Bill Sysak, the man universally known in west coast US beer circles as Dr. Bill, has had a bit of a rough ride of late. First, there was that “I am a Craft Beer Drinker” video, which featured Doc rather prominently and was roundly criticized in some quarters for having too many industry-connect people involved. And more recently, there was the interview – conducted “in the middle of festival (with) no follow up for fact checking,” according to Doc – that resulted in this story in Esquire online, which again received criticism in some quarters.
But speaking as someone who has known Doc and shared in his passion for good beer for many years, I can tell you conclusively, definitively that this is a guy who really gets it!
While he may now work for the Stone World Bistro, Doc comes by his aficionado status honestly, having spent thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars over the years on the best beers he could find, only to share his bounty most freely with friends and acquaintances. (Doc’s tasting parties, at his southern California home and at the Falling Rock during GABF week, are nothing less than legendary.) What’s more, there is probably no one in the US outside of the rarefied realm occupied by people like the Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton, who better understands beer and food pairing.
Doc will be the first one to tell you that partnering beer and food is not at all an imperative, but rather a point of pure hedonism. The idea is not to rationalize the existence of a harsh or otherwise overly assertive beer by pairing it with the mellowing influence of food, as is sometimes the case with wine, but instead to combine two things of delicious beauty to form something even more perfect. In short, it’s about increasing gastronomic pleasure simply for the indulgence of so doing.
Skeptics will assert that people like Doc are trying to “snobify” beer by insisting that it be paired with food, but again, that misses the point. I’ve shared many a beer with Doc when there has been no food anywhere in sight, and others when we’ve been playing around with beer-food flavour harmonies. Both experiences have been as enjoyable as they have been different, with their common currency being the enjoyment and appreciation of what is in our glasses at the time.
And for anyone who truly enjoys beer in all its myriad forms, that should be the bottom line no matter what the circumstances.