Indie shops take on the green giant

A few years ago it was common to hear lamentations about Starbucks moving in and crushing the neighborhood independent shops. An article in yesterday’s Seattle Times points out that perception is catching up to reality with a more balanced take on Starbucks’ influence:

Collectively, independent and small-chain coffeehouses have the largest share of coffee and doughnut sales in the U.S., with 34 percent of the market in 2006, according to a new report from the Chicago research firm Mintel. Starbucks has the next largest share at 29 percent.

“When you talk to all the detractors whose critique is that Starbucks ruined the culture of coffeehouses, you’d get the impression there were all these coffeehouses and then Starbucks came in and destroyed them,” said Kim Fellner, a longtime national labor and community organizer whose book “Wrestling with Starbucks: Conscience, Capital, Cappuccino” came out last month.

While there are some examples of Starbucks putting independents out of business, she said, “you find far more where people who look at Starbucks and say, ‘They’re being successful. I could be, too.’ ”

The popularity of Starbucks has helped spread coffeehouse culture beyond university communities and Italian neighborhoods, Fellner said.

Starbucks has fallen on hard times lately and lost its focus on coffee quality a long time ago, but the company deserves great credit for raising the bar for American coffee culture and bringing espresso drinks and single origin beans to a mass audience. Many of today’s indie shop customers got their first taste of decent cappuccino at a Starbucks.

I had a similar take on the company in a post titled “A libertarian goes to Starbucks.” For a more in-depth assessment, Taylor Clark’s Starbucked is a fun, informative history.

[Via Pasteboard.]


The fast and the… ?

I’m in Chicago, catching up from a long drive down from the UP yesterday that included stops at Grand Traverse Distillery and the Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Cafe, so no morning links yet. As I move further west the “morning” part of those links is going to become less and less relevant to this blog’s primarily East Coast readership, so I’ll probably be dropping the AM part of the headline anyway.

I need to get out of Chicago before this happens:

Fast and the Furriest


DC bar openings

Lots of DC area bar openings I’m missing out on. First, my friends at Grape and Bean in Alexandria opened their tasting bar this month, offering small, plates, coffee, and wine and beer by the glass or bottle. They’re taking a break till Labor Day to do some research [i.e. drinking] in California’s wine country and to attend the Slow Food Festival, but they’ll reopen then with expanded hours.

Inside the city is Commonwealth, a British-style gastropub I’d really like to visit. They offer “butcher boards of charcuterie (don’t miss the ultra-flavorful Surrey County ham), house-made head cheese, stuffed pigs trotters, deviled sweetbreads, pork belly, and Scotch eggs wrapped in sausage—the chef’s favorite.” Also a selection of English ales and a rotating cask ale.

And speaking of beer, Frank Morales and Greg Engert of Rustico are opening the first DC location for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and it’s going to have tons of it. Birch and Barley and its upstairs bar ChurchKey will offer more than 500 bottles, 50 drafts, and 5 cask ales. And unlike a certain other DC beer bar, I’m betting these guys will do a good job keeping their menu in stock. Amanda’s got the rest of the details at Metrocurean.


Gordon Gee does right

Former Vanderbilt Chancellor is one of two Ohio university presidents to sign on to the Amethyst Initiative, a movement among administrators to lower the drinking age from its current ridiculous high of 21. Gee’s actually predictably soft on the issue, but it’s good to his name on there just the same.

The complete list if signatories is here. New Vandy Chancellor Zeppos doesn’t appear. Get on it, Nick!

[Via Agitator co-blogger Ryan Grim.]


Repeal Day bourbon

December 5 of this year will mark the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment’s ratification and the end of national Prohibition. To celebrate, Old Forester is crafting a limited edition Repeal Bourbon for release this winter:

“Repeal Bourbon is bottled from a special selection of Old Forester barrels that exhibited a more robust character that is similar to the Old Forester that was bottled during Prohibition,” added Chris Morris, Master Distiller for Old Forester. “The flavor, presented at Prohibition’s required 100 proof, is a full, deep, charred oak character that will appeal to bourbon-lovers everywhere.”

Bureaucrash celebrated last year with a party in Arlington, across the river from DC in protest of the city’s smoking ban. Inside the city things got a little rough…

[Via Jeff Morgenthaler.]


Sobieski vodka review

I wasn’t completely honest when I said that I had to leave my entire home bar behind in Virginia. I actually did tuck one bottle of liquor into my car, a sample of Sobieski Vodka that arrived just as I was packing up to leave. Now that I’m relaxing in Michigan I’ve finally had a chance to crack it open.

“Spicy aromas of star anise, cream, minerals and powdered sugar follow through to a round, silky entry and a smooth off-dry medium-to-full body with a long, lingering whipped cream, spice, rye dough, and sweet citrus fade with virtually no heat,” writes the Beverage Tasting Institute. Um, ok. I’m not getting all that. But I am getting a very smooth, very drinkable vodka that’s good both neat and on the rocks. It’s distilled in Poland from Mazowse rye, and that lends a pleasant but not overpowering spice to the glass.

I’d heard a few comments that this vodka was very good for the price, but I still had a bit of sticker shock when I opened up the included materials and saw what it sells for. Not because it’s high, but because it’s surprisingly low: just $11.99 for a 750 ml bottle. Sobieski’s running a clever sort of anti-marketing marketing campaign, mocking the over-priced brands that emphasize everything except quality. They’ve come through with a vodka that tastes good without breaking the bank. Given the price, I could definitely see using this a lot in my next home bar.


Links for 8/15/08

These are almost morning links in the way that Upper Peninsula island internet access is almost reliable. I’m catching up after 18 hours of downtime.

Spirits writer Paul Clarke tells you what you need to know about vermouth

Latte art makes the WSJ front page

Michael Siegel debunks Los Angeles’ proposed outdoor smoking ban

NYC may ban texting while driving

Banning beer pong. And why not water pong, while we’re at it?

Seattle police say that patrolling world’s largest pro-pot rally not stressful. Well, duh.

Virginia Postrel and Kate Coe launch Deep Glamour blog

Guest Agitator posts:

Harrison Bergeron, the film

Does Garry Trudeau read Marginal Revolution?


Why I love Michigan

My kind of store!

OK, this isn’t really why I love Michigan, but how could I not stop at this place? They make all their own jerky, available in barrels throughout the store. Walk around and the owners are will snip off samples while you browse. They do beef, pork, turkey, and wild game like alligator, elk, and antelope (which was pretty good). Shelves of hot sauces line the wall. If you’re passing through Dundee, MI, it’s right off the highway. They also sell online.


Guest agitating

I’ve been invited to guest write for a couple of weeks on Radley Balko’s excellent site, The Agitator, while he’s on vacation in Alaska. Radley’s a good friend and writes one of the best blogs around, so of course I accepted. I’ll post here too, but most of my updates will probably be over there. My intro post is here and I posted an entry about tobacco control just a few minutes ago. And if you don’t like me, head over anyway for the rest of the talented guest blogging crew.