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Oliver’s Army: At The Brewmaster’s Table With Garrett Oliver

March 15, 2012 5 comments

As you may have already read on David, Leigh and Ghostie’s blogs, I was amongst a fortunate few West Yorkshire bloggers invited to lunch with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver at Mr Foley’s this week. Given that Garrett is basically the patron saint of beer and food matching, it must have been a pretty daunting experience for chef Tyler Kiley to put together a menu for him.

However, Tyler knocked the ball out of the park, with a very tasty and substantial meal to go with the beer.  Here’s a quick summary of what we had:

Brooklyn Blast, an 8% IPA made with both American and English hop varieties (including Goldings, Target, Challenger) and usually draft-only, was served bottle conditioned from a “ghost bottle” and paired with some chicken wings with a fruity but robustly spicy sauce.

Brooklyn Mary’s Maple Porter is a 6.9% Porter made with an enormous amount of maple syrup. It was a perfect match for Tyler’s labour-of-love pulled pork sandwich, home-made sauce, coleslaw and thrice-fried chips.

For dessert we enjoyed a truly decadent Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout float, which you can read about on Leigh’s blog. The only thing that’s better than a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout is a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout with a scoop of ice cream in it.

The Companion was a 10% wheat wine brewed in collaboration with Garrett’s collaborators on The Oxford Companion To Beer, Horst Dornbusch and Thomas Kraus-Weyermann, to celebrate the launch of the book. It was a really interesting beer, as strong as a barley wine but kept light and refreshing by the wheat.

Finally we enjoyed a very special beer: “Cuvée De La Crochet Rouge Rose“. This experimental beer isn’t for sale at all; as Garrett said, “If you’ve had this beer you’ve almost certainly met me“.

What it is, if I can recall correctly, is Brooklyn’s strong Belgian pale ale Local 1 aged in a bourbon barrel with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lees (yeast and other deposits from the process of winemaking). The “Crochet Rouge” bit is because the lees was from Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, and the “Rose” part is because a slight pink hue has been added to the beer by the Pinot Noir lees.

What results is a truly remarkable beer: at first very slightly sharp and acidic like a gueuze, with some pink champagne character and a little Brett whilst remaining very light and drinkable.

So some wonderful food and beer, but what I’ll take away from the day is what an inspirational ambassador for craft beer Garrett is. He spoke assuredly and compellingly about the possibilities of beer, the importance of drinkability and balance and, despite the “big beers” we tasted, his belief that sessionability is an important and growing movement in American beer. He talked about the influence English and Yorkshire cask ales had on him before he started home-brewing and noted that Americans still struggle to get cask ales to the customer in good condition.

It was also really interesting to speak to Brooklyn General Manager Eric Ottaway (who had flown in from Helsinki that morning), particularly about the business side of craft brewing. Brooklyn has always contract-brewed a large proportion of their beer at FX Matt Brewing Company in upstate New York, and indeed started out in 1987 solely with contract brewing. It’s worth considering that if a UK craft brewery is going to meet the increased interest and demand from supermarkets, pub chains and foreign buyers, they will have to adopt these models, but at the same time maintain the consistency and quality that made their name in the first place.

Part of the lunch was recorded for BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme, and speaking to the media is par for the course for Garrett. I think it’s a shame that we don’t really have an equivalent to Garrett (or even Sam Calagione) to be the public face of British beer to the mainstream media: not just a beer writer or CAMRA spokesman, but actually an inspirational brewer with an inclusive, positive and thoughtful attitude who has the personality and authority to shape people’s opinions of beer and make them really think about it, in the same way that a celebrity chef can do for food.

Thanks very much to Dean, Tyler and all at Foleys; to Garrett, Eric and James Clay; and also to the usual suspects for keeping the party going into the evening to the Brooklyn/Nøgne Ø meet the brewer(s) at North Bar.

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Oh, Vienna: Brooklyn Lager v Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I said in a recent post that my love for Brooklyn Lager had recently been reawakened.  It was certainly my first US craft “wow” and I even visited the Brewery last year, documented in a post no-one read.

It was also my first Vienna lager.  Style icon Michael Jackson said Vienna is:

Amber-red or only medium-dark, lager. This was the style originally produced in Vienna. Brewers still talk of a “Vienna malt” to indicate a kilning to this amber-red colour, but the beer-style itself is no longer especially associated with the city.

One suspects that Brooklyn (supposedly an reimagining of a pre-Prohibition US style) is something of a style of its own, with the blend of Cascade and more noble hop flavours (Hallertau, Vanguard) reflecting a clever piece of US genre-merging.

I’ve been very pleased to see Brooklyn Lager increasingly available in the UK, in keg (North Bar claims to have been there first) and bottle, including in Sainsbury’s.  However the Brooklyn in my fridge found itself elbowing for attention with a chippy novice from Derbyshire, Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings.  Also a Vienna Lager, also from one of my favourite breweries; but which one’s best? There’s only one way to decide: a Viennese sandwich!

Appearance:  From the moment they’re out of the bottle, you can see that Kill Your Darlings is a different beer to Brooklyn.  Whereas Brooklyn is an amber, chestnut colour, KYD has the appearance of a much darker wood, mahogany perhaps.  The heads also reflect a difference in the malt bill, the relatively clean ivory whiteness of the Brooklyn contrasting with the slightly nicotene-stained froth on the KYD.

Smell:  The Cascade hops really shine in the New Yorker’s aroma, a lovely pine scent mingling with a light but noticeable sugary maltiness.  The KYD is more malt-forward in its aroma with an inviting burnt-sugar smell dominating.

Taste: The malt continues to dominate the KYD, with the lovely rich, deep, dark, sweet maltiness that you might expect of a US double IPA, but without the heavy stickiness.  There are also hops, with a pine and a light lemon citrus emerging especially on the finish. By contrast the Brooklyn lets the fresh piney and herbal hops shine throughout, more bitter than sweet but still with a smooth caramel base: a light, invigorating, very tasty beer.

It’s almost unfair to compare Kill Your Darlings to a world classic like Brooklyn, but this examination has demonstrated two things: (1) that Thornbridge have, once again, expanded successful and very enjoyably into a new style with a delicious and complex malty Vienna lager; and (2) that Brooklyn Lager has earned its success (as both a gateway beer and as a standard to return to over and over again) due to a perfect balance of hops and malt which come together in a very drinkable beer with hidden depths.

New York Beer: Brooklyn Brewery

December 14, 2010 5 comments

One of the things I was really looking forward to on our trip to New York in November was a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery.  Brooklyn Lager was a beer that really took me by surprise when I tried it for the first time a few years ago.

Along with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it’s one of the first US craft beers I became aware of, and is increasingly available in the UK, sometimes finding its way into the fridges of bars which are otherwise completely uninteresting.  Since then, I’ve also become a big fan of the EIPA and especially the Black Chocolate Stout.   Before we visited the Brewery, we’d already tried the Winter Ale and the Brewmaster’s Reserve Cuvee Noire in bars in Manhattan.

Happy Hour at the Brewery starts at 6pm and runs to 11pm every Friday, when they put out long tables and set up a bar offering an exciting range of familiar and unfamiliar Brooklyn beers.  Unfortunately I was an idiot and thought it started at 4pm, so we turned up in Williamsburg two hours early.  It didn’t escape my notice that I had failed to adequately organise an actual piss-up in a brewery.

Funny place, Williamsburg: it’s full of hipsters with their tight check shirts, skinny trousers and thick-rimmed specs, but at the same time has parts that appear quite poor and/or post-industrial.  It seems a bit like North-East London, in that way.

After initially being a bit wary about spending two hours there, we found the Brooklyn Ale House (a quiet, friendly, dark little pub) and sat at the bar for a while with a Blue Point Toasted Lager and an Anchor Humming Ale (both keg).  We then went on to Mug’s Ale House for some sticky BBQ chicken wings, an Anchor Stout (cask) and Liberty Ale (keg).

When me made it to the brewery and negotiated our way past the firm but fair bouncer (Kate didn’t have ID with her), we bought our beer tokens and headed to the bar.  It was cold in the big room, but it was starting to fill up.  There were pizza menus out on the table for people to order in from outside and large groups of principally young, trendy people started to fill the tables.  We started on the East India Pale Ale on keg, before trying two Brewmaster’s Reserve beers: Detonation and Crash, both of which were strong, hoppy Imperial IPAs.

Having enjoyed everything we tried, we weren’t up for a very heavy night in Brooklyn, so headed back to the L station at Bedford Avenue and under the East River to midtown Manhattan.  However, I was glad we came to Brooklyn and I’d like to visit the brewery again on a weekend for a tour, possibly combined with a return visit to Mug’s and dinner in the Peter Luger Steakhouse.

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