The Aslin Beer Garden at the corner of First and N streets SE, across the street from Nationals Park, is a bare-bones operation. There are a handful of picnic tables, a food truck, some portable toilets and a couple of sails overhead for shade. But this nondescript spot sells some of the area's coolest — and hardest to find — craft beer. What started as a hidden gem used mostly by people going to Nats games has blossomed into something that can be enjoyed by craft beer lovers, baseball fans or not.
Hazy IPA juice bombs such as Master of Karate and Double Orange Starfish have made Herndon's Aslin Beer Co. one of the area's buzziest breweries, but they're not distributed widely. Most beer is sold to-go at the brewery, and it can be found on tap at a handful of D.C. beer bars. (In 2016, we named Aslin “The Best Local Brewery You Probably Haven't Heard Of,” due to how hard it was to actually try the beer.)
This spring, however, Aslin announced that it was opening a pop-up beer garden in an empty lot near the stadium, and selling 16-ounce cans of its IPAs, sours and Pilsener on Nationals game days. This was supposed to run only from April through June, before construction began to turn that corner into yet another shiny new building.
The flavorful beers and convenient location quickly made the beer garden popular, even with people who were unfamiliar with the brewery. “We get a ton of people who've never heard of us before, who just see us walking by and ask who the brewery is and what we're about,” says business operations manager Devon Barnekov, who serves beer at the pop-up. At the same time, she adds, craft beer lovers have sought them out: “We've had so many people tell us that they live in D.C. and can't get to the brewery.”
And while the beer garden is currently only open when the Nats are home, it attracts a steady stream of customers who just show up to hang out and drink, with no intention of heading to the ballpark.
Last month, Aslin quietly announced a change of plans: The pop-up bar is staying put through the rest of the season and will begin to be open more often. Barnekov says Aslin will be applying for a more permanent tavern-class liquor license, which would allow the beer garden to open on nongame days, such as when there are concerts at Nationals Park, or potentially host special events.
Because of the differences in licensing between their Virginia brewery and the D.C. bar, Aslin can also host tap-takeovers at the pop-up that wouldn't be allowed in Herndon. “We can continue to bring our friends in,” Barnekov says, “especially the ones you can't get in Virginia,” such as Nashville's Southern Grist, which Aslin collaborated with in May. Before a recent Nationals game, the Aslin Beer Garden was serving their collaboration IPA, Pushing Buttons, as well as Southern Grist's Inefficient Loop, which isn't normally available in D.C. With the new schedule, Barnekov says, they will switch the beer lineup every week or two.
One thing won't change, however: Even with the tavern license, Aslin can't sell cans to go. “We get [asked] that almost every day,” Barnekov says. “I wish our license allowed it.” (That hasn't stopped customers from trying to sneak cans out of the beer garden — Barnekov says they catch people regularly attempting to do so, even if the cans are already open.)
For All-Star Weekend, Aslin will be open Friday from 3 to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 9 p.m., and Monday and Tuesday from 3 to 10 p.m. Check the Aslin Beer Garden Instagram account for information on the beer list.