In With the New at Gaithersburg's Growlers
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, May 4, 2007
It didn't take long for the new owners of Gaithersburg's Summit Station brew pub to make their mark. After taking over last May, they shuttered for most of the summer while gutting and repainting much of the historic building to give it a fresh, clean look. It reopened in August as Growlers of Gaithersburg with new music and happy hour schedules along with the new look.
Instead of the blues and oldies bands that performed Fridays and Saturdays, the calendar features four nights of live music, capped by what bar manager Luis Aveleyra calls "modern funky alternative" on weekends. Bands such as ThatGuy, Scott's New Band and Road Soda are veterans of the Northern Virginia cover circuit, playing at such party spots as the Clarendon Grill or Kirkpatrick's Irish Pub. Growlers' new schedule and attitude seem designed to appeal to packs of kickball-playing 20- and 30-somethings who come out for happy hours, rather than the older clientele.
In addition, beer dinners, which featured seasonal brews paired with multiple courses from the kitchen, disappeared, to much grumbling from the regulars, as did the Saturday night drink specials.
The changes, however, weren't wholesale. Joe Kalish is still in charge of the brewery, as he was at Summit Station and, for those with even longer memories, Old Town Tavern, and his kolsch still comes out of the tap with a crisp taste and a nice hoppy bite. On a warm summer evening, the third-story deck remains a wonderful place to kick back with a cold pint of ale.
Growlers, like Summit Station, makes the most of its location in the Hart Building, one of Gaithersburg's oldest commercial structures. Since 1889, the lovely brick edifice has served as a post office, auto showroom, Maytag repair shop and even town hall, overlooking the town's historic rail station and display of vintage locomotives.
Soaring ceilings and an enormous, curving bar give the first floor the feel of a turn-of-the-century hotel, and the heavy wooden stools offer views of the copper kettles where the beer is fermenting. There's a dart lane, too, though it's impossible to play when the restaurant is full; a few tables are way too close for comfort.
I'm more apt to head upstairs to the appropriately named Pub Room, where the huge windows provide plenty of natural light and bands perform Wednesday through Saturday on a small raised area. The bar itself is smaller than you might expect, and if you're at the end of the counter, you're often out of the bartenders' line of sight. There are plenty of high, round tables throughout the airy room.
Out a side door is the wood-floored patio, which catches breezes from three sides. It has its own bar, and there's plenty of room to stand and rest your drink on a railing. Flat-screen TVs allow you to watch a game al fresco while sipping a beer.
There are eight taps at Growlers, with six or seven always devoted to house brews. Most of Kalish's creations are on the strong side, hovering between 6 and 7 percent alcohol, and it's worth asking for a sample before ordering. Harding's IPA had a finish that was too sweet for my taste, but the Irvington Pale Ale had a nice hoppy tang. The kolsch is one of the best in the area, and I was pleasantly surprised by the Raison de Boire (loosely, "the reason of drinking"), which uses raisins for a sweet, slightly fruity taste. I think it's less aggressive than the Dogfish Head beer with a similarly punny French name, Raison D'Etre.
You can get Miller Lite in a bottle, but most of the folks I talked to were happily ordering the house drafts. After all, the light-bodied Growlers Delight is crafted to appeal to Miller Lite drinkers.
Pints are generally $4, or a buck cheaper Monday through Friday from 4 to 7, when a selection of appetizers is also knocked down to $5 or $6, including the nine-inch pizzas.
Midweek, though, Growlers is the cheapest place in town for beer and entertainment. Wednesday's "Pint Night" promotion means that all pints are $2.25 from 7 to close, and there's an open mike for local musicians. The busiest I've seen Growlers is during ladies' night on Thursdays, which features $2.25 beers for both sexes from 8 p.m. on, plus discounted wine and rail drinks for women, while Dave Hill and his band perform melodic acoustic-based rock.
Like many beer bars, Growlers offers a Mug Club program for frequent visitors. For $35 a year, members are entitled to larger pours (dimpled 20-ounce mugs instead of pint glasses), free admission on Friday and Saturday nights, and special beer dinners and events that should begin soon.
Oh, and yes, they do sell their beer to go in the glass bottles known as growlers.