On September 24, Brooklyn Brewery hosted Dinner Party No. 3 at Humboldt & Jackson in Williamsburg to celebrate Garrett Oliver’s 20th year as their brewmaster. Oliver and Brooklyn Brewery house chef Andrew Gerson pulled out all the stops coming up with a complex menu featuring six courses, five of which were paired with beers from their Ghost Bottle series (mostly brewery-only beers that served as test-runs and/or research and development). We also were treated to a sample of the new Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment, Hand & Seal, along with a few words in with the man himself.
As was probably expected, the Ghost Bottles stole the show. However, each course was also constructive in illustrating the different aspects of beer pairing in the ways they complemented the corresponding dishes. There was Percival, Local 1 aged on “magic” wine lees from Red Hook Winery (and named after the wandering Knight of the Round Table due to the barrel being misplaced) paired with ricotta, yogurt, rhubarb, and lamb floss. The lees give the beer a nice acidity up front, with an expansive lactic character following up. These worked fantastically against the richness and spiciness of the lamb and rhubarb, with the yogurt there to mellow the whole thing out.
Another highlight was San Luis Del Rio, another Local 1 variant, this time aged in a single mezcal barrel. “One of the purest expressions of barrel character I’ve ever seen,” declared Garrett, and he’s not kidding. The smoky aroma combined with the wood, smoke, and grassy overtones in the flavor were a real treat. The crispy duck paired with it was spot-on to go with the smoky characteristics of the beer, the smoked watermelon gazpacho bringing out hidden sweetness. Very interesting. Also, as a bonus, did you know mezcal-seared avocado tastes like bacon?
K is for Kriek (Local 2 aged on sour cherries in Woodford Reserve and Four Roses bourbon barrels, re-fermented with Champagne yeast) was another home-run, and might be being bottled for mass consumption soon. But the show-stopper was fortunately something we all can get: Hand & Seal, the new Quarterly Experiment release, also conveniently in time for Garrett’s 20th anniversary. It’s a 13.3-percent barleywine aged in Four Roses barrels for seven to eight months, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s the perfect balance of booze, crème brûlée, cinnamon, apple, brandy, coconut, and woody flavors to leave you plenty to contemplate.
All in all, it was an ambitious menu that was executed to perfection. And we even got an interview!
After 20 years at Brooklyn Brewery, what are the most important things you've learned about your craft?
The importance of elegance, balance, and structure in beer. Even specialty beers should never simply be stunts. The goal is always to make something that's very enjoyable to drink, whether it's something for drinking every day, or something rare for a special occasion. The goal is always beauty. The other thing is consistency. That is one of the hallmarks of great brewing, just as it is of great cooking. No one respects a chef who cooks spectacular food one night and lackluster food the next. Day-to-day quality is just as important as creativity. And there is little point in being creative if you don't know how to use that creativity.
There's talk of Brooklyn Brewery building a new facility stateside, in addition to your recent expansion and announcing a brewery in Sweden. How are those projects coming along?
They're doing very well indeed. Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, our Swedish brewery, opened in the spring. I think the beers are terrific, and one of them just won a medal at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival. And our chef is a serious talent who has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world; the reviews have been great. Regarding a new stateside brewery, finding the right site is a work in process. We tend not to talk about our plans until they're concrete, but when you're looking for acres of land, it's hard to keep that quiet. We're hopeful that we can find a new site soon, so we can get to work building. But our current brewery in Brooklyn isn't going anywhere.
About the Dinner Party series: as an authority on beer and food pairing, how closely are you involved in the menu creations? Do all the dinner parties feature Ghost Bottles? Is it harder to work with these small batch beers on food pairings?
The Dinner Party series is the province of our house chef, Andrew Gerson. I'm not involved with the menu development at all. I do the pairings for all dinners that I host, but Andrew does most of the pairings for other dinners. They're definitely not all Ghost Bottles; we're also developing great dishes for pairing with beers that are regularly available, like Sorachi Ace and Blast.
Have to ask about Hand & Seal: Is it a last hurrah for Monster Ale in barrel-aged form, or is it an all-new recipe?
Hand & Seal is an all-new recipe and uses a new technique. We start the brew on our larger brewhouse set, then transfer the wort to the smaller set for boiling. This allows us to create a very concentrated wort, resulting in a beer at more than 13 percent ABV, just like many of my favorite old British barleywines. Hand & Seal doesn't taste like anything we've ever made before, and it will age for a great many years.
I always enjoy trying the new Quarterly Experiments and Brewmaster's Reserves; I thought Wild Streak and Ridgy-Didge were real hits. What's coming up next? Also, do you ever consider these as future core beers? Fire & Ice would be in my fridge constantly if it were bottled!
I'm glad you've enjoyed them! Next up is Quadraceratops, our first quadruppel. It's going to keep us warm all winter.
Congratulations again to Garrett Oliver on 20 years at Brooklyn Brewery, and here’s to many more! Also, Dinner Party No. 4 will be at Humboldt & Jackson on October 23, and will see the Brewery teaming up with Sea to Table and Island Creek Oysters.