The craft beer industry is riding its second wave. The first wave, which crested in the early 2000s, was the one that saw people turn toward craft beer and away from macrobrews, leading to the rise of thousands of breweries nationally and worldwide. Rather than numbers, the second wave is characterized by diversity.
Now that drinkers have a taste for craft beer, breweries are now competing with each other to come out with the next big thing – not just new styles of beer, but beer with CBD, beer-wine hybrids, non-carbonated beers, and even non-beer hard seltzers.
In an effort to make sense of everything going on, Joshua Bernstein wrote “Drink Better Beer: Discover the Secrets of the Brewing Experts,” which came out at the end of 2019. A veteran beer-writer, the author’s previous books include “Brewed Awakening,” “The Complete Beer Course,” “Complete IPA,” and “Homebrew World.”
In addition to brewers themselves, for “Drink Better Beer” Bernstein spoke to experts such as line-cleaning technicians, hop researchers, and professors to find out what’s actually pushing the industry forward and what makes today’s beers great.
Over the last five years or so, Bernstein said, people went from being excited about new beer releases every three months to every month, then to every week, and now to every day. Somewhere in there, we all developed shiny-new-object syndrome and stopped really thinking about what we were drinking.
“We didn’t ask ourselves what made this double IPA awesome or great to be consumed on day one or day 30 ... it became this sort of rush of acquisition without asking ourselves, ‘Who are the makers? What’s going on? What’s happening?’” he said. “I’m not asking everybody to have a dissertation-level Ph.D. on any beer, but really to ask yourself a few simple questions: Who made this? Was this made well? And should I buy it again?”
After all, as the author points out, brewery taprooms are increasingly becoming places where everyone gathers, including the whole family – a far cry from the bar dad would go to by himself in generations past. It’s time for people to start taking greater ownership of the beers they drink.
“Drink Better Beer” contains useful advice for anyone who drinks beer on a regular basis, including style-specific tips on how to pour it and what food to pair it with. Eating a salad? Rinse out a glass with cold water and pour yourself a Kölsch. Pizza? An amber lager ought to do the trick.
Bernstein also uses the book to dive into current trends in the world of brewing. For instance, one of the things he finds fascinating is the experimentation currently being conducted on yeast strains. Whereas scientists of the recent past may have tried to breed new varieties of hops to influence beer flavor, some are now looking at re-engineering the single-celled organisms that ferment the beer in the first place.
“You’re seeing people hunt down wild yeast strains, and the microbial world is all around us – we’re only starting to see what it can do for beer. I think that’s really where I’m seeing things are going to go crazy,” he said.
Speaking of the microbial world, we had to ask Bernstein if he has advice for beer drinkers weathering the coronavirus epidemic that has shut down many breweries completely and rendered others to-go only. His suggestion was a surprising one, coming from someone always looking into cutting edge developments in the brewing industry: Go back to your favorite flagship beers.
As beer-drinkers browse tap lists and liquor stores looking for the hot, new brew, they’re ignoring the ones that made them fall in love with craft beer in the first place – the New Belgium Fat Tires and Bell’s Amber Ales of the world.
“A well-made classic beer fills you with comfort, and that’s what I think people should look for right now too. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Allagash White – that’s what I’m going to put into my grocery cart because they’re a sure thing in an uncertain world,” Bernstein said.