Good brews bible: The Oxford Companion to Beer encourages people to take ales more seriously

Contrary to stereotypes, its editor is black, clean-cut – and American.

If you were to imagine the world's foremost beer expert, you probably wouldn't come up with Garrett Oliver. This sharply dressed, black New Yorker has a beard but it's finely trimmed and looks unlikely to have ever harboured any stray pork scratchings. And not only does Oliver, the editor of the recently published The Oxford Companion to Beer, look smart but he talks a great game, too – say, on the relative merits of beer and wine. "Beer has a much, much wider range of flavours than wine," he says. Oenophiles in search of a scrap should join the queue.

Oliver, the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery in New York, has become the face of good-quality beer's worldwide resurgence over the past 10 years. Having written perhaps the definitive book on food and beer pairing (The Brewmaster's Table), this 49-year-old was a natural choice to edit the OCB. Not that he was that keen when the idea was first put to him four years ago: "I think any reasonable person would go running and screaming in the opposite direction at such a thing," he says. "It struck me as a fairly unimaginable task."

He eventually relented, and anyone with more than a passing interest in malt and hops should find something to interest them between the pages of this hefty book. Ever wanted to know about fobbing (the foaming of beer during dispense, of course) or proteolysis (best get the book)? It's all in here, and even if not everyone is pleased (the book has been accused by some of perpetuating certain beer history myths, Oliver is phlegmatic: "There was never any way you were going to get away with something this big and not have some people have a tilt at it," he says. "I think the book will stand the test of time." The book's publication is a sign of how beer is being taken increasingly seriously.

Oliver has been involved with beer in one way or another for close to 30 years – ever since, in fact, he landed in London in 1983 to take up a one-year posting at the University of London Union. "My first pint of what I would call real beer was at some pub behind Victoria station, literally minutes after my arrival in London," he says. "I never expected this to be my life; I had a degree in film."

After that spell in London – and a quick trip around Europe's beer hotspots, including the still-Communist Czechoslovakia and Germany – Oliver went back to the US. It was a dispiriting homecoming: "I was like, 'Oh, no. We have one kind of beer and it tastes like water.' So I started making beer at home." Things since then have changed, and how. Beer aficionados now recognise that American craft brewing is the most innovative and lively in the world.

It's been quite a turnaround, as Oliver accepts: "When I first started to go travelling, about 20 years ago, I was like a Labrador retriever, the classic American abroad: 'Hi! How are you guys doing? I'm an American brewer!' and they'd basically say [adopts mocking tone], 'Oh yes. We have heard of your American beer.' Sometimes they were openly derisive; sometimes there was a twinge of pity. They didn't realise what we were doing."

Most beer lovers realise now. A movement that began on America's West Coast has spread across the world. Oliver knows better than most what is going on, as he spends much of his time travelling the globe spreading the craft beer gospel. Among the most interesting emerging beer nations, Oliver says, are the likes of Italy (which now boasts 350 breweries) and Brazil – and there are others on the way too.

"I'm in touch with people in India who are starting craft breweries because there are more and more people with disposable income there," he says. "China, too; these are going to be really fascinating places. I think it's amazing. There aren't that many places in the world that don't have something going on. Russia is pretty slow but there's talk even of that. It's pretty cool."

The next battle is to convince the world that beer can be just as good a partner to food as wine. "In a way it's one of the most important things about beer and it's one of the things that people tend to miss," Oliver says. Such is his passion in particular for cheese (the entry on cheese (pairing) in the OCB, written by Oliver, is long and satisfyingly comprehensive) that he frequently speaks at events that pitch beer against wine in a cheese-matching contest. "That's one of my favourite tastings to do, in front of an audience, toe-to-toe," he says. "It's really good fun, everyone learns a lot – myself included – and beer always wins."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Life and Style
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Corporate Sales Manager, High Wycombe

    £30K- £35K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil