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Dinner Party Prep: Get to Know Your Ghost Bottles w. Garrett Oliver & Andrew Gerson

Brooklyn Brewery’s Dinner Party is a collaborative dinner series dedicated to spotlighting local producers and rare beer pairings held at Humboldt & Jackson. This month, we celebrate Garrett Oliver’s 20th year as Brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery.

Between Brewmaster Garrett Oliver’s time in the brewhouse and Chef Andrew Gerson’s travel schedule (three Mash cities in a month? Sure!), it’s hard to find them in the same city, let alone the same room. Luckily, they both carved out half an hour to sit down and discuss the upcoming Dinner Party No. 3, and the Brooklyn beers made for the brewers’ enjoyment that rarely see the light of day: Ghost Bottles. Made mainly for the brewing team’s own enjoyment, Ghost Bottles are only brought out for very special brewery events. Read on to learn more about these elusive beers, and make sure to check out the menu below.

How important is it to have things like Dinner Parties and Ghost Bottles to stretch creatively?

Garrett Oliver:  I think it’s tremendously important, and it drives the future of the brewery. I love the beers that we make on a day-to-day basis, but you can look at it like being a musician: it’s not very interesting to recycle your greatest hits, even if your greatest hits are great.  You know, right now, we’re aging out over 100 barrels of beer on sediment from natural cider fermentations. These are things that are experimental, and we’ll see if they work. Part of what I do is dream up various things, see whether they can actually be carried out on the single barrel level, and then try to see if they can actually get that through the process of the brewery and have it emerge as something you’ll be very proud of in public. Part of what we’re doing creatively is not just flavor, but it’s also figuring out how we can manage to do this on a scale where you can actually go to a shop and buy it.

Andrew Gerson: It’s building on your knowledge. It’s the same in cooking as in brewing – you learn the basics, and then that creates a platform where you can be creative and express yourself. If you tasted the food I was cooking two years ago, before The Mash, and if you taste what I’m doing now with the influence of probably 60 or 70 different chefs and many different restaurants, it’s night and day from the food I was cooking. It’s different opportunities and experiences that allow you to be more creative. I think we get bored. Very few people want to do the exact same thing every day. I find it stifling, and I think Garrett does as well.

Can you walk us through some of the Ghost Bottles attendees will be trying?

G: We’ve been aging beer in mezcal bottles – that’s the San Luis del Rio – which I just poured for the mezcal producers last night and totally blew their minds. And they said they’re going to get me more barrels, and I’m like, great!

We’ve also got K is for Kriek. The name is really a play on how it’s not a Belgian kriek at all.  It’s 10.3%, it’s aged in bourbon barrels, it does have a sour sharpness and a lot of cherry characteristics, and it’s inspired by something from Belgium, but it’s very much its own thing. We originally made it for ourselves as a Ghost Bottle, where we had about six barrels or so that we would bring to dinners and things. It has culinary abilities that, for all the beers that we have, are really different. That was certainly a driver to give it wider availability. It’s going to be part of our BQE series – I don’t think there’s any way to do Kriek at the Brewmaster’s Reserve level. If you go ask Molly Browning, our barrel-master, whether or not we could turn out a few hundred barrels more – it’s just a ridiculous amount of handwork to turn out that beer.

How did you two work together to create a menu like this?

A: This opportunity was really a chance to taste through all the new Ghost Bottles that we have. Garrett and I sat down on a beautiful afternoon drinking these Ghost Bottles and then I went straight back to the desk and came up with the menu concept. This is the official menu, but as we’re cooking and as we’re playing, this menu will morph to what we actually serve on the night of.

G: I don’t generally look to influence the menu. I look at it like a set of problems – how am I going to bring the noise with what’s being put in front of me? And I like the chef to have fun and do whatever the chef wants to do unless I see a dish where I can’t figure out what to do – like if the dish is crusted in Szechuan peppercorns, which make your tongue and your palate go numb, there’s almost nothing you can do with that. But that’s pretty rare. Usually, I’m going to look at the 30 beers we have available – some available to the public, some not – and see what do I think is going to work.

A: This dish  – braised whole rabbit, duck fat potatoes, rabbit liver mouse – that came from kriek. What did I want to eat with kriek after trying it? We did a version of it for the first time in the Carolinas and it works with a few other beers, but [with Kriek] it’s like that ultimate pairing. It’s like the Sorachi Ace and scallop crudo dish we’ve done at previous dinners. Sometimes you just nail it on the head. For San Luis Del Rio, we’re doing duck breast, smoked watermelon gazpacho, pickled watermelon rind, and seared avocado. That beer spoke to me. There are times you make a dish and then you pick a beer, like Garrett said, and it either has a harmonious aspect or a contrast – it cuts through fat or cuts through heat – but then there are times when the beer informs the food.

So what is lamb floss?

A: We’re taking lamb belly, and we’ll cook it out for eight or nine hours, slow, pull out all the fat—

G: Like ropa vieja style.

A: Yeah, and then you hit it really hard in the pan or like fry it, and it pretty much becomes like floss. We made it by accident the first time – just left it in the pan, like “Oh no, you’re burning the lamb – oh, you made the lamb perfect!”

I want to ask you some quick questions before you go. Don’t think too hard. Andrew, I want you to give me a beer that you think describes Garrett, and, Garrett, I want you to give me a beer that you think describes Andrew.

A: I think, for Garrett, it’s San Luis Del Rio. It combines a love for all beverages, especially cocktails. It has that smoky depth and sophistication, and Garrett is a very sophisticated man. And it’s based in traditional styles but is also very innovative. And that’s Garrett, to me.

G: Andrew’s definitely Sorachi Ace. He’s kinda crowd pleasing, everybody likes him when they meet him, he’s bubbly, there’s no reticence about his character. There’s a cleanness and sharpness and brightness of attitude that we always see from Andrew.

Give me your favorite classic beer & food pairing.

G: Ooh, classic. It is hard to beat a witbeir and a moules frites.

A: Mine’s a brown ale and a burger.

Last one: what do you think makes a Dinner Party great?

A: Guests!

G: That’s what I was thinking too. It’s all about the guests. If you have the right guests, you can just pop some popcorn and watch a movie. But when your guests come to see you, get the hell out into the dining room and have some fun.


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