Booze News, 7th Edition

man reading newspaper

Here in the D.C. area, August means summer vacations, lighter-than-usual traffic, and maximum weather discomfort.  The city’s ordinarily frenetic pace slows a bit until after Labor Day, after which the city returns to life to wrap up the government fiscal year – ending September 30, for you non-bureaucratic types.

So what’s better than some new Booze News to kick back with during these slow final summer days?

First off, a question: what state in America makes the best craft beer?  Colorado, Oregon, and California were my top guesses, but boy was I off.  Brad Tuttle, writing at Time.com, reports that it’s Delaware, home of Dogfish Head Brewery.

The Daily Meal’s new Top 25 List will cause plenty of arguments between craft beer aficionados.  Despite the fact it’s “based on the input of craft beer experts consulted by the site, as well as votes cast by thousands of readers and beer fans,” it’s certain the ranking will provide endless fodder for debate and disagreement.

Also of note: “craft beer sales were up 15% in terms of dollars and 13% by volume, while beer sales overall decreased by 2% compared to the same period a year ago.  Nearly 450 new breweries opened in the last 12 months, and while craft beer still represents a small fraction of overall beer sales, craft brewers now constitute 98% of all U.S. brewers.”

Read Tuttle’s Time.com article, “You’ll Never Guess Where the Nation’s Best Craft Beer is Brewed”

Yet it’s not only craft beer sales that are increasing – sales of non-alcoholic beer are also on the rise, according to the Economist.  While most drinkers quickly dismiss so-called near-beer, “it is growing in popularity around the world… [particularly] in the Middle East, which now accounts for almost a third of worldwide sales.”

There are two reasons for this regional increase.  First, “drinking beer, even the non-alcoholic variety, taps in a popular desire for a globalised lifestyle that neither fruit juice nor even Coca-Cola can offer.”  Second is the region’s dominant religious mores, the Mid-East “teetotal majority.”  “Some brewers are optimistic that the current wave of religiosity in the region will increase demand… prominent Saudi and Egyptian clerics have issued fatwas declaring it permissible for Muslims to drink zero-alcohol beer.”

Read The Economist article, “Brewers in the Middle East: Sin-free ale”

Next comes a pair of articles – well, an article and a book review – on why we love to read about writers and drinking.  Alexander Nazaryan, writing at the Atlantic Wire, identifies this intersection of booze and literature as the “drunk writer trope,” which helps explain why “we want to believe in the image of the hard-drinking writer, even as that persona falls out of favor.  Actually, precisely because that persona has fallen out of favor.”  The article is noteworthy not only for Nazaryan’s words, but also for his extensive linking to other sources and articles discussing the subject.

As recent evidence of the drunk writer trope, Nazaryan cites Olivia Laing’s new book, The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink, which was also recently reviewed by The Economist.  Laing “traces ‘this most slippery of diseases’” and “weaves literary biography with travel and personal history as she follows these figures through America.”  These figures are six American writers – Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, and Raymond Chandler – men of letters known both for their prolific writing and their destructive drinking.

Read Nazaryan’s Atlantic Wire article, “Why We Love to Read About What Writers Drank”

Read The Economist book review, “Bottoms up: A compelling journey through literature and addiction”

And finally, a quick shout out goes to the folks at Brenne, who, in a bit of particularly obscure news, chose Classic Imports as their “exclusive importer for the United States.”

Although it was only slightly inconvenient to order my bottle of Brenne from a New York City liquor store – which you can read about here – it soon might be easier.  The rumor mill tells me D.C. is the next market where Brenne will be launched.

Published in: on August 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm  Comments Off  
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Britain’s National Drinking Problem?

boris johnson beer

“Drunk or not, I have the best. hair. ever.”

Several years ago I wrote a post on an Economist article analyzing the decline of Britain’s humble neighborhood pubs. An unfortunate occurrence, but one not difficult to understand when considering a frustrated economy that leaves consumers with less disposable income.  That, coupled with an overall decline in beer consumption, the traditional staple of any public house.

Yet that decline hasn’t resulted in less drinking. On the contrary, it appears that Britain has a national problem with drink. And the problem isn’t only with booze, but with the political discussion surrounding it.

First, let’s discuss the booze problem, placed within a geographic context: “Like most chilly north European countries, it has an ancient tradition of getting blotto. But Britons manage to combine Scandinavian bingeing with liver-pickling Mediterranean levels of consumption.”

If such a problem does exist, how can it be fixed? Increased regulation appears often in these situations, but perhaps properly understanding the problem might be a best first step. “Britain’s noisy youthful drinkers, who attract most of the public ire, are in fact a diminishing part of the problem.” Instead, this latest attempt by legislators to mandate health choices is much like its past attempts: “Britain’s battles with the bottle have always involved a heady mixture of anxieties about health, morality and social class.”

The problem thus appears more complicated than it first seemed. Might there be a confluence of factors responsible for Britain’s love affair with drink, such as geographic and economic considerations? “Growing prosperity and urbanisation were likelier causes of both drunkeness and its critics, because they brought rowdy commoners into greater proximity with gentler inebriates.”

Is British society doomed? In the Economist’s opinion, the worry is overblown: “This class-infused tension is discernable in every major campaign against drink that has followed: from the 18th-century crackdown on the ‘gin-craze’…to the high-minded Victorian temperence movement, and the exaggerated popular concerns over ‘binge Britain’ of today.”

Moveover, critics and naysayers completely fail to acknowledge the social benefits the bottle brings. “Britain’s buttoned-up society gets a lot of precious bonding and cheer from the bottle, which is too often ignored in the public browbeating.” Bonding and cheer, a way for us to blow off steam, to unwind after a day’s work, to make new friends and grow closer to those we have. Intangible benefits that produce happiness and revelry, benefits that bind society together.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 11:38 pm  Comments Off  
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What Work Used to Be

Don’t you wish you were me?

Years ago, folks used to drink at work.  They took work seriously and they took drinking just as serious.  A cocktail or two while out at lunch was the workplace norm, not the exception, and not the mortal sin it’s now become.  Work was work, but there was some amount of fun involved.  That fun involving hitting the bottle on the clock.

The Economist reminded me this week that, as they put it, “the battle is over and the killjoys have won.”  Their article, titled “The boredom of boozeless business: The sad demise of the three-Martini lunch,” summarizes two new studies published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and Consciousness and Cognition.

The newpaper’s summarization of each study produced two simple conclusions: first, “Americans link even moderate drinking with stupidity, which the professors call the ‘imbibing idiot bias’.”  Second and more straightforward, “a couple of drinks makes workers more creative.”  The two studies’ conclusions scientifically confirm what we’ve always known: you might be better at your job with a drink, but you’ll be thought the fool should you partake.  (Never mind whether you’d be permitted a drink, that’s long gone.)

Reminiscing for those times, thanks to Mad Men’s popularity, is of course all the rage, or at least was when the show debuted.  Even in that fictional setting, the booze-fueled culture is becoming a frowned-upon practice of a by-gone era, documenting the demise of the workplace pour as the show progresses into the late 1960s.

So what’s left at work today?  Certainly not a bottle strategically hidden inside your desk.  Is there anything other than the obligatory and largely misery-inducing post-work Happy Hour with colleagues?  However, as long as there are enterprising employees, there are enterprising drinkers:  those of us who trust our colleagues to discreetly enjoy a beer or cocktail with over lunch, who can handle our liquor and return to our desks with the appearance of sobriety.

Perhaps the killjoys haven’t won after all.  Maybe instead of the three-Martini lunch, it’s now just one or two.  Workplace boozing is still present, it’s just gone underground, conducted only within circles of trusted colleagues, who not only value a fine drink, but more importantly, absolute secrecy.

Published in: on August 14, 2012 at 10:05 am  Comments (3)  
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Booze News, 5th Edition

Happy belated New Year!  Booze News is back for its fifth installment.  This time, The Economist provides a pair of articles on the wonders of Belgian and British beer, some thoughts from an Atlantic contributor on an increasingly popular herbal liqueur, and finally, some information on why drying out after the holidays is just a waste of time.

I’ve previously written about Belgium’s fantastic Trappist ales.  And it’s not just those seven specific brewers.  Generally speaking, Belgian beer is some of the best anywhere.  The Economist agrees, but supports the conclusion with a bit more analysis.  In addition to reputation, “Belgium is also home to the world’s biggest brewer. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev, based in Leuven, a small university town half an hour by train from Brussels, turns out one in five of every beer sold around the world.”

Belgium’s geographic location also doesn’t hurt: “the climate and the land are excellent for growing barley and hops, the basic ingredients of beer. Belgium is also known for its high-quality water, vital for turning out good beer.”  Furthermore, “at one time or another most of Europe’s great powers have held sway over Belgium; many have left behind influences and flavours.”  No doubt then why Belgian beer is just so incredibly tasty.

Read the Economist article, Belgian Beer: Brewed force

Looking north and homeward to the British isles, The Economist next considers Britain’s long history and culture of binge drinking.  In his upcoming book Intoxication and Society, Cambridge historian Philip Withington argues it “was the educated elite who taught Britons how to drink to excess.”

However, these elites were forced to booze responsibly: “Men were to consume large quantities of alcohol in keeping with conventions of excess. Yet they were also supposed to remain in control of their faculties, bantering and displaying wit. Students and would-be lawyers formed drinking societies, where they learned the social—and drinking—skills required of gentlemen.”  Thus, copius drinking was permitted so long as one could still think sharply and cleverly.”

And perhaps things haven’t changed so much from the past.  “Although intoxication was a classless pursuit in the 17th century, it was the privileged who turned it into a cultural phenomenon. The affluent are still boozy… The wit is still there, too—although it is likely to seem funnier after the listener has had a few drinks as well.”

Read The Economist article, England’s booze culture: Always with us

From Belgium and Britain, we head now to Argentina, home of fernet, “the liquor for all occasions. Grandparents swear by the herbal libation; the young heading out into the night mix fernet with cola and then order it en masse at bars and clubs; and no one would dare organize a barbecue, which are called asados in Argentina and are very regular affairs with friends or families, without fernet.”

What is this mysterious liqueur, you might ask?  I’ll let Karina Martinez-Carter explain: “For the first-time fernet drinker, the popularity of booze that tastes like black licorice devoid of sugar might be confounding. The botanical, 80-proof fernet is no innocuous vodka. It is made from bitters and herbs, and though it goes down relatively smooth, the aftertaste kicks and lingers. It is, as almost everyone describes it, an acquired taste.”

After picking up a bottle of Italian Fernet Branca last week, I’m still attempting to acquire a taste myself.  Good luck acquiring your own.

Read Martinez-Carter’s Atlantic article, Fernet: The Best Liquor You’re (Still) Not Yet Drinking

And finally, we return once again to Britain, where scientists at the British Liver Trust give us another reason to just keep on drinking after the holidays.  “Giving up alcohol or going on a detox for one month is pointless, especially after the excesses of the festive season… Experts agree that a short period of complete abstinence will not improve liver health,” reports the BBC.

Instead, Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s chief executive recommends “making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.”  A few days a week rather than an entire month off – that’s  certainly much more reasonable.

Read the BBC article, Detoxing in January is futile, says liver charity

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Booze News, 4th Edition

It’s time for another edition of Booze News.  This time around, I’ve collected a number of news items from across the drinking spectrum – beer, wine, and liquor.  And for good measure, I’ve included a fifth item discussing a new book on fine dining.  Plenty of info to keep you distracted from the decreasing amount of daylight.

Although Americans drink far more beer than wine, there aren’t many beer guides for introductory drinkers.  According to Clay Risen, great books to help new beer drinkers are “few and far between — and, to put it as kindly as possible, not exactly aimed at the mainstream, non-beer-obsessed public.”

However, that’s about to change with the publication of the Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver.  Although Risen spends most of his piece discussing the text’s omissions, he ultimately concludes that Oliver’s book, along with The Great American Ale Trail, by Christian DeBenedetti, are “similarly incomplete…yet still impressive in their overall depth and scope.”

Read Risen’s Atlantic article, The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough

Whisky – especially from Scotland – is usually considered a high-end selection.  Considering that fact, would you drink whisky from a can?

WTOP, Washington DC’s local news-radio station, asks just this question.  Scottish Spirits will begin selling their canned whisky in the U.S. in December, and the can is “designed to maintain the liquor’s taste.”  The single grain scotch whisky “is a blend of malt and grain, with honey, vanilla, apples, butterscotch and pears.”  A 12-ounce can will cost five dollars.

Read the WTOP article, Canned Whisky?  Would You Drink It?

And speaking of whisky, Buffalo Trace Distillery recently announced they will be releasing several Pappy Van Winkle expressions later this year.  The ordinarily difficult-to-find bourbon is aged between 10 and 23 years and enjoys something of a cult following.  And rightfully so: Pappy’s “23-year-old bourbon was the 2010 ‘Spirit of the Year’ from Wine and Spirits Magazine.”

Good luck finding your own bottle!

Read the Louisville Bizjournal article, Buffalo Trace to re-release Van Winkle bourbons

Many people – myself included – feel intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed when buying wine.  What type is best?  How much should I spend?  Do the words affordable and everyday mean undrinkable?  Can you get a nice bottle of wine for under five or six dollars?

Brian Palmer argues that less means more – less money means more taste, that is.  “In 1995, 59 percent of the wine purchased in the United States sold for less than $3 per bottle…Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests.  Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine.”

Speaking plainly, Palmer asserts: “Wine is not art. There’s no reason to believe that aligning your tastes with those of a self-appointed elite will enrich your life, or make you more insightful or sensitive.”  Modern technology and falling market share has resulted in a simple fact: higher prices do not reliably reflect quality.”

Read Palmer’s Slate article, Drink Cheap Wine

Finally, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, has written a new book focusing on food, culinary traditions, and familial bonds; a celebration of “the full, old-school arc of an archetypal French dinner, from that first sip of Champagne to the final jolt of caffeine.”

Titled The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, “Mr. Gopnik’s new book is largely about that myth and how it has influenced our conceptions of fine dining for roughly two centuries.”

Read the New York Times article, Adam Gopnik on the Days of Great French Dining

Read The Economist book review, The Meaning of food: Eat this book

Read a 2005 New Yorker interview with the author, Q. & A.: The Table Comes First

Published in: on November 8, 2011 at 12:32 am  Comments Off  
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