March’s Best Reads on Drinks and Drinking

This month: traditional sake in Brooklyn, the history of Angostura bitters, the problem with Napa's "lifestyle vintners" and more.

Until the turn of the 21st century, there was virtually no demand for or production of wine in China; the national drink, a grain liquor known as baijiu, had always been the alcoholic beverage of choice. Since Premier Li Peng condemned such liquors for their unethical method of manufacturing, however, China has become the world’s seventh-largest wine producer in the world. Jiayang Fan visits Ningxia, the country’s most significant winemaking region, and chronicles the consequences of this transformation. [The New Yorker]

Although vintners in Napa Valley produce only 4 percent of the wine coming from California, their share of the profit is substantial, owing in part to recognizable names on the labels. James Conaway explains the effects of the “lifestyle vintner” on the winemaking industry in America. [The Atlantic] 

Located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Kura is the first brewery in New York State dedicated to the production of sake. Owners Brandon Doughan and Brian Polen, a former biochemist and a former analyst, respectively, are committed to learning and employing the authentic fermentation process of this distinctive Japanese drink. [New York Times]

In 1981, Earle Johnson bought the bar on the corner of Western and Fullerton avenues in Chicago, now called Quenchers Saloon. After nearly four decades—during which time the property value increased substantially—he is ready to sell the 101-year-old building and settle into retirement. However, finding a buyer who can not only afford but appreciate the space has presented a distinct set of challenges. [Chicago Tribune]

For the past 33 years, Steve Edmunds, of Edmunds St. John label, has brought a steady, authentic approach to his creative endeavors as both a musician and a winemaker. Esther Mobley on why Edmunds is the “unsung hero” of the California winemaking industry—despite having no winery of his own. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Angostura, a staple brand of aromatic bitters, is used in 175 of the planet’s 195 countries and in countless cocktails. The recipe, which remains a mystery to everyone in the world save the five people entrusted with the secret, was not created for the Old-Fashioned or the Manhattan. Natalie B. Compton on the history of Angostura Aromatic Bitters. [Munchies]

San Francisco has played a significant role in the history of cocktails, from the 1800s until today. David Wondrich chronicles the stories of the city’s bartenders, from Jeremiah P. Thomas, originator of the American Bar, to William Thomas Boothby, inventor of the Boothby Cocktail.  [The Daily Beast]

From Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing to Chicago’s Off Color, an increasing number of breweries are taking political action. Joshua Bernstein on the natural overlap between brewing and politics. [October]

On a recent visit to Basque country to sample the region’s cider at its source, Jason Wilson discovers just how entrenched the alcoholic beverage is in local traditions. [The New York Times]

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