Start-up unable to find a place to brew beer in D.C.

D.C. is no Milwaukee or Portland, but the city’s growing infatuation with beer has driven an expansion of local beer menus, festivals and tasting rooms.

The landscape for connoisseurs of hops would be further expanded if Alan Newman could find some suitably located industrial property.

Newman co-founded Magic Hat Brewing and now heads Alchemy & Science, of Burlington, Vt., where he is looking to open breweries in partnership with local brewers across the country. As a subsidiary of Boston Beer Co., the start-up enjoys financial backing from the publicly traded brewer of more than 50 styles, led by the flagship Samuel Adams label.

He said his new company began in 2011 after Boston Beer executives asked him to expand the reach of small, independently owned beers. “They encouraged me to find ways of growing the craft business — the craft beer marketplace in America,” he said.

In January, Newman announced one of his first deals, that Alchemy & Science would take over Angel City Brewing of Los Angeles, which had opened independently but fallen on tough times.

Newman said he frequently visits D.C. (where his fiancee lives) and, seeing the growth of interest in locally brewed beer, hired a broker to find 7,000 to 15,000 square feet where he could open a brewery that would not only distribute beer but offer tours and samples, and sell ceramic jugs to visitors.

However, the city — decades removed from an era when cars, textiles and other goods were manufactured downtown — has relatively little industrially zoned land. There are large swaths along New York Avenue in Northeast, and a stretch west of South Capitol Street, east of the Nationals Park.

Newman said he was close to leasing some land — he wouldn’t identify where — but had to ask the landlord if he could hold off on paying rent until he got city approval for the brewery. The landlord signed a deal with another tenant. “It was a great location for me. The problem was I needed a contingency for it in my lease to accommodate the zoning changes,” he said.

“Landlords are not going to sit and give a contingency because if it’s a decent location, they can rent it to someone else without that problem,” he added.

Local beer brewers are already beginning to populate the area with alternatives to mass-produced national labels. D.C. Brau became the first brewery to open in the city after a 50-year hiatus and celebrated its one-year anniversary in April. Another micro-brewery, Chocolate City Beer, is launching labels with local themes including 1814 ESB (British forces set Washington aflame in 1814) and Big Chair IPA (named after the famed Anacostia sculpture).

Newman he isn’t interested in opening a brew pub, which would allow him to consider retail locations. Otherwise, Harriet Tregoning, the city’s director of planing, said it was unlikely that the zoning process would allow a brewery to open in space presently zoned for retail or office uses.

“Breweries that produce predominantly for off-site consumption fall under industrial zoning,” she said.

Discouraged by an inability to find a suitable space, Newman said he is now spending more time focused on expansion to other cities. But he hasn’t given up. “I’d love to do a brewery in D.C. I think we could really add to the local craft brew scene,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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