Welcome to Imbibe Magazine's between-issues look at liquid culture with drink recipes, news and more. From coffee to cocktails, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Q&A with Joshua M. Bernstein, Author of Brewed Awakening

In his inaugural book, Brewed Awakening, Imbibe contributor Joshua Bernstein taps into the current culture of craft beer, exploring everything from new hop varieties to emerging nanobreweries to experimental extreme beers, all dosed with his trademark wit. We recently caught up with Bernstein between stops on his book tour (he’s traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest, California and New York—click here for exact dates and locations) to chat about how many beers he tipped back while researching, which city he thinks boasts the best suds, and the strangest brew he’s ever tasted (hint: it involved four pig heads).
$25, amazon.com

Imbibe: If you had to venture a guess, how many beers would you say you consumed while researching Brewed Awakening?
Joshua Bernstein: Dear god, I'd have to say the number is well over 1,000, if not 2,000 or higher. The thing with craft beer is that there are so many terrific flavor profiles, you want to keep sampling, again and again, until you've tried them all. Or at least come close. But sampling does not have to mean drinking an entire 750 ml. bottle, or a longneck.

What were you most surprised to learn in your research for the book?
I was struck by just how far and wide craft brewing has spread across America. Yes, we talk about cities such as Portland and Seattle with reverence, but it's spots like Athens, Ohio—where Jackie O's makes marvelous barrel-aged beers (and where I went to school!)—as well as Worth Brewing in Lilliputian Northwood, Iowa, that are bringing craft beer to cities where it may not been so commonplace. This is not an urban movement. It's a national awakening of craft beer consciousness.

Of all the places you've traveled, where have you found the best beer?
What a loaded question! I better tightrope this one. Of course, the dual Portlands are terrific for craft beer, but in all my travels, I've found that each city's craft beer scene is delightfully idiosyncratic, packed with people who just want a terrific pint. Heck, I’m in New Orleans right now, a city not known for top-notch ales. But the Avenue Pub, right down the road from my hotel, is a heavenly haunt with dozens of delicious, carefully sourced beers on tap. The thing about craft beer is that, pint by pint, it's thoroughly saturating American culture.

What's the most unusual beer you've ever tasted?
At the GABF this year, I had Right Brain Brewery's Mangalitsa Pig Porter. This porter does, indeed, count swine as an ingredient. The Michigan brewery includes four cold-smoked Mangalitsa pig heads—brains removed, mind you—and bags of bones in each batch of porter. The result is slightly smoky and curiously, compulsively drinkable.

Describe your ideal beer for us.
Something I can have three of and still want a fourth. I like balance, a hit of hops and not too much sweetness.

If you could have a beer named for you, what would be in it?
There is a beer named for me! White Birch Brewing in New Hampshire made a wild ale–dosed barley wine in honor of Brewed Awakening. I now possess three of the 48 bottles in existence.

What do you think is the most under-appreciated beer?
I always tell people never to sleep on the Mission Street Series from Trader Joe's. The beers are made by Firestone Walker, and the pale ales and IPAs are as stunningly delicious as they are affordable.

When you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
I have a booze credenza filled with dozens of different bourbons and whiskeys. I like a nice, stout pour backed with a couple ice cubes.

What did you pour yourself as soon as you hit send on your book?
I marched to my corner bodega and nabbed a few IPAs from the cooler: a Cigar City Jai Alai IPA and a Founders Centennial, if I recall.