Monthly Archives: May 2013

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. 

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Drink the Devil’s Plaything at Salvation Taco

Devil's PlaythingThe Devil’s Plaything, a spicy, citrusy IPA brewed by Greenport Harbor.

When I was a kid I feverishly collected baseball cards, spending my allowance on Donruss, Topps and Upper Deck packs in search of, say, a Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie. As the years disappeared, my accumulations switched to CDs and buttons, before settling on today’s primary fixation: beer. My days are spent seeking out novel new flavors, maybe a beer flavored with mustard seeds or oysters—even the Rocky Mountain variant.

Though I do savor trying new flavors, I don’t want to dedicate all my waking hours (and income) to acquiring lusted-after ales such as Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout or the Alchemist’s Heady Topper. After all, there’s plenty of unusual, singular beer awaiting at bars and restaurants around New York City.

To both facilitate finely tuned food pairings and set themselves apart, haunts around New York have partnered with breweries to craft exclusive, one-of-a-kind beers. Head to Shake Shack, and you can have Brooklyn Brewery’s biscuity ShackMeister amber ale, while Astoria’s Strand Smokehouse has Hank, a juniper berry–spiced lager developed by SingleCut Beersmiths

Still, perhaps New York’s biggest proponents of proprietary beer are restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield, who helm some of the city’s hottest restaurants: gastropub trailblazer the Spotted Pig, the carnivore-focused Breslin, seafood-centric John Dory Oyster Bar and madcap Mexican Salvation Taco. Though all the cuisines and concepts are distinct, the common thread is a commitment to offering a specially designed house beer.

“For us, it’s a nice way to provide guests with something different,” says Bill Brooks, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room’s beer manager. “I really like going to craft beer bars and seeing what’s new.”

If you head to the Breslin and Spotted Pig, you can sample Brooklyn Brewery’s British-inspired Spotted Pig Bitter. (The Breslin also serves the aromatic, Captain Lawrence–crafted Revolutionary Sweetheart.) At the John Dory you’ll find Sixpoint‘s Oyster Stout, which is made with plenty of the restaurant’s leftover bivalve shells (they add an appealing minerality), as a well a refreshing blonde ale brewed in conjunction with Syracuse’s Empire.

But with summer weather settling into the city, methinks you’ll want to beeline to Salvation Taco’s rooftop to try the restaurant group’s latest proprietary beer: Greenport Harbor‘s Devil’s Plaything, a citrusy IPA flavored with limes, oranges, dried Haitian bitter orange segments and chiles. “Instead of going the historical route, we thought about taking a style of beer that we really like and tweak it,” says Brooks, who worked on the beer with ST’s beverage director Sam Anderson.

The project was born out of admiration. Brooks had long been a fan of Greenport’s hoppy ales, such as the Black IPA, Citrus IPA and bright, balanced Otherside IPA. So when Brooks was batting around ideas with Anderson about making an IPA syrup for cocktails with Serrano chiles, the right brewery for the project was a no-brainer.

“I called up John [Liegey, Greenport Harbor’s cofouder and -owner) and said, ‘We’ve got a crazy idea for a beer at the rooftop of the Taco,'” Brooks recalls. Greenport Harbor was game to fashion its first proprietary beer, cranking out a 60-barrel batch (enough to ensure a steady supply deep into the summer). At the end of May, Devil’sPlaything debuted at Salvation Taco’s sky-scraping lounge atop the Pod 39 Hotel.

While the sessionable IPA (5.2 percent ABV) is an ideal thirst-quencher on a mercury-spiking afternoon (like, say, today), it pulls double duty in the dining department, going divinely with tacos. The devil, they say, is in the details.

Devil’s Plaything is available for $8 at Salvation Taco. You can also found it on tap at Greenport Harbor’s tasting room. This story originally appeared on my Craft Beer New York app.

Cream Ales Are on the Rise

IM43_Feature-creamales

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.

 

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.

Amateur Hour Is Over: NYC Homebrewers Go Pro—Sort of

Chris Cuzme508 brewer Chris Cuzme rocking his trademark T-shirt. (Credit: 508)

Most brewers get start cooking batches on their stoves, turning out ales and lagers that, once recipes are perfected, can be just as good as anything on tap at a local bar. Not that you’ll ever find a homebrewer’s creations on draft—legally, at least.

The legalities surrounding selling homebrewed beer are as clear as Bud Light. When President Jimmy Carter legalized homebrewing in the late seventies, he allowed folks to brew up to 100 gallons of beer a year. Many brewers slosh over the threshold, but it’s unlikely that cops will come knocking. That’d only happen if homebrewers sold their tipples. There’s a defined line separating amateurs and professionals: Are they selling beer and paying their taxes?

Vending beer is a tangled web of regulations wrapped around the three-tier system, in which breweries sell to distributors, which then peddle to stores and bars. Taxes are collected at every step. Plus, there’s the cost of acquiring a federal permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It’s a pain in the butt to sell a pal a growler.

However, no law prohibits a brewery from producing a semi-pro’s recipe. “I want people to realize that homebrewers can make high-quality beer,” says Chris Cuzme, the former president of the New York City Homebrewers Guild, co-host of Fuhmentaboudit! and, most importantly, the head brewer at SoHo’s 508 GastroBrewery. “The homebrew scene still has a big place in my heart,” Cuzme says. “We have so many more homebrew clubs now, but even then, people don’t know that many of them exist.”

To raise awareness, Cuzme will partners with a different homebrew club or shop each month and craft a 50-gallon batch of beer, which will then be poured through one of the brewpub’s six tap lines. The first six collaborators are the New York City Homebrewers GuildPour Standards—Richmond County Brew Society, Brooklyn Brewsers Homebrew ClubBitter & Esters, The Brooklyn Kitchen and Brooklyn Homebrew, which will brew the first beer in the series next week. (The exact style is still undecided, but the odds-on favorite is that it will be an ESB.)

There are no limitations on the beers that will be brewed, except that Cuzme would like them to be brewed and ready to drink within a month. That means no barrel-aged imperial stouts. But with the weather breaking warm, I doubt you’ll want to drink such a bruiser. After each beer is brewed, Cuzme plans on holding a five-gallon keg in reserve for a “homebrew heavyweight tap takeover,” which will take place at the end of the six-month project. And if supporting your favorite local homebrew is not enough to get you to pop by 508 for a pint, here’s another reason: one dollar of every beer will be earmarked to the collaborators’ charity of choice.

We’ll drink to that.

The first beer in the series should be on tap at 508 by June 1. 

 More NYC Homebrewing News of Note
* This spring, Brooklyn Brew Shop plans to go pro with its EST line of beers. (The name is short for Established Brewing Company.) First up is a spicy Jalapeño Saison, a homebrew-kit favorite.

* On May 18, the Comedy Bar NYC will tap a new monthly series dubbed the Homebrewed MicProduced and hosted by comedian Ben Asher and The Brahery, the free show will partner plenty of homebrewed beer with comedy and brew-centric tunes from Final Gravity. I’ve hosted the Brahery on my homebrew tour and heard the band bash out tunes. At best, it’ll be a blast. At worst, you’ll get drunk. It’s a win-win.

This story was originally published on my Craft Beer New York app. Buy it here.