On Sunday, March 19th at The Globe in Central there was a small gathering of around 20 people who came to take part in a tasting led by a gentleman whom, undoubtedly, most of the rest of the patrons in the bar had never heard of. Their ignorance was my gain as I had probably the most memorable and interesting beer tastings of my life!
Garrett Oliver has been the head brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery since 1994 and, while not a founder, has emerged as the face and personality of the brand. After starting as a home brewer he transitioned into commercial brewing at a time when craft beer was in its infancy in the United States. He has contributed greatly to the craft beer industry by taking risks with interesting beers, speaking at countless events, hosting beer and food pairing dinners, teaching at the American Brewers' Guild, and authoring The Brewmaster's Table in 2003 as well as serving as an editor for the 2011 Oxford Companion to Beer. At this stage in his career he has time to work on fun, collaborative brewing projects that has led to small batch brewing and packaging into "Ghost Bottles" which will eventually vanish! This small gathering at The Globe had the pleasure of being guided through a tasting of six of these ghost bottles by the brewmaster himself.
Our tasting consisted of three bottles that were of a more sour, acidic, and fruity character, followed by three bottles that were more of a barrel-aged, malty character. Specifically, we had samples of:
Crush - very dry and sour beer aged for one year on the lees from wine barrels (chardonnay?) and re-fermented with champagne yeast
Framboisie - sour ale aged in bourbon oak barrels with whole raspberries, lactobacillus and brettanomyces (wild yeast), refermented in the bottle with champagne yeast
Serpent - collaborative brew done with Thornbridge (UK) and aged with the lees from a cidery, with plenty of residual sweetness; this one blurred the lines of beer and cider
Yokai - belgian strong ale aged in sake barrels and using sake yeast for re-fermentation
Black Chocolate Stout (2005-2006) - an all-malt imperial stout from 2005 (yep, 12 years old!); smooth, chocolatey and dark as motor oil
Krampusnacht - an annual brew for staff members at their holiday party, reminiscent of a spiced porter or Christmas ale
Hand & Seal - English style barleywine at 13%, aged in bourbon oak with rich, complex malt flavours from the Maris Otter malt and aging on wood
So if you ever have the chance to attend a tasting with Garrett Oliver, I highly recommend you to RSVP. The guy was cool as a cucumber, highly knowledgeable and passionate about his craft and a great time was had by all. While Brooklyn Brewery is most known in Hong Kong for the Brooklyn Lager, now that it is widely distributed by Carlsberg, they have the resources to do some interesting side projects as well. Brooklyn is definitely on my list for breweries to visit.