This week’s New Yorker features an unexpected treat by staff writer Burkhard Bilger. Call it the Barack Obama of beer articles: a ten-page analysis of the craft beer industry—and one of its provocateurs, Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head—that sucker punches conventional wisdom. There’s much to savor here, with passages such as the following:
“Calagione strapped on a pair of safety glasses and peered into the oak and hickory embers. “If there are no second-degree burns, I’ll call this a success,” he said. Then he heaved in a rock, sending up a shower of sparks. “Let me know if they start to explode,” he told one of the cooks.”
Bilger’s descriptions of Calagione’s unorthodox brewing methods, including the use of Palo Santo (a rare, aromatic Uruguayan wood three times harder than oak) to ferment a burly stout are riveting—and brings back a lot of fond journalistic memories. My oft-beer-writing-partner-in-crime Seth Fletcher and I wrote about Calagione’s use of Palo Santo back in the October issue of Men’s Journal in which we named the resulting beer one of the best in America, only after tasting it with Calagione while huddled at the tiny copper-topped bar of Dieu De Ciel, a brewpub in Montreal’s Plateau district. We’d ventured up for the Mondiale Du La Biere Festival, and arranged to meet Calagione, well armed with samples—including the Palo Santo-aged beer. Another interesting passage for me was Bilger’s on-site interview with Brasserie D’Orval brewmaster Jean Marie Rock, who I met, too, in 1997 while on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship doing research that would become the basis of my first published article, from the (now defunct) Brewing Techniques magazine (and an award-winner). A toast to Burkhard, Sam, and beer drinkers everywhere who’ve been calling for full respect of the good stuff for a long time. I’ve got to sign off now, or I’ll be late for a tasting at Gramercy Tavern. On the menu? Beer, of course.