2015’s Best Reads on Drinks and Drinking

This year, we discovered a vineyard in the middle of a war zone, dug into why craft beer labeling is prone to misogyny, pondered why we talk about wine the way we do, got schooled in the science of "smoke" in Scotch, and so much more. Herewith, our favorite stories on all things drinks and nightlife from 2015.

best reads on drinking spritz cocktail

Quality hospitality today often comes with a hefty price tag. So when five icons of the Atlanta bar and restaurant scene joined forces to launch the Ticonderoga Club, creating an unpretentious and comfortable meeting place was at the forefront of their vision (Southern hospitality meets punk rock’s credo of affordable access, if you will). Bitter Southerner hangs with local badasses Greg Best, Paul Calvert, David Bies, Regan Smith and Bart Sasso for the scoop on their new venture. [Bitter Southerner]

The first World’s 50 Best Restaurants list appeared in British trade magazine Restaurant in 2002—and was intended as a one-time stunt. The hysteria, obsession and media attention that ensued has resulted in an annual list whose influence now rivals that of the Michelin rankings. But the rankings and the way they’re determined is divisive to much of the food and drink world: “It’s a silly, silly list,” says former Times critic Frank Bruni, “but you need someone to collapse the universe for you.” The New Yorker takes a deep dive into how exactly the World’s 50 Best are chosen and what it all means for the industry today. [The New Yorker]

In stark contrast to the pro league, the number of college stadiums that sell alcohol at football games has long been in the minority. However, more and more schools are embracing the sale of beer during games (with wine and hard cider making an occasional appearance)—and not everyone is pleased about it. Though many schools enforce restrictions and encourage guests to pace themselves, for many staff and faculty members, there’s a clear struggle between the economic benefit and the binge-drinking problems on many American campuses. The New York Times examines the issue through the lens of West Virginia University’s enormously popular Mountaineers football culture. [New York Times]

Some cocktail obsessives might say that a drink is only as good as its ice. The recent cocktail renaissance has ushered in with it a new era of “artisanal” and “premium” ice, along with a world of ice experts. Wired takes a look into the history of ice—from “The Ice King” Frederic Tudor in the early 19th century all the way to our modern era of sophisticated ice-making machines—and the search for the perfect cube. [Wired]

To most, Franzia is simply one facet of too many hazy memories from college dorm parties. But the preeminent boxed wine actually sports a surprisingly fascinating back story, featuring marriage proposals gone wrong, the mob and … murder? Not to mention $325 million in business in 2014 in the U.S. alone. Broadly takes a deep dive into what has become one of America’s most popular wines. [Broadly]

Out of the craft beer revolution have emerged a number of top brewers known as much for their personalities as for the beer they make. From Sierra Nevada’s highly-respected Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi to personalities like Jeppe Jarnit-Bjersgø, the tattooed and slightly eccentric head of Brooklyn-based Evil Twin Brewing, there’s a “celebrity brewer” for every taste. Vanity Fair profiles the biggest characters in the craft beer world. [Vanity Fair]

“Smoky” may be the most common adjective used to describe Scotch, but do you know where that flavor actually comes from? Answer: the polymers of the semi-decomposed plants that inhabit the bogs where peat comes from has something to do with it. The water and barley used in production does, too. Arielle Johnson, a Ph.D. in flavor chemistry and head of research at MAD lays down the hard science behind what makes Scotch so tasty. [Lucky Peach]

In spite of being located in the middle of a war zone,  Domaine de Bargylus, Syria’s only commercial winery, persists. Because of the war, Lebanese-Syrian brothers Karim and Sandro Saade haven’t been able to visit their vines in person since 2011 and must run their family business remotely from Lebanon, but they’re still producing wine. “It’s an act of resistance,” says Karim. “At the same time it is a symbol of perseverance, and the fact that we are there, and we’re going to stay there.” The BBC explores the problems the two winemakers face, from grape-transporting logistics to bombs. [BBC]

While we continue to bask in the rainbow-hued afterglow of this year’s historic Supreme Court Ruling on marriage equality, it’s worth pausing to remember the people and events that helped pave the way for this moment. Nick Sibilla explores how liquor license laws affected gay bar-goers in the post-Prohibition era—and how increasing frustration with those rules helped spark the historic Stonewall Riots. [Reason]

Pearl Necklace. Raging Bitch. Happy Ending. Just a few of the “cheeky” names the average consumer will encounter on stroll down the beer aisle. When it comes to labels, how did craft beer develop such a widespread culture of misogyny? And why is one of the few things that Big Beer and craft beer agree on sexist marketing? Will Gordon investigates. [Slate]

Pulque is a traditional drink form Mexico most simply described as “natural-fermented agave juice.” With a strangely gooey consistency and what some might call an acquired taste, the beverage is slowly gaining traction outside of its country of origin. But complicating things is the fact that pulque sold outside of Mexico has to be pasteurized, while within Mexico it’s traditionally drunk fresh and without pasteurization. Many claim that any version of the drink that’s been altered through heating isn’t the real thing. Roads & Kingdoms navigates the complications behind this lesser-known drink. [Roads & Kingdoms]

Mention “reggae” and the first substance to come to mind probably isn’t rum—but maybe it should be. David Katz suggests that Jamaican rum deserves just as much credit as marijuana as reggae’s vice of choice, basing his argument on rum’s relationship to a spirit of the more ghostly kind. [Hot Rum Cow]

Breaking out in hip-hop often means first breaking out in Atlanta—and there’s one place that can make it all happen. But it’s not a record studio, or even music venue: it’s Magic City, A-Town’s most legendary strip club, a place where aspiring artists become stars against a backdrop of pasties and one-dollar bills. Devin Friedman explores how this place became “the most important club in the most important city in the hip-hop industry.” [GQ]

Why is the majority of American beer so damn weak? The Atlantic and professor Ranjit Dighe argue that we can blame the temperance movement, America’s puritanical history, and factory workers who just wanted to drink during their lunch break. Despite all the buzz about the craft beer movement, those more flavorful beers still take up only 10 percent of the market—whereas mass-produced beer has been dominating since the 1800s. [The Atlantic]

Private police forces are big business: Across the States, there are three times more private officers than public. And in New Orleans, where the police force has shrunk drastically since Katrina, one man and his hired security team—summonable via app, not unlike Uber for armed protection—are responsible for patrolling one of the most popular tourist and nightlife destinations in America: the French Quarter. The New York Times goes on a ride-along with Sidney Torres, the garbage magnate-turned-Bruce Wayne who’s helping to fight crime on the increasingly dangerous streets of The Big Easy. [New York Times]

For many young chefs, the allure of the kitchen and desire for culinary fame can get lost amongst the many easy opportunities for dangerous drug- and alcohol-related behavior. However, according to Nick Schonberger, the past years have seen a shift in kitchen culture with more and more chefs choosing to sober up and keep on the straight and narrow. First We Feast explores. [First We Feast]

Meet the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, the “most famous and dangerous of all spacefaring mixed drinks.” Jess Zimmerman on the most riffed on cocktail that has no ingredients actually found on earth, and the geek culture at the far fringe of contemporary nightlife. [Eater]

Writer Jim Dent is most well-known for his best-selling book The Junction Boys, and possibly second-best-known for the raging alcohol problem that has defined both his work and life. “‘I don’t drink when I write…but I can write on a hangover. I’ve been known to write a 5,000-word chapter in one day,’” says Dent, who once dodged arrest for multiple outstanding DWIs in Texas by fleeing to San José Del Cabo for nearly a year. Here, a profile of the alcohol-soaked rise, fall and return of a brilliant sportswriter. [D Magazine]

There have been countless attempts since the early 1900s to create a “Brooklyn” drink as universally loved and accepted as the Manhattan, but with many obstacles along the way. Dave Wondrich recounts the long and complicated history of the Brooklyn cocktail. [Edible Brooklyn]

With the tea industry estimated to break the $11 billion dollar mark this year, could high-end tea be the food and drink world’s next obsession? There’s now even a certification process for becoming a tea sommelier. Schools for tea education exist around the world, but Chas Kroll of the International Tea Masters Association has established himself as the gold standard of sorts—offering three levels of education that mirror that of the road towards becoming a master sommelier. Modern Farmer breaks down what it takes to become an expert in one of the world’s most popular beverages. [Modern Farmer]

Ten years after Sam Ross created the scotch-and-ginger laced riff on the Whiskey Sour—the Penicillin—at Milk & Honey, the drink has become one of the most riffed-on modern drinks. Robert Simonson on how the drink became a global sensation, and the criteria required of a “modern classic” cocktail. [Saveur]

Given the cost of canning, canned craft beers were once a rarity; but, thanks to the increasing prevalence of mobile and nomadic canneries, smaller companies are now able to can their beers. Now that it’s here to stay, the next stage will be dictated by innovation: Who has the newest shapes? Who has resealable lids? Or even just who has the coolest art on their cans? Imbibe tracks canned beer’s maturation and illustrates what the future might hold. [Imbibe]

What do we really mean when we say a wine tastes like “strawberry bubble gum with tar”? Or “pâte de fruit, hoisin sauce, warm ganache, and well-roasted applewood”? The New Yorker traces the origins of this esoteric style of tasting notes and how it came to be so widely used, and ponders whether there is a new way to approach talking about wine. [The New Yorker]

Kaskade is one of the biggest names in EDM today, drawing crowds bigger than Drake and commanding as much as $500,000 per performance. Kaskade is also a 44-year-old devout Mormon and a father of three named Ryan Raddon who’s been married to his college sweetheart for 20 years. His music may “evoke the universal desire for something more,” as Buzzfeed’s Reggie Ugwu puts it, but it shies away from being explicitly religious. Buzzfeed investigates how a musician who doesn’t drink, do drugs or party has become one of the rave world’s most popular entertainers. [Buzzfeed]

While on PUNCH this year, Jon Bonné illustrated wine’s new mainstream, Courtney Balestier considered the trope of the “whiskey woman,” Zachary Sussman visited the hauntingly beautiful and quickly disappearing wine region of Colares, Christopher Ross sought out the individual responsible for killing the cocktail, Christian DeBenedetti celebrated the great equalizer that is brewing craft beer, Peter Lawrence Kane investigated the mystery of America’s disappearing gay bars, Aaron Goldfarb recounted the quick rise and tragic fall of the bed club, and many, many more.