Now, I know just what you’re thinking. “Hey Matt! What exactly is Beer School, and can I have your life?” The answer is more complicated than you think. (Except for the second question. The answer to that is “No.”)
Beer School is a complimentary 2-day class hosted by Brooklyn Brewery at their wonderful craft beer brewery in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn. It’s a combination seminar, educational class, history lesson taught by a founding partner, Brooklyn cultural booster, 5-course beer paired dinner cooked by the head brewmaster, lunch served at a local pizzeria and beer & cocktail tastings all rolled up into one. It’s highlighted to share the history, story and culture of Brooklyn Brewery with their sales reps and distribution dudes who come in from out of town, but last week I scored an invite to join. Now, I had to pass up some paying tours, but it’s not every day that one gets invited to a school dedicated to beer.
The first afternoon started with a welcome pint or two of Brooklyn’s delicious Brewmaster’s Reserves (a series of only-available-on-tap beers in their Tap Room.)
I started with the Oishi, a single hop Belgian session ale (session beers are low-alcohol & easy-to-drink, IE good for drinking sessions.) and then quickly enjoyed a Radius – a Belgian farmhouse with slightly more booze (Oishi – 3.9% vs. Radius – 4.8%) before we went for a stroll across the ‘Burg to the New York Distilling Company, a brand new distillery, founded by former Brooklyn Brewery bigwig Tom Potter & his son Bill, and noted cocktail mixologist Allen Katz. Bill gave us a tour and a few tastings of their bright American Style gin – more floral and herbaceous than London Dry.
2 beers and approx. 3 gin drinks down, we arrived at The Meat Hook for a 5-course beer pairing dinner, cooked by none other than Garrett Oliver, Head Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and the man who wrote the book about pairing beer with food. It was nothing short of extraordinary – here I sat with a dozen companions, and enjoyed 5 different delicious dishes, each one paired with a complimentary cold brew. For the goat cheese & green apple omelette we had a Brooklynier Weisse wheat beer. For the crabcake with jalapeno, cilantro, pepper, onion & ginger slaw we sipped an East India IPA, bitter, bracing and hoppy. With the Carbonara pasta dish, a Belgian Farmhouse – think funky and spiced. With a pork medallion glazed with gorgonzola cheese sauce, a Wild One from the Ghost Bottle Series – wild yeast fermented. And dessert was a vanilla ice cream & Black Ops stout float, in which the beer was aged in Woodford Reserves bourbon barrels.
The next morning, foggy-eyed but excited for the learning portion of Beer School, I made my way back to the Brewery for a talk by Steve Hindy, founder. Formerly a Middle East journalist, Hindy started brewing beer because he couldnt get any while in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. His decision to open a Brewery in Brooklyn in 1988 had nothing to do with the hip young destination-neighborhood that Williamsburgh has become. Rather, in the late ’80s well into the ’90s, Williamsburgh was a post-industrial wasteland scarred by burnt out buildings and a collapsed urban infrastructure. But Hindy and Potter could rent the buildings for cheap and believed in the power of hard work to create a craft product.
They got Milton Glaser to design their logo, (they were broke when they contacted him, so he did it for a small percentage of the company stock and free beer for life.) Glaser is most famous for the I Love NY ad campaign, and he incorporated the dearly beloved Brooklyn Dodgers in the motif for the Brewery. The most exciting parts of Hindy’s chat was his relentless promoting of Brooklyn – its street art, its music, its multi-culti young people moving here to follow their dreams. Its EXACTLY what we talk about when we lead OUR Brooklyn Tours! Almost as if Brooklyn Brewery and The Levys’ Unique New York! are kindred spirits! At the very least, we enjoy their beer.
Some more chats about how beer is brewed, a pizza lunch at the nearby Fornino and an exclusive taste of a new beer from Italy that the Brewery will be importing and distributing, then another beer tasting with Garret Oliver. All these things were part of the Beer School Experience. And although I didn’t get a diploma, I DID get an awesome jacket with a Beer School patch. And if you know me, I love my patches. Almost as much as I love beer!
By Matt Levy