Category Archives: Beer

Coming in September: Complete IPA

Complete IPA

Hey there! Been a little it, hasn’t it? That’s because I’ve spent much of the last seven months writing a book, stressing about writing a book, revising a book, editing a book and, oh yeah, taking care of a toddler and writing stories. So many stories!

But I’m here to tell you about the book. On September 13, my publisher, Sterling, will release my latest book, Complete IPA. (Want to pre-order it? Click here!) What’s it about? Why did I decide to write it? Thanks for asking! The explanation all starts with a dollar bill. (Note: This excerpt is way expanded from my book intro.)

During the late ’90s, my wobbly undergrad-journalist days at Ohio University, I regularly patronized O’Hooley’s. (Today it has transformed into Jackie O’s, one of the Midwest’s better breweries.) It was a dark and smoky Irish brewpub, popular with bluegrass bands, dispensing brown ales, pale ales, stouts, and other full-bodied crowd-pleasers. What made O’Hooley’s special, especially for a cash-poor college kid, was Power Hour: for 60 glorious minutes, every house draft was $1. A buck! At first I was a greedy, greedy gumdrops, downing three or four in an hour, alcohol, not flavor, my chief concern.

Not every night needed be a blast-off to a blackout. Over time, I started discussing the beers with friends, asking questions, divining why they tasted different. The answers in time led me down delicious tributaries bubbling with monk-brewed Belgian tripels, robust barley wines, rich doppelbocks, and, oh yeah, the occasional India pale ale. Fifteen years back, the IPA was one of many teleporters into a fermented cosmos far more flavorful, far more interesting than what I could gulp from a keg while suspended upside down by my ankles.

What a difference a decade and a half makes.

Beer today is an all-you-can-eat luncheon, glutted with bourbon-barreled imperial stouts, salty ’n sour German ales spritzed with blood oranges, and rustic saisons gone funky with wild yeast. But when people first approach that smorgasbord, empty glass extended, the first (and second and third) selection is often an IPA, the king of contemporary beer.

Whereas for me it was stouts and Belgians that hipped me to a world beyond the bulk-buy lager, mass-produced and massively forgettable, the IPA is oftentimes today’s introductory touchstone of taste. Bitterness and citrus, pine trees and dankness worthy of a weed-filled one-hitter, they’re flavors and fragrances that are easy to grasp, easy to love, easy to obsess over. A generation ago, brewing IPAs made brewers stand out. Now brewers make IPAs to fit in, our ceaseless thirst driving production.

Most every brewer in America, more than 4,300 as of publication and climbing nearly daily, and a growing number around the globe, makes some iteration of an IPA. It’s a category as elastic as it is overcrowded. Those three letters used to be shorthand for bitterness and a fair bit of booze. Now an IPA is code word for flavor. It’s anything and everything, a fever dream filled with hops, kegged, and served cold.

I kind of saw it coming. As a journalist hard on the beer beat since the early aughts, I noticed the uptick in IPAs, the beers growing brasher and more prevalent. However, I thought the wave would crest and crash, followed by another. That’s the nature of trends. The IPA, though, was not a single upsurge; it was a rolling series of swells, some bigger, some smaller, all impactful, steadily eroding prevailing beliefs that beer equaled a fizzed-up yellow lager.

So many waves of IPAs arrived, from every which direction, it was becoming a superhuman endeavor to track them. And it was my job. To provide a concise snapshot of the pervasive, always changing, forever evolving beer style, creating a kind of bitter Rosetta Stone, I resolved to write The Complete IPA. Yes, it’s about beer. It’s also about the ingenuity of brewers taking an idea, taking raw material, and making it massively memorable, utterly distinct, and paradigm shifting—no easy shakes.

Creating a printed document in the forward-hurtling beer world can be thorny, text dated before the tome touches a shelf. I tried to read tealeaves, but with IPAs the only foregone certainty is flux. There’s likely some experimental hop, just taking root, filled with flavors we never dreamed possible in a flower, destined to upend the IPA game forever.

And that’s what keeps me writing and drinking, not necessarily in that order. We’re living in an IPA world. Complete IPA shows you how to drink it in, down to the dollar.

Introducing Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing

Threes Brewing’s head brewer, Greg Doroski

Threes Brewing’s head brewer, Greg Doroski

As recently as last year, you could count Brooklyn’s professional breweries with three fingers. There was Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint and KelSo—and there was nothing else. As the rest of America, from Alaska to Alabama, cultivated homegrown brewing scenes, Brooklyn built restaurants with affinities for exposed brick and heirloom potatoes, as well as bars serving drinks in mason jars.

Breweries required space, and space was a valuable Brooklyn commodity snapped up by condo developers. But where some saw daunting odds, others saw a return to normalcy. As recently as 1962, Brooklyn was cranking out 10 percent—10 percent!—of American beer. We made Rheingold, we made Schaefer, we made the country good and drunk. Now, breweries are slowly repopulating Kings County. In Greenpoint, there’s Dirck the Norseman and Keg & Lantern, while Carroll Gardens’ Other Half is hammering out hop bombs lickety-split.

Brooklyn’s breweries now have company, and the newest entrant—slated to open mid-October—is a brewpub named Threes. Like baklava, the name is multilayered. The first one is most obvious: the address is 333 Douglass Street, right off Fourth Avenue in the Gowanus. The second layer is the founding trio: Sycamore co-owner Justin Israelson, tech entrepreneur Josh Stylman and lawyer and playwright Andrew Unterberg. Lastly, there’s Threes’ mission. It’s by turns a brewpub and a coffee shop, but it’s also an event space, a future home to trees and hop trellises, bands, stroller-pushing parents (like me!), homebrewers and any ol’ Brooklynite who likes beer. Or cocktails. Or music. Yes, that’s more than three. But it’s tough to put a number on what the threesome aim to accomplish. Continue reading

Craft Beer: What Does It Mean?

Craft Beer_Imbibe Magazine
For this month’s cover story in Imbibe magazine, I investigate the “c” word—craft beer. What does it mean these days?

Thirty years ago, America’s beer market was basted in black-and-white. Big brewers like Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors cranked out masses-pleasing lagers. Nipping at their heels were little guys like Sierra Nevada, New Albion and Anchor, collectively known as “microbrewers.” Often packaged in brown bottles, their small-batch ales were rich in flavor, aroma and hue—a marked contrast to clear lagers.

These days, perception is no longer so easily colored. Breweries such as New Belgium and Brooklyn are no longer “micro,” a term that’s a ’90s relic like Reebok Pumps. Today, breweries both massive and minuscule, from Australia to Alaska, are craft brewers. Piney IPAs, aromatic witbiers and wild yeast–inoculated ales are their stock in trade—but so are crisp pilsners and lawnmower-friendly lagers, formerly megabrewers’ main domain. With sales of their once-dependable beers eroding, brewing behemoths have responded by buying or investing in established outfits like Blue Point and Terrapin, as well as releasing brews that could pass for craft in a blind taste test—and even besting craft beers in competitions. At the same time, the Brewers Association has continually tweaked its definition of “craft brewer,” leaving long-running breweries on the outside looking in. And as the industry ranks swell so do concerns about quality—the same issue that helped pop the ’90s bubble.

Care to read the tale? Check out the full story here.

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.

Introducing Beer With Baby

I am a parent. And I drink beer for a living. Also: I write about it too. How does this all fit together? It’s complicated. To chronicle the challenges of being both a working beer journalist and author, as well as a parent, I’ve started a fun column for First We Feast. Naturally, it’s called Beer With Baby.

Violet also approves of @elysianbrewing Super Fuzz, a blood orange-spiked pale ale. It's citrusy yum.

A photo posted by Joshua M. Bernstein (@joshmbernstein) on

For me, it’s a fun return to my column-writing days. I spent more than seven years penning a booze-drenched, gluttony-driven column for the New York Press called Gut Instinct. The job helped me hone my writing voice, sending me on culinary (mis)adventures across New York City. Now I’m a dad. But I still eat and drink. Beer With Baby is my attempt to figure out parenthood. With alcohol. Have a read and let me know what you think about the first few columns.

Beer With Baby: Elysian Super Fuzz

Beer With Baby: Green Flash Road Warrior

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.