BierTalk English 25 – Talk with Garrett Oliver, Author and Head Brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, New York, USA

Garrett Oliver is one of the most colorful personalities in the American craft beer movement. Through his long-standing presence, his many books and lectures, he has also become a global star in the beer world. Even though he is now one of the old hands, his voice carries a lot of weight and he is regularly seen and read about in the media. In the podcast, he talks about his first beer and the true story behind the Hopfenweisse…

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Photo: Daniel Dorsa

Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch:

Garrett Oliver, bekannt als eine der schillerndsten Persönlichkeiten der amerikanischen Craft-Bier-Bewegung, teilt seine Erfahrungen und Einsichten, die er über die Jahre gesammelt hat​​.

Oliver begann seine Bierkarriere mit 12 Jahren, als er zum ersten Mal ein Bier probierte und es sofort wieder ausspuckte. Seine wahre Liebe zum Bier entdeckte er jedoch erst während seines Aufenthalts in England im Jahr 1983. Dort lernte er die Vielfalt und Qualität europäischer Biere kennen, was ihn dazu veranlasste, selbst Bier zu brauen​​. Seine Erfahrungen mit britischen Cask Ales und der Pub-Kultur beeinflussten ihn stark und weckten sein Interesse an verschiedenen Bierstilen und Brautraditionen​​.

Oliver arbeitete zunächst im Manhattan Brewing Company, einem der ersten Brewpubs in Manhattan, der 1984 eröffnet wurde. Dort braute er traditionelle britische Biere und entwickelte später auch deutsche Bierstile wie Weissbier und Oktoberfest​​​​. Nach seinem Wechsel zur Brooklyn Brewery im Jahr 1994 trug er mit innovativen Bieren wie dem Black Chocolate Stout maßgeblich zum Erfolg und Ansehen der Brauerei bei​​.

Ein weiterer wichtiger Aspekt in Olivers Karriere ist sein Engagement für die Slow-Food-Bewegung. Er setzt sich für eine Lebensmittelkultur ein, die auf Qualität, Sauberkeit und Fairness basiert, und vertritt die Ansicht, dass gutes Essen und Trinken eine wichtige Rolle im Leben spielen​​. Sein Buch „The Brewmaster’s Table“ zielt darauf ab, Menschen die Welt des Bieres näherzubringen und ihnen zu zeigen, wie sie Bier in ihren Alltag integrieren können, insbesondere in Kombination mit Essen​​. Oliver betont, dass Imperial Stout gut zu verschiedenen Arten von Käsekuchen passt, was seine Leidenschaft für Bier- und Essen-Paarungen unterstreicht​​.



Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast BierTalk. Today we crossed the Atlantic and go to a beautiful city I was just visiting some months ago. And of course, I was visiting breweries there and the most amazing one was in Brooklyn. It was Brooklyn Brewery. And today we have Garrett Oliver the brewmaster here on the show. So wonderful to have you here, Garrett. And maybe you introduce yourself a little bit to our listeners.

Garrett Oliver: Well, I’m not sure how many people even would know of me and Germany, but my name is Garrett Oliver. I am the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, where I have been brewmaster for 29 years. And I have been brewing professionally for 34 years. So as I like to tell the younger brewing kids, I’m 400 years old and I’ve always been here like Dracula.

Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s the feeling we have. You’ve always been there. But that’s also something if you have the newer beer community, like the people who are now in their 20s, for them, it’s just the older generation. So sometimes it’s a bit strange. But it’s wonderful, really wonderful to have you here. And maybe we start a little bit in your beginnings. So when did you have your first beer? Do you remember that?

Garrett Oliver: Oh, my first beer I had when I was maybe 12 years old at my uncle’s barbeque. And I kept bothering him over and over again, please let me taste the beer, please let me taste the beer, I want to taste the beer. And finally, he handed me this can. And it was Miller High Life. And I finally had this can of beer, and I drank it and I instantly spit it out into the lawn. And I don’t think I touched any beer again for at least four or five years after that, because I was like, oh, man, this stuff is terrible. And then I drank beer when I was in college. But I mean, the dirty little secret is that we didn’t really like beer, it was just a thing that was there and could be, we would drink anything we could get our hands on if we had any money. And so, beer was just a social lubricant, as we say. And it wasn’t until I moved to England in 1983, that I actually started to understand that beer could be something besides the American mass market beer. And that’s when I started to actually fall in love with beer.

Markus Raupach: Yes, I read that you were studying filmmaking and also you were stage managing concerts all over Europe. And so that was the opportunity to get into the beer cultures in Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic and England.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I lived in London for a year and that allowed me to get the Interrail Pass, which is different than the one Americans get, which is the Eurail Pass. One of the differences is that the Interrail Pass, which was only for European residents, which I actually was at the time, would allow you to travel to what were then communist countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic. At that time, it was Czechoslovakia. And so I was able to travel, I spent a month travelling throughout Europe after having had this amazing experience of sampling all these British beers. And even though I was obviously American, even among my British friends, they started to know me as like the beer fanatic. So when I got back home a year later and I went to bars, and they said, Bud, Bud Lite, Miller, Miller Lite, Coors, Heineken, I just, I couldn’t do it. So I started making beer at home, not because I wanted to make beer, I just wanted to have the beer. And the only way to have the kinds of beers that I wanted to drink was to make them yourself. I often describe in those days, for both culinary and many drinks, I described myself as having grown up inside the matrix. Now, if you are really a young person, and you don’t know what the film The Matrix is, that’s not a very good description. But basically, I grew up with a lot of what I will call facsimiles of food. So bread that looks like bread and cheese that looks like cheese and beer that looks like beer, but are not actually traditional versions of any of these foods. And ice cream, all kinds of things. And this was kind of late 20th-century American capitalism really having a grip on the food system. And as a result, we didn’t have great variety. It looked to us like we had everything. But then when you went to Europe, and you saw that the French had 300 cheeses, and we had five or six, you started to realize that you’re missing out. And the same was true of beer. I mean, there was beer, which was yellow, it didn’t taste like much. And to tell you the truth, when we had money, we drank Budweiser because Budweiser tasted kind of like water. But the other beers that we could afford, they were much, much worse. I mean, they actually tasted aggressively bad and we didn’t like them. And then I knew Guinness, and I always liked Guinness. And that was it. And so moving to England, and then going around Europe was a revelation for me.

Markus Raupach: How was it to see the cask ale culture? That was very different I think.

Garrett Oliver: It was. I mean, certainly, when I first saw cask ale, I mean, starting with the very first moments, I mean, it had very little foam on top and it was amber-coloured, which is a colour I had never seen in beer before. And the size of the glass, this British pint, we didn’t have what you guys have the Mass or the half litre, or whatever else. I mean, our pints are considerably smaller. So no one had ever handed me a glass that big before. And I drink this stuff and I’m like, okay, this is weird. It’s warm, as far as I’m concerned. It has all these strange flavours. It’s barely carbonated. And it was a bizarre experience. But then when I finished the first class, I said to myself, well, I’m not sure I like that. I better have another one to find out. And so from that point, eventually, I started noticing the differences between the beers from the different breweries and beers in the different regions, and like really got into it.

Markus Raupach: And what about the pub culture? So sitting on these big tables together and meeting new people in every pub and making new friendships. Was that also an interesting part of it for you?

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I mean, the pub remains a completely different place than an American bar. We have some places that might get close to being a pub in the United States. It might look like a pub physically. But the pub is a place that exists really like in the mind as much as it does as a physical place. You can say in British English, I’m going down to the pub and it doesn’t really matter which pub you’re talking about. You can say that. It’s like you’re going to a particular kind of place. You cannot in American English, say I’m going down to the bar. People would ask, what bar? Because the bar is a specific place. It’s not an idea. And the pub is an idea.

Markus Raupach: And did you experience the same and you then came maybe to Germany and had these typical lagers?

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I think in Germany, the beer hall and the beer gardens were definitely different. You had a very different service style. Where the pub where you would go in and you could sit there, you could order one pint and read your newspaper all afternoon without anybody asking you anything or bothering you or somebody might sit down and talk to you. When I started going to the German places, they were not like that.

Markus Raupach: Yes, okay. It’s all about drinking.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, it’s all about drinking. So, but I mean, a completely different set of beers, which I’d never seen before. I still remember my first time being out in a beer garden and seeing glasses of Weiss beer and I had never seen those glasses before and never tasted anything that tasted like that. I never had a beer before that was hazy like that. So, there were so many new things. And of course, I had my first real pilsners, which, to this day are among my favourite beers.

Markus Raupach: And what was it when you came to Belgium and had the first lambics? Because that’s also very different in taste.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, absolutely. I mean, now the lambics that I probably had when I first arrived were things like Mort Subite. They were among the sweeter ones. It’s not like I came and I was instantly drinking bon gouts or something. But, I did discover these things eventually, but not on the first trip to Belgium. But I mean, even on the first trip to Belgium, I was drinking the Trappist beers. I was drinking some of the lambic beers and again discovering a whole different range of flavour. So by the time I had been through Europe and I got back to the United States, I kind of realized that basically, we had been lied to. We have been told that this was food and this was beer and these were wines. And we have been told maybe one tiny portion of the truth, and we believe that it was the whole truth, which is, in many ways the American sin. We have a big country, and we have a tendency to think that this is like the entire world, and then you get out there and you realize, oh, that’s not true.

Markus Raupach: Yes, to be honest, that’s something I again, experienced this year when I was judging at the World Beer Cup. If you have judges which never left the US and only know the idea of American homebrewers over European style, and it’s always a hard discussion to say, okay, that’s an idea, but it’s not the original. But yes, but it’s getting better. People are travelling more. So that’s fantastic thing. So for you, then that was the incentive to do start homebrewing when you came back.

Garrett Oliver: Yes. I mean, in order to have the beer, I was complaining to my best friend, Larry. I was like, this is terrible, I can’t get any beer. Like I really miss it. So for Christmas in 1984, he got me a homebrewing kit.

Markus Raupach: Perfect.

Garrett Oliver: And I started making beer at home and I had Charlie Papazian’s book. And I started making beers at home. And eventually, not long after that, I was one of the founders of the New York City Home Brewers Guild. So we started to gather around us more than 100 other homebrewers. And there was not much that you could drink that was imported, but we knew where you could find it. And we started to brew beers, of course, that were based in many ways on European prototypes. At first starting with the more British types, and then eventually moving on to other types as well.

Markus Raupach: And when did the idea came up that you want to be a brewer as a job?

Garrett Oliver: I think it’s a thing that, and this is a big difference between now maybe it’s not a big difference now. I don’t know what the German scene is really like in this regard. But in the American scene, it is a thing that you fall in love with. And I think that’s very important. I think that it’s like playing music, or even playing a sport. It takes over your life, it takes over your mind and it’s all you want to do. So, in Germany, I think a lot of people, now again, maybe this is changing, but traditionally, you might become a brewer because your father was a brewer, or it’s in your family, or you’re getting a chemical engineering degree and you maybe hope to be a brewer, but you maybe you will also, maybe you will make Coca Cola or toothpaste, or whatever else. It’s like a process, a processing degree around chemistry and around engineering. And brewer is just one of many things that you can choose if you’ve studied this sort of thing. This is not the way the American system went. And then, of course, when you get out the other end, traditionally, there are a very small number of styles generally, that you can make or would be expected to make or that anybody would buy from you. For us, brewing was a creative pursuit. We fell in love with it first. And then the second part for almost everyone of that era, is you then threw away your previous life. And this is the most important part of it. Because as an American, especially, you had plans. You a way that you thought your life was going to be. You went and got a college degree. And the college degree was going to allow you to get this particular job that you thought that you wanted. And you were going to make money and then you would buy a house and maybe you have like wife and kids, like whatever you’re going to do. And you had like a career in mind. And so at some point, you fall in love with this other thing. You throw away all of this other stuff. Your education, and in the United States, you’ve probably paid a lot of money for that education. So now you’re in debt.

Markus Raupach: Oh, yes.

Garrett Oliver: And you have to pay these school’s back. And instead, you throw it all away for this dream of making something that nobody wants. At least in those days, there wasn’t any craft brewing movement or anything like that. So there was no real market for what it is that you want to do. But you went and did it anyway.

Markus Raupach: And there’s a lot of emotion in it, I think.

Garrett Oliver: A lot of emotion.

Markus Raupach: What was it like working as a professional brewer for the first time? How do you feel?

Garrett Oliver: Well, I mean, the first few weeks were actually kind of horrible. Because, I had a, I had an office on the 52nd floor of a building in Manhattan, now known as the MetLife Building. Back then it was the Pan Am Building. And Park Avenue stretched out in front of my office like a runway. I was working for a law firm at the time. I made a lot of money. I travelled frequently. And I was doing other things. Making films, running clubs, and homebrewing on the side. But when I got an opportunity to go work for this place, Manhattan Brewing Company, I left this very nice job, and ended up in the middle of July in a room full of boiling liquid and there was no air conditioning. I’m sweating and I burned myself and I’m wet and uncomfortable. And I’m basically working, and I feel like a plumber. And I’m saying to myself, what have I done? I took this really fun hobby and I’ve ruined it.

Markus Raupach: But somehow it felt great too.

Garrett Oliver: Not immediately.

Markus Raupach: Okay, okay.

Garrett Oliver: The part where it started to feel great was the fact that I was working in a brew pub, it was a very big brewpub. But the fact that it was a brew pub, meant that I could leave the brewhouse floor, go downstairs, and immediately see people drinking and enjoying the beer that I made. I think that was really important because, it gave me this immediate gratification. It’s like, I guess if you’re a musician, and after you left a really difficult session, if you went to a bar and like your music, not maybe from that day, but your music was playing in the bar.

Markus Raupach: Yes.

Garrett Oliver: And everybody is really having a great time listening to your music, you’re like, oh, wow, this is really cool and look at what I get a chance to do. And so it was that part as I was learning that really, I think sustained me through it. Because we don’t have a formalized apprentice system. We don’t have a formalized system where you become brewmaster as a certification. There are any number of certifications you can get, but we don’t have like the Plumb Brewmaster. So it’s not so rigid. It’s more like being a chef, which is like a job description. This is the job that you have. If you’re doing this job, and you’re making beer for money, and you are the leader of your team at the brewery, you are brewmaster. It doesn’t mean that you are what we would say master brewer which is different. Which at least implies that you have had a certain amount of qualifications and that you’ve passed exams, etc.

Markus Raupach: So your qualification is more or less your work. So if you work properly, if it’s good, then you have the job like that.

Garrett Oliver: Yes.

Markus Raupach: Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about Manhattan Brewing Company? So what beers have you brewed there?

Garrett Oliver: Manhattan Brewing Company was a very, very early brewpub. It opened November 9th 1984 in the Soho section of Manhattan, which was not so fancy back then. And it was run by a guy named Mark Witty, who had been the head brewer for Samuel Smith’s in Tadcaster, England.

Markus Raupach: Wow.

Garrett Oliver: So the idea there was to introduce Americans to cask condition, British-style beers on the hand pump in 1984. And believe me, this was an idea way ahead of its time. I mean, in fact, there’s no place like that even now.

Markus Raupach: What a mission. Yes.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, and it was enormous. It was an enormous. You could fit like 200, 300 people in there, which is not as big as the beer garden, but for an indoor space it was pretty enormous. And it had two big copper kettles that were there just as decoration. They had brought them over from Germany. There was another one that was actually built into the side of the building. It was quite an operation. But the overall brewing kit was up on the second floor and it was British, and we brewed traditional British-style beers using that mashing system, which is quite different than the European or the German mash. And we made pale ales and bitters and eventually IPAs. And very eventually, the first German-style we made was we started to make Weissbier. The first recipe that I ever did myself where I was the one leading and I wrote the recipe, was actually Oktoberfest.

Markus Raupach: And the people liked it?

Garrett Oliver: Yes, yes.

Markus Raupach: Fantastic.

Garrett Oliver: But I mean, we were not doing lager beers there at the time. So it was really new. It was not that easy to get yeast to make these things. It wasn’t like you’re easily going to get a shipment in from Weihenstephan or something like that. There was no white labs or wyeast or any of the other yeast houses that we have now in the United States. So getting all the raw materials to make really good beer was also really difficult.

Markus Raupach: Yes, but it was a real lager yeast. Or did you do the same as the British do with a low-temperature ale fermentation?

Garrett Oliver: No, it was a real lager yeast. I’m trying to remember how we got it. I think we got it, you get it shipped in as a slant from Weihenstephan, but it was a real lager yeast. And our Weissbier yeast was Weissbier yeast.

Markus Raupach: Very interesting. Great. Did you ever remake these recipes?

Garrett Oliver: I haven’t remade those recipes, specifically. But there’s certainly, we still make Oktoberfest at Brooklyn Brewery to this day. And I have strong ideas about the style. And you may not be surprised to hear that my idea of Oktoberfest is much more traditional than those of most German breweries.

Markus Raupach: Yes, I think so. Yes. And then did you switch to Brooklyn Brewery? So how did that work out?

Garrett Oliver: I had a plan with David Bruce, whose name you might know. In the 70s, he was kind of the starter of the brewpub movement in England. And much of what happened in American craft beer was actually copied in some ways from David Bruce and his successes. And David Bruce had come to me and asked me to lead up what was going to be a series of brewpubs, starting with Manhattan Brewing Company. And we planned to buy it, take it over, and then open other things. But Steve Hindy and Tom Potter from Brooklyn Brewery came to me and said, we’d like you to come work with us and build this new brewery in Brooklyn. They had the brand back then, Brooklyn Brewery, but they didn’t have a brewery and they were making their beer upstate under license, meaning north of the city about a four-hour drive and they had only two beers. And so I wasn’t sure. But I said, well, let’s see how we work together and I will work for you on a holiday beer. And so my first thing that I did for Brooklyn Brewery was black chocolate stout in 1994, which was 10% Imperial Stout, which believe me was not something that people were expecting to see in the market in 1994. And that was an instant hit. And I joined Brooklyn Brewery later that year.

Markus Raupach: And I think it was very interesting to work with Steve Hindy and build up the business.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, absolutely.

Markus Raupach: How did you come across Slow Food and what does it mean to you?

Garrett Oliver: Slow Food is an organization that first started in Italy by Carlo Petrini. And at first it was almost like a joke. It was a reaction to somebody building a McDonald’s in the centre of Rome and everybody being very upset. But eventually, it turned into a movement, which basically seeks to preserve worldwide food culture in different societies, but also the biological diversity necessary to make real food. So if you don’t have real tomatoes and you have never really spent time with your grandmother, you’re not going to be able to make your grandmother’s tomato sauce, right? And it really goes into also not only preserving cultivars of different plants and animals that we’re going to eat, but also knowing how to use them and then slowing your life down to the extent that you can actually cook them and enjoy them. So the idea of Slow Food is really the opposite of fast food. And it really appealed to me because I’m a person who can easily spend two or three hours making dinner. Anyone who follows me on Instagram might remember that during the middle of the pandemic, almost all of my posts were about food. And still probably aside from the foundation work that I’m doing now, most of my posts are about food. And so, taking that time for me is very zen and Slow Food was a kind of seminal organization, and some of the principles involved in Slow Food still play through into things that I do today. In particular, the idea that food should be good, clean and fair. And we had strong ideas about what those three terms mean. But if you start with good, clean and fair, you can work your way to a better food system.

Markus Raupach: Absolutely. And it’s also the time when your interest of beer pairings started. So like pairing beer with food and things like that.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I mean, basically, the beer dinner was an analogue, if you like, of the wine dinner, right? We saw the food people were starting to get lots of publicity, and chefs, were becoming celebrities for the first time. In the 70s, almost nobody knew the names of any chefs. Even in the 80s there were one or two people who might be called celebrity chefs. But there was no food television or anything like that. There were a few cooking shows, but they were just shows. Then you had the rise of Food Network, which was the first network given over entirely to food, which was a radical idea at the time. And I saw how much people respected wine and part of their respect for wine, was the ability to do wonderful things with food. And I said to myself, well beer has a much greater variety of flavour than wine does and from a culinary point of view, it’s actually superior. So why should the wine people have all the fun? So I started to do a lot of beer dinners. And over time, I kind of saw that a lot of Americans were missing out on some of the pleasures they might get from the beers that were now available. Because they were eating their food and they were drinking their beers, but they weren’t thinking about, hey, why don’t we make two plus two equal seven instead of four? If you just thought about it for a moment and did a little bit of a selection that might only take you seconds, your dinner might be better. And so that was kind of the idea behind the Brewmaster’s Table.

Markus Raupach: That would be my next question. Was this the motivation to write the Brewmaster’s Table?

Garrett Oliver: It was. I mean, because I would watch people shop for beer and suddenly there was this bewildering variety. And I would watch people walk up and down the aisles of the supermarket or in a deli or something, and they would, in the end, grab a six-pack of Heineken and walk out looking somewhat disappointed, because they simply didn’t know what was in the bottles. And they were not going to risk spending that money for something like what is a brown ale? What is an IPA? What is Weissbier mean, if you have no idea, how are you going to end up buying this stuff at all? And before my book, you had books like those of the beer writer, Michael Jackson, which were wonderful books, but really were grounded very much in completely in the world of beer. When I wrote Brewmaster’s Table, I wrote it from the assumption that the person reading the book knew nothing about beer. Like, what it was, how it was made, where it came from, nothing. But that they wanted to know something. And I wanted by the time they finished reading this book, to know enough to enjoy the stuff that they saw on sale that previously they didn’t know what it was. And by enjoying it, I don’t mean just drinking it. But making it a part of your life. Being able to look at a list of beers if you’re in a restaurant and you’re having some, some lunch at the weekend or something and you’re like, you know what? This is going to be a great thing to go with dinner. And you now know what it is.

Markus Raupach: Yes, for me, it was also an eye-opening book, and it’s still on all my book tables when I’m giving seminars, I’m doing my education. And it’s fun that you already mentioned Sam Smith and Tadcaster because when I look at the books of my favourite recommendation is that you recommend Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout for cheesecakes.

Garrett Oliver: Yes.

Markus Raupach: And I was, and that also referred to the famous New York cheesecake.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, it can but it also can refer to Spanish cheesecake, which you’ll find like in Basque Country, which is great. Or more sort of the farmers cheesecakes. Most types of cheesecakes, I find that Imperial Stout is going to work pretty well with.

Markus Raupach: Yes, I tried it with one of our German cheesecakes. There’s also a huge variation of different ones. And when I was in New York, I was looking for maybe the most interesting or the best New York cheesecake and I came across Eileen’s and tried about 10 or 15 different varieties and okay, that might have been too much, but I’m still undecided. What is your favourite taste for New York cheesecake? What should be in it? Or should it just be plain?

Garrett Oliver: Oh, it’s difficult to say. I mean, I really like the, cheesecake is not something that I normally go out and buy. I mean, but Basque-style cheesecake, which has the caramelized surface, I really love. For New York-style cheesecake, it’s hard to do better than Juniors, which is in Brooklyn. And the cheesecake at Peter Luger Steakhouse is very, very good.

Markus Raupach: Okay, so I’ll put that on my list when I come next time. And yes, so many people say the craft movement itself has changed the way beer is viewed. But I would say this book also changed it as well, especially as a food partner. Do you agree in that?

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I think it’s true. I mean, the book showed people how beer could fit into their life in a way that was interesting and fun, but not precious. And, so I wrote the book in plain English. The beer descriptions, in many cases, read almost like sports plays as much as they read as tasting notes. Because there’s nothing more boring than tasting notes, right? You’re like, oh, I smell some cedar and lilacs, and I’m getting some lychee fruit, and whatever else. And very quickly, your eyes glaze over. And so I wanted to write something that actually felt the way it felt when you drank something. So it might be, the beer opens with a sharp eye-opening snap, and then it does this, it did that, it went to the left, and it rode out of town in this particular way. Because that’s the way flavour actually happens, right? It’s not a static thing. It happens over time. And that amount of time, from the time that you smell it, you see it, you smell it, you drink it, and it’s gone and you have an aftertaste, that might be a whole minute. So how can you describe that in like a few words? That’s like an action. And I kind of described these beers as an action, like being in motion. What was the beer going to do? Not just what is it. Yes, and then like, why is it interesting? Who made it? And what can I do with it? Which is what most people want to know, right? I mean, if you think about a wine. If I think about, say Alsace Rieslings, there are things that I know about Alsace Riesling and their sugar levels, their flavour profiles, etc. But what I don’t know, and I’m actually not interested in, is like, what is the trellising style for the vines? What is the soil makeup, etc.? It’s like, I will leave that to other people and if you’re interested in that, I think that’s great. But what I want to know is, who are the producers that I’m really going to like? What is it going to do for me with dinner? What does it taste like? Is it a wine you can bring to a party? Is it a wine that I can have with this salmon on a Tuesday night? Is it a thing that I should expect to find being very expensive? I mean, what is it and what can I do with it?

Markus Raupach: Yes, and I think the explanation, like a match or like a game or like to have all this experience that is really catching people. So that’s a very interesting way and that’s also something I really like in the book. So it’s the thing I always look in and read some pages and read it again. And so, it’s great.

Garrett Oliver: It’s funny, people. Sorry about the noise. It is Brooklyn. You’re getting real background here, folks. So you’re getting the true sounds of the city. So I mean, people often ask me, well, two things. One, this past May was the 20th anniversary of Brewmaster’s Table, and it’s still in print, which is something that I’m quite proud of. In fact, last week or the week before I actually had dinner with the original publisher who bought Brewmaster’s Table and we had a good time reminiscing over that. And that’s pretty cool. Not so many books are in print for more than 20 years. But also people ask me, like, do you want to rewrite or update Brewmaster’s Table? Which is a kind question. But actually, my answer is no. I think it’s really, part of the important part of the voice of the book, is the voice of somebody who then was younger than me, but older than most people who are going to read it. So at the time, I was 40. And it was easy for me to still remember how surprised I was when I had many of these beers the first time. Now after literally thousands of events and things like that, so many beers, so many experiences, which are all great, it would be hard to recapture that tone. And I think that you have to leave something like that as what it is.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s already part of the history in some ways. So I would also say keep it as it is in that way for new books. But let’s go further on. So in Germany, you are very well known as Hans-Peter Drexler’s partner of the invention of the Hopfenweisse. So can you tell us how this story began and how it went?

Garrett Oliver: Ah, yes. There’s a little controversy in the story.

Markus Raupach: Okay, okay.

Garrett Oliver: But well, I mean, the first thing to know is that now I’m told this by the British Guild of Beer Writers. I can’t tell you whether or not it’s true. But they tell me that I was the first one in the world to do collaboration brewing starting in, I guess it was 1995, 96, with the folks at Breakspear, was the first one. And from there, it started to become, I think the first maybe six or seven collaborations anywhere were with Brooklyn Brewery. So this was like a very new idea. And by the time I worked with Hans-Peter, I had already brewed at like, La Chouffe, I had brewed at a number of other breweries, all of them foreign, actually, all of them in Europe. And so we were at Brooklyn Brewery and not only a brewery, but we also had a distribution arm. So we were also a distributor. This is important because we carried about 200 different brands of beer. So all of the German beers that you were going to get in New York City, except maybe for Beck’s which was pretty big back then, were going to be and even then I think it was brewed in Canada, were going to be coming through us. All the British beers, all the Belgian beers, etc. So we knew these beers really well because I had a room full of them at the brewery. And so we were the distributors for Schneider Weisse. And it was my idea to bring Hans-Peter Drexler to the United States because they were saying, well George Schneider is going to come over. And I said, well, what about the brewer? It’s like, oh well, we don’t need the brewer. We’re just going to bring the owner. I said, well, people want to meet the brewer. And Hans-Peter came then and at the time, he didn’t speak very much English. But we got along really well. And we kept talking over time about doing this. And finally, I kind of couldn’t believe it. They let us do the Hopfenweisse.  So there were to be two versions. There was Schneider Brooklyner Hopfenweisse, which is the one that we did in Kelheim and there was Brooklyner Schneider Hopfenweisse, which is the one that we did in New York. So I did the basic recipe and then I chose the hops to go into Hans-Peter’s beer and he chose the hops to go into my beer. So they were the same base recipe but two different sets of dry-hopping. And the beer was about eight per cent. It was refermented in the bottle of course. It was fairly bitter, pretty heavily dry hop in Germany. It was saphir in the United States. I think it was, Amarillo I think was the main hop and Palisade and Amarillo, and these became big hits. And Hans-Peter and I, and our friends and our families and everything else became great friends. I mean, I’ve been on holiday with Hans-Peter many times. And in fact, the first time that I was on holiday with Hans-Peter, I was staying at a place in Italy and he was going to be in Corsica. And he said, well, we have our van, and we’re taking our van on the ferry. How about if we stopped by where you are in Italy? And he brought me the first bottles of Hopfenweisse and he said, yes, it’s been refermenting. We packaged it the day before I left, it’s been refermenting in the back of my car, and I think it should be ready now. We put it in the refrigerator. So the first time either one of us tasted Hopfenweisse was standing on a terrace in a town called Bona Sola overlooking the Mediterranean, like three or four weeks after we brewed it. And it was the start of a great friendship. The controversial part I will say is that when the label came out, I wrote the label. And it talked about the friendship between me and Hans-Peter, and how we had come up with this thing. And when Hans-Peter saw the label, he said, you know, it strikes me. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the name of a brewmaster on a German label. It’s like they only ever mention the owner of the brewery. They never ever speak of the brewer. I said, well that’s not right. We were the one, like we were the ones who did this. But then later, Georg Schneider decided that he was going to make the beer himself without our permission. And that he would remove both myself and Hans-Peter from the label. And it became Meine Hopfenweisse. And so, I take a poor view of that behaviour which has nothing to do with Hans-Peter, who’s still a great friend. But definitely complicated my life for some years. Because after that, the people at the brewery didn’t necessarily want to do collaborations, because they’re like, well, look what happens. And then we had problems. People didn’t understand the idea of a collaboration, say, Schneider beer is being sold by a different distributor than ours and it has both of our names on it, who gets to sell it, etc. But we were like jazz musicians that just wanted to play, and make some music together. And then you get the business involved and it all becomes very complicated.

Markus Raupach: Oh, yes, I didn’t know about that side. But that’s, it’s, as you said, it’s very, it’s a little bit of a sad story, because that’s not fair. And Hans-Peter is such a nice person.

Garrett Oliver: He’s a wonderful guy, but I mean, here’s the upside of it. When people came and they said, I started to see beers showing up in Germany with the name Hopfenweisse. Hopfenweisse is a word that I made up. I mean, I invented. Because at the time, I could have called it Weisse IPA, but I had strong ideas about what IPA was and is and I didn’t want to. Even if it would sell faster, I didn’t want to ruin the name of IPA or Weissbier for that matter. So I made up a new name that people would understand. And I have since then met people in Germany who are like making Hopfenweisse and they have no idea that, like, I made up the name and that it’s not a traditional style, or where it came from, or whatever. So there are at least a few people in Germany, at least last I saw, that are making something called Hopfenweisse in that general style, and I’m proud of that.

Markus Raupach: So we are changing that now. So people will hear the podcast, will listen to it, will read it on the website, so we will spread the word. It won’t be forgotten.

Garrett Oliver: But that’s how things happen, right? Somebody does something first and then eventually it just becomes a part of normal life. So we never said to them, hey, you can’t use our name or like whatever else. We don’t act like that. But for me, it’s cool to see it survive as an idea.

Markus Raupach: Yes, and I must say for me personally, it was the first time I experienced the power of dry hopping and especially the Saphir hops what’s very, very new for me, all this aroma. So I had one of the first of these Hopfenweisse here in Germany because there was in Bamberg, in my city, was a congress and Hans-Peter was there. It was, I think 2007, eight, something like that. And he brought some bottles of it. And there were about 80, 90 people of the German brewing world. And he brought out the beer, people got it and they tasted it and then it was silent for about two minutes because you could look in their eyes and see that they simply didn’t understand what is in the glass. Because it’s a double bock, but it’s also a dry hop, very hoppy, very high aromatic beer. So and that was also for me. So immediately afterwards, I asked Hans-Peter to send me more of that. And so some days later the packet arrived, and it was in my fridge and every day in the evening, I opened one bottle and I was celebrating it. So that was really, for me, something which brought me into the modern beer scene. And so for me, it was a perfect combination to have that wheat beer double bock and all these hop aroma. So when you wrote the recipe was that your idea to bring that together? And how did it work with your Amarillo and the other hops?

Garrett Oliver: Yes, I mean, that was my idea. And once we mashed in, in the morning in New York, I sat Hans-Peter down with, I don’t know, 15 or 20 hop varieties that we had on hand, and said, I want you to do the selection for what we’re going to use for the Hopfenweisse. And he had never really been through that process before of checking out such a wide variety of hops. I mean, there were only a few that they used. And they obviously weren’t a huge part of the flavour and aroma profile. And so for him, I think it was really fun. It’s funny that you recount this, his experience first putting it in front of the brewers. Because I had almost exactly the same experience when the British Guild of Beer Writers in 1994, held an IPA conference in London. And at the time, IPA in England was often like a 3.4% bitter with no particular high level of bitterness or aroma, or alcohol or anything. It was just a name that you stuck on something.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it still is like.

Garrett Oliver: Yes, and they were looking to bring it back and talk about it. But there was nobody, almost nobody in the UK brewing anything that was like old IPA. So, they brought me over and I brought a beer from Manhattan Brewing Company called Rough Draft IPA. A brewer named Tom Tomlinson brought an IPA of his and one or two other American brewers came over, and I flew this beer over in a keg, and we served it to. All the major British brewers were there for this conference, and it was in the Whitbread Quarter Ton Room in London. And that’s where the room that the conference was held in actually used to be the fermentation vats. So very cool. And again, people tasted it and the whole room went silent. So you had, here you had like a 50 IBU heavily high hopped, dry hopped with American hops, 6.8%, and basically, at the end, people talked to me and they said, well, that’s very funny, but no one’s ever going to drink anything like that. Of course, within a fairly short number of years, they were all brewing something like that and their customers were looking for something like that. But it was quite a moment in 1994.

Markus Raupach: I’m also a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and I recall six, eight years ago, we had the first, how’s it called, these very dry IPAs.

Garrett Oliver: Like Brut IPA or something?

Markus Raupach: Yes. Brut IPA, the first one which came to Britain and we had it on the annual meeting of the guild. It was also a little bit like this. So they were silent and looking and looking at each other’s eyes, and, okay, what is this?

Garrett Oliver: I think in the case of Brut IPA they remained silent. It didn’t go anywhere.

Markus Raupach: Yes.

Garrett Oliver: Look, I thought that hazy IPA, the juicy hazy IPA style was going to be a thing that would be short in its stay, but it’s had a lot of staying power in the United States. And I mean, I’m perfectly happy to see development of new beer styles. The thing that bothers me is taking a new beer style and calling it by the name of an old beer style, which means that you no longer have any nomenclature, which then means that you cannot actually communicate with your customers or anyone, really.

Markus Raupach: Yes, now it’s all IPAs because they sell well. And so now you get a cold IPA and all these things.

Garrett Oliver: But I mean, people often accuse me of being, I’m a real stickler for style. Garrett’s only interested in styles or something like this, which is completely untrue. Most of the beers that we make don’t fit a particular style. We often invent things. Even Brooklyn Lager, which is our flagship beer, but we make 30 different beers every year. Our flagship beer is not an, well, if it is a style, it’s one we invented which is the Brooklyn Amber Lager, essentially based on the old Vienna lager style, and then dry hopped. Somewhat differently put together, not Munich malt or similar malts, but more Pilsner and caramel malts. But somewhat similar there. But I just think that it’s important for us to be able to tell people what something is. And if I can say to you, this is an American brown ale, and it carries with it a certain colour and a certain range of flavour profiles, and a certain likely level of bitterness and aroma, and history, I think that’s a very powerful thing, which the wine people only really have in some designations like champagne. Where people know what champagne is, and they know what they’re going to get, and they know what the process is, and they might have some idea of history.

Markus Raupach: And by the way, Pete is very proud of having invented the beer style, the American brown ale.

Garrett Oliver: Yes.

Markus Raupach: Yes. But let’s go a little bit further. So in 2011, you started editing the Oxford Companion to Beer. What is that about?

Garrett Oliver: Well, I guess I started editing in what, 2007, and it came out in 2011. And so yes, we had 166 writers from 20-something countries, 1120 subjects. And I was asked by Oxford to do this book. It was not an idea that I had. It was their idea. At first, I turned them down, because I was like, well, I would have to be a crazy person to want to do something so large and it’ll take forever. And it’ll make me crazy. Which, of course, eventually it did. But what somebody convinced me, a friend of mine convinced me was, what he said was, well, now you have a choice between pain now or pain later. I was like, what do you mean? It’s like pain now is you take the assignment, you work very hard for years and years and years. But eventually, at the end, you have a piece of work that you can be proud of forever. Pain later is you don’t do it, they assign it to somebody else, they do a job and you look at it and you’re like, I could have done a better job. But you didn’t. And now somebody else did it and this first major book of this type is done by somebody else and not you. And here’s the difference. Pain now is temporary. But pain later lasts for the rest of your life. You can only be first once in a thing like that. And so I took the assignment, and I remain very proud of that book.

Markus Raupach: You can. It’s like an encyclopaedia. So it’s really a great thing. And I was looking up Brooklyn Brewery’s entry. And it says, because I have the first edition, there it says it accounts for about 20% of all craft beer exported outside the US. So how has that number changed over the past 12 years?

Garrett Oliver: That’s an interesting question. I do not know the specific answer because I don’t know how much beer from other breweries is exported outside the United States, number one. Number two, we’ve changed our model for how we produce those beers at Brooklyn Brewery. So now by and large, we are not shipping the beer in tankers and in bottles as we used to. Mostly we are brewing much closer to locations where people are going to be drinking the beers, and then we will travel and beer samples will travel back and forth. And this results in a much lower use of energy, but also, the beer is not showing up three weeks or a month old or worse wherever it shows up. So, if you have our beer say in Sweden or in England or in France, it was probably brewed in that country or country next door. It was not shipped over from the United States in most cases. We’re talking about our main beers. If you’re having something like black chocolate stout, it was brewed here. If you’re having some of our real speciality beers, it will be brewed here. But a lot of things we will brew everywhere from Japan, China, Australia, Brazil, Canada, we’re brewing in a number of different locations. So it really depends on like, what do you mean by export.

Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s right. And I was really impressed when I was at the brewery how many different and special beer styles I could get. So the evening was too short to try all of them. But I remember that there were three non-alcoholic beers on tap. They were called Special Effects.

Garret Oliver: Yes.

Markus Raupach: What is the story behind that?

Garrett Oliver: The story behind that actually comes out of Europe. It was our Scandinavian markets who really wanted to see a non-alcoholic beer from us. And in the United States, at least at that time, five, six years ago, non-alcoholic beer had a stigma attached to it. And that stigma was that when you saw somebody drinking non-alcoholic beer, this was a sure sign that they were in fact, an alcoholic. They had an alcohol problem. So nobody said, oh well, maybe he wants to go jogging later, or he has to get up early, or he has to drive his car or something like that. It just meant that, oh, what a shame. They can’t drink beer anymore because they have this problem. And so we were convinced that in Europe, if we were to make a non-alcoholic beer that we could sell in Europe because at the time, there were no craft non-alcohol beers. And so when we first came out with the original Special Effects, which was the amber, people had never had a non-alcoholic beer of that colour and that flavour profile with dry hopping and everything else, and it became a big hit almost right away. And now, over time, not-alcoholic beers have started, as you know, to be a trend in the United States as well. But we, I think, originally thought that we would not sell it in the United States for years. But it was only about a year or two after we started selling it in Europe, that we brought it back into the United States because we saw that there was opportunities here too.

Markus Raupach: And you now have it in core range too? Or not yet?

Garrett Oliver: Oh yes, it’s part of the core range, yes. I mean, but what we’re not doing is what a lot of brands will do, where they are looking to replicate specific versions of their core range as a non-alcoholic beer. So when you get Special Effects amber, you are not getting a non-alcoholic version of Brooklyn Lager. It is a separate beer in itself. Because I think, I’m not saying that you can’t do that. But you’re setting yourself up for an unusually difficult problem to try to precisely mimic something which is made in a particular way, etc. I think it’s much, a much better idea to have these beers be their own things.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s like an emancipation. So they came out now and it’s a separate, it’s an own part of the range of drinks. So yes.

Garrett Oliver: Exactly.

Markus Raupach: So the Special Effect is to have no alcohol. Or is there any other Special Effect in it?

Garrett Oliver: No, the funny thing is that the name Special Effects was originally a name that I was going to give to our, like, extremely special beer program. Like you might have tasted some of the beers that we did that are aged on grape pomace.

Markus Raupach: Yes, that was fantastic.

Garrett Oliver: The skins from, and stems and seeds from wines, those beers were going to be called Special Effects because I was like doing. But when we were looking for a name for this new line extension of non-alcoholic beers, it occurred to me that Special Effects was actually also a great name for a non-alcoholic beer because the special effect of Special Effects is that it has no effects.

Markus Raupach: Okay, that leads more or less to my last question. So what are your plans for the next beers for the next time with Brooklyn Brewery and with yourself and maybe with books or other things you do?

Garrett Oliver: Well, right now, as you might know, we have a number of initiatives surrounding the African grain called fonio, which is a millet type that has grown throughout Central Africa for the last 5000 years. Fonio, it turns out, not only makes great food, it also makes great beer, and it has made great beer for thousands of years. One thing that people don’t realize is that beer is from Africa, like completely from Africa. So north to south, east to west, every single African society has a traditional beer type. All of them. So now in some of them, if they became strongly Muslim countries, you might not see those beer types anymore. But all the other ones, those beers are still being brewed as they have been for thousands of years. It’s often the grandmother in the family, who may only be making it for festival days, or in some cases, like in Combote in South Africa, it’s actually kind of a big cottage business making that style of beer, which in that case is made from sorghum. So brewing is African, and we are often as Americans told that beer is European, which is absurd. We brew beers in European styles because that’s the background of our culture. And we have exported that style of beer just as we’ve exported things like rock and roll and whatever else, all over the world. But that doesn’t mean that other people don’t have their own beer types. So that’s the first thing. Secondly, and more importantly, by using this grain, this grain requires no inputs. It does not require any irrigation, any fertilizer, any pesticide, any fungicide, no insecticide, nothing. It grows on the edge of a desert. It could rain three times in a whole year. Fonio still grows two crops. Ridiculously nutritious, makes wonderful beer and is grown by smallhold farmers. It even stops the desert from moving to the south because it fixes the soil and makes the soil better. So in the future, we need to think about as the brewing industry, are we really going to continue to make beers almost entirely from barley and wheat and rice and things like that, that require enormous amounts of nitrate fertilizer to be dumped onto the soil? Those nitrate fertilizers are made directly from petroleum production. So when we look at how our food is grown and that includes our beer ingredients, if we’re looking at climate change and things like that, we have to face up to the fact that like, things cannot continue into the future the way they’re being done now. And if people don’t understand how grain is grown, they should look it up. Because, it’s basically, it’s all oil. And so, there are several things you can do with this. One, fonio creates all these great flavours. Secondly, we’re supporting smallhold farmers in their countries, Mali, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, et cetera. Plus, if you’re making good economies in these areas, you’ll slow down immigration, which a lot of people are very upset about including the people who are immigrating who do not want to get on boats and try to make their way to Europe and possibly die or come to the United States. They want to stay at home with their families and their friends, only they can’t. And of course, what happened with colonialism is they took all the food. They took the people’s language and they took the food, and they said, well, what’s that? It’s like fonio, we’ve been eating it for 5000 years. And they ripped it all out. They said, well, you’re going to grow this now, wheat and corn. Well, guess what? Wheat and corn don’t grow that well at the edge of the desert. And then they would take the food they did grow and send it back to Europe and leave people to starve. We are basically trying to change that dynamic in a number of different ways. And if in the future, say five per cent of a lot of beers, say all of Brooklyn Brewery’s beers were five per cent fonio this would have a huge effect already on the environment. I think we have some great flavour profiles. We would be supporting all of these communities and we’d be moving away from a version of agriculture that is not sustainable for the future.

Markus Raupach: I think it’s so important that we rethink about our own culture and about how all that developed in the past, and what are the real reasons behind things. And so I think that’s a very good idea to bring that crop into the brewing world and maybe convince also other breweries to use it. And maybe even as a possible solution to all these dry places which we now have in the US, also in Europe, where it gets harder and harder to grow the normal grains. Or even if we look at the hop industry, they also have huge trouble with don’t have the irrigation how to grow hops anymore. So that’s really, the climate change is also a big problem for the brewing industry. And that’s a very good and interesting approach to it to change something from the grain side. So I’ve never tried a beer with that, so that sounds fantastic. So I’m looking forward to try that.

Garrett Oliver: And look what happens. You have the war in Ukraine, and then suddenly the entire world’s grain supply is disrupted. If these things were more spread out over a larger number of different products, a number of different grains, especially if these products actually taste good, which is really important. Because if it doesn’t make nice beer, I don’t care how good it is for the environment, people are not going to want to drink it. But it turns out that it tastes great. And at Carlsberg, they’ve even done some experiments based on the stuff that we’ve been doing. I went there to do a presentation for the brewing teams and whatever else, and they came back and they had made a beer from 100% fonio and it was fantastic. It tasted kind of like sake. It was like, fascinating. I really want to get into doing speciality beer types that might be 100% fonio or a very high percentage. So there’s so many fascinating things that can be done. Also, in a country like the United States, which has a very mixed heritage from all these different cultures, I think that there is a value in having people know that beer doesn’t just come from one place. I’ve been in China and had beer, traditional beer made by Chinese hill tribes that literally seemed like a recreation of what you would have heard from ancient Egypt, where you would stick a straw into it and it was delicious. And it’s like, yes, we’ve been making this beer for the last few thousand years. Who knows about the beers made by Chinese hill tribes? Like, I did a whole book, The Oxford Companion to Beer, know nothing about Chinese hill tribe beer. So we know so little about the rest of the world that sometimes our arrogance gets ahead of us. We have so much to learn. We’re sitting here like, oh, climate change is going to destroy everything. Well, stop spoiling the earth. And there are people who, and people who know how to do that, they’ve been doing it pretty well and keeping things in balance for a very long time. Perhaps you should listen to them.

Markus Raupach: Yes, and especially as you say, travel, see what the people do. So like, we had all the Nordic culture, we now have all these kwak yeasts or kwak strains, and we have the Sahti in Finland, and we have the Chicha in South America. And as you said, the Chinese or Himalayan beer. So very, very interesting things. I think, it also runs up a little bit our talk. So because we are back to being a role model hopefully for the future for other brewers, for other people in the industry, to look, to be first movers in things and to follow new ideas and develop it further so to keep our industry running and make new products. New beers, new interesting things and combine it with that what is necessary for our society. So thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot for the valuable information and for your beers.

Garrett Oliver: Well, thanks a lot for your interest. And I can tell you like, I think one thing that I think any brewer, and I’m sure you spoke to a lot of brewers when you were in the States, most brewers will tell you, in their heart of hearts, Pilsner and Helles remain like favourite beer styles for almost all real brewers. And whenever I come to Germany, I mean, not that it’s the only beer style that I’m looking for, but boy if I can have like a really great glass of Helles or a really great Pilsner, I always look forward to it. And it’s something that Germany still does better than just about anybody else.

Markus Raupach: And of course, you have to come to my area. I don’t know if you already have been to Bamberg, I guess.

Garrett Oliver: Yes I have, of course.

Markus Raupach: Okay. But now if you come back, there are lots of new breweries and also a lot of new beers from old breweries. So for example Schlenkerla has now a range of about 12, 13 different beers and there are even light beers. So no alcoholic smokey beers, or now they make beers with smoke of different woods like with cherrywood smoked barley and all these things, other smoked barley and so many interesting things. So of course you’re always invited to come to Bamberg and let’s have a beer there together. And yes, thanks a lot and have a nice day today. And I’ll see you soon somewhere in the world on the planet and thanks again.

Garrett Oliver: All right, thank you, sir.


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