Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brooks Carretta- In the Right Place at the Right Time

The Craft Beer Coach sits down with Brooks Carretta, Brewmaster of Eataly Birreria in New York City, to find out what's behind the man and his craft.
Left: Brooks Carretta
Brooks' Background
Brooks was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but spent most of his life growing up in Rome, Italy. When Brooks was seven years old his father decided to move the family there for a fresh start. Brooks grew up as an Italian in Rome and was working at a job that he was not too fond of when he was bitten by the beer bug.

He was visiting a friend in Belgium when he discovered the complex Belgian styles of beer that he likened to the wines of Italy. It was this experience that provided the spark for Brooks to start researching the history and styles of beer. He also began to research and perform homebrewing around the time a craft beer movement was afoot in Rome. He loved the idea of making his own beer in a place that did not have too many styles of beer available at the time. Being part of the passion and innovation of the grassroots movement was another motivating factor for Brooks. Outside of the unfulfilling job he had at that time, Brooks devoted much of his time and money to improving his knowledge and skills on the craft.

It was at this job that he took vacation time to do an internship at a brewery named Birra Del Borgo. He described the internship as the greatest time of his life. A short while after returning to work Brooks was offered a position at Birra del Borgo. He lept at the opportunity. As part of the training in the brewery, Brooks also worked at a beer bar. Brooks shared that this was a particularly great experience as it helped him connect the behind-the-scenes work at the brewery with the front-of-house goal of understanding the customer. He was at Birra Del Borgo just a short time when he was offered the position to brew for the Eataly / Baladin / Del Borgo / Dogfish Head Brewery collaboration in New York City.
"Becoming a brewer was pretty much the best thing that has happened in my life so far."
By the way...as if this is not already obvious...Brooks prefers beer over wine. He likes carbonation. In his words, "Bubbles make you happier anyway."

The Dream
His dream entails continuing his formation as a brewer. As he describes it, it is a discipline you never really get to the top of. There is continuous research on new beers, techniques, and technologies.
"No matter how much technology you apply to brewing...and how much literature there is...to me it still remains something magical."
For Brooks, to understand what is going on when he mashes in...the starches turning to sugar...the fact that it just happens...he finds it amazing. 

He hopes to continue to work with breweries that are project and collaboration oriented. He sees a lot of great potential with what is going on in the industry, especially at Eataly Birreria. Brooks finds it a great accomplishment to have a lot of great minds coming together to share ideas, even compromising a little to fit ideas in with other people's ideas to create something even more unique.

He wants to continue to have the opportunity to try new things and not sit on brewing the same beer day-to-day.

The Passion Behind the Dream
OK, so Brooks' #1 passion is brewing beer. That is as clear as a Bohemian Pilsner. What else?

Brooks likes food. Basically anything that is crafted.  He loves cheese. He appreciates wine but admits he would like to learn more about it. Brooks hones in on the person behind the raw materials...the person transforming the raw materials into something that makes people happy. 

Hmmm. A person? A craft? Raw materials? Transformed into something that makes people happy? 

Staying Motivated
"At the end of the day, through my knowledge and through my skill...and my craft, (my goal) is to get out to people and let them know more about beer, where beer comes from, what the craft beer community does as a whole..."
Brooks finds it amazing how competing businesses can join together and do great things. He mentions the groups and the guilds that get together with the goal of spreading knowledge and culture.
Bouncing Back / Staying the Course
Brooks' greatest challenge with brewing came at the beginning of the career. The manual labor required to perform the job had him thinking at times that it was impossible for him to stick with it. Brooks took on and surmounted the challenge by staying focused on the end result..his passion for the product he got to create. He found it very rewarding that regardless of how long the day was, or how hard the manual labor was, he got to enjoy the product that he helped create.

When he moved to New York City to start brewing for Eataly Birreria there were times early on where he felt troubled and challenged about becoming independent with all of the brewing operations for Birreria. He confides that at times he did not think he was going to make it.
"I pretty much freaked out for the first couple of weeks."
Brooks is grateful for the mentoring and knowledge imparted to him along the way. He was able to call upon that during difficult times to pull through the periods of self-doubt. Brooks did not attend any formal brewing school program so all of his learning was hands-on, on-the-job experience. This created a lot of pressure for him. He made some mistakes and got yelled at a few times. Brooks would get through it by calling upon his passion and promising to himself that he would not make that mistake again.

As far as Brooks' own outlook on mistakes...well, I'll just quote his words.
"Some mistakes have to be made to understand things. It's kind of a gateway to further knowledge."
As a mentor, Brooks puts his belief into practice. He shares that he let someone he is mentoring make a few mistakes. His goal is to talk about the mistakes afterward, in order for the person he is mentoring to fully appreciate the impact of the mistake. 

Life Perspective
Brooks struggles a bit on this one. He starts to say something then stops. He says he's afraid he's going to sound cheesy. Slowly an idea builds.
"Pursue your passion. Try to do what you enjoy in life. No matter what you are doing or where you are, you can always...at least...try to be in the right place, at the right time to make things happen."
He's hit that magical flow where an initial "I can't think of anything" becomes a wellspring of very clear and coherent thought. He keeps going. Brooks talks about immersing himself into his passion for brewing- hanging around others who shared his passion, attending events, making connections, networking, etc...
"Until you're somebody you're pretty much nobody...and nobody knows you...so nobody's gonna come knock on your door..."
Psst! He's still going. Brooks continues by sharing how he used his interest in listening to music as another way to expand his network. 

Role Model
He has great respect for the brewers in the industry but he looks outside the industry for inspiration. He mentions that perhaps it might be a musician or a writer but he's quickly off to talking about his father. Brooks talks about how his dad was struggling to achieve what he really wanted to do here in the states and decided to take a big chance with moving the family to Rome for a fresh start. Brooks shares how he himself was struggling at a certain point in his life and came to the decision point to take a chance on a new start.
"It's never too late to start off with something new."
Celebrating Success 
"I usually drink a beer."
For Brooks there is nothing more rewarding than sitting down and having a beer with someone...sharing your thoughts...and patting your back. He's not materialistic. He does not celebrate by going shopping. He does not own an iPhone or iPad. I can attest to this as I notice a plastic layer that is peeling away from his Blackberry. 
A Beer Called Wanda
If Brooks were a style of beer, he would be Eataly Birreria's Wanda. It is an English Mild Ale, with roasted chestnuts from Italy, brewed in New York City. He describes the fit for him as a lot of elements combined and brewing knowledge from different parts of the world into one product. He sees Wanda as defining his own collection of intercontinental brewing experience.

Favorite Brewing Tool or Process Step
Brooks does not hesitate to identify "mashing" as his favorite brewing process step. He seems to be a morning guy. He likes the physical challenge of mashing early in the day. It's the start of a new day and a new batch of beer. For him, it is a focal moment and his favorite part of the day.
"...and just that smell you get..of...freshly cooked oatmeal...that you get." 
So What is Brooks Drinking Right Now?
A Gaffel Kolsch. Brooks discovered his love for beer through the more traditional European styles while he lived in Rome so these are the styles he prefers. Not that he does not like the extremes that American breweries are going to but he likes a beer he can share with his mom, dad, and aunt without wrecking their palate.

Favorite Quotes

Beer- "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" -Ben Franklin

Life- "Then you shall judge yourself," the king answered. "that is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom." -Antoine de Saint Exupéry

What's Next for Brooks
Very soon Brooks will be returning to the city of his youth. Brooks will be opening the first brewpub in Rome as part of the expanding Eataly Birreria venture. 
" I really feel gifted and lucky and blessed to be able to do that."
Brooks continues his legacy of making sure he is in the right place...at the right time.

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