I accompanied Jim, Kelly, and Nathan to this event. Before the formal hosting began, Oliver sat down with our table for about 20 minutes to answer some questions from Jim, who will be running a piece in the Dayton Daily News soon.
Garrett Oliver discussing one of the samples (photo courtesy of Jim Witmer)Oliver ran through his brewing background, relating how his time in London left him craving real beer once he was back in the states. So, in 1989, he started brewing for the Manhattan Brewing Company. A few years later, he jumped over to Brooklyn Brewery, where he is now the brewmaster and VP.
He discussed his devotion to educating the general public about craft brew, especially as it relates to food and beer pairings. He hosts hundreds of tastings a year like the one we participated in. Some of these include beer/wine competitions against some of New York's most noted sommeliers. Readers of this blog will also recall Oliver's numerous appearances in articles on beer, as well as his recent book (see above). And Oliver's work appears to be paying off. As evidence, Oliver explained that Gramercy Tavern, one of NY's hottest restaurants, has now added a vintage beer list to their already large beer offering.
Oliver also previewed some exciting news from Brooklyn Brewing. First, he detailed Brooklyn's new bottling line, which will soon be filling a 750 ml corked, bottle-fermented brew based on Brooklyn's Blast! experimental IPA. He contrasted Brooklyn's bottle-conditioning method, which would be similar to the method homebrewers use (priming suger and a yeast charge creating all of the beer's carbonation), with that of most other commercially-available bottle-conditioned beers, which Oliver maintains are usually almost completely carbonated before they go into bottles, and are just given a quick yeast charge.
He also discussed the results of a collaboration with Belgian brewer Achouffe. Oliver recently visited this Belgian brewery, and folks from the brewery returned the visit, bringing with them some of their yeast. Look for something from this collaboration relatively soon, presumably in small batches.
Oliver was then called to his hostly duties. In addressing the crowd of more than 100, he first discussed a phenomom that might be best described as the "supermarket matrix," where we as consumers buy food as fuel, not primarily for the purpose of enjoying the food in and of itself. The best example was commercial bread. He contrasted homemade bread with store-bought bread and noted that shelf-life, not taste, drives the way that commercial bread is made. He then brought the analogy home to craft beer, highlighting the change from "utlitiarian" macro-beers to flavorful craft brews.
Then, after a quick overview of the brewing process (including an explaination of ales vs. lagers and pale vs. dark beers), he launched into the tasting. As we samples each of the nine beers, Oliver discussed why beer, with its complex tastes, often pairs better with foods than wine does. He noted that while wines can contrast with foods, they can't compliment the range of flavors that beers do. He empasized, as an example, how the carmelized flavors in grilled and roasted meats play well with similar flavors in brown ales.
Here's the full list of the beers we tried:
- Pilsner (amazingly crisp, slight sulphur note. One of my favorites of the evening)
- Penant Ale '55 (The first of several beers we tasted brewed with Maris Otter malts)
- Lager (a Vienna lager)
- Brown (another Maris Otter beer)
- Winter Ale (sorry, no link, but Oliver noted that this beer was first brewed for export to Denmark)
- East India Pale Ale (very nice hop balance)
- Blast! (Unique!--floral citrus up front, but an abrupt change mid-swallow, as a piney hop taste and a dry finish dominate)
- Monster Barleywine (the final Maris Otter beer, and one that I picked up a sixer of on the way out)
- Black Chocolate Stout (a great dessert beer that uses malt to acheive the chocolate flavor)
My favorite was Blast!, which I hope makes its way out my way when the bottling line is complete. I've never tasted anything quite like it. The Pilsner and the Barleywine also still stand out as favorites.
If Garrett Oliver hosts a tasting anywhere near you, go. He is extremely knowledge. He also seems to be a really nice guy. And if you live near Cincinnati, definitely check out some of the other tastings at Jungle Jim's.
Garrett Oliver with me (okay, it's not as great a pic as the one Jim took, but it was cool to have met Oliver personally)