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Beer: Make way for the brewpubs

Capitol City Brewing is looking for a new location for the Capitol Hill branch, which will close next May. (Capitol City Brewing Co.)

Opening a brewpub in the Washington area, in some ways, is even more difficult than opening a brewery that kegs and bottles beer for offsite consumption. 

“It’s a very expensive effort,” says Bill Madden, alluding to the high cost of real estate in the area’s better neighborhoods. Ideally, you want a long-term lease of 10 years or more. And you’ve also got to find a building with a reinforced floor: "Brewing equipment is very, very heavy.”  

That all factored into Madden’s decision to start his own brewpub — a longtime dream — at Waterford’s Spectrum, a mixed-use development at  444 West Broad St. in Falls Church, about midway between the East Falls Church and West Falls Church Metro stations. He’s shooting for a July 12 opening for Mad Fox Brewing Co.. The moniker is an amalgam of his surname and his wife’s maiden name: "I’m mad, and she’s the fox.” 

Madden, who has previously brewed at Capitol City Brewing Co. and for Vintage 50 in Leesburg, has been working on this project since June 2008. The economic meltdown “put us on mothballs until spring 2009,” but proved a blessing in the long run. A pizzeria, which was originally intended to be the anchor in the Spectrum development, fell through, making room for the brewpub. 

Relations with the other tenants have been cordial. “According to the landlord, some people have purchased condos based on the fact that a brewery is opening here this year,” says Madden.

Mad Fox will feature American fare: sandwiches, salads and Neapolitan and New York-style pizzas. The first half-dozen beers planned for the taps will include two styles that Madden has perfected at his previous brewing stints and which have won medals in national competitions. Kolsch is a pale gold German-style ale, light, refreshing and pilsner-ish. Wee Heavy is a deep ebony color with a silky smoothness and immense malty body.

Also look for an American pale ale, a saison, a porter and an ESB. And yes, Madden will continue his tradition of offering a “stealth beer”: a connoisseur’s beverage, not listed on chalkboard or menu, that you have to request.

Madden’s 15-barrel brew house and six 30-barrel fermenters will be capable of turning out  about 2,000 barrels of beer a year, an unusually large amount for one location. (Average production for the nation’s 981 brewpubs last year was 708 barrels, according to Brewers Association figures.)

“Maybe down the road we’ll open up satellite locations,” muses Madden, all of which would be supplied by the Falls Church brewery.

But that’s a project for the indefinite future, as is the brewpub that restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier (Brasserie Beck, Brabo) is contemplating.

Wiedmaier's brewpub will be somewhere in the DC area and will specialize in Belgian beer styles, says Thor Cheston, beer director for Brasserie Beck. But other details, including a tentative opening date, are yet to be worked out. “It’s a very young idea,” admits Cheston. “We’re toying with a number of different concepts.”

At the moment, Wiedmaier’s primary concern is Mussel Bar, a casual pub and eatery (no reservations, waitstaff dressed in jeans, loud rock ‘n roll) set to open at 7262 Woodmont Ave. in Bethesda the first week in July. That establishment will feature nine drafts, including the Belgian pale ale Antigoon, Brasserie Beck’s house beer.

Finally, Capitol City Brewing Co. will search for a site to replace the Capitol Hill location (2 Massachusetts Avenue NE, across the street from Union Station) that’s set to close May 2011. “We didn’t get our lease renewed; we would have stayed there otherwise,” says Mike McCarthy, Capitol City’s director of brewing operations. He added that the brewing equipment will be moved to Capitol City’s Shirlington branch to expand production. The Shirlington site will continue to brew for its own patrons and to supply the non-brewing Capitol City on New York Avenue in the District.

“Having opened that location in 1996, I think it’s a shame to see it happen,” said Bill Madden, former Capitol City brewer, of the closing of the Capitol Hill brewpub. He recalls that installing the 15-barrel brew house was an ordeal. “It came through the second-floor window over the large marble portico. It took two nights to install.”

Moving the equipment out won’t be much fun either, he suspects.

All the more reason why prospective brewery owners should seek a long-term lease.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  June 21, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Greg Kitsock, beer  
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