Brewmaster Garrett Oliver is an authority on the subjects of ales and lagers, and he's also a rising star in the world of high cuisine (or at least a rising matchmaker). Part of his charm comes from his ability to link classic and modern styles of beer with the flavors of the food. Luckily for Charleston, Oliver will pair his brewery's lagers and ales with a six-course feast prepared by Executive Chef Derek Falta at Chai's on Tuesday.
For those who think beer is for chugging and wine is for dining, Oliver offers this friendly piece of advice: "I love wine too, but it isn't nearly as versatile as beer. Beer has a much wider range of flavor than wine does. In fact, wine isn't even close. We can brew beers that taste like chocolate, fruit, lemons, bananas, smoke, coffee, caramel ... pretty much anything. This gives beer the ability to match just about any dish, and it's often a better choice than wine is. And many great beers cost less than a double latte at Starbucks. So if you learn a little about real beer, it can really jazz up your culinary life, and you can afford to enjoy it every day."
In addition to his brewmaster duties, Oliver works as a lecturer, columnist, and author (The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food made a splash in 2003). He regularly hosts beer tastings and dinners like the one at Chai's and has witnessed the beer renaissance firsthand.
"There's been a real awakening to what beer can do at the table," he says. "I especially like to challenge sommeliers, because we normally end up in front of a wine-oriented audience. That gives me an opportunity to change a lot of minds. When dedicated wine drinkers find themselves voting for the beer matches with the cheese, it's often a revelation for them. Eating is supposed to be fun, and people who stick only to wine are missing out on a lot of fun and flavor."
Tuesday's dinner starts with appetizers of pâté, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and maple chicken lollipops, paired with the versatile Brooklyn Lager. "It can work with a wide variety of dishes," says Oliver. "I particularly like to pair it with steaks and with pizzas."
Shrimp dumplings with two sauces come with a new specialty ale, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, an unusual brew that's only available on draft as part of Brooklyn's Brewmasters Reserve program. "The style falls squarely in the Saison category, but the Sorachi Ace hop variety, which is originally from Japan, is a real twist," says Oliver. "It tastes like lemon peel, lemon verbena, and lemongrass."
Spicy sweet potato bisque with oysters accompanies the hoppy Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. The two main courses include wreckfish and blue crab succotash with the mighty Brooklyn Local 1, and braised pork belly in pumpkin with collards and jalapeño corn bread with the popular Brooklyn Brown Ale.
"Brooklyn Local 1 is a hard beer to define, and we like it that way," Oliver says. "I think of it as a strong version of Saison, the Belgian farmhouse style. That said, it also has roots in the abbey tripel style and in the Belgian strong golden ale style. It's very dry, complex, and earthy. I think that it's a really nice food beer.
"I usually pair Brooklyn Brown Ale with roasted, barbecued, or char-grilled meat dishes," he adds. "The roasted and caramelized flavors of the malts link up perfectly with those flavors in the meats. It's also very good with Mexican mole sauce."
The final course at Chai's features a dessert of chocolate bread pudding with coffee ice cream alongside the bold Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. "The Black Chocolate Stout has had essentially the same recipe since I first brewed it in 1994," says the brewmaster. "It was the first of our beers that had a real ability to age."
While it's just as challenging to pair dishes with some of Brooklyn's more traditional styles of beer as with their newer seasonals and specialties, Oliver embraces them all. "It really depends on the food ... I suppose with the newer beers, I have less matching experience, so that makes it more challenging, but it's also more fun," he says. "I get to discover what the new beers can really do.