The following interview appeared in the Winter issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine. Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, made his way to Toronto to host a beer dinner featuring three Brooklyn products at the Esplanade's Fionn MacCool's back in the summer, and he took 20mins to participate in the interview.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN BREWING?
In 1983 I moved to England to stage manage rock bands at night, which led to numerous visits to the pub after the shows. That’s when I really fell in love with beer. I drank beer in college not really liking it, but when I discovered cask conditioned ale in England I fell in love. When I returned to the US I could no longer drink it so I started homebrewing in 1984 and it eventually consumed my life. My passion eventually led to a brewing job with the Manhattan Brewing Co. in 1989.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE BROOKLYN BREWERY?
I had known the Brooklyn guys for years through the homebrewing clubs and we were all good friends. Steve Hindy (President and Founder of Brooklyn) and I have known each other since 1985 and he wanted me to come work with them early on; however, I was happy with my position at Manhattan. In 1994 there was talk of building a new brewery and I saw the guys had the same fire in their belly as I had in mine and I made the move. It has been almost 15 years since I came to Brooklyn and I’m proud of our line-up of 17 beers.
WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING IN THE BEER INDUSTRY?
It makes me happy to see beer and food pairings growing in popularity. It’s something I have a great interest in and I’ve spent a lot of time promoting it. I think it’s become more widespread and I’m starting to see more dinners like this being held everywhere from small pubs to Michelin star restaurants. Another small trend were seeing in the brewing industry would be the Belgian influence in small breweries. Brewers are experimenting with unique yeast strains and barrel ageing here in the US, something not really seen 7 or 8 years ago. Brooklyn is currently developing a bourbon barrel aged strong stout re-fermented in the bottle that should turn some heads (will be named Black Ops) which might be the only one in its style in America.
NAME YOUR BIGGEST DISLIKE IN THE INDUSTRY
The un-level playing field. I think it’s a great industry full of great people, but what bothers me is when the big breweries basically break the rules to get their products into accounts. I like to know our beers get sold based on their merits, not advertising, which is another thing that bugs me. Commercials showing guys slapping each other, wow, what a great image for beer! I find these commercials bring down the image of beer. However, the industry produces some great people who work together, helping each other out with ingredients or promoting other products.
FAVOURITE BEER DRINKING MEMORY
My most recent memory would be sharing a beer I helped develop with Hans-Peter Drexler of Schneider Brauerei at his brewery in Kelheim, Germany called Schneider-Brooklyn Hopfen-weisse. I was on vacation with my family off the coast of Italy and Drexler and his family were taking a ferry that stopped nearby. We met up and drank our creation for the first time as we overlooked the Mediterranean on a terrace in a little town called Bonasola. Quite an experience. Having our beer for the first time, in that location, was amazing. Another great memory was when I took our entire brewing staff over to England to visit 7 breweries and we stayed in Thornbridge Hall, an old estate with a small brewery making some great beer.
WHAT’S UP WITH YOUR CLOTHES? YOU’RE WELL KNOWN FOR YOUR STYLE OF DRESS. ARE YOU TRYING TO ELEVATE THE STATUS OF BEER FROM BALL PARKS TO BOARDROOMS?
These are my clothes. I like these clothes and it’s not like I get a chance to wear them everyday. I actually took my tie off tonight. I thought, ‘an Irish pub?’ Naw; go with the open collar, but I left the blazer on (the blazer featured a beautiful metal Brooklyn crest that was done by a company that does work for the British Royal Family). I also want to raise the appearance of beer when I show up to do dinners, tastings, have people recognize my professionalism. I developed my taste after seeing the famous winemaker Ottalo Gotto at an event wearing a beautiful suit. Someone asked him why he wore such fancy suit and he told them, “If you want people to understand that your wine is delicious, you should also look delicious.” I don’t know if I look delicious, but I look as good as I can.
YOU’RE THE AUTHOR OF THE POPULAR BEER AND FOOD PAIRING BOOK “BREWMASTER’S TABLE.” WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE IT?
I wrote it after I saw people shopping for beer and they would go in, look at 200 different beers, walk back and forth and then leave with a six pack of Heineken or Corona, looking somewhat disappointed. I think it was because they weren’t sure of what was in the bottle, not sure what the other stuff tasted like, looked like or more importantly, they didn’t know what to do with it. I wanted to write a book that would tell people who actually wanted to know what the beer was all about; where it came from, what it tasted like, what foods it went well with and to help spread the status of craft beer. I also wanted to remove the barrier of all the scientific talk that we brewers use to describe beers. IBU’s and original gravity are all good to discuss, but I wanted to talk about beer and food and the flavours they bring out in each other at the dinner table. The goal was to give people the information they need to have many great beer and food experiences as possible.
HOW GREAT WAS IT TOURING THE WORLD WHILE WRITING IT?
It was great. I met a lot of great people, drank some amazing beers and learned some new things. Great fun.
MOST MEMORABLE FOOD AND BEER PAIRING?
I’ve done about 500 beer dinners in around 10 different countries, so as you can imagine, it’s difficult to pick just one. However, I’ll always remember one time on the banks of one of the canals in Amsterdam I had a simple open faced salmon on ciabatta bread. Fresh salmon, sunshine shining through the trees and somebody brought me a big glass of Wit beer. At that moment it was like the best thing in the world.
YOU GO HEAD TO HEAD WITH WINE SOMMELIAR’S IN FOOD PAIRING COMPETITIONS. HOW MANY HAVE YOU WON?
All of them!!! Hahaha! But no, I have won all of them. There have been some that have been really close though. It’s funny, I can remember every individual round that I ever lost; I remember the pairing, what the wine person did and I’ll make the necessary changes the next time around.
PICK THAT ONE BEER
I don’t have a favourite singe beer. It changes all the time, from season to season, yet I do have some ‘desert island beers’ I would want if I was stranded on an island: Saison Dupont and Adnams Broadside Bitter (cask conditioned). Both delicious.
GOALS FOR THE CANADIAN MARKET?
Obviously we would like to see more enter the market. However, it’s hard, really hard. Getting into the Canadian market is tough. But we’ve done it and we want to build on it. Ontario has big potential and we would one day want to have a full range of Brooklyn products to offer consumers.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CANADIAN BEERS?
I like the beers from Dieu du Ciel, and I think the beers brewed here by Mill Street are clean and well made. Beers made by Unibroue have been great for a long time and they seem to continue improving. For years I’ve enjoyed McAuslan’s stuff, the Oatmeal Stout in particular. I’ve also enjoyed some stuff from British Columbia. It’s weird, the British and the American brewers all know each other and so do the Belgians and the Americans, yet Canadians and American’s do not. I have a difficult time naming many Canadian breweries. Don’t know why, like I said, weird.
BEST TIME FOR A PINT?
Now! Hahaha! Every time is a good time as there is a beer made for every occasion. Drink up