The Rise of Gruit Beer

Gruits_Bernstein

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

Bia Hoi_Bernstein

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?

Bend, Oregon_Imbibe

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.

March Writing: The Round-up

500_Drunk_Baby._Is_shitfaced_debb07_3907854
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.

Drinking Beer While Parenting: The Primer

beerparenting-2

These days, my identity is a bit muddled. Professionally, I’m a beer journalist and author, but I’m also a parent to my newborn, Violet. How do I reconcile drinking with caring for my daughter? You want to do, uh, research, but you also don’t want to have Jell-O arms and end up dropping your daughter. That’ll merit a house call from the department of children’s services, that’s for certain. So what’s the solution? To find out the answer, check out my article on First We Feast. It’s a fun read, even if you don’t have kids.

 

The New York City Homebrew Tour on Chop & Brew

With only 30 or so spots on my homebrew tours, it’s tough to accommodate everyone that would like to attend. And that is where Chip Walton comes in play. Walton, who runs the excellent online show Chop & Brew (homebrew lovers, check it out), was on hand to chronicle a Brooklyn tour that took place in September. Settle in with a good beer and check it out.

Seven of the Most Anticipated New Craft Breweries in NYC in 2014

4th-of-july-beer

New York’s craft-beer scene is booming, with breweries popping up from the Bronx to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and even Staten Island. (Not to mention the scores of homebrewers perfecting their recipes, eager to take them to the next level.) Travel around town, and you’ll find world-class double IPAs, snifter-worthy barrel-aged imperial stouts and lip-puckering sour ales. Here are the breweries I’m excited about in 2014.

Other Half Brewing (195 Centre St., Gowanus, Brooklyn)
Do you love KelSo’s IPA and Industrial IPA? Then you dig the beers of brewer Sam Richardson, who has gone solo with this outfit in Carroll Gardens. Expect heaps of hop-forward ales, most notably the West Coast–style Other Half IPA and souped-up Green Diamonds Imperial IPA, which is dosed with heaps of Australia’s melon-y Galaxy hops.
Status: Other Half beers are currently on tap around town, and the tasting room should soon follow suit.

Dirck the Norseman (7 N. 15th St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
Ever since Park Slope Brewery shuttered more than a decade earlier, Brooklyn has been brewpub-deprived, a drought set to end with this Greenpoint brewpub named after the neighborhood’s first Scandinavian settler. Ed Raven, who founded importer Raven Brands and Greenpoint growler shop Brouwerij Lane, has transformed a plastic-bag factory abutting the East River into a roomy beer hall that will pour both his imported European brews (including Jever Pilser and Gaffel Kölsch) and in-house ales. Head brewer Chris Prout, who honed his skills at South Carolina’s Outer Banks Brewing Station, will craft creative riffs on Belgian and American classics, such as a rhubarb saison and an IPA spiked with Tupelo honey.
Status: Open now

Finback Brewery (78-01 77th Ave., Glendale, Queens)
For several years, Kevin Stafford and Basil Lee were a key stop on my homebrew tour, crafting dry stouts, ginger-and-Szechuan peppercorn session ales and IPAs that were a step above the average kitchen-crafted beer. After a yearlong search for a home for Finback, named after a whale that washed ashore in Breezy Point, they found a headquarters in Glendale, Queens, not far from the Lutheran Cemetery. The duo will also use the 13,000-square-foot space for an extensive barrel-aging and sour-beer program.
Status: Open now. Taproom coming soon.

Transmitter Brewing (52-03 11th St., Long Island City, Queens)
This winter, the Long Island City beer scene will welcome Transmitter, the brainchild of longtime buddies and amateur bicycle racers Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi. The duo will focus on farmhouse-inspired Belgian and French beers fueled by funky fermentations. The friends have spent years carefully sourcing unique strains of Brettanomyces yeast and Lactobacillus and Pediococcus cultures. They’re going to be a local game-changer.
Status: Open now.

Flagship Brewing Company
 (215 Bay St., St. George, Staten Island)
Here’s one more reason to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Not far from the terminal you’ll find Flagship, which is slated to be the borough’s first brewery since Brooklyn brand Piels closed its R&H plant in 1963. Co-owner and head brewer Jay Sykes hopes to use locally grown hops in his beers.
Status: Opening early 2014

The Bronx Brewery
 (856 E. 136th St., Port Morris, The Bronx)
At last, the Bronx crew will start making beer in its namesake borough. (The brews were previously produced in Connecticut.) The team is hard at work outfitting an 8,000 square-foot space with a tasting room, a 20-barrel brewhouse and an outdoor space suited for food trucks.
Status: Opening spring 2014

Gun Hill Brewing Company (3227 Laconia Ave., Williamsbridge, The Bronx)
Bronx’s brewing boom continues with Gun Hill, named after a battle site during the Revolutionary War. The brewmaster is Chris Sheehan, the former chief beer maker at both Chelsea Brewing Company and Newark, New Jersey’s short-lived Port 44 Brewpub. The 30-barrel brewhouse plans to take advantage of New York’s Farm Brewery License, which allows breweries to be run like a bar—provided they use a certain percentage of New York–grown ingredients. Expect several stouts, an IPA, a golden ale and loads of seasonal releases.
Status: Open now