I’m tired of all these pumpkin beers and their silly names. When did it become a requirement to brew liquid pumpkin pie two months before fall even starts? Sure, the first few you drink when they hit the stores way too early in September are great and heighten your anticipation of the upcoming autumn, but there’s only so much pumpkin and allspice a person can take. Although I could easily rant about pumpkin beer for hours, I won’t waste your time. Instead, I’d like to be constructive and suggest an alternative.

Wine 101 TM_W1_OAKY_FI_001

“This one smells earthy. Strong herbal and tobacco notes, too,” said the older woman sitting across from me in the winery’s tasting room. She stuck her nose deeper into her wine glass, gracefully swirled it around a few times, and then took a few generous sips. “With ripe berries and nice oak flavors. Now, this is my kind of wine.”

“Really?” asked her husband. “Because it smells very oaky to me,” he said with a look of disgust before dumping his entire glass. Oaky. He spat the word out as if it were a curse.

“Well, I really love it,” his wife said, a bit puzzled by his response. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with this wine.”

The Brew TM_BR_BARREL_FI_001

Recently, a lot of brewers have followed the same routine for new releases: Brew a big beer, throw it in a bourbon barrel for a few months, release limited quantities at a high price, and watch the beer lovers line up outside the bottle shops. At one point, this was an edgy, experimental way to alter a beer. Now with almost every major American craft brewery offering an example of this style, the true trendsetters have moved on to the next frontier in the world of spent oak: empty wine barrels. MORE

Booze AgingBarrels

I just celebrated a birthday. I’m 42, which means it’s been 21 years since I turned 21. So age has been firmly on my mind. Am I getting better (or wiser or more attractive) or am I simply getting older? I saw a study a few years ago, published in the Neurobiology of Aging, which pinpointed that men’s dexterity peaks at age 39, which I sailed past a few years back. Researchers at UCLA proved that the old greeting card jokes are true: After 39, men’s brains and motor skills decline “with an accelerating trajectory.” When I start pondering the idea of aging in this way, it generally leads me to one thing: A glass of bourbon or rye.

The whiskey, of course, leads me back to thinking about aging. If I were a whiskey, I wonder, would I be considered over-the-hill, or would drinkers be willing to pay top dollar for me? If a poll, conducted in 2010 by Chivas Brothers is to be believed, consumers would see me as a decent buy. Better than, say, a 25-year-old hipster. But most would want to leave me in the barrel a few more years. Chivas found that 94 percent of consumers believe that the age statement on a whiskey serves as an indicator of quality, and 89 percent actively look to the age statement when making a purchase. MORE