2017

Wort’s Weird Journey: Beer’s Sometimes Unpredictable Path From Grain to Glass

A pipeline carries Industrial Art’s wort across Minisceongo Creek to be fermented. | Photo by Matt Coats

A pipeline carries Industrial Art’s wort across Minisceongo Creek to be fermented. | Photo by Matt Coats

Last year, I visited the Hudson Valley's Industrial Arts brewery and noticed something strange: no fermentation tanks in the brewery. Instead, a pipeline took the wort to fermentation tanks far, far away, in another building. This made me think about all the other strange journeys wort took to get to its final destination, leading to this BeerAdvocate magazine feature. 

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New York State’s scenic Hudson Valley has a deep manufacturing background, freckled with relics like the Garnerville Arts and Industrial Complex in Rockland County. The pre–Civil War compound contained a colossal textile firm that uniformed both the Union Army and World War II soldiers, before the clothing trade unraveled and light industry and artists set up shop.

Drop by the repurposed campus and you’ll spot woodworkers and soap makers, photographers and jewelers, set builders and, inside the smokestack-topped structure, a new brewery. The aptly named Industrial Arts Brewing is anointed with tiled floors, brick archways, and ceilings soaring high enough for pigeon racing. Order Tools of the Trade, a grapefruit-y Extra Pale Ale, or the rotating State of the Art IPA and eyeball the gleaming brewhouse, a custom-built looker courtesy of Germany’s BrauKon. It’s the brewery’s centerpiece, overshadowing what’s omitted: fermentation tanks.

“Nearly every brewer I’ve walked around the site with has looked at me and asked me what the fuck I was doing,” founder Jeff “Chief” O’Neil says, laughing. From his 25-hectoliter system, a skinny silver pipeline snakes some 328 feet, crossing the Minisceongo Creek, terminating in a separate building studded with fermentation tanks. The tube conveys wort, beer’s sugar-rich precursor, to the vessels, a roundabout journey that, although unorthodox, works like a liquid dream. “The most common question we face is, ‘Is it going to freeze?’” O’Neil says. “When we pump wort from the brewhouse, it’s room temperature and moving at a barrel a minute. A creek doesn’t freeze as fast as a pond.”

Bugging Out: Brewed Food Rewrites the Rules of Culinary Fermentation

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography

For Draft magazine I profile Jensen Cummings, a Denver chef that deploys brewing yeast to ferment his kimchi, hot sauces and so much more. He's broadening the concept of what beer and food can be.

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As a journalist obsessed with inbox zero, I delete an email onslaught daily. But, every now and then, a ray of sunshine illuminates Gmail’s abyss, like last summer’s invite to experience Denver chef Jensen Cummings’ sensory tasting panel at Brooklyn Brewery.

Cummings is the mind behind Brewed Food, founded in 2014 as a call to arms to blow beer’s relationship with grub to smithereens. He utilizes beer’s building blocks (yeast, malt, hops) and brewing processes to fashion thrilling foodstuffs that blur the line between ales and edibles. Working with a revolving cast of chefs and brewing collaborators like New Belgium and Jester King, the chef ferments yogurt with brewing yeast, adds crystal malt to sauerkraut, creates hop vinegar and makes beef jerky with malt extract. It’s both a scientific and gastronomic endeavor to connect cooking and brewing.

“Our lens is looking at brewing techniques and ingredients as culinary ingredients,” Cummings says. “Yeast is the center of that conversation. We want to say that yeast is a culinary ingredient.”

Blonde Ambition

Photo: Max Kelly

Photo: Max Kelly

Why are brewers embracing blonde ales? For Imbibe magazine, I investigate the trend, which is rooted in creating a crowd-pleaser that brewers can move in bulk. 

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During its foundational era, Real Ale Brewing released beers at a pace a snail could appreciate. Full Moon Pale Rye Ale and Brewhouse Brown Ale debuted in 1996, leisurely chased by Rio Blanco Pale Ale in 1998. The Blanco, Texas, brewery then cranked its tempo, adding a fourth year-round beer and a single annual release in 2002.

President Brad Farbstein was good friends with the founder of Austin bicycle company Firemans Texas Cruzer. They’d ride bikes and drink beer, a synergy the small businesses decided to embrace. “We thought it would be cool for a beer to promote his bikes, and when people rode his bikes they could get our beer,” Farbstein says.

The collaboration would align with outdoor pursuits and warm weather, via an agreeable sipper that could lure Texans into Real Ale’s flavorful fold. Back then in Texas, “most bars had three taps, and they were Bud, Miller and Coors,” Farbstein recalls. “If they were crazy and off the edge, they’d put Shiner Bock on.”

Real Ale formulated a fairly straightforward blonde ale, unfiltered and honey-scented, smoothly refreshing and supremely flavorful. “We tried not to simplify it or dumb it down,” Farbstein says. “It’s truly a craft blonde ale.”

The IPA Through the Ages

Illustration: Liz Noftle

Illustration: Liz Noftle

Do you know the IPA’s origin story?

Over beers one recent evening at my apartment, my friend, David, was recounting a party conversation that turned to the question at hand. One guy swore he knew the story.

“It was invented in England to preserve beer on the journey to India during the 18th century,” he said.

David knew this was false. By the 1760s, British brewers fortified all beers bound for India and tropical climes with extra hops—the multipurpose flowers that bestow beer with flavor, aroma and bitterness.

“Did you tell him he was wrong?” I asked.

“It was a party,” he said. “I didn’t feel like arguing.”

The Incredible Bulk: How I Learned to Embrace Bulk Beer

Header illustration: Remo Remoquillo

Header illustration: Remo Remoquillo

Since the statute of limitations has long passed, I can reveal my illicit secret: As a grunge-loving teen in suburban Ohio, I bought beer at the local liquor drive-through, mostly Busch Light 30-packs that my miscreant crew later chugged in my backyard before trampolining skyward and turning into lobsters in our hot tub, a twofer that led to less vomit than you might imagine.

Twelve, 24, 36, 48: Like some drunk cheerleader’s chant, we only bought bulk beer, following the lead of our parents and our parents’ parents. I doubt they drank cases of Natural Ice, as I did in college, before graduating and moving to Brooklyn. New city, new me!

What Effects do Different Types of Grain Have on Beer?

Grain-700x461.jpg

Barley is beer’s crucial component. It supplies the sugars that yeast crunches on to create alcohol. But it’s not the only crop in the mix—brewers that seek new ways to set themselves apart are, increasingly, going against the grain. I tackle the story in my latest for Wine Enthusiast magazine.

The Absolute Best Brewery Taprooms in New York

Folksbier Brauerei’s Glow Up Berliner–style weisses are flavored with seasonal fruit. Photo: Camilo Fuentealba

Folksbier Brauerei’s Glow Up Berliner–style weisses are flavored with seasonal fruit. Photo: Camilo Fuentealba

It's boom time for breweries in New York City, and New York magazine asked me to assess the top taprooms in town. From the Bronx to Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach, here's where you should be bending elbows. 

 

 

How the Beer Can Became a Canvas

Photo by Henry Phillips

Photo by Henry Phillips

First, craft breweries derided aluminum cans as the mark of mass-produced swill. America’s modern breweries embrace glass, mainly brown bottles, as marks of differentiation. Over the last decade, though, breweries have increasingly embraced cans, using the cylinders as a new canvas for artistic expression. For Gear Patrol, I dive deep into brewing’s design movement.

Why Contract Brewers Are Going Brick and Mortar

Image: Joe and Lauren Grimm, spouses and founders of Grimm Artisanal Ales, with their new brewing equipment at the brewery and taproom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which they hope to open in September. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Image: Joe and Lauren Grimm, spouses and founders of Grimm Artisanal Ales, with their new brewing equipment at the brewery and taproom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which they hope to open in September. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Many brewers began as gypsy (or contract) brewers, using other breweries’ equipment to launch their brands and gain a toehold in the beer industry. Today, though, it’s no longer enough to simply brew a double IPA to stand out. Increasingly, local is king, and longtime itinerant brewers such as Notch, Grimm and Mikkeller are opening their own breweries. I take a deep look at the trend for The New York Times.