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March’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, demystifying the origins of Old Tom gin, the cult-like following of Heady Topper, the rise of Indian single malt and more.

For many years, The Alchemist Pub & Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont—population 5,000—was little more than a quaint neighborhood bar, but word soon spread about the double IPA, Heady Topper, being brewed in the basement, then surreptitiously bottled in the bathroom and taken off the premises. Before long, it became an attraction, with beer-inclined newlyweds taking their honeymoon in Waterbury just to get a taste of the limited release; one family even flew in from South Africa on their private jet. Sam Riches chronicles the journey from small-town pub to international craft beer destination. [Longreads]

India has joined a growing number of nations—including Japan, Canada and Taiwan—that are challenging the primacy of Scotch whisky. One key example is Paul John Single Malt, which is produced in an industrial area of Goa and has quickly won over the palates of influential whisky connoisseurs. (In 2012, writer Jim Murray awarded the distillery 94.5 points, higher than both Laphroaig and Glenmorangie.) By calling on Indian barley and aging in barrels sourced from a variety of indigenous trees, the makers of Paul John have created a unique spirit with a distinctly Indian character. [Roads & Kingdoms]

Despite offering higher wages and employee benefits, California’s vineyards are failing to attract American workers. The labor shortage reflects the immediate and tangible consequences of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, to which California’s wineries are scrambling to adapt. [Los Angeles Times]

To document the history of the Sazerac—one of New Orleans’ most famous exports—The Bitter Southerner recruited a roster of experts from various corners of the cocktail world to offer their expertise in the production of a short film. Ted Breaux lends his encyclopedic knowledge of absinthe, while Philip Green weighs in on the role of bitters; Robert Simonson, Paul Clarke and David Wondrich offer their thoughts on the broader context of cocktail culture, while legendary NOLA bartenders Kirk Estopinal, Abigail Gullo, Chris Hannah and Chris McMillian offer their own interpretations of the famed cocktail. [The Bitter Southerner]

Facing the same challenges that affect many fledgling businesses, including limited capital and poor management, new breweries are often unable to maintain operations for very long—even when their product is well-regarded. Following a spate of recent closures, October considers the state of the craft beer landscape, and asks what can be learned from trends in openings and closings. [October]

Don Baumhefner and his wife stopped producing wine under their Beaux Hauts label in 1992, not knowing it would go on to be coveted by a select group of wine lovers. With only 50 cases remaining, Esther Mobley goes in search of the elusive Don Baumhefner after tasting—and becoming enthralled by—the discontinued wine. [San Francisco Chronicle]

The precise story of Old Tom gin has remained something of a mystery since its heyday in the 19th century. Now, in the wake of its resurgence, David Wondrich delves into its history, demystifying the origins of this beloved spirit. [The Daily Beast]

A murder in South Africa’s Cape Winelands district leads one reporter to the rural town of Ashton, where locals reveal stories of unending injustices between farmers and landowners. Christopher Clark investigates the inequality and persistent bias that plagues the region’s wine country. [Roads & Kingdoms]

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