Tag Archives: Craft Beer

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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. 

October Beer-Story Roundup

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Fine drinkers! The last month has been a tilt-a-whirl of travel for The Complete Beer Course. Over the course of 12 hours, I consumed beer in both Brooklyn and San Diego—and at 30,000 feet too—to kickstart a book tour that has not quite ended yet.  In between drinking more than my recommended daily allowance of beer, as well as preparing for the impending birth of my daughter next month, I’ve been writing. Oh, have I been writing! So many words! So many, many words!

This dichotomy suits me like Savile Row’s finest. I’m able to get out in the world and chitchat with folks, then retreat to my hermit cave and crank out stories like one of those monkeys tethered to a typewriter. Anyway, I digress. Which is sort of the point of writing on your own website, right? No editors to request that you turn your stories into a clickable slideshow or knock out a trend-driven story on, say, pumpkin beers or football season. It’s tough being a writer in this attention-deficit Internet age. But you know what? There are far, far worse jobs out there in the world. Actually, that’s a lie: newspaper reporter is the worst job.

So why do I do it? I like writing. And I like drinking beer. And I like investigating their delicious intersections. Without further hullabaloo, here are some of the stories I’ve penned over the last month. You’ll want to crack a beer first.

First We Feast, “20 Beer Terms You Secretly Can’t Explain”Or can you? That would really defeat this article’s purpose.

Bon Appétit, “The Complete College Guide to Drinking Beer”: Malt liquor and keg stands are nothing but a distant memory.

Bon Appétit, “Ten Great American Farmhouse Breweries”: From Hill Farmstead to Ruhstaller, Old MacDonald most definitely had a beer.

Bon Appétit, “How the 10 Most Important Grains in Beer Affect Flavor”: From oats to rye, here’s why your beer drinks smooth and tastes spicy.

Imbibe, “The United States of Beer”: My cover story this month is a state-by-state sampling of the nation’s craft beers. P.S. It’s only in the magazine.

Imbibe, “Average Joe”: RateBeer’s Joe Tucker has built a beer-review website for—and of—the people

The Denver Post, “Scouting GABF 2013″: I report on the Northeast’s best breweries to travel to Denver this year.

New York Post, “10 Brew-tiful Ways to Rock Oktoberfest”: You’re hungry for sausage, aren’t you?

Maxim, “Seven Things Every Man Should Know About Oktoberfest”: For starters, it actually begins in September.

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.

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.