February’s Best Reads on Drinks and Drinking

Welcome to The PUNCHbowl, a monthly installment where we share our favorite long reads on all things drinks and nightlife. This month: jumping through liquor license loopholes, cocktail bitters from tears, the hunt for a half a million dollar whiskey collection and more.

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. The Japanese equivalent of a master sommelier, the 31-year-old educates customers on sake, from its unique flavor profile to the proper serving temperature. Hannah Kirshner joins Shimoki for a two-month apprenticeship and brings his teachings back to New York.  [Roads and Kingdoms]

In the world of prestige whiskey, the Hanyu Ichiros Card series is an enviable collection. With 54 single malts—52 named for each card in the deck, plus two jokers—the complete deck sold at Bonham’s last year for nearly half a million dollars. Lawrence Osborne tracks down one of three owners of the full deck in Hong Kong and pays $80 for a half-shot of Hanyu Ichiro’s Six of Hearts. [Saveur]

First brewed in 1980, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is craft beer’s greatest success story; as the number one best-selling craft beer, it’s been revered by industry veterans for bringing a more robust hop profile to the American palate. And though their beer is now enjoyed in 17 foreign countries with 500,000 barrels produced annually, the Chico, California, brewers have maintained their integrity by championing consistency, quality and innovation. Aaron Goldfarb explores Sierra Nevada Pale Ale’s universal laurels and explains how the beer avoided the “‘band got too big and now they suck’ syndrome.” [First We Feast]

Many cultures indulge in some combination of beer and spirits, but only in America has the shot-and-a-beer order been considered such a bastion of the working class. 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]

At the new British Museum of Food in London, a workshop invites museumgoers to make cocktail bitters from their own tears. With tear-procuring stations featuring sad music and a sensory butterfly room—and even an emergency onion-cutting station—the “Alcoholic Architecture” program turns sadness into the perfect drink. Katherine Templar Lewis gets weepy to consider bitters, and “the very emotion of bitterness itself.” [Broadly.]

Out of a tire shop in Southwest Detroit, Silverio Lopez and his children run Tequila Cabresto, an award-winning spirit distilled from agave grown on their property outside of Los Altos, Mexico. In 2011, their silver tequila won San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition’s double gold award, lifting the small-batch label onto the international stage. As Cabresto prepares to debut a new añejo this spring, Martina Guzmán meets with the Lopez family to discuss their strong ties to both Detroit and Los Altos, and Cabresto’s place in the United States’ $2 billion tequila market. [Hour Detroit]

In the mountainous Salta province in northwestern Argentina, it’s common practice for wineries to list not only their wines’ alcohol content on their labels, but also their elevation. Traveling between peaks of the Argentinian Andes, where the nation’s oldest wineries produce torrontés, malbec and cabernet sauvignon, James Sturz considers the region’s intoxicating scenery and its world-class wine. [Wall Street Journal]

Obtaining a liquor license is a byzantine and expensive process. Even if a business has the money—which can range from $30,000 for a license in Detroit to more than $2 million in New Jersey—population-based limits on new permits can halt the process. To avoid the frustration, restaurants around the country are stretching their cheaper, easier-to-get beer and wine licenses in creative, legal ways, from wine-based cocktails to a “Nogroni” made with a hefty dose of bitters and juniper-infused sherry. Stacy Cowley explores these loophole menus in Florida, New Mexico and California. [New York Times]

On February 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that doctors could “recommend birth control to women who are having sex (if appropriate), not planning to get pregnant, and drinking alcohol” in an attempt to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. Olga Khazan and Julie Beck investigate the well-intentioned but poorly worded CDC release as it pertains to gender inequality in issues of public health and alcohol. [The Atlantic]

Looking to both California and the Old World for inspiration, wineries in Texas’ Hill Country are beginning to divert their attention to sparkling wine; by 2018, Fredericksburg’s Grape Creek Vineyards will open the state’s first independent winery dedicated to the style. Jessica Dupuy, in conversation with the region’s winemakers, explores the difficulties of undertaking such a project and raises a toast to Texas bubbles. [Texas Monthly]

In the American West, a rapidly growing population and perennial drought has prompted some investors to consider market capitalism as a solution to the water shortage. Among them is hedge-fund manager turned water rights salesman, Disque Deane, Jr., who believes that allowing people to buy and sell water rights would increase its value, distribute its flow to where it’s most needed and cut waste from the transportation system. Abrahm Lustgarten heads west to weigh both the promise and potential pitfalls of a capitalistic approach to water markets in a region with one of the world’s highest rates of per-capita consumption. [Pro Publica]