clock menu more-arrow no yes
Daniel Krieger

Filed under:

How Garrett Oliver Learned to Communicate Through Beer

Garrett is an innovator, an educator, and one helluva great storyteller

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Through his work at Brooklyn Brewery over the last two decades, Garrett Oliver has changed the way that people think and talk about beer. Oliver believes that "the story of craft beer is a story of a diverted life plan." And in the 14th episode of The Eater Upsell, the brewmaster tells Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito how he moved from the film and music industries into the beer world. Oliver also explains the many ways that the beer scene changed since he got in the game, and he cracks open a very special bottle of ultra-rare "ghost beer."

As always, you can get the Eater Upsell on iTunes, listen on Soundcloud, or subscribe via RSS or search your favorite podcast app. You can also get the entire archive of episodes — plus transcripts, behind-the-scenes photos, and more — right here on Eater.


Here's the transcript of our conversation in The Eater Upsell Episode 14: Garrett Oliver edited to the main interview. Want to listen to Helen and Greg talk about pronouncing food words and names? You'll just have to listen to the audio above.

Helen: Thanks for coming in.
Garrett: Yeah, good to be here.
Helen: Do you live in Brooklyn? Because you have to.
Garrett: I do. Boerum Hill.
Helen: Really?
Garrett: Yeah. I'm a 22-year resident of Boerum Hill.
Helen: So, like, since before it was —
Garrett: Since way before, when Smith Street was a dark, dangerous place to which you did not go at night under any circumstances. Since those days.
Greg: Wow.
Helen: It’s weird how Brooklyn, like, I mean, this is, I don't know why I’m even saying this, it's like the dumbest thing to say, but like, it's weird how Brooklyn happened.
Garrett: No. Like, Dean Street, between — well, you know, same with Williamsburg, but, you know, I'm on Bond Street, I'm basically, if you know the restaurant Rucola
Helen: Oh, yeah.
Garrett: Yeah, I live right there. That whole block was half-empty. It was abandoned, like, burnt-out buildings, when I moved there, you know, so just to give you some idea, that the —
Helen: And now there are, like, eight-and-a-half-million-dollar —
Garrett: Where Rucola is now, was until, only until Rucola moved in, it was an illegal sublet, and it had bedsheets in the windows. The grillwork was all there, it looked like that, but there were bedsheets in the windows for, you know, 15, 16 years because somebody lived there, and it was illegal, but they just — and they had no curtains, and they were, like, living, like, in a cat box, you know, in that space.
Greg: Wow. So how do you get to Brooklyn Brewery? Do you take the G train?
Garrett: I used to take the G train, now I drive because it saves, I mean — as you know —
Helen: There's no efficient way.
Garrett: There's no efficient way. I mean, without the traffic, I can get to the Brewery in 12 minutes.
Greg: Wow. As the crow flies, it's not very far.
Helen: Where exactly is — the Brewery is on Wythe, right?
Garrett: The Brewery is on, well, corner of Wythe and 11th.
Helen: Right.
Greg:The hottest corner in Brooklyn.
Garrett: Yeah. Well, again, like, when I was first there, if you walked from the Brewery to the subway and you saw anybody after dark, you would cross the street to the other side. There was nobody there who was there to do you any good. Nobody. There's nothing. There weren't even any ATMs in the neighborhood until early 2000s, like, if you needed money, you had to go to Manhattan.
Helen: Oh my God.
Greg:It's hard to fathom that, actually.
Helen: That's such a, like, a specific detail, says so much, like, if you —
Garrett: You know, by that time, I know it's a while ago, but by that time, there were like three ATMs on every block in Manhattan, and in most of Brooklyn, too, but Williamsburg, it was a wasteland, you know, when it comes to that. There were a few good things, but not much.
Helen: Yeah. I was just up there this past weekend for Taste Talks, and, like, the exact corners of the Brewery. And I don’t — I live in, like, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, so I don't go up to Williamsburg very often, and I forget how incredibly beautiful everyone is, and also that they literally look like they're wearing Halloween costumes.
Garrett: Yeah. It's interesting. It does — I mean, you know, you go there at the weekend, and it's like Disneyland.
Helen: It's so weird. Garrett: It's kind of like, I remember I used to try to avoid, like, being in the West Village at the weekend, and like, you'd walk down Bleecker Street, and it was just like awash of people, you couldn't even get a car down the street, and now, Williamsburg at the weekend looks just like that, like they just have different outfits on.
Helen: I have this theory that, like, people who don't live in Williamsburg get dressed up to go to Williamsburg, like, they wear, like, hipster drag, and they'll be like, "Oh, how can I wear the strangest, most like, ugly ’90s clothing possible to go wander at this neighborhood for six hours?"
Garrett: Well, the funny thing for me is that, like, they come, like, dressed as me. No, I mean, I’ve been wearing, like — okay, I have a straw hat that I had made 20 years ago. Now, you know, it's kind of like a signature, in a way, like, when I — I mean, I was just told by our Brazilian importer, like, "Be sure to bring the hat when you come. Everybody expects to see the hat."
Helen: It's your brand.
Garrett: It has its own Twitter feed, I don't even know who started it.
Greg:What's it? Garrett Oliver's hat?
Garrett: It's called Garrett’s Hat, yeah. I was onstage in Edinburgh, you know, doing — I was the keynote speaker for the European Beer Blogger's Conference, and somewhere in the middle of that, somebody started a blog, a Twitter feed, that was Garrett's Hat, and, you know, everywhere that I went, they were also in the room, so there'd be a picture of me wearing the hat, saying, "Hey, this is Garrett's hat. We're now at whatever bar."
Helen: That's terrifying.
Garrett: But, you know, you don't know who it is because you're in a room full of bloggers, so it could be anybody, and I still don't know who it is, but I think it's very funny.


Greg: That's some, like, early days of Twitter shenanigans right there.
Garrett: That was only like three or four years ago, but the funny thing is, like, that hat, you know, it's a really, really well-made hat, I'm trying to talk the hatmaker into making me a new one. Because it's got a little worn out now because it's been everywhere, but now you have good hats selling kind of cheap knockoffs of something similar for all the kids, and for a long time, I saw everybody started to show up wearing stuff that looks kind of like mine, and I stopped wearing it because I didn't want to look like everybody else, and then I kind of realize, this hat is about 40 times better than — that thing's going to last two years and fall apart on your head. This is like the real thing.
Helen: Were they, wait — do you feel like they were wearing it to dress like you intentionally, or just like —
Garrett: Not me personally, but it's like, you know, if you have a certain way that you look, I mean, there were people who lived in that part of Brooklyn who did look like this before, you know, and there were like a few of them, and then all these other people show up basically dressed in a drag of who was there before, you know, so it's kind of strange.
Helen: That's amazing.
Greg:On that note, I think this is a good opportunity to introduce our guest on the show today. Garrett Oliver's the brewmaster and proprietor of Brooklyn Brewery.
Garrett: Not proprietor. Partial, tiny, you know, little sliver of propriety of Brooklyn Brewery, but I am brewmaster.
Greg:Awesome.
Helen: And you're also a James Beard Award winner for, what is it, Outstanding Spirits Professional.
Garrett: I think they have wine and beer and spirits as part of it.
Helen: That was it.
Garrett: Yeah, that was fun.
Helen: That was a big, a big deal. I remember the room being extremely excited when you won that award.
Greg:People were stoked. Well, welcome to the Eater Upsell, Garrett.
Garrett: Good to be here.
Helen: We're really happy to have you.
Greg:Yeah, so, what I'm curious is, growing up, were you someone who loved food? Were you someone who was — did you love beer? How did it all start for you? How did you go —
Helen: I guess you can't grow up loving beer.
Greg: Well, kids drink beer sometimes.
Garrett: Yeah, I did, and I hated it. I loved food. You know, I’m kind of like a weird — we were weird kids. We didn't realize how strange we were, but I'm from, originally from Hollis, Queens, so, you know, way out there, not so far from the Nassau border, so you have to imagine, you know, we are an African-American family growing up in the ’70s, my dad was an advertising executive, but his big hobby was to go hunting at the weekend with some pretty rough guys from, like, upstate, I don't even know how he knew them, some of them were missing fingers from, like, canning factories or whatever else, and we would go out with our dogs, and sometimes horses, and we would hunt birds. We hunted pheasant, chukar partridge, and quail, and my father was a very, very good cook.
Greg:Where would you guys go hunting?
Garrett: Everywhere from Somers, New York, all the way up to the Nassau border out on Long Island. Believe it or not, in those days, and it was a long time ago, you could hunt pheasant on Long Island, and we did.
Helen: It feels very grand.
Garrett: Like a round quote. But the funny thing is it wasn't considered grand back then. It's like, everybody up there, I mean — talk about upstate New York, these were some pretty rough-and-tumble guys with everybody went out hunting at the weekend, that's what you did. I mean, it’s kind of like a bit red-state.
Greg:It's a good free activity.
Helen: It's a free activity, and you get dinner out of it.
Garrett: And it involves guns. And, like, you know, if you're a 12-year-old kid, there is nothing better in the world.
Greg: Did your dad let you shoot the gun?
Garrett: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely, but you know, he was absolutely rabid about, thankfully, about gun safety, and I'll never forget when he showed me, the first time I was about to shoot, he took a big can of tomatoes, and this was like a, one of those old, hard, tin cans, not like a flimsy modern can, the thing was, like, hard as a rock, and inside, whole tomatoes, and he put it on the ground, you know, and he said, "Shoot that can." And he put the tin can on the ground and I started backing up, he's like, "No, don't back up. Right here, you know, ten feet away, shoot it." And I shot the can, and he said, "Now find me some tomato," and there was nothing but, like, a red mist hanging in the air, and the can was inside out, and he said, "That can is about as hard as your head, and those tomatoes are your brains. Do you understand what I'm talking about?"
Helen: That is so heavy.
Garrett: And it was like, "Oh. The gun is fun, but you need to take this really, really seriously." Never forgot it.
Helen: That's some, like, seriously hands-on parenting.
Garrett: Well, the thing is, if you're going to put a gun in the hands of a 12- or a 13-year-old, that's the kind of conversation you really want to have.
Helen: That's some good strategy. It reminds me of that, like, "This is your brain on drugs" commercial.
Garrett: Yeah, well, we didn't really listen to that one. It was like, "Sizzling, that sounds cool."
Greg: So did that get you more or less into the hunting there?
Garrett: Oh, I loved it. I loved every minute of it. We would come home, you know, we'd be out there on horseback with like, the rain would literally be freezing on our hats.
Helen: Wait, you were on horseback?
Garrett: Yeah. Sometimes we were on horseback, yeah.
Helen: This is amazing.
Garrett: Yeah. I didn't think of it as being as strange, you know, as it was, but for me, it was all part of being, the special thing of being from New York, so, you know, we never thought about the fact that we grew up with Italian food from our neighbors, and I get the zeppole on the way home from school with the powdered sugar on top, and we ate, you know, kind of "Chinese dishes" — that's in parentheses, or quotation marks — from the ’70s, like, egg foo young, and things like that all the time, you know,we even ate sushi, which people didn't really eat much back then, and we had this, you know, my great aunt made chopped liver, which we didn't think of as being somehow Jewish, it just, like, something that she made, and so we had this very mixed kind of cultural experience, which I'm very grateful for now.
Helen: And hunting pheasant on horseback just sort of fits — I guess that makes sense. I mean, like, if everything is normal, then everything is normal.

I still remember what it feels like to take a warm bird and pluck the insides out.

Garrett: Yeah, I guess, you know, my dad probably met them on some commercial shoot or something, he would do television commercials and things, and probably got to like them, and, you know, he was working on Madison Avenue in a pretty rarefied, I mean, if you watch Mad Men, that is exactly the work world that my dad came up in, you know, which, as an African-American doing that in the ’70s was not only unusual but very difficult, and so, you know we had various spheres that didn't really meet up with each other, and you know, when you met these guys, it's like, "Dad, why does the guy have four fingers?" "Oh, he works in the cannery, and every once in a while, somebody loses a finger," and you're like — you know, we didn't meet people who were mangled by machinery in factories otherwise, you know, but it was a good look at real life, and like I said, I'm very grateful for it. But I think that's where my cooking head comes from, you know, watching him do reductions, and we do the quail, I'd have to clean everything, so we cleaned the quail, and then he'd mount it in a white-wine sauce. You know, I still remember what it feels like to take a warm bird and pluck the insides out. You know, it’s not so great, not so great.
Greg: So I'm guessing around these teenage years, you also caught the film bug. Because you went to film school, is that right?
Garrett: Yeah, I did go to film school, you know, but it wasn’t — like most kids, I kind of promised myself I wasn't going to do what my dad did, but then I kinda sorta did. I was excited by music. At the time, MTV was getting going, music videos, you know, and film. I was very visual, so it was always going to be some form of communication, and visual communication seemed the most interesting to me, so my degree is actually in broadcasting and film.
Helen: So how do you make the leap from communicating through film to communicating through beer?
Garrett: Well, to me, you know, in a certain way, they are exactly the same. Basically, you have these two halves of your brain, if you like, and it's half art and half science, and if you don't have both of these things, you can't do the job, and I think of, if I look at beer and you look at, say, a Hollywood blockbuster, a summer blockbuster, and everything's perfect. The sound is perfect, the color is perfect, the actor's teeth are perfect, the hair is perfect, the car chase is perfect — but there's no plot development, no one seems to work on a script, there's like eight people who wrote the script, and it was like through a whole mill and then through focus groups and whatever else, and the thing comes out the other end, and you'll never care about any of those characters, and when you leave the theater, that's two hours of your life you'll never get back, and that's mass-market American beer. It's all the money and all the science, and no soul whatsoever, and essentially worthless, and so, on the other hand, you can watch a student film and have it drive you out of your head. I mean, there's a lot of passion, someone actually wrote something here, and it's beautiful, but maybe the filmmaker doesn't really know how to put the story on the screen, so the color correction is bad, you're sitting there, you're watching, where is that weird light coming from which doesn't have any natural source, um, you know, the sound sounds like it was done in somebody's bathroom, they don't have the money, and they don't have the skills, and really, whatever you're doing, if it's an art form, you got to have the skills, and then, you know, you have to have something to say, and I think that's true whether you're a musician or a chef or a modern brewmaster: something to say and the ability to say it. You know what? I always had something to say, it's the ability-to-say-it part that takes a lot longer to get.
Helen: So within the world of beer, how does that fluency develop? Where did you begin? Where do most people begin when they decide to start communicating through beer, and is there a path that everyone winds up following to become fluent in that, or do you think it varies?
I think that there's not one legitimate path to becoming a brewer.

Garrett: No. Some people are fluent quickly, some people never become fluent, it really depends. I think that, in a way, it's like becoming a chef. I mean, there are so many paths. I think that you have a path that runs through some of the cooking schools, which is basically on to food service. That's one path. You have a path which is more like becoming a baseball player, and you do it as an amateur thing first, you fall in love with it, and then you find your way to it through some system. You have, obviously, apprenticeships and things like that, you have people who got thrown in, and used to be a dishwasher or whatever else, and worked their way up. So I think that there's not one legitimate path to becoming a brewer. I think that one of the things, though, that makes American craft beer particularly powerful is the fact that the story of craft beer is a story of a diverted life plan. Almost nobody in craft beer thought they were going to be a brewer. You know, we intended something else, and we probably went out and got a degree, and spent time, effort, and money, arrive somewhere that, financially, probably was even pretty good, and then you fall in love, but the thing you fall in love with is beer, and beer will make you poor. And then you become poor, and then you spend the rest of your time trying to, one, do the thing that you have wanted to do, and do it the way you wanted to do it; and to hopefully not be poor. But the plan was always the same, it was the same as everybody else's plan. Go to school, get the degree, you got the degree, you get the job, you got the job, you got the money, you know, you can buy a house, maybe you're going to have a wife and kids, and the kids are going to have shoes, and they'll have books and everything, and then you take everything, throw it out the window, and leap into thin air and hope not to die.
Greg: So what was the thing that made you want to take it apart? Was there one bottle of beer, was there one pint, or was it just seeing someone else do it and being like, "I can do this, I'm interested in this."
Garrett: I think the closest thing that I really could put to is falling in love. It becomes an obsession, and eventually, it's the only thing you can do.
Helen: Were you a home brewer?
Garrett: Yeah, I was a home brewer. At the same time, I was also a filmmaker. Interestingly, tonight in Williamsburg, they're playing a film on which I was co-producer in 1986 called Betaville. I have not seen this film since maybe 1988. I remember a lot of doing the shoot and whatever else, but this is going to be really weird because I'm going to go, I’m gonna show up, I might end up making some comments, but I will be seeing, like, some old version of me that I haven't seen in a million years. It's going to be so strange.
Helen: At that time, in ’86, ’88, was the obsession with beer already sparked?
Garrett: Yeah, but I was also stage managing in rock bands, you know.
Helen: You're so cool.
Garrett: Well, you know, I’m old. There's a difference, but thank you. I moved to London in 1983, and I was stage manager for University of London Union, which is a club. It had about maybe 800 people or so. We put on a lot of great bands. Everybody from Cocteau Twins to Billy Bragg, et cetera. And I still have a lot of friends in music. I ran all the entertainment for Boston University when I was there. I put on a concert in 1983 with R.E.M. as the opening band for the English Beat. Put on the Ramones, I took the Ramones bowling.
Helen: Really?
Garrett: Yes.
Greg:How were they? I would actually imagine they were not bad, being the kids from Queens or something.
Garrett: That lasted approximately a minute and a half before we had to leave.
Helen: Were you kicked out?
Garrett: I didn't even allow them to kick us out. I kicked us out after Joey threw the bowling ball about eight feet into the air and it came crashing down the lane.
Helen: That's not how you bowl, Joey Ramone.
Garrett: Yeah, well, I guess when you're on thorazine or something.
Greg:I guess those aren't the best people to give heavy, sort of —
Garrett: I was just glad when they got to the stage and there were actually some words that came out of their mouth. They put on a great concert, but they were basically paralytic up until that point. It was quite a day.
Helen: I guess they could pull it out in the clutch.
Garrett: They pull it out. They were not messing around, but it's funny. It was like, you know, all these things, like stage managing, whatever else, you kind of bring all this stuff with you, in a way, to what you're doing, so it's all fun, but now, like I said, I have friends who are musicians, and I watch what goes on with them. Sometimes I end up on the other end of a camera or whatever else, and it's just funny because I used to think I was going to be the guy looking through the viewfinder, telling my story that way, and instead, it just turned out being something else.
Greg:Did you get burned out on filmmaking and producing, or was it just that this other thing came along?
I kind of realized that the beer had become something that felt like that, you know, that I had to do it, and I would do basically anything to get there Garrett: This other thing came along, but I also came to a realization that I was a good filmmaker, I was a good technician, I loved it, but I saw people who would come along, I remember Robert Townsend, when he first put out film, and he said that he had signed up for 120 credit cards, and he had maxed them all out in order to have enough money to buy film stock and whatever else to make his film, and I said to myself, it's like, "That guy is the guy who deserves to win in this thing that I'm doing. That's what it takes. This guy is on fire to do this thing. What am I doing here? I'm having a good time, but I'm not like him. You know, I don't have such fire to do this thing that it just, like, burns all the time and I have to do it." And I kind of realized that the beer had become something that felt like that, you know, that I had to do it, and I would do basically anything to get there, and I was friends at the time with Peter Berg, who later became a major director and producer, and we made music videos together and whatever else, and Peter had moved to California, and he said, "I want to be a major director and actor," and he was very ambitious, and he, right from that time, we were like 20 years old, and he's like, "I’m going to be top guy." And he’d come back and he'd tell me about how great it was in California, like he'd work on films and you'd have all these really great friends and whatever else, and I said, "Well, what happens when the film's over?" It's like, "Oh, well, you get some new friends." It's like, "What do you mean, you get some new friends?" "Well, you can't really hang out with those people anymore, you have a new film, and now those are your friends." I was like, "I can't live like that. I can’t live like that. I don’t wanna — my friends are my friends. I'm not going to change those things around." I just kind of realized at the time, in New York, this wasn't the place to be. I was going to have to go live that kind of life, and it was a life that I didn't want.
Helen: So how long has Brooklyn Brewery been around now?
Garrett: 1988.
Helen: So let me do some quick math head math. Thirty.
Greg:You're coming up on the big 30.
Helen: That’s, what, 27 years?
Garrett: Yeah. A couple years ago we just had our 25th, so it goes fast. I got there in ’94.
Helen: Since you've been there, like, from ’94 to now, it's gone from a very, I think, niche operation to being a major player in the craft-brew scene. You run into Brooklyn Lager all over the country.
Garrett: Well, it looks like over the country, but it actually isn't. We are mostly out east, to the center of the country, we have a few outposts here and there, we're in Nevada, for example, we make beer for Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, which we have for many years, but that's the only beer we have in California or anywhere on the West Coast. Our focus has always been our area here and kind if eastern United States, but then also overseas, you know, which has been, I mean, since Brooklyn Brewery started, about eight months later, we were in Japan. We're all traveling people who fell in love with beer in other countries before we came back to United States, so we were always travelers, and we were always going to go.
Greg:So this is a regional beer, then, Brooklyn.
People think that we're absolutely huge, but we have like 120 employees. Garrett: Yeah. I would call it a regional beer. It's not a national beer. It's kind of funny, people think that we're absolutely huge, but we have like 120 employees. I mean, here are single restaurants that have more employees than we do.
Greg:I gotta say, it's kind of funny because in college, I drank the worst beer imaginable, and then ever since I —
Garrett: Me, too.
Helen: I think that's what college is for.
Greg:Yeah, but my whole New York life is like, when I started to even remotely get into beer, and it's actually always been through Brooklyn, like, that's the thing I pick up in the bodega, and it's kind of the thing that I — it’s like my essential beer that I judge every other kind of beer that's like that against.
Garrett: That's great to hear. What's funny is that when Brooklyn Lager first came out, it's kind of almost difficult to imagine now, but Brooklyn Lager in 1980 out, 1988 was really, really weird. First of all, no other beers were around that had that color, none of them had, like — it had four times the bitterness of the mass-market beers, it had this hop aroma, which nobody even recognized, and you go into, you know, bodega and you'd say, "What's that you got?" It's like, "Brooklyn beer." "Brooklyn? Why would anybody name something Brooklyn?" Brooklyn was associated with crime, and like, it was like the worse name for anything ever, and then it's like, you pour it out. It's like, "What's wrong with it? It looks dark." It's like, "What's that smell?" "It's called hops." "Oh my God, it's so bitter." It's like, "I don't want it. Get out of here." And that's the way that it went.
Helen: But in the last 15 years, the rise of Brooklyn as a commodity, like the branded borough of Brooklyn, and now it's this global touchstone for, like, coolness and culture, has presumably, I would guess, really helped buoy Brooklyn Brewery, because Brooklyn is now a cool word, not a crime word.
Garrett: Yeah, I think it goes in both directions. I think that together with so many other things happening in Brooklyn, we were among the many things that helped make Brooklyn cool, but you know,Brooklyn was always cool, it was just that people, I think, not everybody else knew it. I was going to raves in abandoned buildings in Williamsburg in the ’90s. I had some of the best times of my life in Williamsburg. It was dangerous, but we had fun. Most fun things were dangerous, and so there you go, but it's like, as the whole enterprise grows, what I look to do as brewmaster is I look at what I like in beer, what beer means to me, and I think that I don't remember who it was that talked about this, you know, from a philosophical point of view, but to wake up in the morning and ask yourself, "How am I not myself?" It's like, how are we as a brewery not who we say we are or we want to be, and I think that, you know, success, the measure of success, is kind of becoming the person, or the company, or the whatever, that you always said you were in public.
Helen: That is deep and powerful.
Garrett: But the thing is everybody is fronting.
Helen: Yeah.
Garrett: Everybody is fronting. Everybody is putting up a face like, "I’ve got this, and I've got that, I have these skills," like, "No, you don’t." You don't know everything, I don't know everything, we're not as we good as we said we were. I mean, like, are we good? Yeah, we're good. We're better than those guys, but we’re, like, really, really good? I think that only now, 20 years into it, at Brooklyn Brewery, I'm not saying that we've arrived at a vision of ourselves, but we can certainly see it, like we're gaining on it. It's within our viewfinder. Whereas in the past, we made really nice beers, especially compared to everybody else, but we were a lot less special than we are now, so I'm looking to use the fact that we do have such great talent there and everything else, and make sure that we use that to go deeper, not to become more shallow.
Greg:So how do you guys develop new beer? What's the process there?
Garrett: There's a number of processes. Some things are based on looking at what we have and saying, "Well, what would we like to have?" I look at our range of flavor, we make 35 or 40 different beers every year, what's the thing that we can't do? Like, you go into a culinary situation, which is important to me, et cetera, what can our beers not do? What foods can't they handle, what situations do we not have a beer to be in, and think about what would be really cool to have in that situation and kind of go that way. Sometimes, every once in a while, there'll be a stroke of lightning where some ingredient steps out and speaks to me. Really, the best example of that is Sorachi Ace, which is a very unusual hop flavor and aroma, and for those who don't know, hops give you the bitterness in beer, but also a range of flavors and aromas, and they're varietal, like wine grapes, and they're very different one from another, and there are hundreds of varieties, so Sorachi Ace kind of smells like lemongrass, lemon verbena, and dill, I mean, really unusual. And when I smelled it, I could have just written the recipe instantly on the back of a napkin. I knew exactly what I want to do with it within ten seconds, but that almost never happens, so usually there is an idea that comes first, then you figure out, "Well, how can I actually get to that idea?" I was really somewhat inspired. I went to see Ferran Adrià’s exhibit at the Drawing Center on creativity, and looking at his idea of the concept of collaboration, and elaboration of a recipe, and what the levels were for creativity, and how your audience, your people, your resources, and everything, everything that goes into it needs to be focused through that. And as our talent at the Brewery becomes deeper and we have such a tremendous team, we can just do things that, in the past, we basically just had no idea how to do. And it may take three or four different people's knowledge all put together that we can then arrive at a place where we can actually execute that thing, because it's great to have an idea, but at the end of the day, it's like, if you can't put the dish on the table hot in time, you know, then you can't do the dish. You have a great idea; your idea doesn't matter. You know, can you put the movie on the screen? It's like, you have an idea about the guitar, can you play it?
Helen: Is there, like, the holy grail, is there like the Fermat's Last Theorem, like the great unsolvable, or at least not-yet-solved, problem in beer, like, the food that it's impossible to pair with, or, like, the perfect thing that everyone is trying to achieve?
Garrett: I think everybody has a different one in their head, if they even have one. I don't have one — I have a lot of them, and so, you know, I mean, I was one of the founders for Slow Food USA, set up the national office with Patrick Martins and Carlo Petrini and Alice Waters and whatever else back in the ’90s. And so those kind of principles play very strongly through what we do, especially now that the Nordic movement has come into food, and I was there with Claus Meyer in 2003 in Denmark working on this stuff, and so that aesthetic, that idea, as we go to do things in Scandinavia, a lot of that informs what I'm looking to do with the Brewery in the future, and it's all kind of of a piece. The beer that I brought along called Lancelot is a version of that. It is a, kind of a prototype beer, if you like, but the idea behind it is something that I'm figuring out how it could actually be brought to fruition, but it's very tricky.
Greg: Should we get this beer, maybe?
Helen: Yeah, we have a bottle of Lancelot here in the studio.
Greg:Let me go grab it.
Helen: Let me get some glasses and try this out. Cool.
Garrett: I'll need an opener. You'd think a brewer would carry an opener around with him, but —
Greg:Get that one in the studio.
Helen: I'm sure we can bang it against the wall or something.
Garrett: I don't think that will work here. It is a regular cap on it, but some of it is some wax, but a good opener will work.
Helen: We'll make it work. It's cool. Greg and I, we've been saying for — we’ve been recording these episodes for months, and we've been saying that we, like, should always have some bottle of booze on the table with our guests and loosen up a little, a little bit of lubrication, tell us all your secrets, but this is good, I like that you brought your own, even if it makes this sort of narrative sense.
Garrett: Well, you know, since you don't have Smell-O-Vision, people will not —
Helen: I know. We'll have to make sure to like, hold the bottle up to the microphone so it can get the, like — ooh, yay.
Greg: I would think by this point, you'd be pretty good at opening beer bottles.
Garrett: Yeah, and what's funny, though, is like, I'm not as good, as, I've never opened beer bottles with, like, a lighter or whatever else. It's like, I can theoretically do that, but I just never got around to learning that particular college skill.
Greg:So first of all, this is a beautiful bottle. This is, is this something that is for retail now, or this is just some experimental —
Garrett: I should even say that we sell it anywhere, but we, you know — this is what we call "ghost bottles," so these are all the things that we make that are not available to the public.
Helen: So how do you get in on it?
Garrett: I do sell a little bit at the Four Horsemen because those are all my friends.
Helen: So the solution to getting your hands on one of these bottles is just to, like, befriend Garrett Oliver.
Garrett: What I like to say is that, if you have had — it's been true up until this point, anyway — if you've had these beers, that means that you've met us because there's no other way to get any.
Greg:That's super cool, though. That's like a —
Garrett: Yeah, well, what happened is, and this is a good thing, but it comes with an edge, and it's almost like allocation, you know, in wines. It used to be, basically, if I had a special beer, you know, there might be 40 accounts who might want it, and I call some friend up and I'd say, "Hey, dude, I got this thing for you." It's like, "Great, you got a thing?" "Yeah, I got a thing." "Send the thing over." I'd send the thing over, and then he put on draft, everybody's like, "Wow, that's great." Everybody's happy. Now, 15 minutes after something goes up somewhere, you got a call from Tony from Tony's Sports Bar, and Tony sells 400 kegs of Brooklyn Lager every year, and he's been readin’ blogs, and now he wants to know why it is, "I heard you made this beer with cherries in it, got aged in barrels and re-fermented with champagne yeast, and I need 50 cases down here right now," and you're like, "Dude, I only got a few and you're a sports bar." It's like, "Oh, that's nice. Now you're telling me who I am? That's nice. Now you don't know me. How about if I don't know you?" People, they lose their minds, everybody goes absolutely nuts, and there's such a big hype machine around so many things, so what I've done is built a defensive wall around, where I have a whole range of beers, like 30 of them, that nobody can have, you know, and so I don't have to deal with any of that because it's like, "Nope, didn't sell it to anybody, not going to sell it to you. I only have 100 cases, which is enough to make 100 people happy and 2,000 people angry." You know, which I just can't do from a commercial basis, but if we're doing events and things like that, we can bring them with us, and if people want to show up, then we're happy to talk about them, pour them, and at some point in the future, ideas that went into this might end up part of a beer that you can buy on the shelf, but it's not fully cooked yet.
Greg:It's unreleased, these are like —
Helen: They're like concept cars.
Greg:Yeah, they’re like, that's it, yeah.
Helen: They're like some weird car that looks like a spider, and if you wanted to buy it, there's one that exists and it's a million dollars, but, like, in 14 years it will be informing your Toyota Camry.
Garrett: Well, and, I mean, I think every restaurant pilots — if you like dishes, too — it's just that you don't see that part. In the case of elBulli, it was quite famous because they were only open six months of the year, and they spend the other six months actually working on the creative and what Adrià called "elaboration," your ability to put the dish on the table and to actually get it done, but it takes, for a lot of these things, a huge amount of work to make anything that's new happen. If it's simple and it involves barley malt, yeast, hops, and water, that's a matter of writing a recipe, understanding your ingredients, and you bring to it the things that you know, but when you get out into areas that nobody knows about, then you have to, you know, you're playing with a lot of different elements.
Greg:You got to protect it a little bit. I mean, I understand that. You got to create a safe space for you to experiment and play around with.
Garrett: Well the other thing that I take really seriously is, and I find it's unfortunate that in the culture, not everybody has the same — a lot of people do — but not everybody has the same attitude, is that I take other people's money really seriously. People work hard. You know, in this city, they get on the subway, they're there at 8:30 in the morning, sweating in the middle of July, trying to get to a job that they're going to make money, and then they're going to spend it on my beer. If you spend money on my beer, that really is a promise from me to you that the beer is going to be worth your money. I have no time for anybody who doesn't care whether the beer is really, genuinely good. It's the most important thing. And, you know, there are people out there who think, "Well, they'll love everything I do because I'm cool." I'm like, "You know what? Screw you. Screw you." You know, it’s like people, yeah, that will work for a while, and, sure, you're a super-cool guy, and we're all super-cool guy, and whatever else, but you don't even care what the beer tastes like, and you don't care about your quality, then that's an insult to your customers. And so I'm not putting anything out there that I'm not 100 percent sure that I believe in, and when you're experimenting, it's hard to be sure. And so, yeah, you'll see some things, I'll bring that out to an event, and you'll like it or won't like it, but I can't promise you I can do that twice.
Helen: S how are you feeling about this Lancelot we're about to taste?
Greg: Oh, it says "ghost bottle" on the bottle.
Garrett: Yeah, we eventually used to just, like, write on them with markers, but now, though, you have like 30 of them, you know, have 30 different things in blank bottles eventually doesn't work, so it's unusual-looking. It's not flat, though it's a little flat-looking. This is a version of our Sorachi Ace that has been aged in a wine barrel for a year together with wild yeast from a winery. The winery is called Bellwether. They are in the Finger Lakes area. A lot of my friends are involved in what is widely referred to as the Natural Wine Movement, which is a near and dear thing to my heart, too. We originally did this, and we still are doing it, with our good friends at the Red Hook Winery, who are making great wines in Brooklyn, grown largely on Long Island, and so when Abe Schoener, who is doing the kind further-out-there end of winemaking there, supervising through Christopher Nicholson, when his fermentations were finished and they moved the wine off of their yeast, they weren't adding any laboratory yeast at all, so it's all wild yeast. The wild yeast would then come to us, and we would put it in a barrel with the beer and then the yeast takes over the quality of that beer and drives it in a completely different direction, which has a depth and complexity that I think is otherwise almost impossible to find.
Helen: So this smells kind of sour and apple-y in the way that I find really attractive.
Greg:It almost smells like a cider or something.
Garrett: It has a bit of acidity, it has a broader, fruitier kind of character to it, it's got everything going on, from, like, Jolly Rancher to kind of a natural cider. As it warms up, you get more of that funk that you get from Brettanomyces, which is kind of like a, for want of a better term, kind of earthy, farm-yard-y kind of thing going on.
Helen: So why do you call it Lancelot?
Garrett: I actually ran out of names. We have so many different beers that you'd have something that says, "Sorachi with riesling leaves," like, the names became so cumbersome, some of them have like 20 different words to describe something, so the beers needed a name, so if I say, "We're going to send X to this dinner," it has to have a name, so I started to just — I got out the biggest table I could find of Knights of the Round Table and I started just going down the list, so we have Galahad, which, one that you would've heard of, Gawain, Percival, Caradoc. Some of them are very obscure, and since they're not commercial beers, they don't have to have commercial names or whatever else, but I need an identifier, and I like those names.
Helen: Do you think you're ever going to have an Arthur?
Garrett: Ah, that's an interesting thing. Well, Hill Farmstead actually has a beer called Arthur, so if there is an Arthur, it will not be a commercial beer, anyway.
Greg:So this is something else. I can't say I've ever had a beer like this. I don't drink a lot of beers like this, but —
Garrett: That's nice to say. I don't think you have had a beer like that because neither has anyone else. I mean, this is an idea which is I think a very natural idea, but not something that anyone is doing on any scale. We started doing it about six or seven years ago, we have done a project now with our friends at the Thornbridge Hall Brewery in England, where I wanted to basically send this idea in the direction of elaboration, you know, to use Adrià’s word, and you can't do that in the United States because there's very little natural fermentation going on. There are a lot of winemakers that say, "Our wines are completely naturally fermented." Almost all of them are lying.
Helen: Bastards.
Garrett: Well, you know, when you get the beer, when you get the wine, in the lab and have a look at it, things become obvious, so I understand why. It's like, "Okay, you got one shot at it, you can't have things going off in different directions," but there are people who are actually doing it, like Abe Schoener, and it's those people we want to use those natural yeast sets, and there's almost no material to go around. Where can I find lots of natural yeast? A-ha. The U.K. has a large, old, and well-developed cider industry, which has a whole wing, which has always been naturally fermented. We don't have that in the United States. We have a few small grape cideries —
Helen: And it's growing, too.
Garrett: It is growing. Aaron Burr, Oyster River, and we've used leaves from both of them in beers, terrific stuff, but it's so much more widespread, you know, if you go to Spain or you go to the U.K. So we basically brewed a version of one of our beers, I sent over about 120 barrels to Thornbridge Hall, and in November, after a year and a half in-barrel, we're going to go into refermentation for the final finishing of the beer, but this whole thing as a project will have taken two years, and a lot of money, and a lot of time, and you still don't know whether it's going to work.
Greg: As someone who's not a huge beer obsessive, I got to say I'm very surprised by what you're kind of describing as the collaborative nature of creating something like this. Like, I never thought so many people would be involved. Is the beer world just kind of — is that it? Is everybody really tight? Is everybody willing to trade ideas?
Garrett: We were the first brewery to do collaborations, which is now a normal part of the beer industry, of the craft-beer industry. Our first one, I think, was ’96 or ’97, with Breakspear in England, and since then we've done dozens. Every once in a while, though, I'll have a reporter ask, like, "I see collaborations are really going on between breweries. Have you ever thought of doing one?"
Helen: We started that, bro.
Garrett: We’re like, "That was us," and like the hat, for a long time, we stopped doing collaborations because everybody else seemed to be doing them.
Greg:Like the hat.
Garrett: It was like, well, everything looked like me, too, and it became a photo-op kind of thing, but the guys at Thornbridge Hall are my actual friends, like, we go on vacation together friends.
Helen: Not like your quote-unquote "We follow each other on Twitter" friends.
Garrett: Exactly, not just Facebook friends, so it's really important to me that we do things that are collaborative, that it's 100 percent real.
Helen: It's family.
Garrett: That it's family, and that it means something, and if it's not, if it's just because like, wow, you're a really prominent restaurateur, and you have a lot of restaurants and we could sell some beer, I'm never going to do a thing like that again.
Greg: So I have this kind of general theory that everybody's becoming more of, for lack of a better term, foodie, largely because the internet, that there’s more information, people can just get their hands on more, like in the last 15 years, do you think that people's beer palates have really expanded, or people requesting more interesting stuff?
Garrett: Yeah. It's changed really tremendously. It's changed rapidly, and in a fashion that is difficult to really contemplate now. When I first started brewing professionally, IPA was a British historical style that almost no one brewed. Today, only 20-plus years later, IPA is a modern American style that everybody brews everywhere in the world, and they brew it in the American idiom, so that, to me, is a fascinating development, and one thing I've learned over time is that people have really, really good taste. You look at politics, you look at this, you look at that, and you could think otherwise, but I've done a lot of tastings, thousands, in public, whatever else, I used to go into a room, and you'd see a bunch of people, and there'd be this lady sitting in the back corner, she's about 80 years old, she has a blue rinse, and you're saying to yourself, "Wow, we're about to serve this powerfully smoke thing, or this really sour thing, or this 12 percent monster thing," and somewhere in the back of my head, I was like, "Oh, well, you know, she probably isn't going to get it," and you think that you have a certain audience for your food. "This is the people who are going to get what I do, and they hang out with the same people that I hang out with, then. They probably have the same politics and whatever," where you find out, of course, that none of this is true. She might get that beer and literally, she's like, "This is the best thing I've had in 20 years," and you're like, "Wow. You get it?" What you realize at that point is that your feeling that she wouldn't get it is you telling yourself that you're special and other people aren't, which is actually not even slightly true, like, how do I know who she is, where she's been, maybe she was drinking beers like this 50 years ago, and many times, people tell me stories like that, especially older people. It's like, "Oh, I was stationed in Belgium after World War II, and this is the kind of beers that we used to drink." "Wow, this is really cool. I haven't had anything like this in four years." People are amazing, or like, young people who'll be like, "Well, normally I drink Coors Light. I don't really like beer. I drink it if I have to, if I'm at a party and there's nothing else to drink," and then at the end of the tasting, she's like, "Well, I don't really beer, but where can I get this, this, this, and this?" And they're always the biggest, most complex, wild things on the table. She's like, "Well, those were good. I don't like beer, but those were great," and she'll have made a leap in a half an hour that took me years to get there.
Greg:I don't like beer, but I like this very sophisticated —
Helen: That was my exact experience, actually. I didn't like beer, or at least I thought I didn't like beer, and the gateway for me were these really crazy, super-sour beers because there was some point of entry, like, they were different enough from the piss-water lagers that I’d been used to attempting to drink, that it was really exciting, and then I was like, "Oh, wait, now I understand," and it was remarkable.
Garrett: To me, the story of craft beer is really the story of American food, just written in a different idiom.
Helen: It's in liquid form.
Garrett: Yeah, it follows exactly the same track as everything. Bread, cheese, all the staffs of life, chocolate, whatever else, they went through exactly the same cycle for the same reasons at the same time, so, basically, if you went back to the 1800s, you looked at New York, we had 48 breweries just in Brooklyn. They made 10 percent of all the beer in the United States. We had specialists in IPA, we had specialists in porter, we had weisse beer specialists, we had the most diverse beer culture on the face of the earth. We also had the most diverse food culture on the face of the earth because we have everybody from everywhere. When you travel, you come to appreciate what it is to grow up here, because if you go to even a good-sized city, go to Turin, go to Torino, and go looking for a good Thai restaurant, if you want Piemontese taste of food, you're going to have some of the most amazing meals you're going to have in your life, but God forbid you should get sick of it because there ain't going to be anything else. There might be one or two sushi restaurants or whatever else, but not that you and I are going to be — the rest of the world doesn't live the way we do, and so we get a lot of the best of everything, and if you look at beer, we had everything, but we lost it. We lost it, we gave it up in the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, and we emerged into the Matrix.
Greg: Because of Prohibition?
Garrett: Yeah, because of Prohibition, but Prohibition was only part of a process of the commodification of American food, and so even though it took Prohibition to completely crush American beer, other forces did the same thing to bread, did the same thing to cheese, so by the time I was growing up, bread was a white chemical sponge that stayed fresh in a bag for two weeks. The thing is, you know, it was never actually bread. We know that bread has four or five ingredients. Any 5-year-old child can pronounce all of them. Bread doesn't have 40 ingredients. Bread doesn't stay fresh in that bag for two weeks. You can't roll a slice of bread into a marble and flick it across the room, so, then, what is the thing in the bag? And what it is is a lie. It is the Matrix. It's a thing that is replaced as a facsimile of the thing that you used to know what it was, and in the back of your mind, you still know what it is, but you just haven't taken the red pill, and so that is the thing that we're all doing, and I grew up with three kinds of cheese. I still remember going to France for the first time, went into a cheese shop, and I was like, "What is that smell?" They said, "Well, it's fromage, monsieur." I was like, "Cheese doesn’t smell like that." I never had any wash rind cheeses, you know what I mean? There was shredded mozzarella, there were, like, three kinds of cheese, and that was it. Now, you say that to somebody in their 20s, they don't even know what you're talking about. They never grew up in that world, thank God. TV dinners used to be, like, on the television. There basically was a repeating cycle. "Hey, look, we have a frozen dinner in a tray that you could watch while you're watching the TV, and the TV is telling you to eat the dinner," and it's just a repeating loop for making money, and that is what happened to American food.
Greg: The Matrix.
Garrett: The Matrix.
Helen: It feels like there's been sort of a backlash to the renaissance, it's been a little bit brewing, it's a terrible pun.
Greg:Good one, Helen.
Helen: Thank you. I'm thinking specifically, there was the piece that David Chang wrote for GQ a couple months ago where he was like in praise of shitty beer, and he was just like, "No, I just want to crack, like, a lager."
Garrett: And I had a good time writing a rebuttal.
Greg: That was like one of my favorite things I read in the last 18 months.
Garrett: It was funny because I had people high-fiving me on the street, like, strangers, high-fiving me on the street in Brooklyn, like, "You wrote that Chang thing." It was hilarious, but I think that — I mean, I know David, and I respect his abilities as a chef, but I think that there is a kind of hipsterism that is searching for irony in everything, and so if you're going to get a kick out of making fun of the fact that people are having or enjoying something, well, hell, you can do that with anything. You can just say, "Look at you and your tomatoes, or your corn, or your ramen, or whatever else." And to me, that's just lazy, and you can't tell me that you have a tenuous relationship with the food world when you basically are the food world and you're doing Audi commercials. I mean, come on, dude. Give me a break. It's just ridiculous, but I think that he thought that someone was going to come back and say, "No, you're completely wrong. Beer is really wonderful with food, and it does this and that," and what I said is what I was really thinking, which is, like, "You're boring me. If you can't hang, then don't hang, but please don't play this out," and you see that — I saw an article somewhere about sommeliers and how a lot of them like cheap beer, and I think it's really the same thing. It's like the odious bro culture making its way into — and that's what I love so much about people like Juliette Pope, which is a great piece on her later, at Gramercy Tavern, who's been working away quietly, not in some spotlight, but actually delivering really cool stuff to customers instead of, "Look at me, look at my suit, look at who I know, look at who I've been hanging out with, look at what winemakers I know, look at what winery I'm in, look at all the whales I got to drink, et cetera, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me."
Greg: It's like, let your work speak for itself.
Garrett: Yeah. What Juliette does is she shows people something brand-new to like. That's what a sommelier's supposed to do. That's the job, and, like, look, if you like some cheap stuff, we all like some cheap stuff. I haven't eaten one in a while, but I love hot dogs. It's like a greasy slice of pizza. I love a greasy slice of pizza, but to go around telling people about it, yeah, you're boring the hell out of everybody.
Helen: I think that it's interesting that this is hinging on boredom because I read something kind of related into the Chang piece, which wasn't at all what he exactly said, but what I think is actually under it, like, my armchair-psychological analysis of it, is that I think what he was really saying was that he was exhausted from having to care about everything really hard, like, that what you were talking about earlier, that cheese and chocolate and wine and beer have all kind of reemerged, and they've had these reblossomings, and people are aware of them, and they're excited about them, and for a certain sort of person, especially, I think, if you're in a position of great profile, to have to be incredibly fluent and incredibly passionate about every single one of these vectors can be, I would imagine, extraordinarily exhausting. Like you say, "You know what? I'm just going to drink cheap, shitty beer, and it's going to be what I drink," and then maybe the way you process that, because you are also famous and you have a big platform, is not, "I’m doing this because I can't take on another thing," it’s, "I’m doing this because it's a statement."

Garrett: I think the statement is worthless. The thing is, everybody has different sides of their life and of themselves, and there are words that we don't have in English or in American English, but one of my favorite ones is "plonk." "Plonk" is a British term for simple wine that you just drink. It's the wine you drink at a barbecue, in the backyard, and it’s like, "We had some great plonk," and what it really refers to is, like, the wine's perfectly drinkable, but it's not of any consequence, and it's fine. And it’s fine. And the thing is, that is the actual wine market. We all talk about single-malt scotch, we all talk about wine with cork and has beautiful labels and whatever else, that's not the reality of American wine. Ninety percent of the wines sold in United States is a bag-in box or a jug with a finger loop. It is 90 percent at the bottom and 10 percent at the top. Craft beer is exactly the same. It's 90 percent at the bottom and 10 percent at the top. What's the difference? The media talks only about the 10 percent at the top of wine, and about the 90 percent of beer at the bottom. That is the thing that I want to, if not reverse, I want people to look at it the same way. Beer is high and low. It was always high and low. Wine is high and low. You go to Europe, it's the American who goes into a trattoria in Rome and asks to see a wine list. There's no wine list at a trattoria in Rome, it's red or white. Get over yourself. You go to an osteria, you go to someplace else, you want to go to a wine bar, there's going to be a list, but every little town has a cantina, and you bring your own bottle and you fill it up for a euro. Wine's not special. There are wines that are special, but beer is not special either. There are beers that are special. It was always this way, and when you read old brewing books, they all talk about how to age beer properly because they were always beers that were meant to age. Not everybody got to drink them, just the same way that we don't all get to drink D’Arcy, but they were always there, and people used to know about them. The oldest beer that I've had was from 1869, and it was brilliant. I've had about 15 or 20 beers that are over 100 years old, and one of the bottles said on it, "This beer will be best after 40 years. Four zero."
Helen: They're playing a long game.
Garrett: Yeah.
Greg: Are you making any beers like that?
Garrett: Yes.
Helen: Oh, I love that.
Garrett: The most recent of them is called Hand & Seal. It's an old-school British barley-style, barley wine. Most of it we aged in for a year in Four Roses bourbon barrels, though I have a stash that I aged inside of Nicolas Palazzi’s cognac barrels, which is really particularly amazing. Sometimes we'll serve them side by side, one’s a ghost bottle. We don't sell that one to the public because Nicolas only has so many barrels, so, and it was good of him to let me have some. I owe him more beer. And that's a beer that, in 50, 60, 70 years, people can drink and say, "Wow, that was cool. I wonder where this came from." And maybe they'll find something about me.
Helen: You have a couple of bottle of those, like, stashed in a time capsule somewhere so you don't touch them?
Garrett: Yeah. I’ve got, I have plenty of things stashed like that.
Helen: Secret things hidden everywhere.
Garrett: I think that it's important. If people want to think of beer as one thing, but beer is so much more diverse than wine is. It is a culinary drink. I can infuse it with coffee, I can smoke the malt, which people have been doing for thousands of years, I can use spices, which people have been using for thousands of years. If I want to put ginger in it, or if I want to make it taste like a cocktail, or whatever else, people have always done things like this. Wine is beautiful. I love wine, I know a fair amount about it. It has one ingredient, and that ingredient can't be caramelized, it can't be smoked, it can't be roasted — like, if you want to go into competition when it comes to wine versus beer for a drink, there's no competition at all. I'll just clean the floor with anybody, I don't care how good the sommelier is, I have two arms and two legs and they have one arm.
Helen: Not a fair fight.
Garrett: That's not a fair fight because I can bring something that tastes like anything, and no matter what you do, from Vinho Verde all the way up to, you know, like, Madeira, you still can't win because I have everything.
Helen: All you got is a grape.
Garrett: It's like, look, that grape, if you got some stash of some this, or that, you're going to see me right there, like almost half my friends are in the wine business, so I get a chance to drink a lot of really, really cool stuff, and I love it. As you can see from this beer, some of that thinking, this comes partly from hanging out with guys like Frank Cornelissen, and drinking those wines, and having them over my house, and talking about beer, and talking about life, and talking about philosophy, and thinking about, "Hey, how can we get a bit more of the countryside, which has always been there, but even more directly into what we're doing?" Eventually, I would love to have something where, say, this is coming from, in this case, it's upstate New York, but it could be Long Island or wherever else, and then you have a whole group of things going on microbiologically in that beer, but to pose that same set of yeast also rose the bread and washed the cheese and fermented those pickles, and you could have a whole set of food that shared basically the same biology of place. Now, the thing is, these days, like, "Wow, that sounds really cool." That's the way people always used to live. That's normal. What's not normal is this kind of sterilized environment that we, or at least I, grew up with, so American beer, American food represents a return to normality. It's just not a normality that we can remember anymore because we were living in the Matrix.
Greg: There you go. Well, Garrett, we've come to the time of the Eater Upsell for a thing we'd like to call the Lightning Round. This is nothing you have to be, well, maybe you have to be worried. No, I think you'll be okay.
Helen: I think it's up to you whether or not you want to worry.
Greg: We're going to ask you some questions, and just —
Garrett: I’m pumped up a bit.
Helen: Our first question was: Can you do an impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger? Way to jump the gun. No, we're just going to say the first thing that comes to mind, or tell the truth or tell a lie, you can say whatever you want, just like poetry, sing a song, like you promised you would. So our first question is: If you are at the airport and you've got an hour to kill, how do you spend your time?
Garrett: Ooh. It depends on how far I'm going. If I have a big trip on, I'm going to go looking for a book or a bunch of silly magazines to read, or something to waste that time. In most airports, there's not that much good food, but I generally get on planes with my own food, and sometimes my own drinks.
Greg: What do you bring on the airplane?
Garrett: Cocktails.
Helen: How do you bring a cocktail — you break it down into sub-three-ounce components?
Garrett: Yeah, it's in my court bag. If I'm doing the overnight flight to Europe, I always have cocktails.
Helen: What's your airplane cocktail?
Garrett: Usually an Old Fashioned.
Helen: I love that move. You bring a sugar cube and everything?
Garrett: I bring, what I do is I actually batch the cocktail first, and then it goes in, it looks like a shampoo bottle but it's not, in my little baggie, so when everybody else is choking down the cheap chardonnay, I'm drinking, and usually the actual liquor came from one of our barrels, so we get cask strength of various bourbons and whatever else, and so I'll have, like, a cask-strength cocktail, usually an Old Fashioned, and I just ask them, it's like, "Oh, I'll just have a glass of ice, please."
Helen: That is such a pro move.
Garrett: They're like, "Ice?" I'm like, "Yeah, just the ice," and as soon as they're past me, I'm like [makes pouring sound] and everybody else is drinking whatever they've been given, I'm like, "I have a cocktail, but just —"
Greg: That is the most amazing airplane strategy I've ever heard.
Helen: It's so good, we got to start adopting that.
Greg: Question number two: You're on a road trip, you're by yourself, you're blasting some music, you might be singing along to it, what's the music?
Garrett: LCD Soundsystem.
Helen: Yes.
Garrett: And Hot Chip, and LaWan McClane, but right now I'm really also into Benjamin Booker.
Helen: It's very cool, that's good road-trip music. So our next question is: If you were not a brewmaster, what would you be doing with your life?
Garrett: I don't know. I would probably be somehow in visual arts, filmmaking, or possibly something involved with music production, but I think it would be production of some sort.
Greg:You're a producer, yeah.
Garrett: I'm a producer. Beer is the thing that moved me, but production and the process of making things actually happen is fun.
Greg: The last question is: You're at the awesome bar that's in heaven, and the bartender has your drink ready. You come up to the bar and they slide it across the marble. What is that?
Helen: I like that the bar in heaven has a marble bar.
Greg:Most things are marble.
Helen: In heaven.
Garrett: I have a question. Is this the only drink that I'm getting? Will there be other drinks?
Helen: It's the first drink.
Greg: It's the first of many.
Garrett: It's the first of many drinks. Well, I think it can never be bad to start off with either a really good champagne or with a Berliner weisse. I would say that Fritz Briem's 1809 Berliner weisse for a first drink of the evening is one of the best things I've had in ten years.
Greg: Awesome.
Helen: Sounds like a good plan. Well, Garrett, thanks for coming by the Eater Upsell.
Greg: Thanks for bringing us this ghost bottle of delicious beer.
Helen: Lancelot.
Garrett: You have to put a cork in it and drink the rest of it at the end of the day. It shouldn't go to waste.
Helen: We'll crack into that late on a Friday afternoon. Thanks for dropping by. Light and heavy at the same time.
Garrett: Thanks for having me. Yeah, and it kind of is. It's funny, when you — my ears seem strange, but the complexity that's here, the little bit of acidity, together with the fruit, and also the other thing that's going on in the background, I really enjoy, and so, as I learned stuff about this, I look at, "Well, how can I bring more of this character into some of the things that we do?" What I didn't say, just because I forgot, was that we make beers like Brooklyn Lager, which we drink all the time, but when situation changes or different food in front of you changes, you might want something else, which is normal. It's like, we don't wear the same clothes everywhere, we don't listen to same music in every mood, we don't eat the same thing every day, why would we all drink one kind of drink all the time? It doesn't make any sense.
Greg: That doesn't make any sense.
Garrett: And when it comes to wine, there's nothing wrong with plonk.
Helen: I love that word.
Greg: Plonk?

Features

Alton Brown Is the Food World's Philosopher King

Features

A Brief History of Modern American Dining, Featuring Andrew Zimmern

Features

Carla Hall Is a Total Badass, Culinarily and Otherwise

View all stories in Eater's Digest

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day