To many people, Washington D.C. is a city of powerful lobbyists trying to get those special interests passed into law, ivory-pillared buildings safely guarding our historical artifacts, and politicians trying to fill their quota of baby-kissing. While this part of Washington exists in some form, for the overwhelming majority of District residents, the city is amidst a culinary metamorphosis that is leaving the power lunch of decades past for the vibrant tastes that a burgeoning food and drink scene allows for.
Not only has the area been exploding with new restaurants and bars, but the city itself is becoming home to breweries for the first time in half a century. Why hasn't there been a brewery scene in DC for the last few decades? It's a complicated question, but after the riots in 1968, many residents and businesses moved outside of the city proper. Couple this with very little commercial space and cheap, ample production zoning outside district limits, and most commercial facilities—including brewing—moved into the suburbs. But D.C. has seen a brewing rebirth in recent years. Washington D.C. is now a city that the local flavors are respected as much as the sites, and nowhere is this truer than in the new craft breweries.
In 2011, with over 60 years elapsed since the last production brewing in district limits, Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock founded DC Brau and paved the way to putting D.C. beer back on the map. Skall and Hancock, longtime friends from their salad days in the D.C. punk scene, decided to combine their skills in the beverage and commercial brewing worlds to start their own brewery. Skall, with experience in both restaurant management and beverages sales, took on CEO responsibilities, while Hancock, who has brewed at Grizzly Peak Brewing, Arbor Brewing, and Flying Dog Brewery, assumed the role of head brewer.
DC Brau's flagship beers are inspired not only by the city they are brewed in but the perception people have of the city: The Public (hop forward pale ale), The Corruption (West Coast style IPA), and The Citizen (Belgian style pale). While these beers are designed with the craft beer drinker in mind, their flagships are all accessible to many varying tastes.
DC Brau has also collaborated with other brewers including Stillwater Artisanal, Oliver Ales, and Epic Brewing to create one-off imperial porters, face-melting double IPAs, and quaffable English milds to keep the interest of those wanting something a little different.
Along with their inflammatory beer names, Skall and Hancock affix the Brau slogan of "Fermentation Without Representation" on every bottle they produce to show their passion for getting the DC Statehood initiative that would finally grant District residents a vote in Congress. They have also successfully worked with D.C. city council in order to create laws to allow local breweries to host on-site tastings and growler fills that until recently were illegal. While they were the first in the new wave of beer in the District, DC Brau's goal is to clear a path to foster more breweries in the city and create a strong, supportive local beer community.
DC Brau Brewing Company
3 Stars Brewing
While they may be the newest to officially open, 3 Stars Brewing has already made a regional name for themselves in collaborative brewing with Maryland's Oliver Ales and Evolution Brewing for well over a year. So now (even though their facilities have only been fully operational for a month) 3 Stars has hit the ground running with an aggressive beer lineup that is not for the faint of palate.
The aptly named Pandemic Porter is a burly beer with assertive roasted flavors and a warming sensation that lingers just long enough to know you're drinking something of substance. Their Southern Belle is quite the temptress of an imperial brown ale, edging you closer to the rocks with a delicate nuttiness that showcases the rich malt structure while dangerously masking an 8.7% ABV level. Finally, the Urban Farmhouse saison offers hints of grass and orange peel with an underlying farmyard funk that gives the beer a complexity that is both enticing and satisfying.
Founders Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey were avid homebrewers for some time and wanted to bring together Coleman's years as a beer director with McGarvey's business experience as director of marketing business intelligence at Sirius XM Radio. Their goal is not to create a, as Coleman bluntly puts it, "four dollar happy hour chugger", but to craft beers for the "sophisticated palate that enjoys subtleties and complexities found in premium beers." While currently only in sixtels and firkins (a cask program is an integral part of their beer portfolio), they will soon be bottling the beer in corked and caged 750 mL bottles—the beers lend themselves to bottle-conditioning and cellaring.
3 Stars Brewing Company
Chocolate City Beer
While Chocolate City may be the smallest of the new production breweries in D.C., this brewery has no shortage of love and connection to the city. Jay Irizarry and Ben Matz started Chocolate City a few months after DC Brau and have focused on getting "sessionable" beers (with ABVs around 6%) into the D.C. market. From the Cerveza Nacional de la Capital, a roasty Vienna lager that celebrates the proud Latino culture in D.C. to the 1814 ESB which is a special date for all D.C. residents as it was the year the city was torched in the Battle of Bladensburg, Matz feels Chocolate City has been able to "build a brewery that is a part of the fabric of the neighborhood."
Chocolate City Beer
What's next for the District's beer scene? With new brewpubs Right, Proper and Bluejacket as well as new brewery Hellbender are scheduled to open in 2013, and breweries like Port City and Mad Fox just over the river in northern Virginia, Washington D.C. is becoming a city where world-class beers are sipped side by side with local favorites.
About the author: John Fleury is a Certified Cicerone Beer Server who covers beer and bar culture in Washington DC. He also works on promotion and hosting of various events and tastings throughout the Metro DC area.