Take a Tour of Washington D.C.’s Emerging Craft Beer Scene
The Capital City might be best known for its monuments, but it also has a burgeoning brewery culture
In 1957, Brickskeller, a tavern, opened near Washington D.C.'s Dupont Circle. Beginning as a French restaurant, the tavern quickly became known for its beer selection—which grew so much throughout the 1960s and 1970s that it earned the Brickskeller a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the bar with the largest selection of commercially available beers." It was an international and domestic selection that mirrored the strong international presence in Washington, as well as the city's unique direct import laws, which allow D.C. bars and businesses to circumvent wholesalers and purchase their beer directly, from any source.
But although D.C. was a haven for beer importers, it wasn't a haven for beer makers. "Brew pubs weren’t legal in the district until the early 1990s, which stunted our growth," says Greg Engert, beer director at Washington D.C.'s Bluejacket Brewery and Churchkey. "You didn’t see breweries popping up in the area in the same way that you saw them around the United States."
That's beginning to change thanks to a new vangaurd of local breweries shaking up D.C.'s beer scene, as well as an influx of young residents looking to local breweries to produce their perfect pint. These days, it's hard to find a bar in the city that doesn't feature one of D.C.'s local beers. "There's a lot of beer coming out of a city that’s only 65-square miles," Engert says.
If you're looking to explore D.C.'s emerging craft scene, consider taking a trip to the source by touring one of the District's breweries.
DC Brau is the original D.C. local beer, becoming the first brewery to brew and distribute beer within DC city limits since the 1950s in 2009. Since then, their local brews have garnered a local following and international awards, like taking first place at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2014 for their Penn Quarter Porter. The brewery also snagged the title of "Best Local Brewery" in Washington City Paper's 2014 Reader Poll. To meet with increasing demand, the brewery has temporarily closed its doors to the public, starting on May 18, for about six weeks—but never fear, you can still get a taste for the local brew by visiting any one of the many stores or bars within the district that carry the brand.The brewery is typically open Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., with free tours offered at 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. http://www.dcbrau.com/ 3178 Bladensburg Road Northeast, Washington, DC 20018 ; (202) 621-8890
Chocolate City Beer
In 2011, Jay Irizarry—along with a few friends—started Chocolate City Beer (for years D.C. was called Chocolate City by black Americans because of the city's majority African-American population), the second of D.C.'s local production breweries. "At the time, there were no production breweries in D.C. There was a vacuum to be filled, we aimed to take advantage of the opportunity. Little did we know, others, like DC Brau, were thinking the same thing, simultaneously we were all busy with business plans, securing capital and sourcing equipment," he says. "D.C.'s beer scene's time had come, I suppose."
What started as a backyard hobby—Irizarry's time spent working in the service industry had piqued his interest in wine and craft beer—has become a fully operation brewery, with three beers in production and another (an IPA) in the pipeline. Chocolate City's beer often mirrors local events: for the 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival, the brewery released a special Belgian blonde ale brewed with cherries. Open each Saturday for growler sales, Chocolate City Beer sees no reason to slow down their operation any time soon.
"I believe the DMV has a robust and secure beer industry," Irizarry explains in reference to the District/Maryland/Virginia region. "The country is finally getting back to pre-Prohibition levels regard individual breweries. It's an ancient craft, mankind cannot do with out beer. So if we do our job and continue to bring quality craft beer, brewed with passion, we'll all be here for a while."Growlers for sale every Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. http://chocolatecitybeer.com/ 2801 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20017; (202) 351-6197
3 Stars Brewing Company
3 Stars Brewing Company effectively began in 2007, when friends Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey began brewing beer out of their homes and sharing it with friends. After two years of small-scale operation, they crafted a plan to open a full-scale brewery, which eventually opened its doors in August of 2012. The brewery has won awards for its product, but it's not content to simply produce high-quality local beer—it also wants to repurpose its spent grains by turning them into compost for and livestock feed for farmers as well as bread for D.C.'s poorer residents. Even the brewery's name reflects its local commitment, nodding to the three stars displayed on D.C.'s flag.Free tours are offered Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. http://www.threestarsbrewing.com/ 6400 Chillum Pl NW, Washington, DC 20011; (202) 670-0333
Atlas Brew Works
In September of 2013, Justin Cox and Will Durgin, friends from college, opened Atlas Brew Works about a mile from D.C.'s Union Market—and named their brewery after the mythical Titan who held the universe on his shoulders. The Justin had been brewing in his home for years, and had been trying to convince Will, who had moved West to make beer for breweries like Telegraph Brewing Company in Santa Barbara and Pyramid Breweries in Portland, OR, to join him in a local brewery endeavor. The leap paid off—though the brewery hasn't even been open for a full year, it's garnered media attention from outlets the Washington Post, and earned the duo a permanent tap at Nationals Park (which serves an exclusive Atlas beer available only at the stadium).
"We chose D.C. for a reason, and it wasn’t just because Justin lived here. We wanted to be part of a developing community and a developing scene," Durgin explains. "The city has been really welcoming and really receptive. It’s really a great city for food, and it’s going to be a great city for local beer."
Currently, Atlas Brew Works opens its brewery to the public on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., offering tastings, tours, and growlers or bottles to go. In the coming months, the brewery will start serving up pints of their beer, as well (which is currently only available as drafts in the District). Also in the coming months, expect to see a re-release of a beer that was last available at the brewery's launch, as well as a project experimenting with aging beer in barrels.Open for tours Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. http://atlasbrewworks.com/ 2052 West Virginia Ave NE #102, Washington, DC 20002 ; (202) 832-0420
Greg Engert has been involved in the D.C. beer scene for 12 years, but only recently as a brewer—before that, he cut his teeth by purveying beer for some of the city's most popular restaurants and bars, including ChurchKey and Birch and Barley on 14th Street. But he had always wanted to try his hand at making the stuff he was so good at buying—and when a space opened up in the Navy Yard neighborhood, Engert jumped at the chance to dive in to brewing.
The result is Bluejacket Brewery, which opened its doors in October of 2013. The brewery, which features tours and tastings as well as a restaurant, has made over 70 different types of beers since it first opened. "We wanted to build a brewery without boundaries," Engert explains. "We didn’t want to make a standard brewery: we wanted to make it something new."
That new approach includes featuring 25 different beers at all times—20 on tap and five from casks. And Engert prides himself on his breweries ability to create a diverse range of beers for patrons to sample. "We’ll never have 20 different IPAs on tap. We’ll always have something hoppy, but also something sour, something smoky, something crisp and refreshing," he says. "We’re trying to represent the myriad of flavor profiles you can find."Free tours offered Saturdays on the hour from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Special tasting tour packages available from $29. http://bluejacketdc.com/tours.htm 300 Tingey St SE, Washington, DC 20003 ; (202) 524-4862