"I wanted to call it a brewing workshop," said brewmaster Nathan Zeender, whose focus is "brewing new beers and challenging beers with a well-developed sense of play ... We're trying to be a little bit more personal."
Zeender says Right Proper is a yeast-centric brewery, and he has worked to develop blended house strains of yeast.
"Yeast-wrangling is its own pursuit," Zeender said. He gets his from a lab in Colorado.
Building out the brewery has been an "endlessly complicated" endeavor, Cheston said. They had to cram tanks into a too-small room. And one of their tanks is an open fermenter, procured from a winery, so the climate in the room needs to be just right. Many, many engineers have been involved in the process.
"We have to have a certified steam engineer on the payroll," Cheston said. "That was a big shock to the whole operation."
Right Proper will open with three collaboration beers (with DC Brau, Lost Rhino and Devils Backbone), one guest tap and four beers brewed in-house. Those include:
• Being There, a kellerbier. Zeender describes it as crisp and unfiltered. The name is a play on his favorite D.C. movie of the same title, which starred Peter Sellers as a simpleminded gardener who mistakenly becomes one of the most admired men in Washington. Sellers, keller, get it? "I like wordplay," Zeender said.
• The Duke, named after Duke Ellington, is a strong Belgian golden ale, made with a strain of trappist yeast.
• Raised By Wolves is a play on the Latin term for hops, "humulus lupus." Zeender says it's like an IPA, but with five percent alcohol content. "You can have a few and not get too loopy."
• Ornette is named after jazz musician Ornette Coleman, which rhymes with this style of beer, grisette. It's the first beer to come out of the brewery's open fermenter.
In a few months, barrel brewed beers will be available as well. They're part of what Right Proper is calling its baroque beer program, and they're made with a custom-blended bacteria. They have to be kept in a separate, sealed room from the rest of Right Proper's operations to prevent contamination.
The front portion of the brewpub shares a wall with what was formerly Frank Holiday's Pool Room, a former hangout of Duke Ellington. On that wall, Nico Amortegui, Cheston's brother-in-law, has painted a mural in tribute. Another mural by Patrick Owens features some of D.C.'s most beloved animals, like the giant pandas, engaging in a giant battle royale against the capital. The back of the brewpub is all new construction, and behind the bar, you can see rooms that contain the casks and brewing systems.
"I wanted to avoid that paned glass that makes it look like a museum," Cheston said. "It's like you're outside looking into a building."
Matt Richardson of 1905 is at the helm in the kitchen, where the entire menu has been developed to pair well with beer. Expect hearty, Southern-inspired fare, like chicken and dumplings, pimento grilled cheese and a take on a Chik-fil-A sandwich. Bar snacks include blueberry and jalapeno corn muffins, and fried chicken parts with a house-made mumbo sauce (for those following the gentrification of mumbo sauce: it's $7). Richardson is especially proud of the side dishes, which include whipped potatoes, squash fry and black-eyed pea succotash.
"Instead of having an app, I encourage people to sit down with a cup of potato salad," Richardson said.
Initially, the brewpub will only be open for dinner. All of the food on the menu, as well as growlers, will be available to go.
--Maura Judkis, December 2013