“You should be drinking instead of texting,” the gentleman next to me tells his date.
The press release describes 901 as “hip, sexy and highly stylized,” and the Capitol City brew crew made a pit stop en route from work to change out of their coveralls and rubber boots into something more suitable.
“We only make them for this restaurant,” says Capitol City brewer Travis Tedrow of the four house beers. 901 Lager is a clean, smooth amber lager, no rough edges, a gateway to the craft beer universe for the cocktail crowd. A Belgian-style pale ale is more interesting, with a yeasty character and notes of citrus, banana and pear. The IPA has a dry, lingering, tropical fruit flavor; if you like Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, you’ll recognize the hops, a variety called Citra. The oatmeal stout goes down smoothly with lots of bittersweet chocolate and a hint of burnt molasses.
The taps at 901 also include nine guest beers plus a rotating seasonal. The latter niche is currently filled by an English-style strong ale that brewer Micah Krichinsky made back in March. It’s intensely malty and raisiny, with a noticeable alcohol burn as it slides down the throat. Krichinsky calculates its strength as 8.9 percent by volume. He plans to age a portion of the strong ale in bourbon barrels and siphon it into bottles that can be laid down for additional aging.
The cocktails are diverting attention away from the beer, however. The bartenders are inserting what appears to be a pellet of dry ice into the garish green-and-pink mixed drinks, causing them to bubble and foam like a volcano. I ask my server to add a pellet to my lager, but he declines, explaining, “ We tried it earlier and it made a mess. The whole beer turned to foam, like some mad scientist’s concoction.”
In other Capitol City news, the restaurant group will shut down its Capitol Hill location as of July 18, but it isn’t permanently vacating that neighborhood. Capitol City, says Tedrow, will move across the street to Union Station, with a tentative reopening set for October in the space formerly occupied by the restaurant, America. But no beer will be made there. The Capitol Hill site’s nine 15-barrel fermenters will be shipped to the company’s Shirlington location to augment production there. (The rest of the equipment, including the brewhouse, will be sold or scrapped.)
At that point, Capitol City, which began its existence as a brewpub chain, will more closely resemble the English tied house concept, with a central brewing facility supplying a network of affiliated pubs.
And, in Capitol City’s case, one gym. Renovations planned for the Vida Fitness at 1612 U St. NW include a rooftop restaurant that will serve Capitol City beers for your post-workout pick-me-up.
Consolidating brewing operations at one location allows for greater efficiency, says Tedrow. It should also be noted that prime, mid-city real estate doesn’t come cheap; the space occupied by the brewing vessels can bring in more income if outfitted with tables and chairs. A banquet area, for instance, occupies the upstairs loft at Capitol City’s original H Street NW location that once housed beer tanks.
Once the relocated vessels are in place, director of brewing operations Mike McCarthy will be able to pump out about 4,000 barrels a year. According to Brewers Association figures, that would vault Capitol City Shirlington into seventh place nationwide among brewpubs, and second in the Northeast behind Pittsburgh’s Hofbrauhaus (which turned out 4,200 barrels in 2010).
“That’s a modest guess,” adds Tedrow. “We might be able to do more.”