The Evolution of American IPAs

If there’s an archetype of American craft brewing, it’s the IPA. The cult of the bitter beer grew quickly, and brewers responded by cranking IPAs to 11, devising increasingly intense and pungent brews that, in equal measures, both pleasured and punished palates. But things are starting to change. “There was a period where putting 300 calculated IBUs [international bittering units, an estimated measure of bitterness] into a beer was the thing,” says Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele. “Now, brewers are exploring more nuanced ways to use hops.”

As America’s craft-beer scene has evolved, so has its approach to the IPA. Breweries such as Sierra NevadaVictory and New Belgium are turning to newfangled, heavily juicy, tropical American hop cultivars such as Mosaic, El Dorado and Citra, as well as German—yes, German—varieties such as the honeydew-like Hull Melon and Bavarian Mandarina. Freshness initiatives and education are rising, helping drinkers enjoy IPAs as bright and aromatic as the day they were bottled. And brewers are packing low-alcohol beers full of hop aroma and flavor, birthing summer’s hottest trend: the session IPA, as exemplified by Stone Go To, Drake’s Alpha Session and Easy Jack from Firestone Walker.

For Imbibe, I took a deep dive into the changing face of the IPA. Care to read the full story? Check it out right about…here.

How to Buy the Complete Beer Course for Father’s Day

tumblr_mj2n171htb1rw872io8_1280Uh, wrong book cover. 

Much like pumpkin brews, sales for beer books follow a seasonal rhythm. Following Thanksgiving sales spike, culminating in Christmas week. I would like to think this is solely due to the merit of my works, but I fully understand that my books fulfill a much-needed gift niche.

My [insert subject] likes beer, the reasoning invariably goes. I’ll get [insert subject] this book. 

Shopping for people is hard. Hard! Hell, when I got engaged, I made my wife’s best friend go shopping for the engagement ring. If it were up to me, I would’ve twisted aluminum foil into a ring shape and called it a day. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Which brings me to Father’s Day.

In this enlightened era of inebriation, men and women enjoy beers equally. Bend elbows at any better beer bar, and chances are the sexes will be split right down the middle. On my homebrew tours, there are often more women than men in attendance. Those dusty old clichés are consigned to the dustbin. Except during the holidays.

Around Mother’s Day, I barely see a sales increase for my books. (But trust me: as a newly minted parent, moms and dads are both hitting the bottle.) My inbox is flooded with press releases touting chocolates, jewelry and wine for that special mom in your life. Cultural norms are reinforced.

During Father’s Day, though, my book sales once again board that sales escalator. It’s consumer behavior, behaving as you’d expect.

On the one hand, I wonder why beer books must ride that gender road. Everyone likes a little IPA-fueled buzz, no matter your chromosomal makeup. On the other hand, I guess I should say: Thank you! Diapers are expensive. So very expensive. So for Father’s Day (or a belated Mother’s Day gift), if you’d like to help out with my Pampers fund, here are a few ways to buy The Complete Beer Course.

Amazon: The ol’ standby, though the site is running low on stock. If so, check out…
Barnes & Noble:  It’s essentially the same price as Amazon.
IndieBoundSupport your favorite independent bookstore.
Signed copies from me: Yeah, I know it’s more expensive. But I have to ship my books out by hand. By hand! And I have neither a drone nor an assistant. Save for Sammy Bernstein. And he can’t be trusted to go the Post Office.

Introducing Beer With Baby

I am a parent. And I drink beer for a living. Also: I write about it too. How does this all fit together? It’s complicated. To chronicle the challenges of being both a working beer journalist and author, as well as a parent, I’ve started a fun column for First We Feast. Naturally, it’s called Beer With Baby.

For me, it’s a fun return to my column-writing days. I spent more than seven years penning a booze-drenched, gluttony-driven column for the New York Press called Gut Instinct. The job helped me hone my writing voice, sending me on culinary (mis)adventures across New York City. Now I’m a dad. But I still eat and drink. Beer With Baby is my attempt to figure out parenthood. With alcohol. Have a read and let me know what you think about the first few columns.

Beer With Baby: Elysian Super Fuzz

Beer With Baby: Green Flash Road Warrior

Hear, Hear (Me) on Good Beer Hunting and Beer Sessions

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Lately, there’s been a strange phenomenon: Folks have been feeding me loads of beer, then letting me talk on the radio. Fools, I know, but all in good fun. If you’re craving my voice and thoughts, you can listen to me on Good Beer Hunting‘s latest podcast, as well as Beer Sessions Radio. On Beer Sessions, we talk extensively to Rockmill Brewery‘s Matthew Barbee, who runs one of the country’s finest farm-focused breweries.

The Rise of Gruit Beer

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It’s my new story! Photo: Instagram

One of brewing’s fundamental rules is that beer is comprised of malted grain, water, yeast and hops. Grains supply the fermentable sugars that yeast convert into alcohol, while hops provide balancing bitterness, preservative prowess, flavor and aroma. Today, hops are nearly as crucial to beer as water, especially in this IPA-crazed era. But if you were to time-travel to visit medieval brewers, you’d discover that beer contained nary a hop.

Back then, beers were seasoned with gruit (pronounced “grew-it” or “groot”), which was a proprietary blend of herbs such as bitter and astringent yarrow (a flowering plant), wild rosemary and resinous, eucalyptus-like wild gale (a.k.a. bog myrtle), along with sundry spices. In large quantities, gruit was considered a euphoric stimulant and an aphrodisiac, and brewers often slipped in hallucinogens to enhance the effects. By the 1700s, whether due to health concerns or religious pressure, gruit was largely phased out in favor of hops. No longer.

Increasingly, craft brewers are ditching hops for herbs, creating adventurous gruits that challenge beer’s basic definition. For this month’s Imbibe, I tackled the growing trend of brewers using offbeat herbs and spices that’ll challenge your very definition of beer.

Check out the article right about…here.

My Bia Hoi Honeymoon in Vietnam

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In Hanoi, about 25 cents buys you a tall, cool glass of fresh, and refreshing, bia hoi. Photo: my Instagram feed.

It merely took me 33 years, but back in August 2011 I joined the ranks of married men. Our wedding in seafaring Portland, Maine, was a raucous affair, with my wife and I turning our rehearsal dinner into a booze cruise and holding our party in a dive bar with two light-up disco dance floors. (We love you, Bubba’s Sulky Lounge.) And there was beer. Oh, so much beer!

Given my hops-soaked line of work, I wanted beer to play key role in our honeymoon. In lieu of Brussels, we booked a flight to Hanoi, where the local specialty is bia hoi—fresh, low-alcohol, rice-driven beer. The cost: about a quarter a glass. In other words, heaven.

For Draft, I recently penned a story on our beer-filled honeymoon. Check out the story right about…here.

How Did Bend, Oregon, Become a Craft Beer Powerhouse?

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Photo: My Instagram feed!

For the latest issue of Imbibe magazine, I attempt to suss out just how Bend became such a national player on the craft-beer scene. Back in 1988, the town’s timber industry had collapsed. The population hovered around 18,000. Downtown was a ghost town.

Then along came Deschutes, which helped jumpstart a stunning revitalization. A quarter-century later, the brewpub has blossomed into America’s fifth-largest brewery, and Bend has undergone a night-and-day revitalization. The town has swelled to around 80,000 residents, who have been lured by a family-friendly lifestyle highlighted by outdoor recreation, a thriving walkable downtown, an abundance of sunshine—and boatloads of craft beer.

Today, there are 17 breweries in Bend (and another half dozen in neighboring towns), each one unique, and together offering an impressive range of beers. If you favor hop bombs, then try Boneyard10 Barrel and Below Grade. For wood-aged elixirs, tryAle Apothecary’s funky fermentations, while Crux Fermentation crafts a kaleidoscope of styles, from an unfiltered pilsner to a peaty Scotch ale. Bend Brewing Company pairs pub grub with medal-winning porters and sour ales, and GoodLife and Worthy Brewing specialize in that crucial companion to hiking and fishing: canned beers.

Care to read the story? Check out “Around the Bend” over at Imbibe.