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Lions and Tigers and Beers -- Oh, My!

A representative from Paleewong Trading Co. pours Beerlao from Laos at last night’s Brew at the Zoo. (Mehgan Murphy/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

The last time I visited the National Zoo, one of the tigers was using an empty beer keg as a cat toy, batting it down the steps of its compound and into the moat, to the delight of the crowd. I suspect that keg was a leftover from Brew at the Zoo, an annual fundraiser now in its fifth year.

Last night's beer festival on Lion-Tiger Hill was not officially part of DC Beer Week, which I've been following, and at any rate sold out a week-and-a-half ago. But its continued success inspired him to schedule something “when nobody else was doing anything,” admits DC Beer Week co-organizer Jeff Wells.

“My glass is empty. Can anybody recommend a good beer?” yelled a member of Gonzo’s Nose, one of two bands entertaining the throng. "Starr Hill!" came the reply. Starr Hill Brewing Co. in Crozet, Va., one of about 35 breweries represented, was pouring Northern Lights, a hoppy India pale ale, and The Love, a German hefeweizen.

“That doesn’t have any strawberries in it?” asked the man ahead of me in line as he held out his souvenir mug for a pour of The Love. No strawberries ... but it did have a healthy dose of banana from the peculiar German yeast used to ferment it.

Are rye beers becoming a trend? Brew at the Zoo featured three examples of this once-unusual style. Shmaltz Brewing, which drew the longest lines of the evening, was pouring two of them: Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. (a foamy tribute to the late comedian Lenny Bruce), and Sword Swallower, a rye lager. Weyerbacher Brewing Co. from Easton, Penn., offered its own Echo Rye-PA. In all three cases, the rye added a pumpernickel spiciness that accentuated the hops and a rich, oily mouthfeel.

The award for “beer that traveled the farthest to be here” goes to Beerlao from Laos, a product of Paleewong Trading Co. in New York (the same folks who bring you the Thai beer Singha). There were actually two varieties of Beerlao: a pale lager not essentially different from such imports as Tsingtao or Kirin, and a dark lager, roughly in the German dunkel style, with an amber color and caramely sweetness.

For those who missed out on the fun, the Friends of the National Zoo is organizing another beer blast on Oct. 30, dubbed Night of the Living Zoo, featuring live music, performance art and a full selection of beers from Magic Hat Brewing Co. in South Burlington, Vt.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  August 21, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Greg Kitsock, beer  
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