October’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, we learned about the rise of boozy root beer, the controversial trend of alcohol sales at college football games, the long history of Armenian winemaking and more.

“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 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. [The New York Times]

What happens when an industry reaches the tipping point between craft and mass-market? Craft breweries are opening at a rate of two per day, and sales account for 11 percent of the industry, while Big Beer sales are largely stagnant. With this acceleration comes an identity crisis, with a number of craft brewers selling to Big Beer so they can continue to grow, retailers trying to figure out how to handle the vast number of options that just keeps increasing and the definition of “craft” becoming ever-hazier (and including decidedly mass-market brands like Samuel Adams). Grub Street considers all these questions and the potential “end of craft beer” as we know it. [Grub Street]

In under a year, a brewery selling one product has become America’s sixth-best-selling craft beer brand in stores. And some might argue that it’s not technically even beer. That would be Small Town Brewery’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a 10.7 ABV, nostalgia-tinged boozy root beer produced in Wauconda, IL. The Trib tracks the path of this unlikely success story, from origin to failed experiments to national sensation, with some controversy in between. [Chicago Tribune]

The world’s oldest known winery was recently discovered in a cave that dates back to 4,100 BC in the village of Areni, Armenia—adding fuel to the theory that the country could possibly be credited as the birthplace of winemaking. This comes just as Armenia is experiencing something of a winemaking renaissance. Leading the charge is winemaker Vahe Keushguerian, who, with the use of modern methods, is creating new wines from historic varietals that previously had been dying out. Roads and Kingdoms visits Keushguerian’s winery to explore Armenia’s winemaking culture, both ancient and contemporary. [Roads and Kingdoms]

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]

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. [New Yorker]

Corporations have long gotten behind the campaign for breast cancer awareness—but what happens when a company’s product is widely known to have negative effects on women’s health? One opinion writer for The Daily Beast highlights the inherent cognitive dissonance of alcohol brands getting involved in the “pink ribbon” campaign. [The Daily Beast]

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]

New York restauranteur and Shake Shack mogul Danny Meyer made headlines this month when he announced he was eliminating tipping—and raising prices accordingly—at all 13 of his full-service Union Square Hospitality restaurants (famed Gramercy Tavern included). The move comes amidst nationwide debate over the practice of tipping, which often excludes many hard-working staffers within a restaurant (such as cooks) and goes hand-in-hand with lower base salaries for servers. Eater breaks down Meyers’ move and how it will affect everyone involved, from employees to diners. [Eater]