Never-Look-Back: Meeting Garrett Oliver
I’m continuously amazed by how things just happen sometimes.
Yesterday I was riding along with a distribution rep on the north shore when he got a phone call. Turns out one of his friends had secured some tickets to the Brooklyn Brewery beer dinner at Eastern Standard and I had a chance to attend. Not being one to turn down good food and good beer, I immediately said yes. I mean, what else am I doing, right?
It wasn’t until a little bit later on that I became aware of a pretty awesome little fact: Garrett Oliver was going to be in attendance.
Ok, who is Garrett Oliver? Why is it such a big deal? Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery. I hear you now: ”Big deal, aren’t there thousands of those dudes?” Hang on bucko. Garrett Oliver is one of, if not the most prominent brewmaster in American craft beer. His body of work stretches beyond beer itself, into food and beer pairing. In short, Garrett Oliver has dedicated his life to elevating the perception of beer from a watered down yellow fizz to a beverage that is more complex than wine. The craft beer industry is indebted to him for this, to be sure.
Anyway, flash forward a few hours- the menu, is in one word, ridiculous. It goes a little something like this:
Amazing food + amazing beer: Repeat
As is custom at a beer dinner, Garrett spoke prior to each course to describe the beer being provided and why it was chosen in conjunction with the particular dish we were being served. Everything was incredible- and I’m not just saying that. But it wasn’t until the last course, dessert, that things started to get really memorable – and no, it’s not because I have a sweet tooth (ok, maybe a little). The final beer of the night was a 2008 vintage of Black Chocolate Stout. Garrett described how this was the first beer he had made for Brooklyn Brewery, and as such, it held a special place in his heart. Right about now was when things got interesting.
Garrett explained how he had left a cushy job, and taken a 75% pay cut to become a brewer. As he described his motivations and challenges in pursuing his dreams, I sat there tunnel visioned as though he was speaking directly to me. It really struck a chord. He spoke about the vibrant American craft beer scene, and how these days brewers are seldom schooled in the brewing arts, but instead are born of a feverish obsession for the craft of beer. I had heard almost all of it before, but hearing it from Garrett was a sort of affirmation I wasn’t expecting when I sat down.
After dinner, Garrett hung around for a while and chatted with people as well as signed some copies of his book The Oxford Companion to Beer. I was determined to get a few words in and thank him, especially given how much his last piece resonated with me. When I finally did get a moment with him, things got a full shove into the holy-shit realm:
He had actually heard of Backlash (??!!)
After gathering up the pieces of my mind that he blew all over the floor, I told him how I related very closely to his story and appreciated everything he had said. He then left me with some words of advice: He said that there is never a good time to make a life change like leaving a well paying job to basically make no money. He also said that now is the time to set an example for my future generations. I had never thought of that- but it makes total sense. By reaching for our dreams and trying to attain the impossible, we are showing our children that maybe it’s not so far fetched to think you can do something special. It might be a little premature to start thinking about that stuff, but at the least it’s a very cool side affect of what we’re doing.
Anyway, after a few minutes, I asked Garrett to sign my copy of his book. I handed it over to him, and turned to say something to Maggie (I don’t even remember what it was). When I turned back, Garrett handed the book back to me, signed and shut, and we took a picture. He shook my hand, wished me the best of luck and with a pat on the back, he left to talk to some other folks. I opened the book to see what he had written, and found this:
That I have literally not stopped thinking about since last night.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve spent staring at this page- it’s basically scorched into my brain at this point. It sounds stupid, but as I look at the page now while writing this, I have the chills- not kidding, goosebumps down my arms. I don’t know if it was the affirmation that we’re doing something special. I don’t know if it was the fact that it came from Garrett himself at a totally relevant time in my life. Heck, I don’t know if it had something to do with the several 9% beers we had all drank that night. All I know is that last night was a night I won’t forget. Ever. I can’t tell you how crazy it all is, thinking back on it now. I’m probably looking way too far into it (I do that a lot), but it feels like the universe had conspired to put me in that exact place, at that exact time. And I’m not naive, I know he probably signs hundreds of copies of his book a month, giving tidbits of advice along the way, but I can’t ignore how much it meant to me personally.
With a few short flicks of a sharpie, Garrett Oliver stoked the fire within me.
So awesome- thanks Garrett.