Innovation for home cocktail enthusiasts

In the beginning of 2014 the French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard in their attempt to attract more consumers and adapting to the new technologies introduced a gorgeous gadget called “the Gutenberg Project” (not to be confused with the non-profit organization ‘Gutenberg Project’ that digitizes books and allows a free access to all of them).

The concept behind this new product is to combine alcohol (physical product) and apps (services). It is designed for at-home consumers who enjoy parties and making cocktails. It consists of 6 containers shaped like books (hence the name) and set on a platform connected to a computer. Each of the containers is filled up with one of the company’s popular spirits brands (gin, vodka, rum, tequila, etc.) and has a slightly different hue of the main silver/grey/brown colour. Undoubtedly the external design is very stylish. Clean, sleek and minimal, the containers are really eye-catching. And of course also recyclable.

The internal design however makes the things even more interesting. The application controls what exactly amount of alcohol to be poured in the glass based on the chosen cocktail. Besides it has also tutorials about mixology, personalized offers on the client’s preferences, monitors the level of the containers, recommends a refill, and gives options for home delivery .

If you are hooked now willing to buy it, I will disappoint you that two years later it is still in an experimental stage and not yet available in the market. When it appears I guess it will change the business model of selling/buying alcohol (at least in the cocktail niche) and soon will be followed by others (as happened with Nespresso a decade ago).

Meanwhile one advice to Pernod Ricard (actually to their Breakthrough Innovation Group) … change the name. The current one just doesn’t fit well with the idea. I find it rather as an ‘attached’ than as an ’embedded’ to the concept.

TALL BLONDE – cocktail

We all know that cocktails all around the world have very strange and unusual names, but when I read the title of this one, I was smitten immediately – TALL BLONDE.

What it looks like? Difficult question because actually there is no unified recipe. Diving into the web for information I found that there are a lot of options, but in view of the basic ingredients, I could limit them to two versions.

The first one is sweet. Honestly, for my personal taste, it is quite ‘sweetish’, and more proper name I assume would be ‘the sweet blonde’ (if we keep the main theme 🙂 ). It consists of Grand Marnier, Baileys, Kahlua, Amaretto, milk, banana and ice (of course, not all in one mix). If you however like such a style – check this and this recipe for details how to prepare it.

The second one evoked my interest and I think it deserves totally its name., tall blonde cocktail, akvavit, caraway, Nordic European countries, wine humour – tall blonde cocktail

Let’s start with the main ingredient – Akvavit.

I bet that most of you haven’t even heard about it.

Akvavit (also written Aquavit) is an alcoholic beverage that comes from Northern Europe. Yes, you got it! Northern Europe is the famous region where ‘tall blondes’ live (and Santa Claus too). There are probably more tall blondes per square meter than anywhere else in the world.

And what their men, the Vikings, invented? A spirit with distinctive pungent flavour of CARAWAY (I would never stop admiring human’s imagination). Why exactly caraway? Just as there are plenty of juniper in northwest Europe (and they produce gin), anise – around the Mediterranean (here we have ouzo, pastis, sambuca), in the Nordic countries there is caraway. You produce from what you have available in abundance.

          Their achievement was only in the flavour not in the invention of the spirit itself. Though still there are reservations in this issue, generally that discovery is awarded to the prominent Arabic scientist Jabir ibn Hayyan, aka Geber (721-815) and thankfully to the Moors in Spain (8th-13th century) the production of the distilled alcohol gradually made its way into the life of the Europeans.

The name Akvavit (Aquavit) derives from the Latin ‘aqua vitae’ which means ‘water of life’.  However, it does not have the exclusive rights to that name. ‘Water of life’ was the common denomination attached to all important distilled drinkable alcohol in Europe (for example ‘uisce beatha’ which in Gaelic means ‘water of life’ gave the name to the modern ‘whiskey’). The term was borrowed from the Arabic poetry from the 9th century where the distilled wine was called ‘araq’ which translates as ‘water of life’. It was Arnaud de Ville-Neuve in 1310, who first coined the word ‘aqua vitae’ to the wine he distilled though actually he was searching for the 5th element, the universal panacea, the sought-after ambrosia of the Gods… (I am absolutely sure that there are supporters who will swear he succeeded)

         Looking back at history I may say that the title is quite an adequate one. The alcohol beverages were literally life-savers. Drinking water was contaminated and a carrier of many diseases. The only solution to survive was a drink with an alcohol content to kill the deadly bacteria. That is why most Europe was drinking a lot of wines and spirits those days which suggests that they were constantly drunk or put it more poetically … ‘in an intoxicating mood’ 😉

Officially  Akvavit is mentioned in a letter from the 15th century from a Danish noble to the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Norway where is recommended for its medicinal properties.

Six centuries later it didn’t go too far from the Nordic shores. Still the biggest producers and consumers’ markets are in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and only a very few in Northern Germany, Canada and the US. Nowadays it is preferred mostly as a festive drink that invariably takes place at Christmas and Easter celebrations. It may not have expanded its fame outside these countries, but there it is praised as a symbol of their cultures.

Besides caraway, which continues to be the dominate flavour, other spices and herbs are also added to the blend. They definitely contribute to the final taste. Though kept in secret by the producers the most common are dill, fennel, cumin, coriander, cardamom, lemon or orange peel.

Usually it is released on the market unaged, but there are examples that stay for some time in oak casks. This inevitably changes the colour from pale golden to light brown. And speaking about the colour of Akvavit, that yellowish hue also sustains the ‘blonde’ trait…

The final touches to the cocktail image are framed by the glass – it is served in a highball, the second ‘tallest’ cocktail glass (the champion is the Colin glass).

Impressive name, interesting cocktail. If by chance you have on hand an Akvavit, give it a try.

And don’t forget to follow the Swedish tradition – SING while enjoying it!  If can not remember any song, I guess Swedes wouldn’t mind to use one of their traditional ones.

“Over the mountains, over the sea,

Millions of snapses are waiting for me.

Please go to hell with juice and tea,

Snaps is the drink for me!!”

‘Where good ideas come from’ by Steven Johnson

Ok, at first glance the title has nothing in common with the main themes on this site and yet it explains exactly how it was created (if we accept that its creation was a good idea 🙂 )

Watch this great illustrated video and will understand why sharing information in general might be of great help in finding the missing piece  to our ‘”eureka!” moments. “The chance favours the connected minds”, as the author says.

Highly recommend you to see also Steven Johnson’s TED talk. Here he explains in a funny way with a lot of examples from our history the key patterns he has identified that are behind genuine innovations (the GPS invention is quite an interesting story). To make it easier to understand, there is a ‘subtitle’ option and a lot of languages to choose from.

And of course, last but not least, buy the book.