Brooklyn Brewery just turned 25, but brewmaster Garrett Oliver reminds us that the craft beer magnate was born out of travel. Founder Steve Hindy mastered homebrewing as a journalist living in the Middle East; principal owners the Ottaway family grew up largely in Africa; and Oliver fell under beer’s spell while living in England. In turn, the brewery’s been the top American craft beer exporter for many years, beginning in 1989 with an account in Japan; today, exports account for 25 percent of business. Now, Brooklyn is building a brewery in Sweden, where Oliver will be making appearances multiple times this year. We pried him on his travel habits.
What’s on your itinerary this year?
I have five trips to Sweden, but I will also be in Norway, France, Brazil, England and probably a few countries in the East.
What’s your game plan for air travel?
My strategy is to bring everything myself. I do not count on the plane for anything. I make myself a nice sandwich—and I hate to reveal everything—but I also make my own cocktails, so I have at least one good drink on the plane. It’s usually a rye old fashioned, 100 Proof; very, very nice, and highly effective at making sure I get the several hours of sleep you have to grab if you’re going to do those European trips.
You curated the beer list at the Beer Garden in La Guardia airport; what should people drink during a layover there?
If you are a fan of—or think you could be a fan of—sour beers, grab yourself a bottle of Fritz Briem’s 1809 Berliner Weiss, which is one of my favorite newly introduced beers in the last five years. Really wonderful stuff; I’ve never had a bottle that was less than exemplary.
Any advice for carrying bottles on the plane?
Bring a paper shopping bag full of bubble wrap with you: It weighs nothing, and no one’s going to say a word about it. When you get to the hotel with it, you will never be sorry you brought it. Between that and putting bottles inside socks, you’ve pretty much got it covered. Make sure whatever luggage you’re checking is hard-sided and is bigger than what you think you’ll need, because you’ll want to pad it all the way around and put the beer bottles as close to the center as you can. By the time I finish packing beer, you can literally drop my suitcase 5 or 6 feet onto the pavement and nothing will happen.
Where’s the most exciting beer scene in the world right now?
Here, the United States. But the place I’m most excited to go, and where it’s most interesting to see beer really happening, is Hong Kong and Shanghai. It’s really surprising to be in Hong Kong at a Belgian beer bar and see people drinking Rochefort 10 at 2 o’clock in the morning, and the entire place is full. You’re looking around and saying, “Wow, this is a lot different than I was expecting!“
Where should people seeking new, interesting beer go now?
Well, in some ways this doesn’t sound very nice [laughs], but up until now I had considered the U.K. a place where you go and drink wonderful cask-conditioned beers, but was kind of boring from the point of view of variety. In the last two years or so, that’s changed radically. The U.K. is not only doing beers that mimic American-style beers, like big IPAs, et cetera, but it’s really taking off in its own direction. You’re seeing a whole new range of, for example, British wild-fermented beers, saisons, things with a big Brett influence. And people forget: You see all of the Brettanomyces going on in American brewing, mostly pulling that out of a Belgian background, but the word “Brettanomyces” means the “British yeast,” so when you talk about Brett, you’re talking about a flavor that years ago was the flavor of British beer. To see that come back to Britain and see them claim it is a really exciting thing to watch.
What new beer destinations should we keep an eye on?
I think Brazil, over the next five to 10 years, is going to possibly be the big story in beer. There are a lot of exciting ingredients. We did a great collaboration last year with the Wäls brewery in Belo Horizonte, called Saison de Caipira, which was made with about 15% straight cut cane juice. We actually cut the sugarcane ourselves and crushed the sugarcane straight into the kettle, which brought out a particular earthy flavor of sugarcane; it’s something that we can’t replicate in New York City.
Where should every beer lover go once in their life?
Bruges, Belgium. It’s an absolutely beautiful town and there’s wonderful beer all over the place. There are places like Erasmus that specializes in cuisine a la bière, you’ll find some of the best beer lists in the world, and you walk outside and you’re in Bruges. How much nicer does it get than that?
Where do you want to go but haven’t been yet?
Well, it’s not beer-related at all, but I have not been to Thailand and I would really like to go, mostly to eat!