Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Garrett Oliver Discusses Beer & Food Pairings

From all the stories I've heard about Rhino's beer dinner that was hosted by Garrett Oliver on Thursday night, it seems I missed out on an exceptional night. Prior commitments forced my hand in passing on purchasing tickets for the dinner but I was glad to hear that the Rhino, who are not known for hosting beer dinners, pulled it off with great success, and managed to sell all the tickets.

Fortunately I had the chance to hear Oliver speak yesterday at the Master Brewers' Association of the America's (MBAA) -District Ontario - Technical Conference out by the airport. Oliver was the keynote speaker at the conference, speaking about his passion - beer and food. The day before, Thursday, Oliver delivered a session on Bottle Conditioned beer that I heard was very educational for the brewers in the room.

The MBAA is comprised of brewers, brewing technicians, and industry suppliers, and they gather once a year for a two day conference that includes topics like the ones presented this year: Mashing and Starch conversion, Milling, Wort Production, Filtration, Cellaring, and more. There were many brewers in the room from the smaller Ontario craft breweries who sat alongside brewing representatives and masterbrewers from the big national breweries. For a guy like me, with little to no brewing experience, I couldn't keep up with the Cellaring presentation, which was done immediately after Oliver finished his hour long speech.

For those of you who have never had the chance to listen to Oliver talk about all the pleasures of beer and food, you're missing out. He is thoroughly engaging, well spoken, and knows his stuff. A strong advocate of the small breweries, Oliver usually spares no punches when it comes to poking criticism at the big boys, but because there was a very diverse crowd of brewers he kept his speech civil, even praising some of the new initiatives AB InBev is working on in terms of beer and food pairing such as their new iPhone app.

Oliver, who was introduced by Paul Dickey, provided a bit of history about himself and his brewery (Brooklyn) before getting into the good stuff. He spoke about the assimilation of food cultures in America during the 50's (steamed bread, processed cheese, box this, box that) and how, just now, it's starting to change back to its original diversity, and beer is here to welcome it with open arms. He thinks that now is the time for breweries to get more involved in beer dinners focusing on their core brands, learn the cheese market, play around with flavours. He thinks that for breweries to grow the way they could then brewers have to learn food and find the right 'flavourhook' that would make customer's eye's pop.

He said that just after he said the following, "I keep telling small craft brewers that if the big breweries wanted to start making the beers we're making they could do it tomorrow and do it well. It may take them a couple of days to get the recipe right, but they could do it, make it taste the same. They have more resources." His overall message - pairing food with craft beer gives the small breweries a slight advantage over the big guys, so get out there and start spreading the word.

**Here is an interview I did with Oliver last year after a beer dinner in Toronto. The interview appeared in TAPS winter '09.

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