Every year, author Joshua Bernstein leaves Brooklyn and makes his way to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. After all, trying all beers and learning about what's new on the market is a big part of his job. This year Bernstein hits the festival with his third and brand-new book, The Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer, a single-subject tome that follows his other lauded works, Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution (2011) and The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes (2013). If you have a ticket to the GABF evening sessions on Friday, October 7, or Saturday, October 8, you can meet Bernstein, get your book signed and chat with him about all things beer from 6 to 7 p.m. both nights. If not, you can head over to Falling Rock Tap House on October 8, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. for a book-signing session. Until then, here's a little more about the writer's book and his thoughts on India Pale Ale as a beer style and a movement.
Westword: Why IPA, and why now?
Josh Bernstein: For many folks, the IPA is the first beer that snaps them out of their industrial-lager trance. The bitterness, the sweetness, the notes of fruit or pine trees — the IPA is an about-face from the status quo, flavorful rebellion bought by the bottle and can. Why now? America is in the middle of a collective palate awakening. Chipotle burritos. Ghost-pepper salsas. Coffee and bread crafted from heirloom beans and grains. From breakfast to last call, we're craving intense, unique flavors at every moment. And the IPA aligns with these tasty modern times.
What is it about IPA that appeals to so many people?
An IPA's flavors and fragrances are as in-your-face as they are familiar and memorable, be they mangos and oranges or perhaps peaches and pine. We register these flavors at first sip, no sensory guide needed to decode tasting notes.
The category has become so diverse that there's an IPA out there for anyone and everyone. Want an IPA filled with blood orange? Crammed with cold-brewed coffee? Mimicking a milkshake? As dank as a marijuana farm? You got it, my friend. The IPA has become a customizable flavor delivery vehicle.
Is there any other beer like IPA?
Outside of the odd barrel-aged imperial stout, few beers incite such fervent passion as the IPA. Folks road-trip deep into rural Vermont just for a taste of IPA from Hill Farmstead and the Alchemist, [are] lining up for hours at Brooklyn's Other Half, L.A.'s Monkish and Richmond's the Veil just for the chance to buy a couple four-packs of double IPA. Bar none, the IPA has captured consumers' hearts, minds and stomachs.
What are some of the more unusual IPAs you have come across in your research?
Hands down, it'd have to be Denver-based Dad & Dudes' cannabis oil–laced IPAs. Makes sense when you think about it since marijuana and hops are cousins, but I didn't think anyone would take the legal leap to make it a reality. Also, Wisconsin's 3 Sheeps Brewing made an IPA with squid ink, and California's Figueroa Mountain packs Hoppy Poppy with, you guessed it, poppy seeds.
Who do you think is making some of the best IPA in Colorado?
As far as consistency and quality is concerned, Odell, New Belgium, Avery, Ska, Oskar Blues, Epic and Great Divide continue to crush it with solid, expertly executed IPAs that never disappoint. On the new-school tip, I love Comrade Brewing's Superpower IPA, the pale ales and IPAs coming out of Station 26 and Cannonball Creek, and the offbeat ferments from Odd13. I'm sure I'll find a host of new standouts on this trip, too.
A while back, everyone was doing extreme hops with their beer. What do you think the next IPA trend will be?
Right now, we're seeing brewers shift away from unabashed, excessive bitterness to create IPAs that are softer, juicier and fruitier — pillowy mouthfeel, not pins and needles. That's due to a raft of great new hop varietals such as Citra and Mosaic, plus tweaked brewing processes that move the spotlight off bitterness. These hazy, highly flavorful IPAs are all the rage in the Northeast, and they're slowly conquering the country. [For example], you'll find great local examples at Odd13. Moreover, I'm seeing brewers marry low-alcohol sour ales to hop loads worthy of an IPA, creating tart, tingly and fragrant refreshers. Some call 'em dry-hopped sours, while others opt for sour IPA. Me? I dub these beers delicious.
When you visit Denver for GABF, where will you be drinking?
I come to Denver every year for GABF, and I always make it a point to hit My Brother's Bar for a pitcher of Odell IPA and plenty of burgers. It's always a refuge from the festival's swirling madness. Also, you'll likely find me posted up at Prost, knocking back a liter or two of Keller Pils, as well as Euclid Hall for a couple cool happy-hour pints. And you can bet your bottom dollar I'll end up at Star Bar and Falling Rock at some point, as well as Terminal Bar in Union Station, which is also a nice escape.
Any breweries you're eager to check out or revisit?
Each time I return to Denver, I find that the brewery scene just keeps getting better and better. I love spending sunny afternoon at Ratio and Denver Beer Co., and the sours and wilds at Our Mutual Friend never disappoint. I want to drink all the fresh IPAs at Comrade, and I've heard good buzz about Spangalang, Cerebral and Call to Arms. There's always a new brewing gem to discover in Denver, which is what makes the town such a treat to visit — for me, at least. My liver has other opinions.