California is my home. I love every part of this great place, from San Diego, to Los Angeles and its hiking and mountains, Big Sur, Sequoias, central valleys with Yosemite, The Sierras, Napa, Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay area all have amazing craft beer stories. Sierra Nevada is credited with being the first commercial craft brewery in the USA since 1980. However one brewery has a bigger reputation than the entire state of California and that’s Brooklyn Brewery.
We are experiencing a new Renaissance in the craft beer industry. It is evident whenever you order a beer at a truly amazing taproom, and you see that there are the usual choices but each one is presented in a descriptive way and there is an enthusiasm about something that’s behind the bar. Recipes are getting better. Stouts are drier, sours are wilder, and IPAs are refined to give you exactly what you’re looking for if you like hops.
I took a trip up North toward the end of summer and ended up as far as Healdsburg to get to visit the Bear Republic brewery which was by far the most fun of the trip. I also saw Russian River for the third time which was tasty but the experience showed they are probably too big for their britches these days. The trip began with a tour of the monolith Lagunitas, and pretty much set the tone for the trip. Lagunitas showed me that what used to be a collective of towns near awesome agriculture that like to make music and brew beer has now turned into the same tourist business that Napa is for wine. It’s awesome to see that people are able to make such an amazing living off of brewing craft beer, but you and I both know that craftsmanship gets reduced as volume increases. With that said, I can’t blame them. It’s difficult not to want see how far you can take amazing and simple recipes. I have experienced good times at breweries years ago up North, and I think I will again, but with much smaller scale breweries.
In Los Angeles we are incredibly lucky to have both El Segundo and Three Weavers. Noble from Anaheim and Highland Park are also incredibly notable, and Van Nuys’ own MacLeod Brewery has some AMAZING English style beers. After traveling up north I was disappointed to see that this is truly “the edge of existence” so to speak, when it comes to incredible deliciously crafted beers made with love and not overly capitalistic goals. I still love Lagunitas IPA when I’m jamming music or on a hot day outside, and I will always have a place in my heart for incredibly FRESH Pliny the Elder or Blind Pig. There’s too much amazing stuff down south to be ignored, and Oregon will always contend as being the best place on the west coast for craft beer. I will say here and now that Southern, CA is coming up, and may be taking the crown at least in CA very soon, if not yesterday especially since trips to the really popular breweries up North are not what they used to be. With Atlanta and Vermont as the big dogs in the East with Heady Topper, Terrapin and Sweetwater making our mouths water constantly it’s hard not to wonder what people enjoy regularly on the East coast. Let’s just say they are in good hands in Willamsburg, New York at the Brooklyn Brewery.
Brooklyn Brewery is headed by Brewmaster Garret Oliver whose love and passion for brewing knows no bounds. He is the editor of the Oxford Companion to Beer which is recognized worldwide as the source of information and inspiration in the beer and the brewing world. He is a scholar and artist when it comes to beer or just talking about it, and I had the pleasure of meeting him when I visited the brewery only a couple of weeks ago.
I was invited to Brooklyn Brewery to share in their event for the release of the Sorachi Ace Saison, and Lord Sorachi Imperial Saison. I was not only able to taste some amazing beers brewed there such as the delightfully crisp and piney East IPA, but there were also amazing people, local appetizers including deliciously paired cheeses, and a speech given by Garrett Oliver himself, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with. I asked him about what made him decide to use the Sorachi hop for this release and to elaborate on that, and he said that it was easy: “Once I traveled and was able to taste it, I felt like I could envision the recipe in my head and write it on a napkin right there and it would come out phenomenal.”
He was so humble, but to say that anyone else could have brought out the flavor he did from this hop would be near impossible. The yeast, and everything in this beer’s character was absolutely perfect. The pilsner malt had an incredibly subtle character that gave complete adoration to the taste of this Sorachi hop. The flavors from this hop are that of Lemongrass and Dill, and it offered me a cheese rind type of flavor that was woodsy and rich without being bitter or stale tasting. These beers filled my nose with a type of floral aroma that you would only get around really young spring flowers that was gentle but intoxicating. I preferred the Lord Sorachi only because it brought out more of the almost cauliflower type woody taste, and fresh lemongrass exotic notes. The subtleties exist in both beers, but the Lord Sorachi is in a class of its own. The brewmaster recommends it with ramen, sushi or sashimi. I could imagine this being only the best type of party. This would stand up to wasabi or spice while still being grounded in the flavors of the sea and rice.
The event was beyond my expectation, and the Sorachi too. I wish I could steal a west-coast style IPA recipe or Double-IPA recipe for this brewery to showcase, but they don’t have anything to worry about with their inventive styles and thirst for only the best. Not to mention, the master Garrett Oliver is at the helm, so everything is taste worthy. Let’s just hope he reads this and sends me his Pliny clone.
I found a lot more than I expected in Brooklyn and a culture that was beyond enthusiastic about beer. I found amazing beer at a bar in the Whole Foods there, where I met someone who recommended a place near Brooklyn Brewery called Tørst. This bar made fresh baked sourdough bread and had an awesome menu of small bites along with amazing beers served in wine glasses. I had an Other Half and Trillium Brewing collaboration IPA called “Green Street” and the ultimate highlight “Yin and Yang” which are two beers from Evil Twin Brewing. These were two beers, one being a dry imperial stout known as “Yin” and the other beer being a Double-IPA known as “Yang” that just so happen to go together! Pairing beers with other beers…. I’ll take it!
The best part about Tørst wasn’t necessarily the drinking, or the food, or the awesome clean atmosphere and vibe, but actually the people. All of the clientele were relatable beer lovers and foodies with their own experiences to share and laugh about. The bartender had perfect recommendations for what I was looking for and gave honest feedback on a lot of the beers. This was awesome as a tourist, and something I only found at Bear Republic this last time I was in NorCal.
When you’re in New York, have a Brooklyn Lager (you won’t be disappointed) with some buffalo wings, pizza, or with french fries and bowling. Remember where that beer came from and try to find a bar that showcases their other beers to taste some of the rest of them. I would highly recommend scheduling a tour. Brooklyn Brewery is an American craft beer mecca and isn’t going away. The culture there strives for greatness, and is a microcosm of Brooklyn itself with culture, free spirit, and artistic merit and charm that only Brooklyn has compared to the rest of New York, and the world!
The Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver is my ultimate resource for the Cicerone Certification program that I am currently studying. This wealth of knowledge is beyond rewarding, and I am embracing what it offers me as much as I am embracing my passion and destiny in the craft beer world. The unintentionally poetic foreword by Garrett Oliver, and his expertise and vernacular at the brewery are second to none. My soul was filled by Brooklyn. California once had Garrett’s humble and welcoming love for craft beer. It still exists in some places in LA and San Diego, and smaller breweries up North. I promise you that this sentiment will be at the forefront of any movement that I embark on in order to bring it back here to stay. The last thing I said to Garrett Oliver was that his work has changed my life. He replied, “I’m sure you did, I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
That about sums up my love for the craft beer world right there. He was more concerned with how I enjoyed his creation more than anything, which shows his true passion for his craft. We live in a world so special and amazing that you can take a few ingredients and involve living organisms to create an imbibing elixir that breathes life into into us, engages the people around you, raises spirits, fills hearts, inspires creativity, and a movement. Thank you Garrett, Brooklyn, and everyone I met for taking me in with open arms, and reminding me exactly why I fell in love with craft beer in the first place. I am beyond grateful.