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Mata Hari update from Steveski

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A couple of welcoming posts to my newcomer introduction mentioned WS members would be interested in following the process of how a brand gets developed. I'm going to use this thread to shed some light on it. I'll cover the process, but if readers have any specific questions I'd be happy to answer them. But one note of caution...I read the thread of the conversation with Ted Breaux and hope that the tone and manner of this discussion stays in a positive tone...I'm offering up this insider's view simply because I think the membership would appreciate it. Obviously I'm advocating the brand, but I recognize there are lots of different people with lots of different interests in regard to Absinthe. Ours is reaching out to the rank and file of cocktail consumers who see this category as something new, fun and the mythology paints it as maybe just a little bit dangerous.

 

FYI, Rick Dobbs at Martini Groove ran a piece on Mata Hari yesterday and I posted a short comment on how we first found out about the brand, but I'll add a little more flesh to the story here.

 

It was really serendipity. We were over in Vienna Austria visiting another client. Our host was acting as tour guide showing off the city and he had a guidebook that had the Alt Wiener Schnapsmuseum listed (note in Austrian Schnaps is spelled with only one "p"). Seemed a bit more interesting that an art museum so we said sure and off we went. The museum is actually the Fischer Family distillery built in 1875. It was bombed by the Allies at the end of WWII because it's adjacent to railroad tracks. But the building survived and in fact the office is still intact as it was in the early 1900's, and Gerry Fischer the 5th generation and current owner pointed out on the tour that the original cash register is still there and it's never needed any service.

 

Anyway, Gerry gives the tour and at the end he pulls out a bottle of Absinthe! We had been asked by a distributor friend of ours in the U.S. to help them find an "authentic" Absinthe, so we stayed after the tour to talk to Gerry. ( I know...the subject of "authenticity" is something of great interest...I'll post my POV on that on this site soon, but if you want to get a sneak peak, I posted a comment on my blog at www.thebrandactionteam.blogspot.com) Net net, we took some samples home of all his Absinthe products (he has Montmartre, La Gruen Fee, Mystiq and a few others, as well as lots of recipes from his Great Great Grandpa's archives). We then presented Gerry's absinthes as well as some others we'd found from the UK, France, Italy, Czech republic etc. to the distributor and they really liked the Mata Hari. There were two main reasons why they chose it. One was the history of the distillery and the recipe dating to 1881. The second was they felt it tasted better and would be an easier sell than the more traditional flavor profiles...the lower licorice taste which makes it mixable, but it still louches because there is in fact aniseed in the ingredients...as well as Grand Wormwood of course.

 

So we met with Gerry a couple of times the next month while he was in the U.S.on vacation (again, serendipity...he was in FL to visit friends and play golf the same winter weekend I was), and came to an agreement on the product. We put the liquid into the TTB approval process via MHW, got that approved pretty quickly and then got final approval on the label after a few go rounds.

 

While this was going on, our friend Dave Stringfellow at Beacon Beverage Imports was out taking orders from the first distributor in their states, and was pitching the product to distributors in the rest of the country. As many of you know, getting a brand into the U.S. market has gotten harder and harder because of distributor consolidation. They just don't want to take on unproven brands from small companies. But in the case of Mata Hari, we were overwhelmed by the response. The category is exploding, there aren't many brands out there (by our count, Mata Hari is 7th in the market after Lucid, Kübler, St. George, Absente, Mythe and La Fee.), and distributors are hungry for brands if they don't already have one. We've even gotten cold calls from distributors who found out about us and want the product, and that rarely happens anymore. So we've got distribution set up in the middle of the country from Texas up through IN, as well as NY, NJ, CT, FL, GA and a few control states like MI and OH are in process. And a note to our friend from Maine...yes, it's on the list, but lower down...we hope to be there by Q4 2007 with a little bit of luck. (My wife's family lives up there so it's a personal priority for me.)

 

Once we got TTB approval, Gerry went into production mode (I'll post a picture of him at the distillery if I can figure out how to do it), made the product, bottled, labeled, packed it and put it on a container. It's on the water on the way to NY as I write this and we hope to have it in country by end of June, and at retail by July.

 

So from a chance meeting in early Feb in Vienna, we've taken the brand from concept to reality in just four months. For anyone who knows anything about the normally glacial process for bringing in a new brand from an unknown company in a category that's under extreme scrutiny by the powers-that-be...that's pretty incredible.

 

OK, so that's the first post, I'll have more on how we plan on promoting the product in subsequent posts. Also, I and Sam Harrigan, our blogmeister will be at TOTC and welcome the opportunity to meet you all face to face....it'll be easy to spot Sam...she's short.

 

Best regards, Steve

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Thanks for that information Steve, and yes, I expect everyone to keep their passionate expression within due bounds. Be frank, but respectful. If you want to dialog with producers, you can't expect them to hang around and endure abuse.

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We've even gotten cold calls from distributors who found out about us and want the product, and that rarely happens anymore.

 

But most of these people don't know jack and need to be educated on what absinthe is before they decide which one they want to sell. They all seem to want something mixable. They can use vodka for that. We just want to see some traditional absinthe in the U.S.. If all we get is the crap that is hyped, then we still have to order the good stuff from European distributors.

 

Point some of these distributors in the right direction, and get them importing things like the Jade line.

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Shit, I'd be happy with Montmartre. I've always been a big fan of it.

 

I still haven't tried the new Mata Hari formulation, so I'll reserve my judgement. I'm looking forward to trying it.

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So in other words the distributors want to take advantage of the image of absinthe but the reps don't like the taste and would rather sell something that doesn't have the distinctive flavors of absinthe so they can make trendy cocktails with it that use more than a splash of product. Makes sense I guess from a business perspective, but they aren't going to win over many fans in the absinthe-enthusiast realm with that philosophy (not that they care, probably).

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Obviously I'm advocating the brand

Advocate the distillery and bring over Montmarte.

 

I'll can the rest of my diatribe for the time being.

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So I guess the U.S. formula will be different than the version sold in European countries, because if Im not mistaken it is classified as a bitter

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...I read the thread of the conversation with Ted Breaux and hope that the tone and manner of this discussion stays in a positive tone...

 

Welcome to the group Steve. Surely you'll find the participants here to be exceptionally well educated in all matters absinthe.

 

The discussion in question was mostly tongue-in-cheek, although a relative newcomer may not interpret it as such. Realize that most participants here (myself included) are all-too-well versed in the history of Absente, and given the track record of the claims and marketing tactics associated with it, little can/should be taken seriously.

 

 

Obviously I'm advocating the brand, but I recognize there are lots of different people with lots of different interests in regard to Absinthe. Ours is reaching out to the rank and file of cocktail consumers who see this category as something new, fun and the mythology paints it as maybe just a little bit dangerous.

 

Ours is reaching out to the rank and file of consumers who want to experience the Franco-Suisse absinthes that fueled the Parisian café culture of the Belle Époque. There is no conflict between different interests, so long as a product of one does not misrepresent itself as being of the other.

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FYI, Rick Dobbs at Martini Groove ran a piece on Mata Hari yesterday.
It's a shame that he writes:-

 

"Absinthe Mata Hari is the Austrian company that's working on national distribution of their all-natural Absinthe. The formula has been around since 1881 and it's loaded with Thujone and Absinthin."

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Obviously I'm advocating the brand, but I recognize there are lots of different people with lots of different interests in regard to Absinthe. Ours is reaching out to the rank and file of cocktail consumers who see this category as something new, fun and the mythology paints it as maybe just a little bit dangerous.

 

Ours is reaching out to the rank and file of consumers who want to experience the Franco-Suisse absinthes that fueled the Parisian café culture of the Belle Époque. There is no conflict between different interests, so long as a product of one does not misrepresent itself as being of the other.

 

Can I get another "AMEN!" brother?

In addition to Ted's products, there are others out there with the same ideals, who are bringing to market true, traditionally distilled & colored absinthes, using traditional ingredients.

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FYI, Rick Dobbs at Martini Groove ran a piece on Mata Hari yesterday.
It's a shame that he writes:-

 

"Absinthe Mata Hari is the Austrian company that's working on national distribution of their all-natural Absinthe. The formula has been around since 1881 and it's loaded with Thujone and Absinthin."

 

The statement in question was lifted directly from the Mata Hari website:

 

Mata Hari Webpage

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Looking at the site devoted to Grune Fee, there is much more interesting info to be presented that in a sense is trying to make Mata Hari more valid and traditional:

The original recipe was actually medicinal in nature, intended to act as a muscle relaxant. It included several "herbs": wormwood oil, extract of wormwood, sage, liquorice, violet root, cinnamon, a few secret ingredients and, of course, natural green chlorophyll food colouring (which is why it came to be called "the green fairy").

 

The medicine "Absinthe" did not contain any anise; this was first added later on in France, in order to mask the taste of the wormwood. The neurotoxin "thujon", found only in wormwood, joined forces with alcohol to facilitate heightened creativity and colour-sensitivity. It's safe to say that no other alcoholic drink stimulated painting and poetry to the extent that absinthe did.

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Why would anyone advertise their product being loaded with absinthins? O yum.

 

Dain Bramage?

 

Sort of defeats the whole purpose of that pesky distillation thing.

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For that matter, why would anyone smoke banana peels?
....

 

 

...cause 'munks are NEVER wrong!

 

smokin' peels= trippin' ballz

 

 

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I just found Mata Hari on Astor Wines and Spirits website, to my dismay, and it's thujone and absinthin content being pushed. While this may appeal to ignorant frat house Philistines looking to get high and hallucinate I'll have nothing to do with it. It's NOT absinthe.

 

From Astor's site:

 

Made with the finest herbs, above all Wormwood and Salvia and the highest legal level of Thujone and Absinthin. The coloring is from the natural herbs only.

Edited by Amy Lewis

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