First, a disclaimer: There is no marijuana in the beer. That’s what they said. Cannabis and hops are just a lot alike. It only smells like pot. And it might taste a little like it, too.
So if that’s what you like — a dank, resinous pint — or if you’re willing at least to try it, this could be your season at the District’s DC Brau Brewing Co.
Starting Tuesday — St. Patrick’s Day — the brewery began tapping green-decorated kegs of its new seasonal India pale ale. The beer is dubbed “Smells Like Freedom,” in what must be one of the most unusual protests in the history of the District’s protracted fight for full voting rights.
The aromatic brew is the latest in a series of imaginative objections since House Republicans attempted to block a voter-approved ballot measure, Initiative 71, to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the capital.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) pressed forward with implementing the ballot measure last month over threats of jail time by congressional Republicans. Possession, sharing and home cultivation of marijuana is now legal in the District. But Congress has blocked legal sales or purchases of pot.
The conflict has spurred sit-ins, marches and, as late as Tuesday, a band of pro-marijuana advocates dressed up in Colonial garb who barged into the Capitol Hill office of House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a leading opponent of legalization in the District. The protesters offered a glass peace pipe of sorts. Chaffetz’s staffers declined.
Brewing a marijuana protest beer, however, was far less spontaneous. It’s been fermenting since last fall, said Brandon Skall, chief executive and co-founder of DC Brau.
The company and Longmont, Colo.-based Oskar Blues Brewery, both of which can their beer rather than bottling it, had for more than a year been looking for a reason to team up on a brewing project.
In e-mails last fall, Skall laid out the case for doing a beer together around D.C.’s legalization effort and the continued plight of the nearly 660,000 D.C. residents who have almost no voting rights in Congress.
Oskar executives were sold, and brewers there took to their lab, Skall said. They found three experimental hops that, when combined, produced a distinctly marijuana-like aroma.
“The experimental hops were definitely unique,” said DC Brau brewer Christopher Graham. “Some were over the top with melon. Some had a lot of berry notes. But all had that undertone of piney, resinous, dank quality that someone would expect from a nugget” of marijuana, he said.
For Skall, the issue is more about the tax bill he said he pays every year to the District while feeling like a second-class citizen.
“I’ll tell you straight up, I don’t smoke pot,” Skall said, “but I believe 100 percent in people’s freedom to do so. I think that if we didn’t have people standing for the end of prohibition . . . this business would not be here today.”
But at its root, he said, the problem is that the District could only partially legalize marijuana, instead of fully like Colorado, which designated much of the revenue from taxes on pot to go to schools.
“Something needs to change with D.C. — it’s ridiculous,” Skall said. “I live here. I’m about to have a second child here. We’re sending our children to school in Washington, D.C. — there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to benefit the same way they do in Colorado.
“You walk into a D.C. public school, you see empty bookshelves, you seen underfunding, you see teachers going out and spending their [own] money to buy kids supplies. We should be able to benefit the same way that other states do.”
The unveiling of the beer was scheduled for Tuesday night at Meridian Pint in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, where Initiative 71 supporters gathered on election night last year to celebrate the legalization vote.