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Despite Abundance Of Craft Beer, Wine And Spirits Are Slowly Taking Over

With Eric Westervelt (@Ericnpr)

You might not know it from the craft brew pubs everywhere, but Americans are drinking more wine and spirits — slowly pushing aside beer. We’ll find out why.


Saabira Chaudhuri, consumer goods and retail reporter for The Wall Street Journal. (@SaabiraC)

Tom Acitelli, author and journalist who writes about wine, beer and spirits. Books include “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution,” “Whiskey Business: How Small-Batch Distillers Are Transforming American Spirits” and “American Wine: A Coming-of-Age Story.” (@tomacitelli)

Abigail Gullo, award-winning bartender at Compere Lapin in New Orleans. She contributed to the book “Drinking Like Ladies: 75 Modern Cocktails from the World’s Leading Female Bartenders.” (@NYCBaby)

Special thanks to Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors for providing beverages, and to Kitty Amann for mixing some cocktails for us.

Drinks Discussed On The Show

  • Jack’s Abby, Post Shift Pilsner, Framingham, Mass.
  • Domaine Philemon, Juracon Noir 2014 natural wine from France.
  • Duquesne Rhum Agricole, from Martinique, 50 percent ABV. Distilled from pure cane sugar juice, single estate.
  • Old Potrero, single malt straight rye whiskey. Anchor Distilling, San Francisco. 48.5 percent ABV. 100 percent rye malt mash.
  • Courvoisier VS Cognac, Peychaud’s Bitters for cocktail mix.
  • Ethereal Gin, Berkshire Mountain Distillers. Great Barrington, Mass.

Recipes From The Hour

by Abigail Gullo

The Sazerac is a beautiful drink in its simplicity. It is unique and exact. It requires technique and style. And each ingredient tells the history of New Orleans — the French absinthe, the American rye, the Louisiana sugar, the Caribbean bitters. (Even the Italian influence can be seen in the lemon peel.) It’s no wonder the Sazerac is the city’s official cocktail.

A Brief History of the Sazerac

The origin stories of the Sazerac are, you might say, under the influence. Like much of history surrounding alcohol, the facts get a little, well, muddled. But there are three real men involved in the story: Sewell Taylor, Aaron Bird, and Antoine Peychaud.

Sewell Taylor was the man who first imported Sazerac-brand cognac to New Orleans. Aaron Bird was his friend, who ran the Exchange Place Coffee House (“exchange” was a giveaway that an establishment was a bar in New Orleans in the mid-1800s). Another pal, Antoine Peychaud, was the creator of the world-renowned Creole bitters. Together they invented the Sazerac cocktail.

But rye, the great American spirit, was plentiful in New Orleans at the time and France’s vineyards were being attacked by an American aphid, so the first official record of the Sazerac (in William T. Boothby’s “The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them”) calls for whiskey (which, back then, would have been rye).

These days you can find versions with cognac or rye, but I say, why choose? My riff on this classic cocktail calls for both cognac and rye.

Taylor Bird Sazerac

  • Absinthe, for coating the glass
  • 1 ounce cognac
  • 1 ounce rye whiskey
  • 1 bar spoon cane syrup or simple syrup
  • 6 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Ice
  • 1 strip lemon peel


  1. Pour a splash of absinthe in a rocks cocktail glass and swirl to coat the glass. Pour the absinthe back into the bottle. Chill the glass while making the cocktail.
  2. Place the cognac, rye whiskey, syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice (cracked if possible) and stir until chilled. Strain into the chilled glass. Twist the lemon peel over the cocktail, then add to the drink.

According to Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail), the French 75 is one of two cocktails named after the French 75-mm field gun, which was commonly used in World War I. “One barman in 1947,” reports Haigh, “called it a Tom Collins with champagne instead of club soda. Vive la difference!”

Here’s Haigh’s version of the recipe, from his wonderful book, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.”

The combination of gin, lemon juice and Champagne brings out the best in each: it’s tart, refreshing, herbal and effervescent. And it’s also good with cognac or rum, or rhum!

French 75

  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce gin (or cognac or Aged Rhum)
  • 3 ounces Champagne
  • Garnish: lemon twist
  • Glass: Champagne flute


  1. Add all the ingredients except the Champagne into a shaker with ice and shake well.
  2. Strain into a Champagne flute.
  3. Top with the Champagne.
  4. Garnish with a lemon twist.


From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal: “America’s Long Love Affair With Beer Is on the Rocks” — “An American walks into a bar. “What’ll it be?” says the bartender.

“For years, more likely than not, the answer would have been: “Make it a beer.”

“Not anymore. Last year, for the first time, Americans reaching for a drink more often chose a glass of wine or a cocktail.

“U.S. drinkers, particularly young ones, are having relationship problems with the national beverage. It’s no longer true they start out favoring mild pilsners and low-calorie beers, then graduate to harder stuff later in life, if at all. Now they are thinking about other things: taste, value, beer bellies.

Brenden Kennedy, a 32-year-old New York marketing executive, can’t remember the last time he drank a beer. His parents drank Bud Light. When he hit drinking age, he tended to reach for a prosecco.

“When I drink beer, it always feels very heavy, like empty calories, and I don’t find it’s refreshing unless it’s super, super cold,” he says. “The flavor has never really appealed to me, and it doesn’t feel sophisticated.”

“According to the Beer Institute, a trade group, drinkers chose beer just 49.7% of the time last year, down from 60.8% in the mid-’90s. Among 21- to 27-year-olds, the decline has been sharper. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, BUD 0.55% Budweiser’s owner, found that in 2016, just 43% of alcohol consumed by young drinkers was beer. In 2006, it was 65%.”

Hoppy, hoppy IPAs. Tasty pilsners. Craft brew pubs around. But say it ain’t so. Dilly, dilly, beer, in fact, is starting to take a back seat to cocktails and wine. Yes, the happy hour, creative cocktails and —  who knows — maybe legalized pot are all cutting into beer’s bottom line.

This hour, On Point: at the state of the multibillion dollar booze industry.

— Eric Westervelt

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Kitty Amann mixes a French 75 cocktail in the WBUR kitchen. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)
Kitty Amann mixes a French 75 cocktail in the WBUR kitchen. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)