Category Archives: Beer

Meet RateBeer’s Joe Tucker

IM45_characters-JoeTucker

For this month’s issue of Imbibe, I was lucky enough to profile Joe Tucker, the brains behind RateBeer. Since the site was founded in 2000, Tucker has cultivated the site into one of the world’s largest and most influential beer communities, a sudsy safe haven where kinship matters as much as sampling rare imperial stout. Each month more than 1 million RateBeerians from around the world pen reviews of beer, cider, mead and saké; chitchat on forums; and often meet up to share pints, treasured bottles and conversation.

My story is a peek behind the curtains of one of the world’s most popular beer websites. Check it out right…here. 

 

Tickets on Sale: Carroll Gardens Homebrew Tour

Homebrew

What time is it? Homebrew time! Here are the details on my latest tour. Hurry up: Tickets are going fast.

WHAT: Carroll Gardens Homebrew Tour
WHEN: Sunday, September 22, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
TICKETS: $30.
TICKET LINK: Buy them here. Sorry, we already sold out. Please stay tuned for the next tour.

On today’s walking tour, we’re starting off by visiting Jason Sahler, who is planning the forthcoming Strong Rope Brewery. In time for hop-harvest season, he’ll be brewing a few fresh-hop beers–most likely a session white IPA with local wheat and a few other treats.

Next, we’re headed down the road to meet Isaac Deutsch, who will be pouring a smoky Rauchbier, pale ale and perhaps a coffee stout.

Lastly, we’re going to finish up in Simon Tepas’ backyard. At this year’s National Homebrew Competition, Simon won a silver medal for his rye-fueled double IPA. Today, he’ll be serving a red IPA, hoppy wheat beer and tastes of his sour beers and burly aged Belgian quads.

The Best New Imported Beers to Try

BernsteinThat light-up disco dance floor at Bubba’s sure is sweet.

Back in June, I traveled to Portland, Maine, to drink beer. This is pretty common. The seafaring city is one of my favorite on the East Coast, the land where I married my wife and spent far too many hours shaking my tail father on this light-up disco dance floor at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge. (Bonus: can you spot me in this video?)

But this trip was different. Over the weekend in a cavernous boatyard in Portland, ME, beer importers Shelton Brothers and 12 Percent combined forces to create The Festival, a humble name for a wildly ambitious notion: to bring more than 70 of the world’s best breweries together under one roof, with the brewers on hand to discuss their creations.

“You never see all these breweries in one place,” said Joel Shelton, gesturing to the sprawling room lined with brewers from Japan, Norway, Spain, England–basically, everywhere that better craft beer is brewed. And increasingly, it is everywhere. Craft beer is a global phenomenon, but you need not book a plane ticket to savor the best new breweries.

I spent the weekend sampling (and sampling and sampling) the latest crop of imports to touch down on American shores. For Bon Appétit, I reported on the best new international breweries to seek out. Check out my story right…here.  

Announcing: The Complete Beer Course Release Party

ReleaseParty_CBC_web
On September 10 at 7:30 p.m., come join drinkers and thinkers at the Brooklyn Brewery as we proudly host the release party for The Complete Beer Course, Brooklyn author Joshua M. Bernstein’s comprehensive guide to enjoying and understanding mankind’s greatest beverage—in our humble opinion, at least.

To celebrate, Brooklyn Brewery will be opening up 10 draft lines and popping bottles of its award-winning Belgian-style beers. Snacks will be served to keep hunger at bay. Josh will be on hand to sign books and drink his body weight in beer.

Tickets will be available in two tiers:

* If you’re just down to drink, the $15 ticket will get you unlimited Brooklyn Brewery beer.

* The $30 ticket will get you unlimited Brooklyn Brewery beer and a copy of The Complete Beer Course (a $25 value).

To purchase tickets, please visit Brown Paper Tickets. Unfortunately, we are sold out.

Brooklyn’s New Brewing Kings

Torst Evil TwinEvil Twin and Tørst’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. Photo: Sam Horine

For the summer issue of Draft magazine, I was able to tackle a subject very close to my heart: Brooklyn’s beer scene. Used to be, the beer scene in my home borough was a bit of a joke, a wan copy of brewing culture in Portland, Denver or San Francisco. Over the last few years, though, I’ve watched as King County’s beer culture has blossomed, with wildly ambitious bottle shops and bars such as Williamsburg’s Beer Street and Greenpoint’s Tørst capturing the interest of drinkers from both near and far. And with Brooklyn’s first brewpub, Dirk the Norseman, on deck along with a raft of new breweries such as EST and the Kings County Brewers Collective, it’s a great time to drink beer in New York. Check out my full story over at Draft‘s website or in print.

Say Hello to Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales

Grimm

One fortuitous day in Providence, Rhode Island, artists Lauren Carter Grimm and Joe Grimm decided to attend a talk by fermentation evangelist Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation. Though the DIY duo had never given much thought to the culture of fermentation, they were so inspired by Katz’s talk that, soon after leaving, “we started fermenting everything,” says Joe, a musician who has performed with the Dirty Projectors, 33.3 and solo as The Wind-Up Bird. “It was like, ‘We can pickle that!’”

Soon, the twosome were dabbling in mead (“It was really bad,” Lauren recalls), kvass, kombucha and hard cider, before gravitating toward beer. At first, the extract-based brews were pretty sad, the sort of beer you’d drink only if the fridge were empty. And perhaps the experiments would’ve ended there, the brew kettles put into a closet to gather dust if it were not for another serendipitous turn of events. While on tour in Brussels, Belgium, Grimm was introduced to dubbels, tripels, saisons, lambics. “People were feeding us all these wonderful Belgian beers,” recalls Joe, who returned home with a renewed commitment to brewing.

The couple moved to Chicago, where they both attended the Art Institute of Chicago and refined their approach to fashioning saisons and Belgian ales flavored with herbs, spices and flowers. Seeking an outlet for their beer, they started a beer CSA. It failed. “No one wanted to pick up their beer,” Lauren says. Unbowed, they started selling beer at art-gallery shows and continued refining their recipes. After Joe (2009) and Lauren (2010) graduated, the couple, who later married, watched as their friends flew the Windy City coop to New York City. They followed suit, landing in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood with a plan to start a brewery called Grimm Artisanal Ales.

They met with lenders for funding, but quickly ran into a small problem. They had no sales record, much less experience working at a brewery. But Joe did toil at Double Windsor, and he and Lauren mined their local contacts and began making the rounds of New York bars to gin up interest. “People were like, ‘That’s really cute. Sure, we’ll put the beer on.’” But first they needed to brew the beer. Without the funds to build their own facility, they decided to go the nomadic route, tenant brewers in the vein of fellow husband-wife brewers Pretty Things. They began calling breweries around the region. The no’s stacked up like chips at a poker table.

At last, Holyoke, Massachusetts’ Paper City Brewing Company said yes. Last month, Team Grimm traveled to the brewery and crafted From the Hip, a Belgian-style blonde ale (7 percent ABV)  flavored with plenty of rose hips. It’s floral and spicy, with a smooth mouthfeel and billowy head thanks to a healthy measure of wheat. Starting later this month, the beer will be available around town on draft and in 22-ounce bottles adorned with a delicate, gallery-worthy drawing depicting ladies with roses blooming from their bodies. “They’re the sort of graphics you’d find on an ancient Greek vase,” says Lauren, who notes that they’re trying to combat the notion that beer should just be marketed to men.

While it is the inaugural release, From the Hip is not a flagship. In fact, Grimm’s plan is to not to toss all their hops into one brew kettle. Instead, they’re focusing on releasing limited-edition, seasonally focused beers with a Belgian bent. (Up next is a Trappist-style tripel made with honey called Bees in the Trappe.) Blink and you’ll miss the chance to drink them. “We wanted to make very specific beers that we enjoy and grow the definition of craft beer,” Joe says. “The world doesn’t need us to make another IPA.”

On July 18 at 5 p.m., From the Hip will debut at Jimmy’s No. 43. On July 19 at 7 p.m., From the Hip will appear on tap The Double Windsor.

Florida: No Longer a Backwater for Craft Beer

7-feature_florida-beers_cycle-brewing_400x600Photo: Michael Donk/Cycle Brewing

For my newest Saveur story, I tackle the thorny question: Why has the Florida beer scene been so bad for so long? While the Sunshine State has long been known for its beaches and amusement parks, beer was always an afterthought, save for the Coronas crammed in coolers. But now the craft beer wave is sweeping across the state, which currently counts some of the country’s most exciting breweries.

In Gainesville, Swamp Head uses local ingredients like Tupelo honey to make balanced beers suited for a humid climate, while Boca Raton’s Funky Buddha knocks out novelties such as No Crusts, a peanut butter and jelly­–flavored brown ale. Tampa’s Cigar City turns out terrific barrel-aged beers, and Dunedin’s 7venth Sun is earning plaudits for its tart, German-style Berliner weisses flavored with local tropical fruit, a style that’s swiftly becoming a state favorite.

Curious about the rise of Florida beer? Check out my story over at Saveur.

At the Table: The Rise of Food-Friendly Beers

tablebeer

Last year, an Arizona mom eating at a pizzeria made headlines when she allegedly filled her son’s sippy cup with beer. Outrage was immediate. So was her arrest. While we’re not advocating getting a toddler trashed, it’s interesting how one nation’s indignation is another country’s tradition.

French families often pour their children watered-down wine, educating them about respecting alcohol and its polite place in everyday life. While neighboring Belgium is not so wild for wine, families also teach their offspring a similar lesson with tafelbier—Flemish for “table beer.” Traditionally served with meals, tafelbiers are light-bodied and low in alcohol (usually less than 3% ABV), yet still remain flavorful. While table beers were so prevalent that they used to be served to Belgian schoolchildren in lieu of milk, the lightly boozy tradition has waned in recent years due to the rise of bottled water and, more prevalently, soft drinks.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, American brewers have begun to take a keen interest in crafting low-ABV tafelbiers. They’re affable companions to lunch, dinner or whenever you crave a beer but not a buzz. In Indiana, New Albanian offers Tafelbier, while California’s Heretic makes the slightly stronger Tafelbully with Brettanomyces. The wild yeast also appears in Stillwater Artisanal Ales’ earthy, refreshing Beer Table Table Beer, while Massachusetts’ session beer–focused Notch Brewing dials up Belgian yeast and European hops for its Tafelbier. It’s a style-appropriate 2.8% ABV, a low number that appeals to Notch’s brewer, Chris Lohring.

“For me, it’s the ultimate anytime beer,” says Lohring, who sees tafelbier as an ideal accompaniment to outdoor sports or daylong barbecuing. While his dry, thirst-quenching Tafelbier packs flavor aplenty, the dainty ABV means “you have to drink serious volume to get inebriated.”

Curious? Check out the rest of my article in Draft magazine.

Announcing My Next Book: The Complete Beer Course

CBC_CoverComplete Beer Course is due out September 3.

It’s the best time in history to be a beer drinker. It’s also the most confusing time. Stroll into any craft-beer bar or beer distributor, and you’re forced to sift through a dizzying array of dozens, if not hundreds, of singular brews. A marketplace of overwhelming choice can lead to paralysis and settling for the same old, same old. Repetition can be comforting, which is why I always purchase the same pair of jeans at the department store.

Do not make the same mistake with craft beer, where curiosity rewards the intrepid imbiber. That’s the philosophy behind my newest book, The Complete Beer Course, in which I demystify beer, elementally breaking down the grains, yeast, hops, and techniques that cause beer’s flavor to spin into thousands of distinctively delicious directions.

After outfitting you with the tools to taste, smell, and evaluate brews, the book will lead you on a flavorful trek through the most critical styles of beer. Structured around a series of easy-to-follow classes, you’ll hop from lagers and pilsners to hazy wheat beers, Belgian-style abbey and Trappist ales, aromatic pale ales and bitter IPAs, roasty stouts, barrel-aged brews, belly-warming barley wines, and mouth-puckering sour ales. Through a sequence of suggested, targeted tastings, you’ll learn which flavors are appropriate, and which ones signify that you should dump those beers down a drain. Simply put, you’ll be able to walk into nearly every bottle store or bar in the world and, with confidence, order just about any beer in the coolers or on tap.

I’m incredibly proud of The Complete Beer Course, which has been a crazy labor of love for the last two years. My publisher, Sterling Epicure, will release my book this September. (It will be out a few months before my other baby—my first child—is due to be born. It’s going to be a crazy fall.) If you’d like to pre-order a copy at a discounted price, Amazon and Barnes & Noble already have my book on sale. 

Drink the Devil’s Plaything at Salvation Taco

Devil's PlaythingThe Devil’s Plaything, a spicy, citrusy IPA brewed by Greenport Harbor.

When I was a kid I feverishly collected baseball cards, spending my allowance on Donruss, Topps and Upper Deck packs in search of, say, a Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie. As the years disappeared, my accumulations switched to CDs and buttons, before settling on today’s primary fixation: beer. My days are spent seeking out novel new flavors, maybe a beer flavored with mustard seeds or oysters—even the Rocky Mountain variant.

Though I do savor trying new flavors, I don’t want to dedicate all my waking hours (and income) to acquiring lusted-after ales such as Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout or the Alchemist’s Heady Topper. After all, there’s plenty of unusual, singular beer awaiting at bars and restaurants around New York City.

To both facilitate finely tuned food pairings and set themselves apart, haunts around New York have partnered with breweries to craft exclusive, one-of-a-kind beers. Head to Shake Shack, and you can have Brooklyn Brewery’s biscuity ShackMeister amber ale, while Astoria’s Strand Smokehouse has Hank, a juniper berry–spiced lager developed by SingleCut Beersmiths

Still, perhaps New York’s biggest proponents of proprietary beer are restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield, who helm some of the city’s hottest restaurants: gastropub trailblazer the Spotted Pig, the carnivore-focused Breslin, seafood-centric John Dory Oyster Bar and madcap Mexican Salvation Taco. Though all the cuisines and concepts are distinct, the common thread is a commitment to offering a specially designed house beer.

“For us, it’s a nice way to provide guests with something different,” says Bill Brooks, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room’s beer manager. “I really like going to craft beer bars and seeing what’s new.”

If you head to the Breslin and Spotted Pig, you can sample Brooklyn Brewery’s British-inspired Spotted Pig Bitter. (The Breslin also serves the aromatic, Captain Lawrence–crafted Revolutionary Sweetheart.) At the John Dory you’ll find Sixpoint‘s Oyster Stout, which is made with plenty of the restaurant’s leftover bivalve shells (they add an appealing minerality), as a well a refreshing blonde ale brewed in conjunction with Syracuse’s Empire.

But with summer weather settling into the city, methinks you’ll want to beeline to Salvation Taco’s rooftop to try the restaurant group’s latest proprietary beer: Greenport Harbor‘s Devil’s Plaything, a citrusy IPA flavored with limes, oranges, dried Haitian bitter orange segments and chiles. “Instead of going the historical route, we thought about taking a style of beer that we really like and tweak it,” says Brooks, who worked on the beer with ST’s beverage director Sam Anderson.

The project was born out of admiration. Brooks had long been a fan of Greenport’s hoppy ales, such as the Black IPA, Citrus IPA and bright, balanced Otherside IPA. So when Brooks was batting around ideas with Anderson about making an IPA syrup for cocktails with Serrano chiles, the right brewery for the project was a no-brainer.

“I called up John [Liegey, Greenport Harbor’s cofouder and -owner) and said, ‘We’ve got a crazy idea for a beer at the rooftop of the Taco,’” Brooks recalls. Greenport Harbor was game to fashion its first proprietary beer, cranking out a 60-barrel batch (enough to ensure a steady supply deep into the summer). At the end of May, Devil’sPlaything debuted at Salvation Taco’s sky-scraping lounge atop the Pod 39 Hotel.

While the sessionable IPA (5.2 percent ABV) is an ideal thirst-quencher on a mercury-spiking afternoon (like, say, today), it pulls double duty in the dining department, going divinely with tacos. The devil, they say, is in the details.

Devil’s Plaything is available for $8 at Salvation Taco. You can also found it on tap at Greenport Harbor’s tasting room. This story originally appeared on my Craft Beer New York app.

Cream Ales Are on the Rise

IM43_Feature-creamales

In the May/June issue of Imbibe, I investigate the rebirth of that misunderstood American original, the cream ale—a style that, contrary to its name, contains no dairy.

The style gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as ale breweries in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region looked to compete with ascendant lager breweries. By fermenting ales at cooler temperatures, brewers created crisper, cleaner, less fruity beers that were more in line with pale lagers. The hybridized specialty soldiered on after Prohibition before largely falling out of favor by the 1970s and ’80s.

After decades of disinterest, cream ales are once again rising as American brewers have begun embracing the style. In Rhode Island, Narragansett Beer recently revived its iconic Cream Ale, and North Carolina’s Fullsteam uses local barley and grits in its El Toro cream ale. Oregon’s Pelican Brewery found a flagship in its floral Kiwanda Cream Ale, and New Glarus’ Spotted Cow is one of Wisconsin’s top-selling draft beers. For other brewers, the cream ale is a springboard to innovation. Wisconsin’s Furthermore mixes apple cider and cream ale to create Fallen Apple, while last year Florida’s Cigar City released El Murciélago, a double cream ale spiced with cumin and lime peel and aged in tequila barrels.

Care to read the rest of my story? Check it online in Imbibe.

 

Hey, NYC: It’s Time to Drink Schlafly, Pyramid and Wild Onion

Schlafly-beer-truckPhoto: SixPackTech.com

So far, this has been a very good year for New York craft beer. New breweries such as SingleCut, Radiant Pig and Bridge and Tunnel are pumping out lip-smacking local beer, while taverns such as Tørst, Skinny Dennis and Dead Rabbit  are raising the bar on, well, bars.

While I’ve been so focused on the city’s homegrown talent, I’ve barely noticed the slow, steady wave of beers flowing into town. It’s time to take pause and recognize the newcomers to our fair metropolis. Here are three of the newest breweries to know and, more importantly, drink.

Wild Onion Brewery
Head northwest of Chicago and you’ll hit Lake Barrington, Illinois, which since 1996 has been home to Wild Onion. The brewery and brewpub may lack the Midwest cachet of, say, Goose Island, but Wild Onion cranks out dependable, session-focused beers sold by the can. With the weather starting to heat up, you’ll want to start with the orange peel–driven Summer Wit or the well-hopped Paddy Pale Ale. Don’t worry, double IPA junkies: the Hop Slayer will soothe your bitter heart.

Pyramid Breweries
Pyramid is one of the sage old brands of the craft beer revolution, having been born way back in 1984 as Kalama, Washington‘s Hart Brewing. After the early ’90s success of its Apricot Ale, which helped kick off the burgeoning fruit-beer category, Hart rebranded itself as Pyramid—named after its flagship Pyramid family of beers.  Though the brewery is now owned by Cerveceria Costa Rica, Pyramid still makes dependably delicious beers such as the refreshing Hefeweizen, floral Thunderhead IPA and the Outburst Imperial IPA, which is flavored with of-the-moment Falconer’s Flight hops.

Schlafly
While St. Louis may be synonymous with Budweiser (well, before Anheuser-Busch was bought by a sprawling international company), the city’s most beloved brewery might just be Schlafly. Since 1991, the independent craft brewery has won over the local citizenry with its stellar lineup that ranges from a delicately fruity Kölsch to a silky, coffee-influenced Oatmeal Stout, aromatic Dry Hopped APA. Add to that an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels and one of my favorite barrley wines in the county and you’ll understand why Midwest expats celebrated the brand’s May arrival. Schlafly is one of America’s most versatile, vastly underappreciated breweries.

This story was originally published on my Craft Beer New York app. Click here to check it out.