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 Nevada, Victory 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.
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.
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 Boneyard, 10 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.
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.
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.
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.
In this month’s Imbibe, I undertook a Herculean task: to select 50 of the most cultish beers in the world, plus their worthy understudies. As we all know, this is impossible. Any list is guaranteed to incite readers, many of whom will sing the hosanas of their favorite beers that they felt were left out. That’s the challenge of lists like these. You have a finite number of slots to fill, and you can’t include anyone. You are also trying to be fair and balanced, providing a great range of beers across the country, as well as the world. I’d love to show you the fruits of my labor and have you weigh in, but, well, the article is print-only. Alas! To tide you over, here’s a list of upcoming cult-beer releases. Do let me know if you get your hands on a copy, though.
For the latest issue of Imbibe, I took on the tough job of diving into the world of beer and cheese—namely, how dairies are washing their cheeses in beer, or even incorporating craft beer directly into the dairy stuff. It’s a tasty, tasty trend filled with plenty of bacterial hijinks. Curious? Check out the full story…right here.
In the latest issue of Imbibe, I tackled the tale of Long Island beer. In recent years, the biggest island in the contiguous United States—it 118 miles, from New York Harbor to the eastern edge, encompassing Queens and Brooklyn—has become a brewing hotbed. More than a half dozen breweries and counting have sprouted to serve a massive underserved market: around 4 million people live on Long Island, with another 8 million in New York (counting Queens and Brooklyn). “Long Island is set up to be a great region for craft beer,” says Rick Sobotka, the founder and brewmaster of Great South Bay Brewery.
Long Island beers defy simple categorization. Blind Bat Brewing incorporates homegrown herbs and smoked malts in its rustic ales, while Great South Bay’s lineup includes the juniper berry–dosed Sleigh Ryed red ale and silky Snaggletooth Stout made with local apples, licorice and cinnamon. Paying homage to its aquatic location, Port Jeff Brewing Company turns out the Runaway Ferry Imperial IPA and lightly citrusy Schooner Ale. Long Ireland specializes in stouts and traditional Irish ales, while nanobrewery Barrier Brewing’s distinctive brews count the salty and sour Gosilla and the ruby-toned Vermillion Saison Rouge.
Care to read the rest of my story? Here’s the PDF: IB36_Cover+Beer62-69
In the January/February issue of Imbibe magazine, I took a deep look at how American brewers are inspiring a new breed of international beer makers. Breweries in Denmark and Norway are shrugging off their lager-filled pasts, in turn toying around with hops, barrel-aging and wild styles that echo America’s no-barriers brewing ingenuity but are distinctly singular. Curious? The editors have posted a version of the article online for you to gander. Take a read and let me know what you think. Cheers!
Though the book tour has been utter madness, I’ve still been able to eke out a few minutes here and there to pen stories such as this doozy in the latest Imbibe. At its core, whiskey is basically unhopped beer (dubbed wash) that’s been distilled, then aged in oak barrels.
By and large, most distilleries don’t give a darn about creating a flavorful wash. Instead, they’re most concerned with creating the largest measure of fermentable liquids. But lately, distillers have been thinking a lot like brewers, creating imperial stouts that are distilled down, or even dosing white dog with Centennial hops. It’s a tasty development, one that’s blurring the lines between distilleries and breweries—some of which double as distilleries. Check out my story in the magazine this month. Any thoughts? I’m curious to hear what you think about this burgeoning new genre.
As a child growing up in southwestern Ohio, I spent many a day in Chicago. It was my family’s favorite spring break destination (strange, I know), where we’d scarf down dim sum and deep-dish pizza with equal fervor. But after I graduated from college and moved to New York, Chicago receded into the rear-view mirror. A decade passed before I ventured back to town in May to do a feature on the city’s burgeoning brewing scene.
While Goose Island may be synonymous with the city, there’s a swell of upstarts such as Revolution Brewing, Haymarket and Half Acre — and a half dozen other breweries and counting — that are filling local tap lines and making the city’s craft beer scene a winner. Even if the Cubs are not. Curious? You can check out the article (complete with pretty pictures!) in Imbibe, or you can check out the article online. Curious? Drink it up!