Wine industry database superstar SevenFifty launched their industry-only tasting event, Too Legit to Spit, at Morgan Manufacturing Monday night. Twenty-five top Illinois distributors showed up to serve their best bottles of booze to Chicago buyers, sellers, and beverage managers. Big Star's staff offered trays of walking tacos and pork balls as a DJ mixed 70s blue-eyed soul under 80s synth pop and the beverage industry had a great night out. But Too Legit to Spit isn’t really about booze. It’s about software.
SevenFifty is a software firm in New York who has revolutionized how retailers and restaurants buy booze. This is a tourism website so long passages about industry disruption and bold changes to antiquated supply chain management is not what you’re looking for and I’m not entirely smart enough to explain it anyway. In a nutshell: until SevenFifty pointed to the internet’s ability to search databases and buy stuff and said to alcohol retailers, hey, maybe we should use this, your favorite purveyor of hooch had almost as little insight into the world’s wine cellar as you do. Plenty of distributors still send buyers actual catalogues. On paper (ask your mom). In order to find out if distributor X carried wine Y, a wine bar owner had to actually talk to a human who then looked it up and got back to them. Not anymore. Logging on to SevenFifty lets them stare endlessly into an infinite warehouse of wine and trust me, your favorite wine guy loves it.
SevenFifty helps buyers explore the inventory of distributors, searching for unique vintages and weird distillations they might not otherwise learn about. This is good for them and fantastic for you and me because now rhapsodic wine bar owners can easily pull up an order for a Don Melchor 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon or a bottle of MESH & Bone Sotol while their kitchen knocks out your appetizer.
Fitting that this disruptive software startup hosted a meetup for buyers and sellers and very, very fitting to invite yours truly. Below are some of the wines and spirits sampled, all of them available in Chicago at restaurants and or liquor stores.
Resilient Straight Bourbon Whiskey– BC Merchants’ new label, (this batch sourced from MGP) by the owner, Brian Ciske. Resilient is a blend of corn, rye, and barley in single barrel bottlings at 107 proof. BC Merchants director of sales, Colby Turner encourages readers to find a bottle at Independent Spirits in Edgewater.
Empress 1908 – Distributed in Chicago by Romano Beverage, this is a one-of-a-kind gin distilled in Vancouver and based on the historic and proprietary Empress Tea blend from the famed Empress Hotel. Empress is distilled with eight botanicals but it is the butterfly pea blossoms which turn the gin a gorgeous indigo blue. When you add any citrus juice or tonic it turns from blue to pink–which is not a gimmick, but a happy accident of chemical reaction. It’s a delicious gin, and would be great in an Aviation. Romano Beverage imports Empress 1908 to Chicago. You can find it in any Binny’s Liquors.
2001 Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Chante Le Merle Vieilles Vignes
– Joe Jensen, the owner of Compass Wines and Spirits, took the tasting’s theme of top-shelf wines to heart and showed up with a case of this incredible red wine (and two more outstanding pours – I didn’t want to leave the table). Pro tips from Jensen: if the event says bring your best wine, then bring your best wine.
The Balvenie’s Peat Week – Once a year Balvenie sets aside seven days to play with peat. The Scotch in this bottle kicks Laphroaig in the teeth with peat covered boots. It’s like biting into a fireplace. Available everywhere.
MESH & Bone’s Sotol – When Tim Kosirog from MESH & Bone handed me his business card I asked him why it featured only a blank space and he said: “Write your own story.” This is an excellent summation of MESH & Bone’s mission: to travel and drink like locals, then bring it home. Founder Scott Crist discovered Sotol in Mexico (and Arakku in Sri Lanka, and Shochu in Japan, and Cidre in Normandy, France). Distilled much like Mezcal but instead of using Agave, they use the rare and uncultivated dasylirion wheeleri. You could say it’s a distant cousin of Tequila but you’d be off by a mile. Sotol is its own thing and it’s good. In Chicago, you can find it used in Son of a Butcher’s Como La Flo which is Mesh & Bone Sotol, Avez, Lemon, Hibiscus, and Egg White.
SevenFifty's database is industry only. However, you can read their articles on wine at SevenFifty Daily.