We Tour Atlas Brew Works, Washington DC's 4th Brewery

Behind the Scenes

Your ticket into the secret world of boozemaking.

Atlas Brew Works founder & CEO, Justin Cox, and head brewer, Will Durgin [Photographs: Brian Oh]

2013 has been something of a banner year for Washington DC's food and drink scene and there's little sign of slowing. One of the latest additions is the fourth major brewery to come online in the District. Joining the likes of DC Brau, 3 Stars Brewing, and Chocolate City Beer is Atlas Brew Works. Owned and operated by founder Justin Cox and head brewer Will Durgin, who met during their time at Vanderbilt, Atlas Brew Works is just beginning to supply its brand of craft beers to bars around DC.


Atlas' first beers: District Common and Rowdy

Atlas is starting off on the small side. Currently operating a brewhouse housing three twenty barrel and two forty barrel fermenting vessels, Atlas' initial line-up of beers includes two flagship brews and one limited run. The District Common is their signature beer. It's a California Common style beer, fermented with lager yeast at ale temperatures and dry hopped with Czech Saaz hops. The Rowdy is Atlas' second flagship that Durgin describes as "not really fitting any traditional beer style categories". It's a recipe that he's been home brewing for eight years. Also dry hopped with Centennial and Zythos hops, the Rowdy is a ruby hued ale with rye comprising 15% of the grain bill. The initial run is designed to be "interesting, but not crazy." Durgin hopes that beers like the District Common will "attract people that aren't necessarily into craft beers."

The third brew is a limited release called the NSFW that Durgin describes as a high gravity beer. While the District Common and Rowdy will be Atlas mainstays, brews like the NSFW will be common experimentations for Cox and Durgin. The Atlas brewhouse also contains wood barrels for some barrel-aging experiments in the Belgian style. "Sour beers are some of the most expensive, risky, difficult beers to make," Durgin says, "yet when done well they are a delight to drink." He's an admirer of breweries like Allagash, Russian River, Logsdon Farmhouse, and Telegraph (where he once worked).


All of Atlas' beers are unfiltered. In fact, there are no filters in the brewery at all. "We try to clarify our beers without filtering them by holding them cold for extended periods of time." This produces beers that are "bright with haze," they say.

Atlas is entering the local scene at a time that's ripe for brewers like Cox and Durgin. "The groundwork for a great beer scene has been in place for years," says Durgin of DC, "but the brewing community is just now coming into its own." Not only have the existing three breweries extended their collective experience in navigating DC's regulations, but "the current explosion of restaurants in the District with great beer programs is giving the whole community a shot in the arm."


As Atlas gets off the ground and starts popping up in bars around DC like Meridian Pint and the Big Hunt, Cox and Durgin still look forward with two primary goals: "First and foremost to make a positive contribution to the DC beer community" and, secondly, "to be good members of the larger DC community by providing quality jobs and promoting DC as a beer destination." On that second point, Atlas has plenty of plans for growth. With room for 10 more tanks and a tasting bar, from which they hope to begin selling growlers and pints from, Atlas will likely be hiring additional brewers and tasting room staff in the future (get your résumés ready). So, keep an eye out for Atlas taps at your local bars soon!

Head over to the slideshow for a peek behind the scenes at the brewery »