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The Beer Fox

The Beer Fox

May 26 2014

Garrett Oliver Honored with James Beard Award

When you think of the drinks community, no doubt, Robert Parker comes to mind for wine commentary. Dale deGroff, long called “America’s foremost mixologist,” made a name for himself tending bar for over 20 years at distinguished establishments, not the least of which is the Rainbow Room in New York City.

On the subject of whisky, the late Whiskey Chaser Michael Jackson (1942-2007)set the bar, along with a line of experts, not the least of which are Dave Broom, Jim Murray, Hans and Becky Offringa, Martine Nouet, Charles MacLean, Gavin Smith, Ian Wisniewski, and Ulf Buxrud. In fact, Michael Jackson’s book Whiskey, the Definitive World Guide, earned him a James Beard Award in 2006. Whiskey received the honors, but that doesn’t typically happen with beer.

… Until now. In a culture that has consistently avoided applause for beer – too often dismissed as the commoners’ drink - those at the higher levels of the food-and-drinks chain have finally been seduced by talented All-Star Garrett Oliver.

On May 5, 2014, Garrett Oliver was singled out as the winner of the very prestigious JAMES BEARD AWARD for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. This award is for a winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide.

You might know him as author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food or as the groundbreaking Editor-in-Chief of the superbly comprehensive beer reference book, The Oxford Companion to Beer. As Brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery, Garrett Oliver has built his reputation with dashing panache, a style which has become a distinctive signature in the world of beer.

As one of the founders of the New York City Homebrewers Guild in 1986, he designed the baroque-style crest for the group. He made a name for himself among his band of homebrew brothers with his remarkably clean, creative beers. In his book Beer School, Steve Hindy, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery, writes of his memorable introduction to Oliver in 1987 at Brewsky’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

At the time, Brooklyn Brewery had not yet set up a brewery in the region, brewing Brooklyn Lager off-site until distribution became robust enough to sustain investment in a city brewery. As the guest speaker at the New York City Homebrew Club meeting that December, Steve Hindy had already heard multiple tales about the brewing talents of the inimitable Garrett Oliver. Late enough to make a grand entrance at the meeting that evening, Oliver showed up in a 19th century French lieutenant’s great coat and brilliantly-shined, ebony boots that rose to the knee in sumptuous fashion. Rather than compete with the mix of homebrew spilling about the room, Garrett Oliver presented Hindy with a single 12-ounce bottle of Christmas Stout, decorated at the cap with a “scarlet ribbon affixed to the bottle by a wax seal.”

A few years later, that very impressive homebrewer had cut his teeth as a professional brewer at Manhattan Brewing Company in Soho as apprentice to Mark Witty, a former brewer at Samuel Smith’s in Yorkshire, England. Oliver was ready to take on his role at Brooklyn Brewery by 1994, and had the intelligence, confidence and experience to stand by his convictions regarding the place of craft beer in the food-and-drinks world.

In a U.S. market dominated by bland, mass-marketed beer, he led the charge in carving out a masterful beer portfolio for enthusiastic beer consumers, becoming an influential voice in the craft beer community throughout the world. He has been a tireless crusader for craft beer, advocating its versatility and compatibility, paired with diverse styles of international food at beer dinners, tastings, and presentations. His involvement with the Slow Food Movement further emphasizes his commitment to “fresh” and “high quality.”

In 1998, Garrett Oliver received the Russell Scherer Award for Innovation and Excellence in Brewing from the Brewers Association. He is also the recipient of the 2003 Semper Ardens Award for Beer Culture and the Cheers Beverage Media “Beer Innovator of the Year” Award in 2006.

Cheers to Garrett Oliver for gaining the recognition of the James Beard House in a field that often casts beer professionals into a heap with hot dogs and Hooters girls. Of course, we who love beer have no prejudices against who drinks it – or where. The versatility of beer to fit with Hooters or Le Bernardin is the magic Oliver has acclaimed with gusto for over 25 years.

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