Tag Archives: Beer

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.

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 Rise of Culinary Brewing

stout_5Photography: Jon Edwards

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.

Shiner Bock Arrives in New York City

ShinerBock_Dog
Over the last couple years, New York has grown into a rather respectable BBQ town. From Fette Sau to Mighty Quinn’s, BrisketTown and John Brown Smokehouse, there’s a serious commitment to ‘cue. Despite the surplus of carnivorous pleasures, there’s been a notable absence from New York’s BBQ scene: Shiner Bock.

The beer’s origins date back to the 19th century, when German and Czech immigrants came to the Hill Country of central Texas and settled in tiny towns such Shiner. They brought the knowledge to crank sausages and smoke meat—the backbone of the state’s BBQ culture—as well as a love of lagers. To quench that thirst, a group of amateur brewers formed the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909, later tapping a former German solider named Kosmos Spoetzl as their first brewmaster.

In time, the flagship was the rich, smooth and eminently drinkable Shiner Bock. At just 4.4% ABV, it was the sort of beer that could slake your thirst on a sweltering summer afternoon, then continue to drink until last call. Shiner Bock and Texas became forever linked, the longneck you’d reach for while gnawing on brisket, watching football or catching a concert. 

Sure, Shiner Bock endured some rocky stretches (Prohibition, the 197os when tastes started shifting to light lagers), but the beer survived to become Texas’ liquid emissary. Today you’ll find Shiner Bock in more than 40 states including, at long last, New York.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for Shiner beer,” says Charlie Paulette, the chief sales and marketing officer for Gambrinus Company, which also owns Trumer Pils and BridgePort. (There are no imminent plans to bring those brands to NYC, but it’s a possibility in the future.) “In New York, we have a nice built-in audience of people from Texas or who have been through Texas.”

Of course, that’s always been the case. New York is a town of transplants and transients, all of whom long for a nostalgic taste of their respective hometowns. A key reason that Shiner has taken so long to reach NYC is simple: capacity. If you’re going to enter the Big Apple market, you better have enough beer.

“New York is a very intimidating place for any brand,” Paulette says. “For us, it was a matter of getting ready.” A few years back, Spoetzl embarked on a big expansion, building a brewery dedicated to producing ales. This has enabled Spoetzl to expand the Shiner brand, including Hefeweizen, Wild Hare Pale Ale, Bohemian Black Lager and Ruby Redbird, which is made with grapefruit and ginger. 

“We’re about more than just Shiner Bock,” Paulette says. “Our portfolio is so much more diverse than it was 10 years ago.” Of course, you can find Shiner at BBQ halls such as Hill Country, but it’s also pouring at Manchester Pub, 7B, Sunswick 35/35, Good Beer and Minetta Tavern. In time, I’m sure you’ll take a shine to these Texan beers.

This story was originally published on Craft Beer New York.

The Growing Craft Beer Scene in Texas

IM42_Feature-texas-beer

For the latest issue of Imbibe, I take a deep dive into Texas’s burgeoning beer scene. These days, nary a month passes without a Texas brewery expanding or starting up. Long-running operations, such as Live Oak and Spoetzl, are increasing capacity, while Austin is exploding with breweries and brewpubs, such as Hops & Grain, Austin Beerworks, South Austin Brewing and community-supported Black Star Co-op. Dallas is also booming with Deep Ellum and Peticolas Brewing, which won gold at 2012’s Great American Beer Festival for its Royal Scandal pale ale, while Houston recently welcomed Buffalo Bayou and Karbach. And with their wild and barrel-aged ales and style-defying mash-ups—care for a smoky, subtly sour Chipotle Lichtenhainer?—experimental breweries, such as Jester King and Freetail, are making drinkers look at the Lone Star State in a brand-new light.

Care to read the article? Here’s the link.

From Lebanon, With Beer: Meet 961

MazenHeadShot

961 Beer founder Mazen Hajjar.

When it comes to foreign beer being imported to the U.S., there’s plenty of buzz about brewers from Denmark, Italy and even Spain and France, a nation better known for its love of grapes than grains. But the craft beer revolution is not confined to continental Europe. Lately, craft breweries have begun to crop up in Beijing, India and, perhaps most surprising of all, Beirut, Lebanon.

This month marks the stateside arrival of 961 Beer, Beirut’s first craft brewery. The firm was founded in 2006 by Mazen Hajjar, a former investment banker who ran two airlines before catching the brewing bug. “I bought every book on beer on Amazon and taught myself to brew,” says Hajjar, who took his greatest inspiration from Beer School by Brooklyn Brewery founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter.

Hajjar began homebrewing, taking his inspiration from Britain’s balanced brewing traditions. He tinkered with porters and English-inspired pale ales, conducting endless “research sessions” with friends and colleagues.

Then one day came a knock at the door. Continue reading

Snake River Brewing Slithers Into Town

snake river brewery

Photo: the River in the Pines

Living in New York, we’re in a privileged place when it comes to craft beer. Though we lack the critical mass of breweries and brewpubs that are found in Portland, Asheville, Seattle and Chicago, our tap lines overflow with excellent beer from cultish breweries such as Firestone Walker, Ballast Point and AleSmith.

I call this the “show pony” effect. New York is still the nation’s nerve center for media, and the city’s journalists and taste makers can quickly elevate a beer brand’s standing. Add to that the bustling tourist economy (around 50 million folks annually), and New York is a massive stage for craft breweries. The latest brewery to take its turn in the spotlight in our fair metropolis is Snake River, which might be the best brewery in Wyoming.

Don’t scoff. Over the last couple years, Wyoming’s breweries have been earning armloads of medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Thai Me Up took top honors for its IPAs, and Black Tooth Brewing, Wind River and Altitude Chophouse also earned some shiny hardware. Still, few Wyoming breweries have been as consistently excellent as Snake River Brewing.

Some breweries tend to have a single specialty such as, say, hoppy beers, stouts or crisp pilsners. That’s not Snake River’s style. Head brewer Cory Buenning is well versed in West Coast hop bombs, Czech pilsners, German lagers and English ales, showing a firm grasp on the brew kettle.

Brooklyn’s American Beer  distributors released Snake River’s beers a few weeks ago, and let me tell you: I have not been this impressed about a new brewery in eons.  Snake River Pale Ale is a citrusy easy-drinker, while the Snake River Lager is a smooth, caramel-licked dream. Like hops? Pako’s EYE-P-A is firmly bitter without blowing your taste buds to smithereens, while Zonker Stout is a rich and roasty rebuttal to winter.

Go on, get a pint. Being snakebit has never been so delightful.

This was previously published on my app, Craft Beer New York.

America’s Strange—and Strangely Delicious—Brews

bacon-brown-ale-uncommon-brewers-646

Photo: Craft Cans

Every blue moon, I pull on a pair of pants and work in an office in Midtown Manhattan as a copy editor. When I was a young, struggling writer, an aptitude with punctuation and proper spelling helped keep me fiscally afloat as I sent my stories into the ether, praying that someone would pay me pennies for my words. Thankfully, those days are (mostly) behind me, though I will occasionally work an in-office job. It’s not so much for the money as it is for camaraderie, of talking to someone besides my pooch, Sammy.

When I’m working in Midtown, I like to treat myself to a fiery, numbing Sichuan lunch from Szechuan Gourmet. It’s one of New York’s more dependable spots to grab some ma po tofu, that mix of silken tofu and crumbled pork in a blood-red bath of incendiary oil. It is singularly awesome. very few people in my office agree.  “It sounds like a dare,” a coworker said, moving her chair back a few inches. “It’s not a dare,” I said. “It’s daringly delicious.”

I did not convince her to go in on the order with me, but hopefully I can convince you try a few of these daring beers. Today, brewers are digging ever deeper into their spice cabinets to dredge up ingredients that sound like a punishment worthy of a Fear Factor contestant: spirulina, bhut jolokia peppers, even bull testicles.

Yup, it’ll take some balls to drink these beers, but the payoff is in the flavor. Behold, my first tale for Bon Appétit, “Strange Brew.” Drink it up!

The New Black

image001

Over the last few years, craft beer has seen an epidemic of oxymorons. The IPA—that is, the India pale ale—has fathered the black IPA, a roasty and bitter brew that has generated oodles of cantankerous digital debate. “Can we call it an India-style black ale?” “How can an IPA be black?” “Shouldn’t it be called a Cascadian dark ale, after all the brewers in the Pacific Northwest brewing them?”

The answer to all these questions is: be quiet. Who cares what a beer is called if it’s delicious. And heavens, there are so many fan black IPAs on the market that, happily, I could spend a weekend drinking ‘em all down. (A good regional one to look for is the Otter Creek Black IPA.)

While craft brewing is an industry of innovators, it’s also an industry of imitators. No sooner does one brewery have success with a style than 10 more join the fray. Today, black IPAs are so 2011. Now, brewers are incorporating dark roasted malts into saisons and, thanks to the Bronx Brewery, the pale ale.

Last week, the Bronx team released the Bronx Black Pale Ale, an oxymoronic ride on the dark and tropical side. The unfiltered, unpasteurized ale is made with plenty of Dorado and Citra hops, which lend a lovely tropical profile that plays nicely with the flavors of dark chocolate. It’s currently on draft only, so keep your peepers peeled for it on tap lists around town.

One place I know for certain you should be able to snag it is Jimmy’s No. 43, which will roll out the Bronx Black Pale Ale with a party on January 3 from 7 to 10 p.m. Try a taste and let me know what you think. Go on, live life on the dark side.

Rebuilding Barrier Brewing

image012

One of my favorite breweries in New York is Barrier, which Sixpoint vets Evan Klein and Craig Frymark have built up from a one-barrel nanobrewery to a five-barrel brewhouse with an eye on spreading their inventive, hop-forward ales across New York City and the region.

Well, that was the case until Sandy socked Barrier. Its name proved scant protection. Water rushed into the brewery, knocking equipment asunder and coldly, quickly destroying everything. This blow hit doubly hard, mainly because Barrier had just moved into its larger, newer—and more expensive—space four months earlier. The damage was to the tune of $100,000, a tough nut to scrape up for a couple brewers barely scraping by.

But the New York brewing community does not allow disaster to knock down its brothers and sisters. What Barrier needs to do is sell beer on the double, which is where Brewery Ommegang comes into the story. The Belgian-focused brewery has opened up its brew kettles to the crew from Barrier.

“Ommegang is a brewery we’ve always been inspired by and have admired and to actually be here on the ground making a beer with them is a really exciting thing,” said Barrier’s Frymark.

The crew designed Barrier Relief Ale, a Belgian-style IPA that Ommegang will cook up. There will be around 400 kegs, which will be sold under the Ommegang label with the proceeds directly benefiting Barrier. The beer should be hitting tap lines shortly after the New Year. Hopefully, Barrier we’ll be back in business before then.

“We’re rebuilding. We’ve reordered all of the equipment that we need to be operational again,” explained Barrier’s Klein. “The goal is to be up and running before the year is out.”

And we’ll drink to that.

P.S. Also of note: Ommegang will soon release a Game of Thrones–inspired beers.

Kentucky Common Makes a Comeback

Summit brewer Eric Harper dug deep into the history books for this pre-Prohibition beer. Photo: Pioneer Press

When it comes to Kentucky’s proud indigenous products, one thinks of ham, bacon and bourbon, a holy trinity that has given generations of Americans immeasurable pleasure. To that list please add a most unusual ale, the Kentucky Common.

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the style. The beer was popular around Louisville more than a century earlier, when the rank-and-file laborers favored it. Kentucky Common was often made with a blend of barley and corn. Of course, the cob-based vegetable is an essential ingredient in bourbon, which is also made according to a process known as sour mash.

Basically, grains and water are boiled to create nutrient-rich mash that’s blended with a bit of acidic spent mash that’s chockfull of live yeast. (Envision making sourdough bread with a starter.) The acids keep harmful bacteria and unwanted yeast at bay, allowing the mash to continue on its path to an oak barrel.

Continue reading