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Posted at 2:38 PM ET, 02/ 7/2007

Beer, Beer and More Beer

By Fritz Hahn

I have favorite beer bars in Washington -- Birreria Paradiso, the upstairs of the Brickskeller, the Reef, the Saloon -- but few places outside the district have a selection that can compare to their choices. One that can, though, is Alexandria's Rustico, which often has some interesting selections among its 30-tap draft lineup. Coniston Blue Bird Bitter and the unbelievable St. Bernardus Abt 12 -- a rare Belgian quadruple ale -- would be enough to lure me in on occasion, but the frequent appearance of cask-conditioned ale is a reason to be a regular.

The bar also does regular events with outside brewers that usually take the form of a "We bring in some exclusive beers for one night only and you get to take some branded glassware home with you" promotion. Tonight, Brooklyn's in the house -- the Brooklyn Brewery, that is -- with a cask-conditioned version of the outstanding Brooklyn Winter Ale and regular draft versions of the brewery's richer offerings: Black Chocolate Stout and the Smoked Weissbock. Between 6 and 9, you keep a Belgian-style Brooklyn glass for every beer you purchase. (If they're the snifter glasses on the Brooklyn Web site, I'm going to try and grab a pair.)

Speaking of beer events, it seems that every brewpub in the Mid-Atlantic region is tapping excellent winter seasonals right now. It's a hassle to find out about all of them, but to try them, you would have to lasso a designated driver and spend three weeks traipsing from Leesburg to Baltimore to downtown D.C. For an easier option, hit R.F.D. Washington's annual Strong Ale Tasting, where 20 local breweries and brewpubs bring their high-octane creations for two nights of sampling. Next Wednesday and Thursday, two different lineups are offered for $30 a night, which includes unlimited samples.

Wednesday's Maryland-centric lineup includes Gordon Biersch's tremendous Baltic Porter, the Wharf Rat's Hot Monkey Love, Brewer's Art's Cerberus Tripel ... Actually, here's the whole two-night lineup, courtesy of R.F.D. owner Dave Alexander, though he warns "changes are inevitable":

Allen Young's Original Chesbay Dark Horse from Gordon Biersch (Virginia Beach, Va.)
Oatmeal Stout from Brewer's Alley
Hot Monkey Love from the Wharf Rat (Baltimore)
Baltic Porter from Gordon Biersch (Washington)
Highlander Heavy or Barley Wine from Red Brick Station (White Marsh, Md.)
Cerberus Tripel from the Brewer's Art (Baltimore)
Doppelbock from the District ChopHouse and Brewery
Imperial Stout from Franklin's Restaurant and Brewery
Oak Barrel Mountain Beast from Shenandoah Brewing
Steel Curtain Stout (Russian Imperial Stout) from Rock Bottom Ballston

Belgian Strong Ale from Johansson's (Westminster, Md.)
St. Victorious Doppelbock from Victory (Donnington, Penn.)
Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A (Rye Double IPA) from He'Brew (San Francisco)
Bill Madden's Cask Wee Heavy from Vintage 50 Restaurant and Brew Lounge
Oak Aged Millennium from Old Dominion Brewing Company
A firkin of Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine from Clipper City (Baltimore)
Double D Double Red Ale from Capital City Brewing Company (Shirlington)
Belgian Sour Cherry Ale made with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococus from Capital City Brewing Company (Shirlington and Downtown)
Imperial Koelsch from Capitol City Brewing Company (Baltimore)
Double IPA from Capitol City Brewing Company (Capitol Hill)
Oak Aged High Desert Imperial Stout from Sweetwater Tavern
Something from the Arcadia Brewing Company (Battle Creek, Michigan)

It's a laidback affair -- each brewer gets up and says something about his beer before the audience gets a taste. And you're not getting a pint of any of these -- each one is going to clock in somewhere between 8 percent alcohol and 11 percent alcohol by volume, so don't drink too much too quickly. Call R.F.D. to purchase tickets.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | February 7, 2007; 2:38 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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I'm a recent transplant from the Northwest, so I know my beer, and I wanted more info on a regional difference: what's up with the obsession over here with Belgian Whites? They're tasty enough, but seem a bit of a niche acquired taste (beer + cardamom?) for them to be in so many bars around here...

Posted by: Bobby McObvious | February 7, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

PNW dude - I'm not sure what you mean. I haven't been to every bar in the city recently, but there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of Whites on tap.

You do however, hit on something important - there is a dearth of small-time good pubs in this city with an acceptable array of beers. With so many different breweries in the NYC-Philly-Bal'more-DC Metro-VA area, local bars need to pick up some more stuff. Why can I find Red Hook IPA in almost every bar in the city, but it's so difficult to find Victory beers on tap? Is it a distributor issue, or do bars just think DC drinkers don't want that kind of stuff? I wish that some of the bar owners would realize that people sit in RFD just for the beer (it's certainly not for atmosphere). If I could go to Rustico every night, I'd be there (getting there can be a pain, and when I'm drinking that kind of beer, I'm sure not driving!). Such a great mix of atmosphere and beer.

Local Bar Owners and Managers: BRING GOOD BEER AND WE WILL COME....please. (Or in the alternative, can Rustico open their own shuttle service?)

Posted by: Capitol Hill | February 7, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'm just not used to seeing it on tap at all, but the bars I've been to so far here have all had Blue Moon ( or something along those lines, and it seems like there's several varieties of Belgian White at grocery/liquor stores (tangent: Safeway should be required by law to carry beer -- an unconscionable absense).

I will definitely try to check these locales out. Seemed like Dr. Dremo's had a decent selection too, although it soon shall be condos.

Posted by: Bobby McObvious | February 7, 2007 6:30 PM | Report abuse

While the walk from the Braddock Station to the restaurant isn't that far (understandably it's mighty cold outside right now & noone wants to walk a mile in the frigid cold), but there is a DASH bus (#4) that runs from the Braddock station down Slaters with a stop right across the street. Not quite a shuttle, but close enough.

Posted by: Rustico Shuttle | February 8, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I agree completely about finding too much Red Hook and not enough local stuff. Heck, how about just stuff from somewhere in the mid-Atlantic?! You can usually find Dogfish Head 60 Minute, but not nearly enough things from other area brewers.

That said, PNW dude should check out Birreria Paradiso, the Reef, and (somewhat surprisingly) Kramerbooks for a decent selection. They might have a Belgian white on tap (typically Allagash), but you might also be able to find something approximating a true west coast style DIPA.

I also find east coast brewers doing better lager styles, so check those out.

Posted by: RC | February 8, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

for drink at home people, MOM's in Alexandria has a surprisingly interesting selection of beers.

Posted by: alexandria beerhead | February 9, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Are these tasting events at RFD actually enjoyable, and do people really show up? During the handful of times that I've visited this bar, the staff has been inattentive and less than friendly, and the place has just about the worst atmosphere of any bar in the District. We won't even get into the food. Dave Alexander deserves credit for making such interesting beers available, but that place has some serious issues that keep it from being a real destination for beer lovers.

Posted by: Ron | February 14, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

About Red Hook being everywhere -- whoever does their distribution in this region has to be employee of the year for that company (or have naked pics of lots of area bar owners). A few months ago, a bunch of restaurants in DC switched from carrying Sierra to Red Hook IPA overnight. A bunch of them -- at the same time.

And the thing is that Red Hook IPA pretty much sucks compared to instead of a great tasting beer I can enjoy all night long, I can now go with Redhook and drink two beers before getting a headache and switching to something that tastes better. Usually Guinness is the best way to chase post-RedHook-Headache Syndrom.

Anyway, so there's that. Boo Redhook.

Posted by: Markus V. | February 14, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Red Hook is partially owned by Anhueser-Busch, who does their distribution. When all those bars switched from Sierra, I assume the A-B distro people gave them a better bunch deal for doing all A-B products.

Posted by: RC | February 15, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

"but it's so difficult to find Victory beers on tap"

The Barking Dog in Bethesda used to carry a couple diffent Victory beers on tap (a lager and an ale that I remember specifically), but one day they just seemed to disappear. I asked one of the owners about it and he said that Victory no longer wanted to distribute their beers by the keg to his bar, but only by the bottle. And the owner decided it wasn't a lucrative beer to keep around with that change. I'm not sure if this is the case everywhere but it could explain why it's hard to find. If there are cheaper, comprable beers, bars are going to stock those. Victory makes some good beers though and you usually can find them in beer stores in the area (I'm thinking maryland here).

Posted by: Laura | February 20, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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