Brooklyn Beer School

One of the perks of being “The Craft Beer Girl” is making friends in the beer industry. One of the perks of making friends in the beer industry is having the opportunity to attend special craft beer events. Brooklyn Beer School is one such event. Periodically, Brooklyn Brewery invites industry members (distributor reps, bar owners, etc.) to come down to Brooklyn and learn more about the history and culture of the brewery and a little about beer in general.

Located at 79 North 11th Street in Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Brewery has been at the center of a cultural and gastronomical renaissance, taking place in Brooklyn over the last 20 years. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon, greeted by Steve Hindy, president and co-founder. The tasting room is simple, a large warehouse with concrete floors. We grabbed a beer and sat at picnic tables while Steve told us the story of how he, a foreign correspondent, and his neighbor Tom Potter, a banker at the time, came to start the brewery 25 years ago. To hear stories of Steve’s time in Beirut, and of his other experiences as a journalist, I am inspired. Enchanted by his sense of adventure and nostalgia, like falling in love.

The night continued with a short walk to the Shanty, home of New York Distilling Company. There, we were given a tour and a brief history of the distillery by Tom Potter, who happens to have co-founded the Brooklyn Brewery along with Steve Hindy! Tom left the brewery in 2004 to pursue other interests… like traveling the world with his wife and paddling America’s rivers in his kayak. During his travels, he noticed a number of small distilleries popping up all over the Northwest, reminding him of the way the brewing industry had been 25 years earlier. In 2011, he started the New York Distilling Company, along with his son, Bill, and Allen Katz, one of the nation’s leading experts on distilled spirits and cocktails. After the tour we had the chance to try some of the Shanty’s specialty cocktails… I tried the Up In Smoke (Mezcal, lime, Velvet Falernum, Parfait Amour, Doc’s Cider Reduction, Bittermen’s Mole Bitters, and Prosecco, up), which was SO GOOD! Definitely one of the most uniquely delicious cocktails I have ever had.

From there, we headed to The Brooklyn Kitchen, for a 5-course beer pairing dinner, by none other than Garrett Oliver. Yup, THE Garrett Oliver, head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and the man who, literally, wrote the book about pairing beer with food. The food was fantastic! We started with a Goat Cheese & Green Apple Omelette, paired with the Brooklyner Weisse, a Bavarian-Style wheat beer. Garrett, the whole time talking while he cooked, gave us some tips on cooking the perfect omelette. (By the way, you’ve been over-beating your eggs… simply fold them together with your other ingredients for a delicious, fluffy omelette!) The next course was an Indian-Spiced Crab Cake, paired with the East India Pale Ale, Brooklyn’s English-style IPA. Next, a Pasta Carbonara, with the Local 2, a Belgian-inspired Dark Abbey Ale with notes of dark fruit and a hint of spice. I was absolutely blown away by the next course, a Boneless Quail stuffed with Foie Gras and Black Truffle Mousse, paired with a Kriek from the Ghost Bottle Series – a beer that starts similar to the Local 2, then aged on cherries and bottle conditioned with a blend of Champagne yeast and Brett. Whoa. Dessert was a Vanilla Ice Cream Float made with Brooklyn Black Ops, another one from the Ghost Bottle series.

After dinner, we made a few more stops to see the sites of Brooklyn and make sure all the city’s tap lines were in proper working order (If ya know what I mean…). We met at the brewery bright and early the next morning, warmly greeted by an array of NY bagels and coffee. Carla Villa, coordinator of Brooklyn’s Beer School program, gave us a short history of brewing and the opportunity to sample some fresh wort from the morning’s batch. From there, we met Tom Price, brewer & lab manager, who took us on a brewery tour.

For me, it’s always interesting to visit new breweries and see the variations from place to place… but, once you’ve visited enough of them, the “this is how beer is made” spiel can become a little mundane. Luckily, the tour at Brooklyn Brewery included a stop in the “warm room”, where their “Big Bottles”, like their Belgian inspired Local 1, are stored for bottle conditioning. In general, Belgian yeast requires higher temperatures to condition efficiently — around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm room holds the temperature constant throughout the conditioning period, which help to impart certain flavor attributes and mouthfeel, as well as helps to stabilize the beer; giving it a long shelf life.  We also got to check out the barrel aging room where they store some beers in whisky barrels before bottling. Brooklyn Black Ops is conditioned here, in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for four months before being released and consumed by very lucky people.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience… I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend and my sincerest thanks go out to everyone at the brewery for extending such hospitality to us all. If you find yourself in Brooklyn, definitely stop by the brewery and check it out… and get to The Shanty for some cocktails too!