Guess Who’s Coming to The Beer Dinner

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

hops question markThese questions were posed by veteran beer writer and author, Stan Hieronymous of Appellation Beer, as the December host of The Sessions, the beer blogger write-fest hosted by one of our own each month. My post last week, “Discomfort Beer,” was in response to the January Session. Hieronymous’ prompt really got me thinking, but holiday activities got in the way of actually putting those thoughts into writing. So, about six weeks late, here’s my reply.

After so much pondering and a fun conversation with my brewer husband (who didn’t make the cut), I knew I wanted to invite individuals who had contributed substantially to moving the state of beer forward in their lifetimes. The possibility of deceased guests, really opened the door.

And the winners are . . . (Can you hear the opening of the envelope? Feel the tension?) . . . all exceptional beer men—the first was not a brewer—and excellent businessmen. They represent the best of the past, present and future of brewing: Eugenio Garza Sada, Bill Coors, Ken Grossman and J.C. Hill.

Eugenio Garza Sada

Eugenio Garza Sada

Probably most of today’s U.S. craft brewers aren’t familiar with Garza Sada, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1892 and died in a botched, 1973 kidnapping. Two years before his birth, a group of businessmen including his father founded Cervecería Cuauhtémoc (today owned by Heineken), the brewery that still produces Carta Blanca, Tecate and Bohemia. After the Mexican Revolution started in 1910, papa Isaac whisked his family off to Boston, which resulted in Eugenio attending and graduating from MIT.

After the Revolution ended, the family returned to Monterrey. First with father Isaac, and then with brother Roberto, Eugenio grew Cuauhtémoc into a mega brewery of consistently well-brewed beer and well-paid jobs. Lamenting the lack of a Mexican MIT that could produce home-grown engineers and scientists, he gathered the most influential and wealthiest businessmen in Monterrey and set about establishing such a university in 1943. Today, the ITESM is recognized as one of the top Latin American universities and includes a national network of 27 college campuses and 37 PrepaTec high schools.

Bill Coors

Bill Coors

While the Garza Sada surname isn’t especially familiar in the U.S., nearly every American knows the Coors’ name, if not exactly which one Bill is. Born in 1916, he had earned both an undergraduate and Master’s in Chemical Engineering at Princeton by 1939. His most notable accomplishment, inventing the two-piece aluminum can, changed packaging for the beverage industry all over the world. He retired from the Coors’ board in 2003 at age 87. The latest among Bill Coors’ feats is having turned 100 years old on August 11.

Ken Grossman

Ken Grossman

Likewise, Sierra Nevada billionaire founder and CEO Ken Grossman is familiar to many Americans. Born in 1954, Grossman is one of the early brewers of the modern craft movement. Unlike Garza Sada or Coors, Grossman wasn’t born into a brewing family or with a silver spoon. He learned to homebrew from a friend’s father. After high school graduation in southern California, he road-tripped north with friends to Chico, where he stayed to hike, bike and have fun. He eventually opened a homebrew supply shop and, in 1979, a little microbrewery he named Sierra Nevada.

With no allied industry selling ready-made equipment to those early microbreweries, Grossman pretty much did it all, taking classes at the local community college to learn welding and other such skills. I’ve talked with Sierra Nevada employees who call Grossman a genius who can fix, build, create just about anything. He’s earned a well-deserved reputation for his tremendous work ethic, high expectations and generosity that have set high bars within the craft industry. With two of three Grossman children working in the family business, Ken may someday (beyond his lifetime) prove to be a modern Adolph Coors.

J.C. Hill with Drake's Brewmaster John Gillooly

J.C. Hill at a 2015 ASB beer dinner with Drake’s Brewmaster John Gillooly

Google J.C. Hill and you’ll turn up a school in Ontario and CJ Hill, a YA novelist. J.C. Hill, founder and owner of Alvarado Street Brewery down the hill from my house in Monterey, California, keeps a low online profile. After graduating from Cornell in 2007, he worked for a while at an economic consulting firm in San Francisco. A couple years later, he and a friend opened a sandwich and craft beer shop in San Diego. Before long, they were homebrewing and opening another shop with a nanobrewery, and J.C. was taking online classes with Siebel Institute. In May, 2014, he opened the 10-barrel Alvarado Street Brewery. In 2015 he won a GABF medal for his Mai Tai Pale Ale—and again in 2016. With a full brewpub on evenings and weekends, in 2016 ASB added a beer garden and a 20-barrel production brewery and taproom a half hour away in Salinas. Whatever J.C. takes on—from frequent collaboration brews to epic New Year’s Eve parties ($155 per person at last week’s shindig)—it all succeeds.

Ken Grossman, moi andGerman brewers from Brauhaus Riegele, at N.C. Sierra Nevada in 2015

Ken Grossman, moi and German brewers from Brauhaus Riegele, at N.C. Sierra Nevada, July 2015

As to the beers I’d serve this exceptional group, whichever one of their brews each of them chose to bring. Of course, if anyone needed suggestions, I’d vote for a 1930s Bohemia and a 1940s Coors Banquet beer. Grossman and his brewers have come up with a plethora of beers in the last 35 years, but I’d suggest one of Sierra Nevada’s annual Oktoberfest collaboration brews. I was lucky enough to drink a pint of the 2015 collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele during a Beer Bloggers Conference dinner at the North Carolina brewery (with Grossman in attendance). I’d ask J.C. to fill a Crowler of Mai Tai P.A. The 45 IBUs might come as a shock to Garza Sada’s tastebuds, so I’d suggest J.C. bring some of his Peninsula Pilsner. The 30 IBUs give this traditional style an interesting twist but the malt base still come through nicely.

As to food, heck, who’d care? These guys would be so wrapped up in the beer and the amazing conversations that they wouldn’t pay attention to the food. Of course, my whole dinner is an illusion that, sadly, will never come to be. But I’ll bet you’re already planning your imaginary dinner…

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