When you sit down to read a beer menu, you probably don’t think about all the work that went into selecting the beers that you’re about to pick from. You might not know Greg Engert, Jace Gonnerman or Drew McCormick, but they’re the gatekeepers responsible for choosing what flows through dozens (or, in Engert’s case, hundreds) of beer lines around the Washington area.
Q. How many beers do you taste each week?
Greg Engert: Dozens and dozens of beers? I don’t know. It’s a few hours a week, but not in one session. Sometimes I take things home.
Jace Gonnerman: More than I care to publicly admit. Between tasting new beers to potentially put on tap, drinking for hobby and testing beers to make sure our lines are clean, it’s higher than any doctor could vouch for.
Drew McCormick: Five to 10 new ones that people bring in. But every time I go to a different location and there’s a new beer that has come on since the last time I was there, I taste for quality control.
Q. What was the last beer you tried that made you think, “I have to get this on draft ASAP”?
Greg: Two very different, and equally amazing beers come to mind. Suarez Family Palatine Pils, a deliciously nuanced golden lager I got to taste at the Shelton Festival in Louisville this past fall, and Trillium Mettle, an Amarillo and Citra Double IPA hop bomb that a friend brought back to D.C. from Canton. [Both will be on draft at ChurchKey on Monday.]
Jace: This is tough because our beer scene has gotten so good. When I tasted our most recent collab [Joose Pun with Aslin], I immediately put a keg on tap. The first SingleCut IPA bottle I tried made me realize they were something special. Manor Hill Pilsner and Dust Up could make a massive impact on the market if they make them regularly.
Drew: Pale Fire Salad Days Saison. It was a sunny day, the beer’s crisp and refreshing, and it really hit the spot.
Q. Which small brewery are we all going to be talking about next?
Greg: We are definitely going to be talking about Foam, a small outfit out of Burlington, Vermont, that is on its way to joining Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist and Lawson’s in the top tier of craft brewers from the Green Mountain State. From Belgium, Bokkereyder is making some serious waves with their Lambic blends.
Jace: They’re already here, but I think Pale Fire is going to continue to grow in this market. Arrant IPA is spectacular and works for nearly any beer program. If Triple Crossing makes it into this market full time, they’ll make a big splash as well. I’ve been very pleased by the growth I’ve seen from Crooked Run as well.
Drew: Hopefully a brewery that makes gruit! My friends at Earth Eagle in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are making some good stuff.
Q. What style of beer did you think was going to be popular but it just didn’t happen?
Greg: Black IPA is the best example of a style that had a lot of steam for a bit, but has completely disappeared. Smoke beers are the hardest sell, and only for a few hardened connoisseurs. Selling them is a labor of love.
Jace: I thought hoppy saisons were going to be a bigger thing than they’ve been. Fair Winds Siren’s Lure, with its style and flavor and its GABF medal — I thought it was going to dominate.
Drew: I feel like, right now, we’re having a hard time with ESBs. . . . You put an ESB [extra special bitter] on draft, and it just doesn’t move. You rebrand it as an amber ale and it flies off the shelves. I’m not sure people really understand what “ESB” means; it’s all about educating the consumer.