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The Best New Spirits of 2011

The Best New Spirits of 2011 I don't think wine makes a great gift. Its perceived value is tarnished by the way bottles are casually dealt out at the door by dinner party guests upon arrival. However, I do think fine spirits make splendid gifts. Elegant bottles can be found in whatever price range suits your fancy—from $30 on up—and, even better, a spirit makes a lasting impression, since it's unlikely to be consumed right away. Here are my picks of the year's best new spirits. READ MORE

The Best Books on Booze

The Best Books on Booze The best holiday gifts for the wine-, beer-, and spirits-lovers in your life are not actual bottles (unless they're particularly rare, old, or expensive) but books about those subjects. And the publishing world agrees with me, which is why it continues to pump out volume after volume, year after year. Here are my 2011 recommendations. READ MORE

The Baffling Case of the Singapore Sling

The Baffling Case of the Singapore Sling Whenever we visit New York, my wife says, "When you're in Manhattan, you've got to drink a Manhattan." I was going to Singapore, so I figured I'd follow the same logic: drink Singapore Slings. But I discovered that it would not be as easy as it seemed. READ MORE

Mineral Wines: Are You Actually Tasting the Dirt?

Mineral Wines: Are You Actually Tasting the Dirt? As a kid, I used to go hiking in the Cascades, and one of my favorite memories was drinking water straight from the streams. Not only did it have a sweetness and gorgeous, mouth-filling roundness, but it also had this flavor and slightly granular texture that suggested the eroded pebbles and stones over which it was flowing. This was my first exposure to what I now think of as "minerality." And I'm sure my love of mountain water pushed me in some way to pursue wine, especially mineral wines, which, it turns out, are a somewhat controversial subject in the wine world. READ MORE

Wines from “Bad Years” Are Secretly Delicious

Wines from “Bad Years” Are Secretly Delicious Fred Jones, a sommelier at Hearth in New York, recently told me of his success in pairing a 2004 Bordeaux with food. It was softer and friendlier than a lot of wines he could have chosen, not overpowering to the food, and best of all from the customer's perspective, it was a less expensive Bordeaux. Go figure: It was wine from a "bad year." READ MORE

What Is Wet Hop Beer?

What Is Wet Hop Beer? According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, German Oktoberfest-style beer has "no hop aroma." Ironically, in the U.S. a new sort of unofficial October celebration is beginning to emerge around a completely different—indeed opposite—style of beer: It's called "wet hop." READ MORE

Even I’m Confused About Rum

Even I’m Confused About Rum

Trying to get a handle on rum is like shopping for computer equipment: The styles and choices are so complex that at some point you're likely to throw up your hands and say, arbitrarily, "All right, give me that one."

Many rums have caramel coloring, so darker might not mean older. The bottle often misleads about exactly how old the rum is, and where it's from. (The country of origin on the label only means that the rum's been bottled there, not that the sugarcane was grown there.)

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Cocktail Nerds Rejoice: Real Quinine-Flavored Elixirs

Cocktail Nerds Rejoice: Real Quinine-Flavored Elixirs Quinine, nature's cure for malaria, is curiously on the rise in beverages. Besides tonic water, you can taste it in the recent imported quinine-flavored elixirs Bonal and Cocchi Americano, in sodas like San Pellegrino's Chinotto and Scotland's Irn-Bru, and in the not-new-but-one-of-my faves Barolo Chinato, a digestivo from Piedmont, Italy. READ MORE

How to Talk to a Sommelier

How to Talk to a Sommelier You're at a restaurant and the sommelier comes up and says: "Would you like some wine with your meal?" Maybe you don't know exactly what you want, so you just say, "Bring us something that goes well with the food." A few minutes later, the sommelier shows up with a bottle of wine made from a grape you've never heard of. You taste it and don't know what to think but say anyway, "That's fine," because you don't want to seem difficult, even though you don't particularly like the wine. And then the rest of the meal you can't stop thinking to yourself, "I just spent $45 on this?" READ MORE

New Gins: Will Somebody Please Love Them?

New Gins: Will Somebody Please Love Them? If you just look at store shelves, you'd think that the U.S. has an unslakable thirst for gin. From Death's Door to CapRock to Berkshire Mountain, the list goes on and on of companies vying to share glass space with your favorite tonic or vermouth. The ironic thing is that gin isn't gaining in popularity. READ MORE