Brooklyn Brewery is still a "teensy-weensy" brewer, says Garrett

Brooklyn Brewery is still a "teensy-weensy" brewer, says Garrett

Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster and editor-in-chief of the Oxford Companion to Beer, Garrett Oliver, was a guest speaker at BeerX on Friday (15 March). just-drinks caught up with him for his take on the global brewing industry, and why Goose Island is Darth Vader.

just-drinks: We're at BeerX in Sheffield, England. How does the UK beer industry compare to the global industry?

Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver

Garrett Oliver: A few years ago I would have compared the UK to Germany. Great beers being made but largely in traditional styles. New breweries were coming along but were still making bitters and beers within the British tradition. In the last few years we've started to see something else - people still doing those things and doing them well, but also noting influences from Belgium, from Italy, from France, becoming more in tune with the worldwide beer culture and asking: OK, what inspiration do we take from here and make it ours? People seemed very parochial back then, but now I feel that has finally broken and we have a new generation of brewers. People are having a lot more fun than they were a few years ago.

j-d: Do you see the craft beer market in the UK as significant as the US? 

GO: Well, we started way behind you, but I think our advantage was that we had lost everything. Our brewing industry, at least when it came to flavour, was gone. So we jumped out there. We wanted the whole world. We made everything all at once. We were angry, we really needed to have this stuff and that's why we were making it. And now brewing is seen by, especially younger, brewers as a creative pursuit.

In Germany, you go into brewing and you probably have a food engineering degree. But American beer is made by people who have a passion, who can't sleep at night - that's what makes that happen.

j-d: And it's still fun?

GO: Yeah, it's still tonnes of fun. It's like being a musician. Some people have the technical ability but they don't have the creative ability. That's what the industrial brewers are like. They can play the notes, but they can't invest it with any feeling because that feeling isn't part of what they do.

j-d: So, Brooklyn Brewery is the Rolling Stones and the global players are Justin Timberlake?

GO: No, I want to be more of a blues musician. I want to go deeper and deeper and get better and better and be at my very best just before I die.

j-d: What do you think about big brewers snapping up craft brewers such as Goose Island? 

GO: Once you're involved with something that's all about money. It's no longer going to be about people. Businesses like that are about money. I loved Goose Island, it was a great brewery. But it's like Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and he's not there any more. Some of the people might still be there, the body might be there, but the spirit isn't. It became something else.

I'm not surprised to see the big breweries start to buy breweries like ours, emulate breweries like ours. This is the future. They know that, they're not stupid. And they're going to keep doing that, and they're going to do even more of it. We're just going to have to get used to it. They're going to be competing on our turf, because we are not even interested in their turf. We're never going to make anything that tastes like Budweiser - we're not interested in anything they are doing. They are interested in what craft brewers are doing.

j-d: So you don't see Brooklyn Breweries being as big?

GO: I doubt we're going to get that big. I hope we do grow. We're still a small brewery. We're not a teensy-tiny brewery.

As long as we keep doing what we're doing people are happy to see us get bigger. And we're a much more artisanal brewery than we were seven years ago. I look back and think, we didn't know anything back then.

j-d: Where's the new craft beer markets?

GO: Brazil craft brewing is going to be really cool. The Italians have about 500 breweries now. We're building a brewery in Stockholm, so there's a lot going on in far-flung places.

Expert analysis

Global Beer Tax Tables, 2012

Global Beer Tax Tables, 2012

This report covers 58 markets and comprises a series of tables covering taxation base, historical excise rates, legal controls and a calculation of the total taxation burden on beer....read more