Never Noticed Ocean in a Wine Before.

But I have now. And in the most unusual place… you don’t expect a great glass of wine from the Sheraton lobby bar at the Hartford airport. And ok, it’s not a great glass, not a spectacular glass but this 2009 Vistalba Malbec Cab has flavors in it I’ve never tasted in wine.

Like sea breezes. Also something very fresh (can’t figure out what) that reminds me of inexplicably of raising babies. Or of an earlier, baby-raising time. That one’s elusive. Can’t put a finger on it. What I know I taste are cherries, black raspberries, chocolate and pepper for sure, more tanin that I like, maybe slate, some kind of herb. I get a landscape impression from the flavors that involves warmth, salty wind and sunlight on rocks. (Which makes no sense really since Carlos Pulenta Winery is at the foot of this mountain range , far away from the sea, and judging by the photos on the winery website a common feature of the area is snow, not sun. Hey, I taste what I taste.)

Leather, this site informs me. Hmm. Leather. I say, maybe… asparagus.

The Beer Paradox

At Mother Jones, Tom Philpott alerts us to the “beer paradox”:

Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller produce 80 percent of the beer consumed here. That’s four of every five brews. And almost all of them suck! Yet the US beer industry is paradoxical. Even as these giants have lurched their way to market domination, we’ve seen an explosion of excellent local and regional brewers. And the United States, home of such swill as Bud Light and Coors Extra Gold, has emerged as the global standard-bearer for beer innovation and, yes, quality.

For proof of the former, he provides this visualization:

But to demonstrate the strength of the small but growing microbrew market, check this out:

According to Philpott:

What all of this is telling me is that corporations control plenty, but they don’t control everything. Their dominance of US beer is a mile wide but paper thin. Grassroots energy and desire rescued beer from true corporate domination starting in 1980. The same can happen in other areas of the food system.

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis has a bit about the role of President Carter in deregulating micro-brews in the 70s (which as Philpott explains accounts for the proliferation of small brewers after that time). However please do not be confused by Loomis’ cover art. Rob Farley clarifies:

Tactical Nuclear Penguin: Strongest Beer in the World?

Brewdog makes this incredible beer and claims it is “the strongest beer in the world.” The video above says it all, though at a mere 32% alcohol it’s not entirely clear why it still merits the label since the same company now makes two even stronger beers. (More on those and the politics behind their labels in future posts.)

It’s also more interesting that they would name their allegedly strongest beer “Tactical” Nuclear Penguin since the beer gets its name from the weaker class of nuclear weapons. I chalk this up to the general ignorance of English brewers about the nature of nuclear weapons (exceeded only by the general inability of Americans to pronounce the word ‘nuclear’), though they do seem to understand a good deal about the genetic compatibility of humans with penguins.

As it turned out this was good for me, however, since I first learned of this beer from a weapons expert at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, an organization specializing in getting governments to treat their enemies better in war. The guy had stumbled upon a reference to the beer during his research on nuclear non-proliferation treaties and, being a nerd like myself, thought it cool enough to bear mention in his interview with the American political scientist. (Or perhaps he was simply trying to dodge my pointed questions about the future of battlefield robotics. Yes, that’s right. Check out this bad boy.)

Anyway, Tactical Nuclear Penguin is certainly a fine beer, as I discovered while on a “writing trip” to Portland recently where my buddy had managed to acquire a single bottle over the Internet. (They arrive packed in bubble-wrap. Sweet.) And it’s true what they say about consuming TNP in small doses, like spirits. I can’t abide spirits, but I managed to wash my half of the entire TNP bottle down with a nice crisp Mirror Pond IPA for a chaser.

This resulted in a highly enjoyable evening and an absolutely sickening day to follow in which I got very little writing done on my killer robots case study.

Bad puman.

P.S. My buddy disputes whether I in fact finished my half of the beer. But I definitely finished my share.

Drinking Smart

The more educated a person is, the more money s/he spends on booze.* So says new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Political blogger Matthew Yglesias has a vibrant discussion in his comments thread at ThinkProgress about why. Do ‘smarter’** people drink more because the more you know about the state of the world around you the more you need a drink? Or because it’s socially functional for the over-educated to feel and act a little stupider a little more often in a culture that values street-smarts over book-smarts? Or do more educated folks simply pay more for alcohol?

Well, speaking as a prof who both thinks and drinks too much (at least according to my kids) it’s a bit of both. Continue reading