Throwback Thursday Garret Oliver Interview Issue 13, 2014

ON TRYING PITTSBURGH CRAFT BEER

 

Yes, actually, last night I had a Double IPA from Helltown, which was very nice. I was at D’s (Six Pax & Dogz). We were at Industry, and when we left there I’m like, “OK, take me to a beer geek bar.” We were hanging out with Hootie until… well, we closed the bar. The Church Brew Works guys showed up, we had been there earlier, and those guys came down, and a bunch of folks.

 

ON GETTING INTO CRAFT BEER

 

It is very hard to explain to younger people that in 1984 there wasn’t any craft beer. You try to explain this to people, and they simply can’t imagine a world where there is Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Coors Light, and there isn’t anything else… maybe the occasional Guinness tap. They’ve never seen that world, but it’s the world I grew up in. We all got into making beer, because we needed to have some beer. I’d spent a year in England, had been all over Europe, and I got back and was like “Oh no, I can’t drink this. This will not do.”

 

Christmas of ’84 I got my first homebrewing kit and started making beer. I started with Brooklyn in 1994, so this will be my 20th year with the brewery.

 

ON CRAFT BEER CROWDS

 

Everything is broader than it used to be. It used to be that you were in a geek squad, a secret society, everyone had the same level of geekery and now the thing spreads out. A lot of the people who come to these events, beer is not the primary thing in their life. And sometimes the ultra-geeky people (in which I include myself), almost want to pull the ladder up. But I think it’s great, one thing I like about this crowd is the spread of ages. Not everyone is in their 20s. You see older people, you see grandmothers. A wide variety of people. We used to think that craft beer was aimed at a particular demographic, and what we’ve found out is that anyone can enjoy it. As long as you don’t talk down to people, you find out that grandma likes imperial stout. And why should you be surprised? She’s got taste, too. Why shouldn’t she like it? It’s a wonderful thing.

 

ON GOING INTERNATIONAL WITH CRAFT BEER

 

Brooklyn is based on traveling: Me, living in England. Steve Hindy in the Middle East, Eric and Robin Ottoway living in Africa and Italy, we were always travelers, as soon as it started, before I came on even, we were selling beer in Japan. It was right away. We’re the largest American craft beer exporter. It’s 30 percent of our business. Outside of NYC, the biggest market for Brooklyn Brewery is Sweden.

 

ADVICE FOR THE 7 BBL BREWER

 

When we started, there wasn’t any ocean to swim in. When we started, we went to a bar and they said “What the hell is that? It looks dark. Oh man, it’s bitter. It has this aroma. Get out of here, I don’t want this.” We became a distributor because no one would take our beer. No one would take Sierra Nevada either. Or Chimay, or Paulaner, or Westmalle. By the time we were done with the distributorship we had 200+ brands. We built that market from the ground up, ourselves, alone. There wasn’t any craft beer market. We made it. And now we get to be in it.

 

The great thing for people starting now is that the craft beer market is here. What I tell new breweries starting off, whatever it is that makes you want to be a brewer, do that, and don’t do anything else. Don’t listen to anybody, don’t talk to anybody. Whatever you think you can do better than anybody else, that which makes you happy, go do that. Everything else, set aside. It’s a tough road to go down. It always is, but that’s why we’re still here.

 

No one has to say “We’ll start with a golden ale that has very little flavor to try to rope in the mass market people.” No. Why bother? Is this what you want to do? When you look in the mirror, that’s the kind of brewer you want to be? If you’re doing it well, you’ll find an audience for it. That why I respect people like Cigar City. Tampa was a wasteland for craft beer. I was there. To have a young bunch of people start a brewery and say “We’re not going to do anything even vaguely normal.” What people don’t realize is that it is a huge risk. People pour their whole lives into this thing. It’s the mortgage, the shoes on your kid’s feet, the college fund. It’s everything. So, it’s no joke. You better love it. I know a lot of people who woke up one day realized “These aren’t the beers I thought I would be making. I thought I was going to be an artist, and now I’m slinging this stuff with some weird fruit extract, and I wanted to be craft brewer. Now I’m a plumber making beer I don’t like.” Don’t be that guy. You don’t want to be that guy.

 

ON WEIRD BEERS

 

Look at Prairie Artisan Ales, Tulsa Oklahoma.  All super funky stuff. People are losing their minds for their beers. Can it sustain in the long term? It’s hard to say. One thing we don’t understand right now is what “normal” actually looks like, because we grew up in an abnormal time- for beer, for food, for a lot of things. We grew up in a mass-market era. In the 1800s New York City had the greatest beer variety, the biggest food variety, anywhere on the face of the earth. There wasn’t anywhere you could get more types of beer or more types of food. By 1965 it was all gone except for small pockets when it came to food, and almost no pockets when it came to beer. They’d wiped out everything. There was one kind of beer. Food was bland. If you could go back and look at a supermarket in 1980, you wouldn’t believe it.

 

People think the pendulum will swing, but there is no pendulum. This is the return to normality. The weird part was the part we grew up in. Now, we return to the normal part. Diversity.

 

Sours? I don’t know. We make some sours, and when we pour them for people who don’t consider themselves beer enthusiasts, they love them. The thing is, they don’t have the prejudice that even we have. We warn “Get ready. This is really funky” and they don’t have that mindset. They are open-minded, and say “I like this!” and we say “Wait, really? Are you sure?”

 

You can imagine a world where music was muzak. That was all anybody heard, and suddenly here is rock and roll, jazz, punk rock, EDM, and people would lose their minds. Eventually, people are fans of all these things and it is never going to go back to the other thing. The fact that you still remember when there was only one kind of beer. Well, they don’t live in that world. They’ve never even seen it. And they don’t care. Which is great, because sophistication isn’t knowing things. Sophistication is an open mind. For example: Berliner Weisse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Berliner Weiss on taps everywhere in five years. There’s probably a couple hundred American breweries making it now.

 

We’ve been making sours for years, but we don’t release them to the general public. We bring to tastings and things like that. We haven’t managed to make them in a volume where we can release them. The dark side about being a brewer people pay attention to is that suddenly everyone wants everything from you. If you can’t make a few thousand cases of something, you’re going to make so many people angry.

 

We try to stay outside the hype machine mentality. We pour those beers at events like this, for free. We’re not putting them out there and saying “Pay $70 and stand in line all day and you can only have 2 bottles.” Our thing is, here are the beers. We made them and you can have them. But you have to show up and have a conversation. And if you haven’t met us, then you can’t have any. And that’s pretty much the way that those beers work.

 

Yeah, I have Brooklyn Kriek under our table. I only have a few bottles with me, and I’ve been pouring it for other brewers. And they have stuff too, believe me. We just put up 200 barrels of Kriek. That will produce a significant amount of beer. It will take a while, probably come out in first quarter 2015. But it’s in barrels now.

 

ON FRESH BEER

 

It’s always a concern. It means you’re going to end up throwing beer out. And that costs money. But it’s one of the things that keeps you honest. I promise you, every brewer has tasted their beer somewhere and said “this is old.”

 

It’s hard and it’s happened to me time and again. What it takes is building a culture inside the brewery that is allergic to old beer. It’s like you’re trying to get rid of oxygen in your process. You have to hammer on it every day.

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