Garrett Oliver is America's foremost authority on beer. His expertise on lagers, ales, pilsners, and stouts has been frequently sought in print and on television, and he is the author of The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. New Yorkers may best recognize his work as brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery.
How many beers have you sampled? What are your favorite kinds or brands (besides Brooklyn brew, naturally)?
I'm sure I've had close to 1,000 different beers. So I have too many favorites to list. I have a particular love for the more complex Belgian styles and for British cask-conditioned ales when they're done properly.
When creating a new beer, how do you perfect its flavor? Can you imagine the specific taste you are striving for? How much of it is plain old trial and error?
A good brewer doesn't engage in trial and error. I have a very specific appearance, flavor and aroma that I'm reaching for with each beer. It exists in my mind before it's ever brewed. And you never truly perfect a beer. Real beer is a very natural food made from natural ingredients and by natural organic processes. By its very nature, it is unperfectable. That's what makes it interesting. Sometimes we get awfully close, though.
How many beers does it take the foremost authority on beer to get plastered?
That depends on a lot of factors, but my tolerance is relatively high. As one gets older, though, the idea of getting plastered gets considerably less attractive. It's a state of mind that I prefer to avoid.
... and what's your hangover cure?
Not drinking too much. I believe that no hangover is truly undeserved. I'd rather have one or two of something brilliant than six of something mediocre.
What's the most appropriate beer to accompany:
A hot-dog and hamburger BBQ? An amber lager--I prefer Brooklyn Lager!
Thanksgiving dinner? French farmhouse ales, which are very herbal.
Lobster fradiavolo? It depends how spicy you make it, but a good sharp German pilsner works great.
Breakfast? Definitely wheat beer, either Bavarian or Belgian.
"Liquor before beer; have no fear. Beer before liquor-never sicker!" Is that sound advice, or does it just rhyme?
I think it just rhymes. People also say that you shouldn't drink liquor, wine and beer in the same sitting. They think it will make you ill. Of course when you ask them what they consumed, it turns out that they had eight drinks. Well, that's the problem, now isn't it?
Why are the most successful brands all watery, flat, and unsavory? Does marketing completely obfuscate taste?
When you look for the lowest common denominator, good things rarely happen. With bread you end up with Wonder Bread, with cheese you end up with Kraft Slices, and with beer you get Budweiser. The lowest common denominator is usually flavorlessness.
And, following that thought, do you think one can taste the borough itself in Brooklyn Lager?
If not the borough, then certainly the history. In 1900, Brooklyn had 48 breweries. Many of them brewed beers that tasted like Brooklyn Lager.
Why is Corona the only beer that's complemented by a lime?
Good marketing. Mexicans don't put lime in it, we do--it makes it seem exotic. At least it adds some flavor, which is otherwise pretty absent.
Ben Franklin famously said, "Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy." What's your motto, beer-related or otherwise?
"No sane man can afford to dispense with debilitating pleasures; no ascetic can be considered reliably sane. Hitler was the archetype of the abstemious man. When the other Germans saw him drink water in the Beer Hall they should have known that he was not to be trusted." -- A.J. Liebling
Besides beer, what's your poison?
Many. Wine, sake and caipihrinhas principal among them.
After the Brooklyn Brewery, what's your favorite bar or restaurant in New York?
Too many to list, though I consider Gramercy Tavern my living room. And Milano's and The Brooklyn Inn are my dens.
What NYC place or thing should be declared a landmark?
The interiors of The Brooklyn Inn, Old Town Bar & Grill, and McSorley's. In the 1980's the wooden interior of The Brooklyn Inn was almost ripped out, packed up and shipped to Japan. Frightening.
What's the best bargain to be found in the city?
The cheeseburger at Peter Luger Steakhouse.
If you could pass one law to improve New York, what would it be?
Your car horn would be linked to an EZPass-style device. Every time you honked, it would cost you two dollars, to be paid to the city. Since justifiable horn-blowing is relatively rare, you wouldn't mind paying when you really needed to use your horn to avoid a crash. And people wouldn't lean on their horns in traffic anymore. And yes, I do drive to work every day.
Any advice for Mayor Bloomberg?
We like the mayor. However, it would do him well to remember that the people who drink good beer and the people who drink champagne--are in fact the same people. And he should let us have outdoor beer festivals again--they were great events, enjoyed by many families. He should come to our PigFest in May.
The Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours (and tasting!) of it its operations on Saturdays beginning at 1 p.m.