For Your Holiday Meal, Go For A Cold One

Dec 15, 2011

A challenge: This year instead of finding the right Chardonnay or Merlot for your holiday feast try pairing your meal with beer. That's right, beer.

Garrett Oliver is the man posing this challenge. He is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. He is also the editor-in-chief of the recently released book, The Oxford Companion to Beer, a major reference book chronicling beer from A to Z.

For those that would scoff at the idea of pairing fine food with beer, Oliver says think again. In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Oliver says beer used to be one of those fascinating American offerings that "got turned into plastic."

"I grew up with bread that supposedly stayed fresh in that bag for two weeks, and we all know that's not bread," Oliver says. "We did the same thing to beer in this country. We took something which had the broadest range of possible flavors and turned it to a little fizzy ghost in a can."

But now, with more than 1,700 breweries in the United States, craft beer is undergoing a resurgence. Oliver says breweries are recovering and rediscovering a wide range of flavors. He adds that the days of the same old "gas station beer list" are over and that many deli's now carry dozens of domestic and imported beer.

For those on a budget, no problem. Oliver calls beer "an affordable luxury." He says some of the best beer in the world can be found at your local supermarket for less than 2 dollars a bottle. And to avoid the classic beer burp, Oliver suggests savoring one or two bottles instead of the entire six pack.

Oliver offers some of his holiday beer suggestions in a tasting with Tell Me More producers Sanaz Meshkinpour and Brakkton Booker.

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Our next guest has a challenge - and an invitation - for all the wine lovers. Sorry, Charlayne - but he says this year, instead of trying to find the right Chardonnay or Merlot, try pairing your meal with beer. Yes, beer. He says there are more than 1,700 breweries in the United States now, and more and more imports are available at the local supermarket. So there is very likely a beer out there to satisfy every palate, and just about every course on the menu.

We'll let him tell you more. Garrett Oliver recently published "The Oxford Companion to Beer," a major reference book chronicling beer from A to Z. He is also the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, and an expert on pairing craft beers with good food.Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

GARRETT OLIVER: Great to be here.

MARTIN: Garrett, I'm sure there's somebody out there saying - you know - beer and fine dining in the same sentence? Please.

OLIVER: Oh, no...

MARTIN: Why do you think they should consider adding beer to the holiday meal?

OLIVER: It's a funny thing. Beer was one of those great fascinating foods, if you like, in American life that got completely turned into plastic, if you want to think of it that way. Think of your average loaf of white bread, you know, the one that we grew up with, and think of how far that is from an actual loaf of bread we understand. I mean I grew up with bread that supposedly stayed fresh in a bag for two weeks.


OLIVER: And we all know that's not bread. And if you could put it in your pocket for two weeks then take it out and eat it, that's not cheese.


OLIVER: So we did the same thing to beer in this country. We took something which had the broadest range of possible flavors and turned it to a little fizzy ghost in a can. And we are now in recovery and we're getting back all these wonderful flavors. And because the flavor of beer is much more diverse than the flavor of wine, it just follows that we have a lot more to work with when it comes to food.

MARTIN: You also referred to craft beer as an affordable luxury. And I can imagine there are people listening to us, saying well, how can that be true? So what is your argument for why it is - that craft beer is something that you can seek out, even if you're on a budget?

OLIVER: Well, you know, in my part of Brooklyn, New York, it's amazing. Ten or 15 years ago, when you went into a deli, you had what I called the gas station beer list, you know, the same few names over and over again. Now you go in there and there's 150 different beers at a deli, at like every deli. And what's amazing is that a lot of these beers, some of them are among the best in the world, it might cost less than $2. So you can actually get some of the best beer in the world for less than you can get a cup of coffee.

MARTIN: Well, let's try some. Let's try some beer. Let's go for it. And I have to tell you, unfortunately, I recently broke my arm. But as a consequence, beer would not mix with what I'm doing to try to deal with my situation. So I have asked two TELL ME MORE producers to – who are both adults, over 21 - to do the honors...


MARTIN: ...Sanaz Meshkinour and Brakkton Booker to help us with this. So Garrett, you've got something from Germany. What is it called, Spaten?

OLIVER: Spaten Optimator.

MARTIN: Spaten. Spaten Optimator.

OLIVER: Spaten Optimator.


OLIVER: So, Spaten is one of the great...

MARTIN: Open it up.

OLIVER: ...breweries of Munich.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

OLIVER: And Optimator, when you see the suffix -ator at the end of a beer name, that is a clue to you that it is within the style called doppelbock. And this is a style that was originally invented by monks, so that during a period of Lent when they weren't allowed to have solid food they would actually have something that would sustain them. And so they refer to this type of beer as liquid bread.

MARTIN: You know, I love the color. This one is kind of a dark brown. It looks a little bit like...

OLIVER: A kind of mahogany.

MARTIN: ...mahogany, OK - which is brown.

OLIVER: Yes. Yes.


OLIVER: I'm just pointing out the red highlights.

MARTIN: So OK, Sanaz, how do you like it?

SANAZ MESHKINPOUR, BYLINE: It's kind of sweet, and you can definitely taste the bread. And there's a whole lot of foam in this one. You have a nice, thick coat of foam at the top of the glass.

MARTIN: Brakkton, your thoughts?

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Yes, a little darker for my taste. I like lighter colored beers. Not too light, but a little bit lighter than this. But I...

MARTIN: Well, would you...

BOOKER: OK. Well, I...

MARTIN: If this was like a cheese plate - for example, if you are doing hors d'oeuvres, like a cheese and bread, and what would you think?

OLIVER: It would be great with gruyere. It's great with a lot of hard cheeses. And see Brakkton, I need you to now imagine a pork roast. OK, you got the pork roast.

BOOKER: That I can do right now.

OLIVER: And you've got the gravy.

BOOKER: Mm-hmm.

OLIVER: You know, in the gravy is totally kick in and now you have the beer. Can you put that together in your head? Do you kind of see...

BOOKER: Oh, give me a second.


BOOKER: I think, yes. OK. Now...

OLIVER: Calm your mind and imagine the pork roast.

BOOKER: All right. Here, and let me take another sip.

MARTIN: Oh yeah, take another sip.

BOOKER: With that image in mind I think I can have a higher appreciation for this beer.

MARTIN: We're speaking with world-renowned beer expert Garrett Oliver. We're talking about how to pair beer. He's encouraging people to try beer with that holiday meal instead of wine or along with some wine. And what do you have from the U.S.?

OLIVER: Well, you know, the next beer we're going to try - actually we're going to try to American beers. The next beer is called Lagunitas IPA. And IPA stands for India Pale Ale. Now this is among the most bright and flavorful of beer styles out there. India Pale Ale was a style of beer developed in the 1700s in England and it was for shipping to colonists in India. And they would actually send the beer in wooden barrels halfway around the world where it would be bottled. And they made it dry and they made it hoppy, so this is a bitter beer.

MARTIN: This smells so delicious, though. It smells, it doesn't smell better at all. It smells like...

MESHKINPOUR: It smells like flowers.

MARTIN: ...sweet tea.


MARTIN: It smells like sweet tea.

OLIVER: Well, it's funny you should say flowers because the hop is actually a flower.

MARTIN: So Sanaz, what do you think? Is it - how does it taste? Is it bitter? Is it sweet? What's it?

MESHKINPOUR: It's bitter but you can really smell and taste of flowers. I really love that. And it's a big, big bold flavor.

OLIVER: Yeah, India Pale Ale is kind of like a little shrine to hop character. So...

MARTIN: OK, hold on. Let's hear from Brakkton. What does he - what do you say about this?

BOOKER: Well, you know, the colors are more in line of what I traditionally would drink. It reminds me of something that I would drink in the summertime. Like poured into a glass and have it, have maybe a lemon on the side or something.

MARTIN: Hmm. So since you weren't a fan of the previous, what do you think? Could they show up at the Booker, on the Booker table?

BOOKER: Absolute. Yes. Yes, I couldn't impress some friends at a cookout with this one.


MARTIN: OK. All right Garrett, what else you have for us? You have one more.

OLIVER: One war. And this is a...

MARTIN: I must tell you in advance that this is the one that I'm most jealous that I can not try, OK.


OLIVER: It's called Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. And stouts are a broad range of beers they're very dark in color. In this case we use a type of malt called chocolate malt, which you could almost say is like the mocha roast of coffee. And at Brooklyn Brewery this is our big winter seasonal. People look forward to this all year long.

MARTIN: It's a...

OLIVER: We released in October. It is black in color.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

OLIVER: It is quite strong - at about 10 percent, and this is a beer I want you to think o with or as dessert. It has a flavor that's almost like having a somewhere between a chocolate milk and a cold espresso.

MARTIN: What do you guys think? Sanaz?

MESHKINPOUR: Oh, this is great. I love it.

MARTIN: I'm so sad here. I'm so bitter and jealous I can't even stand it.

MESHKINPOUR: Yeah. I feel like you can really taste the coffee flavor, the chocolate flavor. You smell it and I could totally see eating this with a big pecan pie.

MARTIN: Really? Really?


MARTIN: You would have?

MESHKINPOUR: I would have it.

MARTIN: Garrett, would you do that would dessert?

OLIVER: Absolutely. There are restaurants in New York that actually make Black Chocolate Stout and vanilla ice cream floats. And let me tell you, they are good.

MARTIN: Brakkton?

BOOKER: I can also see this with a peach cobbler too.

OLIVER: Cheesecake.

BOOKER: Yeah. Absolutely. The color it almost, it's opaque.

OLIVER: Yeah, it is opaque.

BOOKER: You cannot see through, through the glass here and it's very creamy and very frothy. It's an espresso that just got whipped up by a barista.

MARTIN: Hmm, wow.

OLIVER: Now, when people think of beer on a day-to-day basis, you know, you can just see in these very few beers, you know, how this thing that people thought of as this fairly innocuous - OK, it's kind of there - yellow, fizzy liquid is actually this huge, broad, interesting thing. And you can go into a supermarket and buy a bottle of, you know, Black Chocolate Stout for like, you know, $2 or, you know, $2.50

MARTIN: This is so cool. So Garrett, you know, one of the things that beer is associated with is - I can't think of a nice way to say it; a little too much music from the stomach, OK?



OLIVER: Well, I mean, you know...

MARTIN: Is there something one can do? Or does that occur if you're just drinking it too fast?

OLIVER: Are you referring to burps, my dear?


MARTIN: I am, indeed. Thank you. Thank you for your assistance.

OLIVER: I have to tell you that, you know, that effect largely comes from the past; where a lot of people were drinking, they'd sit down and have a whole six-pack. You know, you don't need to have an entire six-pack. You could have perhaps one or two. I would say that if I were to - basically, try to predict this, I don't think you guys are feeling, you know, full right now. So, you know, these beers really do have a really different kind of texture to them. I mean, look at 11 Madison Park, here in New York City. You know, four stars in the New York Times, three Michelin Stars, 140 beers on the list. Now, that gives you some idea of what the gastronomic capitals of the world are thinking about - what they can do with beer, and how much their customers can appreciate them.

MARTIN: OK. We'll leave it at that, for now. Garrett Oliver is the editor-in-chief of "The Oxford Companion to Beer," a major reference book that chronicles the scope of beer from A to Z. He is the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York and he was nice enough to join us from our NPR studios in New York City.

TELL ME MORE producer Sanaz Meshkinour and Brakkton Booker also joined us to help taste today's beer selections. I'll try to keep my envy under control. Thank you all so much

OLIVER: Thank you, Michel.

MESHKINPOUR: Thank you, Michel.

BOOKER: I owe you one, Michel.


MARTIN: If you'd like to learn more about the beers that were sampled here today, we'll have full descriptions on our website. Just go to, click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And to tell us more or to sign up for our podcast, please go to and find us under the Programs tab . You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.