Tag Archives: Joshua M. Bernstein

Announcing My Next Book: The Complete Beer Course

CBC_CoverComplete Beer Course is due out September 3.

It’s the best time in history to be a beer drinker. It’s also the most confusing time. Stroll into any craft-beer bar or beer distributor, and you’re forced to sift through a dizzying array of dozens, if not hundreds, of singular brews. A marketplace of overwhelming choice can lead to paralysis and settling for the same old, same old. Repetition can be comforting, which is why I always purchase the same pair of jeans at the department store.

Do not make the same mistake with craft beer, where curiosity rewards the intrepid imbiber. That’s the philosophy behind my newest book, The Complete Beer Course, in which I demystify beer, elementally breaking down the grains, yeast, hops, and techniques that cause beer’s flavor to spin into thousands of distinctively delicious directions.

After outfitting you with the tools to taste, smell, and evaluate brews, the book will lead you on a flavorful trek through the most critical styles of beer. Structured around a series of easy-to-follow classes, you’ll hop from lagers and pilsners to hazy wheat beers, Belgian-style abbey and Trappist ales, aromatic pale ales and bitter IPAs, roasty stouts, barrel-aged brews, belly-warming barley wines, and mouth-puckering sour ales. Through a sequence of suggested, targeted tastings, you’ll learn which flavors are appropriate, and which ones signify that you should dump those beers down a drain. Simply put, you’ll be able to walk into nearly every bottle store or bar in the world and, with confidence, order just about any beer in the coolers or on tap.

I’m incredibly proud of The Complete Beer Course, which has been a crazy labor of love for the last two years. My publisher, Sterling Epicure, will release my book this September. (It will be out a few months before my other baby—my first child—is due to be born. It’s going to be a crazy fall.) If you’d like to pre-order a copy at a discounted price, Amazon and Barnes & Noble already have my book on sale. 

New York on the Cheap

Do you trust me with knives?

As a child, when I came to New York City with my parents to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I loved nothing more than reading the Zagat guide. For an Ohio-reared boy such as myself, the guide provided a portal to a new, ever-more delicious universe packed with “great” “descriptions” of “unparalleled food” and “peerless service.” So, I consider myself super-lucky this week to have been able to contribute my two cents to Zagat’s inexpensive grub guide. I provided a daylong eating arc, focusing on breakfast, lunch and dinner done for dirt-cheap. What are your favorite inexpensive foods in the city?

NYC Homebrew Tour: January 22

Who is that doofus?

Hey, I’m leading another homebrew tour! This one takes place on January 22, and it’ll be a humdinger. Tons of great brewers, tons of great beer. To nab a spot, please visit Brown Paper Tickets.

Here’s the boilerplate write-up: Despite New York’s gnat-size apartments, NYC homebrewers refuse to let space limitations detract them from their mission: crafting some of the city’s tastiest beer. On this tour, you’ll venture inside the homes of three of the city’s finest amateur brewers, who will display their set-ups, discuss their craft and, most importantly, open up their stash of superlative beer. There will be several stops throughout the afternoon. Bring a Metrocard. And eat a big lunch.

P.S. We’ll be starting in the Bronx! New worlds! Easy subway access! I swear!

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Junkie Love

It is true.

I know what it takes to keep my girlfriend from going crazy.

“I don’t go crazy,” she says.

I pause. This is a critical conversational juncture. One misspoken modifier, one unclear adjective could spell doom—or, more likely, a few days when our bedroom relations are as chilly as the North Pole.

“Hon, first thing in the morning, you need coffee. Without it, you become, well…” I trail off. Sometimes words are best unspoken, especially when they rhyme with itch.

“I like my coffee,” she says, getting defensive. Like is too weak. When ranking things she loves, I would list: me, our wonder mutt Sammy and coffee, not necessarily in the order. “I go to bed excited, because I know I can drink coffee in the morning,” she says. It’s the kind of language common to alcoholics, thirsting for that lovely a.m. bloom of warming, mood-brightening booze. Whether it’s alcohol, coffee or narcotics, that first fix is always the finest.

I know I’m the last person to judge an addiction. Sweet jelly beans, I’d need every finger and toe to count the number of times last month I awoke pants-less, head like a construction site, forced to crab across the ground in search of aspirin. But damn, my girlfriend’s a java junkie.

This has created interpersonal coffee wars to rival any minor Middle East skirmish. She usually rises before me, right after dawn cracks our bedroom window, in order to sneak in a morning run or a Sammy stroll. To fuel her active lifestyle, she requires inky java.

Solving this dilemma is simple: fill our metal French press with several fat scoops of dark-roasted Gorilla coffee or, more recently, beans from Brooklyn Heights bulk-food emporium Sahadi’s. Here, amid bins of cheap nuts and dried fruit, a pound of fine coffee—as black as beaches after the BP oil spill—runs as low as five smackers. At prices like these, anybody can become a caffeine fiend! Anybody!

Anyway, the problem is not cost. It’s quantity. Our French press only makes a bit more than two mugs of coffee. In a just world, we’d split the coffee even-steven. Half for you, half for me, makes a happy family. However, my girlfriend loves to drink from enormous vessels. Her water glass is a liter beer stein she filched from Astoria’s Bohemian Beer Garden. (“They have tons. They’ll never miss a glass,” she says, like a criminal angling for a score.)

Then there’s her coffee mug. It’s so big, several goldfish could spend an afternoon swimming around and never touch tails. Filling it requires nearly a full French press, leaving me a couple inches of grounds-strewn wake-up juice. “Just make more,” she says, her glasses merrily fogging with coffee steam. I get steamed. I could make more, but that’s not the point. It’s share and share alike. I try explaining this to her, but when you’re dealing with addicts, common sense doesn’t always make sense.

However, this inferno summer has thrown a crimp in our coffee consumption. Thanks to the mercury topping triple digits, drinking hot-brewed coffee has become a kind of torture the CIA could support. The solution is iced coffee. But I’m a cheap, cheap bastard. The thought of blowing two or three dollars a day on iced coffee is as unpleasant as a proctology exam. I started researching the most cost-effective way to craft iced coffee, stumbling across a website touting the cold-water Filtron system.

“With the Filtron, you’ll see, smell and taste a cup of coffee that’s beyond compare,” the ad copy touted. More appealing: the picture of a milk bottle–size carafe containing dark, concentrated coffee, enough to make 45 or 50 normal cups of java. I saw our coffee wars dissolving like Kool-Aid in water. I bought Filtron. I followed instructions. I made cold-brewed coffee possessing an unparalleled richness, with a smooth character and nary an iota of oily acidity. In the words of the copywriter, it was beyond compare.

I tested it out on my harshest critic, giving her a full cup mixed with sugar and milk. “How is it?” I asked, watching her slurp. She slurped some more. Then she slurped even more, draining the tan potion until only droplets remained.

“It’s perfect,” she said, smiling with beige-tinted teeth. “Can I have some more?”

“Of course,” I answered, filling her cup to the brim with black love.

Read—and vote for—the original column at the Press’ site.

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Get Shorted

It is true.

It was an oven-like afternoon at Coney Island, and hell had seemingly frozen over.

“I have $40 toward the first round of tortas and huraches,” my friend Matt said.

“What’d you just say?” I asked. It was my 32nd birthday party, and perhaps my advanced age had caused sudden hearing loss. Or maybe it was the copious intake of Coors Light at the beach.

“I have $40 for Mexican food,” he repeated. Color me confused. As charter members of the Cheap Bastard Club, Matt and I like to play an unofficial game we call “out-Jewing.” This penny-pinching diversion is miserly fun for everyone! How’s it work? Well, let’s say you split a couple orders of spicy noodles at X’ian Famous Foods, chased by several cumin-spiked lamb burgers. The bill is $13—$6.50 apiece. the winner would give $6, thereby saving 50 cents. Sure, it’s a small sum, but it’s a big victory for a cheap bastard.

For example, last week at Spuyten Duyvil I mistakenly ordered a round for Matt and myself. I bought Stillwater Stateside saison, made with wine-esque Nelson Sauvin hops, while Matt requested a summery ale from Greenport Harbor. His cost $6. He gave me six dollar bills, as wrinkled as dishpan hands. “what about the tip?” I wondered, as he wandered out of earshot. My cold beer was little consolation to the additional cost.

But now, Matt had a change of fiscal heart. Perhaps he’d won the lottery, or his grandparents had sent him a check for his birthday. Oh, how I loved when my grandparents sent me those $50 checks. For a moment, I’d feel wildly wealthy, like scrooge McDuck diving into his money bin.

“Thanks for the birthday food, Matt,” I said, genuinely touched.

He paused for a beat. “That’s money from last night.”

The previous eve, 19 of us dined at my favorite Caribbean restaurant, The Islands. As if the luscious, coconut-creamy calypso shrimp and lip-singeing jerk chicken are not lure enough, the Islands is also BYOB. You can dine and imbibe in the tree house–like upstairs for hours, not worrying that each beer will add $6 or $8 to a tab—the costly bane of every restaurant birthday dinner.

When the check arrived, the bill neatly broke down to $20 a person, tip included. That was a teensy sum for a three-hour bacchanal. Everyone anted up an Andrew Jackson. I gathered my bag, ready to waddle home. “Hold on,” Matt said. “We’re short $40.”

“Who didn’t pay?” I said.

“Don’t worry, baby,” my girlfriend said, soothing my inner indignant beast. “It’s your birthday. We’ll take care of it.” Five-dollar bills were passed forward, and soon the deficit was a thing of that past. Still, it left a bitter taste in my mouth—or maybe that was just acid reflux, from three too many five-alarm chicken wings.

But the beauty of the digestive system is that no matter how much you overindulge, you’ll be ravenous again. By the next afternoon, I was hungering for huge tortas from Alex Deli (1418 Mermaid Ave. betw. W. 14th & W. 15 Sts., 718-265-0675). Planted a couple blocks from the Coney beach, the teensy Mexican storefront serves skyscraping sandwiches piled with avocado, stringy Oaxacan cheese, refried beans and your favorite flesh. I like spicy carne enchilada best, but juicy al pastor is equally excellent. at $5 apiece, they’re the best boardwalk-area bargain—and my cheapskate-in-arms was going to buy me one! It was too good to be true. It was.

“I forgot that I had $40 in my pocket last night,” he admitted, his cheeks reddened by sun and slight embarrassment.

I was just tipsy enough to be incensed.

“You overcharged everybody!”

“They just paid it forward,” he said.

“Now, what do you want to eat?”

“Carne enchilada,” I said. We called Alex and, in Coors Light–accented Spanish, placed our order. Matt abandoned the beach to retrieve our food, returning with arm-straining bags of grease-stained pleasure. I bit into my torta, relishing the piquant pork, creamy avocado, zippy salsa verde. It was perfect fuel to survive another four hours basking in the celebratory sun.

“How is it?” Matt asked.

“Tastes like a million bucks,” I replied, wiping grease from my lips, “or maybe just 40.”

Read—and vote for—the original column at the Press’ site.

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Condiments to the Chef

Unappealing poster, yet awesome.

For this committed carnivore, watching the deli dude slice the soft, rose-hued corned beef was a lot like ogling lesbian porn. My pulse quickened, pupils dilated, sweat slicked my brow. I reached deep into my pants and pulled out my fat, bulging… wallet.

Damn, David’s Brisket House (533 Nostrand Ave. betw. Herkimer St. & Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, 718-783-6109), you drive me crazy. For a half decade, I’ve been hitting this first-rate Jewish deli, which soldiers on in Caribbean Bed-Stuy like a reminder of an earlier, yarmulkewearing era. David is long gone, replaced by Muslim ownership. It sounds like a Borscht Belt joke (“A Jew and a Muslim walk into a deli…”), but it’s all kosher. Muslims are stricken from feasting on swine. Luckily, cows are the building blocks of David’s daily made corned beef, pastrami and brisket. Briny, tender, fatty, peppery, savory—name the adjective, it’s applicable. Hell, if you cinch your eyes and whistle a klezmer tune, you might envision that the meaty masterminds are men named Abe and Moe.

Today, I’ve taken my friend Dave to David’s. It was his virgin voyage. He ordered corned beef. Me, brisket. We watched rapturously as the counterman built our sandwiches to Empire State heights. Bread? Rye. Mustard? Yes. Mayo? Mayo?!

I gasped. Dave, a native West Coaster, nodded. “Yes, please,” he said, words that made me reevaluate our friendship. “No mayo, only mustard,” I said, changing his order. “You have so much to learn about condiments,” I said, keeping eagle eyes on the sandwich to ensure only brown mustard marred the pink flesh.

I have no hard feelings about mayo.

In fact, the creamy condiment is the reason I even have a girlfriend. About five years ago, my friends and I ganged up for the Idiotarod, a shopping-cart race in which drunk humans act as sled dogs. Our team was the Mayo Clinic, and we were despised. That’s because we flung mayonnaise willy-nilly, coating contestants’ carts, clothes and hair with Hellmann’s. It was terrible—and terribly hilarious.

A few weeks later, I was dining at Pacifico after a Jonathan Ames reading. Across from me sat a couple of girls, one blond, one brunette, discussing the Idiotarod. “Hey, I did that too,” I said, trying my hand at dinner conversation.

“Oh, what was your team?” the blond asked, batting her blue eyes.

“We were the Mayo Clinic.” “We hated you,” she said. And that, dear readers, was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

But while mayo has brought me love, it brings little to sandwiches. It’s little more than a lubricant, the K-Y Jelly of the condiment world. If moisture is needed, give me a splash of olive oil, or maybe mustard. Ketchup? Keep it. I learned my lesson long ago.

I must’ve been around 10 or 11, in New York for the third or fourth time. My family and I were visiting my grandparents, who lived in Washington Heights and the Bronx. Hunger hit. We stopped at a hot dog shop, and my parents sent me in to secure the frankfurters. Big man! Big man in a big city! I ordered griddle-crisped dogs, then painted narrow, ruler-precise stripes of ketchup. I brought the wieners outside. My parents looked at me as if I presented them dog shit on a bun.

“You can’t have ketchup on a hot dog,” my dad said. I was confused. Every kid in my suburban-Ohio elementary school coated hot dogs in Heinz 57. “Ketchup goes on a hamburger,” my dad instructed, “while you can only have mustard on a hot dog.” He sent me back inside to remove the tomato-based topping and replace it with a lonely yellow streak. It was embarrassing. It was instructive.

“I don’t remember that happening,” my dad will doubtlessly complain after reading this column. He often says that. But as a doctor, he should remember that though he can’t recall every incision, his patients remember every scar.

But hey, save your hankies and psychotherapy for someone else. Matters of taste are as much a product of nurture as nature. Who would I be if I didn’t grow up smearing mustard on Hebrew National hot dogs? Or if meatloaf decorated our dinner tables instead of fiery Thai curries and stir-fries with tofu and fermented black beans? I eat, therefore I am.

As for the case of Dave at David’s Brisket, his empty plate told me he didn’t miss mayo too much.

Read—and vote for—the original article at New York Press’ site.

Porterhouses’ Wrasslers XXXX Stout – Beer of the Week

Frothy!

Well, chickadees, I wrote about this stout last week, when the temperatures had dropped into the bone-numbing 40s. But today? The mercury will make its way to 80, meaning that drinking a stout is as smart as stepping into a sauna come August. Or some other mixed metaphor. But anyhoo, what can you do. This week, I turn my liver’s attention to Wrasslers XXXX, a lovely stout hailing from Ireland. Bitter and full-bodied, this beauty kicks Guinness to the curb. Don’t believe me? Take a gander over at Slashfood. Drink it up!