A long-established African firm went global, only to find the fastest-growing market was on its doorstep ... ON A Friday evening in Onitsha, as the beer market is closing, a man carefully straps six cases of Hero lager and two cases of Pepsi to the pannier of his moped. Another rolls away his purchases by wheelbarrow. Coaches parked nearby will soon be filled with day-trippers and their cases of booze. Each day a vast quantity of beer is sold from this closely packed warren of stores. It is part of a sprawl of specialist markets in the city, a commercial hub on the Niger river, which draws in traders from across southern Nigeria. ... It was the bustle of Onitsha that persuaded SABMiller, the world’s second-largest beer company, to set up a brewery here. The market takes a slice of SAB’s local production and sells it on to small traders who are otherwise hard to reach. The company had been late in coming to Nigeria. First it acquired a rundown brewery in Port Harcourt in 2009 and then another in Ilesha before it built a brand-new plant in Onitsha in 2012. Already, its capacity is being increased, to slake locals’ ever-growing thirst. ... What might other consumer firms looking to Africa learn from SAB? It is not an easy place to do business and the results are not uniform. Lager sales are booming in Nigeria and Ghana but shrinking in Zimbabwe and South Sudan. And there are few reliable sources of business information: firms have to learn as they go along. ... South African businessfolk have a phrase for it: paying your school fees.
You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium. Its fans refer to it as Pappy, when they’re lucky enough to get a sniff of it, and those times are few and far between. … The web has yet to catch on to this very lively feature piece in Louisville Magazine this month, taking a look at Pappy Van Winkle, the Kentucky bourbon that is by all accounts one of the most sought-after bottles of booze on earth. … Its distillers pump out from 7,000 to 8,000 cases each year, 12 bottles to the case, and hope that within a decade they can double that to 15,000. Jim Beam, by comparison, makes 7-8 million cases per year. So the Beam:Pappy ratio is about 1000:1.
China may soon be the world’s biggest producer of wine. In his father’s hometown, a prominent architect — and unlikely winemaker — sees a new Napa. ... When Ma Qingyun visits Yushan, a rural town an hour outside of Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi province, he travels in a chauffeured black Mercedes-Benz. His car speeds eastward along the newly paved roads ... “How about we chug the first glass?” Frank Fu, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist, suggests, holding up his full wineglass and looking around. Laughs ripple among Ma’s guests, unsure if the suggestion is serious. Ma nods and laughs. “Sure!” Fu clinks glasses with his neighbors before tilting his head back and downing the wine. A few of the other guests join in. ... Baijiu is still the most popular alcohol in China (and accounts for about 38 percent of worldwide alcohol consumption), but the past few decades have seen a rapid expansion of the country’s wine market. China is now the fifth-largest wine-producing nation in the world, and it nearly tripled its consumption of red wine between 2008 and 2013, becoming the world’s largest consumer of the beverage. But old drinking habits linger, and Ma has acquired a benevolent patience with potential buyers who swig his painstakingly crafted pinots as if they were baijiu.
Guinness brewer William S. Gosset’s work is responsible for inspiring the concept of statistical significance, industrial quality control, efficient design of experiments and, not least of all, consistently great tasting beer. ... Because he used a pseudonym, his name isn’t even familiar to most people who frequently use his most famous discovery. Gosset is the “student” of the Student’s T-Test, a method for interpreting what can be extrapolated from a small sample of data. ... Born in 1876 in Canterbury, England, Gosset entered a world of enormous privilege. His father was a Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and though he intended to follow in his footsteps, he was unable to due to bad eyesight. Instead, Gosset attended the prestigious Winchester College, and then Oxford, where he studied mathematics and natural sciences. Soon after graduating from Oxford, in 1899, Gosset joined the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, as an experimental brewer.
Over more than 20 years at Buffalo Trace, Curtsinger had worked his way to a senior position on the loading dock, but it wasn't necessarily clear where he might go from there. ... Still, what might drive a man with a wife and two kids, who's worked some two decades for the same company, to start stealing from his employer? The simple explanation might be that bourbon prices were soaring and that stealing it was pretty easy. Buffalo Trace has 450 employees spread across 440 acres, and more bourbon aging in its 15 warehouses than at any time since the 1970s. ... Curtsinger started small. According to the investigation, around 2008 he began lifting bottles from display cases at the distillery. As a precaution, he would casually ask co-workers about security cameras around the facility. Curtsinger could be a generous colleague, loaning cash to co-workers but then asking that they repay him in stolen bottles. Eventually he got bolder: One night Curtsinger loaded more than 50 cases of Eagle Rare onto a pickup truck that was so weighted down it bottomed out on his driveway when he got home. ... Business was brisk, but there were only so many bottles of Pappy to be found, and eventually Curtsinger started stealing entire barrels, each containing the equivalent of around a hundred bottles.
One of the biggest players in the fine wine market, Premier Cru had $20 million in annual revenue in the mid-to-late 2000s. ... wines were being offered on “pre-arrival,” defined on the company’s website as “wines we have purchased (typically abroad) that have not yet arrived. Depending on the particular wine, the arrival time is typically 6+ months to over two years.” ... This practice isn’t that unusual. Pre-arrival is a way for collectors to lock in allocations of highly sought-after bottles that might sell out—and often on favorable terms. To many clients, this arrangement had another advantage. Premier Cru sold mostly young wines; rather than having to age them in their own cellars, buyers were happy to let Premier Cru hold on to them. Better yet, its owner, John Fox, never charged for storage. ... Fox promised clients access to these nuanced beauties through a gray market. This means buying from brokers and other secondary merchants, mainly in Europe, as opposed to working with official importers. Although it’s legal in California, the gray market has its share of shady operators. Poor storage and handling is a common problem. The discounted bottles that Fox obtained, though, were always pristine, according to the four clients interviewed for this story. The trade-off was that Premier Cru was slower to deliver. Other gray-market retailers usually kept customers waiting no more than four to six months; with Premier Cru, the waits ran to years. ... Fox, it would be revealed, easily bilked wealthy bankers, experts who’d amassed fortunes reading the market, of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He led less wealthy oenophiles into deluding themselves they’d found a too-good-to-be-true source. And Fox, now 66, managed a remarkable juggling act for more than 20 years, all while fitting into his complex financial contortions a series of twentysomething girlfriends he found and paid online. In the end, he owed former clients $45 million.
Zarnkow is one of a group of researchers who over the past few decades have challenged that story. He and others have shown that alcohol is one of the most universally produced and enjoyed substances in history—and in prehistory too, because people were imbibing alcohol long before they invented writing. ... Chemical analysis recently showed that the Chinese were making a kind of wine from rice, honey, and fruit 9,000 years ago. In the Caucasus Mountains of modern-day Georgia and the Zagros Mountains of Iran, grapes were one of the earliest fruits to be domesticated, and wine was made as early as 7,400 years ago. ... All over the world, in fact, evidence for alcohol production from all kinds of crops is showing up, dating to near the dawn of civilization. ... From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious. ... To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate.
Thompson has spent more than two decades in a notoriously punishing business, rolling the dice on one "eatertainment" experience after another. The high school dropout-turned-busboy-turned-restaurateur's highs have included a Cuban supper club and an upscale pool hall, while his lows involved a French brasserie and the loss of a successful bar due to poor financial decisions. But in 2010, Punch Bowl came to him with such clarity it made his previous ventures seem like practice runs. Seven years prior, he had hit financial and personal rock bottom, almost abandoning an industry that sees 60 percent of new ventures fail within their first year. ... While Dave & Buster's earns, on average, some $245 per square foot, Punch Bowl is ringing up $340 per square foot. The chain's 2016 revenue is on track to exceed $49 million. And in the next two years, Thompson is slated to more than double Punch Bowl's footprint with 10 new locations. Each will cost roughly $5 million, colonizing audacious spaces like part of a former airport in Colorado, a historic boxing arena in Southern California, and 30,000 square feet of warehouse space in the achingly hip precinct of Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York.
“Alcosynth” probably sounds too good to be true: A synthetic form of booze with all the fun parts of alcohol but none of its downsides. A world where a night out ends without a single tearful argument, and where not one person worries about how they’re going to deal with their 8 a.m. meeting because hangovers no longer exist. It’s a utopian ideal that for many is more important — and certainly more relevant — than colonizing Mars. It would be—for the first time in the history of a species that has been consuming alcohol for 10 million years (if you include our ape ancestors)—a night of drinking with no penalty the next day. Though it sounds like a fantasy, it is the actual goal of David Nutt, a British scientist who has been touting the virtues of so-called alcosynths since 2014.
The simple way is to think of a barrel like an inside-out tea bag. The wood of a barrel—they’re almost always made of white oak—contains compounds that taste good when they degrade, especially when the interior has been toasted or charred. The lignin, hemicellulose, and other polymers that give the wood structure break down to produce sweet, vanilla notes. Alcohol is an efficient solvent, so it seeps into the wood and captures these compounds. ... The complicated way to look at maturation is through organic chemistry. Yes, an alcohol solution extracts flavor from the broken-down wood. But slower, more elaborate chemical reactions also happen among the esters and acids in unaged liquor. A barrel sitting silently in a dark warehouse doesn’t look like it’s doing anything, but that’s deceptive. Over months and years, compounds decompose and recombine in dozens of different ways—with the chemicals leached from the oak, with oxygen that enters between the barrel’s staves, and with the ethanol itself.