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Beer: DC's impending brewery boom

A fellow beer writer visited Washington two months ago. After a Dupont Circle pub crawl that included the Brickskeller, Kramerbooks/Afterwords Cafe and The Big Hunt, he was impressed with the selection ... for the most part. “But where are the local breweries?” he asked.

My colleague was referring to production breweries: operations that keg and bottle beer for off-premise sale. He got here 50 years too late: DC’s last packaging brewery, the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., closed in 1956.

The next year or two, however, should bring a flood of hometown beer, in kegs, bottles and even cans.

Here's what's on tap, or will be:

DC Brau plans to roll out its first barrels in January 2011. But, cautions CEO/manager Brandon Skall, “It all depends on how fast the permitting process goes. It’s the only thing we have no control over.”

Skall and his partner, president and head brewer Jeff Hancock (whose resume includes stints at Franklin's in Hyattsville and Flying Dog in Frederick, among other breweries) , plan to quit their day jobs on June 30 and become full-time beer barons. They were about to sign a 10-year lease on a warehouse on Bladensburg Avenue in Northeast DC, where they’ll install a 15-barrel brew house. DC Brau will release three flagship brews in 12-ounce cans: Public Ale, a cross between a pale and an amber ale; The Citizen, same recipe as the above but fermented with a Belgian yeast strain; and Corruption Ale, an IPA. The brewery also will market four seasonal brews named after DC neighborhoods, along with “some crazy one-off beers,” in 22-ounce bottles.

The Black Squirrel Brewing Co., an offshoot of the similarly named Adams Morgan bar, is "probably a two-year project," admits Hollie Stephenson, the Black Squirrel's bar manager and brewer-to-be. Stephenson spent last October studying at the Brewlab beer school in Sunderland, England. She’ll practice on a half-barrel Sabco Brew-Magic system in a warehouse in DC’s Brookland neighborhood, brewing Americanized versions of such classic English styles as pale, IPA, porter and stout.

But these will be test brews, not for sale. The plan is first to contract-brew the recipes at somebody else's plant and release them within a year, then to have the Black Squirrel's own 20 or 25-barrel brew house operational within another year. Black Squirrel Brewing will be incorporated separately from the pub and will bottle and keg for markets in the District and its suburbs, says Stephenson.

“Part of it feels like a sprint; part of it is walking along waiting for things to happen,” she comments.

Jay Irizarry says he hatched the idea of Chocolate City Brewing Co. three years ago while lounging his backyard pondering the lack of a hometown brew. He started planning in November 2009, taking on two partners and lining up a brewer (Ben Matz, formerly of Flying Dog and of Gordon Biersch in DC).

Irizarry, who works as booking manager/bartender for the Wonderland Ballroom, says he has “85 percent of his equipment already bought” and expected to sign a lease on a property in Southeast Washington. “We’re going to be small; we’ll put out 50 to 100 kegs a week.” Initial beers, including a pale ale and IPA, will be draft only. Opening date could be anywhere “between August and Christmas,” depending on how quickly government approval comes through.

The name of the brewery, notes Irizarry, was inspired by George Clinton's 1975 funk album, "Chocolate City," celebrating DC.

Meanwhile, two additional breweries are preparing to launch in the northern Virginia suburbs. In Alexandria, Bill Butcher, a former brand manager for the Mondavi family, hopes to have Port City Brewing Co. up and running by December. “Craft beer has gotten much complex and sophisticated; it’s evolved to be much more like the wine business,” he says of his career switch. He’ll take over a space now occupied by Capital Lighting and Supply Co. at 3950 Wheeler Avenue.

Port City’s brewer will be the well-traveled Jonathan Reeves, who began his career at the now defunct Bardo Rodeo in Arlington and most recently has been brewing for the Ruddy Duck Brewery and Grill on Solomons Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Port City’s lineup will include a pale ale, an American IPA, a Belgian-style wit and a porter.

Finally, the 28 North Brewhouse on Red Rum Drive in Ashburn, Va., should debut this fall, promises brewer Favio Garcia. The brewery is in an industrial park a mile-and-a-half of where the Old Dominion Brewing Co. used to be. In fact, Garcia and partner Matt Hagerman used to work for Old Dominion, and managed to acquire their old 25-barrel brew house.

Their first two beers, says Garcia, will be a yet-to-be-named IPA and Rhino Chasers Pacific Pils. “Rhino chasers” is California surfer jargon for thrill seekers who seek out the biggest waves. It was also the name of a West Coast contract brand that disappeared during the late 1990s. There aren’t many surfer dudes in Ashburn, but the idea is that you’re an “adventure seeker” if you try their beers, explains Garcia.

Garcia and Hagerman recently brewed a test batch of the pilsner at the Vintage 50 brewpub in Leesburg. Look for it at the Northern Virginia Summer Brewfest on June 26-27 at Morven Park in Leesburg.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  June 14, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Greg Kitsock, beer  
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Don't forget Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church opening in July:

Posted by: schnozzle | June 14, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Can't wait for all of the local brews to pop up in DC.

That said, it looks like that Chocolate City brewing place is trying (badly) to rip off DC Brau's look.

I hope there is more originality in the beer itself.

Posted by: ChrisPeterson125 | June 14, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

What's going on with Hook & Ladder in Silver Spring?

Posted by: Gaylek | June 14, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

No Chocolate City is ripping off Chicago's Revolution Brewpub.

Posted by: jkblodge1 | June 14, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I've got to believe the problem with a lack of breweries is the cost of real estate in DC. The resulting overhead probably puts the product at an unattractive price point. It's cheaper (and probably easier) to move out to the 'burbs like Clipper City did.

Posted by: pppp1 | June 14, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

@Gaylek -- It seems Hook & Ladder is not involved in the project at the old firehouse in Silver Spring anymore. They said that the economics of the project did not work for them, and that it "wasn't the right time." A retired fireman who owns three Outback Steakhouses opened Fire Station 1 Restaurant & Brewing Co. in the space last week, but they don't make beer?!?! I checked it out and it's pretty bad - generic draft list and the food was horrible.

Posted by: kjd9999 | June 14, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

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