Rapper and Def Jam label chief Jay-Z touched off a hip-hop food feud this year when he declared a boycott of Cristal Champagne in June. The furor was sparked by an interview with a Cristal executive in The Economist, of all magazines. The beverage’s managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, agreed that hip-hop’s lyrical celebration of Cristal was “unwelcome,” spurring Jay-Z’s declaration that he would dump the Champagne from his New York nightclub, 40/40.—James Norton
If 2006 was the year of Mint Chocolate Bailey’s, it was also a year that saw much activity among small distilleries creating handcrafted products. Philadelphia Distilling rolled out Bluecoat American Dry Gin. Hangar One offered its well-regarded seasonal Fraser River Raspberry. The Welsh whisky maker Penderyn Distillery brought out vodka and gin brands to shore up its premium-spirits line. And Heaven Hill Distilleries launched a new $150-a-bottle version of rye. Not everyone can afford a new BMW at Christmas, but the craft distilling movement allows more folks to sip a little bit of the good life.—James Norton
Domestic pilsner-style beers have long been the bane of serious brew fans; to paraphrase an old joke, they’re much like making love in a canoe. Which is to say that they’re f@&#in’ near water.
But the category has broken out on the regional and micro-brew level, with the recent debut of varieties that boast a robust, malty character accented by a floral, spicy taste of hops. From Oregon’s Rogue to Blue Paddle (via Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery) to the Brooklyn Brewery and the Boston Beer Works, “high-quality American pilsner” has moved from being a virtual contradiction to a fact of life in most major metro areas.—James Norton
As gas prices have soared to nausea-inducing altitudes, scientists and engineers have scrambled to adapt. One key option: ethanol, which is produced by fermenting and distilling simple sugars from corn and other plant-generated materials, and is currently the third-largest production use of U.S. corn crops. It can be either blended with gasoline to create an alternative fuel product or used in a pure form on its own, but only in specially modified cars. Relatively speaking, America is behind the curve—Brazil’s alternative use of sugarcane has met nearly half the country’s demand for car fuel, and unsold Italian wine has backwashed into the European market as an energy source. Vive il vino!—Laura Neilson
Thanks in part to good press (Bon Appétit was one of many pubs that plugged it in an article), its low price, and its food friendliness, Riesling became the wine that everybody was drinking this year. San Francisco’s K&L Wine Merchants introduced its own house-label Riesling from Rheingau this summer to meet rising demand. “It’s not just during the daytime with the girls,” says Belinda Chang, director of wine and spirits for Chicago restaurant development company Cenitare, “it’s the boys in the business suits that like it, too.—Jason Horn
Those who thought energy drinks would peak with Red Bull had a tough year in 2006. Caffeine- and guarana-laced vodka hit the shelves, Coca-Cola introduced its new, horrific coffee-laced Blak variety, and the limited national release of Cocaine—the drink enlivened PTA meetings throughout the land. The commercial success of Red Bull has not only demonstrated demand for caffeine-laced whatever; it’s started an arms race to create the most potent product on the market. The makers of Cocaine proudly claim that their beverage is 350 percent stronger than Red Bull and boast about its secret “throat-numbing” ingredient.—James Norton
Thirty years ago, California wines were widely viewed as inferior to French wines. Until 1976, that is, when a panel of French wine experts judged a California chardonnay and cabernet better than the best Burgundies in a blind taste test. The Judgment of Paris marked the official entrance of Napa Valley into the finest wine circles. This year the test was repeated. Twice. In May, the mastermind of the original taste-off hosted a simultaneous event in California and London of the same wines used in 1976, and the 1973 Stags’ Leap cab won again. An international wine-tasting organization called the Grand Jury Européen conducted a tasting of 1995 vintages four months later. Napa swept the top three spots.—Jason Horn