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Chicago Gourmet: Bottoms Up!

Chicago Gourmet 2015 was as enjoyable as last time. We made sure to drain in some premium alcohol inside us…

Chicago Gourmet 2015 - Acanto Apples

The annual, most awaited event in Chicago, Chicago Gourmet, was as exciting as its previous editions. Each of the food samplers is better than before, each innovation is more creative than the last one, and so is sheer variety that the event offers!

The event certainly proclaims, and magnificently at that, that Chicago is undoubtedly the food capital of America. And no other city is going to snatch that crown away anytime soon.

It’s not just the food, however, but the entire beverage brigade, that gives Chicago this elevated status. And that’s what we focused on this time. Two brands, in particular, caught our fancy this season.

Ty Ku White SakeTy Ku
As mystifying it is to some people, the sake culture is growing steadily in America. “Consumers are embracing it for its health benefits being all natural, gluten-free, tannin-free, sulfite-free, non-GMO, and other health benefits. This made us an obvious choice for the fasting growing subculture in the US – the Yogi subculture,” says Janelle Basa, Market Manager, Davos Brands, which imports and distributes Ty Ku in US.

I had tasted this Japanese rice wine at Stetsons Modern Steak + Sushi before, and have been fascinated ever since! And I guess, so have been others. Ty Ku has been climbing up the sales charts quite well. Ms Basa explains, “We are the fastest growing sake in US, growing 2-3 times faster than other sakes, at twice the price point. This shows the premiumization of the category through Ty Ku, and the growth of premium sake in the US.”

Chicago Gourmet went well for the brand, as it always does, according to Ms Basa. “We can highlight our innovations and break through sake misconceptions through sake education,” she says. Here’s to some more sake wisdom. Kanpai! 

Zyr Vodka at Chicago Gourmet 2015

As we were meandering through the aisles, a strapping young man presented us quite a large helping of the ZYR Vodka. Having never experienced it before, we were certainly willing to take a sip! Glad to say, we were not disappointed. Given a perfect 100 by the Wine Enthusiast magazine, ZYR comes highly recommended from experts. We reached out to David Katz, the owner and creator of the brand, after Chicago Gourmet, and quizzed him about the vodka, as he flew 34,000 ft above Pennsylvania.

“ZYR is different in many ways: ingredients, process and taste. Regarding ingredients, most brands add things like sugar, glycerin or other to hide inferior products. We are a blend of wheat and rye, which adds some flavor, a subtle sweetness and the finish, and lets us keep her flavor balanced and consistent year after year without adding anything. The process is unique and includes proprietary filtering, multiple straining, know-how like temperatures and proof of distillation,” says Mr Katz. ZYR is grainy, fresh, slightly sweet with nothing at all medicinal or burnt or tart or flowery. The texture is velvety smooth, in fact creamy, resulting from all the filtering and quality of the water. “You really need to try the brands side by side and probably with an ice cube to note the differences. Almost like oysters, where a texture or brininess or size differences are subtle. I recommend trying ‘em in a line up, a vodka party! Everyone wins, but I do think we come out on top as the one that people prefer on the rocks,” said a proud Mr Katz.

Certainly, ZYR was perfect on the rocks. I tried with a little bit of cherry juice, and I preferred it on the rocks still. Very strong and effective though, make sure you know what your tolerance levels are with this vodka!

Participating at Chicago Gourmet for the first time, Mr Katz loved the way the event worked out for them. “Aside from being a picture perfect day, I felt that the people attending were just very curious. Some shows are only about the party, the social gathering, to see and be seen. Other shows are just consumers trying to consume as much as possible, given the high price of tickets and sometimes long lines. At Chicago Gourmet I was very impressed with the questions, the time people gave to know ZYR,” he said.

The brand is targeting Chicago in particular after developing a cult following in New York, New Jersey and Florida in the past 12 years. “We have pockets of success like Azerbaijan and the Aman Resorts around the world, but the US is my focus, our focus,” explained Mr Katz.

Ask him about pairings, and Mr Katz has all the symptoms and excitement of a true blue foodie. “I think a seared steak and a ZYR on the rocks is heavenly,” he advises. “I think some buttered pasta like a pappardelle and some shaved truffles or beef carpaccio with truffles will work well with ZYR. I also love a gimlet with ZYR. So soft! Maybe some ceviche (a popular seafood dish made with cured raw fish) and a gimlet would be on the top of my list.”

If you are wondering same as us, ZYR is an abbreviation of ZYRkalo Mira, or Reflection of the World, a song by Konstantin Nikolsky that Mr Katz loved. “I wanted and want ZYR to reflect the world’s opinion of Russian vodka, the best, modern, smooth.”

Chandon Napa Infusions at Chicago Gourmet 2015

And then, walking along, we discovered the Chandon Napa booth, which was very interesting this year, as it splashed some pre-prepared infusions in our champagne. The bottles held some colourful, naturally created elixirs such as citrus and rose. All in all, it was a beautifully tipsy day we had at Chicago Gourmet this year.

Soumya Jain LuxuryFactsSoumya Jain is the Chief Editor & CEO of LuxuryFacts. She is also the Co-Editor of ‘The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses’, along with Glyn Atwal, published by Palgrave Macmillan and launched in September 2012. The book is a window into the highly complex Indian luxury market. Soumya is also a visiting lecturer for luxury marketing and online journalism at leading educational institutes in India. She has been invited to speak at conferences and address industry colleagues about the Indian luxury market. Recognising her knowledge of the market, she has been quoted in the media several times, while also contributing articles on luxury in various publications.