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A Message from Margaret Thatcher

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BREAKING: Support Swings to Conservatives in U.K. Vote, Exit Polls Show

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Prime Minister David Cameron’s party projected to win 316 seats; 239 for Labour

LONDON— Jenny Gross reports: Exit polls showed a surprising swing of support to Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party in the U.K.’s tightly-contested OG-AE448_201505_E_20150507171614election Thursday, suggesting that the Tories could continue to lead the government.

The exit polls forecast that the Conservatives would win 316 seats in the U.K. Parliament, suggesting a far stronger showing than months of pre-election surveys that showed them in a dead heat with the main opposition Labour Party. However, the exit polls indicated the Conservatives would be short of an effective majority of the 650-seat House of Commons.

Labour, according to the polls, secured 239 seats. The Conservatives’ current junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, were projected to win 10 seats, which would indicate heavy losses. Read the rest of this entry »


Whiskey Makes a Comeback

The Rat Pack

Vodka is so 2012

Peter Evans writes: Sales of the colorless, odorless spirit have slowed substantially in the U.S. in the past two years after more than a decade of roaring growth.

“We are seeing a generational shift away from vodka.”

—Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at research firm Mintel Group Ltd.

Tired of lurid flavor extensions—from fluffed marshmallow to menthol tobacco—and at the limit of what they are willing to pay for upscale versions, drinkers are increasingly choosing bourbon or tequila over vodka. That spells bad news for the world’s biggest distillers.

Whipped-Vodka-WSJ

Vodka Sales Fall as Drinkers Raise Glass to Whiskey

Vodka makes up a quarter of U.S. spirits sales by value, and the slowdown is starting to eat into profits at liquor companies. North American sales of Diageo PLC’s Smirnoff brand declined 8% in the six months ended December, contributing to an 18% slide in overall profit.

“Vodka’s identity crisis comes after a prolonged period of success. For years, flavor extensions helped drive sales, while bottles of triple-filtered vodka sold at $30 swelled the profits of major distillers.”

Pernod Ricard SA said late last year that its Absolut brand is struggling in the U.S.

“Taste profiles have moved to appreciate whiskey more,” said Ivan Menezes, Diageo’s chief executive, in an interview last week. “It’s a trend that’s been building for a few years.”

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Experts say the attributes that first attracted consumers to vodka now appear to be turning them off. Specifically, the anonymity that means vodka can be mixed with almost anything to add an alcoholic kick is becoming less appealing. Drinkers are instead turning to whiskey for its perceived greater depth of flavor.

“Taste profiles have moved to appreciate whiskey more. It’s a trend that’s been building for a few years.”

— Ivan Menezes, Diageo’s chief executive

Attempts by marketers to plug that gap with flavor variants are running out of steam: There are more than 600 flavors of vodka available to U.S. consumers, but demand growth decelerated in 2014, according to Bernstein research.

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The biggest distillers have been hit the hardest by the shift in taste. Sales of Smirnoff vodka flavors—a roster of more than 30 products, including root-beer float and whipped cream—are in decline in the U.S. Pernod Ricard has admitted its “Oddka” experiment—with flavors from salty caramel popcorn to oddkafresh-cut grass—has fallen flat.

Total U.S. vodka sales increased 1.9% in 2013, compared with 2.7% growth in the wider spirits industry, according to industry body IWSR—the first time since 2000 that vodka has underperformed the sector average. Analysts expect a similar result when 2014 figures are released.

“Part of the problem for vodka has been attracting younger drinkers. Once seen as an exciting alternative to the brown spirits favored by their parents, vodka is now viewed as too mainstream for newly legal drinkers.”

Big liquor companies have seen their share of U.S. vodka sales eroded by intense competition. Supermarkets charging low prices for smaller brands have stolen customers from midmarket labels like Smirnoff and Absolut. While sales of superpremium vodkas such as Diageo’s Ketel One and Cîroc have held up, the brand that kicked off the superpremium trend in 1997, Bacardi Ltd.’s Grey Goose, has suffered a sharp decline.

Russian vodka has also suffered from the slowdown. In 2013—the latest available year—the amount of vodka imported from Russia into the U.S. dropped 70% from the prior year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. The most popular Russian label—Stolichnaya Premium vodka, known as “Stoly”—fell out of the top-five best-selling brands in 2013.

At the same time, an explosion of craft distillers is encroaching on sales. Diageo says there have been more than 200 new vodka brands launched in the U.S. in the past two years.

Part of the problem for vodka has been attracting younger drinkers. Once seen as an exciting alternative to the brown spirits favored by their parents, vodka is now viewed as too mainstream for newly legal drinkers in the U.S., analysts say. Read the rest of this entry »


Bottle Shock: Japan Crowned Best Whiskey


Glasgow’s George Square

George-Sq-Glasgow

Another image of Glasgow’s George Square this evening

Martyn McLaughlinTwitter @MartynMcL


Scotland Decides Its Fate Today

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TIME

Scotland must decide Thursday whether to become independent from the U.K., with last-minute opinion polls putting the outcome of the referendum on a knife-edge.

Voting booths are now open and ballots will be cast at 2,608 polling stations until 10 p.m. local time. Results are expected to trickle in overnight with a final announcement at around 7 a.m. on Friday morning.

If Scotland votes yes, it will be the 61st territory to gain its independence from the U.K., which once boasted an empire upon which the sun never set.

“When people go into the polling booths tomorrow they are going to vote for … that vision of more prosperous but also a more just society,” Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, leading the Yes campaign, told supporters on Wednesday. “That’s what’s going to motivate people in the polling stations tomorrow.”

Of Scotland’s population of 5.3 million, a whopping 97% of those…

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All Your Children Belong to Us

Family-Lenin-quote

RJ-Glenn CookFor the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Glenn Cook writes: Is any freedom more important, more sacred than the right to raise a family without government intrusion?

It’s a good question to ask this Independence Day weekend, as Americans reflect on the birth of a nation dedicated to the preservation of individual liberties: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“Don’t pretend to be shocked by this development. This is not a radical, new idea…”

But as government grows bigger and more powerful, as politicians, bureaucrats and busybodies increasingly think they know best, American families constantly must fight interference in their most personal decisions and judgments.free-range-kids

[Check out Lenore Skenazy’s book “Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children at Amazon.com]

Of all the threats to our freedoms — warrantless snooping, government secrecy, expanded police powers — none worries me more than the relentless march of the Nanny State, which not only assumes that all parents are unfit to raise children, but that parents themselves must be treated like children.

It’s not a stretch to say that this movement considers all children the property of the state. As proof, look at what’s happening in Scotland.

[Also see: Every Child in Scotland to Be Supervised by State-Appointed Busybody – reason.com]

The Scottish government for years has pursued what amounts to state-sponsored surveillance of families. By August 2016 — unless a court or public pressure can stop it — the country will appoint an official state guardian for every child in Scotland. Read the rest of this entry »


“The best whiskey is coming not from Scotland any more, but from Kentucky”

American Bourbon Better than Scottish Whiskey?

bourbonJessica Chasmar reports: Jim Murray, an English writer and one of the world’s top whiskey critics, believes Scottish malt is no match for American whiskey.

“Generally speaking, bourbon … has overtaken Scotch,” he said, according to the Telegraph.

Mr. Murray, who wrote “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible,” argues that Scotland’s decrease in quality whiskey is due to the use of sulphur candles to sanitize some barrels that have been used to age sherry, giving it a “bitter finish.”

Bourbon, however, is aged in virgin oak casks, which do not require sulphur treatment, the Telegraph said.

“The best whiskey is coming not from Scotland any more, but from Kentucky,” he said, adding that Buffalo Trace, a bourbon distillery in Frankfort, Ky., is “arguably the best distillery in the world.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Why Do Libraries Have That Smell?

Greg Friedler/Getty Images

Greg Friedler/Getty Images

Popular Science has the answer: The musty smell is most likely cellulose decay. Since the mid-19th century, when papermakers began using groundwood pulp in place of cotton or linen, most paper has contained an unstable compound called lignin, which breaks down into acids and makes paper very brittle. Since 2001, the Library of Congress has treated at least 250,000 books every year with magnesium oxide. The chemical deacidifies paper and slows decay.

Lorraine Gibson, a chemist at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, runs a project called Heritage Smells that will identify decay in its earliest stages. She is working on a handheld mass spectrometer, a sort of artificial nose that locates the molecules that cause the musty smell.

Molecules move down a flight tube, and the movement through the tube helps identify the mass of the molecule. Once researchers have identified the molecules that speed decay, they can work to stop it.