A couple of months ago I was invited to be interviewed by the one and only Lynne Rosetto Kasper of NPR’s Splendid Table. Here’s the link to the recent broadcast, a conversation which veered from my experiences in West African homebrewing to a journey into Alaska in mid-January and the wild, barrel-aged wonders from Mark Jilg’s Craftsman Brewery and Shaun Hill’s Hill Farmstead. Enjoy! The Splendid Table, 1.7.12 (from 23:19 to 29:20)
Category Archives: Books + Media
Is it time for another Beer Summit? The U.S. subsidizes corn syrup-filled soda pop but taxes the hell out of small and independent craft brewers who are making delicious artisanal beer and bringing jobs to American Main Streets. Let’s have a sip of wisdom, shall we? Here’s my first Op-Ed, for Bloomberg Voices, on the subject of taxes, job creation, and American craft beer. Let me know what you think.
GIVE ECONOMY HOPS WITH MICROBREW TAX CUT
With the president and Congress mired in partisan backbiting, many lawmakers may be tempted to retreat to a dark room for a cold beer. They would do well to make that a craft beer.
Various high-ranking senators and representatives have been working on a pair of bills that not only would make craft brewing more competitive, but may also make a small contribution to helping relieve the nation’s grinding unemployment.
This legislation would roll back excise taxes on small brewing companies by anywhere from 11 percent to 50 percent. The current tax rates, adopted in 1976 before the rise of micro- and craft breweries in the 1990s, have never been updated, requiring many brewers to pay levies calibrated for much larger operations once considered small…[Read More]
Huzzah! Here’s a thoughtful review of The Great American Ale Trail by The Atlantic Monthly‘s Clay Risen. Cheers to Risen for the “young and talented” and “fluid and entertaining” bits! Good man, I owe you a beer.
A young and talented beer journalist, DeBenedetti provides extensive descriptions of beer bars, stores, breweries, brewpubs, and restaurants with extensive beer lists (11 Madison Park, one of Manhattan’s toniest eateries, also boasts one of the country’s best beer inventories). Tucked between are travel itineraries, regional overviews, and general musings about the culture of beer in America. What could have been a dry mash note to the nation’s beer havens is, in DeBenedetti’s hands, a fluid, entertaining handbook.
Here’s the rest, which quibbles with my having missed one of Risen’s favorites spots in Tennessee (join the club, my friend), and only describing one brewery in Bend, OR (there are four in the book actually). It’s an honor to have my work in The Atlantic — there was a time not so long ago when books about beer didn’t even exist.
The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough (via The Atlantic)
From Brooklyn Based, 10/18/11: Not even a glass of Pliny the Elder could get craft beer fans as excited as the release of two new books: The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Brooklyn Brewery’s celebrated brewmaster Garrett Oliver, andThe Great American Ale Trail: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, written by food and travel journalist (and former Brooklynite) Christian DeBenedetti, who began exploring the world’s breweries and beer cities 15 years ago on a fellowship. Oliver’s tome is an encyclopedic survey of the history and scope of beer produced worldwide. DeBenedetti’s book is an enlightening guide to over 400 stellar breweries, beer bars, and other beer destinations across 43 states, including local favorites like Spuyten Duyvil.
The two took breaks from their busy travel schedules to talk with Brooklyn Based about the state of the American craft beer scene and Brooklyn’s place in it.
Brooklyn Based: Where does Brooklyn fit into the country’s craft beer movement? Is it a trailblazer in any sense, or are we just following the lead of other cities like Portland, OR?
Christian DeBenedetti: Brooklyn stands on its own. I wrote in the intro to my Northeast section that all of New York City, and especially Brooklyn, has beer in its very foundations. No fewer than three breweries called New Amsterdam home in 1612; in 1913, Jake Ruppert built a $30 million dollar brewery and got himself a baseball team, the Yankees. Brooklyn produced one-fifth of the nation’s beer by 1960, according to a recentTimes story. By 1976, the number of local breweries had bottomed out, and no one really cared about beer anymore.
I tend to think that NYC’s modern craft beer evolution has been more food-oriented and didn’t really grow as much out of the DIY homebrewing and brewpub culture in the same way that, say, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco has.
Garrett Oliver: Brooklyn has, as Christian has mentioned, very deep brewing roots. In more recent times, the Brooklyn beer culture was based on pioneering places such as Sam Barbieri’sWaterfront Ale House. Today, Brooklyn’s beer culture has outstripped Manhattan’s, despite the excellence of great places like The Blind Tiger on Bleeker Street. The fact that a fairly short walk will take you from The Diamond, The Gutter, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn Brewery, Mugs Ale House (also foundational), Teddy’s and Brooklyn Ale House to Spuyten Duyvil, Fette Sau and Barcade is nothing short of amazing.
I think our beer culture is probably deeper and more varied than Portland’s (witness the relatively British-based bent of most of the beers up there; not nearly so much Belgian influence), but Portland wins for sheer volume. And yes, food is a very big part of the Brooklyn beer scene.
Christian, what city do you think has the most adventurous craft beer scene in the country?
It depends, because adventurousness is totally relative these days. Compared to the watery norms of beer selections past, one could make the case that cities like Billings, Montana, New Orleans and Los Angeles are all contenders for “most adventurous” these days. All three once craft-beer-averse cities are awash with unusual styles on offer. You can now drink barrel-aged beers made at a deliciously high level in rural outposts like Bozeman, Montana and Jackson, Wyoming.
But for the sake of making my friend Garrett squirm a little I’ll say this: while my old stomping ground of Brooklyn has superb beer in the kettles, a glorious history, and virtually un-improveable watering holes, there’s an eye-popping number: 53. That’s the latest count of craft breweries in a city essentially the size of Park Slope. And among these you have everything from homebrewer-founded giants like Widmer and Bridgeport, to award-winning experimental wizards of sour and farmhouse and wood-aged styles at Cascade Barrel House and Uprightand Breakside and Hair of the Dog. I mean, there’s a food cart with a built-in brewery on wheels–Captured By Porsches Brewing Co.
It gets crazier: You can buy and fill a glass growler with Rogue or Laurelwood beer in the Portland International airport and carry it on your flight, because it’s all beyond security. Who said flying sucks? Forget those skunky $7 Heinekens. How about four pints of fresh IPA for the same price?
Garrett, do you think Brooklyn Brewery is a victim of its own success; meaning, more specifically, do you think it is unfairly considered too “big” or not local/craft enough by some in the craft beer scene?
Given that we’ve been brewing for 22 years, including 16 years in our current location in Williamsburg, I think that we’re the size that we should be. No matter what your endeavor is, a rock band or a brewery, you’re going to find some people who want you to remain tiny and unknown. I think that outlook is really pretty weird.
If a brewery is successful, it grows; if it doesn’t grow, it’s a failure.
We have, in many ways, defined “craft” for many years, pioneering things like collaborative brewing and even now-established beer styles. We also have the largest 100 percent bottle-conditioning operation in the U.S., which represents a true evolution of a distinctly artisanal nature. In fact, I think we are one of the most genuinely artisanal breweries in the country. Do people know that? Some do, but I think many don’t. So perhaps we need to be better at telling people who we are.
How much Brooklyn Brewery beer is actually made in Brooklyn now?
Garrett: The brewery in Brooklyn is now four times the size it was a year ago, and we produce more than a dozen beers, including all of the bottle-conditioned beers, from there. With the new expansion we will take some of the upstate production back in-house. It’s hard to know exactly what proportion that will be during the next year, but right now it’s looking like about 30 percent or so.
How much has the craft beer scene changed over since Brooklyn Brewery started 22 years ago? Do you think craft brewers are more free to experiment and make ambitious beers than they were in the past?
Christian: Craft brewing in America—and abroad—is practically unrecognizable today from the scenario we were sipping at the end of the ‘80s. There were perhaps a couple of hundred microbreweries then, whereas we are soon to pass 2,000. Most made a few basic varieties of British-inflected beer. Stylistically speaking, brewers were charting new ground, sure, but nothing like the wide-ranging, genre-bending efforts we’re seeing now, swerving into smoked, sour, super-hoppy, hop-less, fruit-infused, and even gluten-free territory.
Garrett: It’s hard to remember now that back in 1989 there wasn’t a whole aisle of bread at the supermarket and there weren’t cheese departments either. Back in 1989, sushi was considered exotic food–now sushi is at baseball stadiums. Our food culture has been transformed by diversification. We’re no longer a meat-and-potatoes nation.
In 1989, New York City, except for Brooklyn Lager (the only beer we made back then) and New Amsterdam, was pretty much a craft-beer desert. We had to go to Boston just to get some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was possible, in 1989, to open up a bar and maybe have four to six draft lines, and have them all be mass-market beer. That’s impossible today–you wouldn’t have any business. It would be like opening up a 1989 supermarket next to Whole Foods or Wegmans.
What many people don’t realize is that craft brewing is not a trend or a fad. It’s a return to normality. One hundred years ago, we had the most interesting beer culture and the most interesting food culture in the world. We forget that, but we did. Our immigrant culture meant that we had everything from everywhere. We took bread and made it into sponges, we took cheese and made it into plastic, and we took beer and turned it back into water. Now we’re in recovery. And I have a message for every 55-year-old beer salesman who figures he’s going to ignore craft beer because he’s only 10 years from his retirement. And my message is simple: you don’t have 10 years. If you don’t learn this stuff now, you simply aren’t going to make it. The world has changed and it isn’t going back–it’s accelerating.
Posted on 10/18/11 | Interview by Keith Wagstaff
Beer West magazine and I are teaming up this Monday and Tuesday — that’s October 10th and 11th — in the Bay Area to bring you two nights of book signing, beer, and fun. Are you in?
MONDAY: Beer Revolution: October 12th, 6-9pm: 464 3rd St. Oakland, CA beer-revolution.com
TUESDAY: 21st Amendment: October 11th, 6-9pm: 563 2nd St. San Francisco, CA 21st-amendment.com
Please come and help celebrate the release of my new book, The Great American Ale Trail!
I will be on hand to talk about and sign copies of my first book, the essential road map to 430 of the best craft beer destinations in the United States, including Beer Revolution and 21st Amendment, of course. Also, meet publisher Megan Flynn, of Beer West, a quarterly magazine covering the craft beer lifestyle on the West Coast. Come check out the magazine and sign up to start receiving a subscription. There will be beer specials and raffle tickets awarded for purchasing beer, books, and magazine subscriptions; drawing includes tons of great prizes. Hope to see you at one or both events!
About the book:
After a year of toil, travel, and tasting my first book on beer pilgrimages is ready! Are you? THE GREAT AMERICAN ALE TRAIL: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, came out nationwide 9/6/11 on Running Press and has already nearly sold out its first print run…
With a preface by Garrett Oliver and detailed profiles of hundreds of destinations from Kona to Cooperstown, South Beach to SoCal, Portland East and Portland West, it’s a 368-page, full-hearted celebration of America’s amazing craft beer community, with profiles of brewers and key beers to seek out in more than 40 U.S. states.
I hope you will consider sharing news of my book with your FaceBook fans and Twitter followers by directing them to the Amazon site for the book or the book’s FaceBook fan page to “like”, and the Twitter feed.
Here’s multimedia and tape of my NPR/OPB interview yesterday. Thanks Dave Miller!
My first book, THE GREAT AMERICAN ALE TRAIL (Running Press ’11), is in its final stages of completion! What an amazing year of travel and discoveries…I don’t even know where to begin. Such an inspiring and challenging and rewarding project. Please take a moment to visit and ‘like’ my FaceBook page for the book. I’ve got a photo album going from my research (and beer field research going back to 1996 or so…) I’ll keep it updated on all things related—release dates and events for the fall, readings, spontaneous beer drinking sessions in Portland…that sort of thing. Thanks for your support….It makes all the difference. And please, follow me on Twitter too: @debenedetti.
Slate: Germany’s beer culture is in decline.
By Christian DeBenedetti. Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011, at 10:07 AM ET
Germans, famously, coin neologisms when a crisis hits or the culture reels in a new direction. Take die bad bank (toxic lender), kreditklemme (credit crunch), or twittern (sending a message via Twitter). Because Germany’s brewing industry has fallen on hard times, especially since the mid-1990s, you’ll now hear brauereisterben (literally, “brewery death”) muttered across the land as well. That may sound a little ridiculous, but in a country practically synonymous with beer and brewing—buxom servers in dirndls and overflowing steins, the biergarten echoing with song—the possibility of a downturn is a major buzz kill.
The facts are stark: According to German federal statistics released in late January, German brewing has dropped to less than 100 million hectoliters of production for the first time since reunification in 1990. (That’s less than half of the United States’ annual output.) The same study revealed that consumption dropped almost 3 percent last year alone, to 101.8 liters per person per year, and that it’s down about one-third overall since the previous generation. The number of breweries in the country has also dropped—by about half over the last few decades to around 1,300. (There are nearly 1,700 up and running in the U.S.) The vaunted Weihenstephan brew master degree program in Munich adopts a dour tone on its student prospectus, saying the majority of graduates don’t actually become brew masters but instead head for jobs in mechanical engineering and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
Further evidence of brauereisterben is depressingly easy to pile on. Continue reading
Made using everything from cocoa nibs to sweet potatoes, The Bruery’s sophisticated small-batch craft brews have beer connoisseurs buzzing.
Just before noon on a bright spring day in the Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown, a sleepy Patrick Rue shocked himself back to life with a spicy top-shelf Bloody Mary. The night before, the 29-year-old law school grad had been surprised—along with 2,000 other attendees gathered in the ballroom at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers—when he won not one but two golds in the 2010 World Beer Cup, a prestigious global competition of craft brewers. Beating out 50 other contenders, Rue’s Brett Autumn Maple topped the Experimental category, and his Oude Tart, which judges noted had “beautiful rose and cherry notes,” bested 20 other entries in the Belgian-Style Flanders/Oud Bruin or Oud Red Ale group. Inevitably, some serious revels commenced after the five-course gala. “It was an incredible night,” recalls Rue. “I wasn’t expecting to win anything. There are so many amazing beers in the categories we entered.” Continue reading
[The following was originally published in Food & Wine Magazine, June, 2009. Enjoy]
Fanatically innovative brewers around the globe are creating new beers with unorthodox ingredients and techniques. Beer geek Christian DeBenedetti makes a pilgrimage to a newly famous scene close to home: California’s San Diego County. By Christian DeBenedetti
My mission is simple: Skip the bland international lagers sold everywhere on earth, seek out small-batch, artisan-made beers in their native habitats and drink them.
It’s early spring, and I am exploring San Diego County, one of the most dynamic beer scenes in America and arguably the world. Avant-garde pro brewers from all over the planet, ambitious home brewers and even plain old beer geeks have made this pilgrimage before me. And like me, they have driven Route 78, a near-mystical road through San Diego County’s brewery-dotted landscape, then returned home with cases of rare beers (and even yeast samples), inspired and ready to experiment.
For me, this is the latest stop on a beer journey that began more than a decade ago. The year was 1996, and I was a beer scholar on a post-graduate grant that allowed me to spend 12 months researching ancient brewing techniques in Europe and Africa.
As a fledgling beer pilgrim, my ultimate destination was Belgium. Continue reading