Even as a non-beer drinker, I knew of the accomplishments of keynote speaker Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and editor of the Oxford Companion to Beer. His book on pairing food and beer, The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, intrigued me when it came out in 2003.
Of deciding to tackle the nearly overwhelming task of building the Oxford Companion, a functional beer encyclopedia, Oliver said he resisted requests to take it on until a friend pointed out that he would regret not having done it more than he would suffer while doing it: "There's two kinds of sorry: sorry now and sorry later. Sorry later lasts forever."
Oliver's love of crafting both beer and words shone in his talk. Describing the choice to make beer instead of pursuing other work, he said, "First you fall in love. Then you get really poor." Oliver called on writers to tell the real stories of the craft beer people and movement.
Before Oliver spoke, veteran brewer Teri Fahrendorf identified two strong story lines as she described her work to launch the Pink Boots Society, which champions women who work in beer and brewing, and the Network for Burned Brewers, a group surely no one ever joins by choice. Knowing little about brewing, I had no idea brewers are at such risk for serious burns, but both Fahrendorf and Oliver had been badly burned while doing their work, and other kinds of accidents can happen in breweries as well.
Most beer stories are much happier, of course. Several writers covered the symposium extensively, and well. In Beer Writers Unite Over Kentucky Craft Writing Symposium, Atlanta beer writer Jessica Miller described the event in detail for her blog, Hey Brewtiful. Presenter Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing Company, and a blogger, tells a more personal story, one that underscores the intentional commitment to community that characterizes craft brewing in the USA.
In a different venue, Janet Forgrieve wrote last week about the surging interest in pairing food and craft beer, a movement that Garrett Oliver powered up significantly when he published The Brewmaster's Table more than a decade ago. Forgrieve makes one key point likely to appeal to those of us who fret over the escalation of alcohol in wine: beer's lower alcohol content avoids high alcohol wine's tendency to fill the mouth with a "hotness" that serves as an antagonist for many foods instead of making foods more delicious and interesting.
Lower alcohol sounds like progress! And soon, in spite of another winter storm, Lexingtonians will walk on leafy streets, heading from one new craft brewery to the next, an entertainment that is still younger than most preschoolers in our town. That lack of experience did not prevent Jeff Rice from inventing the Craft Writing Symposium, and it did not keep an estimated 200 people from enjoying both the talk and the tastes.