In October 1794, Alexander Hamilton took time out from his regular duties as secretary of the Treasury to lead 13,000 militiamen into western Pennsylvania. Resistance to a tax on whiskey production, intended to help pay down the government’s $45 million Revolutionary War debt, had been growing since it went into effect in 1791. Tax collectors had been attacked, and at least one was whipped, tarred, and feathered. By early 1794, some 7,000 men had joined the rebellion, and talk swirled about declaring independence from the United States. But in the face of federal bayonets, the revolt collapsed; many of its leaders were arrested, and the rest fled into neighboring states.
The Whiskey Rebellion was a critical moment in the life of the new republic. President Washington’s use of the military to force payment of the tax demonstrated that the fledgling federal government had real power—and was willing to use it.
But to Hamilton, who conceived it, the tax was about more than raising cash or asserting the central government’s authority. It was also a way to reduce alcohol production and consumption. Hamilton wrote in Federalist 12 that a tax on whiskey “should tend to diminish the consumption of it,” and that “such an effect would be equally favorable to the agriculture, to the economy, to the morals, and to the health of the society. There is, perhaps, nothing so much a subject of national extravagance as these spirits.” Washington agreed: Drinking, he said, was “the ruin of half the workmen in this Country”—even though, as the owner of one of America’s largest distilleries, he contributed his share to that ruin.
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British undergrads these days are suspiciously sober, says the Financial Times. And pub owners think they know the culprit. It’s tuition.
The British government decided two years ago to let universities raise tuition fees from £3,375 to £9000. Confronted by tighter budgets and poorer post-graduation job prospects, students have traded beers for books. ”Nine thousand pounds is a sobering enough number for anybody,” the chief executive of Britain’s biggest nightclub operator told the paper.
Although £3,375 to £9000 is a big jump percentage-wise, £9000 looks like a Black Friday discount next to the average cost of attending college in the U.S. this year: $18,391 for public and $40,917 for private, according to the College Board. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s a roughly $5,000 and $8,000 hike, respectively, from a decade ago, and, at this point, some schools are pretty much tacking on an extra $1,000 to their tuition each year.
In fact, American co-eds are also slightly less besotted than they used to be. According to the ongoing Monitoring the Future study run by the University of Michigan, alcohol consumption rates for college students have been decreasing slowly but steadily for the past three decades.
But here’s the thing: They haven’t been decreasing anywhere near as dramatically as the rates for people of the same age group who aren’t in college. In other words, young people are drinking less, and college students are drinking relatively more.
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Excavating a ruined palace in Tel Kabri, Israel, this summer, a group of archaeologists made a discovery: an old wine cellar. A very old wine cellar. A cellar they estimate—according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research—to be some 3,700 years old. Within the cellar, over a period of six weeks, the team found 40 wine jugs, each one just over three feet tall.
The liquid contents of the jars, alas, have not survived. So how did the researchers know they were wine jugs, and not some other vessel? The team, composed of scientists from George Washington University, Brandeis University, and Tel Aviv University (and who, it’s worth noting, have yet to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal) analyzed the organic residues trapped in the pores of the jars. Emphasizing pottery fragments collected from the bases of the jars, which would have been guaranteed to have had contact with whatever was stored inside them, the team analyzed the chemical components of the residues. They found, among other things, tartaric acid, which is a key component in grapes. They found traces of other compounds, too, suggesting ingredients that would have been added to the wine—among them honey, mint, and other herbs.
Read more. [Image: Eric H. Cline, George Washington University, via the Wall Street Journal]
Have you ever described a wine as “chewy”? Have you ever swirled that wine in a glass, then plunged your nose into the bowl to take in the bouquet? Have you ever examined a wine’s legs? I have done two of the three of these things, which means, basically, that I am two-thirds of an enormous jerk. But I am also, in my way, a bold sojourner into the field of scientific inquiry. Because wine snobbery has a purpose, and that purpose is science.
Read more. [Video: Dan Quinn; GIF: Megan Garber]
In the mountains surrounding Maotai village in northern Guizhou province, the smell of baijiu, China’s popular sorghum-based liquor, is dizzyingly strong. Visitors claim that they can get drunk simply by catching a whiff of the fiery beverage, which runs between 40 and 60 percent proof, while locals brag that they have baijiu flowing in their veins. And just in case the smell wasn’t pungent enough, Kweichow Moutai Company, China’s largest baijiu producer, erected a massive, seven-story building in the shape of its signature product. Now, a red, white, and blue bottle protrudes from the peak of a nearby mountain, ushering visitors into China’s baijiu heartland.
There are more than 800 registered baijiu businesses in this town of 49,000, but one brand reigns supreme: Moutai (written as maotai in Chinese), a state-owned enterprise valued at $23.5 billion. For years, villagers in Maotai have piggybacked on the company’s success, benefitting as it rose to the top of China’s $76 billion liquor market.
“Everyone who works in Maotai village lives and breathes baijiu, especially the Moutai brand,” said He Yuan, a farmer who harvests sorghum in this northern corner of Guizhou, China’s second-poorest province. “If it weren’t for baijiu, we would live a very tough life.”
But Moutai’s exorbitant price—roughly $300 for a premium bottle—combined with its longstanding links to China’s governing elite have made it an ideal target in President Xi Jinping’s mounting campaign against corruption and extravagance. Though Moutai is officially recognized as China’s “national liquor,” often served at state functions, it is priced beyond the reach of average consumers. And because of this high price, Moutai commonly used a currency in bribes, prompting the popular saying: “Those who buy Moutai never drink it, while those who drink it never buy it.”
Read more. [Image: Adam Century]
Last year saw the worst wine shortfall in a half-century. And there’s little indication that world production can keep pace with the oenophilic hordes.
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In April 2006, a tornado struck Warehouse C at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. In the aftermath, the building looked like a diorama: part of the roof and one wall had been artfully removed to reveal the 25,000 barrels stacked inside. Miraculously, not a single one of those barrels was damaged—proof, perhaps, of the Major League manager Leo Durocher’s maxim: God watches over drunks and third basemen.
Repairing the warehouse took several months, and during that time the barrels on the upper floors were exposed to rain, heat, and sun. Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace’s president and CEO, joked at the time that the distillery should sell the whiskey as “tornado-surviving bourbon.”
It turned out to be no joke. The barrels were opened about five years later (the liquor inside had then aged for nine to 11 years) and, says Brown, “the darnedest thing is, when we went to taste the whiskey, it was really good. I mean really good.” The company decided to label the bourbon “tornado surviving,” and aficionados—who also found it superior to the usual product—quickly snapped it up. One went so far as to write Buffalo Trace and ask whether it planned to make more. “Not deliberately,” Brown replied.
Yet the tornado bourbon got the distillers wondering: What are the perfect conditions for storing the barrels in which bourbon ages? It’s a question that no one had really asked before, despite the oft-noticed phenomenon that barrels situated near the windows in warehouses have a tendency to become what managers call “honey barrels”—that is, ones that produce above-average whiskey. Moreover, the storage question was a logical follow-up to one that Buffalo Trace had already been pondering: How do you make a perfect barrel?
Read more. [Image: Buffalo Trace Distillery]
A new survey claims Americans are in love with the tasteless Belgian imitator. But they’re certainly not voting with their wallets.
Here’s something truly surprising: During the government shutdown, residents of Washington, DC, went to bars more but spent less money.
Which, like: Shocking, right?
Read more. [Image: Daniel Lobo/Flickr]