What’s going on in Beer World? Beer lovers of America might be forgiven if their grasp of the current brew-scape feels iffy. Alice herself would be at home in this Wonderland. It’s a world in which up is down, little is big, and there’s no Blue Moon on the horizon.
It’s a world in which old standbys are faltering (case sales of Miller High Life were down almost 10 percent in 2013 from the prior year). Mexican labels are dominant (Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis, account for three of the top four imported beers). And a craft-beer company founded only 20 years ago is coming on strong (“Bartender, pour me a Lagunitas”).
The March 2014 issue of Beverage Industry offers us a through-the-looking-glass portrait of Beer World in the United States today. The magazine unleashed its writers on data gathered by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) of Chicago from supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2014. I made graphs and charts from their tabular data.
Before we delve into the particulars, let’s remember the big picture: over the past twenty years, per-capita consumption of beer in the U.S. has been declining. Derek Thompson wrote about that here last August, citing this report. But twenty years is a long lens. Let’s take a look at the state of Beer World in the last year.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
How many times can you hear gold teeth/Grey Goose/trippin’ in the bathroom before you get a hankering for some vodka? And yes, Lorde may be saying those are things we’ll never have, not being royals and all, but many non-royal adolescents have made do with cheaper alternatives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of adolescents have had a drink in the past 30 days, and 22 percent qualify as binge-drinkers. In a new survey on adolescent binge-drinking published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Pittsburgh look at how these tossed-off brand mentions in music could affect young people’s drinking behaviors.
Enough exposure to anything has an effect, and previous research has shown that for adolescents, music is the fastest-growing form of media they’re exposed to, listening to about 2.5 hours a day as of 2010. They hear 14 references to drinking per song-hour, and about 8 brand-name mentions.
Read more. [Image: tmab2003/flickr]
Can you identify the imposters lurking among these ridiculous sounding, yet oh-so-real beers?
If you Google the question, “Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?”, you’ll find all sorts of reasons: There’s a psychological appeal in setting goals; the ancient Romans used to offer resolutions to the god Janus, for whom January is named; humans love the feeling of hope, etc.
But there’s another explanation: New Year’s resolutions play a role similar to religious observance in our lives.
Wendy Doniger, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, spoke with me about the symmetry between religious rituals and New Year’s traditions. “The idea that you’re suddenly going to change is a magical idea,” she said. “Religions are in charge of magic for most of us. This [idea] gets into the popular culture as well.” She’s using “magic” as a sort of sociological explanation about the role faith and ritual play: Religious belief is predicated on the assumption that there are forces beyond our control or understanding that have an influence on our lives (i.e., magic, if you’re a sociologist; God, if you’re a monotheist).
Although New Year’s traditions aren’t explicitly religious for most people, many of them share the patterns of religious ritual.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Dr. Pat McGovern, a biomolecular archeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, in Philadelphia, is standing before some large and inscrutable scientific equipment on the museum’s fifth floor as he explains his process to me. “We always start with infrared spectrometry,” he says. “That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.” From there, it’s on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.
The end result? A beer recipe.
Read more. [Image: Mike Basher]
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.
Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]
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.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
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]