Josh Bernstein pegs the IPA as a dominant form of creativity in American brewing in the 21st century. Courtesy Josh Bernstein
This week, national beer journalist Josh Bernstein will release his third and most-focused book on beer, entitled “Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer.”
In Bernstein’s book, he details the beer style that led the renaissance of beer across the United States and the world. In the breakdown of various styles and regions, Bernstein took a look at several Michigan beers, including Two Hearted by Bell’s Brewery and Founders’ All Day IPA.
Bernstein spoke with the Business Journal about his journey to write the book. His other two books are “The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks” and “Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the Brewing Revolution.”
Business Journal: Was it your goal to write a book on just one style of beer?
Josh Bernstein: Essentially, I wanted to do a book on the movement of farm brewing. I thought that was the future. That’s too niche, according to the publisher, and they wanted a book about the IPA. The more I looked at the market … it’s just three little letters, but it can mean an entire universe of flavors.
A lot of people really didn’t know what it meant and think it’s too bitter or too alcoholic. I wanted to show why the IPA became a dominant form of creativity of American brewing in the 21st century.
Initially, when I dove into the project, I wondered how I was going to write about it. There’s so much, (and) so much of it is about how IPA has become essential to the success of breweries across the nation.
BJ: How did you set up the book?
JB: I wanted to have a heavy dose of profiles and not just me talking to brewers. I split it up geographically, by regions in America and in England, splitting it up by styles. People always argue about the utilities of style, but it’s a great launch pad for what a beer is about. Red, black, wild, it can encompass an entire spectrum of flavors, and I wanted to break IPAs down by dominant substyles.
BJ: How did you decide what beers to include?
JB: That was probably the hardest part: which breweries to include in the book. You can include five Stone Brewing Co. or Sierra Nevada IPAs each, but that’s not a book. I asked writers from across the country for feedback, since there are so many breweries opening all the time. I travel a lot, but I have one liver and a kid; I can’t hit everything. I wanted to make sure I didn’t overlook any beers. It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon, it’s global. So, I wanted to include foreign beers to look for, too.
BJ: How long did it take to write?
JB: It was a very fast turnaround time — it was about nine months, and in the middle of it all, the building we lived in for 13 years was sold, and we had to move out at the end of December. [Editor’s note: Bernstein started the project in December 2015 with a rough draft due date of March 15, 2016, and a release of Sept. 13, 2016.]
BJ: How big is the potential market for this book?
JB: There’s this vast audience that hasn’t tiptoed into this world. IPAs are so engaging but also turn people off. We’re hardwired to hate bitterness, and people say they hate IPAs, but IPAs are evolving so quickly, and we’re moving away from that brashness of the early 2000s. That brashness was important to get attention, but now we move to nuance and flavors, and now there are pineapple and papaya flavors in these IPAs without the piney bitterness that people hate.
BJ: What did you learn researching?
JB: I can’t drink an old IPA anymore. When you drink them fresh, you know the intent of the brewer when he brewed the beer. No beer will kill you, but it’s like when you have a good steak, it’s hard to go back to Ponderosa.
BJ: Did your palate burn out from any of the bitterness?
JB: It wasn’t too hard on the palate. You stagger tastings, so it’s not double IPAs nonstop. The thing about a lot of these new IPAs is they’re not designed to burn your palate, and it’s only so much alcohol. Since I’ve been writing about beer, I’ve had tasting notes from before, and I didn’t have to start from scratch.
BJ: What’s next in IPA?
JB: Trends don’t just happen over a year; you watch styles percolate so quickly. The Northeast style IPA is now being made across the country, and people don’t know anything about it. Social media stokes it. IPAs are cultish. It’s all about how you can get a Heady Topper or the IPAs that have really fixated tastebuds and minds. If you open a brewery and don’t make an IPA, people still come in and ask for it. It’s as expected as a lager 30 years ago.