It’s no surprise to me: I demonstrated great courage by confronting and consuming the ghoulish group of Ghost Bottles that were served at a jovial event celebrating Garrett Oliver’s 20th anniversary as Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster in 2014.
The bash was part of Brooklyn Brewery’s annual series, Dinner Party, which is helmed by its chef and head of culinary programming, Andrew Gerson. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Gerson elevates the traditional beer-dinner model with focused, forward-thinking concepts drawing from a wide range of cultural influences.
Dinner Party is returning for a third series on April 28, reformatted with a new objective: “to take on the flavor and atmosphere of some of our borough’s most interesting spaces.” Each of the dinners will feature a menu thoughtfully assembled by Gerson and inspired by their respective venues, and accompanied by rare, intriguing brews (remember my slogan: Beer, Not Fear!).
The first site is Williamsburg’s Museum of Food and Drink, and guests will be amid its current exhibition, “Flavor: Making It and Faking It.” We phoned Gerson for a quick chat.
Niko Krommydas: This is Dinner Party’s third series, and its focus is different than in previous years. What’s new?
Andrew Gerson: The new series is all about the people and places that inspire me in Brooklyn. I guess you could say that about all of the series we’ve done to some degree, but this time we’re collaborating with the people who we think are on the forefront of culinary innovation, and who are reshaping the way we interact with food and drink. These are people using their physical space to achieve that, and in really exciting ways. The dinners are giving our guests a chance to experience that excitement.
NK: As a refresher, what were the themes of Dinner Party’s first two series?
AG: The first year was showcasing and celebrating the things that make up our local food system: the ingredients, but also the farmers, fishermen, butchers, cheese makers, and artisans who produce them. For the second [series], last year, we partnered with the Brooklyn Historical Society to dive into the city’s rich culinary and beverage history. Those menus were inspired by specific periods of the past.
NK: The first venue in the latest series is the Museum of Food and Drink. As you started to assemble the menu, what about the space inspired you?
AG: Anyone who’s ever sat down and discussed food or drink with Peter Kim [the museum’s executive director] and his team can’t help but be inspired to explore and try new things. The museum itself, it’s really a space for everyone to explore food through play, to approach it with a childlike curiosity that I think is really lacking in today’s food world. That’s basically how I approached creating the menu and the two interactive stations to visit. I spent a lot of time in the space, interacting with the “Flavor…” exhibition, and chatting with Peter. I’m really excited for people to come and experience it.
NK: The three-course meal promises to “engage all of your senses.” Can you briefly tell us about each course?
AG: The first really focuses on the rebirth of spring around this time, and how we’re transitioning from this cold-weather phase to something more warm and enjoyable. And that’s something that feels right to celebrate with a lot of vegetables.
For the third [course], there’s been a lot of curious children wandering around every time I’ve been to the museum, and I love to see food education being taught and explored at an early age. Going with that theme, and wanting to incorporate a whole animal somewhere into the menu, what kept popping into my head was Peter Rabbit. I mean, what child doesn’t enjoy rabbits? So this touches on the educational aspect, showing how the rabbit can be transformed into a source of food.
NK: Each of these meals will be paired with a Ghost Bottle, which are Brooklyn’s elusive series of experimental barrel-aged beers not available publicly. Why incorporate these, and not the brewery’s portfolio?
AG: I think [our Ghost Bottles] seem to fit what the Dinner Party series is all about, which is pushing the boundaries of flavor. I look at both the beer and the food components of [Dinner Party] as testing grounds, areas fit for experimentation and play, and the bonus is if that can lead to not only something new, but something good.
For the Ghost Bottles, that means joining our roster of Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment (BQE) bottles. And for the food, the challenge of nailing dishes inspired by these beers is a great one for me. [Ghost Bottles] are some of the most complex I’ve ever been able to taste and work with, and the best part is there are constantly new ones surfacing.
NK: How did you choose what Ghost Bottles to use for this first dinner?
AG: I regularly sit with Garrett and our barrel team and we taste through the new Ghost Bottles they’re working on and we riff on everything from flavor profile to mouthfeel, and the stories that inspired them. All of those factors go into creating the dishes.