Drinking better beer isn’t all about what’s in your glass. It’s about the glass itself, the bartender who set it in front of you, the draft system that dispensed the beer, and the bar you’re sitting in. That’s the chief message of Drink Better Beer, the new book from New York City–based beer author Joshua Bernstein. With advice from brewers, hop researchers, and other experts, Drink Better Beer offers gentle, practical tips that will make you a more informed and savvy beer drinker—without having to chase down elusive, specific bottles.
I loved this book for three reasons. First, it doesn’t lecture or suggest you book a flight to Belgium this instant in order to understand beer. It’s focused on small, useful tidbits you can apply to everyday beer drinking. Some examples: Bartenders shouldn’t dunk a standard beer faucet in the beer as they’re pouring your glass because that residue can create perfect conditions for bacteria. Cured ham is a great pairing for bourbon-barrel-aged beers. Frosted beer mugs aren’t ideal, as they deaden beer’s flavors. Willamette, an Oregon town and a hop variety, rhymes with “damn it.” All of these are useful bits of knowledge that don’t require you to spend money on gadgets or to memorize obscure beer facts.
Second, the book draws in beer experts besides Bernstein—and besides brewers. It features interviews with the owner of a ramen restaurant, a beer chemistry researcher, and the proprietor of the best beer bar in Des Moines, Iowa. Their perspectives, plus those of other beer writers and industry insiders, create the impression that you’re learning from a symposium rather than a lecture.
Lastly, the book is simply pretty to flip through. Its photos are bold and beautiful and its pages offer lots of magazine-style snippets to browse, even if you don’t have time to sit and read an entire chapter.
I spoke to Bernstein by phone about his latest book, beer drinkers’ obsession with newness, and the best beer advice he ever received. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Takeout: What inspired the general organization and angle of this book?Joshua Bernstein: Having another book where it’s like “drink these 10 beers,” you’re dating yourself the second that book is published. I wanted to eliminate that concept entirely. There are only a couple sections [in this book] where we talk about drinking a specific beer. I wanted to write a book that brought people up to date and walked them through these shifts in beer production, and how we’re selling beer and how we’re enjoying beer.
What we don’t have right now is a lot of intentionality and mindfulness in what we consume. The book is all about this idea of asking yourself a couple questions: Is this beer poured properly? Are there bubbles in the glass? There’s a lot we rush past in our quest for Instagram glory, and cherishing the new and the next. We should be digging more deeply into our beer to ask: Why is it like this?
TO: What’s the best beer advice you ever received?
JB: You don’t have to drink everything. You can send beers back. Even if you paid for a beer, you can send it back or dump it down the sink. Ask yourself if it’s excess for excess’ sake or whether excess has a reason. We’ve all got a limited amount of “liver tokens” each day. Enjoy them.
TO: What do you know about beer now that you wish you’d known 10 years ago?
JB: Just how deeply it reaches into the roots of American society, from farmers to manufacturers to scientists. The deeper you get into beer, it’s about understanding how it all happens. The supply chains are so complicated but at the same time, so tenuous. All these levers have to be deployed at just the right time to get that beer to you.
There’s been a rockstar moment recently where we’ve celebrated the brewers, but I want to celebrate the sensory specialists, the people creating new canning lines, the welders fixing the equipment. These are things I didn’t think about as much when I was first getting into beer.