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Winebits 332: Powdered alcohol update, wine vs. beer, and corkage fees

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Winebits 332: Powdered alcohol update, wine vs. beer, and corkage feesNot so fast, Palcohol: Last week’s post extolling the virtues of powered alcohol was a bit ahead of its time. Turns out the federal government didn’t approve the product after all. A spokesman told The Associated Press that the approvals were issued in error, but didn’t elaborate; you can draw your own conclusions from that, though my liquor attorney, in last week’s post, hinted that the whole thing sounded kind of goofy. Regardless, this means we’ll have to wait for our powderita, as horrible as the wait may be.

The end of beer as we know it? This graphic, courtesy of Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight, speaks volumes about the ageing of the U.S. beer-drinking population. Between 2002 and 2013, beer’s market share, as measured by drink volume, has dropped from 60 percent of the total to 51.1 percent. Spirits’ shared moved from 27 to 33.7 percent and wine’s from 13 to 15.2 percent. Why call it ageing? Because many analysts think beer’s decline is not from beer drinkers switching to spirits or wine, but because they’re dying and younger consumers are drinking something else. This has shown up in slumping sales for the biggest national brands like Coors, Budweiser, and Miller.

I’m shocked that gambling is going on here: The wine cyber-ether was abuzz last week with the news that the very chi-chi French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley charged a $150 corkage fee. The outrage was so viral that I’m surprised it didn’t show up on the blog even without my writing about it. Which I’m doing not because owner Thomas Keller cares what I write he probably collects criticism for his Pinterest site), but because no one should be surprised. This is the same restaurant that charges $70 for a half bottle of a Paso Robles white blend, which is almost four times the retail price for the half bottle. The other thing that’s not surprising? That his customers pay these prices. As one reader emailed me: “Are these people crazy?” Nope. Just rich.

Soda drinkers to restaurants: Drop dead (and why this matters to wine drinkers)

restaurants, water, wine

Water is becoming the beverage of choice for more and more restaurant patrons.

Too many restaurants have long alienated wine drinkers with lazy winelists and greedy markups. Now, it looks like they have even alienated people who don't drink wine.

NPD Group, one of the two or three best restaurant consultancies in the world, has found that consumers are forgoing costly soft drinks for free water. The reason? Diners are tired of paying overinflated prices for Coke, Pepsi, and the like — a trend that started before the recession, and only accelerated as they looked for ways to save money when eating out.

"Leaving off the beverage is the easy thing to do," says Warren Solochek, NPD's vice president of client services, and consumers are doing it with a passion. NPD reports that restaurant traffic has declined one percent over the past five years, but total beverage sales have dropped six percent.

More, after the jump:

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