Garrett Oliver Inspires in Lexington
Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver believes your first pint of the night at any pub should always be local.
Hard to argue that.
When in Lexington, Ky recently for the Craft Writing Symposium, Oliver said he settled in at a local watering hole the night before and did just that. The next day, the brewer, author and all-around beacon of energy talked to the nearly-packed auditorium at the University of Kentucky about brewing, writing and, most importantly, people.
In fact, the title of his presentation was “Beer is People,” and he quickly had everyone in the audience convinced it was true. He talked about what makes good beer writing and also about writing his first book, The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, along with the challenge he faced in getting it written.
People, he said, look to see what’s going on in the world by getting online and searching. They have become aggregators, he reasoned, and “they are picking the loudest voices.”
To that end, Oliver, clad in a plaid shirt and buttoned black jacket, said people will assume that “if you don’t say anything, you aren’t doing anything.”
Well, he’s doing things. This is a guy who is a thriving author and, clearly, speaker. His first piece of advice to those who write about beer is to write more like wine writers do; in other words, talking about the chemistry is not appetizing.
While beer writers often wax feverishly about IBUs (International Bittering Units), he said, you rarely read a wine review that prattles on about tannin units.
The term IBU, he said, “doesn’t sound delicious.”
And so, he suggested writing about beer the way one writes about sports.
“Flavor is an action in time,” he said, later adding, “beer is not chemicals, it’s people. If you write about chemistry, you’re missing the entire story.”
Instead, the story is “in the diversion of an intended path.” The questions to ask the subject of a story, Oliver said, are: What did you intend to do, and what did you sacrifice?
This, he reasoned, is because most brewers don’t set out to become brewers.
Oliver, who at 51 appears far younger, has worked in many other fields, including in the rock music industry – he said he once took the Ramones bowling, in fact. But brewing sneaked into his life and unintentionally became his passion. He joined Brooklyn Brewery in the early 1990s, and the book came about 10 years later.
Writing the book, he said, was a diversion to be sure, one he honestly didn’t know if he was up for.
“Brewing is hard,” Oliver said. “Writing is really, really, really hard.”
But it was nevertheless a diversion from the intended path that needed to be taken. He realized this after a friend asked him a simple question: Do you want to be sorry now or sorry later?
The difference is that if you choose to be sorry now, you “write the book, do the work, and descend into hell.” If you choose to be sorry later, that simply makes you the person who isn’t willing to take it on.
“Sorry later,” he said, “lasts forever.”
All in all, it was a most inspiring presentation, and one that will stick with me, not just as a writer, but as a human being in general. And if you get the chance to hear Oliver speak, take advantage. Remember: Sorry later lasts forever.