJ.
VJ: Thank you so much, Zach.
THE VINEPAIR TEAM TRIES TWISTED TEA
A: That was a super-interesting interview.
Z: Thank you.
A: Yeah, man. Great job. You’ve got a really good rapport with people. I like the questions you ask. It’s very in-depth, really good, super interesting. I hope everyone else found that interesting as well.
Z: Does it make you want to go to British Columbia?
A: It does. I would like to go.
A: Now, for something totally unrelated, again. To end our Friday episodes, we’re always going to try something a little bit off the wall. Today we’re trying something that none of us have had. Some of the VinePair staff are fans. You’re going to be shocked when I say what this is: Twisted Tea.
Z: Oh, yeah.
A: Twisted Tea was the precursor to Truly. It was Sam Adams’ quiet sleeper hit that no one wanted to talk about, but it was really helping the company grow. Boston Beer had really put a lot behind Twisted Tea. I have mine in a glass because Joanna and I are splitting a 24 ounce. I can smell mine from here. It definitely smells like tea. None of us has had this before, at all. I’ve never had a single Twisted Tea. You guys have never had any of the flavors, right?
A: OK. Joanna, you and I have Half and Half. It’s their version of an Arnold Palmer.
A: Perhaps a John Daly, since it’s boozy.
A: Those are so good. You, Zach, have the original.
Z: I’ve got 24 ounces of the original staring at me.
A: Let’s taste it. It smells like a lemonade iced tea. I’m not going to lie.
Z: Oh, man. That is dangerously drinkable.
J: Ours is a little bitter for me. It’s probably from the lemon.
Z: A thing that I find fascinating about my can — and I’m not sure how this is possible — it does not have any nutritional information on it.
A: Oh, there’s a lot of sugar in this.
Z: I’m sure there is. I kind of assumed they had to put that on the can.
J: Maybe it predates that. It’s grandfathered in.
A: If you gave me the Half and Half and you told me this came out of an Arizona bottle, I would totally believe you. The alcohol is completely hidden in this. As you said, it’s dangerous. An alcoholic version of tea is not my beverage of choice for alcohol delivery. For some people, I guess it is. You’re right, Zach. It’s dangerously drinkable. I don’t hate it like I hated the Cacti.
J: Yeah. I feel like this is more successful than a hard seltzer.
Z: I just looked it up and, granted, this is just what the internet gave me, but this 24-ounce can has almost 400 calories in it.
A: It’s a lot.
Z: It’s definitely playing in a different sphere.
A: What’s the alcohol percentage?
Z: Five percent.
A: Right. That’s a lot of calories from sugar. It really does taste like someone took a 50/50 and added a little bit of booze, but you really don’t taste the alcohol at all.
Z: No, it’s dangerous. I don’t taste it at all in the original, either. It’s also very interesting to me. I’ll post a picture of this, but I have to talk about the can. I don’t know how it is on the 50/50. For one, this can has very grainy, low-quality pictures of people enjoying Twisted Tea that they either posted on social media or sent in or whatever. It looks like they submitted it. It also makes a point to point out on the can that it is not carbonated. Can confirm, it’s not carbonated. It’s interesting to me, too. This definitely predates the seltzer boom. You can see the faint outline of what would happen with seltzer. It’s a malt beverage, it’s flavored, but it so clearly predates that by a touch. It was, maybe, reaching out to a slightly different kind of consumer. I drank a lot of Arizona iced tea when I was in college, so it’s got some weird nostalgia. I’m sure that if this had existed, I probably would have drank a lot of it, because it’s booze plus like a flavor I liked. I don’t really want to drink all of it. I definitely am not going to. It’s also the middle of the afternoon here. I bet we’ll go through a lot of other drinks on the podcast. I don’t know exactly what we’ll do in future weeks, but I bet we will drink a lot of other things before we get to something that I like as much as this.
A: Yeah. I’m already getting a little bit of that sugary thing in the back of my throat. You guys know what I’m talking about? I don’t think I could drink a lot more of this. Like I said, I don’t really like canned sweet teas anyways. They’re always too sugary for me. I don’t think I would drink a lot of this, but I don’t find it bad. I guess what I’m saying is that I could not see the appeal at all of Cacti. You must be a psychopath if you like that.
Z: Quite possibly.
A: With this, I totally see why people like this. I totally see why there is a market.
J: It’s made a comeback, right? It’s really popular now.
A: Yes it has. I totally see why people like it. All right. Cool. Guys, talk to you Monday.
Z: And, hey folks, if you have suggestions, we want more ideas for what to drink.
J: Please. There’s a lot of pumpkin in our future.
A: No, no, no, Hard no.
J: You’re going to get Adam retching.
Z: I was thinking last week, I like it when you drink something that you hate. It’s much more interesting.
A: Oh, my God. OK. Fine. Talk to you guys next week. Peace out.
J: Thanks guys. Bye.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now, for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.