db’s top 10 most read stories of 2020

From drunk elephants and a whisky-loving Pope to Ryan Reynolds apologising to The Rock, we bring you to our top ten most read news stories of 2020.

10: Ryan Reynolds apologises to The Rock over Aviation acquisition 

In August, actor-turned-spirits investor Ryan Reynolds apologised to fellow actors-turned-spirits moguls George Clooney and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson after selling his gin company for US$610 million to drinks giant Diageo.

Anyone who tried to email the Deadpool star received an automated response stating: “Thanks for your email. I am currently out of the office but will still be very hard at work selling Aviation Gin. For quite a long time, it seems.”

The joke email continued: “I just learned what an ‘earn out’ is… And I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone I told to go f— themselves in the last 24 hours. My lawyers just explained how long it takes to achieve an ‘earn out’… so… turns out I’m not as George Clooney as I thought.”

The actor then listed a series of people he wanted to say sorry to, including wife Blake Lively, Clooney Diageo’s chief executive Ivan Menezes, retailer Total Wine, distributor Southern Glazer’s, his mum, The Rock, and soothing lavender eye pillows.

“To those listed below, I’m sorry… and I’ll indeed be needing your help in the coming months and years. Thanks in advance!”


9: Man fined £8,000 for drinking carrot juice out of beer can

In July a man from High Wycombe was given a £8,000 fine after drinking carrot juice from a Foster’s beer can to “test” the police on their knowledge of the rules in a no-alcohol zone.

33-year-old shopkeeper Alex Snowball was seen drinking from a can of Foster’s lager in the Frogmore area of High Wycombe on 20 December 2018.

A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) was in force in the area at the time, and people spotted drinking in public or holding open containers of alcohol were liable for a fixed penalty notice.

Snowball, who is teetotal, was given a £60 on the spot fine by police officers after he refused to hand over the beer can. Shortly after being given the punishment, Snowball up-ended the can, demonstrating that he had actually been drinking carrot juice.

The police did not revoke the fine. Snowball subsequently refused to pay it, and the case ended up in court.


8: How one winery achieved the impossible with Pinot Noir 

In September our editor-in-chief, Patrick Schmitt, profiled Pinot-focused Chilean estate Cono Sur.

The starting point for Cono Sur’s Pinot journey was a plot of Pinot Noir in a place called Chimbarongo, which is within Chile’s Colchagua Valley – a wine region best known for the quality of its Carmenere-based reds.

Planted in 1968, this is the oldest planting of Pinot Noir in Chile, and the grape was chosen for this area because, at the time, this was the coolest place for new plantings in the country, according to head winemaker Matias Ríos.

Now part of Cono Sur’s Santa Elisa Estate, the Chimbarongo plot of old vines became the inspiration for the winery’s focus on the grape, and its launch in 1999 of ‘the Pinot project’, as it became known.

“At that time everyone in Chile was talking about Cabernet and Merlot, so people thought we were a bit crazy, but thank god we started to do Pinot Noir,” said Ríos, looking back.

Ríos had arrived at Cono Sur in 2003, and this was just after the winery had decided to appoint Burgundy winemaker Martín Prieur from Domaine Jacques Prieur, to help the Chilean operator perfect its Pinots.

The initial changes concerned vineyard management, on the advice of Prieur.

These involved training the vines to make certain there was a broader distribution of the bunches for even ripening, while ensuring the leaves were protecting the berries from direct sunlight to avoid desiccation.

Beyond this, it has been a matter of picking earlier to retain brightness, and, in the winery, managing fermentation temperatures and extraction regimes to avoid leaching harsh tannins into the wine.

Indeed, for Cono Sur’s pricier expressions, such as 20 Barrels and Ocio, everything is done by hand in the winery, with foot-crushing for the grapes, and manual punching down of the must in open top fermentors.

Then, Cono Sur has also moved into new areas for growing Pinot Noir, notably Casablanca, San Antonio and Bio Bio, all of which are cooler than Chimbarongo, but of course can’t compete with the latter region’s 40 year-old vine stock.

Overall, concerning Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, the entry level variant, which sells for around £8 or lower in the UK – where it is the country’s best selling Pinot – Ríos says that “It is possible to make Pinot Noir at this price in Chile.”


7: Pope Francis censored for calling Scotch the real holy water


In April, having already extolled the virtues of wine, Pope Francis was censored by the Vatican church for declaring that whisky is “the real” holy water during a visit to a Roman priest school.

Footage of Pope Francis hailing Scotch as “the real water of life” emerged when the religious leader paid a visit to students at Rome’s Scots College last year.

The visit featured documentary about the Scots College, but the Vatican has censored the Pope’s whisky quip, demanding it was taken out of the film, which is narrated by Daniella Nardini.

Director Tony Kearney followed the Scots seminarians over 18 months in 2018 and 2019, and told the Daily Record one of the students was asked to hand Il Papa a bottle of whisky.

“We filmed the students meeting with the Pope in the Apostolic Palace. One of them was tasked with giving the Pope a bottle of malt, because they know he likes whisky.

“He was really down to earth with them all and when they handed him the bottle, instead of just handing it to his assistant as he normally would with a gift, he held it up and said ‘Questa e la vera acqua santa’, which means ‘This is the real holy water.’

Kearney said the Pope “guffawed with laughter and it was a real ice-breaker with the students and put everyone at ease.”


6: Couple find Prohibition-era whisky hidden in wall of home


In October a couple renovating their home in New York state discovered that what they thought was old insulation were in fact bundles of whisky bottles dating to the 1920s.

Nick Drummond and Patrick Bakker, who were carrying out renovation work on the house in Ames, New York, made the find in early October.

Drummond posted pictures on social media of packages containing bottles of whisky that he found when removing some of the wooden exterior panels of his house. He later found more whisky secreted beneath the floorboards of his mudroom.

“We were told our home was built by a bootlegger but had no idea it could be true. This is crazy,” Drummond wrote on social media.

Drummond and Bakker have so far found 42 bottles of the bootleg liquor hidden in their home. Some of the bottles remain full, while others appear to have been broken while stored.

According to the Montgomery County Daily Gazette, the brown paper bundles were each packed with six bottles of whisky. Each bottle was wrapped in straw, and are labelled ‘Old Smuggler Gaelic Whiskey’ and bottled by the Stirling Bonding Company.


5: Carlsberg launches red beer can for Liverpool FC win

In June Danish brewer Carlsberg released a special edition red beer can to celebrate Liverpool FC’s Premier League victory, with a design that includes players’ signatures.

Carlsberg launched a limited edition ‘Champions Can’ in honour of Liverpool’s historic early victory last night (25 June).

The new release, which also features Liverpool FC’s crest, player signatures and the words ‘Champions, 2020 onwards’, went on sale in 23 countries across the world; with UK fans able to get their hands on the can and a glass chalice through an online giveaway in the coming weeks, the brewer said.


4: South Africa bans alcohol sales again

In August there was relief and joy in the South African drinks industry after President Cyril Ramaphosa (once again) lifted the ban on selling alcohol and said restaurants and bars could re-open.

Sales of alcohol and tobacco were allowed from 17 August, along with a removal of “nearly all restrictions” on economic activities, including the re-opening of the country’s on-trade.

When the news broke, alcohol could sold for home consumption from Monday to Thursday only and no alcohol could be sold or served after 10pm.

Nonetheless, this was good news for South Africa’s drinks industry, and those involved in winemaking most especially, which has had an unpleasant rollercoaster ride through a series of bans imposed, lifted and imposed again as the government there sought to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Back on 26 March South Africa banned both the domestic sale of alcoholic products as well as all wine exports.

The export ban was lifted on 7 April only to be imposed again on 16 April, then re-allowed once more on 1 May.

On 26 May meanwhile, the government announced that retailers could open again and recommence the sale of alcohol for at-home consumption.

The government said shortly afterwards that the change in tack had caused a spike in alcohol related harm and injury which was placing a burden on hospitals at a time when the country seemed to be heading towards peak infections and so sales were banned for a second time on 12 July.


3: Takeaway alcohol sales to be restricted in England


In November, the new national restrictions in England temporarily banned takeaway alcohol sales from hospitality outlets.

However, the UK government soon updates the guidelines, allowing for the sale of alcohol by hospitality outlets during the four-week lockdown in England.

Alcohol was allowed to be sold for consumption off the premises by two different methods:

  • Alcohol purchased for delivery was allowed, and orders could be placed online, by email, text, phone or post.
  • People could also pre-order alcohol and collect it in a vehicle, but had to must remain in their vehicle and not enter the premises.

Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, which include breweries, are considered essential retailers and were permitted to remain open throughout.

Food and drink, but not alcohol, could be collected between 5am and 10pm, but customers were not allowed to enter the premises. After 10pm, it could only be served via delivery or drive-through.


2: Man sells Macallan whisky for £2,700 after buying it for £11


In February, an amateur collector who bought a bottle of Scotch for £11 sold it on at auction for £2,700.

Michael Amphlett from Cholsey, Oxfordshire, bought a bottle of 1937 Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whisky in the late 1970s as a present for his father.

The age statement was a sentimental touch; as 1937 was the year his father moved Didcot as a 19-year-old glove maker, to work in a new factory in the area.

The whisky cost roughly a third of Amphlett’s weekly wages in the 70s, so was saved for a special occasion before eventually being forgotten. Michael’s father passed away in 1991.

Since then, Amphlett uncovered the bottle again but, not having the heart to drink it without his dad, put it up for auction online instead at the start of 2020, despite being a self-confessed “novice when it came to whisky auctions.”

It beat the reserve he placed on it at Whisky.auction, achieving a £2,700 hammer price.


1: 14 elephants get drunk on corn wine and pass out in tea plantation

Our most read story of the year occurred in March, when 14 elephants in China flagrantly flouted calls to self-isolate by wandering into a village, getting drunk on 30 litres of corn wine then passing out in a tea plantation.

According to a post on Epicalyptic‘s Facebook page crediting a tweet by Li Jing, a group of fourteen elephants wandered into a village in the Yunnan province in southwest China.

In search of corn and other foods, the tusked mammals instead stumbled upon 30 litres of corn wine, and proceeded to consume every drop.

The animals were later found drunkenly passed out in a nearby tea garden.

Elephants are known for their fondness for booze, with South African folklore stating that they are especially keen on the fermenting fruit of the marula tree, and gorge themselves on the bright golden berries until intoxicated.

A 1984 study determined that inebriation in elephants occurred at a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05-0.1g to 100ml. The animals have proportionately less blood inside them than humans, meaning that a three-ton elephant would have to consume around 10 litres of alcohol (at 7% ABV) to start acting drunk. The strength of the corn wine in question here, however, is not known.

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