They call them the Three Bs, and they are getting more expensive.
According to a recent story in Marker, an online publication covering business and culture, the Three Bs are bourbon, brisket and barbecue, and the reason they are rising so precipitately in price is they are frequently featured on the Food Network.
Supply, meet demand. Cause, meet effect.
The article that this particular theory appears in is actually about how corned beef became associated with Ireland only after Irish immigrants came to America and began mixing with neighborhood Jews, who were already making inroads into the world of corned beef and pastrami.
The man who proposes the Three Bs theory, which is only a tangential part of the story, is Ryan Chapp, vice president of E.W. Grobbel Sons, the company that owns United Meat and Deli. United Meat is the company that makes a good portion of the country's Jewish and Irish styles of corned beef (Jewish is mildly spiced with garlic and onion; Irish is heavily spiced with cloves, mustard seed and pickling spices).
In other words, Chapp knows corned beef. And he knows the wholesale price of brisket — the beef part of corned beef — went up nearly 20 percent from May 2018 to May 2019. And that was before the price shot up even more because of COVID-related shutdowns.
Brisket used to be cheap. It's a tough, tough cut of meat that only becomes edible (wonderfully, sublimely edible) after a long period of time at a low temperature. Even corned beef needs to cook for 45-50 minutes per pound.
But now the price of brisket has gone up so much it is nearing the range of the most tender cuts of beef. Brisket — tough, demanding brisket — is now the third most expensive type of beef, after rib and loin sections and the most desirable steaks.
Chapp blames the Food Network, and I am happy to climb upon that particular bandwagon. There are times, or at least there were, when you couldn't turn on the set without seeing Bobby Flay or another one of their stars barbecuing some hapless hunk of brisket.
But here is where I get into a bit of a nomenclatural tangle. Two of the Three Bs are brisket and barbecue. As anyone who has lived in Texas — as I have, if for only a few years —will tell you, barbecue is brisket. Brisket is barbecue.
I'm told that people barbecue pork, too. I don't understand why. If a barbecue place is out of brisket, just come back later when they have it. Simple.
The problem is brisket is fairly small. You only get about 12-15 pounds of usable brisket from any cow. The more people who want to cook brisket after watching a Food Network show (or, preferably, after reading a story I wrote about it), the more expensive it is going to become.
Which brings me to bourbon. The third B is bourbon, and the price of bourbon, too, is rising.
But not dramatically. It goes up at about the same rate as inflation, and inflation has been low for the last several years. A bottle that cost 20 bucks five years ago now costs maybe $21. And you can probably find it on sale, occasionally, for $18.99.
But I think what we are seeing instead is a proliferation of top-shelf bourbons. There are so many of them that they are being placed on an even higher shelf, if you will. Even a nonspecialty bourbon merchant such as your local Schnuckbergs now offers numerous bottles for more than $40.
So the average price is rising, even though the actual cost of the individual brands is not.
Can Food Network be blamed (or credited) for the rise? After all, cocktails are more of an afterthought for them; they don't typically hype bourbon.
But what they do hype is sophisticated food culture; it is the foodiefication of bourbon. The more they elevate all types of food, including bourbon, the more the price goes up.
I'm willing to blame them. I'm willing to blame them for many things.