It turns out that blogging can have it’s perks. I enjoy blogging enough not to need any perks, but when the right ones present themselves then I feel I’d be stupid not to take them, plus it’s only human to want to get a freebie once in a while (and yes, I’m only too aware of the possible implications). Sitting across the table from me was Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, and as he spoke enthusiastically about his life before brewing and where he finds himself today, I couldn’t quite get it together for long enough periods in my head to scribble notes in my brand new notebook, or take a quick picture with my phone of the exciting food and beer arriving and departing from in front of me. I imagined that much of what he said had been heard before by those lucky enough to have met him, but I did also get a sense that once the introductions were over and the scene set, that he was speaking from the heart and adapting to his audience. A small audience made up primarily of local food and beer bloggers, with the addition of Claire Kitching. Alongside Garrett, interjecting with some Brooklyn Brewery context in terms of its market figures was Eric Ottoway, General Manager of the Brewery.
As I said above, the difference between me and a serious beer blogger is the ability to listen, enjoy what’s going on around me but also to make notes along the way. I decided after the first course that I wasn’t going to try too hard. Afterall, if you are interested in the food and beer details, then these guys will fill you in: Ghost Drinker, The Beer Prole, The Good Stuff, and do a much better job of it. I heard everything that was said, understood some and drifted off into my own thoughts when the subject matter provoked.
However, when I have a few beers my brain does not allow me to store ideas for very long. I think of this as the same as putting a beer in the freezer to fast chill it – doing this for a short period of time gets results, but leave it in the deep freeze too long and all you get is a mess. Without the help of my peers I may not have been able to tell you the names of the beers I tried, or the exact description of the food we ate. What I came away with, ringing in my ears was that Garrett was a homebrewer. He started homebrewing from kits in 1984, he referenced Muntons kits and the large sugar additions required to make yourself a cheap and nasty beer, but as he recollected, back in the eighties this was one of the only ways to get yourself a beer. He also told a funny tale, also of that time and when visiting the UK, of plundering the homebrew section of Boots (the chemist) for their dried yeast. It was highly regarded by homebrewers and Garrett served his time as a ‘yeast mule’ for his buddies back in the States (I may have paraphrased what he actually said *winky-smiley*). Ten years later in 1994, he brewed Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, their seasonal imperial stout. In the UK we can enjoy buying this all year round, but not so in the US where it remains a firm favourite during the winter holidays. This was inspirational stuff, ten years from homebrew kit to brewing an award winning imperial stout, among others. By the way, I should mention at this point that the reason we can enjoy Black Chocolate Stout all year round is thanks to importers like, Leeds based James Clay who make sure they squirrel enough of the good stuff away to satisfy our penchant.
One other moment that was a bit special, was while trying their Cuvee De La Rouge, the Brewery’s Local 1 beer aged in used bourbon oak barrels (previously used for Black Ops) with wine lees (thanks Neil!)
, things are a little hazy and to be honest he could have told me anything and I would have nodded along. For me the detail really doesn’t matter, the beer tasted great and like nothing I’d tried before. When I asked Garrett if this would be available to buy, he basically said that it wasn’t possible to brew it the same again, and that if you have tried this beer, then it’s likely that you have met him too. A beery handshake if you will! (my words, not his). After a few more beers with my associates to debrief, I parted company and went home to dream of my award-winning beers that will be available in 2021.
Thanks once again to James Clay and Ben Hodgkinson (of James Clay), Dean, Tyler and staff for the hard work that I know went into their faultless hospitality at Mr Foleys, and of course to Garrett and Eric who rocked up and did their thing.