While living in England nearly 30 years ago, Garrett Oliver developed a taste for beer. Real beer. Not beer mass-marketed in America, or what he calls the ''beer facsimile, which tastes like fizzy water."
Says Oliver: ''It's sort of like if you've been eating [processed] American cheese your entire life and then you go to Italy or France and you go to a cheese shop. It's suddenly like, 'Oh, apparently the stuff I was eating is not the whole story.'''
The U.S. has come a long way since then, says Oliver, who's been the brewmaster at the world-renowned Brooklyn Brewery since 1994. The country now has around 1,800 breweries, up from only 40 in the mid-'70s. ''We've gone from being a laughingstock of the world to being respected as the most creative and vibrant beer culture in the world.''
Oliver knows what he's talking about. Author of the widely touted The Brewmaster's Table, the New Yorker just completed editing the Oxford Companion to Beer, produced by England's Oxford University Press. Something of a professor of beer, he leads dozens of talks and tastings around the world every year, including an annual event at National Geographic. This year's tasting, set for Tuesday, May 17, focuses on breweries that produce less than 1,000 barrels of beer a year, an amount that might serve just one large brewpub.
Oliver took over the annual National Geographic Live! tasting about five years ago from Michael Jackson, a year or so before the American craft beer champion died.
According to Oliver, the American craft beer scene is still growing at a rapid clip, proving it's more than just the fad that some had originally speculated. ''The period during which we ate industrialized food and drank industrialized beer is slowly fading." --Doug Rule
Garrett Oliver's beer tasting is Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m., at Gilbert H. Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW. Tickets are sold out. Call 202-857-7700 or visit nglive.org.