Highlights of D.C.’s Beer Week

August 23, 2011

Drink new beers, meet old friends. That seemed to be the mantra for D.C. Beer Week 2011, which ended Sunday.

Celebrations of local brewing heritage, little cousins of Munich’s Oktoberfest, are proliferating. The Brewers Association lists 46 city, state and regional beer weeks around the country during this year. Frederick’s was held May 10-14. New York holds its beer week Sept. 16-25. Baltimore fetes its beer culture Oct. 6-16.

The custom is spreading: Kalamazoo, Mich.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Eugene, Ore., have their own beer weeks, as do Alabama and Mississippi.

DC Beer Week’s Web site listed 159 happenings that included half-price pint specials and five-course beer dinners, which might have seemed meager when viewed next to Baltimore’s (342 events in 2010) and Philadelphia’s (more than 1,000). However, the co-founder and chairman of our hometown celebration is happy.

“It’s exceeded our expectations. It’s three times the amount of events we did last year,” says Teddy Folkman, owner and head chef of Granville Moore’s in Northeast Washington. “It’s all about showing the rest of the country that even though we don’t have a brew pub on every corner, we are a legitimate beer town.”

For logistical reasons, Folkman limited DC Beer Week events to the city limits. But he says “absolutely!” to the possibility of expansion. He says Beltway Beer Week “has a nice ring to it,” but he draws the line at going as far as Gaithersburg or West Virginia.

Organizers like to bracket these festivals with major events, and DC Beer Week kicked off Aug. 14 with a three-hour brews cruise aboard the yacht Odyssey. Among the more than 20 breweries represented were the District’s 3 Stars Brewing, with its B.W. Rye, a peppery IPA. The beer is a collaboration with Oliver Breweries in Baltimore.

Founder Dave Coleman doesn’t expect his brewery to go online until November but reports that “licensing is going smoothly.”

On Wednesday at ChurchKey, I caught up with Jeremy Cowan of Shmaltz Brewing, who boasted that 23 of his beers were on tap there. Among Shmaltz’s offerings was a bourbon-barrel-aged version of Reunion 2011, a dark ale that Shmaltz made in tandem with Terrapin Beer Co. using cocoa nibs, vanilla and Mexican chili peppers.

Cowan also brought along a few 12-ounce bottles from his Coney Island brewery for the ChurchKey staff to toss back. The tiny, specially fabricated brew house — Cowan says it’s the smallest commercial brewery in the world — spits out one-gallon batches of non-traditional styles such as Pumpernickel Bagel Porter and Corndog Kolsch.

We sampled 11 real ales at Cask Night, a sellout event at the District ChopHouse on Thursday. Ten of those came from breweries outside the city limits; the most-talked-about one was from Gordon Biersch in Rockville. Its gose-style ale is a specialty of Leipzig, Germany, that was almost unknown in this country before the Iron Curtain fell and is rarely brewed today. Gordon Biersch brewer Kevin Blodger added coriander and salt (a coarse-ground kosher variety, 800 grams per 13-barrel batch) to this wheat beer, then fermented it with lactobacillus in addition to the standard ale yeast.

Coriander is a common ingredient in Belgian witbiers, but salt? “It adds a little complexity, it dries the beer out, and it makes you thirsty for more,” says Blodger. The tart, earthy, low-alcohol beer should be on tap at the Rockville brew pub as you read this.

That same night, the raucous premiere party for Chocolate City Brewing was held in RFD’s back room, where crowds sampled four brands from Washington’s newest microbrewery. The Big Chair IPA has a bitter pineapple-and-grapefruit flavor and a slightly harsh finish.

“It’s my least favorite of the four,” confessed brewer Jason Irizarry, who said he plans to tweak the recipe. He recommended the 1814 ESB, which commemorates the year that British invaders nearly burned Washington to the ground. Made from English malt and hops, it reminded me a bit of New Belgium’s Fat Tire Pale Ale: soft, malt-accented with an underlying spicy hoppiness, moderate in alcohol. (Evidence, maybe, that the extreme-beer fad has peaked and the public wants more-drinkable brews?)

Due to a 15-minute wait for refills at the packed bar, I passed up the chance to sample two other Chocolate City brews: Cerveza Nacional de la Capital (a dark lager) and Cornerstone Copper Ale. With crowds like this, DC Beer Week might burst through the walls and spill over into the suburbs, regardless of the organizers’ intentions.

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