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For more than 15 years, the Brewers Association has been tracking growth in the US craft beer industry. The Association's 2020 report reveals that only 23.1 million barrels of craft beer were produced last year, a 9% decline from the 2019 numbers, the industry's first decline ever. The good news? Despite the production downturn, 2020 ended with 8,764 craft breweries in operation, an all-time high. Now, they just need people to start buying craft beer again.
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What is Japanese whisky? Historically, it's been modeled on Scotch whisky but vague rules and surging demand have allowed whisky distilled outside of Japan and liquor that isn’t whisky, like shochu, to be labeled as Japanese whisky. The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association is setting the record straight. Effective immediately, distillers of "Japanese whisky" must use malted grains, and their water must come from Japan. Mashing, fermentation, and distillation must take place at a Japanese distillery. Whisky must be matured in wooden casks stored in Japan for at least three years, and bottling must be done in Japan with a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume. Whiskies that don’t meet these requirements may not use the Japanese flag, Japanese place names, or the names of Japanese people on labels. The catch: These rules apply only to association members. Buyer beware. For relaxing times...make sure it's actually Japanese whisky.
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Nearly a dozen new spirits companies are speeding up or bypassing the traditional process of aging whiskey in wood barrels. Bespoken Spirits uses heat and pressure to force alcohol in and out of small pieces of wood, giving the spirit its characteristic flavor and color in days instead of years. Endless West reverse-engineers whiskey by analyzing its molecular components then infusing those components into an alcohol base. The company has received nearly $13 million in funding to perfect its process. While these upstart whiskeys lack the complexity of traditionally matured spirits, industry analysts believe they will find a market among lower-shelf spirits and ready to drink canned cocktails.
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Alcohol consumption has risen during the pandemic but so have sales of nonalcoholic beverages. According to market research company IRI, nonalcoholic beer sales in the US were up 38% in 2020 with $188 million in sales. While that's less than 1% of total beer sales, it marks a significant shift and non-drinkers are welcoming a broader range of choices beyond O'Douls. Companies ranging from craft brewers like Big Drop and Athletic Brewing to heavy hitters like Heineken are finally putting out decent-tasting booze-free IPAs, coffee stouts, Oktoberfests, and more.
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Master Sommelier is the most esteemed credential in the wine world, and to be certified, one must take a series of grueling exams administered by an elite organization known as the Court of Master Sommeliers. In a recent high-profile scandal, several members of the organization were accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination, leading its entire board of directors to resign. Attempting to diversify its leadership, the organization elected eleven new directors this month, including four women, two who identify as gay, two Asian Americans, and seven white men. The Court has yet to elect four external (non-Master Sommelier) board members and to hire a full-time CEO, all of whom must now rebuild the organization’s reputation and regain the trust of the wine community at large.