Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock of DC Brau Brewing Company wanted to give visitors a taste of their beer, but the owners got a taste of D.C. bureaucracy instead. Last Tuesday, the D.C. Council tabled an “emergency and temporary measure” that would have allowed the incipient microbrewery to conduct beer samplings on its premises.
No actual opposition was reported to B19-0118, dubbed the Brewery Manufacturer’s Tasting Permit Amendment Act of 2011. However, Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, Jr., who introduced the measure, voluntarily withdrew the bill at the request of fellow Council member Jim Graham, chairman of the Human Services Committee (which handles alcohol-related affairs).
According to his communications director Andrew Hopkins, Graham felt that since the brewery had yet to open its doors or put any beer on the market, there was no need to rush the measure into law. Instead, the council will schedule a public hearing on the bill, possibly as early as the first week in April.
B19-0118 would grant production breweries — those that brew and package beer for off-premise sale and consumption, unlike brewpubs — the same right that retailers like grocery stores and restaurants currently enjoy. Until now, there hasn’t been a clamor for such legislation because Washington hasn’t had a production brewery since the Christian Heurich plant closed in 1956.
However, Skall and Hancock, with a certificate of occupancy now in hand, brewed their maiden batch of The Citizen pale ale on Friday. They hope to have kegs and cans on the market by the middle of next month.
“In D.C., where we haven’t had this business model in so long, people will want to visit us and take tours,” said Skall, DC Brau’s co-founder and CEO. Being able to offer guests a sip of beer is an important promotional tool for a company too small to pepper the city with billboards or advertise on TV.
“We’re not talking about full pint glasses, we’re talking about no more than two or three ounces of beer,” added Skall. The bill, which Skall says he and Hancock wrote with the help of their attorney Paul Pascal, would limit the hours of tastings from 9 a.m. to midnight, Mondays through Saturdays.
In introducing the bill as an emergency measure, Thomas had explained to council chairman Kwame Brown, “The District will have its first production brewery in over 60 years, and in order for such businesses to be competitive both regionally and nationally, it is imperative that they receive similar allowances as their competitors across the country, particularly soon after they first open for business.”
Thomas didn’t name any competitors, but he could have mentioned Port City Brewing Co., just across the river in Alexandria, which opened in February and conducts regulars tours and tastings on weekends, even filling growlers for customers. On Saturday, Port City hosted a troupe of morris dancers and the Rev. Robert Malm of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, who conducted a blessing of the brewery.
In Rockville, nanobrewer Paul Rinehart of Baying Hound Aleworks has installed a bar and a few Ikea stools in his space and is conducting tours and tastings. (You can check the schedule here.) Visitors get to sample experimental beers not officially released, such as a smoked maple stout and sahti (a kind of Finnish homebrew made with rye and juniper). “It’s how we do marketing research,” explains Rinehart.
In spite of the delay, Skall was upbeat. The brewery, at 3178-B Bladensburg Road NE, occupies 7,000 square feet of an industrial park in what Skall calls “the warehouse district of Fort Lincoln” and probably won’t draw a lot of complaints from residents. Skall urged local beer fans to keep checking the council Web site for news of the hearing. “We’re hoping,” he adds, “folks will step up and say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with this.’”
Adds Dave Coleman, who’s planning to open 3 Stars Brewing Co. in Washington this November: “Whoever heard of a brewery tour that didn’t have free beer at the end?”