The elegantly malty Devils Backbone Vienna Lager upended the roasty Chocolate City Cerveza Nacional de la Capital, 8-1. Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre (which for panelist Carolyn Stromberg evoked “Ethiopian coffee” and “burnt caramel, figs”) similarly routed Brewer’s Art Resurrection. And District ChopHouse Bourbon Stout (likened to the hazelnut-flavored liqueur Frangelico) toppled Blue Mountain Dark Hollow 8-1 in a battle of big, boozy, barrel-aged brews.
The biggest blowout, oddly, involved two beers nearly identical in flavor, as Rock Bottom White Ale blanked Port City Optimal Wit, 9-0. No one claimed to detect any obvious faults in the Optimal Wit. (Panelist Peter DeFazio, in fact, circled the Port City entry on his score sheet before switching allegiance.)
A few tasters commented that the Rock Bottom White Ale had a richer mouth feel. But the winning beer seemed to draw most of the brickbats. Chef Bryan Voltaggio noted a whiff of “emulsified sausage.” Mixologist Gina Chersevani commented, “Smells like Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce,” referring to the chef-owner of Graffiato in the District’s Chinatown.
But they both voted for the meat beer. Go figure.
A few pairings did divide our panel sharply. In a face-off for hometown bragging rights, Belgian Pale Ale from the Gordon B
iersch brewpub on Ninth Street NW sneaked by DC Brau’s
the Citizen, 5-4. Joe Wallace picked up hints of “taffy smell” and “model glue” in the Citizen, while Chersevani found “acetone,” “apple juice” and “lemon peel.” The same beer reminded Stromberg of Bazooka Joe bubblegum. Doris Dixon praised the Belgian Pale Ale for “rich depth of cognac undertones, beautiful color, hoppy aroma.”
“Unique” is an overused word, but DeFazio — a.k.a. U.S. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) — probably was justified in applying it to Stillwater Cellar Door, with its pungent aroma of white sage. Other panelists groped for the right descriptor, coming up with peach, spearmint, tea, menthol, pine and fresh-cut grass. Only Scott Schenkelberg correctly guessed pepper in its opponent, 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison.
The Peppercorn Saison fell by a 6-3 margin, leaving all three of the District’s packaging breweries to lick their wounds and contemplate next year’s contest. An indictment of our young but burgeoning beer scene? A refutation of the equation that local = freshest = best? Hardly. Both of the city’s brewpubs made the cut, as did another nearby operation, the Rock Bottom in Bethesda. That might indicate an advantage for beer pumped directly from the serving tanks and toted home in growlers. It might also mean that CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries — parent company of the Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom and ChopHouse chains — knows how to hire and nurture brewing talent.