19 December 2011

Book Review and Interview with author of Brewed Awakening

I read just about anything beer related I can get my hands on.  I was recently given a copy of this book by Joshua Bernstein.  The full title is: Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Beer Revolution. Many books about beer can get quite monotonous trying to read through them, but this is one of the handful of beers books that I've read that has been difficult to put down.  The book is an easy read that will benefit a brand new craft beer lover to seasoned beer geeks alike.  The book covers hundreds of beers, styles, craft beer trends, and many insights from the people that brewed the beer.  It is laid out in eight sections with topics that cover ingredients, extreme beer, organic beer, seasonal beer, cans, growlers, session beer, collaborations, and gypsy brewing to name a few things.  I liked that the book tried to mimic a notebook of sorts.  It has a good design feel to it with reviews, notes, and plenty of pictures as well.  I was able to read the book cover to cover in about a week on my lunch break and a few nights at home.  The book can be used for quick reference, but you can read it like a novel just the same.  I enjoyed the book enough that I reached out to the author for one of our Six Pack Questionnaires. I would recommend this book to anyone that is just getting into craft beer or an old pro looking for a new read.

1. Your personal experience led you into the craft beer world, but what experience really made you want to write a book? 

I've been a professional journalist for more than a decade, focusing on food, spirits and, above all, beer for the past seven years or so. As a writer, my goal has always been to tell the stories of people: their passion, struggle, creativity and success. In beer writing, there tends to be a focus on ABV and IBUs, on rare releases and cultish quaffs. I wanted to write a book that shined a spotlight on the craft brewers leading this carbonated revolution, letting them tell the tales of how their beers got into pint glass, bottles and cans. 

2. I think the book does a great job for the craft beer novice as well as a much more seasoned beer geek.  What do you hope each of those extremes takes away from the book? 

Writing Brewed Awakening was a bit of a tightrope walk. I wanted the book to be accessible to craft-beer newbies, while also informative and illuminating for die-hard beer geeks. I tried to accomplish this by using a fun, accessible writing voice. I was a weekly columnist for seven years, which helped me hone a personal voice.

For novices, I want them to walk away from the book with their eyes wide open to the possibilities of craft beer—and not so overwhelmed the next time they head to a bar or beer shop. More seasoned beer drinkers will hear the stories and struggles of their favorite brewers, while also being turned on to new breweries nationwide. Instead of focusing on the hot spots of craft brewing (Portland, San Diego, etc.), I tried to give equal voice to all the small craft breweries bubbling up across the country—and globe.

3. The book is really current with many of the things driving the craft beer movement like barrel-aged beers, cask ales, cans, gypsy brewing to name a few.  Where do you see some of the next trends happening in the craft brewing industry? 

I believe that IPAs will continue to span the color wheel. Sure, many people have had a black IPA, but now spiced white IPAs with spices and red IPAs are making a splash too.

In addition, I believe we'll see the rise of hyperlocal beer, both in terms of distribution and the use of local ingredients that speak to the region—terroir, if you may. And lagers and pilsners are primed to take their turn in the spotlight. For years, beers have taken a turn to the extreme, as craft breweries have distanced themselves from the canned lagers that dominated the American landscape. But now, brewers are taking a shine to lower-alcohol session beers and, increasingly, lagers. It's high time we had a crisp craft lager. 

4. You have traveled extensively for this book and spoken with many people in the craft beer industry.  What do you think is on the pulse for the craft beer community from an industry perspective as well as from the perspective of an average craft beer drinker.  

One of the issues facing breweries across the country is capacity. How do we make enough beer to slake consumers' endless thirst. This is a good problem to have, mind you, but it's also a problem. Equipment isn't cheap. Loans are tough to come by. And hops contracts are proving to be a problem for 2012 too. So, while we're seeing expansion at breweries, we're also seeing contraction in the marketplace with brewers focusing on their core local audience. 

As for craft-beer drinkers, coast to coast they share a common thread: continually seeking out new flavor experiences. Craft-beer drinkers are a promiscuous lot, in which I mean that they don't stick to one beer. They're always seeking out new breweries, new seasonals, new releases of all stripes and sizes—nothing is too strange, but you may not have a second pint. This endless curiosity helps fuel brewers' creativity, which is a nice closed loop. 

5. Do you imbibe craft beer while writing? If so, any particular favorites?

Long ago, when I was a misguided college kid, I liked nothing better than cracking beer after beer and clacking out words. But let me tell you something: hangovers and creativity do not go hand in hand. And you become a sloppy writer if you pen words while pie-eyed. So I refrain from drinking while writing.

But as soon as that story is filed or I call it quits for the day, I crack a beer. Victory Prima Pils is one of my go-tos, as well as the Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA. And in Brooklyn, I favor the locally crafted Kelso IPA, which is dosed with Nelson Sauvin hops.
6. A trend that is bothering me about US craft is this notion that rarity is outweighing the actual contents inside of the bottle.  Any insights about rare beer, Ebay beer, or ultra-limited one-off releases?  
Oh, this bugs me to my marrow. I think the idea of people buying beer to profit on it is pure poppycock. Beer is supposed to be for sharing and savoring, not hoarding like baseball cards or lording over someone's head. I will never pay more than the suggested retail price for a beer. There are too many good beers in this world, in your town and in your neighborhood to lust after a single release.  


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