Tag Archives: The Secret Financial Life of Food

What the #Limepocalypse means to your next cocktail

As someone who knows a bit about how agricultural commodities work and lot about how cocktails work, I’ve been following the recent ascent of lime prices, which has been causing bartenders considerable pain. If you love Margaritas, Daiquiris or or any other drink that depends on lime for its citrusy zing, you may be feeling the squeeze yourself.

What’s going on? In brief, Mexico, which produces 98% of the limes consumed in the U.S, is now seeing a shortage of limes thanks to a perfect storm of poor winter weather, plagues and threats from organized crime. As a result, we’ve seen lime prices spike from an average of $14 to $25 a case to an unprecedented $100 (or more) per case. You can read more on the backstory here or watch a video here.

If we were taking about the price of burgers, it would make sense to talk about cattle futures as a hedging mechanism. But lime futures don’t trade on U.S. commodity markets — or anywhere else in the world, that I know about. (Feel free to educate me if you know of a market where they are traded.)

In the meantime, what does the spike in lime prices mean to your next cocktail? It means one or more of the following scenarios:

  • Scarcity. In other words, if bartenders can’t get limes, you might not be able to get some of your favorite drinks for a while. For example, it’s been widely reported that Toby Cecchini has taken his famed Gimlet off the menu at his Long Island bar in Brooklyn (after all, the key ingredient is a housemade lime cordial).
  • Substitution. Your favorite drink might taste a little different for a while, as bartenders make creative substitutions. Some are switching to a mix of lemon and lime juices or grapefruit. Others are turning to acids beyond citrus, such as phosphates and lactarts. I would expect vinegar-based shrubs to follow as well. Upside:  who knows what innovative cocktails this forced creativity may yield?
  • Deflection. Some bars will discreetly “adjust” cocktail menus to showcase drinks that don’t include lime. Negroni, anyone?
  • Inflation. You might have to pay more for your drinks. I’d especially expect to see this happen at places like large Mexican chain restaurants, where taking classics like the Margarita off the menu would cause too much outcry. Downside:  once menu prices move higher, they rarely are adjusted lower when ingredient prices moderate.
  • Degradation. Aka crappier drinks.  Keep an eye out for sour mix, prefab lime cordial and frozen lime juice as substitutions for fresh lime. And that lime wedge garnish on on the side of your glass? Say goodbye to that too, for a while.
  • Finally, some bartenders will simply eat the rising cost. Martin Cate announced last week that his San Francisco tiki bar Treasure Island will NOT make any changes to the menu, and will NOT raise prices. Since tiki/tropical drinks use a lot of limes, this is big deal.

[Shameless plug: if you find this explanation interesting and will be in the NY area on Wednesday, 4/2, I'll be reading from The Secret Financial Life of Food (and talking a bit about the "limepocalypse") at DISH, a food and beverage-themed literary event at Housing Works in Soho.]

 

photo credit: flickr/Troy Tolley

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Order Cocktails for a Crowd for Christmas, New Year’s

Cocktails_for_a_Crowd_COVERWhew! November and December were remarkably busy – book promo parties, events, signings, the occasional press interview. It’s been a glorious whirlwind. But now I’m ready for a looong winter’s rest.

But one final gift-list reminder:  Now’s the time to order “Cocktails for a Crowd”  – whether the party’s at your home and you’re seeking drink inspiration, or you’re celebrating elsewhere and need a host/hostess gift or holiday gift.  Throw in a bottle of booze or bitters, and you’re officially the best guest in the world.

–>Order “Cocktails for a Crowd” from Amazon.

 
Book Cover–>As long as you’re browsing online, you can also buy a copy of my other book,  The Secret Financial Life of Food: from commodities markets to supermarketsfor the history-minded foodies on your gift list.

 

Many thanks and happy holidays!

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Order Cocktails for a Crowd for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah gifts

Cocktails_for_a_Crowd_COVER

Now’s the time to order “Cocktails for a Crowd”  – whether the party’s at your home and you’re seeking drink inspiration, or you’re celebrating elsewhere and need a host/hostess gift or holiday gift.  Throw in a bottle of booze or bitters, and you’re officially the best guest in the world.

If you’d like a personalized gift, email me: kara AT karanewman DOT com to obtain a signed bookplate, at no additional charge.

–>Order “Cocktails for a Crowd” from Amazon.

–>As long as you’re browsing online, you can also buy a copy of my other book,  The Secret Financial Life of Food: from commodities markets to supermarkets, for the history-minded foodies on your gift list.

Many thanks and happy holidays!

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Fall Bookshelf: 4 new cocktail & spirits books

Fall is prime time for new book launches – here’s a short list of four of the latest crop of cocktail and spirits books I’ve particularly enjoyed, which I hope you’ll consider reading now or adding to holiday gift lists later.

ImageThe book: The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to keep you level (Sanders & Gratz)

The author:  Dinah Sanders, of cocktail blog Bibulo.us. The @bibulous feed has long been one one of my favorites to follow – the enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity where cocktails are concerned make for an irresistible mix.

Why I love it:  I want to make every drink in this book. The well-curated drinks are ringers – especially since I already have a soft spot for low-octane libations. And the luscious photos have a sweetly speakeasy-ish vibe.

Cocktail pick: Haberdasher, attributed to Josh Harris and Scott Baird, SF. (A great majority of the bartenders represented throughout the book are San Francisco based, really the only bone I have to pick with this book.)  It’s a delicious Negroni variation, equal parts Amontillado sherry, Gran Classico bitter, and Carpano Antica, finished with a couple of dashes of orange bitters and a lemon twist.

The Book:  Drink More Whiskey: Everything You Need to Know About Your New Favorite Drink (Chronicle Books)

The Author:  Daniel Yaffe, founder and editor-in-chief of Drink Me magazine

Why I love it: It’s right on topic, and right on time:  whiskey is clearly having a moment. And Yaffe’s done a good job of making this accessible and easy-reading, with fun bon mots like this one:  “A bartender once told me that white whiskey is like a distiller wearing only his underwear.” I just wish this book included photos, which would have added another layer of dimension.

Cocktail pick:  The cocktails sprinkled throughout the book feature whiskey, natch. And the one that got my attention was the Nail in the Coffin, a Rusty Nail variation that features Japanese whisky instead of Scotch, Licor 43 instead of Drambuie, and some added flavors (Madeira, Fernet Branca, cardamom) for complexity.

ApothecaryBook-150x150The Book:  Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today (Fair Winds Press)

The Author:  Warren Bobrow, aka “The Cocktail Whisperer.” Sometimes spotted at cocktail parties in the company of Klaus the Soused Gnome.

Why I love it:  First, a disclosure – I wrote a blurb for the book cover. In my opinion, “restorative” is a perfect adjective for cocktails, and the whole herbs-and-roots-and-spices-in-cocktails trend going on these days fits right in with the “restorative” context, and gives a great platform for cocktails that might not otherwise be featured. The photos are lush and have a great New Orleans old-school apothecary feel.

Cocktail pick: The Coconut Cooler. It’s offbeat and memorable and a little nutty. Basically, it involves drilling three holes in a chilled coconut and pouring in rhum agricole. There are more polished and elegant drinks in the book, but this is the one I most want to try.

Whiskey-Women-Cover-393x590The Book: Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey (Potomac Books)

The Author: Fred Minnick, whiskey writer

Why I love it: I learned something new on every page. This is not a light and fluffy book, and it’s not a book about whiskey cocktails. Rather, it’s deeply researched and takes an interesting angle (the role of women) as a way to talk about whiskey from a fresh perspective. I’d recommend it for someone who read and liked Dave Wondrich’s Punch and Imbibe.

Cocktail pick:  A dram of whiskey, of course.  (Whiskey Women has no cocktails, but no one’s going thirsty on my watch!)

 

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History or hooch? Chicago – I’m coming your way!

 Chicago area friends:  I’m so excited to be heading to the Windy City next week! Here’s my schedule – whether your taste runs to history or hooch, please mark your calendar.  I hope to see you while I’m in town.

Monday, April 22:  Lecture on The Secret Financial Life of Food, with the Culinary Historians of Chicago. 

I’ll be giving a talk about my book, The Secret Financial Life of Food, at an event presented by The Culinary Historians of Chicago.

Since so much of agricultural commodities history took place in Chicago, I’m especially thrilled to have an opportunity to talk about grain, cattle and other food-related futures here. And I fully expect to learn a thing or two from this particular group!

Location:  Kendall College (900 N. North Branch St., Chicago, IL)  at 6:30 pm.

Tuesday, April 23: Drink.Think heads to Chicago!

I’ll be hosting Drink.Thinka literary reading event about all things drink. Come out and hear your favorite Chicago-area beverage and food writers read from their work. We have a great line-up of writers, authors and industry pros coming out for the event. Admission is free, plus we’ll have some complimentary whiskey tipples on hand. (Win-win!)

Location:  Tavernita, 151 W. Erie St, Chicago, IL. Come out at 6pm to drink; the reading starts at 7pm.

See you in Chicago!

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My guest post on A Life of Spice

It’s always a good day when I get to talk with Monica Bhide — food writer, author, spice expert, inspiring writing instructor, cocktail contest conspirator, friend.

Monica is particularly skilled at persuading others to tell their stories (check out her book of interviews with exceptional women). And her question to me was:  How did I –a journalist of the booze– come to write a book about food & finance & history?

Here’s the answer – my guest blog post for Monica’s popular site, A Life of Spice.

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Happy Repeal Day! A look at the American Liquor Exchange

liquorexchange

Today, December 5, celebrates the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition – one of the best and booziest “holidays” in the tippling calendar. In honor of Repeal Day, I’m sharing my favorite find from The Secret Financial Life of Food:  the all-but-forgotten American Liquor Exchange.

The 1933 image above shows a group of distillers and importers gathered in a Park Avenue office, in the act of setting prices for wines and spirits after the repeal of Prohibition. Technically, this group was not an exchange, but a firm dealing in warehouse receipts (financial instruments that pledged as collateral certain commodities – such as barrels of whiskey).  Take a look (click on the image to enlarge it):  the chalkboard behind the auctioneer lists the bid and ask prices for various whiskeys – rye, Scotch – as well as other spirits (gin, Cognac, “Cuban rhum”) and Champagne and other wines. Most of the deals called for delivery in 30, 60, or 90 days after repeal went into effect.

Shout out to Ryan of the informative Trading Pit Blog, who owns this photo and kindly granted permission to use it in the book. Here’s another look at the same scene, from a different angle.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to buy The Secret Financial Life of Food.

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Secret Financial Life of Food on “Hot Grease” radio

Hot Grease show

Butter and Egg women unite!

Last week I had the opportunity to talk about my new book with the ebullient Nicole Taylor, one of my favorite radio hosts. Her show, Hot Grease, airs on the awesome Heritage Radio Network.

Listen to the episode here: Hot Grease – Episode 128 – The Secret Financial Life of Food

A comment from the show: “I think that commodity prices are not going to be based entirely on American eating habits… It’s my belief that we’re going to see commodities being traded on a more global basis.” [26:00]

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Introducing my new book – The Secret Financial Life of Food

CUP-topThe team over at Columbia University Press has done a bang-up job this week introducing my new book, The Secret Financial Life of Food:  from commodities markets to supermarketsIf you haven’t been over to the CUP blog this week, here’s what you missed:

Trading Places Video:  Remember the film Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy? Watch a YouTube clip of financial bigwigs  Randolph and Mortimer Duke (played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) explaining to Billy Ray Valentine (played by Eddie Murphy) how their commodity brokerage works. (I quoted a portion of this scene in the introduction to the Produce Futures chapter)

Book Giveaway!  Best hustle if you want to win a free copy of The Secret Financial Life of Food – CUP will be picking a winner TODAY at 1:00 pm ET. (hint – e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address.)

3 Predictions for the Future of Food-Based Futures:  Although my book focuses on the history of food-based futures, most questions I’ve been asked center around the future of futures. (And with food prices on a breakaway tear, who can blame people for wanting to know what’s next?) So I’ve gazed into my crystal ball to offer three predictions for what’s next.

Enjoy! And while you’re surfing, don’t forget to buy a copy of The Secret Financial Life of Food (or two, or three….) for those on your holiday list who enjoy reading about food, finance, or history.

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The Secret Financial Life of Food featured on ZesterDaily!

Let the countdown commence! The Secret Financial Life of Food is officially scheduled to drop on Nov. 20 – one month from today!

Last week, ZesterDaily.com ran a Q&A with yours truly:  The Economics of Food with Author Kara Newman — the very first piece of press coverage about the book! My favorite part? Writer/editor Ruth Tobias brilliantly looped in the recent scare over a possible bacon shortage.

An excerpt:

Q: Given the recent scare over a bacon shortage, I found the chapter on pork bellies quite enlightening. Can you elaborate on why pork bellies are no longer traded, and what it means for the average consumer and the ethically conscious consumer?

A.  At the most basic level, traders buy and sell based on scarcity and anticipated demand. When that scarcity diminished thanks to better technologies in agriculture and refrigeration, as well as improved bacon-making techniques, trading eventually stopped. It’s now a more stable market.

I’ve asked economists: What does it mean for consumers that we don’t have pork-belly futures to kick around anymore? And the answer across the board is: “Not much.” Pork-belly contracts were a vehicle that outlived their usefulness, like egg futures and onion futures and many other contracts before them. Without the pricing mechanism that the futures market provides, prices might edge slightly higher at supermarkets — and for a little while, that might make pork from smaller producers a bit more attractive. But the average bacon lover probably hasn’t noticed even a blip at the checkout counter.

Read the full Q&A on ZesterDaily.

“Like” the book on Facebook.

Pre-order your very own copy of the book.

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