Across the Bar with Gerry Ruvo

by Alia Akkam

ShakeStir is proud to launch a new series, Across the Bar, by Alia Akkam. Here, industry movers and shakers will give us the scoop on booze's corporate side.

ShakeStir: You recently changed the name of the company to Campari America from Skyy Spirits. What does this mean for the company, and what’s something the industry can look forward to as a result?

Gerry Ruvo: Fear not. The only thing changing is our public name from Skyy Spirits to Campari America. Our people are the same, our brands are the same, and our great service is the same.  A company isn’t built around its name; it is built around its reputation. What the name change does do for us is aligns us closer with our parent company, Gruppo Campari, the sixth largest spirits company in the world, and really lets folks know that we aren’t a one-trick pony built just around SKYY Vodka. The bartenders I’ve talked to have responded extremely positively to the change. I really look forward to the day when I never again hear, “Oh, you guys have Wild Turkey?”

SS: 2012. What do you think we'll see more of in the New Year?

GR: The innovation we are seeing right now in the spirits world is truly amazing (and this is coming from someone who has been in this business for more than 30 years). It’s like we are in the middle of an industrial revolution which is changing how people enjoy their drinks almost daily. The bartenders’ role in this revolution cannot be understated. I see them as the guide making sense of all the changes. They are the Henry Fords of this cocktail movement.  New ideas I see just coming over the horizon are things like expanding the cocktail into more occasions like brunch; cocktail flights paired with food; a rise of regional favorites like Pisco and mezcal; and a refocus on not only making great cocktails, but also making them quickly with high quality ingredients. A few years ago, we all saw the aged cocktail take hold, and that will continue. That spirit of creativity will also lead to even more amazing drinks like smoked cocktails and the fantastical (and almost indescribable) things they are doing at Booker & Dax in New York. I mean, the bartender puts a hot 1,500-degree poker into a cocktail! Who thinks of things like that! And, although they really started hitting last year, I am absolutely obsessed with carbonated cocktails and cocktails on tap, like we are seeing at places like Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco, particularly since they both involve Negronis.

SS: Any product releases on the horizon you're excited about?

GR: With our partner Suntory, we just released Hakushu, another amazing Japanese whisky to our portfolio, which has been extremely well received. We have a lot of other innovations up our sleeves with our brown spirits, so expect more from us throughout the year. Next month, also look for SKYY Infusions Coconut, which our team is working hard to get out the door right now, and is a great play for high energy nightclubs and the off-premise.

SS: By now we all know how great the mixology scenes are in San Francisco and New York (lucky you often shuttling between the two!), but with all the traveling you do, what is one city you think we need to pay closer attention to and why?

GR: I can’t tell you how excited I am about what is happening up in Portland, Oregon. They host a terrific cocktail week and the bartending community is extremely creative, drawing on both the classics as well as innovating new techniques. Other top markets like DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also already developed a significant mixology scene. But I have to say, cocktail culture is no longer a coastal or top market game here in the U.S. I am loving what I am seeing in places like Minneapolis, Austin, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Kansas City.  What is particularly great about these emerging cocktail markets is, as with their food, they are putting a very, very local spin on their creations which is really inspiring.

SS: Undoubtedly, you have perched on the stools at a number of fine bars across the world. What is one of your favorites, and what will we find you drinking there?

GR: I know this is going to sound self-serving, but I really love the aperitivo culture in Milan. I recently attended the reopening of Davide Campari’s Camparino bar, which is in the Galleria next to the Duomo in downtown Milan. There is just something about the energy of the Italian people enjoying a drink and some small bites after work, before a night on the town, that is really magnetic. It creates such an atmosphere of friendship and sharing. That’s the pure essence of the spirits industry to me.

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