For nearly a decade, beer writer Joshua M. Bernstein has led tours to the homes of New York City’s finest amateur brewers. The beer aficionados display their set-ups, discuss their process and serve samples of their small-batch creations. A mix of voyeurism, education and inebriation, the tours have gained a devoted following. “People enjoy peeking behind the curtains,” says Bernstein, who lives in Crown Heights. “The tours give access to an interesting, almost mysterious part of our beer scene that you wouldn’t really experience unless you were actually homebrewing with that person.”
In his latest book Homebrew World: Discovering the Secrets of the World’s Leading Homebrewers, Bernstein extends beyond the city’s thriving beer community and profiles more than 30 ambitious homebrewers across the globe. They each offer worthwhile advice on ingredients, techniques and equipment and provide their favorite recipes. With direct and lively writing, Bernstein also examines the hobby’s history (including the unpolished origins of some of the country’s top-selling commercial beers) and shares tips on how to run a successful homebrew tour.
To celebrate the book’s release, Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Long Island City is hosting a party on Sunday, April 22. It is free to attend but $25 will get you a a copy of the book, a pint of beer brewed by Bernstein in collaboration with Fifth Hammer and access to the “homebrew lounge,” where seven of his favorite local amateur brewers will serve their own beers.
If that weren’t enough, there will also be foam fingers for purchase. “I spent 18 months working on this book and it’s time to party,” he says.
Edible Brooklyn: What inspired you to start running homebrew tours?
Joshua M. Bernstein: The former founders of New York City Beer Week asked me to put together a couple tours back in 2009. One was the scary dive bar tour, in which I took folks to my favorite dive bars around the city, demystifying why they were so terrifying. Secondly, I created a homebrew tour. My friends Sean and Clarissa had previously led a low-key tour of homebrewers’ homes via bike, which was great—except for the biking. Wheels and beer don’t really mix. So I created a four-part tour taking us from Bay Ridge to Williamsburg, complete with a BBQ. At that, we were off and running.
EB: Several homebrewers you’ve visited on tours have opened their own breweries.
JMB: When I started these tours, I had no idea that we were scouting the next generation of New York City brewers. But we’ve had an amazing track record with folks on the tour going on to open breweries. The folks from Finback, Kings County Brewers Collective and Strong Rope were all on my tours, to name a few.
EB: One of the first times we met was on one of your tours.
JMB: Right! That was Rich Buceta, who was working on opening SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria.
EB: Yeah. Does every homebrewer have that same grand ambition?
JMB: Not every brewer wants to open a brewery. For many, it’s the creativity and community that compels people to cook up batches in their kitchens and backyards. Many brewers would rather keep their hobby just that—a hobby. After all, not every cook dreams of opening a restaurant.
EB: You explored homebrewing around the world with this book. What did you learn?
JMB: No matter the country, one thing held true: Brewers were trying to create something that was missing in their communities, be it flavorful beer or simply connections between people.
EB: Anything surprise you?
JMB: I had a heck of a time finding a homebrewer in Japan. It’s illegal to brew a beer stronger than 1 percent, and folks didn’t want to run the risk of getting in trouble with the government.
EB: Tell us about the beer you brewed with Fifth Hammer for the event.
JMB: Chris Cuzme, who co-founded Fifth Hammer, was a former homebrewer, one of the linchpins of the community. Since the event starts at noon on a Sunday, we wanted to create an appropriate beer. So we’re going to serve an apricot-laced witbier, a mimosa-like sip suited for the brunch set.
EB: Do you brew your own beer at home?
JMB: Uh, no. I have brewed before, but there are so many great beers in the world waiting for folks to taste them. That’s my job. Also: My wife would kill me if I wrote about beer, drank beer and then spent every single night brewing beer. Who’s going to cook dinner? Me. And I make a mean stir-fry and tom yum soup.
We also asked three homebrewers to speak about what they’ll be serving in the homebrew lounge at the book-release party:
Simon Tepas, Gowanus
My earliest memory of Josh Bernstein is that photo of him holding a scrap of cardboard with the sharpie-scrawled, “Hey! It’s a homebrew tour!” But it would turn out this was no beer-themed panhandle. Josh would prove to be one of the smartest and most driven beer lovers in the five boroughs, and has done so much to advance craft beer and homebrew culture in the city that at this point he should probably be knighted. As such, my beer is named Chivalric Liquid, in honor of our exalted host and author who has never had a bad idea or thrown a bad party. The beer is a Belgian IPA with a fairly simple grist of CaraBelge, flaked wheat and Golden Promise malts. For hops Simcoe, Cascade, El Dorado and Columbus are used in the kettle, and Motueka, Cascade and Simcoe are employed in the dry hop. Ardennes yeast fermented on the cool side adds an audacious Belgian character to my typical hop show.
Alluring Alligator Tea, Flirtatious Flamingo Tea
Mary Izett, Williamsburg
Both spirited sodas I’ll be serving are variations of recipes from my book, Speed Brewing. Both feature tea, which is one of my favorite ingredients to speed brew with. Josh has been a supporter of my alternative speed brews and his events have always energized me to try new flavors and creative combinations, these two among them. Alluring Alligator Tea features cranberry, blood orange and rooibos. The fruits play well with the honey, wood and creaminess of the rooibos. It’s intriguing yet highly drinkable. And Flirtatious Flamingo Tea is a refreshing beverage inspired by memories of drinking lemonade on the back porch on hot summer days as a kid. It has lemon, mint and green tea.
Summer Brunch Plans
Ariel Schwarz-Kainz, Crown Heights
I draw a lot of my inspiration from traditional Belgian and German styles and like to add my own twists. When Josh contacted me to brew for his book release, a fun sour is what came to mind. With some added creativity from my own brewing habits I came up with this quick kettle sour based on a couple of my favorite styles: Berliner weisse and Belgian fruited sours. Summer Brunch Plans is a culmination of my passion for blending different cultures and yeast in an interesting way. Here, I used a blend of Lactobacillus with Belgian abbey and French cuvée yeasts. This is a great spring-summer beer: frothy and tart, with a sweet aroma from added hibiscus and cinnamon. It reminds me of muggy summer days spent with friends drinking refreshing beer from condensation-covered glasses.