There are beer experts, and then there’s Garrett Oliver. A professional brewer since 1989 and brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery since 1994, he literally wrote the book on beer—two of them. In both The Brewmaster’s Table and The Oxford Companion to Beer, of which he was editor in chief, Oliver conveys an astonishing quantity of beer arcana and remains at the forefront of American craft brewing. Here, Oliver shares how he got started, how beer is made, how to pair beer with spicy foods, and why it’s a crime more culinary schools don’t include beer in the curriculum.
How did you first fall in love with beer?
Well, I was in college and of course we drank tons of beer—at least we thought it was beer. It was this fizzy yellow stuff that didn’t taste very good. Then in 1983, I moved to England. I was stage-managing rock bands and going to pubs. I discovered that beer was not this fizzy yellow liquid but was a fascinating array of exceedingly flavorful things, many of which I’d never heard of. I fell in love with the British cask-conditioned ales, sometimes called real ales. Then I went around Europe, to Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia. When I got back, I started making beer at home; I had no interest in becoming a beer maker, I just needed something good to drink.
How is beer made?
The most basic way to describe it is it’s a process where you are taking a grain, usually barley, sprouting or malting it to develop its enzymes, crushing it and mixing it with hot water, and activating those enzymes to turn the starches into sugar, called the wort, then fermenting the wort into beer.