Tastings are bouncing back as a popular sales strategy for retail stores this summer. “There is so much happening all the time in the wine, beer, and spirits world,” says Talmadge Lowe, manager of the three-unit Hi-Lo Liquor Market chain in Southern California. “Companies are constantly introducing new brands, blends, and flavors—to keep up can be hard for anybody.”
Upscale spirits-based canned or bottled cocktails have joined wine, spirits, and microbrews at tastings. Hi-Lo Liquor Market tries to have at least one free tasting every week at each of its locations, which are located in Long Beach, Culver City, and Costa Mesa. “At each store, we try to do a beer, a wine, and either a spirit or premixed cocktail tasting. It gets people in the store to familiarize themselves with the myriad new products that are coming out,” Lowe says. “Part of our brand is to get what is freshest to the market and to let people sample it. This way people can buy according to what they know, rather than trying to make a guess.”
This summer, Hi-Lo has hosted tastings of Madre mezcal ($45 a 750-ml. bottle), Neft vodka ($40), Future gin ($40), and the premixed cocktail brands Golden Rule ($7 a 100-ml. can), Happy Hour ($4.50 a 55-ml. can), and Juneshine ($14 a 12-ounce can). “The upgrades in canned and bottled cocktails are incredible,” Lowe says. “There are so many options now.”
At the Long Beach and Culver City stores, customers can purchase flights of wine and beer to consume on-premise at its bar, The Counter. Prices for the beer and wine flights change weekly, with an average range of $12-$18 a flight. Hi-Lo avoids potential supply issues by not announcing the brands that will be available in advance, like it did when promoting a recent event that featured three New Zealand wineries. “We don’t always announce the brands right off the bat because the availability fluctuates,” Lowe says.
In Beacon, New York, tastings are essential to customer service and sales at Paul Brady Wine. “Our flights are an incredible way to allow guests to try multiple brands, which ultimately drives sales,” says owner Paul Brady. “We also love to offer samples of spirits and other products that we may have open on special.”
Brady offers two wine flights: one features the store’s custom-made wines ($20), and the other is “NY Corner To Corner” ($16), highlighting wines from Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and Niagara. The store encourages customers to make reservations via Tock. Brady has also been offering “Guest Winemaker Flights” on Thursdays. “We open some labels that aren’t usually available, and if we can get the winemaker in, all the better,” Brady explains. “If the winemaker can’t make it, I do my best to talk guests through all the wines. They have been spectacularly fun and well received.”
The Hi-Lo unit in Culver City hosted a free tasting of Raicilla de Una ($69 a 750-ml. bottle), a brand of the Mexican agave-based spirit raicilla. “It can be intimidating for a consumer to walk into a liquor store, look at all the shelves, and stick with their safe bet,” Lowe says. “Tastings increase sales. Customers feel more comfortable buying a wine, spirit, or beer after they tasted it.”