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A Spirited History of Drinking Takes the Stage

Plus, a wine bar for the terminally ill at a French hospital, and a trademark dispute gets Penfolds expelled from over 200 Chinese hotels

Posted: August 14, 2014

• Unfiltered loves the arts almost as much as we love adult beverages. Pair them, and we're there. This week we caught one of the most buzzed-about musical comedies at this year's annual New York International Fringe Festival, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking. Written and performed by Anthony Caporale, director of beverage studies at the Institute of Culinary Education and U.S. brand ambassador for Drambuie (which also sponsors the production), The Imbible takes theatergoers on an occasionally a cappella voyage through time, from the development of grain-fermented beverages in the first agrarian societies to wine production, distillation, Prohibition and modern cocktail culture, not missing a chance to lampoon the modern "speakeasy": "No offense to our current crop of Disneasies," Caporale jests, "but the Average Joe looking for a drink during Prohibition didn’t stroll into a fake storefront, through an elaborate secret entrance, and into some quasi-steampunk fantasy world that looked like a cheap brothel threw up on an expensive library." Caporale told Unfiltered that the script was four years in the making, starting as a Manhattan Cocktail Classic seminar called the Science of Mixology that incorporated comedy sketches and props, but Caporale has worked in the theater even longer than he's worked behind the bar, having appeared in more than 20 plays and musicals, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream at age 8. "The Imbible combines my two passions in a way that I don't think anyone's done before, and to see it work—to bring the story of the beverage industry to a completely new audience in a way that I think is really compelling is so much fun and so gratifying," he said. Caporale hopes to find the play a permanent home, but the current run of The Imbible at the Celebration of Whimsy Theater ends Aug. 23. Tickets, which include three classic cocktails served during the performance, are $18.

• In case you needed more evidence that the French have us beat at the “quality of life” game, Unfiltered has learned of a hospital in Clermont-Ferrand, about 100 miles west of Lyon, that will be installing a wine bar this September for the use of the hospital’s terminally ill patients and their guests. Patients of the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital will be able to enjoy a glass of wine, under medical supervision, in the palliative care wing of the hospital. "Why should we deprive people reaching the end of their lives of the traditional flavors of our land?" Dr. Virginie Guastella, who is head of the hospital, rhetorically asked London's Telegraph. Dr. Guastella hopes that if the wine bar—the first of its kind in France—is well-received (seems like a fine idea to Unfiltered, but times they are a changin’ in France), that other hospitals would institute the practice. She also cites some very important psychological benefits of the wine bar, namely, dignity: the ability to invite one's friends and family over for a social setting (versus the bedside visit) and to offer them a drink, to entertain—seemingly simple things that are all but impossible in a traditional palliative care setting. The bar will be stocked with donated wine, and will also offer beer and whiskey. It will be overseen by staff who have been trained by a social anthropologist on how to handle terminally ill patients.

• Just last month Unfiltered reported on the strange state of Penfolds in China, or Ben Fu if you are a Chinese patent and trademark enforcer. In a move that many are watching closely to see if it starts a domino effect of distancing from the brand in China, the hotel chain InterContinental has removed Penfolds wines from the menus of all 214 hotels it operates in China, citing legal advice. Pending a result in the Chinese courts, many are worried about being added to the suit that alleges Treasury Wines, the rightful owner of the brand Penfolds, could actually be in violation of trademark law in China because a “squatter” has registered the Chinese-language version of the name Penfolds (Ben Fu, loosely translated to mean “chasing prosperity”), which would sound ridiculous to anyone except for the fact that the same individual has pulled an identical move against the French winemaking giant Castel, and won to the tune of more than $5 million. Tim Stanhope, the food and beverage director for InterContinental, told the Australian Financial Review that even vendors who sold the wines in question could be found guilty of trademark violation. “Therefore, in order to play it safe, it’s better that hotels stop selling the wine until there is a court judgment announced.”

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