Lost Rhino, a microbrewery in Ashburn, has been pumping out beer (draft only) for the Washington and northern Virginia market for almost a month now. Matt Hagerman, one of the partners, was handing out samples of his Face Plant IPA for a line that stretched 15 deep. I had sampled this beer with a group of friends a few weeks earlier; the general consensus was that it had a nice, firm bitterness but could have used some additional aroma hops. The sample I had at the zoo was improved, although I’m not sure to attribute that to a change in recipe or to the fact I was enjoying it under God’s blue skies instead of inside a funky, crowded bar.

Lost Rhino also offered Rhino Chasers Pacific Pilsner, a piquant lager that draws its floral, faintly citrusy flavor from a liberal kettle addition and dry-hopping with the noble hop varieties, Hallertau and Saaz. It’s a solid example of a style that’s usually associated with mass-market lager (although brands like Bud and Miller are distant approximations of a true pilsner) and neglected by the beer-geek crowd.

According to the brewery’s Web site, the corporate name evokes the “strength and attitude of the rhinoceros.” Each of the five species of rhino (none of which, unfortunately, is represented among the zoo’s 400 species) “has its own distinct persona, ranging from laid back to aggressive.” The site promises that Lost Rhino beers will similarly span a wide range of personalities, although the releases so far have a definite hoppy edge.

The seventh edition of Brew at the Zoo offered a new twist: a VIP tent featuring a Belgian beer bar and assorted bites from local restaurants such as Belga Cafe, Locolat and Brasserie Beck. The showcase was intended as the kickoff for Belgian Restaurant Week in Washington, July 15-21. (Latis Imports, which markets Palm Ale and Rodenbach, is especially active, hosting at least seven promos and glass giveaways on July 21, Belgian Independence Day, alone.)

My wrist band didn’t grant me admission to the tent, but no matter: American breweries these days are often out-Belgianing the Belgians. The booth for Long Trail Brewing Co. from Bridgewater Corners, Vt. featured its summer seasonal, a creamy, highly aromatic Belgian white with strong contributions from both the coriander and orange peel, the traditional flavorings for this style.

“It’s almost like aromatherapy,” commented my friend Noreen, after sniffing her sample.

The BeerAdvocate site, I couldn’t help but notice, gave this brand only a B- rating: worth drinking but unexceptional.

Again, was it the fresh air and sunshine and low humidity (festival organizers really lucked out on the weather) that sharpened our senses and made beer drinking all that more pleasurable?

Because of restrictive alcohol laws (the near-universal ban on drinking in public, for instance), Americans tend to do a lot of their imbibing in musty indoor environments. The festival season, which kicks into high gear in September, will provide a welcome respite. We got a preview of that last Thursday.