beer + wine + spirits

Happy Let’s-Drink-Mexican-Beer Day


Cinco de Mayo has become one of the country’s biggest beer-drinking holidays.
It’s already topped Super Bowl Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day, and its beer sales are coming close to the numbers we see for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Father’s Day. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Cinco de Mayo usually falls on a workday.

No Hecho en México; Cinco de Mayo is pretty much an American holiday.
It was never a big festival day in Mexico, far less historically significant than the country’s Independence Day in September, and barely a blip of a celebration. It commemorates a rather obscure 1862 battle against the invading French army of Napoleon III. It was a minor and short-lived victory for the Mexican Army, but it happened to coincide with an early wave of Mexican immigration to the U.S., and the memory lingered and grew in importance among that group, even as it faded to obscurity in their homeland. Nearly a century later, the Chicano movement formed with the stated goal of empowering Mexican Americans to embrace their cultural heritage, and the movement’s cultural organizers somehow latched onto Cinco de Mayo as a pan-national Latino celebration in the U.S.

Some have called Cinco de Mayo the holiday that Corona built.
The day was little-known outside of California until the 1980s when the big beer money arrived. Beverage marketers formed separate Hispanic marketing divisions to target their promotions—Coors dubbed the ’80s ‘The Decade of the Hispanic‘— and focused their efforts on Cinco de Mayo. The real marketing powerhouse was Corona, which continues to plow $1 of every case sold year-round into Cinco de Mayo. The self-proclaimed ‘Drinko de Cinco,’ Corona’s sales went from 1.6 million cases in 1984 to more than 12 million cases a mere two years later, largely on the strength of a heavily focus-grouped pursuit of their primary demographic, North American male college students. The Corona behemoth has been so dominant that a mid-90s word association study identified Corona at the top of consumers’ minds when thinking of Cinco de Mayo.

Not quite Mexican beer for a not quite Mexican holiday.
The Mexican brands Corona, Modelo, and Pacífico are all owned by the Belgian-Brazilian company Anheuser-Busch InBev. Holland’s Heineken owns Tecate and Dos Equis. And Cinco De Mayo’s cultural resonance has become little more than a platform for corporate advertising and an excuse to grab a bottle of beer with a slice of lime. In other words, Cinco de Mayo is a fitting emblem of Latinos’ acceptance within the American melting pot.


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Domaine versus Domain Name: This is why the new .wine websites are bad for wine

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia


Dot Wine is coming.
The internet has gotten too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov, so the organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk and .fr for Britain and France, but now the floodgates have been thrown open and everyone can choose from thousands of new keyword suffixes like .coffee, .vote, .football, and .wine.

The next step for the new suffixes, known as top-level domains (TLDs), is that internet name registries will bid for them at auction. The winning registries then own the rights to issue URLs with those TLDs. This has winemakers in an uproar.

Up till now, TLDs have basically come in two flavors.
There are open TLDs like .com and .net that anyone can register, and there are restricted TLDs like .gov and .edu that are limited to governmental and educational entities. Under the new plan, brands can apply to own their own limited domain suffixes so we’ll start to see TLDs like .pepsi and .nike, but the vast majority, including .wine, .vin, .napa, and .chardonnay will be open. The problem for winemakers is that the language speaks volumes.

The wine industry is very particular when it comes to names.
There are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations, and each describes a very specific combination of grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. In some European countries, these names are based on classification systems that date back many centuries—France’s goes back to 1411—and even the relatively new and evolving standards for America’s wine regions are considered critical to the industry’s integrity, quality, and reputation.

That’s why winemakers on both sides of the Atlantic are fighting the new TLDs.
They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation. Think of how true Champagne has continued to exist in a world of lesser sparkling wines. Everything about Champagne from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified in its name, and that name has been legally protected for hundreds of years, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But the new TLDs allow anyone and everyone to register a .champagne URL. It essentially gives cyber permission for the makers of any old rotgut- fizzy or otherwise- the imprimatur of centuries of history, terroir, and reputation.

Old World (and some New) winemakers want protection for their geographic indications.
They argue that names like ‘Napa Valley,’ ‘Champagne’, and ‘Bordeaux’ should be treated in the same way as trademarks. Third parties aren’t allowed to buy up the TLDs for ‘Olympics’ or ‘Tylenol’ or ‘Sony’, but as it stands, anyone with the auction fee can saunter in and claim ‘Côtes du Rhône’ as their own.

The right side of the dot is pitting nation against nation and ancient traditionalists against new world rivals.
Most European winemakers are pushing for protection, most Australians and Canadians want a free-for-all, and there’s a split decision from the U.S. wine industry. Critics of protection like to trivialize the argument as tedious squabbles over all the silly circumflexes and and hyphens in old chateaux names. They like to point out that nobody will ever confuse a .vin Chardonnay with a .vin Chevy just because the French wine suffix can double as an acronym for vehicle identification number. They assert that geographic indications are not settled international law and that proponents should take up the fight in venues like the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Cyber-squatters are already lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations.
These are disinterested third parties who simply smell money in the domain name dustup and are looking to lock up ownership of wine-related TLDs. And who knows what happens then. The squatters can sit tight and charge extortionary usage fees; they can ‘flip’ ownership at a vastly inflated price to legitimate wine industry constituents; or they can dismantle a centuries-old institution, selling the related URLs to anyone and everyone with a case of plonk and a GoDaddy account.

What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.

Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture, food business | 1 Comment

It’s Official—PBR is Over. Here’s Proof.

image via The Trademark Blog @

image via The Trademark Blog @


If you were born much before 1980, Pabst Blue Ribbon is–
an unremarkable, 170-year old beer; a blue collar favorite that all but disappeared in the 1980’s flood of status imports like Heineken, Molson, and Beck’s. 
If you were born any later–
you know it affectionately as PBR; a no-frills heritage brand that’s become the unbearably hip quaff of choice for young urbanites. Once embraced for its anti-establishment, downscale chic, PBR has achieved mainstream success.

All signs point to peak PBR.
In a scholarly study titled What Makes Things Cool? published by The University of Chicago Press, co-author Dr. Margaret Campbell of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business (who coined the phrase ‘peak PBR’) traces Pabst Blue Ribbon’s popularity to a calculated association with the nonconformist counterculturalism of hipsters. She asserts that mainstream acceptance robs the brand of its appeal, first driving out the hipsters, and eventually the second wave of adapters will follow. Evidence of a first wave retreat comes from the merchant number-crunchers at Locu who mapped hipster migration patterns and correlated those to frequency of PBR’s appearance on area menus. The PBR strongholds are no longer the hipster hoods; instead the maps light up around college campuses where the drinkers are younger and less edgy—more frat boys than bicycle messengers.

Of course anyone who pays attention to these things already knows that there’s very little left of the brand’s early, scruffy authenticity.
Four years ago, food industry magnate Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst Brewing and granted control to his two sons, then best known for buying Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s former Los Angeles mansion (Daren) and appearing as the self-designated ‘youngest tycoon in the world’ on an MTV reality series (Evan). The brothers promptly moved the headquarters from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, jacked up prices, and shed most of the company’s management team.

The most stunning change was firing the advertising and marketing agency that had engineered the PBR comeback. 
The brand’s resurrection is now the stuff of legend. The agency orchestrated a stealthy campaign that the New York Times dubbed The Marketing of No Marketing with none of the traditional trappings of beer promotions—no Super Bowl spots, NASCAR banners, busty barmaids, or celebrities. In their place were small-scale sponsored events aimed at an alternative crowd—bike polo tournaments, art gallery openings, film screenings, and indie book releases; the sponsorship always seemed like an afterthought with no signs or trinket giveaways or glad-handing executives in from Pabst’s corporate offices.

Since 2010, promotions have moved beyond the shaggy dive bar crowd.
There are splashy new sponsorship deals with car races and music festivals, and the company is none too shy about self-promotional signage and banners, and there are always plenty of key ring and beer cozy giveaways. Logo-emblazoned tee shirts can now be found everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Sears, and the merchandising group has
 licensed some very unhipsterish new items like polyester cowboy hats, golf bags, and surfer gear, some of which made it into the celebrity swag bags at this year’s Country Music Association Awards.

Trouble seems to be brewing for PBR as hipsters flee.
Growth has stalled, despite a robust PBR infrastructure built by pioneering urban dwellers. Never a good sign, PBR hater sites have sprung up, while the parody industry has fired off video clips and spoofs coming from The Simpsons, filmmaker David Lynch, and a whole channel of unknowns who mock the PBR mystique on Funny or Die.

Is there hope for PBR now that its coolness quotient has plummeted?
Not according to Refinery 29, the arbiter of all things hip, with a recently titled post PBR is Officially Over.
And if you still need further proof of its demise, look to the Metropoulos boys who are already planning the second coming of Ballantine.


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From Dot-Com to Dot-Whatever

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia


The internet is too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov.
The organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. Brands can now apply to own their own domain suffixes like .pepsi or .nike, and there will be keyword suffixes like .dating, .travel, and .football

For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk  and .fr for Britain and France, but the floodgates have been thrown open. According to NetNames, thousands of new suffixes have been applied for, with nearly every large company in the U.S. and western Europe planning to transition within the next three years. There’s already a new universe of domains using Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese characters, and fierce competition has risen as Google, Amazon, and other online giants vie for prized suffixes like .book, .store, .app, and .cloud.

Côtes du Rhône, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Chateau d’Arsac-Margaux: to wine lovers, these names speak volumes.
The wine industry is very particular when it comes to labels—there are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations. They define grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. French wine labeling relies on a classification system that dates back to 1411. The evolving standards for American wine regions are newer but no less critical to the industry’s integrity and economic success. The requirements link each bottle to a particular location where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, all of which speak to specific characteristics, production standards, and the quality of the product.

The new suffixes pit domaines against domains. 
On both sides of the Atlantic, winemakers are fighting to keep out new domain name suffixes 
and vow to boycott them if they’re issued. They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation, fraud, and counterfeiting. Think of Champagne versus the world of lesser sparkling wines: everything from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified. The Champagne label has been legally protected for centuries, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But those legal protections don’t extend to internet governance, so pretty much anyone with the requisite $185,000 purchase price can go out and register the domain name suffix and affix it to any old bottle of fizzy plonk. 

The names and reputations of the world’s great wine regions and varietals might be priceless, but unscrupulous cyber-squatters will no doubt test the limits.
They’re lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations. They expect to ‘flip’ them for profit to legitimate wine industry constituents, or hold them and extort usage fees. 

What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.

Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.

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The Bumpy Road to Nutrition Labeling for Alcohol

image via Wear Your Beer


Think about it– everything has a label.
Every box, bag, can, and bottle; if it’s meant to be be consumed it’s required to have a a rundown of ingredients and calories, fats and carbs. Everything but alcohol. For years labels weren’t even allowed.

For an explanation, you have to go all the way back to Prohibition.

The Food and Drug Administration was already in place regulating what we eat and drink, but Congress, recognizing the tax potential, assigned oversight of the newly legal alcoholic beverages to the Treasury Department under the auspices of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and passed the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935, which is still in force.

The TTB holds beer, wine, and liquor manufacturers to very different labeling standards than other food and beverage makers.
TTB standards have never included the nutrition facts you see everywhere else. Beer makers were actually forbidden from putting alcohol content information on their labels, finally suing for the right to do so in 1987. There are some arcane legal distinctions that put labels on the food content of things like low-alcohol wine, light and gluten-free beer, and hard cider, but you’d have a tough time hunting down the carbohydrates in Chardonnay or the sugar content of Jim Beam.

Between the obesity epidemic and rampant food intolerances, consumers shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
Fortunately we’re finally moving toward greater transparency, helped along by the Affordable Care Act, which requires most multi-outlet restaurants and food and beverage retailers to post calorie information for all menu items, including alcoholic beverages. Last May, the TTB lifted its mind-boggling ban on nutrition labels and adopted an interim policy of voluntary disclosures in advertising and on packaging for beer, wine, and spirits. Mandatory labeling can’t be far behind.

For now we have to satisfy ourselves with the rather sketchy information provided by the government’s National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference. It’s a humorously arbitrary, semi-useful assortment of nutrition facts offering vague profiles of wine (simply ‘red’ or ‘white’), generic averages of beer (‘regular’ or ‘light’), but gives a detailed analysis of three different recipes for a whiskey sour and includes one mysterious entry for ‘tequila sunrise, canned.’


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What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via

polar vortex photo via


That nice hot cup of tea could actually be making you colder.
Alcohol? It might feel warm going down, but it’s just about the worst thing you can drink on a cold night. And these nights are really, really cold.

The frigid air holding us in its stinging embrace is the ominously-named polar vortex that slipped away from its arctic perch. It’s shown us how woefully unprepared we are for the record cold temperatures we’re experiencing. We’re particularly misinformed when it comes to choosing winter warmup drinks. It seems to defy logic, but a cold beverage can help you hang on to body heat better than a hot one.

When you drink a hot beverage on a cold day, you feel warmer at first because the hot liquid increases blood flow to the skin, but the body’s regulating mechanisms kick in and quickly turn things around. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it automatically turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which is a welcome response in warm weather when the perspiration carries heat out of your body and into the atmosphere. But right now, the goal is to keep that body heat tucked away in your core.

A cold drink has the opposite effect. There’s some brief chilling while the liquid is going down, but instead of opening up the sweat glands on your skin, the cold causes blood vessels to contract and your surface skin actually tightens up. Less blood flows through the constricted outer layers of skin, which leaves more to circulate through critical core areas. You might get shivery from the surface chill, but that’s not a bad thing; it just means your muscles are trying to balance the cold surface by creating even more core heat.

If constricted blood vessels protect your body’s core temperature, it follows that beverages that can dilate blood vessels are a bad idea in freezing weather, which is what makes alcoholic beverages so dangerous. Drinking increases the blood flow to your skin; that’s why your cheeks are flushed and you have a warm glow inside and out. It’s deceptive though, because all of that peripheral heat comes at the expense of your vital organs. And the body has no need to shiver because the muscles near the surface are warm. If you venture outside, the shallow surface heat dissipates quickly and your core temperature, which is already lower than it should be, will continue to drop. It’s a surprisingly narrow margin between a safe core temperature (the standard 98.6°) and hypothermia (95°), and alcohol gives you a big head start. Just a few boozy minutes spent outside in polar vortex conditions can get you there.

Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?
Remember that most of the world drinks hot tea in hot weather, and Alaska leads the nation in per capita ice cream consumption. It’s counterintuitive but true—hot drinks cool you down and cold drinks warm you up.
In the midst of a polar vortex, when you hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, you know you’re about to get toasty.




Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, Health | 2 Comments

Learn to Speak Conversational Whisky


Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop

Rocks glasses via Vital Etsy shop


Whisky is having its moment. You don’t want to miss out.
Fortunately, a little knowledge can take you far when it comes to parsing the jargon of mashes, malts, and barrels.

Whiskey is…
an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain. Beer comes from fermented grains but isn’t concentrated by distillation, and other spirits like vodka and rum are distilled but can be made from things like potatoes and sugarcane. Usually whisky is made from barley, rye, wheat, or corn, and usually it’s aged in wooden barrels. It has to be at least 40% alcohol by volume, but pretty much everything else is fair game.

Some of them are malt whiskies.
This just means the whisky is distilled from malted grains—grains that are sprouted and dried to give them a kind of sweet and yeasty quality.

Scotch is…
at its most basic, just one of a number of whisky styles. But you see all the fuss and fanaticism surrounding Scotch so you know that there’s got to be more to it. And there is. There are all sorts of technical specifications that define and distinguish Scotch whisky, and if you really need to know them you can pay a visit to the website of the Scotch Whisky Association. For now, you can get up and running with this: a single malt Scotch is bottled from one batch of whisky, is made from one grain (malted barley), and comes from one distillery. More than one batch, more than one grain, more than one distillery—you’re talking about a blended Scotch. Batches might even be identified down to the individual barrel or cask. And the real deal has to come from Scotland.

Does that mean Irish whiskey is …
Yup! Pretty much the same thing only from Ireland. And they like to put an ‘e’ in there.
True fans of Scotch whisky would take exception with the notion, and it’s true that the Irish Whiskey Society gives distillers more leeway when it comes to the variables, but we’re still talking about single malts and blends of wood-aged malted barley.

There’s Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey; bourbon is by definition an American whisky. 
Corn is required to be the predominant grain in bourbon, and it has to be aged in virgin barrels of charred oak. It’s called sour mash if fermented grains from past whisky batches were added to the fresh grains of the new batch before distilling. It’s analogous to sourdough bread where the loaves can contain cultures from an age-old fermented ‘mother dough.’ Sourdough bread, though, really does taste sour, and sour mash doesn’t tart up the taste of bourbon.

Kentucky bourbon…
doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, although Tennessee bourbon does have to come from Tennessee, but they don’t call it bourbon. It’s whiskey, and for some reason the ‘e’ makes another appearance. Got that?

Then there’s rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey used to be known as Canadian whisky, and the terms are still used interchangeably, even though there might not be any actual rye in the multi-grain mash. These days, when someone says ‘rye’ they’re most likely talking about American rye whiskey (there’s that irrepressible ‘e’ again). Except for the grains, rye is identical to bourbon, but the grains make all the difference. Corn gives bourbon a sweetness and fuller body, while rye whiskey has a lighter, fruitier, spicier profile.

Irish Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon and Rye
These are the fundamentals of the whisky lexicon.
Sure, there’s a lot more to it. There are Lowlands and Highlands and peat smoking and vatted malts. There are whiskies from Japan and Czechoslovakia and Australia, and Danish single malts made with water from the Greenlandic ice sheet and Indian whiskies distilled from fermented molasses. 
So you won’t be whisky-fluent, but with this little lesson you will be whisky-conversant.



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How Wall Street Is Messing With the Price of Beer


It’s been a rough run for the U.S. economy in recent years.
One of the few bright spots is the price of beer. The U.S. has the most affordable beer on the planet.

Americans can point with pride to a study published in The Economist Online.
Based on median hourly wages and average beer prices, it takes just five minutes of an American worker’s time to earn a cold one. Prices are lower in plenty of countries, but their wages are even more so. The average across 150 countries is 20 minutes of work to pay for a beer, and in some parts of Asia it can be close to an hour.

But there’s a proposed monopoly that threatens the American way of life.  
Anheuser-Busch InBev wants to take over Grupo Modelo of Mexico (Corona beer), which would leave the country with just two companies (the second being MillerCoors) controlling half of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger. It has a pretty good case against the proposal, arguing that the marriage of Budweiser and Corona’s parent companies would eliminate competition between the rivals and lead to higher beer prices for Americans.

The brewing industry has already been consolidating like crazy for years. The number of major brewers in the U.S. fell from 48 in 1980 to just two after a mega-merger in 2008. Global Beer: The Road to Monopoly, a study from the American Antitrust Institute, shows how beer price increases started to accelerate immediately after 2008, with Anheuser-Busch leading the charge. Anheuser-Busch has kept prices high for decades by threatening a price war against any American brewer that breaks ranks and lowers prices, and the memory of retail bloodbaths in the 1980’s has kept them all in line. Grupo Modelo has been able to grab a lot of U.S. market share for its flagship Corona brand by keeping its prices stable. If Busch goes through with the purchase of Modelo that competition disappears, and pressure to keep prices down disappears along with it.

There’s also pricing pressure coming from everyone’s favorite Wall Street shakedown artists.
Last week the New York Times reported on an aluminum hoarding scheme perpetrated by Goldman Sachs that is bidding up the price of beverage cans. Apparently some Goldman analysts stumbled across a loophole in the arcane system of aluminum pricing. When they learned that storage times are factored into metal market prices, they realized that a killing could be made by buying up aluminum and lengthening the storage time. But since it’s not entirely legal to just sit on a stockpile of metal, Goldman Sachs designed a massive shell game.

Three years ago Goldman bought up a major storage system of 27 aluminum warehouses. Every day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. They load up in one warehouse and unload in another, sometimes making multiple circuits with the same bars in a single day, and each time they get to add a little rent charge to the price of the metal. The daily dance of the aluminum has stretched out average storage times from six weeks to more than 16 month. The scheme has earned $5 billion for Goldman Sachs over its three years, and the inflated rent charge ends up added to the cost of every can of beer.

At least we can shop wisely.    
calls itself the world’s only reliable beer price search engine. Instead of erratic and unreliable crowdsourced data supplied by drinkers, SaveOnBrew gathers its pricing data directly from brewers and retailers and publishes up-to-date, reliable beer pricing data sets for every single zip code in America.



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Wine + Coca Cola = Quelle Horreur!



Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via WillowbendCottage Etsy Store

Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via Willowbend Cottage Etsy Store


So much for that famous French snobbery.
The ungodly combination of red wine and cola is this summer’s newly popular refreshment. Hausmann Famille, a branch of the French winemaker Châteaux en Bordeaux, has introduced Rouge Sucette—which translates as Red Lollipop—a blend of 75% wine with 25% sugar, water, and cola.

Wine consumption is in a free fall.
Wine was always served with dinner. For generations of French drinkers it was a daily occurrence, the norm for a majority of French citizens. Today the number of daily wine drinkers has fallen to 17%, with 38% reporting that they never drink wine at all.

Wine and Coke is nothing new.
In Argentina it’s known as Jesus juice; South Africans call it katemba; Croatians mix bambus; and in Chile the combination is known as jote. It’s most widely drunk in Spain where it’s a sort of unofficial symbol of Basque culture. It’s believed to have originated there as a cheap method for making rough, local wines more palatable.

To the French, the mixture’s history just serves to compound the indignity.
The country is fighting an uphill battle to preserve its culinary heritage. Earlier this spring the government imposed a ketchup ban on all French school cafeterias, fearing that the nation’s distinguished cuisine is being buried—literally and metaphorically—under a flood of foreign influences. And now wine flavored with sugar and cola has captivated a younger generation’s sweet tooth while masking the true nature of their vaunted varietals.

None for me, thanks, but if you feel the need…
Don’t bother looking for Rouge Sucette on these shores. It retails in France for barely three euros a bottle; hardly worth shipping, especially when we have plenty of our own liters of Coke and Two Buck Chuck.

A better idea is to order yourself a Spodee and Sody, a red wine and Coca-Cola cocktail based on Spodee, the latest of the hip spirits from the makers of trendy Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry rum. On its own, Spodee is a rather tasty and strongly fortified concoction of wine, cocoa, and some kind of moonshine liquor. The mix of grape and chocolate flavors end up tasting a little like Raisinets, but with a 36 proof kick.


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Move Over, Frozen Water. Make Way For Ice.

War Department photo, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons

from the records of the War Department, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons



Mealtime is a little different out there, but traveling Americans are ready to adapt.
They’ll sit on the floor, have cheese for dessert, eat with chopsticks, or follow the main course with salad. Still, most Americans draw the line at room temperature soft drinks. We can assume the locals are refreshed by lukewarm Coca Cola, since that’s the beverage of choice in much of the world, even when the thermometer hits 32° (that would be 90° to you and me). Ask for ice and best case is a few tiny slivers that barely make a dent in the tepid beverage; more likely the request is met with a blank stare.

Here in the land of plenty we take ice for granted. We expect it in our soft drinks and in every glass of water in every restaurant. We can count on an ice machine in the hallway and an ice bucket in every room of every hotel and motel from coast to coast. Our home refrigerators dispense a continual stream of ice and when there’s a party we buy extra bags to fill buckets and tubs.

The current ice age.
Still, we’ve never seen anything like the current fascination with luxury ice. The present-day renaissance of cocktail culture encourages fetishistic scrutiny of every aspect of mixed drinks. We’re drinking single malt and small batch whiskeys, exotically flavored infusions, hand crafted bitters, and yes, artisanal ice.  It’s colorless and tasteless, but it seems that all ice is not created equal. The cubes in your freezer (and many bars and restaurants) are clouded with bubbles and cracks, while the premium stuff is dense and clear, so it melts slower and won’t water down your drink as quickly.

Bars and restaurants now have ice programs and some have turned to a new breed of boutique ice makers like Favourite Ice and Névé that charge 50 to 70 cents per two-by-two inch cube. You might find a single tennis ball-sized sphere for scotch on the rocks, gin and tonic in a highball glass chilled by height-appropriate tube-shaped ice, and hand-chipped bits crushed in muslin (to capture the rogue particles) for the perfect julep.

Then there’s glacial ice, in a league all its own. It’s true that thousands of years of geographic pressure create extremely dense ice that stays cold longer and melts more slowly than man-made, but the premium is really charged for its mystique. Marketers tout the purity of water that was frozen before it could absorb the atmospheric taints of the modern era. They speak of the magic of its hisses and pops as entombed air is released from the core of the melting ice—the pristine air of a lost age, never before breathed in by man. The market for glacial ice is so lucrative that ice poachers have gone after protected glaciers around the globe.

And you thought ice was just frozen water.

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Stay Hydrated. Drink Beer Cocktails.


beerbottle martini glass


Forget everything you’ve been told about mixing your alcohol.
You should drink beer with cocktails. In fact you should drink beer in your cocktails.
Beer cocktails have been popping up with greater frequency for a few years, and this summer, as warmer temperatures settle in, they’ve really taken off.

There’s nothing new about beer sharing a glass with spirits and mixers.
Visitors to Mexico are familiar with the Michelada (and its regional Chelada variations) which is beer mixed with lemon or lime juice, salt, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Germans have the Gose mit Kümmellikör with a shot of spiced Kümmel liqueur in a glass of beer. The Shandy, popular in the U.K., covers a lot of territory combining beer in equal parts with ginger ale, lemonade, cider, or just another type of beer, like a stout and ale Black and Tan. And of course the U.S. has the Boilermaker, a long-time staple of working-class bars combining beer with a shot of whiskey.

What’s new is the craft.
The twin movements of craft beer and craft cocktails have given new life to beer cocktails. Today’s drinkers crave quality and variety. They’re always on the lookout for new ingredients and flavors, and the craft brewing and distilling industries are happy to oblige. Innovative mixologists are finding new ways to use them, creating original cocktails from high-quality spirits, house-made syrups, spices, fresh squeezed fruit juices, and craft-made beer with plenty of character.

Canny flavor combinations or abominable crimes against beer?
Purists argue that beer is already a perfectly crafted cocktail of barley, hops, yeast, and water. They see no gain in plonking more booze and fussy mixers into a well-made brew. Mixologists counter resistance by arguing that well-chosen additions will complement rather than disguise a beer’s flavor. The more complex the beer, the more avenues of taste opportunities it offers: a touch of citrus will cut through the heaviness of a pale ale; a light and sweet wheat beer is balanced by the bite of Vermouth or Campari; and the botanicals in gin can accentuate the lightly-hoppy nuances of a lager.

Cocktail traditionalists also balk at tampering.
Any addition to spirits, even ice or a splash of water, is sacrilege to a certain type of aficionado. Beer cocktails are probably not for them, and indeed none of us should be messing with a 21 year-old Macallan. But there are plenty of spirits that will benefit from beer in the same way that any well-chosen mixer can transform them into a cocktail that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A splash of beer will add effervescence without watering down a cocktail like club soda or sweetening it like ginger ale; the malt and yeast can cut the sugar in fruity drinks and stand up to the spice in pepper-spiked cocktails. When well-matched, even the beer-averse can appreciate the finishing touch of flavor and complexity.

An open mind and palate can pay off with some intriguing flavors.
Bartenders love experimenting with beer’s endless array of tastes and styles, and drinkers appreciate the novelty as well as the larger glasses and thirst-quenching power it brings to mixed drinks. The union is not for everyone, but you’re going to be seeing a lot of beer in cocktails this summer.

Buzzfeed shares 26 Drinks That Prove Mixing Beer Is A Great Idea .

Just don’t test out any of those 26 drinks in Nebraska, the only state where it’s illegal to serve cocktails that combine liquor and beer. The law is a holdover from Prohibition when Nebraskans were known to spike their legal, non-alcoholic beer with liquor.





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Online Wine Shopping: Let the Algorithm Do the Picking

image by Jomphong via

image by Jomphong via



Would you trust a computer to choose your wine?
There’s a new generation of wine sellers counting on it.

Wine has been a tough sale online.
Wine shopping is daunting even in a traditional, bricks and mortar wine shop, where most customers wander the aisles a while and then end up grabbing an old favorite, an eye-catching label, or whatever’s on sale, with finger’s crossed that it won’t disappoint. It can be even more overwhelming online where the selection is inexhaustible and you don’t have store displays to cue you. Add to that a regulatory maze of interstate shipping laws, and by 2007, online sales were a piddling 3% of retail wine sales.

In the last few years, the internet has blossomed into a virtual vineyard.
Wine has benefited enormously from the rise of social media. There are thousands of online wine groups sharing tasting notes, alerting members to flash sale sites like Lot 18, and holding virtual wine tastings where on the count of three everybody uncorks and sips the same bottle. You can order wine for your Facebook friends through that site’s birthday reminders, and even Amazon, twice burned by failed wine-selling ventures, has jumped back in.

To succeed online, wine sites have to be more than just digital catalogs. Wine is consumed experientially, and in that sense its purchase has more in common with music or movies than with, say, a pair of shoes. That’s why the new generation of wine sellers looked not to Zappo’s but to Netflix for their sales model. And the secret sauce of the wildly successful video service is in the predictive algorithms that fuel their recommendations.

Online shopping has always run on recommendation engines.
The innovation was pioneered by Amazon, where now you’ll find them integrated into every inch of the shopping experience. From the home page through to the last click at checkout, Amazon beseeches you to consider ‘Frequently Bought Together’ items, ‘Customers Who Bought this Item Also Bought,’ and the less persuasive ‘Customers Who Viewed this Item Also Viewed,’ as well as ‘Sponsored Links,’ ‘Product Ads from External Websites,’ and a sidebar of  ‘More Buying Choices.’ Amazon’s algorithms skew toward building recommendation lists from items ordered by similar customer profiles. All the come-ons feel a bit like a traveling salesman with a foot stuck in your front door telling you about the vacuum cleaner your neighbor just bought.

Wine, like DVDs, requires more finesse.
Using its peer-to-peer comparative algorithms, Amazon derives a reported 10% of its book sales through recommendations on the site, while at Netflix recommendations drive 75% of the video viewing. Netflix accomplishes this through its algorithms, which turn an infinite buffet of data into a highly personalized, user-friendly experience. Instead of comparative recommendations, it builds individual profiles based on each customer’s individual preferences. It’s constantly throwing DVD titles at you, always asking your opinion about what you watch both on the service and elsewhere. Like Netflix, the new wine recommendation engines run on ratings. They build taste a profile based on what you’ve enjoyed in the past, and continually tinker with the profile as you rate your new wine purchases. And unlike Netflix, where the queue can get clogged with the entire Toy Story oeuvre, you don’t have to share this with your kids.

I’ll have what the MacBook Pro is having.
Try one of the new digital sommeliers:

Wine start-up Taste Factor, which compares the complexity of its recommendation engine to NASA, is like a custom wine-of-the-month club. Sign up for the subscription service and you get a starter pack of wine to rate. Your feedback establishes a tasting baseline, which is refined after subsequent monthly shipments, each of which is uniquely chosen for you.

Instead of NASA, Club W feels more like an online dating service. You start with a questionnaire—not about wine but lifestyle questions and details like how you take your coffee. The screen fills with potential matches, and you choose the ones that look good to you.

WineSimple also starts with a quiz to build each individual consumer taste profile. The geo-servicing phone app doesn’t sell wine, but it lets you know when you’re in a shop or restaurant that carries one of your recommended bottles.



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Fun Facts About Guns in Bars and Restaurants

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz

porcelain pistol by Yvonne Lee Schultz


There’s a lot of talk about gun control at the state and federal level. Let’s talk about guns on a personal level that affects all of us: in bars and restaurants.

  • Fun Fact: Red state or blue—it makes no difference. Nearly every state throws its bar and restaurant doors open to gun-toting customers.

There’ve been some changes in the wake of December’s tragic shootings in Newtown; just not the kind you might expect. With bills pending in a number of state legislatures, we’ll soon see a majority of states explicitly allow residents to bring concealed and open-carry guns into bars and restaurants, while another 20 states continue to allow them by default.

  • Fun Fact: Tennessee State Representative Curry Todd served time this year for drunk driving and possession of a handgun while under the influence of alcohol. He had previously worked tirelessly as the sponsor of the nation’s first guns-in-bars law, which Tennessee passed in 2009.

These laws are the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, and represent progress made by the gun lobby as it seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life.

Mixing guns and alcohol: this is truly the logic of the madhouse.
A very large body of research tells us that people who abuse alcohol are far more inclined to engage in risky behaviors, and gun owners are more likely to fall into that group:

  • Fun Fact: Compared to people who don’t keep guns in the home, gun owners are twice as likely to down five or more drinks in a single sitting; they’re nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to get behind the wheel of a car when drinking; and they consume 60 or more drinks per month at more than double the rate of non-owners.

Looking for a 3-star gun-free bistro for Saturday night?
Restaurants are free to post signs banning weapons, and recommendation sites like Yelp now include ratings for gun-free dining. Of course concealed weapons make compliance kind of iffy. Unarmed Tennessee residents rely on the listings at not-for-profit Gun Free Dining Tennessee (their motto: Eat in peace) while the NRA crowd visits (protecting the Second Amendment one bite at a time).

For all the fun facts, there’s nothing trivial about the dangerous mix of alcohol and firearms.
Americans own more than 300 million non-military weapons. There are more than 40,000 gun-related deaths every year, and one in three involves alcohol.

Are there guns in your local restaurants? The NRA website has an interactive, state-by-state map of current firearm laws.


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How Much Will That Beer Cost You?


It’s been a rough run for the U.S. economy in recent years.
One of the few bright spots is the price of beer. The U.S. has the most affordable beer on the planet.

Americans can point with pride to a study published in The Economist Online.
Based on median hourly wages and average beer prices, it takes just five minutes of an American worker’s time to earn a cold one. Prices are lower in plenty of countries, but their wages are even more so. The average across 150 countries is 20 minutes of work to pay for a beer, and in some parts of Asia it can be close to an hour.

But there’s a threat to the American way of life.  
Last week the Obama administration filed a lawsuit in Washington’s district court to block a proposed beer industry merger. Anheuser-Busch InBev wants to take over Grupo Modelo of Mexico (Corona beer), which would leave the country with just two companies (the second being MillerCoors) controlling more than 70% of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department has made a pretty compelling case against it, arguing that the marriage of Budweiser and Corona’s parent companies would eliminate competition between the rivals and lead to higher beer prices for Americans.

The brewing industry has already been consolidating like crazy for years. The number of major brewers in the U.S. fell from 48 in 1980 to just two after a mega-merger in 2008.  Global Beer: The Road to Monopoly, a study from the American Antitrust Institute, shows how beer price increases started to accelerate immediately after 2008, with Anheuser-Busch leading the charge. Anheuser-Busch has kept prices high for decades by threatening a price war against any American brewer that breaks ranks and lowers prices, and the memory of retail bloodbaths in the 1980’s has kept them all in line. Grupo Modelo has been able to grab a lot of U.S. market share for its flagship Corona brand by keeping its prices stable. If Busch goes through with the purchase of Modelo that competition disappears, and the Justice Department predicts higher prices for everyone.

Never overpay again. 
calls itself the world’s only reliable beer price search engine. Instead of erratic and unreliable crowdsourced data supplied by drinkers, SaveOnBrew gathers its pricing data directly from brewers and retailers and publishes up-to-date, reliable beer pricing data sets for every single zip code in America.


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Make Your Own Gin (no bathtub necessary)



[image via The HomeMade Gin Kit]


Gin is just vodka with some added flavorings.
Sorry, gin aficionados, but it’s true. The gin might find itself retailing for a few times the vodka price in a handblown crystal bottle with a bejeweled stopper, but they both started life as the same, un-aged, flavorless, grain alcohol.

That’s why it’s so easy to make your own gin.Commercial gin producers start by distilling grain into the vodka-esque base. Most producers will put it through a second distillation to get the flavoring in there in vapor form, but some will simply flavor it and bottle it. That’s what you’re going to do, and it makes a perfectly respectable gin, especially since you get to flavor it to your liking.

Home distilling is illegal.
In fact it’s illegal in every single country in the world, with the sole exception of New Zealand. No worries though, because there’s plenty of inexpensive, already distilled, neutral-tasting alcohol to use as your base. In other words, you’re going to start with some cheap vodka.

The basic recipe is no more complicated than making tea. You soak juniper berries, coriander, and citrus peel in the vodka and strain them out when it’s flavored. A funnel and cheesecloth will do, although a Brita-type filter pitcher is even better (and as any budget-conscious cocktail lover knows, an initial run through the Brita does wonders for inferior vodka).

Premium gins are distinguished by subtle differences in their taste profiles—Tanqueray is pungent with juniper, Bombay Sapphire has a hint of licorice, Hendrick’s tastes like cucumbers—but the precise blend of spices and botanicals in each is usually a closely guarded secret. Homemade gin gives you license to experiment. You can spice it up with dried chiles and peppercorns; warm it with spices like star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks; and add herbal, fruit, or floral notes.

Aspiring mixologist types that don’t know where to start can buy a gin-making kit complete with a pre-mixed blend of spices, botanicals, flowers, and aromatics.
You can also find plenty of gin-making recipes and other resources at any of the social networks for cocktail enthusiasts like Imbibe, See My Drink, On the Bar, and eGullet’s Spirits & Cocktails Forum.
DIY G&T:  Serious Eats has a recipe for homemade tonic water.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, diversions, home | 1 Comment

Waking Up to Breakfast Beers

Rooster logo via

Rooster logo via


Brewers have turned their attention to one of the few underserved market segments: morning beer drinkers.

The eye-opener, the hair-of-the-dog, the morning brewskie
Beer for breakfast was once the domain of problem drinkers and spring break partiers.
It’s as if there was an unwritten law that liquor marketers wouldn’t try to mess with the social standard of the booze-free morning. Not any more. There’s a whole slew of new brews aimed at getting you out of bed.

Founder’s Brewing calls its Breakfast Stout ‘the coffee lover’s consummate beer’ with ‘an intense fresh-roasted java nose,’ and the recommended food pairing with Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout is a bowl of granola. Wells and Youngs brews a Banana Bread Ale; Terrapin’s Wake ‘N Bake is more bake than wake at 8.6% alcohol, but it’s infused with high-test Jittery Joe’s coffee beans; and Rogue Brewing might have created the ultimate breakfast combination with its Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple Ale.

Defenders of the morning quaff point to its traditional standing in many cultures.
In earlier centuries, beer was the default breakfast beverage of the British, when coffee and tea weren’t widely available and safe drinking water was hard to come by. Hong Kong stockbrokers like to fortify themselves with a morning pint before the market opens, and instead of a coffee break, Eastern Europeans have always favored beer for their mid-morning brotzeit, or second breakfast. Beer is high in carbs, loaded with empty calories, and its soporific effects can derail your morning get-up-and-go; but swap the alcohol for sugar and you’re basically looking at the nutrition profile of many breakfast cereals.

Others shudder at the the thought.
It might be beer ‘o clock somewhere, but not everyone has the stomach for an eye-opening jolt of bitter carbonation. It also strikes many as irresponsible behavior, from a health and addiction perspective. Morning drinking is considered a sign of addiction; it can be a gateway to more daytime drinking, and leads to higher rates of alcohol-related liver disease and dementia.

Have your own breakfast of champions.
The Wall Street Journal recommends food and beer breakfast pairings that it claims ‘can be as perfect a breakfast accompaniment as O.J.’

Brubar is the breakfast bar for beer lovers. It’s the creation of a home brewer who marries malty beer flavors with a non-alcoholic energy bar.

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Smart Kids Grow Up to Drink More Alcohol

image via The United Nations of Beer

image via The United Nations of Beer


It seems contradictory, but it’s true.
The smartest kids are the ones who grow up to consume more alcohol, more frequently. They are more likely than less intelligent individuals to drink to get drunk and to engage in binge drinking.

These are the findings of two highly respected, long-term studies: the National Childhood Development Study from the United Kingdom and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the United States. Both studies defined high intelligence as a childhood IQ of 125 and above; both studies controlled for a huge number of variables in both the kids and their families (including age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, social status, education, earnings, political attitudes, stress factors, religiosity, physical and mental health, medications, socialization, and sexual activity). The findings held true: smarter kids drink more as adults, and it appears that it’s their intelligence itself that makes them drink more.

On the face of it, this makes no sense: obviously these very smart people are familiar with the potential dangers of heavy alcohol consumption. The researchers reported the data, but offered no explanations. Hypotheses abound.

Psychology Today theorizes that it’s all about evolution. They argue that alcohol is a relatively recent invention in human history. Until 10,000 years ago, drunkenness was a mostly unintentional state that occurred when our ancestors ate rotten and fermented fruit. In an evolutionary sense, the deliberate creation and consumption of alcohol is a modern invention that has been embraced by the leading edge of highly intelligent early adopters.

Another evolutionary theory posits that people of higher intelligence can take more pleasure from the mind-altering experience of drunkenness. Their brains are equipped to process a broader range of stimuli and novelty than are the brains of the less intelligent.

Addiction expert Stanton Peele suggests that individuals of lesser intelligence are more susceptible to public health and educational messages warning of the dangers of alcohol. They might also have swallowed the myth that alcohol kills brain cells.

The Journal of Advanced Academics links drinking to the difficult adolescence of highly intelligent teenagers. They are more prone than mainstream kids to experience depression and social isolation and commonly use alcohol to self-medicate.

Or maybe, it’s just that once they’ve outgrown those awkward years they want to cut loose and make up for all the high school parties they weren’t invited to.

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Flavored Vodka Has Gone Too Far















[l-r from top: bacon, Froot Loops cereal, peanut butter and jelly, pumpkin pie, popcorn, hard candy (lemon drop, cinnamon, root beer barrel, orange creamsicle), and smoked salmon flavored vodka]



Glazed donut, marshmallow fluff, buttered popcorn, red velvet cupcake. Is it vodka or the shopping list for a middle schooler’s slumber party?

Vodka’s virtue used to be its absence of flavor. It was colorless, odorless, and tasteless, valued for its neutrality. Today, whipped cream flavor is the third most popular vodka.

Flavored vodka is big business. Vodka makes up a third of the U.S. market for liquor, and about 20% of sales volume comes from flavored varieties. While the rest of the market remains relatively flat, the flavored segment rose by 20% this year and accounted for three-quarters of new brand introductions, with the sweetest flavor profiles gaining the most traction.

You won’t find a lot of 50 year-olds ordering cookie dough martinis. 
Vodka flavors like cotton candy and marshmallow fluff are obviously aimed at a young demographic with a less refined palate, and many come from value-priced producers. Still, the higher-end brands aren’t just ceding the market. The more frivolous, confectionary-like flavors might not be consistent with their brand strategies, but premium distillers Grey Goose, Absolut, Skyy, and Charbay are pushing plenty of novelty flavors like green tea, chocolate, ginger, and dragon fruit.

Despite the continued growth of the flavored vodka category, there are grumblings that suggest the tide could be turning.
There’s a can-you-top-this mentality gripping producers. They keep stretching the flavor range so they can drum up press coverage and keep their brands in the minds of bartenders and drinkers. But the more unusual the flavor, the smaller the customer base it appeals to. And retailers are starting to push back on the growing assortment. They already devote nearly half their shelf space to a category that accounts for one-fifth of their sales.

Some of the gimmicky and outrageous incarnations suggest that palates are growing fatigued if not downright jaded. Smirnoff’s fluffed marshmallow, Cupcake Vineyard’s frosting flavor, and much of the Three Olives vodka lineup (the Froot Loops-flavored ‘Loopy’, s’mores, bubble gum, birthday cake, and the perplexing ‘Dude’ flavor) even veer into self-parody.

It’s no wonder that one of the hottest new brands out there right now is Purity Vodka launched with the following ad copy:  “We believe the smooth yet full-bodied taste of Purity Vodka is best enjoyed straight up or on the rocks.”
Vodka-flavored vodka. What a concept.


Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food trends | 2 Comments

Eggnog and Other Raw Egg Cocktails

image via Editer


Do you gag at the thought of downing a raw egg?
Salmonella scares and Rocky movies have given them a bad name, but there’s a world of raw egg cocktails out there, and one of them, eggnog, has come into its season.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a well-crafted Pisco Sour or a true eggnog you probably wonder why anyone would bother adding uncooked goo to perfectly good liquor. I’ll tell you why.

Egg whites transform a humdrum cocktail into a frothy showstopper. A brisk workout in a cocktail shaker creates volume, silkiness, and a beautiful foam topping. It’s like a soufflé in a glass. And while egg whites alone are relatively flavorless, shaken together with the other ingredients the egg whites act as an emulsifier melding the separate components into a whole drink that is truly more than the sum of its parts.

While egg whites add a certain je ne sais quoi to cocktails, all texture without discernible taste, whole eggs or egg yolks announce themselves with a vividly eggy flavor. Whole egg cocktails are less soufflé, more flan. They’re rich and dense, creamy even when there’s no added cream. These are not warm weather refreshers, but they taste just right on a cold winter night.

The rumors of their health risks have been greatly exaggerated.
Salmonella is a truly nasty bacterium, but it’s a lot less common than you probably think. The FDA estimates that only 1 of every 20,000 eggs contains the bacteria, so the odds are 99.995% that your eggnog is safe. At this rate a typical egg eater will run into a contaminated egg once every 84 years. Of course some people can’t take a chance even with those odds. Children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, and anyone with a weak immune system should look for egg cocktails made with egg substitutes or liquid egg products which are required by law to be pasteurized. And no, the alcohol in cocktails is not going to kill Salmonella.

Now’s the time to try a raw egg drink.
Trendy cocktail revivalists have fervently embraced the raw egg cocktail in both old-timey drinks and new mixologist concoctions. And from now through New Years Day you’ll probably come across some eggnog somewhere.

Chow has a nice round-up of old and new raw egg cocktail recipes, including their unspeakably decadent and boozy eggnog.

Who’d have thought—I came across not one but two blogs dedicated to eggnog: the photos and recipes Eggnog Blogand the all-things-eggnog Eggnogaholic with eggnog-themed cartoons, shopping, jokes, and poetry.


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News and Booze


Newspaper and magazine wine clubs
The first time you saw one, it struck you as a bit odd. Then you saw another one. And another.
This is no ordinary brand extension. It’s not like selling crossword puzzle books or sponsoring a lecture series. It doesn’t flow naturally from the core business; in fact it can pair as jarringly as a big Cabernet with your sole meuniere.

The Wall Street Journal was the first major newspaper to offer a wine club membership, launching its Discovery Wine Club in 2008. Today there are dozens of publishers in the wine business, from the Dallas Morning News to Rolling Stone. Most of the clubs are open to readers and non-readers but offer special deals and promotions to their subscribers. The more successful clubs, like the Wall Street Journal’s, come from publications appealing to an affluent demographic with an affinity for fine wine; some, like USA Today’s, have been a total bust.

Some are natural pairings.
A wine club was a natural extension for Touring & Tasting, a lifestyle publication based in California’s wine country that can claim cozy, insider access to some of the area’s producers. Sunset Magazine has been writing about food and wine in California since the 19th century and sells the ‘kitchen-tested’ expertise of its wine club’s curation. And of course the club from the magazine Food & Wine comes from Food & Wine.

Rolling Stone and Playboy are two publications that are looking to build their lifestyle branding with wine clubs.
Rolling Stone calls its club Wines That Rock, with bottlings like ‘Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon,’ ‘The Police Synchronicity Red Blend,’ and ‘Woodstock Chardonnay,’ explaining that “Each wine we deliver is a reflection and interpretation of the music itself, inspired by legendary artists and the rock ‘n roll mythology behind these classic albums.”

Playboy has dipped its toe into the wine business before. There was a successful 2006 collaboration with Napa Valley’s Marilyn Wines that produced a Merlot with a peek-a-boo peel-off label based on Marilyn Monroe’s 1953-centerfold photo from the inaugural issue of the magazine. In 2008 Playboy sold a different high-end bottle each month with photo labels featuring vintage magazine covers from the 1960’s and ’70’s. A press release from Playboy Enterprises stresses the lifestyle connection of the new wine club:”We carefully select a handful of wines that represent the essence of the Playboy brand – delightfully jovial, indulgent and carefully crafted — while catering to the consumer’s desires to celebrate life and live it with a little style.” The wines are offered in themed ‘encounters’ like Blind Date (surprise selections), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (white varietals), and the Mansion Collection (a vertical tasting of Bordeaux).

For all their talk of ‘lifestyle,’ newspaper and magazine wine clubs are really about money, plain and simple. Paid circulation is down, advertising is going the way of the web, and newspapers and magazines haven’t quite cracked the monetization model for online content. Most of the publishers are just looking for a cork to plug the flow of red ink. With challenges to the traditional publishing business model coming from every direction, the hope is that this new revenue stream from wine clubs can help the old-line publications age as gracefully as the wines they are pushing.

Wall Street Journal Discovery Wine Club   Rolling Stone Wine Club   Playboy Wine Club   Dallas Morning News Wine Club   Touring and Tasting Wine Club   Sunset Wine Club  Food & Wine Wine Club


Posted in beer + wine + spirits, Entertainment, media | Leave a comment
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