2016’s Best Reads on Drinks and Drinking

This year, we got to the bottom of Pappygate, investigated the failure of Trump vodka and met both the "godfather of absinthe" and a man bringing the notion of terroir to beer. Here, 20 of our favorite stories on all things drinks and drinking from 2016.

longreads 2016 cocktail

After the American Revolution, saloon-keeping became one of few careers available to free African-Americans. It also prompted the emergence of a coded system for interaction between the races. David Wondrich eloquently lays out the deep and hidden history of the African-American bartender. [Bitter Southerner]

Alcohol is an increasingly divisive issue in India, drawing out disparate views on morality, identity and class across the country. In Lucky Peach, Michael Snyder takes a look at the country’s complicated stance on booze. [Lucky Peach]

After reaching peak consumption in the 1970s, sake’s presence in Japan is in decline. But in a small town in the Ishikawa mountains most famous for its natural hot spring baths, Yusuke Shimoki champions Japan’s iconic spirit at his bar, Engawa. Hannah Kirshner joins Shimoki for a two-month apprenticeship before bringing his teachings back to New York.  [Roads and Kingdoms]

In Men’s Journal, Reeves Wiedeman traces the evolution of The Curtsinger Nine, a bourbon country Ocean’s Eleven, charting the criminal group’s activities from small-time thievery to the biggest whiskey heist in recent history. [Men’s Journal]

Having first emerged at the end of the 19th century in Butte, Montana, when factory workers ended their shift with a salve of cheap beer and bottom-shelf whiskey, the Boilermaker has reemerged for the 21st century, called on habitually by 20-somethings drinking on a dime. From the bomb method to the rip an’ sip, Malcolm Triggs spends some time at the bar with this blue-collar classic. [Hot Rum Cow]

The agave distillate mezcal finds itself in a precarious position where demand will soon outpace supply of this distinctive Mexican spirit, the base plant of which takes a minimum of ten years to reach maturation. Dana Goodyear travels to Oaxaca in search of the humble roots and international rise of the latest rage in small-batch, artisanal spirits. [The New Yorker]

How does a small Scottish brewery become the fastest-growing drinks producer in Britain? Hint: It’s not the quality of the beer. Jon Henley chronicles the infuriating stunts, obsessive passion and maniacal marketing that have propelled BrewDog to the top of its industry. [The Guardian]

Despite being trumpeted as a success by the President-elect, Trump vodka is anything but. Bloomberg investigates how the spirit with the slogan “Success Distilled” managed to fail so catastrophically. [Bloomberg]

Wild plums, fennel, sumac and dandelion plants are just a few of the ingredients making their way into Todd Boera’s distinctive brews. Sourcing his ingredients entirely from the Appalachian Mountains he calls home, Boera is bringing the notion of terroir to beer. [Serious Eats]

In October 2013, 200 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon were reported missing from the distillery and the ensuing scandal (known as Pappygate) widely covered in the press, spiking demand for the already highly coveted spirit. Todd South follows a dedicated team of detectives in pursuit of the missing booze, valued at $50,000, and reveals a sprawling network of bourbon trafficking across six Kentucky counties and over state lines. [Narratively]

For women portrayed on TV, wine has become a visual cue signifying a uniquely feminine form of stress; the internal drama of the female protagonist can be easily charted by the fullness of her wine glass, whether it’s sipped or swigged or drunk in company or alone. The Atlantic investigates the implications of this standardized trope. [The Atlantic]

Georgians advertise themselves as the world’s most profligate tributary drinkers: Legend holds that the sword brandished by Mother Georgia herself is meant to implore onlookers to finish the wine she offers in her other hand. In Lucky Peach, Gideon Lewis-Kraus investigates the nation’s penchant for ritual feasts and their drunken speeches. [Lucky Peach]

In South Korea, where foreign bar items—from syrups to bitters to vermouth—are illegal to import, bartenders like Christopher Lowder face a unique set of challenges. The American expat, who manages all 12 beverage programs at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, routinely toils through six months or more of paperwork to receive a license for each product stocked at his bar, and is shifting the drinks landscape in the process. [Munchies]

When nearly $1 million worth of wine bought on pre-arrival failed to turn up, financier Lawrence Wai-Man Hui filed a lawsuit against California wine merchant Premier Cru, which eventually led to the indictment of its owner, James Fox. Bloomberg traces the initial success and inevitable fall of Fox, who now faces jail time for defrauding his customers of $45 million in one of the wine world’s largest Ponzi schemes. [Bloomberg]

To a foreigner, the heavy drinking culture in Korea might come as a surprise. In The Washington Post, an American businessman recounts the soju-soaked corporate culture in a country where citizens down an average of 11 shots per week. [The Washington Post]

With a lineage that spans more than two centuries, Old Overholt is America’s oldest continuously running whiskey brand—but its impressive heritage is pocked by episodes of mismanagement, disastrous distillery fires and near-extinction. Tracking its rise from the 19th-century log cabin in which it began to its 21st-century revival, cocktail historian David Wondrich argues in favor of the storied rye’s recent rebirth. [The Daily Beast]

Even as successive studies highlight the correlation between health risks and moderate drinking, popular opinion remains divided. These disparities all hint at a larger issue at play: How can the scientific community implement advisories against something so deeply embedded in our cultural fabric? [Wired]

For some producers, the term “biodynamic winemaking” goes beyond the traditional definition to include a quasi-ritualistic compliance with the phases of the moon and the celestial calendar. One New York Times reporter immerses herself in the Tuscan wine country that’s home to a number of biodynamic vineyards, chronicling the winemaking approach behind some of the region’s most noteworthy wines. [New York Times]

Called the “godfather of absinthe,” Ted Breaux has been researching, deconstructing and reconstructing the legendary spirit for over two decades. Bitter Southerner visits Breaux at his home in Birmingham, Ala., where he keeps nearly an acre of land devoted to cultivating several hundred species of plants and botanicals. [Bitter Southerner]

In Saudi Arabia, where alcohol is strictly forbidden, the demand for contraband liquor remains high and the black market abounds. One particularly brazen group of bootleggers operated right under the nose of the country’s first Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority, even going so far as to store their illegal supply in the Grand Mufti’s house without his knowledge. Atlas Obscura shares the tale of the most fabled bootleggers in Saudi Arabian history. [Atlas Obscura]

And on PUNCH, Jon Bonné wondered whether a wine list could help close the gender gap; Robert Simonson took us on a bar crawl of the craft cocktail revival; Zachary Sussman went in search of authenticity in wine; Laura Kiniry explored Tommy’s Joynt, one of San Francisco’s last hofbraus, while Sarah Baird visited Bullet’s, one of NOLA’s greatest hidden jazz bars; Kara Newman introduced us to the new Martini and the second coming of the Jungle Bird; Drew Lazor offered a hard-hitting investigation of Pedialyte’s hangover-curing abilities; Christopher Ross went inside the world of bartending competitions; Lizzie Munro asked what the hell is a Crusta; Aaron Goldfarb mined more than 10 years of ratings to understand how craft beer fetishization has evolved and much, much more.

Related Articles

Tagged: longreads

5 o'clock?