Journalist, author and craft beer devotee Joshua Bernstein has been writing about beer, food and the lot for almost two decades. With all that experience he recently released his newest book, “Drink Better Beer,” a guide to navigating today’s insane world of craft beer. Bernstein takes a new approach to teaching beer smarts and, through compiled interviews of more than 100 top industry professionals, creates what he calls a “compass for modern beer.” The book is Bernstein’s fifth dedicated to the topic. It features knowledge from all over the United States and, of course, there’s a section on fresh hops season in the PNW.
1) What are your best quick tips for someone looking improve their beer knowledge and make better buys?
First and foremost, talk to people. Bartenders, beer-store employees, fellow shoppers and drinkers: they all have opinions. They want to share their favorite picks, the beers that you can’t miss. Don’t just grab willy-nilly from shelves or fridges or do a quick canvas of online reviews. Talk to your fellow beer fans! If you’re shopping at a store, I like to see IPAs stored in a fridge, no beers bathing in a sunlit window. And do a fast check on the bottles or cans to make sure that the beer has not aged well beyond its best-by date. Some retailers are not diligent in rotating their stock.
If you’re at a beer bar, I like to see a diverse list, brief description of beer (style, ABV, price, size), bartenders rinsing glasses and a beer poured with a proper cap of foam. Those are good giveaways that the bar cares about good beer.
2) What will “Drink Better Beer” teach the average craft beer enthusiast and why should they buy this book?
Ten years ago, I could’ve given you a list of widely available IPAs, lagers, Belgian beers and stouts, and that would’ve been a handy introduction to the diverse world of beer. Now, simply telling folks to drink through a list of beers is silly. Many beers only exist for a few weeks, or maybe a month, never to be brewed again, beer styles tossed into a blender and blitzed beyond recognition. The beer industry is getting mighty confusing.
To make sense of this madly spinning world, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of suggesting beers, I solicited advice from some of the industry’s smartest minds. I talked to brewers, sure, but also chefs, sensory specialists, canning-line operators, beer-store owners, yeast wranglers and more; a symphony of knowledge and advice and not just me soloing from atop a mountain of crushed beer cans. I wanted to make the book deep yet accessible, engaging and vibrantly designed with plenty of first-rate photographs. Like a good beer, you can first drink with your eyes before diving into the words.
3) How did you go about choosing the material for this book and can you briefly explain the reasoning for creating it?
I decided to orient the book around a series of interconnecting and of-the-moment topics, organized around chapters. I started with how and where we buy beer, then moved into the new rules of glassware and serving beer, making sense of fragrances and scents and how beer-and-food pairings and brewery kitchens have evolved and been elevated. Lastly, I finished with a look at where beer is going, how I feel the next few years are going to shake out.
Once I settled on the book’s architecture, I set about creating a target list of subtopics and interview subjects, whose answers helped guide the direction of the text. The lion’s share of the text was created from scratch, allowing me to build my own house of beer words. As I mentioned above, I wanted to create a compass that helped guide people through the dizzying landscape of modern beer. Heck, I get confused, and I write about beer full time!
4) What do you think is the PNW’s greatest contribution to the modern beer scene?
The hop fields of the Pacific Northwest have had a huge influence on the development of the region’s beer culture, from pine-charged, style-defining IPAs to the delicate, freshly hopped pale ales that are fall’s fleeting treat. Every beer drinker should make it a point to visit the Pacific Northwest during the stretch of late summer to early fall and drink up the seasonal bounty.