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.
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.
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 “Craft Beer Goes Hollywood [Profiles]”→
[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.
Rare Brews: Two exquisite craft beers, made only once a year
Firestone: Walker Solace
Hybrids of odd styles are popping up across the country, but this California beer is a brew marriage that actually works. The cross of wheat-enhanced Belgian saison and German hefeweizen intensifies flavor and spice in a lighter beer (firestonewalker.com).
Dogfish Head: Festina Peche
Sour beers are all the rage in craft brewing, but too many taste like pickle juice. Not so with brewer Sam Calagione’s summer-only offering, which is based on an acidic German style and made with peaches. It pops with the tart zing of good lemonade, with an added kick (dogfish.com). —Christian DeBenedetti
On occasion I’m invited to profile prominent NYU alumni for the school’s magazine. Here, the latest, on John Delucie of The Waverly Inn, who opened his you-probably-can’t-get-there-either pleasure dome The Lion last week. I’ve toured both, so you don’t have to. Enjoy, and may your dreams be of a gigantic highball and a Flatiron steak.
The Waverly Inn is the kind of place that doesn’t list its phone number because it doesn’t need to. A place that counts models, moguls, and movie stars as regulars. A place where even the mac and cheese costs $95 because it’s flavored with white truffles flown in from Alba, Italy. To those who want to get in, it can seem impenetrable. To those who do get in, it’s the modern epitome of “see and be seen.”
Back in the early 1990s, when John DeLucie was stuck in a cubicle at a Midtown employment agency, he had no idea that he’d someday be the executive chef and co-owner of such an establishment. His humble past is still evident on the menu, where patrons will find dressed-up comfort food—a simple yet stylish alternative to haute cuisine. And unlike chefs at some exclusive restaurants, DeLucie, who recently launched his second Village venture, The Lion, warmly greets guests as though they’re family coming over to dinner.
Here’s my coverage from EATER Portland on the James Beard FoundationAwards, the swanky affair held each year at Lincoln Center requiring journalists to wear uncharacteristically formal clothing and chefs to get very, very drunk. First, an interview with Seattle chef Jason Wilson of Crush on defeating three Portland, Oregon contenders in the category of Best New Chef, Pacific Northwest.
On the Portland food scene:
“We love going to Portland. We have family there in Camas and in Portland and in Clackamas, and we think the food scene there is so dynamic. And it’s really put a lot of pressure on what Seattle’s doing as well. We often look to see, ‘O.K., what are they up to, what are they doing?’ It’s a dynamic scene there [in Portland] for sure.”
On Portland vs. Seattle — who has an edge? “If you think about products, Portland has better accessibility to products — lamb, beef, meat products, sustainably raised — than we do in Seattle and in Washington. It may be that Seattle is just a more established city. But obviously with the number of nominees, it’s like ‘Portland Rising’ right now. Look at what Seattle’s taken from Portland. And Portland has, what, two blocks of food carts? And we have four in Seattle, expressing the authenticity of the food.”
But what about coffee? “An article on NPR or Seattle Business Journal came out about Seattle not really having excellent coffee anymore [Ed note: Read the NPR piece here], and [saying that] they look at that places like Stumptown in Portland for it, but personally — and I’m biased — but I think Fonte is one of the best. We’ve used their coffee for like 10 years. But Portland is really coming at our heels.”
On beating the Portland crew: “I definitely think it’s not defeat. This is a chance to enjoy your successes, and the fruits of your labor. The people who are working at this level, who are getting nominated — not to mention the award, the people who won the award — this is really an accreditation to the level they work at, and the time and devotion they sacrifice and experience in their life. So by no means is there a loser.”
“The third time for us is a charm, but it’s really just a wonderful thing to be nominated and be here.”