A Pint of Prosperity [Rabblerousing]

Illustration by Mikey Burton for Bloomberg View

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]

 

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Is Craft Beer Better in PDX or BK? [smackdowns]

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

Craft Beer Goes Hollywood [Profiles]

20101112-a-bruery.jpg

By Christian DeBenedetti

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]”

Summer is Another Word for Beer [Down-Time]

Here's an idea: let's bottle this stuff.

Here, two quick recent hits of mine on summer beers from the latest edition of Men’s Journal.

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

The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]

Would you like white truffles with that?

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.

In his recent memoir, The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition (Ecco), DeLucie offers readers an intimate look inside one of the hottest restaurants to hit New York in decades and tells the tale of his unlikely rise to culinary fame.

Continue reading “The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]”

Going Full Beard [Blowouts]

Is every member of your party here and ready to be seated?
Here’s my coverage from EATER Portland on the James Beard Foundation Awards, 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.”
SEE ALSO: Assorted glam shots of Portland chefs and party pics from the night.
· Clyde Common Chef Chris Dimmino on his killer party food
· Pre-awards interviews with Portland nominees Gabriel Rucker, Naomi Pomeroy, and Cathy Whims
· Press room interview from PDX’s Naomi Pomeroy
Also! The complete list of winners (PDF).

Dying to Get Some Sleep [Breaking]