MONEY Leisure

4 New Ways Movie Theaters Are Filling Seats and Upselling Patrons

People relax in all powered recliner seats at AMC Movie Theater in Braintree.
People relax in all powered recliner seats at an AMC Movie Theater. Jonathan Wiggs—Boston Globe via Getty Images

The next time you go to a movie theater, you may be coaxed into spending a little extra money—perhaps for a beer, a toy your kid is begging for, or the right to watch the film you just saw over and over.

Even with the blizzard of ticket sales for Frozen starting the year, 2014 has been less than stellar at the box office, with a summer of few blockbusters and overall sales that are down 4% compared to last year. In previous years, theaters and movie studios have resorted to raising admission prices (often using IMAX or 3D screenings as a justification) as a way to offset declining ticket sales.

However, fewer 3D films are being released lately—at least partly because theatergoers have come to see the technology as a gimmick not worth paying extra for in an otherwise mediocre movie—so theaters and movie studios have had to become more creative in their efforts to fill seats and upsell patrons. Here are a few of the strategies that have popped up recently:

Unlimited Admission Ticket
AMC Theatres and Paramount Pictures are experimenting right now with a special unlimited admission for Christopher Nolan’s three-hour space epic Interstellar that’ll get customers to turn over an extra $15. Like it sounds, the unlimited admission ticket allows filmgoers to see the movie as many times as they like—which could be quite a few times, considering how confusing some have found it to be. Unlimited tickets are on sale for $19.99 to $34.99, depending on location, or customers can pay $14.99 to upgrade a one-time admission into an unlimited one.

Combo Concessions
To boost revenues, theater concessions stands have increasingly been offering combo packages that generally include popcorn, a drink in a collectible cup, and often some kind of toy or figurine related to the movie such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Transformers: Age of Extinction. The Hollywood Reporter noted these combos cost theaters about $1.50 apiece, and they’re sold to customers for as much as $7.95. As one executive involved in the creation and licensing of such products explained, the natural reaction children have when seeing such combos is to whine until a parent gives in and buys one: “The kid sees another kid with this toy and says, ‘Hey, I want that, too.'” And the popularity of these offers isn’t limited to children, as one theater food service manager said: “We didn’t think we would see 35-year-old guys with collectible cups with little toys on them, but they love them.”

Booze, Food, Recliners… and Wind
To attract more customers and simultaneously squeeze more money out of them at the same time, theaters have been adding or expanding amenities and special features so that going to the movies is much more of an “experience” than sitting at home watching Netflix. Regal Cinemas has been adding luxury recliners to theaters, and plans to have them in as many as 350 locations by 2015. AMC’s Dine-in Theatres program allows patrons at select locations to grab beer and wine, as well as lunch, dinner, or some snacks while taking in a film, sometimes from the comfort of a recliner. In June, the country’s first 4D theater opened in Los Angeles, with artificial wind, fog, scents, and sensor-equipped seats adding another dimension to 3D films.

Gamer Competitions
In October, three Cinemark theaters boasted “multiple sold-out auditoriums” for special screenings that took place in the middle of the night and charged a premium over the usual movie admission. Most curiously, the screening that drew these crowds into the movie theaters wasn’t a movie at all, but a video game competition, the Riot Games League of Legends Championships, which were being held in South Korea and live-streamed at theaters in Texas, Illinois, and Washington.

TIME Addiction

Most People Who Drink Too Much Aren’t Alcoholics

A new report shows that 90% of heavy drinkers are not addicted to alcohol

A new report shows that very few people who drink heavily are actually dependent on alcohol, contrary to some assumptions.

For men, excessive drinking means five drinks in a sitting or 15 over the course of the week; for women, four in a sitting or eight over the week. The survey found that 29% of the population met this criteria, but that 90% of heavy drinkers are not alcoholics.

Health officials believe this is good news for efforts to reduce excessive drinking. Instead of requiring treatment for an addiction, heavy drinkers could be deterred by measures like higher taxes. Excessive drinking causes 88,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.

[NYT]

TIME curiosities

Partying Politics: LIFE Goes to a Republican Women’s Bacchanal

Recalling the night when the Young Women's Republican Club of Milford, Conn., discovered the pleasures of tobacco, poker … and strip tease

“On the evening of May 20,” begins an article in the June 16, 1941, issue of LIFE magazine, “members of the Young Women’s Republican Club of Milford, Conn., explored the pleasures of tobacco, poker, the strip tease and such other masculine enjoyments as had frequently cost them the evening companionship of husbands, sons and brothers.”

Thus the storied weekly and photographer Nina Leen chronicled the shenanigans that erupted when a group of GOP women got together for an old-fashioned “smoker” (noun: an informal social gathering for men only) on one long, memorable night in southern New England.

[See more from LIFE]

TIME Election 2014

Arkansas Could Finally End Prohibition After More Than 80 Years

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to turn the state's dry counties wet

Drop a pin on a map of Arkansas and your chances of finding a stiff drink there are about 50-50. But that could soon change if enough residents vote for a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would open the entire state to beer, wine and liquor sales for the first time since the 1930s.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that allow local municipalities to make their own decisions about selling booze, but only about 10 states actually have dry counties, most of which are in the South. The result is what’s known as “patchwork prohibition,” where the state is divided into wet, dry and even moist (beer and wine only) counties.

The divisions can be confusing, with wet cities occasionally in dry counties and highly-profitable liquor stores almost always parked just across the border from booze-less regions. In Texas, for example, 49 of the state’s 254 counties are wet, 11 are dry and the rest are a combination of wet and dry. Alabama has 25 dry counties, but many cities within them are wet. And in Kentucky’s 120 counties, 39 are dry, 32 are wet and 49 are some combination of the two. No state comes closer to an equal division than Arkansas, where 37 counties are dry and 38 counties are wet.

Opening these dry counties to alcohol sales has become an increasingly popular economic development tool. Several counties in Kentucky have used their “local option” to expand liquor sales in the last couple years, while voters in Alabama’s largest remaining dry city are considering a similar ballot initiative Tuesday as well (the 2012 push failed by close to 400 votes).

Unlike most other votes on the wet/dry issue, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Initiative—which would allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” throughout the state beginning on July 1, 2015—is subject to a statewide vote. That’s because attorney David Couch, the chair of pro-wet group Let Arkansas Decide, found that the number of signatures required for getting the measure on the state ballot was not much more than what it would’ve taken in just the three counties he had initially targeted.

Couch’s main rationale is economic. He cites a University of Arkansas study showing that if Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties were wet—three of the state’s biggest counties, and ones where Walmart has expressed interest in selling booze —they would each generate an additional $12 million to $15 million in annual economic activity. And he estimates the total statewide benefit of going wet at an additional $100 million a year. But Couch has other motives, too.

“These dry counties make my state look kind of backward, and I don’t like that,” he says. “This is a much more modern approach to alcohol regulation.”

The amendment seemed to have signs of support in September. But the opposition appears to have grown in recent weeks. Part of that may be a huge cash infusion from Citizens for Local Rights, a group opposed to the amendment. The organization has raised $1.8 million compared to $200,000 for Couch’s Let Arkansas Decide.

Citizens for Local Rights is backed largely by liquor retailers in wet counties that want to keep out new competition. The Conway County Liquor Association, for example, has given the group $540,000. All six counties surrounding Conway are dry. The amendment has also been criticized by religious leaders wary of making alcohol more available.

Brian Richardson, chairman of Citizens for Local Rights, casts the issue as a matter of regional autonomy—no small claim in a vote that will come down partly to rural turnout. “It’s a badly written, overreaching amendment that guts local communities from being able to make decisions on a local level,” he says. “It’s letting people in the more populous counties determine this.”

Couch says his only poll found majority support for passage, but it was conducted last month. Richardson says his group’s final survey points to partial prohibition remaining in place, with 58% of respondents opposed to the amendment.

“I hate to jinx ourselves,” Richardson says. “But I think we’ll have a decisive victory.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Foods That May Shorten Your Life

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Some foods could actually hurt your chances of growing older

Everyone wants to know the secret to living longer. There’s no telling what exactly helps some people make it to 100, but healthy eating is one thing that sure does help.

Some foods, though, could actually hurt your chances of growing older by messing with components in your cells called telomeres. These little caps on the ends of your chromosomes are key for protecting DNA from damage—many experts compare them to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

Thing is, as your cells replicate, telomeres get shorter over time, according to the University of Utah Health Sciences. As telomeres shorten it can trigger cells to malfunction and die, and shorter telomeres have been linked to conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Research has also shown lifestyle factors including diet can speed up (or slow down) the shortening process, which is sometimes thought of as an “aging clock.”

These four foods can contribute to telomere shortening, so it might be best to limit these eats for a long and healthy life.

Soda

Sugary soda is bad news for telomeres. A recent study of 5,309 adults in the American Journal of Public Health found that a daily 20-ounce serving of soda was associated with 4.6 more years of aging. To put that in perspective, it’s the same amount of aging researchers have linked to smoking. Drinking an 8-ounce soda daily had a smaller impact: it was linked to an additional 1.9 years of aging. While the researchers didn’t find a tie between telomeres and non-sugary diet soda, it might not be any better for you. Research shows that drinking diet soda daily is associated with a 67% greater risk of type 2 diabetes. And artificial sweeteners can increase sugar cravings, too.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Processed meat

Another no-no for telomeres is processed meat, like hot dogs and pepperoni. A 2008 study of 840 people in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effect multiple food groups had on telomere length. Researchers found that people who consumed one or more servings of processed meat each week had shorter telomeres than those who didn’t eat any processed meat.

Red meat

Higher intake of red meat, like hamburgers and steak, has long been associated with heart disease and cancer, and that could be tied to its effect on telomeres. For a study in Clinical Nutrition, rats were fed varying diets of beef or chicken for four weeks. More red meat in the rats’ diet was linked to decreased telomere length in colon cells. Similar findings were shown for the white meat, though red meat had a greater effect. The good news: diets that included resistant starch, a good carb that helps you burn fat, weakened the effect red meat had on telomeres. More reason to fill up on foods rich in resistant starch, including bananas and lentils.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Ways to Age in Reverse

Alcohol

Like red meat, alcohol also gets a bad rap for its connection to chronic health conditions. A study presented at the 2010 American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting found alcohol can speed up telomere shortening, too. Researchers looked at the serum DNA of individuals who abused alcohol (22% had four or more drinks per day) and those with more moderate alcohol use. Telomeres were dramatically shorter in those who drank heavily. In fact, they were half as long as the telomeres of non-abusers (0.41 vs. 0.79 relative units), so it’s a good idea to be mindful of how much you drink.

HEALTH.COM: How Alcohol Affects Your Body

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Food & Drink

The Best Whiskey Bars in America

Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C.
Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Saloon

Toast your next vacation with craft cocktails or a tasting flight at one of these top whiskey bars

Mark Twain once observed, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough”—a philosophy Americans are increasingly taking to heart. In 2013, sales of the heavenly brown liquid outpaced all other spirits, and specialty bars are popping up at an overwhelming rate.

“Five years ago, you could count the good whiskey bars on two hands,” says Lew Bryson, managing editor of Whisky Advocate. “Now it’s impossible to keep up.”

So what makes a whiskey bar stand out from the crowd? A solid selection (at least 50 bottles) is imperative, according to Bryson, as is staff knowledge and enthusiasm. “I want servers who actually drink the stuff,” he says. It’s also promising if a bar hosts a whiskey tasting club, as does L.A.’s Seven Grand.

Some whiskey fans seek out bars stocking an encyclopedic variety, from American small-batch rarities to Japanese single malts. At Seattle’s whiskey emporium Canon, you’re spoiled for choice between a menu that runs more than 100 pages, a selection of tasting flights, and craft cocktails like the Skull and Blackberries (Canon select double rye, dark rum, Rossbacher, blackberry, blueberry smoke).

For others, bourbon is king. And the seat of that kingdom is Kentucky, where the Bluegrass Saloon serves bourbon from nine regional distilleries, including every variety imaginable from companies like Bulleit and Wild Roses.

Bourbon, rye, Scotch—all these types of whiskey are distilled from fermented grain. Yet the flavor can be infinitely affected by variables like type of grain (bourbon legally has to be 51 percent corn, for instance) and the barrel in which it’s aged.

To get the most out of each whiskey’s flavor, Moiz Ali—cofounder of Caskers, a crafts spirits club with hundreds of thousands of members—recommends tasting it neat first. “For high-proof whiskey, I might add a few drops of water or a cube of ice,” he adds. “This helps open up the whiskey’s aromas and flavors, which can be masked behind the high alcohol content.”

As a first pour, we’ve rounded up 16 notable whiskey bars across the nation. While fans will have their own favorites, we can all get behind the meaning of the word whiskey: “water of life” in Gaelic.

Jack Rose Dining Saloon, Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is our nation’s capital, and a visit to Jack Rose may convince you it’s also the center of the whiskey universe. The Adams Morgan saloon serves whiskey on tap and stocks an incredible 1,800 bottles of the golden stuff. Consider a spirit like the 15-year-old Jefferson’s Reserve from the Rare Bottlings collection. You can savor it in the cozy, wood-paneled whiskey cellar, on the open-air terrace, or in the dining saloon itself, where cigars are also on the menu.

The 404 Kitchen, Nashville

Nashville has recently attracted national attention for its food and drink scene. Credit goes to innovators like the 404 Kitchen, located within a 40-foot former shipping container adjacent to the 404 Hotel. Here, whiskey aficionados will find more than 150 varieties, including super-rare spirits from Ireland to Utah—and a sizable collection of Japanese “juice.” Hungry? You’ve come to the right place: 404 is a James Beard Award semifinalist, known for locally sourced Italian-style dishes like delicata squash soup and cornmeal-crusted fluke.

Bluegrass Tavern, Lexington, KY

Since 2009, 2.5 million tourists have traveled the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to tour its nine historic distilleries, including Bulleit and Woodford Reserve. So a Lexington bar better be legit: patrons are guaranteed to know their stuff and expect to be impressed. Bluegrass Tavern comes through with 230 kinds of bourbon, including scarce vintages like Four Roses Limited Single Barrel.

Canon, Seattle

Seattle may be famous for its coffee, but not to the detriment of other vices. Canon, the rainy city’s very own whiskey library, offers the largest selection of American whiskey in the Western Hemisphere. Stacks upon stacks of bottles are piled high to the pressed-tin ceiling, and Canon’s booze book dedicates nine to rare batches alone. Guests can browse old-school bartending books while they wait for a craft cocktail and helping of Angostura-bourbon nuts from the ever-changing menu.

Flatiron Room, New York City

Manhattan’s premiere whiskey destinationcharms patrons with nearly 500 varieties—some accessible only by ladder—as well as highly informed whiskey guides, live jazz music, a swanky setting (plush banquettes, cabaret-style tables, chandeliers), and A-list people-watching. You can even get schooled during one-day classes in its private upstairs room. Just be sure to make your reservation ahead of time. As Flatiron’s website states: “We love our guests. So much so that we are willing to turn some away so the ones inside can best enjoy their experience.”

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME Food & Drink

These Are America’s Most “Haunted” Bars

The Jury Room in Columbus, Ohio.
The Jury Room in Columbus, Ohio Courtesy of The Jury Room

At these historic bars, spirits aren’t just on the drink menu—they’re making noises in dark corners and downing patrons’ glasses

Here’s one way to ensure a bar will be haunted: open it in a former morgue. That’s the case with Captain Tony’s Saloon in Key West, FL, also a former speakeasy, where you may find yourself sipping gin and tonic next to a grave—or a ghost.

“Ghosts tend to go to places they frequented when they were alive,” says California-based Loyd Auerbach, author of A Paranormal Casebook: Ghost Hunting in the New Millennium. “Consequently, places like bars, where people gather for social reasons or for other personal reasons, are often the target sites for the disembodied.”

Every city seems to have a haunted bar and an intriguing story behind it. The ghostly presence can often be traced back to an erstwhile love affair or, sadly, the result of a grizzly murder. In Austin, TX, the victim of a bar fight has been causing mischief at The Tavern for decades, changing the TV channels or banging dishes in the kitchen. And outside of Las Vegas, a gambler killed when caught cheating still roams the poker tables at Pioneer Saloon.

Still, some ghost tales are taller than others. Jim Fassbinder, who leads ghost tours in San Francisco, says: “There’s a bunch of haunted bar stories out there mostly promoted by barkeeps who know a well-told ghost story keeps ’em drinkin’ and gets the barkeep a tip.”

Not so at Stone’s Public House in Massachusetts, where paranormal experts confirmed eerie happenings the owner had noticed. It’s one of our picks for the most haunted bars in the nation—and you might want to consider a nice tip, after all, if you want to keep the resident spirits happy.

The Ear Inn, New York City

The charmingly ramshackle interior of this old sailors’ drinking spot in SoHo is still the preferred haunt of at least one sailor, Mickey. He likes the ladies, as female patrons and employees have complained of being goosed by Mickey. And he also likes his drink; regulars have been perplexed to find pint glasses suddenly empty. In September 2014, there was a ghost sighting by a waitress’s boyfriend. They were sleeping in an upstairs room (the space used to double as an inn), and she woke up in the middle of the night to find him transfixed. When she asked what her boyfriend was doing, he said, “I’m just saying hello to the strange man standing in the corner.”

Captain Tony’s Saloon, Key West, FL

As the site of a former morgue, Captain Tony’s Saloon happens to be one of the few spots you can sip a gin and tonic next to an actual grave. There are, in fact, two here. Oh yeah, there’s also an old tree growing through the roof of the bar; according to legend, it was used to hang criminals. So it’s no wonder that bathroom doors become mysteriously locked on their own or that people regularly feel strange sensations while having a drink here.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, New Orleans

The 18th-century building that houses this Bourbon Street bar is brimming with ghostly intrigue. There’s E.J., who apparently sits at the bar. There’s the woman who sometimes appears in the mirror. And then there’s Jean Lafitte himself, a former pirate who ran a smuggling business here in the 18th century—and who may have used this bar to hide his stolen loot. Patrons have apparently seen his apparition standing in a corner scowling and smelled a trace of his tobacco.

The Jury Room, Columbus, OH

It’s a bold move to build on a former Native American burial ground. Yet that’s where the Jury Room sits. Since 1831, this spot has been popular with drinkers, including the spectral kind. Regulars and employees have talked of seeing a tall shadowy man roaming the premises. Workers claim that objects regularly fly off of shelves, and one person even saw a pitcher of beer being poured by itself.

The Brass Rail, Hoboken, NJ

When a bride-to-be tripped at the top of the steps and died after breaking her neck, she ushered in a ghostly era for this Hoboken bar. Since the incident in 1904, employees have regularly seen a lady in white hovering near the steps. Note to any betrothed couples: don’t get married here.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME Addiction

The Genetic Reason Why Some Drinkers Can’t Stop

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Chris Clor—Getty Images/Blend Images

A new study in mice looks at the link between genetics, alcohol and the brain

Around 10% of people will develop alcohol disorders, and a new study in mice shows that having a specific genetic strand might be the reason some escalate from moderate to excessive drinkers.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco showed that moderate drinking activates a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which might protect against drinking too much.

In the new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they study what happens when that threshold into excessive drinking is crossed. When mice consumed generous amounts of alcohol for a long period of time—mimicking the human act of binge drinking—their levels of the protective protein BDNF decreased significantly in a part of their brains where decision-making occurs. One possible reason for this decline, the scientists discovered, was a corresponding increase in genetic material microRNA, including miR-30a-5p.

When the researchers increased miR-30a-5p in the mice brains themselves, BDNF went down and mice wanted to drink more, preferring alcohol to water. When the scientists inhibited the miR-30a-5p, the brains returned to normal, and so did the drinking behaviors of the mice.

Though mice studies can’t translate directly to humans, the researchers think a similar situation may be happening in human brains during alcohol consumption, and that perhaps certain people are genetically susceptible, as other research has also suggested. The researchers hope their findings will provide better data for alcoholism therapies.

TIME Food & Drink

7 Beers to Try This October

Beers
Getty Images

Prost, folks!

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Oktoberfest, originally a celebration honoring the marriage of German nobles, has become virtually synonymous with brews. In past years, the event has drawn a whopping seven million visitors and served almost two million gallons of beer over the span of 16 or 17 days.

(MORE: The Boozy Secret To A DIY Ombré Dye)

That’s a lot of suds. Stateside, Oktoberfest also seems to reinforce that imminent seasonal shift in beer tastes, especially when it comes to what’s on tap. Hoppy IPAs and super-crisp pilsners are swapped out for maltier fare, and just as pumpkin spice lattes fill Starbucks cups nationwide, so, too, do pumpkin ales fill our pint glasses. So, in seeking to honor Oktoberfest (as well as the changing of the seasons), we tapped, poured, tipped, and sipped in order to bring you autumn’s best beers — including a traditional German Oktoberfest, a not-so-traditional California style, and that fall favorite, pumpkin ale. Prost, folks!

(MORE: Young America’s Vices: Beer, Fast Food, & Coffee)

  1. Left Hand Oktoberfest
    Brewed in Denver, Left Hand’s top-notch Oktoberfest plays beautifully right alongside the more traditional German brews. On the nose, you’ll find sweet, orange-peel notes, but this Märzen is toasty through and through, with a super-smooth finish.
  2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company Oaktoberfest
    Yes, this is an Oktoberfest from California (the oak in the name pays homage to the brewery’s home in Paso Robles, or “pass of the oaks”). But that doesn’t mean this beer can’t hang with its Bavarian brethren. It’s malty, toasty, ever so subtly hoppy, but not at all heavy — just like an Oktoberfestbier should be.
  3. Weihenstephaner Korbinian
    While this doppelbock (a dark, full-bodied lager) may not pour at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, Weihenstephan (reportedly the oldest brewery in the world) still adheres to the German Berr-Purity Law of 1516. This brew is going to be the heaviest of the bunch, with exceptionally rich, toasty malts; beautiful, fruity flavors; and a smooth finish.
  4. Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale
    Of course, no fall beer list is complete without a pumpkin ale. Typically, though, these brews are too sweet or heavy for those looking to throw back a second round. Captain Lawrence’s version turns down the volume on the sweetness, pumpkin, and spice, leaving you with an autumnal beer that’s easy-drinking, surprisingly refreshing, and a solid option for this early fall weather.
  5. Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen
    It doesn’t get more traditional than Spaten’s Oktoberfest. The brewery is one of only six permitted to serve up their suds at Munich’s annual fest, which requires that all Oktoberfestbier conform to the beer- purity regulation Reinheitsgebot, dictating that no brew can be made from ingredients other than water, barley, hops, and yeast. This beer is light, with toasty malt, and finishes with a slight, hoppy bite — the perfect way to greet the season.
  6. Bell’s Best Brown Ale
    Here’s how to get your malt with a little extra oomph. This English brown ale has those same smooth, toasty qualities as the Oktoberfest beers, but you’ll find a bit more depth and complexity with this style. Notes of cocoa and even some blackberry come out to play here, but nothing in this beer overwhelms the palate.
  7. Ommegang Rare Vos
    Malty beers come out in full force this season, but if you’re seeking something that still has an autumnal vibe but doesn’t make you feel like you’re drinking bread-beer, Ommegang’s Belgian pale ale is your go-to. The floral hops are mellowed by the Belgian yeast, and the whole brew has a slightly spicy, somewhat-fruity quality. It’s a lovely, crisp beer, perfect for warmer fall days, or that late-October chill.

(MORE: A Hilarious Takedown Of Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Tweets)

TIME Cancer

Smoking and Drinking Raise Your Risk for Oral HPV

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Research sheds new light on HPV risk factors

Your favorite health vices—smoking and drinking—may pave paths to HPV, two new studies find.

A new study published in a research letter in JAMA looked at detailed health profiles from 6,887 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Those people with higher levels of biomarkers for tobacco exposure in their blood and urine also tended to have a higher prevalence of oral HPV type 16. That’s a strain that causes more than 90% of HPV-related oropharyngeal—or throat—cancers, says study co-author Dr. Gypsyamber D’Souza, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

(By the way, you can only get oral HPV through intimate oral contact—not by sharing forks or kisses on the cheek, D’Souza says. It’s unclear whether French kissing, when you’re actually exchanging saliva, also does the trick.)

The main causes of throat cancers are tobacco, alcohol and HPV, she says, but since tobacco use has declined in the U.S., HPV is becoming an increasingly important player.

“HPV is the primary causal agent of HPV-related oral cancer,” D’Souza says, and most people clear the infections on their own. “But these results suggest that tobacco may make these infections less likely to clear, and therefore smokers may have a higher risk of eventually developing oropharyngeal cancers.”

The increased risk doesn’t only come from smoking cigarettes: the researchers found an association with oral HPV-16 and tobacco exposure in general, even at very low levels indicative of secondhand smoke. People who were current tobacco users had more cases of oral HPV-16 than former users or people who had never used it.

The good news is that the HPV vaccine protects against HPV type 16, and though it hasn’t been definitively shown yet to protect against oral infection, some data suggest that it does, D’Souza says.

In other HPV-related news, a separate questionnaire study on 1,313 men published earlier this month in BMJ found that men who reported drinking more alcohol tended to also have higher levels of HPV. In fact, the biggest drinkers in the study had 69% of HPV prevalence vs 57% among the men who drank the least. (For HPV types that may increase the risk of cancer, those numbers were 35% vs 23%.)

Neither study could definitively point to a cause or mechanism, but studies have shown that smoking and drinking have immunosuppressive effects, which can promote inflammation and infection.

“What this adds to the story is an understanding of one reason why people who have not had very heavy sexual history, people who’ve had one lifetime partner . . . develop these cancers,” D’Souza says. “This cross-sectional study suggests that in some people tobacco use might be an explanation.”

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