The music should be pumping and the burgers and jerk chicken wings flying out of the kitchen this holiday weekend at the Rambler Kitchen and Tap in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago.
To wash it down, patrons might go with a mixed drink or one of the 20 craft beers the bar sells. But many will order a hard seltzer. The Rambler expects to sell close to 500 cans in flavors like peach, pineapple and grapefruit pomelo.
“We’ll sell a lot of buckets of White Claw and Truly seltzers,” said Sam Stone, a co-owner of the Rambler. “It’s going to be a big summer for hard seltzer.”
The Memorial Day weekend kicks off what many hope will be a more normal summer, when kids start counting down the number of days left in school, people head back to the beach and grills heat up for backyard parties that went poof last year because of the pandemic. And for the hard seltzer industry, it’s the start of a dizzying period when dozens of old and new competitors vie to be the boozy, bubbly drink of the season.
ad campaign with the British pop singer Dua Lipa. This spring, the hip-hop star Travis Scott released Cacti, a seltzer made with blue agave syrup, in a partnership with Anheuser-Busch. It quickly sold out in many locations.
“People were lining up outside of the stores to buy Cacti and share pictures of themselves with their carts full of Cacti,” said Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch.
Also this spring, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer was released. A partnership between Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Beverage, it hit shelves in 16 markets across the country, chasing the cult following of Topo Chico’s seltzer water in the South.
“I feel like I can walk into a party saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I brought the Topo Chico,’” said Dane Cardiel, 32, who works in business development for a podcast company and lives in Esopus, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Albany.
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How flavored bubbly water with alcohol became a national phenomenon is partly due to social media videos that went viral and clever marketing that sold hard seltzers as a “healthier” alcohol choice.
White Claw’s slim cans prominently state that the drinks contain only 100 calories, are gluten free and have only two grams each of carbohydrates and sugar. The brand is owned by the Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, who created Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
“The health and wellness element is front and center in terms of the visual marketing,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at the Cowen investment firm. “Every brand’s packaging features its relatively low carb and sugar data.”
On top of that, the alcohol content in most hard seltzers, about 5 percent, or the same as 12 ounces of a typical beer, is less than a glass of wine or a mixed drink. That makes it easier for people to sip at a party or while watching a game without getting intoxicated or winding up with the belly-full-of-beer feeling.
“It’s a nice drink for an afternoon on the patio,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager of Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver. “You can drink four or five of them in an afternoon and not have a big hangover or get really drunk.”
Blake Street, an 18,000-square-foot sports bar, started selling hard seltzers two years ago. Today, they make up about 20 percent of its can and bottle sales.
The industry has also neatly sidestepped the gender issue that plagued earlier, lighter alcoholic alternatives like Zima, which became popular with women but struggled to be adopted by men.
“I’ve got just as many men as women drinking it,” said Nick Zeto, the owner of Boston Beer Garden in Naples, Fla. “And it started with the millennials, but now I have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s ordering it.”
That kind of broad appeal is attractive to beer, wine and spirits companies.
“We view ourselves as the challenger brand,” said Michelle St. Jacques, the chief marketing officer of Molson Coors, which has been making beer since the late 1700s but hopes to end this year with 10 percent of the hard seltzer market.
Last spring, the company released Vizzy, a hard seltzer that contains vitamin C. Top Chico came this spring. “We feel like we’re making great progress in seltzer by not trying to bring me-too products, but rather products and brands that have a clear difference,” Ms. St. Jacques said.
While grocery and liquor stores have made plenty of space available to the hard seltzer brands that people drink at home, the competition to get into restaurants and bars is fierce. Most want to offer only two or three brands to their customers.
“Oh, my god, I get presented with new hard seltzer whenever they can get my attention,” said Mr. Stone, who sells six brands at the Rambler. The crowd favorite, he said, is the vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips peach, made by E.&J. Gallo Winery. “Everybody, from the big brands to small, new ones, are getting into the hard seltzer game.”
6:30 a.m. Today, I’m moving bourbon samples out of the private office I’ve been renting at Vuka, a co-working space in Austin. I meant to do it the previous day, but I fell behind schedule after the winter storms closed Texas, and I’ve been busting my butt playing catch-up ever since. Being pregnant also doesn’t help my energy levels.
8:30 a.m. After we take our daughter, Andi, to her nanny’s house, Kevin drives me to Vuka. On the way, I call my distribution partner in Canada to discuss introducing Eaves Blind to that market. We’re having a hard time securing the licenses we need for spirits sales because the tasting program doesn’t meet their government’s standards.
9:30 a.m. Kevin assembles moving boxes, and we pack all 260 samples. I’ve approved various lots for my Tennessee bourbon client, Sweetens Cove, based on six different barrels ranging from three different ages, four to six to 16 years old.
11:30 a.m. We head to lunch at this vegan spot, Casa de Luz, then back home to unpack the remaining spirits, plus my graduated cylinders, beakers, scales and other tools.
1 p.m. Start compiling a long list of to-do items for a Chinese client who is constructing a distillery in Fujian. I’m creating a timeline of everything that needs to happen before they whip up their first run of single-malt products, including equipment cleaning and testing, as well as ingredient sourcing. I also review all of the instrumentation diagrams their Scottish engineering firm provided. I love the technical side of the industry!
3 p.m. Time to pick up the baby. On the way, I call an Australian-based design firm about a collaborative project with Lindsay Hoopes of Hoopes Vineyard in Napa. We discuss names for a smoked brandy we created using grapes affected by the 2017 and 2020 wildfires. I’m excited about the name we all like — it’s sexy and provocative.
4 p.m. Head home for our nighttime routine with Andi — dancing, lots of funny faces, plus some walking and “talking.” She’s got the hard “k” sound down. She tries to say “truck,” “rock” and “duck,” but it just sounds like she’s sitting there cussing.
The chemotherapy has difficult side effects, and the radiation causes a burning sensation that makes it difficult to swallow. “Food won’t go down,” Ms. Mordecai said. “You just feel rotten.”
The next step is major surgery. A doctor takes out most of the patient’s esophagus, the tract leading from the mouth to the stomach, and then grabs the stomach and pulls it up, attaching it to a stump of esophagus left behind.
The result is a stomach that is vertical, not horizontal, and lacks the sphincter muscle that normally keeps stomach acid from spilling out. For the rest of their lives, patients can never lie flat — if they do, the contents of their stomach, including acid, pours into their throats. They can choke, cough and aspirate.
Recovery is difficult, and morbidity and mortality are high. But most patients go through with the operation once they weigh their options. To refuse the treatment means giving up and letting the cancer close off the esophagus to the point where some cannot even swallow their own saliva, said Dr. Paul Helft, a professor of surgery and an ethicist at Indiana University School of Medicine.
The treatment is so long and harrowing that Dr. Helft often uses it to teach medical students and other trainees about informed consent — about how patients must be fully informed before they start any given treatment. Esophageal cancer patients in particular must be told that they are likely to have a recurrence within the first year.
Ms. Mordecai said her husband had his surgery at the end of September 2008. By Dec. 6, he had untreatable metastases in his liver. Now, she said, patients may have a glimmer of hope.
Dr. Ilson, who has spent his career trying to develop therapies to help patients with esophageal cancer, said that he did not expect this treatment to succeed: “We all get nihilistic when faced with years of negative studies.”
“This is really a landmark paper,” he added, and the drug “will become a new standard of care.”
While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.
Over the course of the decade since I first visited, I have often imagined myself at home in New Orleans. I think of the syncopated shuffle of a snare drum, the simple pleasure of an afternoon walk with a to-go beer in hand and the candy-colored shotgun houses that sink into the ground at odd angles. And so it wasn’t a huge surprise when, at the beginning of 2021, I found myself packing up my life and moving to the Crescent City for a few months. Why not be somewhere I love at this difficult time, I thought? Why not live in my daydreams for a little while?
New Orleans is above all else resilient. Mardi Gras parades were canceled this year, though it didn’t stop New Orleanians from finding ways to celebrate (nothing ever will). In recent months, brass bands have taken to street corners in front of masked, socially distant spectators instead of packed night clubs. Strangers still chat you up about the Saints from their front porches. My visions of this city may still be filtered through the fuzzy lens of a visitor, but I know I’ll be pretending I’m still there long after I’m gone. Here are a few ways you can, too.
bounce, popularized by superstars like Big Freedia, the call-and-response songs of Mardi Gras Indians, and so much more. For an overview of the sounds of this loud, percussive city there is no better place to start than the wonderfully eclectic WWOZ, a community-supported radio station that has been on the air since 1980. Luckily, you can listen to it from anywhere online. It’s only a matter of time before you start getting to know the various D.J.s and tuning in for your favorites.
a show on WWOZ for more than 25 years, told me. “New Orleans is the reason for it all.” Soul Sister was one of a handful of local experts I consulted in putting together a playlist that will send you straight to New Orleans. Among her recommendations are a bounce classic by DJ Jubilee and the music of Rebirth Brass Band, which brings her back to afternoons spent celebrating on the street: “It reminds me of the energy and freedom of being at the second line parades on Sundays, dancing through all the neighborhoods nonstop for three or four hours,” she said.
Professor Longhair, for example, starts it off — recommended by Keith Spera who writes about music for the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. By the end of the playlist, you will undoubtedly agree with Mr. Spera’s assessment of New Orleans music: “There is no singular style of ‘New Orleans music’ — is it jazz? Rhythm & blues? Funk? Bounce? — but you know it when you hear it.”
Dooky Chase Cookbook, the collected recipes of Leah Chase, who died in 2019, of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, an institution that has hosted civil rights leaders, presidents and countless regulars at its location in Treme, the neighborhood where jazz was born. Next, tap into the Cajun influence on the city with “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou,” by Melissa M. Martin who oversees a restaurant of the same name in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. Ms. Martin recommends making her grandmother’s oyster soup. “I can picture her stirring a pot on Bayou Petit Caillou and seasoning a broth with salty Louisiana oysters, Creole tomatoes and salted pork,” Ms. Martin said. “The marriage of three ingredients transports me to the tiny fishing village I call home, where salt was and still is always in the air.”
Anthony Bourdain for encouraging her to keep it secret). But she has shared versions of her recipe, so you can try your hand at it at home. “That will get you pretty close to the real thing,” she said with a wink I could almost hear over the phone.
Free Tours by Foot, which has transferred their expertise to YouTube. You can now stroll the grandiose Garden District, pull away the sensationalism around New Orleans’ Voodoo traditions and take a deep dive into jazz history in Treme. “New Orleans is full of painful history, and it’s also known as one of the most fun cities in the world,” Andrew Farrier, one of the tour guides, said. “I think it’s useful for all of us to know how those two things can live so close to each other.”
New Orleans’ drinking scene extends far beyond the vortex of debauchery that is Bourbon Street. There are the classic New Orleans inventions, of course, like the Sazerac, but for something a little different, turn to one of the city’s most revered mixologists. Chris Hannah, of Jewel of the South, invented the Bywater as a New Orleanian spin on the Brooklyn. “Among the ingredient substitutions I swapped rum for rye as a cheeky nod to our age-old saying, ‘New Orleans is the northernmost tip of the Caribbean’,” Mr. Hannah said.
your quarantine pod and a “set-up” and you might just get close. What is a set-up, you ask? It’s a staple dive bar order that will get you a half-pint of your liquor of choice, a mixer and a stack of plastic cups. It’s also an often-overlooked part of New Orleans drinking culture, according to Deniseea Taylor, a cocktail enthusiast who goes by the Cocktail Goddess. “When you find a bar with a set-up, you are truly in Nola,” Ms. Taylor said. “First time I experienced a set-up, it was paired with a $5 fish plate, a match made in heaven.”
“The Yellow House,” a memoir by Sarah M. Broom, which the Times book critic Dwight Garner called “forceful, rolling and many-chambered.” Going further back in time, try “Coming Through Slaughter,” a fictionalized rendition of the life of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden by Michael Ondaatje.
If you are in the mood for a documentary, Clint Bowie, artistic director of the New Orleans Film Festival, recommends Lily Keber’s “Buckjumping,” which spotlights the city’s dancers. For something fictional, Mr. Bowie points to “Eve’s Bayou” directed by Kasi Lemmons. It’s hard to forget New Orleans is a city built on a swamp when you feel the crushing humidity or lose your footing on ruptured streets, and this movie will take you farther into that ethereal environment. “Set in the Louisiana bayou country in the ’60s, we could think of no better film to spark Southern Gothic daydreams about a visit to the Spanish moss-draped Louisiana swamps,” Mr. Bowie said.