In 2003, Oliver wrote The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering The Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, which is now considered the “first and final word on beer and food pairings”. He’s coming to Australia for the fourth annual Good Beer Week from May 17-25.
Before he lands, we asked …
1. What excites you about beer in 2014?
In the United States, there’s renewed interest in “sessionability”, which is cool. And people have started to get away from the hop-bomb that was “bitter just to be bitter”. A great beer is supposed to be beautiful and fun to drink – I think more brewers are understanding that now. Strength and bitterness are not, by themselves impressive qualities – anyone can do that. “Beautiful” is much harder to do!
A lot of excitement is focused around sour beers and Brett fermentations, and it will be interesting to see where that all goes. I’m also excited to see a lot of countries moving away from the American model of craft brewing (as proud of it as I am), and developing their own beer cultures, based on their own brewing and culinary traditions. The Italians, for example, have a whole category of beers based on the use of chestnuts, which are widely used in regional Italian cooking. That’s brilliant.
2. What are your top tips on pairing beer with food?
Well, that’s a huge subject – The Brewmaster’s Table has hundreds of pages of “tips”! There are the basics – balancing the intensity of the beer with that of the food, finding “flavour hooks” that link the food to the beer (caramelisation, nuttiness, roast, citrusy flavours, etc), and the use of cutting power (bitterness, carbonation, and acidity) to slice through fat and lighten things up. But the bottom line is that you want to just go do it.
Next time you’re planning to cook dinner, just go get three of four beers and check out the pairings. Even if you think it through in advance, there will still be surprises, and some of them might be great. And once you’ve got a cool pairing, it’s yours to enjoy forever, like a great piece of music.
3. Is beer best served in a bottle, can or from the tap?
I think you’re going to have different answers for different beers. I’d rather drink draught Guinness, but bottled Belgian tripels. Cans are getting better and better, and they’ll soon be as good as bottles on a technical basis. But putting your lips on a can is never going to be one of the better ways to drink beer.
4. Ice cold or at room temperature?
That we save for days spent in fishing boats. Ice cold beer is for the fishing boat or the beach, when the beer isn’t the star of the show. Otherwise, I always prefer to let it warm up at least a little bit and sometimes a lot. But the refrigerator is fine – the rest is all timing. And good glassware, which is important.
5. What are your top tips for home brewers?
More yeast! A lot of brewers are starting their home brews with a single smack-pack. That will work, of course, but is it optimal? I’ll put it this way – at our brewery, 12 hours after pitching there should be very clear signs of fermentation. If you’re not getting that, you probably don’t have enough yeast to perform a great fermentation. So you can culture it further – it only takes an extra day – or you can use two smack packs. And oh – what are “secondary fermenters” for?
6. Have you noticed any Australian beers making waves in the US?
Sadly, not yet. In the early days we had Coopers, and they were here well before craft brewing really caught on in the US. As a result, I still definitely have a soft spot for its beer, and the brewery has a great history. It looks like the Aussie craft brewers are way out there compared to the relatively staid brewers in the UK, which is interesting!
7. All-time favourite beer?
I have dozens of “favourite beers” bouncing around my head at any given time. My favourite beers that we’ve brewed in Brooklyn are probably some barrel-aged sours we’ve been working on. Certainly I’ve been “on a saison kick” for a great many years – Dupont is definitely a desert island beer.
But as for a “favourite beer”, the answer I give you in mid-winter will be totally different than the one I give you on a hot summer day. Which is as it should be. Beer contains multitudes!
Click here for more information on Brooklyn Brewery beer and Garrett Oliver.