Photos: Jamaal Lemon

Kickin’ It Local: Beer + Vinyl Pairings

Harmony (n.) – the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole

Synonyms include: cooperation, unity, compatibility, friendship, fellowship, symmetry

Given my degrees in education and English, one could assume any “expertise” I may possess would probably be in one of the aforementioned fields. Yet, I know much more about who added background vocals to Frank Ocean’s Pink + White, who mixed Santana’s Gypsy Woman and the cannabis strain used to help curate The Arcs’ Yours, Dreamily. Add to that the fact that I consume enough beer for a small town, and I frequently catch myself drinking a specific beer while listening to a specific album or song, and the genesis of this article was formed.  In it, I pair five local beers with five pieces of vinyl (by mostly local musicians). Enjoy.

Pairing #1
Hellbender’s Bare Bones Kölsch + Grap Luva’s Sounds of Mount Vernon

The numbers: 5 percent ABV, 21 IBU

The taste: Usually, a kölsch is not my #1 selection. However, on this day, I felt a bit “froggy.” I decided to get uncomfortable for no reason in particular, other than the thought of, “I wonder what I could pair musically with this beer.” I ordered a pint of the Bare Bones and on the first sip, I was impressed. It starts hoppy, but finishes crisp and clean, as all session ales should. Even if you’re not a fan of kölsch beers, you have to admire how well Hellbender Brewing Company configured the temperatures in regard to the yeast strain and the use of the Munich malt.

The sound: Well-balanced, some rough edges in the beginning, but mellowed out on the finish – definitely sounds like a collection of instrumentals by Grap Luva. In particular, his Sounds of Mount Vernon album. For those in-the-know, you’re probably saying, “He’s not from the DMV,” which is very true. What is also true is the fact that Grap has been a staple in the DMV hip-hop scene with the Low Budget Crew for some years, thus warranting him eligible for this pairing. Not to mention, this album is congruent with the flavors of Hellbender’s Bare Bones Kölsch. Aggressive on the front, easy on the end. Grap’s albums follow this formula; however this one in particular is easy in the beginning and more “rugged” toward the end. Give it a listen. And while you’re at it, head over to Hellbender to try out their other flavors on tap, and kick it in the taproom for awhile. Hellbender Brewing Company: 5788 2nd St. NE, DC;

Pairing #2
Denizens’ Third-Party Belgian-Style Tripel + The Skip Castro Band’s Boogie at Midnight

The numbers: 9.4 percent ABV 

The taste: I love Belgian styles. When most are scanning brewery menus for the latest IPAs, I find great solace and political freedom in saisons, dubbels and tripels. Sure, it may seem prejudiced to most, but I like to think of it as me always being right about my life decisions, as well as yours. So first things first, this is a pretty “big” beer if we’re talking alcohol by volume (ABV), and stays true to the normalcy of tripels as it relates to their potential spiciness. Denizens adds a corner of creativity by adding Belgian candi sugar to the batch to elevate the flavor just a tad, without the loss of spice. Sweet, spicy and a hefty calculation of booziness will always equate to a good time for all. 

The sound: I feel this beer would be great for a group of people who enjoy dancing. Something about this beer screams “festive,” and there’s only one piece of vinyl good enough to parallel Third-Party’s flavor. Nothing spells “sweaty” and unbuttoned Oxfords mixed with high beer consumption on festival lawns than Skip Castro. In Charlottesville, Va., you can always hear the band’s music played in the vicinity of uncoordinated fans between the ages of 55 and 65. But when the beer is as good as Denizens’ Third-Party Tripel, the weather is hot, and there’s a sale on deep-fried Oreos and fried ‘gator tails, who’s really giving thought to the how crazy and UFC-like their dancing is? These two definitely are a perfect pair.

Denizens Brewing Co.: 1115 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD; 

Pairing #3
Atlas Brew Works’ Saison de Fetes + Charlie Parker’s The Genius of Charlie Parker

The numbers: 7.1 percent ABV 

The taste: I’m going to ride this Belgian train just a tad bit longer. Next stop, Atlas Brew Works’ Saison de Fetes – by far my favorite out of all the beer they have on tap in their newly constructed taproom (since May 2016). It’s prepped in an engraved tulip (great for aromas), with the perfect amount of carbonation and well-balanced flavors of spice and malt. Random aside, I always feel like eating Reese’s Pieces while drinking this. But most importantly, I feel a wave of maturity when I drink this beer. I feel as though I should be acting like a late 30-something-year-old who only talks credit scores and city government policy hearings.

The sound: But because I refuse to speak on these topics on the regular, I’ll result to pairing this saison with the likes of a musical genius. So much of a genius that he may only be appreciated by authentic music lovers. No, Charlie Parker is not from the DMV. However, the song “KoKo” is on this album, which is one of the songs Parker performed at his legendary DC show in 1948. It’s very much warranted for this list, mainly because you can’t play beer pong and listen to jazz. When the bebop is on rotation, you’re probably relaxing and taking in the textures. If you’re looking for a supplement to this state of mind, I highly recommend the La Saison de Fetes. It’s definitely the bridge for those who don’t associate a good beer with formal events, or a nice dinner. Play this and drink this, and watch your perceptions shift.

Atlas Brew Works: 2052 West Virginia Ave. #102, NE, DC; 

Pairing #4
3 Stars’ Southern Belle + Kev Brown’s Brazil Dedication 

The numbers: 8.7 percent ABV 

The taste: So, bear with me. For this pairing, it’s not as obvious. The brown ale by 3 Stars Brewing Company is truly immaculate in flavor and profile. Never have I tasted a beer with such layered flavor. Chocolate, yes. Wheat, yes. Malt, yes. The balance of these flavors is damn near perfect. Each of the aforementioned flavors are so intense and colorful on the palate that it’s almost like walking the streets of the Getsemani neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia – or the colorful vibes of Brazilian jazz.

The sound: So naturally, I turned to Largo, Md. native Kev Brown’s Brazil Dedication. 3 Stars’ Southern Belle is visually one color; however, the taste is multicolored. This brown ale is perfect for warm weather; in particular, the Caribbean or coastal Latin America – and in this case, Brazil. Kev Brown’s ode to Brazil is as layered in colors as Southern Belle is in flavor. Though I’ve never been to Brazil, this album does evoke the vibe of a festive street party in a narrow alley with colorful, graffiti-filled walls. Just as the cultural lineage of Brazil runs deep, the relatively thorough ABV should grant you assistance in enjoying this album. These two are as harmonious as yucca, red snapper and avocado. 3 Stars hit the jackpot with this one.

3 Stars Brewing Company: 6400 Chillum Pl. NW, DC; 

Pairing #5
DuClaw Brewing Company’s Dirty Little Freak + Not Even’s Pant Sale 

The numbers: 5.8 percent ABV, 30 IBU 

The taste: Just like Southern Belle, you’re going to get some pretty tasty chocolate notes rounded out with some coconut from this DuClaw product. More importantly, I didn’t purchase this beer at DuClaw’s Brewery in Bowie, Md. I decided to keep thing all the way local – like a five-minute walk local – and stop by my favorite neighborhood store for craft beer, Fenwick Beer & Wine. This little, quaint, almost doctor’s office-esque store has everything from Weihenstephaner wheat beer to imported Belgian lambics to this lovely brown ale. As much as I love visiting breweries, I’m equally in love with knowing I don’t have to travel far to get my “pick of the litter.” The Dirty Little Freak is not complex at all. No frills, no gimmicks. Brown, chocolate, coconut, aromas and taste. Perfect. 

The sound: Fittingly, Bethesda-based 80s pop band Not Even’s Pant Sale is the perfect match. Nothing screams DMV more than a local craft beer from a local neighborhood store paired with a local band reminiscent of The Ramones and Green Day. And other than blue crab, Terrapin basketball and speed cameras, nothing says Montgomery County more than these three pairings of beer, store and band. 

Follow Jamaal Lemon on Instagram: @thewayfarerstudy.