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March Writing: The Round-up

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Sometimes I feel that the only way I can keep track of the days is by monitoring the beer bottles gathering in my recycling bin. When they reach the top, that means a few weeks have passed. Or is it just one week? With this terrible winter and a terrific, if terribly time-consuming newborn, you must forgive me if I’m glugging more beer than the average bear. I’ve been tethered to the house, changing diapers with one hand while drinking with the other.

And then sometimes I use both hands to write stories. It hasn’t been easy, that’s for certain. I’ve spent much of the last month orchestrating several events for NYC Beer Week, namely Jimmy’s Homebrew Jamboree 2—Still Jammin’ and Cold Comfort, my lager-tasting event in Brooklyn’s old Nassau Brewery lagering caves. Seriously.  The events have been amazing. Amazing! But they are also draining. I’m a little too Type A to relinquish control, something that allows me to tailor everything to a T. But it also means that I am the man picking up pretzels, buying ice and sending emails to everyone.

Like Zach Braff in Garden State, I need to embrace my inner calm and learn to just let go.

Or maybe I should just become a medicated zombie. Is that the moral here? Either way, I need to learn to chill out a bit, give up control and trust folks to help. As a freelancer, it ain’t an easy emotion to embrace. For the last 12 years, I’ve only had myself to count on. Want this story written? Do it yourself, buster. Care to get paid? Well, you better send off an invoice and cross your fingers twice. See where I’m getting?

There is only one me.

And I am no longer 22, with an endless reservoir of espresso-like energy.

But I digress. I’m merely hashing out my issues in a very public forum, sort of like my old column with the New York Press. Sadly, there’s little time for confessional writing these days. Perhaps that’s directly impacting my emotional well-being, turning me into one of those cranky-ass, stink-eyed New Yorkers who, like lichen, have adhered themselves to the city, unable to leave, stuck with your peculiar lot in life.

But the writing! Oh, have I been writing. With my two index fingers—I never really learned that QWERTY nonsense—I’ve been a busy little beaver. From Bon Appétit to Imbibe, here’s a smattering of my recent stories. But before I depart, a question: I’ve been pondering returning to writing a first-person column, sort of like the one I wrote during those Press days. Would you read that again? Or would you rather I stick to stories like these?

First We Feast, “Style Kings: The Best Breweries in America, By Category″: Who has the best IPA and sour beer?

Bon Appétit, “9 IPAs to Drink in Winter—Bitter Beers for Bitter Cold″: Ever wonder breweries release hoppy beers during the winter? Here’s the answer.

Bon Appétit, “9 Milk Stouts to Drink If You’re Breastfeeding—or Just Thirsty″: With a newborn at home, it’s time to drink.

Bon Appétit, “11 Beers Made with Breakfast Foods Like Bacon, Oats, and Coffee″: Bacon: It’s no longer just for breakfast.

Bon Appétit, “Sour Beer Primer: How (and Why) to Drink These Funky Wild Ales″: Bring on the funk. My first feature for the magazine.

Bon Appétit, “10 Spicy, Chile-Spiked Beers We Love″: Some like it hot. I know I do.

Writing Roundup: December Edition

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To say that the last few months have been crazy is to put it mildly. I’ve traveled to Denver, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Upstate New York and across New Jersey, hucking The Complete Beer Course to the best of my drunken ability. I welcomed the arrival of my daughter, Violet, which means I’ve had to learn to be a dad. (The secret: lots of late-night beer. And making peace with the fact that I will change approximately 8,000 diapers over the next few years.)

Beyond that, I stuck closely to my writing routine, cranking out a number of stories despite, or possibly aided by, a healthy dose of sleep deprivation. Here are some highlights from the last few months of wordsmanship.

Men’s Journal, “Expert Advice: How to Be a Better Beer Drinker”: For starters, send back that frozen glassware.

Bon Appétit, “9 Milk Stouts to Drink If You’re Breastfeeding—or Just Thirsty”With my wife having just given birth, this story is rather appropriate.

Bon Appétit, “Best Hoppy Beers—New Trends of 2013″: From Cluster to Mosaic hops, this has been a tasty year.

Bon Appétit, “Perfect Beer Pairings for Thanksgiving”: Saisons rule.

Wine Enthusiast, “Buzz Killers—Top Low-Alcohol Beers”Here, I break down the session-beer movement for wine drinkers.

Imbibe, “Of a Certain Age”: Inspired by sherry and port producers, craft brewers are using the solera process to create timeless vintages. Note: it’s print-only.

First We Feast, “Best New Beers of 2013″:

Culture, “Winter Warmer Wonderland”: When it comes to family gatherings during the long stretch of winter holidays (or during any time of the year, for that matter), libations can be an essential ingredient.

Beer Advocate, “From the Source—Grimm Artisanal Ales”: Here, the story of Brooklyn’s newest gypsy brewers.

Draft, “Waiter, There’s Food in My Stout”: Oysters are just the start.

Epicurious.com, “Best Beer Pairings for Winter”: Flourless chocolate cake and an imperial stout is a flawless pairing.

And Now for Something Completely Different

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I can’t wait until I’m old enough to steal my dad’s beer!

On November 19, at the stroke of midnight, our daughter, Violet, said hello to the world. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to tell her teachers, classmates, friends and parents of friends that her daddy drinks beer for a living. Perhaps I should start a support group: Drinking Dads of the Craft-Beer Industry? The Pants-less Parents Association? Bring Daddy His Aspirin, He Has a Head Boo-Boo? Now back to figuring out how these newborns work. She seems to have arrived without the instruction manual.

The Rise of Culinary Brewing

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Do these pictures make you hungry? That’s the point! For this month’s issue of Draft magazine, I investigate the growing trend of culinary in brewing. In a simpler era, brewers mainly relied on hops, grain, water and yeast to create an endless range of ales and lagers. But for modern brewers, the power of four tends to bore.

Seeking out new flavors, brewers are digging into their pantries and refrigerators. Though you can add edibles to nearly any beer style (Ballast Point’s Habañero Sculpin IPA, Elysian’s Super Fuzz blood orange pale ale, Sam Adams’ beef-heart-fueled, Oktoberfest-inspired Burke in a Bottle), the most popular platforms are the stout and porter. Typically, brewers played up their roasty, cocoalike characteristics by incorporating coffee or chocolate. Now they’re turning to bacon, peanut butter, pretzels and even oysters to devise dark beers as curious as they are curiously delicious.

Care to read the full story? Check it out over at Draft.

Introducing Braven Brewing

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Braven Brewing’s Marshall Thompson (left) and Eric Feldman. 

The path to professional brewing often starts on the kitchen stove. As the batches stack up, skills are refined. Recipes are perfected. Friends clamor for another pint of bitter IPA, or maybe it’s a coffee stout. Accolades stack up like poker chips. “You should start a brewery,” someone suggests, planting a seed inside that grows into an all-consuming desire to turn a hobby into a career.

Over the last four years of running my homebrew tour, I’ve watched this journey play out like an endlessly looping film reel. Rich Buceta went on to launch SingleCut. Jonathan Moxey now works for Perennial Artisan Ales. Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee are opening Finback. To the list of homebrew-tour gone pro I will soon add Marshall Thompson and Eric Feldman, a duo formerly known as the East Village Brewing Company.

Back in 2010, I crammed 30 strangers into Feldman’s Manhattan apartment to sample the Avenue A-le and Stuy Town Nut Brown. The beers were delightful. The crowd was impressed. Perhaps these guys have a bright future, I thought, making a mental note to follow their online exploits. But months later, their website went dark. Posts fell off a cliff. Was this another case of a hobby fizzling out?

Hardly. Three years later, the East Village Brewing Company has been reborn as Brooklyn’s Braven. “We want to tap into Bushwick’s brewing tradition,” Feldman says of the brewery, which takes its name from a chimera-like combination of a buck and a raven. Once upon a time, you see, Bushwick got America good and drunk. By 1962, 10 percent of America drank Brooklyn beer, and a dozen-plus brewers dotted the blocks. But by the 20th century’s close, breweries like Rheingold and Schaefer were historical footnotes. Today, there’s nary a brewery in Bushwick.

That’s a void that Braven aims to fill. “We’re hoping to be a destination brewery,” says Feldman, a lawyer who envisions a laid-back taproom where friends, families and their dogs can mingle together. Currently, the twosome are searching for a space, preferably around the Jefferson Avenue stop, and are perfecting their launch brands. Driven by the notion of being bold and crafty (the bold buck + the crafty raven = Braven), the friends are working on a lineup of balanced, approachable beers that are full of flavor, not booze.

“I love IPAs, but many of them hit you with 7 percent ABV,” says Feldman, who will be handling the brewing while Thompson focuses on sales and marketing. “That’s a lot of alcohol. I like having a few beers throughout the evening.”

The crisp, quaffable debut brews will be a white IPA heavy on citrusy, floral hops such as Cascade and Centennial, as well as a black IPA likely dosed with piney, woody Simcoe. While the allure of hoppy beers is undeniable, Braven will also look toward classic styles such as the altbier and pilsner, as well as brews that tie into Bushwick’s Hispanic and Mexican population—hello, Day of the Dead–themed orange habañero chocolate stout. “We’re trying to make a beer that captures the spirit of the neighborhood,” Feldman says.

As for timing to buy these beers, don’t hold your breath. Right now, Braven is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a pilot brewery. Furthermore, the friends are seeking out a regional brewery where they might be able to contract-brew, or perhaps they’ll set up a smaller brewing system inside an existing restaurant or bar. (Realistically speaking, Braven is still at least 12 to 18 months away from opening, which means the end of 2014 or spring 2015.)

“One of the big problems is trying to find a space,” laments Feldman, who is still cranking out five-gallon batches in his East Village apartment. Though Braven can’t legally sell the beer, Feldman and Thompson are doling out samples at parties and events around Brooklyn. “The first couple times I handed out beer to people and waited for feedback, it was terrifying,” Feldman says. “Alternately, this project will be super-exciting and super-scary, but nothing makes us any happier.”

This post originally appeared on Craft Beer New York. Check it out!

Talking About the GABF and My Book

During the Great American Beer Festival, I attended a sour-beer brunch (tough life, I know) at City, O’ City, a terrific vegetarian restaurant. As luck had it, my dining companion was Pete Rowe, a great beer writer from San Diego. Pete was both reporting on the festival and filming it for a local TV station. He asked me to babble on camera about the festival, the future of beer and my book. Here’s the result. You can’t even tell I’m hungover!

The Brewing Network and the Complete Beer Course

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Ah, the joys of radio!

When Brewed Awakening came out a few years back, one of my favorite appearances was on the Brewing Network’s Sunday Session. Instead of being relegated to a five-minute spot stuffed with sound bites, I was able to chat with the lovably cantankerous crew for more than an hour, digging deep beneath the hood of craft beer and my life too. It was like a strangely enjoyable therapy session. With beer. So much beer.

So when the Brewing Network crew asked me to come back on the air to chat about The Complete Beer Course, I of course said yes. Then I drank multiple beers, got on the phone (well, Skype) and spent more than an hour discussing everything from my days as a youthful pornographer, 9/11, a broken-down Volvo, my wife’s pregnancy and, eventually, craft beer. And my book.

Care to listen? The episode is now available for download. 

NYC Homebrewers Guild Anniversary Party

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It’s tired maxim, but I’ll trot it out again: Today’s homebrewers are tomorrow’s professional brewers, the men and women who will one day craft your favorite new IPA, gose or some other style that has yet to be invented or dredged from the history books.

Getting a taste of these beers typically requires you to be buddies with the brewer. (Or if you’re in New York City, attending my homebrew tour.) But on Saturday, November 2, you’ll have the chance to sample your way the most dizzying—and dizzyingly delicious—collection of homebrew the city has ever seen.

That night, the Brooklyn Brewery will be taken over by the New York City Homebrewers Guild for its 25th anniversary party. (Fun fact: Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver was a founding member.) To celebrate, the guild has enlisted clubs from across the city to pour their homebrewed creations. From Brooklyn Brewers to Brewstoria (Queens, that is), this event will welcome a stunning array of brewers from across the city—more than 65 different beers and counting.

You’ll be treated to free samples of the homebrews, as well as an unlimited buffet of Brooklyn Brewery beers. But act fast. Tickets are just $25 and they’re going fast. You don’t want to miss out on tasting the future of beer in New York City.

What: NYC Homebrewers Guild 25th Anniversary Party
When: Saturday, November 2, 9 p.m.
Where: Brooklyn Brewery
Tickets: $25. Buy them here.

Tickets Are on Sale for My Long Island City Homebrew Tour

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Boy, it sure is hot outside. Which makes me want to drink beer. Lots and lots of beer. Thus, I’ve decided to run one more homebrew tour this summer. It will take place on Saturday, August 3, at 1 p.m. in Long Island City. The details:

We’re going to start at the home of Mike Gilliard, who has outfitted his apartment with a half-barrel setup and keezer. He’ll likely be serving a lager, a sour and full-bodied ale. Next, we’re headed around the corner to meet Michael Cabrera, a veteran homebrewer who teaches classes in the neighborhood. He’ll be serving an American-style amber ale and an apricot ale—aces for summer.

Lastly, were going to stroll around the corner to meet the team from the Rockaway Brewing Company. You’ll meet the founders, hear how they went from homebrewers to brewers and, most importantly, get to sample their range of excellent beer, including the Rockaway ESB, Summer Ale, Old School IPA and perhaps a stout or a saison. Bring your growler for a discounted fill.

Tickets: $30 (includes all samples). Buy them here. 

Say Hello to Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales

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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.

Hey, Honey! Mead Is Buzzing Again

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In the newest issue of Imbibe, I investigate one one of America’s most polarizing, and misunderstood, alcoholic beverages: mead. Mention it to most people and they’ll recoil, recalling the cloying booze that, along with oversize turkey legs, is a Renaissance Faire staple. That’s a bit like judging American beer on a baseball-game macrobrew. Across America, meaderies are moving past that cliché, creating sublimely inventive meads that range from bone-dry to dessert-sweet, and spiced with just about any fruit, herb or vegetable pulled from the pantry.

With modern mead, there’s hardly a hive-mind approach. Terroir is crucial for Colorado’s Medovina, which makes mead with honey harvested from their own hives, while Alaska’s Celestial Meads incorporates locally grown apples and currants into its collection of raw-honey meads. Craft brewing inspires the bourbon barrel–aged and hopped meads made by meaderies such as Michigan-based B. Nektar, Colorado’s Redstone Meadery and Maine Mead Works. Mead is also proving its versatility in cocktails, which you’ll find at the Chicago-area restaurant Inovasi and Columbus, Ohio’s Brothers Drake Meadery, which runs a bar serving mead-based mixed drinks.

Want to read my full story? Check it out over at Imbibe’s website.

Craft Beer New York: On Android!

drunk-robotYou asked. We listened. At long last, my Craft Beer New York app is not only available on iPhone. We’ve now created an Android version. As the drunk robot would say, “Awesom-o!”