Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver pairs sweetly with the Granville Room to serve up a Brewmaster’s Table. When Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver talks about beer people not only listen, they usually learn a great deal more than they expected. He has a lot to say and he says it an all-encompassing singularity of passion. While the first is no surprise for those who have happened upon his book, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver live is a rare phenomenon.
What he brought to the table in ample quantities during a recent dinner at The Granville Room, packed by members of the Campaign for Real Ale, local brewmasters and spirit merchants, was something of the song of the prophet to the converted. Paired with four regionally rooted dishes from Chef Kye Agrios, the sleek, high-ceilinged room tucked away from the concrete playground of Granville Street took to Garrett’s wisdoms like the grain on the wooded walls.
“I feel sad for ‘beer’ or ‘wine’ only people. It’s like going to the symphony to hear only half the instruments and notes,” said Oliver towards the evenings poetic end–a mint white chocolate iced parfait with fizzy fruit paired to velvet perfection with the Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout.
His passion for the subject matter is matched only by the scope, pace and volume of his appeal to the finer senses and good taste of the beer and wine crowds. He venerates both, but brews only one, nourishing his love for the grape with via an ongoing contribution to the New York Times wine panel, while honing his hops at Brooklyn Brewery.
When Oliver speaks the poetry, parallels and bigger pictures predominate. Real beer is real bread is real cheese is remembrance of our one-time, regionally-thriving craft industries–and its recent re-emergence. Comparing Budweiser to Jerry Bruckheimer (“All the tech and tools to create something totally vacuous.”), while turning preconceptions of beer on their frothy heads, Oliver is intent on bringing forth the best of all worlds.
“It’s funny. Beers were originally made to age. We don’t make beer in champagne bottles. Champagne is made in beer bottles!” he said, pointing out how little we recall of real beer history. “There is an irony to snobbery. When we think our elevated thoughts about wine, we are really thinking about the top 10% of the wine’s made. When most people think of beer, they are mulling over the mass-produced 90% at the bottom.”
“Things have changed so much we don’t really recognize how weird the supermarket was and still is. To this day it remains a version of the matrix. Most of what lines the food shelves is not food. Bread does not stay fresh for two weeks. Why are we not terrified? That’s not cheese. It’s edible plastic,” he said before breaking into a room-warming grin. “Down with these facsimiles of food and drink.”
“The great thing is now we are living a much more exciting food life again. Local ingredients, a world of variety–we forget that such availability is really a return to normalcy. We’re getting our culture back. These dinners are a way to celebrate and defend flavour as part of everyday life.”
He is undoubtedly right. Moreover, he recognizes the potential and profit of developing local agriculture and artisan products, both in terms of quality, community and the bigger picture. Case in point, his brewery operates off wind-power and has a Happy Hour on Friday’s when families bring the kids and the plant shuts down for the week. It’s popular. So are the tours throughout the weekend.
Garrett Oliver is doing his thing and loving it.
“I became a brewer so I could have some real beer. Back then we drank Bud even when we had money. At least it tasted like water and the other beer’s tasted way worse,” he admitted before pointing out that 100 years earlier, authenticity, variety and flavours flooded the world of food and drink in his neighbourhood. “In 1900, New York was the most varied beer culture in the world because everyone from everywhere was there. We had 48 brewhouses in Brooklyn alone. By 1974 there were 40 breweries in the country.”
Those numbers are changing. What is emerging is a renaissance of good taste and a return to tradition that returns the glory of the brewmaster to that of the winemaker. As Oliver most passionately conveys, basic beer is to real beer as cheese slices are to the artisan offerings of Agassiz’s Farmhouse or the goat cheese from Salt Spring Island. Closer to home and heart really does make a world of difference.
It’s a great truth that can most tastefully be put to the test with Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout and Salt Spring Island’s Blue Juliette.
Take someone with a distaste for stout, or beer in general, and pour them a small glass of this alongside a bit of blue cheese, a few figs and something along the lines of Lesley Stowe’s crackers–skip the rosemary, head for the dried fruit and almond varieties. For me it is flavour moment worthy of Proust’s most profound musings on Madelleines–most memorable flavour epiphany.
The stout is richly elegant and tipping scales at 10% alcohol, Brooklyn’s stout is nothing as even a drinker of Guinness might imagine–itself a symphony of subtle, sweet and structure.
Naturally, Oliver might just come up with a new taste tippler that will unseat the favoured status I grant his stout. He does after all come up with a new beer every two months and works with globe trotting ‘collabeerations’–innovation and a commitment to authenticity rings true in whatever he does.
But what about terroir?
“Beer is pure intent. In a sense, wine will make itself and reflect the region. With beer though, most of the terroir comes directly from the heart of the brewer.”
For those interested in a better bit of brew from abroad, Brooklyn Brewery’s bottles are carried exclusively by private merchants across British Columbia.