A beer dinner for and from the ages

I fantasize about a beer dinner with four historical guests that takes place in 21st century Brooklyn.

This picture has nothing to do with this post except it has people cheersing beers. (I don't like using stock photos any more than you do.)

This picture has nothing to do with this post except it shows people clinking beers, one of which looks dangerously full.  (I don’t like using stock photos any more than you do.)

I’m not one for short blog posts.  In fact, I’d hesitate to call The Drinking Classes a blog were it not that calling it an e-zine or magazine would be unbearably pompous.

But I saw fun posts pop up from Beervana and Boak and Bailey this morning that prompted me to get involved with something called The Session, a beer blog phenom in which one writer/blogger proposes a topic then gathers, sifts and discusses the responses.

This Session is hosted by Stan Hieronymus, beer writer royalty, the man who wrote the book on hops and also someone who kindly reposted a blathering piece on the doom of IPA by yours truly a while back. (Which resulted in one of the highest days of traffic this web-a-zine-a-blog has seen. Thank you Stan.)

Stan asks:

If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

I’m a Certified Cicerone®, which means I should be good at organizing beer dinners, but I have organized exactly none.  So I figured this would be good (virtual) practice and a good laugh along the way.

Where would the beer dinner be?

In Luksus, the Michelin-starred restaurant adjacent to one of the world’s hippest beer bars, Tørst in Brooklyn. Why?  Well, it’s a kick-ass place to get food and beer for a start, but also because the theme of my beer dinner would be, Look How Far We’ve Come, and Tørst is the absolute apex of modern hipster craft beer culture.

Who would I invite?

I would want my four guests to be points on the spectrum of the history of beer.  And once the long-dead guests got over the shock of randomly being brought back to life in 21st century New York City, I think we’d have a barn-storming chat about beer.

Yes folks, I’m completely ripping off Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Pliny The Elder


The most common portrait of Pliny The Elder on the net. It’s everywhere, so who knows who to credit.

First up is Gaius Plinius Secundas, the Roman soldier, author, naturalist and philosopher otherwise known as Pliny The Elder.   You may have heard of the beer Russian River makes named after him.

Pliny The Elder lived from AD 23 to AD 79, when the Roman Empire was hitting its stride and doing things like invading Britain.  He’d have some serious banter.

He was a well-traveled gent, spending much of his life in the army, governing parts of France and Spain, and writing noted books and catalogues of plants and animals in Europe and Africa.  (He is famous in beer for supposedly being the first person to catalogue the hop flower.)

I would invite Pliny The Elder so he could talk about beer in the very early days.  As the Roman army of which he was an officer was trampling its way through Europe, it was instituting the wine culture we now associate with places like France, Italy, Germany and Spain.  Basically by supplanting the existing beer-drinking habits of the unwashed locals. Pliny would have encountered several established beer cultures, and I’d be fascinated to know what they were like and how the beer tasted.

Arthur Guinness II

Arthur Guinness II. Via Guinness.com.

Arthur Guinness II. Via Guinness.com.

I’m a Guinness man; I worked for the company for 8 years and I consult extensively for them nowadays.  And I plain love the stuff.  So I have to include Arthur Guinness as my representative of the period when beer transformed from local artisanal craft into industrial product.

Mind you, I’m not talking about THE Arthur Guinness whose signature adorns every bottle and can of the beer.  I’m talking about his son, Arthur Junior, known around the brewery as The Second Arthur.

Why?  Well Arthur Guinness I, the man who famously signed the lease on the St James’s Gate brewery in 1759, was the classic entrepreneur, the man who set the business up.  It was his second son, born in 1768, who turned the company from a local success into a global brewery.  He also literally grew up in the brewery, although he ended up, funnily enough, as the Governor of the Bank Of Ireland.

This Arthur Guinness oversaw the refinement of brewing processes, managed exports of the beer as far abroad as West Africa, and was the man who set down precise instructions for brewing Guinness Extra Superior Porter in 1821, the beer that was the precursor to modern day Guinness Stout.

Who wouldn’t like a chat with the chap who built, essentially, the world’s first brewing superpower?  It would be killer to learn how he managed crude, old fashioned equipment and processes to brew on an industrial scale.

Gussie Busch

August "Gussie" Busch. Via Disney History Institute (disneyhistoryinstitute.com)

August “Gussie” Busch. Via Disney History Institute (disneyhistoryinstitute.com)

August Anhueser Busch Jnr, 1899-1989, was the man who built Budweiser and probably did more than anyone else to shape the modern American beer market.  Known as Gussie, he was the son of August Anheuser Busch Snr and grandson of Adolphus Busch, who founded Anheuser Busch in 1852.

While the company was well established and the family was very rich by the time Gussie started working there, it was he who built it from regional brewing concern when Prohibition was repealed in 1933 to the largest brewery in the world by 1957.  Gussie was a larger than life character, full of swagger, charisma and ambition.  He set the template for the 20th century American “beer guy” and made enough money to be able to buy the St Louis Cardinals in 1953.

Gussie Busch, along with steely son August Busch III, turned post-Prohibition America into pale pilsner land.  I’d love his take on how that went.  And I bet he’d be good value after a few jars.

Steve Hindy

Steve Hindy. Via BrooklynBrewery.com.

Steve Hindy. Via BrooklynBrewery.com.

To round off my foursome of historical beer figures, I need a representative of the American craft beer revolution.  And, while there are many to choose from (I actually started typing out Sam Calagione, then changed my mind), why not the man who wrote a book about it.

Steve Hindy founded the Brooklyn Brewery with partner Tom Potter in 1987, after a career as a Middle East Correspondent for the Associated Press.  While it’s not the biggest or most innovative American brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, with its Milton Glaser-designed logo, is a stalwart of the industry and is fast becoming one of the most recognized American beer brands abroad.  Hindy himself has played an integral role in the development of craft beer – globally – and has chaired the Brewers Association and represented small brewers on the Board of the Beer Institute for many years.

Steve has a ton of fascinating stories, including the time he was held up at gunpoint by the Brooklyn mafia, and he’s a through-and-through beer aficionado.    He’s also balanced, insightful and analytical, so he would help me put the pieces together from what my other three guests say.  (And he’s from Brooklyn, so he could show folks a good time if they want to go out partying after we’re done at Tørst.)

As others have noted in their Session #118 entries, it’s a shame there are no women in my foursome, and while not intentional, I suppose that’s on me.  Despite plucking them from different eras of beer, I’m having dinner with four white guys.  It’ll be interesting to review the other entries.

So what are we drinking?

What I want from my four guests are reactions and perspectives on the state of beer in 2016, and while it’s only representative of a small fragment of the modern market, Tørst is the peak of hipster beer.  There are more bars opening up every day that look and feel like Tørst than there are classic sports bars, pubs and saloons.

With its stemmed glassware, chic Danish decor, use of a flux capacitor to ensure beers are dispensed at the right pressure, multiple cold rooms to ensure beers are dispensed at the correct temperature and crazy bottle list, Tørst is Beer Geek Heaven in 2016.  What Pliny The Elder, Arthur Guinness II and Gussie Busch make of it would be a spectacle.  (I presume Steve Hindy’s been there before.)

So, we’re naturally drinking Pliny The Elder from Russian River as a new American IPA.  I mean, who can’t serve the beer to its namesake.

We’ll contrast Pliny with Goose Island’s recent collaboration with Ron Pattinson, Brewery Yard Stock Ale, a recreation of the kind of pale ale that was a forefather of strong modern IPA. It would be interesting to see whether it tastes authentic to Arthur Guinness II, and it would spark discussion about the changing methods of brewing over the centuries.

We’re also drinking Guinness Draught on nitro.   It may take a bit of persuading to have Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (of Evil Twin fame, and proprietor of Tørst) put it on for us, but I’d want Arthur Guinness II to try it, and also watch Gussie Busch say, “That stuff is still going?!”.

And finally we’ll have Steve talk us through Brooklyn Brewery’s Pilsner, so we can discuss the style that took over the world.  Gussie Busch would probably run out and grab bottles of Budweiser and insist on a blind tasting, to show that his beer is just as good, and we’d humor him.

And if we’re still thirsty, maybe Steve could take us round the corner to his brewery, give us a tour and crack open Garret Oliver’s cellar to see what he’s got stashed away in there.

Care to join us?

Again, this photo has little to do with the words, but this time I took it and it's one of my favorite beers. Cheers!

Again, this photo has little to do with the words.  But this time I took it and it’s one of my favorite beers. Cheers!

3 Comments on A beer dinner for and from the ages

  1. “Tørst is the absolute apex of modern hipster craft beer culture.”

    Well now. This has been in my head for a while now, but ,*really*?

    Not that there’s anything to be gained by measuring tide marks above urinals, but Open Baladin in Rome and BierCAB in Barcelona strike me as being a beer-as-fashion step ahead of Tørst. What is it about Tørst that gets this particularly dubious gold?

    • “Absolute apex” my be little on the hyperbolic side, but it’s up there. A few assertions in its hipster-beer-haven corner: 1) It’s got an “everywhere and nowhere” aesthetic: part Danish, part American, could be in any city in the developed world really (someone more articulate than I described it as “co-ordinated, angular and uncluttered”); 2) Exclusive use of trendy stemmed wine-style glasses; 3) The adjusted pour pressures and keg temperatures; 4) The heavily “curated” (ne’er a more hipster word) beer list; 5) The prices!; 6) Every beer is like 8% ABV+ (except Jeppe’s own Bikini beer when it’s on); 7) In the beating heart of Brooklyn; 8) Has a “hidden” Michelin-star eatery out back that seats 12 people at a time.

      Torst is one of the originals, but there are now a host of bars in NYC and further afield that feel quite similar to it (and charge just as heftily for the experience). And I do really like the place, despite the implied derision.

      It’s the Intelligentsia (Chicago coffee place that produces “World’s Best Barista” on a frequent basis) of the beer world.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyable piece Jon. Please save me a space at the table

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