Of Books, Bräulers, & The Weekly Pint

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Pouring locally grown Crystal hops into the hop back—and loving every minute of it.

Greetings! Hope everyone is having a good fall.

I’m just back to rainy Oregon from snowy Denver, where I got to taste my first ever collaboration beer with Odell Brewing Co. In a nod to the writing life (and the ever-inspiring pub) we dubbed this aromatic brew  PUBlisher Extra Pale Ale. Thanks a million to Odell Pilot System/barrel aging manager Brent Cordle for letting me get my boots wet — it’s been a long time since I helped brew on a bigger system. We came up with a recipe via email and brewed it during the week of GABF. Into our 9.5bbl batch (mostly pale and pilsner malts) we added three 4lb. hop additions of locally grown Crystals (Hallertau) and used another 18lbs in the hop back. The resulting beer? Sessionable at 5%ABV, bright, citrusy, peachy, clean, refreshing, delicious! Head into the Odell taproom to try it if you’re nearby until it’s gone.

What else? It has been an incredibly busy twelve months of beer writing throughout Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Massachussetts (2x)…San Francisco, Denver (3x), San Diego, NYC (5x), Los Angeles (2x), Chicago, DC/Baltimore, Seattle, Stockholm Sweden, Piedmont, and most memorably Belgium… and even more places I am probably forgetting. No one who was present could ever forget The Festival, the Shelton’ Bros. inaugural gathering of the tribe, held in Worcester, MA. Meanwhile I launched what I hope will become an annual craft beer tradition for NYC, the Brooklyn Pig & Pickle, with Brooklyn Brewery. I also got to host fun book events and dinners (DBGB in NYC, Central Bistro & Bar in Denver, Ale House at Amato’s, Deschutes Brewery & Public House, Pike Brewery, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, 21st Amendment, Pizzeria Paradiso, Oakland’s Beer Revolution, The Kitchen Next Door, and several others), and still found the time to publish about 80 or 90 articles, including my first ink in GQ, my first national Op-Ed, and many more. Sleep? What’s that?

Two late summer highlights: bringing craft beer officially into the International Pinot Noir celebration, and helping throw the inaugural FEAST Portland event, for which I was honored to coordinate three memorable beer panels with the help of some of the best and brightest brewers in the world from Cantillon to Hill Farmstead, Crooked Stave, Breakside, Mikkeller, Drie Fonteinen, Logsdon, Double Mountain, Widmer, The Commons, Long, Dogfish Head, and many more. Look out world. Next year’s will take it all even higher. Suffice to say the repeat of Beer Vs. Wine with Cheese starring famed sommelier Josh Wesson, cheese guru Steve Jones, and yours truly will be a rumble in the jungle.

My e-newsletter Weekly Pint, launched in January, is connecting with an ever-wider audience. I’m asking for your help to keep the momentum up. We are up to 30,000 subscribers who get our brief emails 2x/week, with over 11K fans on FaceBook. If you you haven’t signed up or alerted your fans, now would be a good time, as we are giving away a beer trip for 2 to Belgium, curated by Vanberg & Dewulf.

Thank you if you can share that link with your social networks. Weekly Pint is on Twitter as @WeeklyPint and Instagram as well. Please follow along.

Currently Weekly Pint is booking partners for our national craft beer tasting tour for 2013, UNTAPPED, slated for a potential launch event in LA in January. Please get in touch if you’re interested to participate.

Some of you know I’m a cofounder of The Zythos Project, Portland-based makers of The Bräuler stainless steel growler. Featured in a glowing full page review in this month’s WIRED design issue, we are thrilled to have the bottle for sale in more than 25 innovative brewing companies across the nation.

Our company link is here and more importantly, the related KickStarter project is here. Thank you for sharing the KickStarter link with your  networks. We have just two weeks left in our campaign, and every little bit counts. For ordering quotes on our much-loved bottle, please contact Harvey Claussen via harvey@thezythosproject.com. Be good to your beer!

Also, thank you for all your support of my book The Great American Ale Trail. Out just over a year now, the book has now moved into a 4th printing (14,000 copies in print) and was recently named the top travel guidebook in the United States in the Lowell Thomas Awards, a competition of the Society of American Travel Writers. If you don’t have a copy, Amazon’s got it in stock.

Here’s to finishing 2012 strong, and to a great 2013!

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Hops on the Radio [Books + Media]

 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)

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]

 

An Age of Beer Stained Pages [The Critics]

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)

Continue reading “An Age of Beer Stained Pages [The Critics]”

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

Beer West and The Book Hit the Bay

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.

Cheers!