As it’s been said, 2016 was a bit of a mess.

Fortunately, at PUNCH, we get to cover a subject that, even when the stakes are high, is inherently about pleasure—and, therefore, a respite from the overwhelming amount of decidedly unpleasurable happenings the world saw this past year.

In that vein, it’s little surprise that the cruxes of many of our 15 most-read stories of 2016 fully embodied the idea of drinking as the pursuit of pleasure, from the resurgence of the bastion of whimsy that is the swizzle stick, to the return of the weird and wonderful Jungle Bird to the rise of a new, and, some might argue, even better Martini.

Guides, too, resonated—such as a round-up of the well spirits bartenders are turning to today (good-bye, plastic bottles; hello, Plantation 3 Stars), or our introduction to aperitivo liqueurs, those classic symbols of Italian leisure time now being embraced by the rest of the globe. And in the year we hit peak rosé, frosé, unsurprisingly, made the cut.

Still other stories sparked conversation because they disrupted the status quo across industries. Aaron Goldfarb dug into the Internet Wayback Machine and called into question the way we’ve come to define greatness in craft beer; Megan Krigbaum probed the seemingly impossible economics of—and questionable ethics behind—producing a bottle of wine that costs $3.50. There was even a hard-hitting investigation on Pedialyte.

So as the year winds down, a quick look back at the stories that struck a particular chord this year.

When Did Rarity Start to Equal Greatness in Craft Beer?

What can we learn from looking at 15 years of the Beer Advocate “Top Beers” list? That was the question that inspired our most popular story of the year, in which Aaron Goldfarb mined the Wayback Machine to look at how beer geek affections changed between 2001 and 2016.

The Rise of the Orange Crush Cocktail

The Orange Crush cocktail—a mix of OJ, orange vodka, triple sec and lemon-lime soda—may have started on Maryland’s shores, but it’s since become a phenomenon throughout the state and beyond. Drew Lazor on the unexpected rise of this delightfully un-hip drink.

The Art of the Free Pour

Unbeknownst to most customers, a great debate has been stirring among bartenders across America about how exactly booze is poured into their mixing tins. Leslie Pariseau on the merits of free pouring versus jiggering, and why the former—though more challenging—offers bartenders more, well, freedom.

A Guide to Italian Bitter Aperitivo Liqueurs

Red bitter liqueurs form the cornerstone of Italian aperitivo culture, which American drinkers are eagerly adopting in the forms of Spritzes, Negronis and beyond. Katie Parla laid out the key names to know in this category of jewel-toned liqueurs and how they differ.

Why Sommeliers Are Heading for Retail

A growing number of sommeliers have left restaurants behind to take on wine retail, seeking both more fulfilling interactions with customers and to bring their approach to the relatively old-fashioned construct of the wine shop. Megan Krigbaum on what this trend signals about wine’s changing retail scene.

How Ranch Water Became the Unofficial Cocktail of West Texas

Ranch Water—a mix of tequila, lime juice and soda water—has long been a West Texas staple, and it has started to appear in bars across the state. Veronica Meewes on this simple highball that’s taking Texas.

The Modern Bartender’s Go-To Well Spirits

We asked 25 bar professionals to reveal (and defend) their go-to well spirits. Here are their top picks.

How Do You Make a Wine That Costs $3.50?

How does a $3.50 bottle of wine go from grape to store for so little? Megan Krigbaum investigated what actually goes into making such an inexpensive wine, and at what costs.

How Mosaic Became Beer’s Hottest Hop

Despite having entered the market just four years ago, the Mosaic hop has become a darling amongst craft brewers. Megan Krigbaum on why it’s having a moment, plus five bottles to seek out.

Frosé, Three Ways

The invention of frozen rosé—aka frosé—was practically inevitable, and what started last summer has now spread to bars around the country. Here, three takes on frosé, from Willa Jean’s minimalist approach to Extra Fancy’s Campari-topped Frozémonade.

How to Make It As a Small Wine Importer

As wine retailers and sommeliers continue to seek out up-and-coming regions, the number of small, independent importers is booming. Megan Krigbaum on how these “little guys” are changing the market, and how they got started.

The Swizzle Stick Makes a Modern Comeback

A smart means of visual marketing, swizzle sticks have made a comeback—many of them with colorful, over-the-top designs. Leah Mennies on the visual range of swizzle stick 2.0 and the bars that have adopted them as calling cards.

But Seriously, Does Pedialyte Cure Hangovers?

Once the domain of sick babies, Pedialyte has become the go-to morning-after elixir for adults who can’t seem to quit while they’re ahead. Drew Lazor on Pedialyte’s history as a hangover cure—and whether or not it actually works.

The Second Coming of the Jungle Bird

Once a bitter outlier in the tiki canon, the Jungle Bird’s growing popularity is giving rise to a whole new catalogue of riffs on the original. Kara Newman on the appeal of the drink among bartenders and what Jungle Bird 2.0 looks like.

Meet the New Martini

Subtle upgrades have been making the world’s most nuanced drink worth seeking out all over again. Kara Newman unravels the postmodern Martini.

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