If you only think of Brooklyn Brewery as the maker of a decent six-pack of lager or a Friday night hangout for plastic cups of good suds, then you need to meet Garrett Oliver.
As Rachel Wharton wrote in our feature profile, Oliver is surprisingly unsung in our borough, but across the country and around the world, he’s nothing less than a suds superstar. The company’s brewmaster since 1994, he has a reputation as one of the greatest educators and boosters for good beer in America. Friends and colleagues, when asked to describe Oliver in just a few words, invariably reach for the term “ambassador.”
Oliver began homebrewing almost 30 years ago, he says, “in order to have something to drink other than Wonder Bread.” A friend bought him a beer-making kit, and pretty soon, recalls Oliver, “beer was taking over my life.” We are lucky it did.
Brooklyn Brewery persuaded him to join as a brewmaster and partner and, in 1995 moved their existing headquarters to a nowheresville warehouse in an industrial sector where nobody would ever dream a Beacon’s Closet would one day draw crowds. Today the place is the beating heart of hipster Williamsburg; Brooklyn Brewery is the 27th-largest brewery in the country; and Garrett Oliver is one of the brightest stars in the business.
“He’s the ultimate authority on beer,” says Grace Labatt, who serves as Oliver’s editor at the ultra-prestigious Oxford University Press, which tapped him to compile the first-ever Oxford Companion to Beer. “Few people in the world know every aspect of beer,” she says, but Oliver is an expert on topics like technology, science, history, philosophy, traditional styles, flavors and food pairings: “He’s a renaissance man,” she says. “When we have meetings, he just spouts off facts.”
“I think Garrett is the greatest ambassador for craft beer in this country for the past 10 years,” says Eric Asimov, the esteemed wine and occasional beer critic for the Times. “He’s dignified, he’s intellectual about it,” he adds of Oliver’s ability to talk beer to consumers, “and it’s incredibly productive and powerful.”
But don’t take their word for it. Our photo editor Scott Gordon Bleicher recently sat down with Oliver, and true to form, “the ambassador” spouted big ideas — about what beer is for, why he hates the word “artisanal” and how beer’s craft comeback is a wonderful microcosm of the American food renaissance.
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