drinksConsumers might be pinching pennies when it comes to some dining-out choices, but they’re not shy about spending more for a pre-dinner cocktail or wine to go with a meal, according to studies by Restaurant Sciences.

Spirit prices increased between 4.5% and 11% in the six months through April at eateries where the average check is $40 and at high-end restaurants where the tab totals $90 or more, according to one study, while bars, nightclubs and family-dining chains haven’t seen a similar bump. The report cites a combination of mild price taking by independent eateries and increased demand by consumers for premium spirits and experimental cocktails.

A look at wine sales shows a steady increase in prices, with family-dining chains booking the biggest jump, followed by fine-dining establishments. That increase stems from a shortage, coupled with increased demand as wineries work to win over more young people, the Chicago Tribune reports. Worldwide, wine production fell to its lowest level since 1975 last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Bad weather that damaged grape crops in key winemaking markets, including France and Italy, drove down volume. Winemakers were expected to turn out 6.4 billion to 6.7 billion gallons in 2012, down from 7 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, craft beer’s star continues to shine. Growth stayed strong during the recession and its aftermath, and casual restaurant chains such as Chili’s Grill & Bar and Keystone Bar & Grill are finding ways to tap into the trend, Nation’s Restaurant News reports.

Also on tap

Craft-brewing success story Mitch Steele started Stone Brewing in 1996. Today, the company ships to 37 states and books annual growth of 43%, according to a Las Vegas Weekly interview. “I think when there’s good local beer, people are going to gravitate toward that. … We’re seeing an explosion in the number of breweries that are opening right now, and it’s been very interesting to watch,” Steele says.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a beer

Digital Trends reports on techies trying to perfect a drone that will deliver not bombs but beer. The gadget from a team working with the OppiKoppi Music Festival in South Africa is hand-guided by remote control, but the developers aim to eventually automate it using a GPS grid.

Last call

Anheuser-Busch InBev will roll out a promotional batch of LandShark Lager with a label featuring the Zac Brown Band, paying homage to the country group that so often sings of brew, CNBC reports.

Image credit: esolla, via iStockphoto

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