Q&A: Brewed Awakening Author Joshua Bernstein Talks His Craft Beer iPhone App and Beer Snobbery
Bernstein signs copies of Brewed Awakening at Brooklyn Pour earlier this year.
To put it simply, Joshua Bernstein loves his beer. Before penning his book Brewed Awakening, last year's insightful examination of the current craft-beer explosion across the country, he wrote about beer and bar culture in New York City for 12 years, contributing to publications like The New York Press and Time Out New York. Through his hard work, the 34-year-old has found himself as one of the major voices for the growing craft beer movement in America. Now, he's made an app for that.
Bernstein paired with Blue Crow Media to create Craft Beer New York, an iPhone application dedicated to meeting every beer head's need. He has curated a list of the best bars, breweries, and bottle shops in NYC. So if you find yourself in an unfamiliar neighborhood needing a Founders fix, just whip out the app and you'll know where to go. This week, Beer UP chats with Bernstein about the intersection of technology and beer, ale-litism, and what beers he's bringing to Thanksgiving dinner.
How did the app come to be? I actually didn't come up with the idea for the app. I have the philosophy that you should always do the best job possible with every story idea and let your work carry you through. So about three months ago, my name got passed on to these app creators, Blue Crow Media. They came and had a chat with me, and it seemed like a good fit.
What was a good fit? Why make a beer app? The larger story about why an app is necessary is because New York City is undergoing a crazy growth in craft beer right now. Five years ago, craft beer was tougher to come by. Now you're finding new bars and shops constantly popping up every week, every month. It's been crazy. When New York falls behind in something, it stops and looks at itself and tries to be the best in whatever category, if it's Korean fried chicken, or cocktail bars. Craft beer is this next thing that people are going gangbusters on. And there's been a lack of comprehensive coverage on the craft beer scene. So the app will give people, no matter where they're standing in New York City, an idea of where to go, and also have reviews of craft beer bars, if there's food, what to drink, and what to eat.
Yelp is a viable tool for people, but you're depending on crowd-sourced wisdom, and you don't really know if these are trusted sources. I've been covering this stuff for a really long time, so with this app you're going to get trusted opinions. Other writers are hopefully going to be coming on to write reviews, too, so it's going to be a trusted authority. We're going to keep the content rolling. As the craft beer scene evolves and develops, it's going to keep on getting more and more bars and breweries.
What factors get a bar into the app? What makes the cut? Overall, education of craft beer. Not everyone is going to have a million events a week or be changing the taps so quickly, but people who have a focus on craft beer and where it's an integral part of their bar's program or identity. Not every place is going to be the cheapest place in town to get craft beer. Not everyone is going to the most comprehensive tap list on there. But I do try to be fair and make mention, for example, if prices are too high and give people the information they might be lacking. You're going to have the informed opinion to pick and choose where you want to go, based on locations, so you're never going to be left out in the dark.
People get stuck in comfort zones. They go to their favorite neighborhood local all the time, and then don't branch out as much as they should. I hope, in a way, the app gives people a reason to try and branch out and get their heads in new spots or realize there's a great local craft beer bar right outside their office.
Since craft beer is exploding so much, is a constantly evolving app the only way to keep up with coverage, versus a book? I understand your question. Craft beer is changing by the day. But it really depends what your focus is with the topic of your book. What I focus on in Brewed Awakening is stories about people. Even if they change jobs in there, it's the stories and ideas that are really pushed through. It's more about the general feel and stories and tales. I look back through the book and I see, you know, what's out of date and what's not and I still think it holds its own as a viable document for what's happening right now. The book is something that's much more instructive and a document meant to be read and savored over time, but this app is very much information-based, where you'll get quick information to have a good times.
What are your thoughts on the intense snobbery in beer culture? I've gotten angrier hate e-mail about beer versus anything else that I've written about. There's a sense of superiority that people feel, like they own this knowledge. Craft beer caters to that collector's mindset, in a sense. It recalls the "I've got the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card" mindset. That "gotta have it" syndrome that really drives the trading market. I think it's because it's acceptable in a sense, unlike something like wine or high-end cocktails. Without a lot of money, you can become an expert in craft beer--or not even an expert, but you can sample a lot of craft beers, which makes the barrier for entry really low, which is awesome. But what gets lost in the quest for rare and odd beer is that it should be something that starts the conversation, not drives the conversation. Years ago, even five years ago, if you're sitting in a bar, you look at what you're neighbor is drinking and it was either Bud, Miller, or Coors, so you couldn't spark up a conversation about what they're drinking. But you go to a craft beer bar now--I was going to order a beer the other day and struck up a conversation with someone about the beer I ordered, and ended up talking and learning that he was visiting from out of town, and blah blah blah. It's a real entry point for a conversation.
That's where I try to preach it. Personally, on the book tour stuff, people came up to me trying to prove themselves, that they knew more than me, or something. They'd be like, "Oh, I could write that book." And so I'd just say, "Well, you write the book." This happens in a lot of fields, and I don't know if it's insecurity or jealousy or what. .
How do you see technology and craft beer intersecting in the future? If you're talking 20 or 30 years ago, if you're trying to get knowledge about beer, you had very few places to go learn things. That's how people like Michael Jackson became the so influential. It was almost like the gatekeeper mentality: "Here is the knowledge I am giving you now." Not saying that in a bad way, but it was just coming through smaller channels. But what technology does is spread interest in breweries, styles, and trends in such a massive, wildfire way that didn't exist. I was just in Prague, and Flying Dog beers were being sold there. And I was just like, "What are Flying Dog beers doing in Prague?" It's just consumer demand. Importers are jumping on it. People are hearing about these beers. There's nothing hidden about craft beer anymore, and I think if you're any smart brewery, you're going to have your Twitter account, your Facebook page, your Instagram. The barrier has broken down in such a big way between brewers and drinkers.
Do you see the explosion of craft brewing slowing down anytime soon? Everyone's talking about this and saying how it's another bubble, and I just don't think that's true.
Why? There's such a better institutional knowledge for brewers right now. Do we need another brewer making IPAs? Probably not. Do we need another national brewery? Probably not. But people are filling niches in towns. People tend to follow their favorite breweries like they follow baseball teams. They have a lot of local pride about their local breweries. You're seeing this pop up nationwide, town to town to town. Like in Dayton, Ohio, a couple new breweries have just popped up, and people are super excited. It's a sense of civic pride, and if you think how many towns there are in America, that's how many breweries there could be. Do they have to be big, be another Brooklyn Brewery? No. You can make a nice living doing a three to five barrel brewhouse and making everyone in your town super happy.
How much beer do you have in the house at one time? Right now, man, I live in New York City, so not that much. But it's probably like 30 big bombers in the closet right now. In the fridge, I probably have between a case, case and a half at any given time. But for Thanksgiving, I'm going to bring Deschutes' The Abyss, which is a great imperial stout. It's delicious.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.