MONEY Travel

Unlimited Free Booze! Tropical Cruise Includes Alcohol, No Extra Charge

Norwegian Sky
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Sky

One major travel company is shaking up the way cruises are priced: All passengers get to enjoy all-you-can-drink beverages—beer, wine, and spirits included—for the whole cruise, without having to pay extra.

Norwegian Cruise Line sure does seem to want to woo heavy drinkers aboard its ships. Or at least passengers who don’t want to have to pause and think about the cost of each and every beverage they’re consuming.

Last summer, the company introduced an all-you-can-drink beverage option on a limited-time basis, in which passengers could partake in unlimited beer, wine, and spirits for a flat few hundred bucks extra. This week, the company introduced a new all-inclusive cruising package, in which all passengers aboard certain Norwegian Sky departures can enjoy unlimited alcohol at no extra charge. The new policy takes effect starting in January 2016, only on Sky three- and four-day sailings from Miami to the Bahamas.

Normally, cruise prices cover only the cost of a cabin, buffet meals, and some entertainment, and guests are charged extra for most beverages. Cruises attract people who want to relax and cut loose, so alcohol tends to be a huge revenue stream for operators.

What can happen, however, is that newcomers and experienced cruisers alike get turned off by the idea of getting nickel-and-dimed—at exorbitant, sports arena-type prices, mind you—for each drink they have. So it’s easy to see the appeal of Norwegian’s new policy, which is truly more in line with the original pitch for cruising as a mode of vacation: that of a hassle-free, all-inclusive, value-laden experience in which customers could board ships and never have to touch their wallets or worry about much of anything.

While at this time it’s only limited to one ship and short cruises, Norwegian’s more all-inclusive pricing structure will “strongly differentiate us from our competitors,” explained Norwegian president and COO Andy Stuart. He expects the change to appeal in particular to the all-important pool of people who have never been on cruises: “The three- and four-day market is an important market for us and is a market we introduce a lot of new people to cruising, and we’re excited about the prospects of going all-inclusive.”

Let’s not be naïve, however, and think that Norwegian would simply throw free booze into the package without upping the price of cruising. Stuart admitted, vaguely, that Norwegian is increasing prices “a bit” on these all-inclusive sailings. What does that mean exactly?

Answering that question with any degree of precision is more difficult than one might hope because cruise pricing in general is so muddled. How much you pay varies based on when you book, choice of cabin and extras, how you book (broker or directly?), availability, the season and exact dates when you’re traveling, choice of destination and ship, and so on.

For some indication of how much extra Norwegian is charging for its drinks-included Norwegian Sky cruises, we looked at rates in December 2015 and January 2016—immediately before and after the pricing change goes into effect. Four-day cruises from Miami to the Bahamas in early December are currently starting at a rate of $209 per person (not including port charges, taxes, and other extras), based on prices listed at Norwegian’s website. The cheapest rate in January, on the same ship with the same itinerary, starts at $339.

That’s a difference of $130, or $32.50 per day for a four-day cruise. Considering how pricey booze is on cruises—maybe $6 for a beer, $9 per glass of wine—it will be easy for many cruisers to come away feeling that the new pricing offers better value. But what if you’re traveling with children or adults who are content with a single glass of wine at dinner, or who don’t drink at all? If, on average, everyone in your party wouldn’t otherwise be compiling a bar tab of $130 or more during the course of the cruise, you’d probably be better offer sticking with a cruise with more traditional a la carte pricing.

That equation is oversimplifying things because, as mentioned above, cruise pricing is a moving target that’s impossible to nail down. Norwegian hinted that all-inclusive cruises could prove so popular that they’ll drive prices higher, which would change the math on which pricing model represents the best value for the individual cruiser. “We expect that this will increase demand, which—as you know—will drive bookings and ultimately price,” a company PR spokesperson said to Cruise Critic.

TIME Addiction

Here’s Where Americans Binge-Drink the Most

A new study breaks down the numbers by county

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are on the rise in the U.S., but the average amount Americans drink varies greatly by region, according to a new study.

Ten years of research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, breaks down the data by county, observing adults 21 and over who binge-drink — imbibing at least five drinks in one sitting for a man; four for a woman — and those who drink heavily, defined as more than two drinks a day for a man; and more than one for a woman.

Binge-drinking is highest in Menominee County, Wisc., the least populated in the state. Heavy drinking is highest in Esmeralda County, Nev, likewise the least populous in that state. Madison County, Idaho has the lowest levels of binge-drinking, and Hancock County, Tenn.—one of the state’s ‘dry counties’ where the sale of alcohol is prohibited—has the lowest levels of heavy drinking.

Members of affluent communities are the most likely to have at least one drink per month, the study found, while members of poor communities are most likely to binge or drink heavily.

[USA Today]

TIME Alcohol

Teens Who Watch Boozy Movies Are More Likely to Drink, Study Finds

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, red wine, alcohol
Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

There may be a dark side to Bridget Jones' cute coping sequences

Watching James Bond elegantly guzzle that martini may be having adverse effects on adolescents. A new study from the journal Pediatrics found that 15-year-olds who have watched more alcohol being consumed in films than their peers are more likely to have tried alcohol, more likely to binge drink and more likely to have alcohol-related problems.

“Alcohol is a drug and it has potentially adverse effects, not only for individuals but also for family and friends,” says lead author Andrea Waylen, a lecturer in social sciences at the University of Bristol. “It’s not very often that we see the adverse effects of alcohol portrayed—like vomiting, rotten hangovers,” she adds. “In my view, we don’t really get an accurate representation of what alcohol is like.”

The new paper used data from a longitudinal study in the United Kingdom that surveyed 5,163 15-year-olds on a wide variety of topics. They were asked about their drinking habits and whether they had seen a random selection of 50 popular films, from Bridget Jones’ Diary to Aviator. Waylen and her colleagues used those answers to quantify their exposure to drinking by adding up the minutes in each film that showed alcohol use. (The original study was done in the mid-2000s, when those movies were hot off the reel.)

After controlling for factors ranging from parents’ alcohol use to gender and social class, the researchers found that the kids who had been exposed to the most cinematic swilling were 20% more likely to have tried alcohol and 70% more likely to binge drink. They were more than twice as likely to have a drink more than once per week and to suffer from alcohol-related problems, such as encounters with the police or letting their drinking interfere with school and work.

The recommendation of Waylen and her colleagues is that film ratings take into account heavy drinking; such films, Waylen suggests, would then be more likely to be rated for adults only. In the study, she notes that between 1989 and 2008, 72% of the most popular box office films in the United Kingdom depicted drinking but only 6% were classified as adult only.

A review of top-grossing American films conducted in 2009 found that 49% of PG-13 rated films and 25% of PG-rated films showed more than two minutes of alcohol use. The study concluded that the current rating system was not adequate for parents trying to limit their kids’ exposure to drinking (or smoking, for that matter).

Similar studies conducted in the U.S. and Germany have found connections between kids watching boozing in film and then drinking in real life. Other studies have found similar associations for risky behavior like tobacco use, dangerous driving and early sex.

“My guess is that there needs to be a level of identification with the drinker in the film,” Waylen says. And she believes kids are more likely to identify with consuming characters “in films where alcohol use is made to look cool, get you friends, win the girl or boy.”

Her conclusion is that the officials rating movies need to take demure sips of wine and rowdy spring break chugging contests more seriously. “Adverse outcomes from alcohol use are a large societal public health problem,” the study concludes, “and rating films according to alcohol content may reduce problem-related alcohol use and associated harm in young people.”

TIME Addiction

What Binge Drinking During Adolescence Does to the Brain

A new study in rats underlines the consequences of underage drinking

Binge drinking during adolescence may interfere with brain development and have lasting consequences on genes and behavior, a new study in rats shows.

In the study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, the researchers mimicked adolescent binge drinking in a population of rats, in order to see how the alcohol affected their brains. The rats, which were 28 days old, were given alcohol for two days in a row and then abstained for two days, alternating for nearly two weeks. Some of the rats in the study were observed into adulthood.

The researchers discovered that the rats that binge drank when they were younger, preferred alcohol to water when they were older and displayed more anxiety-like behaviors compared to rats that didn’t drink. The researchers also noted epigenetic changes in the brains of the rats (changes to DNA caused by chemicals or environmental substances, like alcohol). The researchers believe that some of the rats’ behavior could be explained by these brain changes.

Though the study was in rats and not in humans, the researchers believe it suggests some of the possible effects of adolescent drinking on growing brains, and underlines the potential lasting consequences.

The researchers also found that a cancer drug was able to reverse some of these effects, which may hint at a possible treatment. One of the study authors has a patent pending related to the drug.

TIME consumer goods

This Is About to Become Your Favorite New Drink

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Chris Stein—Getty Images

Interest in premium brands is on the rise

Bacardi is jumping onto the bourbon bandwagon with its acquisition of a premium Kentucky distiller. But the bandwagon it has been riding since 1862 is picking up speed itself: Even as volume sales of rum are expected to decline, dollar sales are expected to grow, according to a new report, thanks mainly to rising interest in premium brands.

Bacardi on Monday announced it would acquire the maker of Angel’s Envy bourbon, giving the fourth-largest spirits maker its first foothold on the bourgeoning American bourbon market. The brand is owned by Angel’s Share Brands and Louisville Distilling Co. Its flagship port-finished bourbon is among the fastest-growing brands in a market that has seen eye-popping growth: total bourbon sales have increased 35% in the United States over the past five years, and 50% worldwide.

Bacardi is late to the party. It owns the staid, mainstream Dewar’s Scotch, and some whisky-based liqueurs, but until now has had no bourbon brands or any American whiskeys of any kind. But the bourbon trend doesn’t seem to be abating, and though Angel’s Envy is expected to move just 65,000 cases this year (not bad for a company launched in 2011), the company is building a new distillery in Louisville to be completed in 2016. That will take capacity to 800,000 cases.

Meanwhile, rum might be the new bourbon, as drinkers worldwide continue to seek out higher-end hooch. While total volume is expected to fall by about 1.7% between this year and 2014, most of that shrinkage will be at the low end of the market, according to a new report from just-drinks/IWSR Insights. Leaving the cheap stuff out of the equation, volumes will increase by more than 5.5 million cases, to 64.5 million, all of it premium priced.

Just as with premium and small-batch bourbons, “aspirational drinkers” are driving these trends. Rum has been somewhat late to the game because it has had to overcome its image as the booze of frat-boy party monsters and Jimmy Buffett fans. But the industry, most definitely including Bacardi itself, has been working to change that image through — and this is a word uttered entirely seriously by industry people — “premiumization.” Bacardi in 2013 vowed to “premiumitize” the whole rum category, with particular attention to premium brands as well as flavored varieties and spiced rums, all of which have seen sales take off over the past couple of years.

Not that rum will necessarily displace bourbon and other craft whiskeys in terms of cultural cachet. But drinkers are bolting for the high end across all categories. Still, rum has its work cut out for it. In 2014, Ed Pilkington, head of global marketing for Diageo’s vodka, rum, and gin brands, declared that rum had “lost its soul,” and had “fallen behind,” thanks to those aforementioned frat boys.

At the same time, rum was taking off in Europe, even as sales were slowing just about everywhere else. Those trends, according to the new report, are now spreading elsewhere, thanks in part to introductions of products like Bacardi’s high-end Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron, as well as flavored rum’s like its Bacardi Mango Fusion.

MONEY Food & Drink

Self-Serve Craft Beer Is Coming, and It Might Even Save You Money

DraftServ beer machine, Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rob Carr—Getty Images DraftServ beer machine, Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A beer-pouring innovation is spreading to bars, restaurants, and sports venues, allowing beer drinkers to handle the taps themselves, and to pour—and pay for—exactly the amount of brew they want.

Beer drinkers, rejoice. The tyranny of being restricted to ordering brews in 12 oz., pint, or perhaps yard sizes is coming to an end. So is the necessity of actually having to speak to a bartender and ask him to do you the favor of filling your glass.

A “craft casual hot dog concept” chain based in California called Dog Haus will soon have self-service beer stations available to customers in two locations. Pour-your-own, pay-by-the-ounce beer using a technology called iPourIt is expected to be an option in the Santa Ana restaurant by the end of the month, with the Dog Haus in Fullerton coming on board by early summer.

The station will feature interactive touch screens where customers will be able to choose among what’s on tap from small SoCal brewers such as Cismontane, Noble Ale Works, and The Bruery. The way it works with the iPourIt system is that—after showing ID to prove they’re at least 21, of course—customers preload money on a card used to purchase beer they pour themselves. Prices are listed by the ounce rather than the glass, so patrons only pay for exactly the amount they want. “This system gives customers the opportunity to customize their drinking experience whether that means pouring a number of 1oz samplers or filling a 16oz pint to wash down their dog,” a Dog Haus press release stated.

“Now we’re able to take the beer and put it in the outside dining room, much like people have been doing for years with sodas,” Dog Haus cofounder Quasim Riaz explained to QSRMagazine.com. There are restrictions on how quickly you can pour and throw back your brew, however. “We’re not going to let someone walk up and just order $100 of beer,” Riaz said. “That’s not at all how the system works.”

Exact pricing and beer-pouring limits for Dog Haus aren’t released yet. A similar concept of self-serve beer stations made its debut at Target Field in Minnesota around the time the stadium hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last July. Those machines, from a company called DraftServ, featured Budweiser and Bud Light for 38¢ per ounce and fancier Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned brews from the likes of Goose Island for 40¢ per ounce. (Respectively, that adds up to $6.08 and $6.40 for a 16oz self-poured pint, which actually seems reasonable for the ballpark.) Customers load money onto cards in advance to pay for their brew, and they’re limited to pouring no more than 48 ounces every 15 minutes.

Lambeau Field and Miller Park, both in Wisconsin, introduced self-serve beer stations with Miller brews on tap last fall as well.

Meanwhile, iPourIt seems to be the self-service system of choice for bars, restaurants, and festivals featuring independent craft brews. The traveling Beer Haven mini-festival is making the rounds at larger events, such as the ongoing Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, and it includes an iPourIt station where drinkers load money in $20 increments onto wristbands used to pay for beer by the ounce. “When you’re done, you’ll get a printout of every beer you drank, perfect to save as a tasting-notes cheat sheet,” the Miami New Times reported. A new bar opening this summer in Denver called First Draft will also feature craft beers via the iPourIt system, making it the city’s first eatery with self-serve beer.

Attendees of the 2013 Los Angeles County Fair got an especially early look at iPourIt. At the time, prices were set around 62¢ for 20 different craft brews on tap, for a pricey $10 or so per pint. But as an iPourIt rep explains in the video below, paying by the ounce can be cheaper: “You can go and taste a little bit and not get charged for a whole beer.”

As for why restaurants, bars, and ballparks are intrigued with self-serve beer, one NBC Sports reporter succinctly summed up two of the biggest reasons while testing out the technology at Target Field last summer:

I figure the twin-draw of this technology for the ballparks is that (a) in the long run they will save money on having to pay people to draw beer for customers; and (b) they figure people will buy more beer thanks to the novelty of it.

As if people need an excuse to drink more beer at the ball game.

TIME Food & Drink

Calorie Count Coming Soon to a Can of Guinness Near You

Pints of Guinness at Gravity Bar at Guinness Storehouse.
Richard I'Anson—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images Pints of Guinness at Gravity Bar at Guinness Storehouse.

Diageo is adding the information to many of its products

The largest alcohol company in the world is preparing to add calorie counts to many of its best-selling brands.

Diageo announced Thursday that the nutritional information would begin to appear on bottles, the Wall Street Journal reports, and the first brand to get labeled will probably be Smirnoff. The new policy will take hold in the next few months, and will likely affect lines like Johnnie Walker and Guinness as well.

Whether the new labels will stop anyone from ordering another vodka soda remains to be seen. A 2013 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon found that displaying calorie counts and recommendations in restaurants did not have an impact on consumer choice.

[WSJ]

MONEY Food & Drink

Our Love for Craft Beer Hits New Heights

Samuel Adams at Oktoberfest during the New York City Wine & Food Festival
Cindy Ord—Getty Images for NYCWFF Samuel Adams at Oktoberfest during the New York City Wine & Food Festival

Craft beer production was up an impressive 42% last year, and for the first time ever, craft brews account for more than 10% of all beer sales in the U.S.

A new report from the American Brewers Association shows that craft beer sales rose 18% by volume and 22% in dollars in 2014, while overall U.S. beer sales inched up just 0.5%. What’s more, craft beer has hit double digits in terms of market share for the first time, reaching 11% of all beer sales by volume.

For a little perspective about how quickly craft beer is being embraced by the masses, note that the category accounted for only 5% of all American beer sales in 2010. The number of U.S. breweries has skyrocketed over the years as well, from about 1,500 in 2008, to around 2,000 breweries in 2011, on upwards to nearly 3,500 today, including more than 600 new ones opened just last year.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as one that is small, independent, and traditional. The guidelines mean that Samuel Adams is indeed a craft brew—the company produces fewer than 6 million barrels annually, which is the cutoff for being considered “small”—while beer labels such as Blue Moon and Shock Top are not because they are owned, respectively, by beer giants MolsonCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Such seemingly craft brews are often categorized, derisively, as “crafty” beer brands because the labels underplay or completely hide the fact that they’re owned and produced by the world’s biggest beer companies.

The Big Beer vs. Craft Beer battle has periodically grown testy over the years. Most recently, a Budweiser ad mocking craft beer aired during the Super Bowl in an attempt to revamp its stale image and boost flagging sales. The strategy seemed puzzling to many because Bud’s corporate parent has been buying craft beer brands left and right, while also pushing Budweiser offshoot brands that are supposedly more sophisticated and should therefore appeal to craft beer fans.

In any event, when you look at shrinking sales for macrobrew standards like Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, and Budweiser on the one hand, and soaring sales for the craft beer segment on the other, it’s pretty clear which side is winning the battle for drinkers’ dollars.

MORE: Monks, the Original Hipster Entrepreneurs, Make Some of the World’s Best Craft Beer

MONEY Food & Drink

5 Weird Ways to Consume Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day

The Guinness Float
Martin Burns—Flickr Creative Commons The Guinness Float

To haul in the green on March 17, restaurants, bakeries, and bars roll out all sorts of strange Guinness-infused foods.

The best way to enjoy a Guinness Stout is the traditional one: Just drink it by the pint, after it’s been poured perfectly from the tap, of course.

For some people, however, being limited to merely drinking Guinness doesn’t cut it. That goes doubly around St. Patrick’s Day, when revelers—not to mention chefs, restaurant owners, and marketers—go looking for creative new methods for consuming Ireland’s favorite alcoholic beverage. The Internet is loaded with recipes incorporating Guinness far beyond a basic lamb stew that you can try out in your own kitchen. You can also check out some of the unusual Guinness-flavored creations that appear on restaurant menus right about now, such as these:

Guinness Pizza: $13
Frasca’s Pizzera & Wine Bar in Chicago offers a Guinness pizza on the menu exactly once a year—St. Patrick’s Day. The crust, which incorporates Guinness for flavor, is thin, and the pizza comes with bacon, roasted onions, potatoes, and a sunny-side up egg on top. Interestingly, there’s also a restaurant franchise called Guinness Pizza, based in Brazil.

Guinness Cupcake: $3.25
There are hundreds of options on the menu of the Yummy Cupcakes franchise, including one with Guinness used in the batter, glaze, and whipped cream, with green sprinkled sugar to top it off. Fresh Cupcakes in South Carolina, meanwhile, serves its limited-time-only Guinness cupcake with Bailey’s cream cheese icing.

Guinness Burger: $11
The faux Irish restaurant-pub chain Bennigan’s puts a Guinness glaze on a burger served with fried onions, cheddar cheese, and Applewood smoked bacon.

Guinness Donut: $3 and Up
Donut makers have created seemingly every random flavor under the sun, and yes, that includes adding Guinness Stout to the mix. Dynamo Donut & Coffee in San Francisco has a seasonal Molasses Guinness donut, which includes Guinness-poached pears and a Guinness glaze. The Frozen Kuhsterd food truck in California has come up with a Guinness Pear Dynamo Donut Sandwich. BLD Restaurant in Los Angeles has been known to make Guinness Caramel donuts, though lately the Irish donut of choice is the Jameson Chocolate; the dessert menu features Guinness ice cream pie ($8) and Guinness milk shakes ($10) as well.

Guinness Ice Cream Float: $10
Among other places to find a hint (or more) of Guinness incorporated into ice cream, the Lobby Lounge inside the JW Marriott in Chicago is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by offering a vanilla bean and Guinness ice cream float with an Irish soda bread cookie on the side.

MONEY Food & Drink

You’ll Be Able to Get Drunk on Powdered Alcohol Soon

150311_EM_PowderedAlcohol
Getty Images

The maker of Palcohol—alcohol in powder form, so basically Kool-Aid that will get you drunk —says that it has gotten federal approval and will go on sale to the public as soon as this summer.

A controversial powdered alcohol called Palcohol made a splash in the news last spring, when word spread—prematurely, as it now turns out—that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) had approved the product for sale. The TTB quickly stated that it issued approval in error, and that Palcohol was not approved.

This week, though, Lipsmark, the company that owns Palcohol, said that it has officially gotten the OK. Palcohol “is now legal to be sold in the United States. We will be working on getting the production facility up and running. It will take a while but hopefully it will be available this summer,” a company announcement stated.

According to the Associated Press, the four Palcohol products that have been approved for sale by federal agencies are powdered, just-add-water versions of a cosmopolitan and a margarita (dubbed the “Powderita”), as well as plain old vodka and rum. A Lemon Drop powder is supposed to be approved soon as well.

Palcohol’s FAQ page explains that the powder, “when used as directed, by adding six ounces of liquid to it, is equal to a standard mixed drink.” The page also points out that Palcohol is gluten free, and that each bag of powder is about 80 calories.

The plan is to market Palcohol to travelers and outdoors enthusiasts, among other groups who might like the idea of having some on-the-go booze without dealing with heavy and bulky bottles full of liquid. Palcohol might also be added to foods in order to make “adult” versions of, say, ice cream. But the secret ingredient doesn’t change the taste. “When you add Palcohol to food, you’re not really adding flavor to the dish, just alcohol,” the Palcohol site states.

That special quality, however, has prompted some into thinking powdered alcohol should be banned outright. Just this week, on the same day Palcohol announced that it had gotten federal approval, a state senator in Pennsylvania pushed to make powdered alcohol illegal in the state, partially due to fears that it’s easy to hide and consume and could be sprinkled onto food, increasing the odds that it would be abused by kids. Colorado, New York, and Ohio are among the other states that have taken steps to ban Palcohol before it is even approved for sale.

Palcohol claims that states are taking preemptive strikes against it “because the liquor industry is against it and they want to squash competition and protect their market share. The liquor companies have lots of money to lobby for what they want and we are no match for their deep pockets.”

The makers of Palcohol say that banning it will create a black market, perhaps making it even easier for underage kids to buy some. They also point out that there are many misconceptions about the product. For instance, tempting as it might seem, snorting powdered alcohol is not worth the trouble: “It’s painful to snort due to the alcohol,” the FAQ explains. “Second, it’s impractical. It takes approximately 60 minutes to snort the equivalent of one shot of vodka. Why would anyone do that when they can do a shot of liquid vodka in two seconds?”

Why indeed.

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