80. Match Made in Heaven: Craft Beer and Craft Chocolate, with a Little Understanding
An interview with craft beer + craft chocolate writer, podcaster, and (new!) zine author David Nilsen; plus tarot for healing some heartbreak.
Learning the Fundamentals of Craft Chocolate to Go Forth and Make Beautiful Pairings
When I was in Cape Town several years ago, my now-husband and I did this tour where a guide takes you around to wineries on a vintage motorcycle. Every winery was more stunning than the last, but I’m not fantastic at epic day-long vineyard hops. I struggle to come to terms with the concept of spitting, and so long before most other people—whether they’re spitting or not, really—I’m cooked. I was not at this point at our second winery, but I was apparently giving off real “I’m worried about getting drunk and ruining a gorgeous experience and any kind of stress is now ruining this anyway” vibes, because our brilliant guide came over and kind of whispered, as if he was afraid I’d be like, “SHUT UP AND BRING ME MORE WINE!”: “Would you like to swap one of the wineries for a chocolate tasting?” I gave an emphatic “yes,” and so got to enjoy my—unfortunately—only in-depth, really educational, bean-to-bar chocolate tasting so far.
That was a high I’m still trying to chase, and the work of David Nilsen has been inspiring me lately to take that exploration a bit more seriously. David is a prolific beer writer and Advanced Cicerone, but he also writes about craft chocolate and is an expert on beer-and-chocolate pairing. There’s a good chance you already listen to his Bean to Barstool podcast. I’ve had David on my list for people I’d love to interview here for a while, because his knowledge is indeed so vast but because he delivers said knowledge in a really lovely, accessible, engaging way. As you’ll see in this interview below, there is so much more to understanding craft chocolate and beer-and-chocolate pairings than you might think, and it is all fascinating. I think it will motivate plenty more people to start this journey of discovery, too. And perfect timing, because David’s just written an incredible zine, the first of its kind, all about the world of pairing chocolate and beer. You can order that here. Read on, and don’t miss a link for a can’t-miss virtual event toward the end!
What is your sort of origin story—how did you come to craft beer, how did you come to chocolate, which one came first…? And, I’m curious, did you immediately start engaging with beer and chocolate together, like were they always linked and you were always exploring how they pair? Or was it a more gradual sort of “I like this thing…I like that thing…let me start thinking about how they work together?”
With beer and chocolate, one of the things I think is interesting is that chocolate always came first for all of us. We've been having chocolate since we were children, and that can be both good and bad when it comes to trying to really get into craft chocolate as an adult. You've got nostalgia on the good side, and then you have some things to unlearn on the bad side of that. But as an adult, beer definitely came first. I've enjoyed craft beer most of my adult life, and have been getting into it more deeply and learning more about it for probably about 10 or 12 years, and then jumped into writing about it professionally about six years ago. Chocolate came a year or two after that and actually was because of beer. Somebody asked me to lead a beer and chocolate pairing, and I somewhat naively was like, "Yeah. Sure. That'll be simple. How many different kinds of chocolate can there be?"
I quickly realized I was in over my head on that. So there's a woman here in Dayton named London Coe. She owns a shop called Peace on Fifth that sells all slavery-free products, so mostly arts and crafts, but also bean-to-bar chocolate. And I went in to get her advice on chocolate, and she's one of those people where you ask a question and then 45 minutes later, you're still discussing the answer to that question because she just has so much enthusiasm and knowledge to share. And she's always just handing out chocolate samples and wants you to taste this or that. And so very quickly I realized that chocolate was way, way more than I realized it was, and just started trying to learn more about it and really fell in love with it. So it became a parallel pursuit to beer. On the professional side, the craft chocolate world is still a lot smaller than craft beer, so my actual writing time is still primarily devoted to the beer side of things, but I've been trying to largely bring them together as often as I can.
Chocolate is the side of this I know far less about, even though I certainly am very much a fan. I know this is probably virtually impossible, but is there a kind of summary you can give to explain to a novice just how complex the world of chocolate is? How is chocolate organized or categorized? Just how big and varied are these categories? What are the first and foremost things someone looking to explore chocolate know?
Well…before you talk about categories, there are two things that I think are largely invisible to consumers that are really important to understand. The first is chocolate is an agricultural ingredient. It is made from the seed of a tropical fruit that is grown around the equator around the world. So it is grown and harvested and fermented and processed by farmers and farm workers. And I think much like beer, chocolate has had an uphill battle to help people recognize it as an agricultural ingredient. People think of it as just something that's made in a factory and shows up in grocery stores, whereas wine and coffee have done a really good job of keeping that agricultural component right front and center for consumers. So that's important to understand. And then the second thing with that, with those farmers and farm workers, is that a large number of those farmers and those farm laborers are being exploited by the global cacao trade. All of the big chocolate candy companies that we can get easily in convenience stores are paying laughably low amounts for their cacao. And there are estimates that 60 or 70 percent of the world's cacao is tainted by human rights abuses, including child slavery.
So when we're looking at craft chocolate, the importance of understanding this is an agricultural product with a agricultural ingredient at its core and the fact that the farmers who are responsible for growing those crops have to be taken care of, those are the two things that really separate craft chocolate—which is what I focus on—from the more mass-produced brands that you can find in grocery stores and convenience stores. So that worldview change of understanding those two components is the most important thing, I think, to really understanding chocolate and getting into it.
Once you get into it beyond that, much like with craft beer, you do have a dazzling amount of variety, but there aren't those tiers that people build into their heads of, like, “This is good, and this is bad.” People prioritize dark chocolate because they assume that that's the most legit or most “connoisseur” type of chocolate, but there's great craft milk chocolate and white chocolate and chocolate with all sorts of fun-flavored ingredients added to it, all sorts of stuff. So it's very similar to beer in that way where there's tons and tons of variety. It can be easy to think that once you've arrived, you're only going to have this and you're not going to have these other things anymore. But in reality…there's all sorts of fun stuff to enjoy as long as you're understanding the importance of the origins of where those ingredients came from and how the people who are responsible for those ingredients are being taken care of.
What are you most excited about in the world of chocolate in 2023? Are there certain trends you’re watching and think people should know about?
One of the most exciting things with craft chocolate—and this is maybe going back for the last couple of years—one of the things that has helped chocolate to weather COVID in a way where beer suffered certainly, it's that chocolate can be shipped anywhere. So you can go on absolutely any craft chocolate maker's website and just order chocolate directly to your door, and that's really, really awesome. I don't think people think about getting chocolate in that way. It's something where you go to the store and you browse the shelves and see what you want. There are still not a whole lot of craft chocolate stores though, or places stocking that. So changing the way you think about that and just going online to order craft chocolate is definitely an encouraged thing. That's something for people to understand.
Beyond that, as far as trends, with this still being such a small industry, you're working with very small sample sizes when it comes to what constitutes a trend. A dozen makers do something; is that a trend when there are only 500 or so bean-to-bar chocolate makers operating in the western world right now? So, there aren't so much the kind of industry-wide trends as we see in beer, where you get every year to talk about the way lager is coming back or how hazies were taking over four or five years ago or things like that.
You get more very, very small trends as these makers are talking to each other and sharing ingredients and things like that. There are some really cool experimentations going on. I think at the fringes of craft chocolate right now, that’s really fun to look at. Smoked chocolate is something that I've really enjoyed. Just like with smoking malt over different woods, you can have cacao beans smoked over all sorts of different woods and there are some chocolate makers experimenting with that. I have a chocolate bar on my desk right now that I'm going to be tasting this week that was made with rice Koji. So there's a lot of interesting experimentation, and I feel like that, while it's incredibly broad, is the trend right now. Like, we're still figuring out what the horizons and frontiers of craft chocolate can be since it's such a small and young industry. So there's this wild-west experimentation with what ingredients make good and bad chocolate and I think that's where the most excitement is right now.
How about for beer? And are you seeing any parallels between the two?
I think one thing I find similar between the two—and this certainly applies to my own enjoyment of the two—is that there can kind of be these parallel tracks between honoring classical tradition and doing the most anti-tradition tradition possible. So in beer, I love a great Vienna Lager. I love a great classic European style, whatever it is. And I also love chocolate coffee stouts. And sometimes there's this uneasy tension between those two things, or seemingly there can be in the beer industry. For me it's all about quality and ingredients and story, and that can spring from both [tradition and anti-tradition] sides. And I think the same thing is true in chocolate. The equivalent of classic styles in chocolate would be single-origins—so, bars that are honoring the character of cacao from a very specific origin around the world and just focusing on the ingredients and how it's been handled and nothing else. And then you have what I was just talking about: bars made with rice Koji or hops or any other crazy ingredient. There's a bar made with Pop Rocks. And I feel like those two parallel tracks exist in both. And on the chocolate side, I feel like there's less uneasiness there. Because craft chocolate is such a young industry, we really don't have rules and long-standing traditions that have to be honored. Whereas on the beer side, it can sometimes feel a little bit more like those two things can be at odds with each other.
What was the beginning of your journey pairing chocolate and beer like? How did you take that to a deeper level of specificity and knowledge?
Well, the next step after learning from London, basically, just having that world opened up by that…there is another chocolate writer I'm friends with, her name is Megan Giller, she has been a chocolate journalist for about 10 years. And as we talked about, the industry being so small, there are only so many full-time chocolate journalists. [Giller] wrote a book called Bean-to-Bar Chocolate that was basically the bible for getting into craft chocolate. That came out in 2016/2017, which was right around when I was starting to discover this stuff. So I found that book and read it. It's very comparable to Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher. It's a really good intro guide. It's not going to dive super deep on anything, but when you're just getting into it, it is a great broad guide to opening all this up and kind of organizing information and helping you make sense of where things are. So I read that, bought chocolate, tasted it, and from then, it's been more of a slower self-guided experience.
We don't have the literature [for craft chocolate] that beer has. We don't have tons of books. We don't have tons of records of this being made in this way, going back for centuries. So it does, unfortunately, have to be a little bit more piecemeal, that education process. But for me, it was a matter of just buying chocolate and talking to makers and talking to other writers. Instagram has been great for the last few years. There's a great craft chocolate community on Instagram that still feels community-like where everybody is actually interacting. And those have all been good ways for me to learn more about this.
Beer-and-chocolate pairings were one of the earlier kinds of specialty events to pop up in craft beer, to bring in new beer drinkers and get people excited about craft beer. I’m wondering, though, if there was nearly as much attention paid to the chocolate, or if it was more like, “people like chocolate, so let’s use that to get them to start tasting beer.” And, how much of the approach rested on the assumption that porters and stouts are always obvious choices for chocolate pairings. What do you think of the evolution of beer-and-chocolate pairing? Have we come a long way? How much more complex might it be than we previously gave it credit for?
I think it definitely has developed, and there's still a long way to go with that. So I am seeing a lot more brewers hosting their own pairings and chocolate makers who are partnering with breweries to do that. You're right that the porter-stout thing is still what everybody goes to right away for obvious reasons with those complementary flavors. But we are starting to see more sophistication. I think what has to come along on the brewery side—and I think this is true both for pairing and for brewing with cacao if you're going to make a beer with cacao nibs or something like that—is that understanding that I was mentioning earlier of, what is cacao? Where does it come from? And what is that cacao supply chain like? Because there's still a lot of abstractness for brewers and the beer community when they're talking about chocolate. Whereas when you look at brewers working with coffee or consumers looking at coffee beers, there is a little bit more sophistication of understanding origins and roasters and even in some cases wash processes and things like that for coffee beans. Whereas on the chocolate side, it's still very much like, “We use cocoa nibs.” And they don't say who it's from or where those cocoa nibs are from or anything like that.
So I think with brewing, but also then with pairing, there is still some of the sort of like, “Oh, okay, we'll pick four beers. We'll quickly do a sample tasting of some different chocolates. And then we'll pick the ones we like best and we'll leave a pairing.” That's fun, and it's fine if that's being presented in sort of an open-minded way and acknowledging that we as the brewers or whatever it might be are kind of learning along with everybody else just as a fun thing. But I think we're still needing to grow toward that component of understanding and respecting chocolate as its own artisanal and agricultural product, and understanding the importance of knowing where that chocolate came from. I think that's the next step that needs to happen for beer to be able to make that next leap in those pairings. But we are definitely starting to see more recognition. It's just happening slowly, I think.
On the podcast, you get to know so many chocolate makers…I’m curious what kind of parallels you find between both chocolate makers and craft beer brewers?
I think that the craft chocolate industry started to get going around 2000 and then really caught on probably around 2010. So it's a couple decades younger than craft beer. In a lot of the conversations I have with makers, there is a conscious awareness of looking at craft beer as a little-bit-older artisan industry and being both inspired by that and learning from it. One significant difference that affects some of that comparison is that chocolate can be made on a significantly smaller commercial scale than beer can. You could theoretically make chocolate from your kitchen and sell it in small batches whereas that's not possible on the beer side, even at the smallest breweries. You've got to have a little bit—well, you've got to have substantially more overhead invested. So there is a difference there. But just from a creativity standpoint and a sort of “do-it-yourself, there's no road map for this, so we have to figure it out ourselves,” that's very much a conscious mindset that a lot of chocolate makers have, and that that lines up with what some of the early craft brewers were looking at.
One thing I think that craft chocolate makers are doing better than beer has done is understanding the importance of storytelling and marketing and packaging. There is consistently better quality to packaging and design and less of the—even before you get into anything problematic—the just silly, bro-y-ness that has infected a lot of craft beer marketing and storytelling and branding. So I think [chocolate is] doing better with that. Then once you get into that more problematic side of things, chocolate has definitely done better from the ground up with DEI stuff. Some of that is related to the fact that when you're looking at cacao origins and how you're sourcing, these are all countries from the around the equator, around the world. So you're working with persons of color at origin wherever your cacao is coming from. And I think that has informed a lot of the mindset and understanding of chocolate makers when it comes to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Some of this is faulty at its root, of course, but chocolate has this feminine image to it. It's been marketed to women for a very long time, and there's certainly a problematic component to that. But for better or worse, it has allowed for more open doors for women in chocolate making. A lot more—I don't have specific numbers to cite, but there is, I would say, a higher percentage of owners and makers from chocolate companies that are women compared to craft beer. So there are definitely those comparisons I mentioned earlier from a standpoint of being a small business and figuring things out for yourself and cobbling together equipment from what you have on hand and all that stuff. Very much an excitement from doing things like a do-it-yourself grassroots component. But there is also in other ways a more 21st century maturity to craft chocolate as small as the industry is. Whereas beer is still obviously trying to shake off a lot of bad habits that it developed.
We talked about the first and most essential things for someone newer to chocolate to know, so what about most basic starting points for someone starting to pair beer and chocolate? What are some key points to consider and core principles?
One thing that I think people are surprised to hear me say sometimes is that beer and chocolate are not always a natural pairing. Beer and chocolate can obviously pair beautifully together. That's why I made the zine and why I love doing this. But you can have really, really bad beer and chocolate pairings, and it's not as natural as pairing with something like cheese. If you get a cheese board and a few different beers, you're going to have some pairings better than others, but overall you're probably going to have a pretty good experience of just freely pairing those different things together and figuring out what works. If you grab a few different chocolates and a few different beers, it is entirely possible that none of those work together, and some of them are actually quite off-putting. And you're going to walk away from that and be like, “Man, beer doesn't pair with chocolate.” So it is a narrower path to walk, I think, through those pairings to find a good one so that then when you find the good ones, they're awesome.
I think people are surprised to hear me say that given how much I love pairing beer and chocolate, but these do not always work together naturally and it takes some intention. And I think that's why something like the zine was so important to do. There is no other published guide out there, and I was looking for one and couldn't find one. Having a way to make sense of why pairings work and why they don't and what chocolates to look for for different beer styles is going to set you up for success, in a way that sort of free-form pairing like we're used to doing with other cuisines like cheese doesn't necessarily require. So I think that's one important thing to understand.
And then I think one of the most important things, and I get into this in detail in the zine, is the actual physical process for pairing beer and chocolate has a little bit more importance than pretty much any other food type. Well-made chocolate is not intended to melt at a low temperature. Well-made chocolate will melt just a couple of degrees below human body temperature. So you put a piece of 70% dark chocolate on your tongue, it's going to take a little while for that to start melting and releasing those aromatic compounds that are going to give it its flavor. If you just put that piece of chocolate in your mouth and take a sip of cold beer, it's going to stay solid on your tongue, and it's not going to melt and you're not going to be able to taste it. So I've got some step-by-step instructions in the zine to understand that sequential process to make sure that you're actually getting the flavors of the chocolate when you pair it with the beer. When I'm leading pairings, it’s something I always explain—and there's always a few people I can see who pop a piece in their mouth, chew it up, take a sip of beer, and I know that they're not actually getting those flavors together because that chocolate has to be allowed to melt in order to do that. So those are a couple of important things to keep in mind when people are just getting started with this.
How do you approach the basics of pairing in your zine? What can someone expect to find in the zine, and how will it help them get both more used to and excited about beer-and-chocolate pairing?
It's got some basic introductory information just about beer and chocolate. If you're coming to this from one side or the other, it kind of fills you in on what's going on with the other side of that, with basic information on how to taste. Then we get into the actual guidance on how to pair a beer and chocolate together—some of the things I just talked about as well as a bunch of just little tips on things you might not think about when you're starting out with this. It talks about the actual physical process for how to pair these together.
Then there’s the main body of the zine. It's a 70-page zine, and I think 15 pages in there is style-by-style guidance. So this is organized by beer style, not by chocolate type. It goes through and for each beer style—and I think I do about two dozen styles or style groups/style families—for each of those, maybe a little bit of information about the style, some commercial examples to check out. And then I go through and explain the challenges to pairing that style with chocolate, what kinds of chocolate to seek out, what kinds of chocolate to avoid. Then I'll give at least one example of a specific pairing and describe how that works together.
So, we go through a range of classic styles, Belgian, German, all sorts of different sour beers, and then your porters and stouts. We get into styles that I don't think people think about pairing with chocolate like IPAs and hazies and things like that. They can pair really well with a little bit of planning. I also talk about pairing some styles with their own adjuncts, so coffee beers, pumpkin beers, smoked beers. And then the last section of the book talks about how to plan and host your own beer-and-chocolate pairings. So what do you need to think about in terms of planning? What do you need to get to have on hand? How do you conduct the experience? How do you actually pull that off for your guests so they have a good time? And that's most of what's in the zine.
I’m curious if in your research and trials you've come across anything that's surprised you. Like, a specific pairing that you're like, “I really feel this is going to work well,” and then it is one of those that just does not work. Or if it's a whole style that you find works better than you would think.
I think [the IPAs and other hoppy styles] were probably the most eye-opening thing when I was really starting to make a systematic understanding of this for myself. We definitely don't—or at least I didn’t—think about hazy IPAs and old school pale ales and things like that as being natural chocolate pairings. But with some trial and error, figuring out what worked, the pairings that you can get from those beers are really, really astonishing. I think, especially with hazies as popular as they are right now—they are surprisingly versatile when it comes to pairing with chocolate. Now I say that, going back to what I said earlier, the batting average of just pairing random beer with random chocolate is not very good. That certainly extends to this. But with just a little bit of guidance, there are a lot of types of chocolate that will just shine with hazy IPA or hazy pale ale. So I think that's probably been the most surprising thing that came out of all of the endless test batches and everything else.
I mentioned this in the zine somewhere and I can't find the page where I've got it—I've got a few little sidebars and things where I've just got little tidbits—but I mentioned the most versatile styles of beer. And porters and stouts, obviously, you're looking at a huge family of styles there, porters and stouts not being just one thing. But they get mentioned all the time and they're not necessarily the most versatile beers for pairing with chocolate. Surprisingly, the style that I would say casts the widest net is English barleywine. Having a robust and lightly sweet malt profile allows it to cast a pretty wide net for a lot of different chocolates. Those caramel, toffee, dark fruit flavors provide very easy hooks for a lot of the more nuanced flavors of different chocolates. So if I were to pick one beer style, like you're going to get one beer style and then just get some random chocolates to try with it, the one that's probably going to give you the best chance of success is a classic English barleywine.
Now don't try an American barleywine. I say in here early in the zine that while there is a beer for every chocolate, there is not necessarily a chocolate for every beer. And there are a handful of beer styles that I haven't thrown in the towel for entirely, but I have yet to find anything that really works for the American barleywine. A really intense American barleywine is one good example of that hop bitterness compared to a very mild malt character, which just does not lend itself easily to working with chocolate.
Well, I usually like to end interviews with a little bit of looking forward. So a two-parter. I'm wondering if there's anything that you're really excited about in general in terms of the worlds of craft beer and chocolate and where they intersect, and then more specifically in terms of your work with them.
Well, one thing—I guess the thing that drives me more than anything else around this and what I'm kind of making my personal permission to improve is the understanding between the beer and chocolate worlds. So kind of communicating with each other better. I think there's a lot that both can learn from each other and especially for the beer side to come to a better understanding of chocolate as an ingredient and chocolate as an artisan product that can sit at the level of beer and coffee and wine and all these other artisan indulgences that we enjoy. I want to see chocolate get to at least the place that I think coffee is at with beer or, like I mentioned earlier, where brewers work with their local coffee shop and they're going to put that roaster's name on the label. They're going to say what the origin of the coffee was. And that's not 100% yet, but it's definitely more prominent. I want to see that get there. That's something that really excites me a lot.
For myself, one thing I have coming up and I haven't formally announced this yet; I'm still putting out feelers: I'm going to be this year releasing, separately, beer and chocolate zines that will pay writers. They will be printed zines, not glossy magazines, but staple-bound zines that will provide on the beer side an outlet for good storytelling, but on the chocolate side…really there is no one publication that actually is devoted to chocolate. There was one that was out a couple of years ago. It was beautiful. I think they got four issues before they had to shut down. It was an awesome concept. Just beautiful design, beautiful physical creation, but I think their production costs were just way too high. I am all about do-it-yourself publishing for this stuff. And I'm really excited about being able to create platforms for the kind of storytelling on both sides of this that go out there.
One other thing: I am hosting at the end of March a beer-and-chocolate virtual tasting. So it's a tasting of craft chocolate that is made with beer or beer ingredients. I'm selling tickets for that on my website. I would love for beer people to be able to use that as a gateway into understanding more about chocolate. There's these chocolate bars made with galaxy hops and really cool beer ingredients that people are going to be familiar with on the beer side. And I think that can be a really cool way to get people into chocolate.
This week, I pulled the Three of Swords.
Swords is the suit of intellect and decisions, and the Three of Swords speaks to grief, sorrow, and emotional pain. (Very rude this close to February 14, tbh!) What this card tells us is short but not so sweet…well, at least not at first. Basically, it arises when we are in some kind of pain caused by the words or actions of someone else. It could be a break-up, a betrayal by a friend, an assessment in the workplace that was more personal than it should have been, harsh words from a family member…something in one of our relationships has gone awry and we are feeling it. It could even be as serious as grieving the loss of a loved one. Things do not feel good right now.
The first call to action that the Three of Swords makes is to feel those feelings. Don’t try to hold back or bottle up, at least not in the comfort of your own home or around people you trust. Cry a good cry, scream a good scream. I’m not sure if anyone other than Real Housewives and teen characters on Freeform shows are still doing those rage rooms but? Smashing some shit safely could be just the ticket for you right now. I think it’s important to differentiate here that the Three of Swords isn’t a card that specifically deals with confronting your emotions with the other person involved. This is less about facing the person who caused this pain—that will come in due time. But for now, it’s about you taking care of you. At the end of the day, you have absolutely no control over how the other person will act…will they apologize? Try to make it up to you? Do real work to make amends? Double down? Ghost you? You’ve got to prioritize making sure you feel okay in your emotions, whatever that process looks like and whatever you need to get to a good place, because that’s all you can control.
Let yourself be sad and/or angry, and then—this is the second part of the card’s message—start on the road to recovery. Remember that as trite as it is, this too shall pass, and you will inevitably learn something from it. Maybe it will strengthen your relationship, maybe it won’t—it will undoubtedly strengthen you. The pain will lessen and you’ll feel better on your own terms, whether that means working on that relationship or letting this be the epiphany that it’s time to move on.
The Veil has an absolutely perfectly named beer for this tarot card, and that is the Feel Feelings helles lager. Let this beer be a reminder to feel those damned feelings of yours! Find inspiration from the helles lager, a beer style that’s really found its well-balanced groove.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
This one is actually more of a “booze-writing media rec” in particular. It’s also nearly a year old—but couldn’t be more evergreen for the key takeaways. I don’t even remember what made me click it on this particular day, but I happened listen to Bryan Roth interview Jeff Alworth for the Good Beer Hunting podcast the morning after I filed a story that had been absolutely wiping the floor with me for weeks—months? I had barely slept all that night, sure that my editor would read the draft and, horrified, revoke some invisible card that had previously granted me membership to the world of professional writing. After listening to this chat, I felt a little more able to breathe, and inspired to carry on, to work toward that level of insightful, effective writing. Bryan asks such good questions, the ones I feel you don’t always get on podcasts but the ones you really want to know, and Jeff is candid and generous with answers on everything from challenges re: reining in a story’s length or knowing your subject to creating a range of stories you tell within your sort of overall beat. If you write for a living or as a hobby, or just want a good behind-the-scenes look at beer writing and specifically beer book-writing, this is it.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I picked this as an “exbeerience” last year, and also named it a “beer experience that everyone should add to their bucket list” for Craft Beer & Brewing’s Best of 2022, but I’m going to tell you again: Strong Rope Brewery’s Caskiversary fest is it. I feel like it’s got this low-key vibe, where because it’s a smaller event compared to full-on beer festivals, you might not expect it to be the kind of thing you plan travel around—but you absolutely should. You get to experience some of the best offerings from some of the best local breweries on cask. It’s fun and convivial and everyone’s excited and talking about their beers—we simply do not have enough events that get people fired up about cask beer! In addition to NYC beer regulars, I chatted with people much more casual about beer who were learning about cask for the first time and they were into it.
I wish I took a photo of the menu so I could remember every beer, but I do recall Finback’s Crispy Nights dark lager and Strong Ale’s Pub Ale being absolutely pitch-perfect. Plus a new-to-me brewery, Lasting Joy, had a chocolate mint stout that kind of blew my mind in how those flavors came through without being heavy, cloying, or overly rich.
Until next week, here is Darby with one of the cask pours.