Photos: Alex Thompson
Photos: Alex Thompson

Heritage Brewing Co. Brewpub Masters the Beer Dinner

The perfect marriage is something few, if any, can say they’ve achieved, but for Heritage Brewing Co. Market Common Brewpub and Roastery, their carefully planned, seasonal menu from renowned NYC chef Donal Crosbie and wide variety of expertly crafted beers from Heritage’s flagship brewery in Manassas (and brewhouse onsite) showcase a seamless partnership.

And while guests can experience this collaboration daily at the Clarendon taproom and bar, to get an even better idea of the true harmony between the beer and food, Heritage is holding its first (of hopefully many) beer dinners on Tuesday, October 24. On Tap Magazine attended a preview of the four-course meal and beer pairing, and I can certainly speak for all at the event when I say, sign me up for October and every beer dinner after.

Head Chef Josh Ber, an old friend of Crosbie (both worked under legendary Chef David Bouley), delivered with a menu that ingeniously utilized the beers not just in the pairing of flavors with the dishes, but also as ingredients in the dishes themselves. From glazes to braising to dessert components, guests were able to experience the full spectrum of flavors each incredible beer offered, while also drinking the beer on its own with the dish, coming full circle.

The result was a meal that was by far more elevated than I think anyone walking into the brewpub and roastery expected, and better than any fancy wine dinner or other pairing event I have been to (and I’ve been to quite a few).

“This is the culmination of what we wanted to build for a very long time – showcasing the brewery and the food,” Heritage Brewing Co. CEO Sean Arroyo said at the preview. “Everything here – the food and the beer – is made from scratch. And this was the way to merge two things together and create a unique experience.”

The evening started off strong with two perfect bites showcasing the versatility of beer immediately – a sesame crusted ahi tuna with a spicy glaze made with Heritage’s American Expedition Honey Ginger Wheat Ale, and a brat braised in Heritage’s Freedom Isn’t Free IPA atop a fresh pretzel with sauerkraut and beer mustard. Both bites had the respective beers within the dishes served alongside as well, with all wiping their plates clean, ready for the next pairing.

Beer Review2

Next up, octopus braised in Heritage’s Teddy East Coast Pale Ale, one of the brewery’s flagship beers, and then charred and served with fingerling potatoes, frisée, and sweet and sour pumpkin puree. The tang from the braising of the octopus in the pale ale was incredible and the dish was well-paired with the pale ale, along with Heritage’s Barrel Aged Wild Belgian Ale.

Beer Review3

Next up, the entrée and something I was looking quite forward to: a duo of lamb, with a shoulder braised in Heritage’s Revolution Amber Ale, and a spent grain-crusted loin served over pearl barley risotto and wild mushroom. The dish was paired with Heritage’s Revolution Amber Ale (hundreds of oranges are squeezed by hand to make this beer) and Heritage’s Legado Hispanic Lager, meant to cleanse the palate and get you ready for the dish ahead.

This was without a doubt the best lamb dish I have had since my travels to New Zealand. The dish was so rich and full of layers of flavor thanks to the earthiness of the Revolution Amber Ale it was braised in, and combined with the rich sauce, everything just melted in your mouth.

Beer Review4

While the entire crowd would have welcomed another plate of lamb for our dessert, the menu provided a perfect finishing touch with delicate, rich flavors in the food, as well as the beer.

Guest were served a vanilla panna cotta, topped with peach compote made with Heritage’s Kings Mountain Scotch Ale, served with madeleines and the 2014 Barrel Aged King’s Mountain Scotch Ale. I’m a stickler for a perfectly textured panna cotta and this dish did not mix, while the peach compote had an extra depth of flavor from the Scotch ale – a welcome theme throughout this menu.

Beer Review5

The final dish we received was truly for both chocoholics and beer lovers alike, as two, delicate chocolate truffles made with Heritage’s Sovereign Imperial Stout were placed before us. These tiny little treats packed a heavenly punch with the richness from the chocolate and the stout, creating the most perfect pairing.

We enjoyed this last bite with Heritage’s Barrel Aged Grand Cru, which along with the stout used Heritage’s own Veritas Coffee in the crafting process. Noteworthy on the coffee: the brewpub and roastery has two permanent draft coffee lines, including a traditional cold brew and a draft latte that rotates weekly with new flavors.

For tickets and more information on the October 24 beer dinner at Heritage Brewing Co. Brewpub and Roastery, go here. Tickets for the beer dinner are $65 each and include the four-course menu, beer pairings, tax and gratuity, along with a heavy dose of flavor combination perfection.

Heritage Brew Co. Market Common Brewpub & Roastery: 1300-1398 N. Fillmore St. Arlington, VA; 571-319-0024;

Photo: Annie Madigan
Photo: Annie Madigan

The Bourbon Dynasty: A. Smith Bowman Distillery

For the past two years, A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg has won World’s Best Bourbon at the World Whiskies Awards presented by Whisky Magazine. This year, their single barrel straight bourbon took home the prize. In 2016, it was the Abraham Bowman Port-Finished Bourbon. How does this small, family-owned distillery beat out the competition?

First things first. Isn’t real bourbon from Kentucky?

No, it isn’t quite that simple. To call itself bourbon, a whiskey needs to be made in America, distilled to no more than 160 proof, and bottled at 80 proof or higher. It must be aged in new, charred, oak barrels and contain a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn. The remainder of the ingredients will be rye, wheat and/or malted barley.

Okay, but historically bourbon is from Kentucky, right? Again, not exactly. Bourbon was first distilled in the 18th century, while the name itself dates back to the 1820s. This original bourbon came primarily from Bourbon County, Virginia, an area that was organized in 1785. In 1792, much of this region split away from Virginia to became part of Kentucky. Long story short, bourbon originally came from Virginia, not Kentucky. The area was simply renamed Kentucky after the fact.

But it’s the drink that matters, not semantics or geography.

A. Smith Bowman is a small-batch, hand-crafted distillery founded in 1934, the day after Prohibition ended. Hailing from Mercer County, Kentucky, Abram Bowman started the business with his sons DeLong and Abram Jr. They were originally based in Fairfax before moving to Spotsylvania County in 1988. For the first 20 years of operation, A. Smith Bowman was the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia. They were best known for Virginia Gentleman and Fairfax County, their signature bourbons. In 2003, Bowman was bought out by Sazerac, a large, 150-year-old liquor company based in New Orleans. Today, Bowman makes bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, rum and other spirits.

So how do we account for the fact that Bowman keeps producing the world’s greatest bourbon? Brian Prewitt, their master distiller, attributes their success to the fact that they “always try to improve.” Whether it’s the ingredients, stills, distillation process, barrels, storage, char, alcohol content or any other variable, Bowman doesn’t rest on its laurels. “Pioneer spirit” is the distillery’s motto, which they embody with relentless experimentation.

Their pot stills are a good example. “Mary,” the main still, was designed in conjunction with Vendome Copper & Brass Works. She’s fitted with a reflux ball that’s topped with a massive copper coil “tiara”– on the vapor side, not the traditional condenser side. This adds more reflux to the distillation process, which in turn fosters a more complex taste in the spirits. “George,” a youngster born in 2015, was also designed in cooperation with Vendome. He’s a hybrid pot still with several distinct trays from which different spirits can be taken out of a single distillate, each at different proofs and with different flavor profiles. The Bowman goal, according to Prewitt, is to “blaze forward” while remaining “rooted in history,” a balance of tradition and innovation.

Prewitt also experiments with barrels. One of his guiding questions is: How does barrel use affect taste? He tried barrels that had previously held port, which infused distinct yet subtle notes of sweet wine into the spirit. Bowman’s espresso bourbon was another success. Local beans were roasted directly into bourbon barrels and left for five weeks. Afterward, the beans were dumped out and the barrels returned to the distillery, where bourbon was added and left to age for six months. Prewitt admits that not all experiments work – hot sauce, for example, didn’t have a positive impact on taste. But that’s okay. Without risking failure, there’s no progress.

Quality control is also a major factor. Mary can hold up to 2,000 gallons, but typically she only distills 500-700 gallons at a time. Bowman bourbons are all triple distilled, and their approach is always hands-on. The production staff is made up of just four people, and their work isn’t automated or computerized – all cuts are done by hand.

I tried 10 Bowman spirits and was impressed with them all – the Rye Expectations gin in particular. The first product of their experimental series, it’s a rye-based gin flavored with a number of botanicals including juniper, coriander and angelica. This isn’t something to dilute with tonic or seltzer. It’s an intriguing, provocative drink to sip over ice.

Whether it’s bourbon or any other spirit, A. Smith Bowman is doing it right. According to Prewitt, their method is neither complex nor mysterious.

“We’re trying to make the best spirits we possibly can.”

A. Smith Bowman Distillery: 1 Bowman Dr. Fredericksburg, VA; 540-373-4555;

Photos: Milk$
Photos: Milk$

DMV Hip-Hop on National Rise

Hip-hop produced in DC offers something unique: its influences. Between go-go music – the very distinct and native soundtrack of the District – and the political culture of the nation’s capital, local artists pull from a litany of experiences that are largely nonexistent outside of the city’s sphere of influence.

Popular DC native Wale incorporates go-go music in his style, and 2006’s “Dig Dug (Shake It)” exploded in the DMV, putting him on the national map. The waves reverberated far and wide,  an unstoppable ascension to fame for the artist, culminating in worldwide tours, record deals and numerous business ventures.

Chaz French says he was a huge fan of Wale growing up, inspired by his use of the DC’s go-go. He’s one of many young rappers from the DMV promoting the area through the genre. DC has yet to rival the number of famous names that hip-hop hotbeds Los Angeles and New York City produce, but Wale brought eyeballs to the area – and some young rappers are taking advantage of the attention.

“It’s getting there, and it’s going to take a few more artists to get it to that level,” local hip-hop artist Phil Ade says. “I don’t think we’ve had another artist that’s gotten to the level of Wale yet. I think it’s going to take a few more years of building and growing.”

Ade and French both cited the local competitiveness as a potential reason for the lack of hip-hop megastars from the DMV. Both used the term “crabs in a barrel,” referencing the feeling that artists in DC are on their own, shuffling about through the area with few instances of assistance. Like the limelight problem though, Wale is changing that attitude and lending a hand to them both.

“The one thing about DC and the DMV is that everyone is very territorial,” Ade says. “People in the inner city and neighborhoods have beef with people across the street. A lot of that attitude carries over to the music scene, and they don’t want to f–k with people from different areas. But that’s changing a little recently, as people like Wale start to make music with others.”

One example of this type of collaboration is the relationship between DC native Parabellum Raps (Leaton White) and producer Average DJ (Kyle Stewart), the two members of emerging group MILK$. The pair have embraced each other’s differences in the name of producing music, and the sound is drenched in DC influences despite their contrasting backgrounds.

“Our city has its own style of music that originated here and has always been something to be proud of,” White says. “DC also has its own hip-hop scene that has evolved tremendously over the years, and it’s surreal to think that I’m a part of that. The history of DC, my childhood experiences, the street language and vocal accent of each quadrant in the District, and the reputation of my city all influence my music heavily.”

Stewart says that although he grew up listening to hip-hop, he never thought he would make it himself per se.

“I started really collecting and digging for records – a cappella, instrumental – just seeing what I could mix and mash,” he says. “The DC influence is relatively new. I didn’t know about go-go music until I moved here. It’s crazy going back and revisiting classic albums from the 90s and early 2000s.”

As the road to collaboration becomes more accessible for young artists in the area, the DMV continues to churn out talented rappers. Chaz French and Phil Ade have both toured nationally – Ade with Wale earlier this year and French at Broccoli City Festival, as well as signing with Capitol Music Group.

Though both are emerging as bona fide headlining acts, neither made it to this level without a tremendous amount of hardship. French’s first taste of rapping was at a talent show, and Ade honed his stage presence during college in Alabama as part of a go-go band performing for one or two dozen in the audience. Despite this, the two have found encouraging success.

“Don’t leave any stone unturned,” Ade says. “Don’t have too much pride and ego to do something or try something. If you have music [and] you feel it’s good, get in front of the crowd.”

With these two touring the country and constantly achieving new sounds with their local influences, and newer acts like the Milk$ duo on the rise, the area is well on its way to national prominence. And while recognition in the national hip-hop scene is exciting, it’s not necessary in the end, because the DMV will always be a unique home for the artists it helps cultivate.

“Of course [DC artists] have our separate lives and [our hip-hop] is new for most people,” French says. “There will be a time when we might have to sit down and push it to the next level, but a lot of people are cool with it being the way it is. DC is just DC anyway. We’re just us at the end of the day. We have what it takes to separate ourselves from those other places, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

For more information about these hip-hop artists’ tours and releases, visit their websites.

Chaz French:
Phil Ade:

Photo: The Brig’s Facebook page
Photo: The Brig’s Facebook page

What’s On Tap: September 2017

Greetings, beer nerds! As you likely know, there are a number of fantastic establishments in the DMV where you can grab a pint, and their menus are always evolving and adapting to your tastes. If you’d rather avoid the guessing game, check out some of what’s coming up at a few of these fine establishments.


Lager Series: Rauch Märzen Release Party
Join Port City for the release of the latest edition of their lager series: a Rauch Märzen. A brilliant copper in color, the beer showcases a German malt character, including a judicious amount of traditional beechwood-smoked malts that impart an appetizing, savory smokiness. The Borinquen Lunch Box food truck will be in the lot starting at 5:30 p.m. The Walkaways will be providing the jams in the beer garden starting at 7 p.m. Full event is from 3-10 p.m. Free admission. Port City Brewing Company: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA;


Amps and Ales Craft Beer and Music Festival
Loud beer and even louder music: Amps and Ales combines the electricity of rock ‘n’ roll with a handpicked selection of America’s best craft beers at Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox. In its first year, Amps and Ales is lining up seven of the region’s most thunderous bands with over 25 highly acclaimed breweries offering over 50 beers on tap. Enjoy live performances from the People’s Blues of Richmond, Higher Hands and more, plus beer offerings from breweries such as Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, Jailbreak and more. 12-8 p.m. Tickets are $20-$30. Prince George’s Stadium: 4101 Crain Hwy. Bowie, MD;

Brews, Booze, & Bites: An American History Food Festival
Lounge on the lawn and sample the best of local bakers, brewers, chefs, confectioners and distillers, while grooving to DC’s best – some would say only – Prohibition-era jazz band, the Foggy Bottom Whomp-Stompers, playing favorites from the 20s and 30s. Enjoy victuals and beverages chosen with an eye to Tudor Place history and the region’s culinary traditions. Every artisanal, high-quality mouthful is included in a single all-inclusive ticket, also covering traditional outdoor lawn games and other entertainments. 1-4 p.m. Tickets are $30-$35. Tudor Place Historic House and Garden: 1644 31st St. NW, DC;

District Oktoberfest
Participants enjoy one premium, 12-oz. Oktoberfest beer at each venue they visit, included in the ticket price. You also get $4 specials liquor pairings and additional Oktoberfest beers, food specials and the most fun you can legally have in one day. Chinatown’s best venues will be ready for you. 12-9 p.m. Tickets are $50. Check-in from 12-3 p.m. 10 Tavern: 707 G St. NW, DC;

Fairfax County BrewFest
Join the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce and Mustang Sally Brewing Company for the second annual BrewFest. Come enjoy a day of local craft beer, food and more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit K9s For Warriors and VAVETS. The BrewFest will also include six Fairfax County breweries, multiple food vendors, live music all day and brewery tours. 12-6 p.m. $25-$35. Mustang Sally Brewing Company: 14140 Parke Long Ct. A-C, Chantilly, VA; 

Hoppy Oktoberfest
Join Mad Fox Brewing Company as they turn their Market Square into an Oktoberfest biergarten, showcasing a large selection of hoppy beers from some of Virginia’s finest breweries as well as traditional German Oktoberfest beers. Expect live music, great food and fun for the family. Dogs are welcome as long as their humans are well-behaved. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tickets are $25-$55. Mad Fox Brewing Company: 444 W Broad St. I Falls Church, VA;

Join Lost Rhino Brewing Co. and Lost Rhino Retreat as they host the RhinO’fest 2017 beer festival in Brambleton Town Center. They’ll be tapping their Gold Medal winning RhinO’fest Märzen Lager for the season, as well as featuring various tents with unique beers from their Genius Loci sour beer series and beers that they have brewed in-house. Expect live music from Big Al’s Truck, family-friendly activities, and local food vendors and authentic German style fare. 12-6 p.m. Free admission. Lost Rhino Retreat: 22885 Brambleton Plz. Suite 100, Ashburn, VA;


Join Palette 22 for their first annual Art-toberfest with Three Nothch’d Brewing. Your ticket includes admission to the event, and special pricing on select cocktails and Oktoberfest beers. Appetizers and complimentary platters of globally inspired cuisine will be in full effect as you watch live demonstrations from local artists with the opportunity to take home your favorite original work of art. 6:30-10:30 p.m. $20-$25. Palette 22: 4053 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA;


Yoga On Tap at Lost Dog Cafe
Upward facing dogs, downward facing dogs – do it all at Lost Dog Cafe on Columbia Pike. Join in for an intimate Eat.Yoga.Drink. experience, as they flow, drink and nibble tasty bites at the cafe. This vinyasa yoga class is limited to 10 yogis and is perfectly suited for all levels. The ticket includes a yoga class, a post-yoga beer/house wine/nonalcoholic beverage of choice and a sample of your favorite Lost Dog snacks. BYO mat. Namaste and cheers. Tickets are $20. 6-7 p.m. or 7:30-8:30 p.m. Lost Dog Cafe: 2920 Columbia Pike Arlington, VA;


Brew Republic Bierwerks Oktoberfest
It’s Oktoberfest in the Republic. They’re bringing the world-famous German beer festival from Munich to Woodbridge. Join them for great beer, delicious German-inspired food, traditional music, cool vendors and fun, both in the tap room and their expanded outdoor biergarten. They’ll also be hosting a marzen competition, featuring several locally brewed marzenbiers (Oktoberfest lagers) from several local breweries. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tickets start at $24.99. Brew Republic Bierwerks: 15201 Potomac Town Pl. Woodbridge, VA;

Second Annual Sip & Savor
Sip & Savor is a celebration of local craft beer, wine, cider, food and music in support of the city’s homeless population. Come for unlimited food and beverage samples from many of the Capitol Hill area’s best restaurants, breweries, cideries and wine stores. Enjoy music performed by local artists as you bid on great silent auction prizes, and enjoy the photo booth and yard games. All proceeds support CHGM’s services to the homeless and at-risk communities. 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $25-$55. Eastern Market: 225 7th St. SE, DC;


Historic Homebrew: Oktoberfest at Hill Center
Lost Lagers takes you back in time with the history of pale, golden and amber lagers. Covering historical recipes from Bavaria, Vienna and America, join Pete and Mike as they demonstrate how to brew gut lagerbier. They will fast-forward to today to discuss the pale, corn, amber and dark lagers they brewed with DC Brau, Lake Anne Brew House, Devils Backbone and Lost Rhino. With beer for sampling, Lost Lagers will walk you through the steps of brewing München bier, as well as American corn and dark lagers. Pretzels will be served and the history of lager brewing in America and Munich will come alive as you drink history. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tickets are $60-$85. Hill Center DC: 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC;


Mansion House Whiskey Tasting
Come for a unique and intimate evening with old and new friends to taste extraordinary whiskeys paired with delectable food, harkening back to the days when the Green family ran the Mansion House Hotel on the property. This event includes an evening tour of the Carlyle House, four whiskeys and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Local historian Rich Gillespie will share stories of the Civil War in Virginia, and guide you on your whiskey tasting journey. 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $100. Carlyle House Historic Park: 121 N. Fairfax St. Alexandria, VA;

Oktoberfest: Euro Beer & Sausage Fest
Join Tysons Biergarten as they showcase 25 top-shelf beers from Germany, Belgium and Austria. Come meet representatives from each brewery, learn about the breweries and beers, and take home some awesome gifts. Like always, their festivals will be filled with games, live music, contests and loads of prizes. 1-6 p.m. $20-$30. Tysons Biergarten: 8346 Leesburg Pike Tysons, VA;

Q&A with The Brig & Gordon Biersch

It’s that wonderful time of year known as Oktoberfest! Strap up your lederhosen, grab your stein and head to these two Capitol Riverfront spots.

Ryan Roller
General Manager, The Brig

On Tap: What’s the appeal of biergartens?
Ryan Roller: I think when you come to a biergarten, you expect a certain kind of friendliness – not just from staff, but from patrons as well. With larger tables in the garden, you are more likely to sit next to and across from other smaller parties and be more social.

OT: Do you keep outside weather in mind when selecting beers?
RR: When I select beers to put on tap, or in cans and bottles, I don’t think of what I would like to drink. Instead, I try to keep in mind what our customers would like. Now that we’re coming into the fall, we can start coming back with some of the medium-bodied IPAs, and as it gets colder, we’ll put on a porter or two.

OT: How often do you add new brews? Are you always looking?
RR: We usually change at least one tap once a week, if not more than that. We changed out three beers this week alone. We are always looking for new beer, and the breweries come down all the time. They bring down four or five direct sales reps a week to have us try out new stuff.

OT: What events or beer releases do you have planned around Oktoberfest?
RR: The goal right now is to have a couple different beers lined up that haven’t hit the market. One of the ones we’re waiting on is Flying Dog Oktoberfest.

OT: What sets The Brig apart from other biergartens in the city?
RR: I think a lot of it is the location that we’re in. A lot of people refer to us as the “secret biergarten” due to the smaller foot traffic we receive compared to other biergartens. For the most part, we get a lot of people that come in here and are surprised that we’re here. We try to keep our prices a little bit lower because of where we are; we want to make this the neighborhood spot.

The Brig: 1007 8th St. SE, DC;

Logan McVaugh
General Manager, Gordon Biersch

On Tap: How do you determine the flavor profile for Gordon Biersch brews?
Logan McVaugh: We have some things that are staples for us, and others we choose for qualities like light body and drinkability. Flavors like citrus really complement the weather and make it easier to drink a beer.

OT: Are there certain beers you’re excited to debut for Oktoberfest?
LM: Yes, we have our traditional FestBier, which is our biggest beer of the year. It’s our traditional Oktoberfest beer that’s very popular; I think it’s our highest-selling seasonal beer. We will be tapping that at our tapping party on September 20.

OT: What makes Gordon Biersch’s biergarten a great fall spot?
LM: We usually open our [biergarten] for big events. We do things a little differently where we focus on quick service. It makes it easier for customers to get their own beer, hang out and play corn hole. You’re outside relaxing, but at the same time you are still connected to the restaurant, so it’s the best of both worlds.

Gordon Biersch: 100 M St. SE, DC;

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman

Rowing In The DMV

Autumn in the District is perhaps the most stunning season in our city, conjuring up vivid images of fall foliage and breathaking views of the Potomac River. But there is nothing quite like being out on the water, gliding past sightseers, with the singular sound of four oars pulling in complete unison as your sole focus. Whether you’re in search of a new sport or just want to enjoy the view during one of many fall regattas, read on to get the inside scoop on the DMV’s rowing community. We caught up with six rowers to get a sense of why people fall in love with the sport, why it’s so popular in the DMV, and how newbies or returning rowers can get involved.

Alexandria Community Rowing Club
Jennifer Bright, Rower

 On Tap: How has the DMV’s rowing community changed in recent years?
Jennifer Bright: The variety of rowing clubs and programs has grown over the last decade, and residents in the DMV can find a program that fits their skill level, competitive interest, time and location needs.

OT: Why do you row?
JB: I love the community of rowers. This sport brings together men and women from so many disciplines. The common factor is love of the sport and commitment to pursuing the perfect stroke.

OT: Any opportunities for rowers this season?
JB: Starting in November, ACR will begin the winter training program. Community members [can volunteer or compete on] February 17-18 at the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints, the second largest indoor rowing competition in the world.

Learn more about ACR at, and February’s MidAtlantic Erg Sprints at

Anacostia Community Boathouse Association
Jennifer Ney, President

On Tap: What makes rowing both challenging and rewarding?
Jennifer Ney: Rowing is the ultimate team sport. It demands both power and finesse to achieve boat speed. Rowing demands balance, synchronicity and coordination, and every member of the crew must work together. I love the challenge.

OT: What’s unique about the ACBA?
JN: The Potomac River [is] considered [a] hotbed for rowing and paddling. The Anacostia Community Boathouse has placed the Anacostia River on the map.

OT: How can we get involved?
JN: Check out one of our three clubs who host a wide array of programs. All three host on-the-water programming from March through November: Capital Rowing Club, DC Strokes and Prince William Rowing Club.

Learn more about ACBA at

Capital Rowing Club
Heidi Scalzott, Learn to Row Rep

On Tap: Tell us about CRC’s Learn to Row program.
Heidi Scalzott: The next [Learn to Row] class session begins September 30.

OT: What other programs does CRC offer?
HS: Rowers who have some experience but haven’t rowed in awhile sometimes feel more comfortable joining intermediate rowing. Capital also has sculling classes, an adaptive rowing program and a juniors’ program. For more experienced rowers, we also have a competitive men’s and women’s team. Finally, Capital offers a “Your Team” rowing for private rowing sessions.

OT: What do you enjoy most about being in the CRC community?
HS: Capital is as much a social club as it is a rowing club: both a.m. and p.m. meet for happy hour and plan other social events both at the boathouse and throughout DC. Many good friendships and even a few weddings have emerged as a result of rowing with Capital.

Learn more about CRC and the next Learn to Row session on September 30 at

DC Strokes Rowing Club
Brian Forehand, President

On Tap: What is DC Strokes’ mission?
Brian Forehand: We are the oldest LGBTQ+ rowing club in the world. Inclusion is an important part of our mission, and we welcome gay and straight rowers of diverse backgrounds. DC Strokes was founded on the belief that everyone should have access to the sport of rowing and its many benefits.

OT: Has the club made any changes recently to promote inclusivity? 
BF: This season, DC Strokes proudly adopted our “Statement of Inclusion and Transgender & Non-Binary Identity Policy” that reinforces our support and advocacy for all LGBTQ + Ally athletes, and creates a safe and supportive environment for transgender and non-binary individuals at a time when we startlingly see the rights of these individuals infringed upon throughout the nation.

OT: How do we join?
BF: We welcome individuals of all levels – no prior experience necessary! We offer two Learn to Row sessions. Folks with at least one year of prior experience are welcome to join our competitive  program or our club program.

Learn more about DC Strokes at

Prince William Rowing Club
Al Wilson, President

On Tap: Any PWRC events this fall for beginners?
Al Wilson: Come check out one of PWRC’s free Learn to Row events! We’ll give you a tour of the boathouse and a history of our club, teach you the basics of the rowing stroke using a rowing machine, then give you an opportunity to try rowing on the water with some of our members. We plan to offer one Learn to Row on September 17.

OT: Any other opportunities to get involved in the coming months?
AW: In November, our annual membership meeting will be open to the public, and we welcome all who are interested in learning more about our club and about getting involved in the sport of rowing.

OT: Why would you recommend PWRC to local rowers?
AW: Here in the DC and Northern Virginia area, we have amazing water to row on and a big diversity of residents who work hard and are looking for a way to be fit, have fun and relax in the great outdoors. We love to teach people to row, compete in regattas, relax on the peaceful Occoquan Reservoir and have fun off the water with social activities.

Learn more about PWRC and the Learn to Row event on September 17 at

Rachel Freedman, Founder

On Tap: What inspired you to launch RowSource?
Rachel Freedman: My goal was to create a resource for athletes who came into the sport later in life, did not have a high school and/or college rowing pedigree, and did not have their sights on training to make the national team.

OT: Tell me about your experience rowing with Capital Rowing Club.
RF: I learned to row with Capital Rowing Club in 2001 at age 23, and remained a member of its morning club program for seven years.

OT: What about with DC Strokes?
RF: I stepped into a dedicated coxswain role and from the first practice I attended in 2010, I knew this team was different. And a kind of different I wanted to be a part of.

OT: Different how?
RF: DC Strokes has influenced my ever-growing understanding and support of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ll never forget the first time one club member asked me, “So, how do you identify?” and I was clueless about what she meant. No more. I’m thankful to Strokes for helping me become a passionate, outspoken ally.

Check out for more information on all things rowing.

Photo: Ben Gunderson
Photo: Ben Gunderson

Trial By Fire: Woolly Mammoth Presents The Arsonists

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. What are you going to do about it? Catchy beat now stuck in your head aside, this is the moral dilemma audiences will face at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of The Arsonists, an adaptation of Max Frisch’s 1950s comedy.

In DC through October 8, the classic play tells the story of Betterman, or Biedermann in the original, which translates to “everyman.” Betterman is an upper middleclass business owner and respected citizen. When two people make their way into his attic, Betterman’s manners tell him to do his civic duty and be a polite host.

But when these two not-so-mysterious guests make it increasingly clear that they intend to burn down Betterman’s house and the city as well – using Betterman’s home to store their drums of gasoline – Betterman finds himself oscillating between not believing they’ll actually do it and thinking he’s too respectable to fall victim to flames.

Rather than skewering people who commit evil, The Arsonists paints a picture of complicity through complacency. Betterman isn’t a hero nor an outright villain – he’s just an everyman who hopes minding his own business will save him from the violence and chaos of the world.

Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz will be playing the role of Betterman, his first performance in about seven years. According to Shalwitz, Betterman’s dilemma raises questions audience members may be battling in their own lives.

“I think he’s a truly human character who is trying at every point to figure out how to do the right thing,” Shalwitz says. “He doesn’t succeed, but I think the audience should identify with his attempt to figure out how to stand up to the evil that walks through the door.”

The Arsonists is often interpreted as a critique of the rise of Nazism and Communism in Europe. But relating the play directly to a certain historical period or movement may not give enough credit to Frisch – or to people’s capacity for complacency.

With the motivations of the arsonists remaining ambiguous, the play leaves room for interpretation. Director Michael John Garcés says he thinks Frisch himself would have pushed back a little on correlating The Arsonists directly with any particular movement in history.

“I think [Frisch] was writing about how society can allow the almost willful participants…or at least their blindness allows them to be active participants in the destruction of their society,” Garcés says. “Because of the constraints of politeness and wanting to believe everything’s going to be okay and all of the things that we do to keep the world together – I think that makes it a relevant play always, really.”

Leaving the period open to interpretation is what keeps the play so relevant, but that’s not to say there aren’t uncanny resemblances between the original play and today’s political climate. One of the arsonists reveals that he’s the son of a coalminer, a key segment of the population during the 2016 election in the U.S. The other arsonist, originally scripted as a man but played by a woman in Woolly’s adaptation, is a little more ambiguous as a member of the middleclass.

“We’re actually having a lot of dialogue about what [the arsonists’] motivations are and what their political alignment is, so sometimes the actors and the director have to fill in the interior story that’s not literally there in the text,” Shalwitz says.

Even though today’s social and political climate often feel like watching someone toss a lit cigarette into dry California woods in slow motion, this production is meant to be a provocation to reflect rather than a statement. No one wants to attend a performance that feels like a sermon, and the team at Woolly Mammoth are certainly not delivering one.

“[Frisch] talks about the goal of theatre as being to provoke conversation [and] struggle in the mind of the audience, but not to lead them or dictate to them any kind of specific meaning,” Shalwitz says.

And the play will give audiences a lot to think about, even if it doesn’t take a specific side or discuss a certain historical period.

“The conversation that we want to provoke is: what are the possibilities of intervention?” Shalwitz continues. “What alternative steps could Betterman have taken? If you choose to intervene today in what’s going on, how could you do it? We’ll be inviting a lot of people to contribute to that dialogue as well.”

A great performance prompts conversation, and the Woolly Mammoth team won’t leave audiences without an outlet. On September 12, audiences can attend the Burn Party. For a $20 ticket, you can enjoy a preshow party complete with cocktails, spicy snacks and ample opportunity to argue about interpretations of the play.

Performances of The Arsonists run from September 5 to October 8 at Woolly Mammoth. Showtimes vary, and tickets start at $20 and can be purchased online.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; 202-393-3939;

Photo: Courtesy of Owen's Ordinary
Photo: Courtesy of Owen's Ordinary

Behind the Bar: September 2017

September is the perfect time of year for hoisting German beers in beautiful fall weather. As you make the transition from summer ales to fall brews, celebrate all things Oktoberfest at these three stellar biergartens.

SaufHaus1 (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Shana Steele
Events Manager, Sauf Haus Bier Hall

On Tap: What makes German beers special? 
Shana Steele: The [German Beer] Purity Law, which was passed over 500 years ago. It says that you can only have certain ingredients in it, and that’s hops, water and basically other core ingredients. You aren’t adding a lot of extra stuff into it.

OT: What’s your go-to German beer?
SS: I love the Weihenstephaner Vitus. It’s a spiced beer, and it has banana notes in there. My palate is a little sweeter, so I really enjoy that one. It’s also one of the beers that has a higher ABV on the menu, so people tend to go toward that one.

OT: How is Sauf Haus celebrating Oktoberfest?
SS: We’re going to have live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We’re going to have Sausage Fest Sundays, where we’re going to grill a bunch of sausages. We also just got the NFL ticket, so it’s going to be great for football season. Basically, we’ll have sausages, beers and NFL [games] out on the deck, which is going to be a lot of fun.

OT: Why should we check out the rooftop deck?
SS: [It’s] super chill, fun and sunny. We have the only year-round, weather-proof, retractable biergarten in DC, so we’re open year-round. We have TVs out there and we do live music, so it’s a really fun, communal vibe.

SaufHaus2 (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Shana’s Pick
Weihenstephaner Vitus 

Sauf Haus Bier Hall: 1216 18th St. NW, DC;

Courthaus Social 1 (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Natalie Craver
Bartender, Courthaus Social

On Tap: What’s the vibe like on your patio?
Natalie Craver: We keep it really lowkey. We always have some type of entertainment going on, but I feel like people come here because they can hear themselves think, and relax [and] unwind from work.

OT: How do you choose which beers to offer?
NC: It all depends, as we like to keep it local. We do support all of the breweries, but we specifically like to support Virginia, and support them as far as our food and beer. It just depends what styles are in season.

OT: What’s your favorite fall beer?
NC: My personal favorite is the Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier. It’s a classic German-style, so that’s one I go to. I do like the pumpkin-style beers, which a lot of people either love or hate. My personal favorite would probably be the Punkin’ Ale from Dogfish Head.

OT: What are your Oktoberfest plans?
NC: We’re still in the works for that, but we do plan on launching our Blocktober Fest. That’s going to be the weekend of September 16 in [our] courtyard area where we’ll have live music, German food and a grill out there, so we’ll do some bratwurst and schnitzel.

New Courthaus Photo

Natalie’s Pick
Hofbräu Hefeweizen

Courthaus Social: 2300 Clarendon Blvd. Arlington, VA;

Greg Engbert (Photo - Courtesy of Owen's Ordinary)

Greg Engert
Beer Director and Managing Partner, Owen’s Ordinary

On Tap: How is Owen’s Ordinary similar to a German biergarten?
Greg Engbert: Owen’s Ordinary is a neighborhood tavern, and it’s complete with a state-of-the-art craft beer system. The windows open and extend onto the patio, so the bar services the patio just like it would at a biergarten. We’re tapping [the beers] indoors and then handing them through the window. It’s a really cool outdoor drinking experience.

OT: Do you notice an increased interest in German beer during the fall?
GE: [As Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s] first Maryland location, we still have a huge focus on the Maryland beers, but we’ve also made it a focus to feature a nice array of German-style brews. I think there’s a renewed interest in those because of Oktoberfest, but at Owen’s we have 10 or so on perpetually, because we want to showcase the full variation of that style.

OT: What’s your connection to German beers, and what is your favorite aspect about them?
GE: German beers are remarkable because of their complexity and simplicity at the same time. They’re balanced and nuanced, and even though they tend to be lower alcohol and drinkable, they give you something for every occasion. You can sit there and drink those beers endlessly in a social setting, or you can examine them for taste.

OT: What Oktoberfest events can patrons to look forward to this month?
GE: We’re planning a series of fun events at the garden throughout the fall. We’ll be turning the taps over to breweries, and we’re always looking to host programs in the venue throughout the fall. Every weekend, we feature different German beers at the garden while offering our normal selection. We also offer 20-oz. mugs on the weekends, and people can actually purchase those beers.

Greg’s Pick [Pictured Above]
Kellerbier Ungespundet-Lager Hefetrüb

Owen’s Ordinary: 11820 Trade St. North Bethesda, MD;

Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Josh Norman Grinds Toward Greatness

If anyone doubts the Washington Redskins’ decision to make Josh Norman the highest-paid cornerback in the National Football League, it’s certainly not Coach Jay Gruden.

The plain-spoken head coach told On Tap during the team’s training camp in Richmond that despite signing a whopping five-year, $75 million deal in 2016, Norman shows no signs of complacency and routinely works harder than anyone on the team.

“He’s a great player and leader for us,” Gruden said. “When you sign a contract like Josh signed, the other players can take it a couple of different ways. But when they see how hard he works and how hard he prepares before and after practice, and they see him with a soccer ball, his work ethic just rubs off on everybody.”

Wait, what – a soccer ball? Sure enough, when On Tap caught up with Norman after practice, the team’s marquee defensive player nonchalantly dribbled a red, white and green soccer ball off the football field. Asked to explain, Norman smiled and said it’s just another way to improve his football – not futball – game.

“It’s about footwork and disciplining your feet – always having something on your foot moving around,” he explained.

The unorthodox approach and tireless work ethic seem to be paying off for the high-dollar cover corner, and not just at the bank. Norman made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and despite failing to repeat the achievement in 2016 (at least in part because of a weaker defensive supporting cast), he remains one of the most respected cornerbacks in the NFL.

Although he didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year, Norman said he thinks 2016 was his best season yet. Redskins coaches routinely asked the South Carolina native to cover the league’s toughest receivers, including the Giants’ Odell Beckham and the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant. Norman rarely came up on the losing end of those matchups.

A Coastal Carolina University alum, Norman was once viewed as a marginal pro football prospect. That’s undoubtedly part of why the sixth-year pro is regularly the last guy off the practice field and voracious in the film room, devouring video of opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers in an effort to learn their tendencies and fine-tune his timing and instinct for the ball.

“Wherever I am on a list [of pro cornerbacks], I really don’t care because I rose from the bottom to the top,” he said. “I’m a boss at my position. Just ask the receivers I go against. I’ve been everything you can be as a defensive back, and the only thing that I’m lacking now is a Super Bowl.”

Winning a Super Bowl, of course, is the ultimate goal in the NFL. So, what do the Redskins – who made the playoffs in 2015 and then missed them in 2016 – have to do to not only get back to the postseason, but ultimately attain football’s holy grail?

“We have to play sound, disciplined football with everybody doing their job,” Norman said. “It’s the offensive line coming off the football, the defensive line playing with gap integrity [filling gaps in the offensive line], linebackers coming downhill [rushing toward the ball carriers], and safeties and corners breaking on the ball. Those are the key components of winning any football game, and if we focus on that, we’ll go far.”

Norman also warned his teammates against complacency.

“We have to always outwork ourselves and our opponents,” the 29-year-old player said. “We can’t have that lull, that lax, in our brains where we say, ‘This is just a game,’ and we can roll over and just win by a field goal or seven points. We have to treat every game as if it was our last, and by having that mentality and being aggressive, we’ll be fine.”

Speaking of being aggressive, Redskins Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky plans to use the blitz more this season, allowing Norman to play off the ball and take advantage of his natural instincts.

“I like being aggressive,” Norman said. “I play a style of defense that knows this aggressive blitzing mentality. It causes multiple turnovers and big plays. We’ll see how it plays out in the games.”

When Norman isn’t studying film, or practicing with his teammates, he can often be found working with his charity Starz24, a reflection of his jersey number. The charitable, nonprofit organization works with youth in underprivileged communities to encourage healthy and active lifestyles, while providing good role models and mentoring. Norman launched the charity during his three-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, and relocated it to Washington when he took a job with the Redskins three years ago.

“When I first got drafted, my hometown [of Greenwood, South Carolina] was dealing with some pretty grim statistics,” he recalled. “We were pretty high up there with violent crimes and other negative statistics that prompted me to do something about it.”

Norman said he knew he wanted to address some of the heaviest issues faced by the Greenwood community.

“We are newly active in the DC area, as we just launched publicly in DC. There are challenges that come with any region. There are pros and cons, but I see the entry into the DC market as an exciting next step for us.”

The celebrity football player said Starz24 is more meaningful to him than he can explain.

“I believe that [for] those who are given much, much is required,” he said. “It means something when I am able to help do my part to better the lives of others. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I’m all about.”

Learn more about Starz24 at, and the Redskins’ 2017 season at

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

New Notable No Longer: September 2017

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town, the top culinary news of the month and recent closings. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new, notable and no longer in the DC area.


Bistro 1521
Open: July 31
Location: Arlington
Lowdown: This new restaurant from Jo-Jo Valenzuela and Manny Tagle is feeding the DMV’s passion for Filipino food. Bistro 1521, named for the year Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines, serves up home-style dishes made by Filipino cooks. Valenzuela likens it to food you might enjoy if you were invited to eat at a Filipino family’s dinner table. Staples include sisig (grilled chopped pork ears and pork belly), lumpiang Shanghai (deep-fried chicken spring rolls), ukoy (deep-fried veggie fritters with shrimp) and various iterations of pansit (noodle salad). Valenzuela and Tagle are also branching out with their own takes on kare-kare (ox tail in peanut sauce) and mechado (braised beef short ribs). The backdrop for the cuisine is a spacious, 220-seat dining room (formerly Applebee’s), with a large bar and additional seating for 300 on the outdoor patio. As a barkeep, Valenzuela was most excited about the drink menu, which puts the focus on Filipino beers and cocktails made with Filipino flavors like jack fruit, tamarind and white pepper. I was enamored with the Rizal, a Rickey variation made with Edinburgh Gin, spiced guava-calamansi soda and lime. 900 North Glebe Rd. #100, Arlington, VA;

Falls Church Distillers
Open: July 8
Location: Falls Church
Lowdown: Falls Church is now home to the first new distillery to open in Fairfax County in over 80 years. Father and son duo Michael and Lorenzo Paluzzi are behind the craft distillery and restaurant hybrid. Michael’s Italian heritage provided a strong background in wine and liqueur production, while Lorenzo learned the art of fermentation and distillation during his time at Longwood University studying biochemistry. Now, Lorenzo handles the distilling, while Michael, with his decades of experience in IT sales, handles the business. Their compact but sophisticated distillery pumps out bourbon, vodka and gin, with plans to expand to rum and fruit brandies in the coming months. These spirits are available for sale in the official ABC store onsite, which doubles as a tasting room. Distribution will expand to local bars in the near future. On the other side of a wire wall, the restaurant offers Italian wines, draft beer and Italian small plates, sandwiches and entrees made from Michael’s grandmother’s recipes. 442-A South Washington St. Falls Church, VA;

Fox Loves Taco
Open: Late August
Location: Brookland
Lowdown: Jena and Matt Carr, the owners of Little Red Fox, say they practically live on breakfast tacos, so it makes sense that the crowd-pleasing dish is the star of their next endeavor. Fox Loves Taco aims to be a playful neighborhood staple, with plenty of seating, a family-friendly atmosphere, and affordable food and drink. Their beverage menu features Coava Coffee from Portland, Oregon, with espresso drinks, pour-overs and drip coffee, as well as aguas frescas like watermelon basil and horchata. There are plenty of tacos to choose from, with many vegan and vegetarian options including the cauliflower chorizo taco with carrot and jalapeño slaw and salsa verde, and the migas taco with scrambled eggs, tortilla strips, hominy, cheese and hot sauce. The flour tortillas will be made in-house, while the corn tortillas will be sourced from Moctec, a local tortilleria. Of course, Little Red Fox’s pastries and pies are also on offer. 716 Monroe St. NE, DC;

Open: July 11
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: José Andrés and his team are angling to dive further into the fast-casual restaurant scene, so they’ve created a test kitchen to try out their new concepts. The space, called ThinkFoodLab, hosts a rotating series of pop-ups that will evolve based on feedback from customers. The ultimate goal is to launch each concept permanently after perfecting the menu and service. The first restaurant to call the lab home is Pepe, the group’s casual Spanish food truck. The test menu includes crispy pan de cristal sandwiches, satisfying salads, zesty gazpacho, patatas bravas and creative soft serve flavors like leche merengada. These items will be available until Executive Chef Joe Raffa decides Pepe is ready for its permanent debut. In the meantime, I’ll be coming back again and again for the addictive Pepito Ternera sandwich, with flat iron steak, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and cheese. 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;


The last few months have marked some big changes in popular restaurants across the region. Here are a few new chefs and menus to check out.

BLT Steak
Location: McPherson Square
Lowdown: This power dining steakhouse appointed Michael Bonk as the chef de cuisine in July. Bonk’s resume includes Vidalia, Sonoma and most recently, The Pig. In his new role, he plans to focus on whole animal butchery, off cuts and house-made sausages. 1625 I St. NW, DC;

Blue Duck Tavern
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: The Park Hyatt’s Michelin-starred restaurant brought on Daniel Hoefler as the chef de cuisine in August. He’s worked at restaurants around the world, including the Mesa and Tizian restaurants at the Grand Hyatt in Berlin and Traiteur at Park Hyatt in Dubai. He hopes to add international influences to Blue Duck Tavern’s locally-sourced menu. Guests can meet Hoefler at the communal Chef’s Table dinner on the garden terrace on September 29. 1201 24th St. NW, DC;

Bourbon Steak
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: Drew Adams was tapped as executive chef at Michael Mina’s steakhouse. Adams’ has cooked at Marcel’s, Plume and Rose’s Luxury, and the Maryland native will now showcase his style of modern cuisine influenced by traditional techniques at Bourbon Steak. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;

Espita Mezcaleria
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: After a research and development trip to Oaxaca, Espita’s new executive chef, Robert Aikens, will unveil his new menu of Mexican cuisine with a twist in September. Aikens has previously cooked at Rainbow Room and El Vez in New York. 1250 9th St. NW, DC; 

The Source by Wolfgang Puck
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: After eight years cooking at The Source, Russell Smith took over as executive chef in May. In July, Smith updated the menu to include new vegetarian dishes like crystal chive dumplings and Malaysian jackfruit curry, as well as meat and seafood options like honey-glazed ma-la chicken and stir-fried squid ink noodles. The team just won a RAMMY award for Service Program of the Year. 575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;

Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Thomas Cardarelli joined Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s farm-to-table spot as executive chef the end of May, and launched a new menu in July. Highlights include hand-rolled pastas, heirloom tomato pie, and a nightly tasting menu and wine pairing. Cardarelli came to NRG from Chef Michael White’s Altamarea Group. 1120 King St. Alexandria, VA;

Via Umbria
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: Georgetown’s Italian market, café and event space snagged Liam LaCivita (of the recently shuttered Bar Civita) as their executive chef in July. LaCivita and his pastry team have debuted specialties such as fresh doughnuts, cannoli and house-made breads and cheeses. 1525 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC;


Bob & Edith’s: 2310 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA;
Cookie Dough & Co.: 7101 Democracy Blvd. Bethesda, MD;
Four Oaks and Sidecar (inside Washington Hilton): 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC;
Honeyfish: 1615 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD;
La Limena Grill: 765 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD;
Lei’d: 8032 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA;
Roti in Pentagon City: 1211 S Fern St. Arlington, VA; 
Zenebech Injera: 2420 18th St. NW, DC;


Avocado Café in Georgetown
Bowl’d in Arlington
Grapeseed in Bethesda
Hail & Hog in Ashburn
Lovely Yogurt on U Street
Maki Shop at Logan Circle

Photo: Courtesy of James P. Woods
Photo: Courtesy of James P. Woods

When Bourbon Is Your Entrée

The leaves are turning and school is starting, which means it’s National Bourbon Heritage Month (obviously). There is no better way to celebrate than by swapping out that overplayed bottle of rosé at dinner for a glass of the gorgeous golden dram. Sounds too disruptive? Only because you are not doing it right.

“With wine parings, it’s typically about the food first,” says James P. Woods, owner of Bourbon, a bar and restaurant in Adams Morgan. “With whiskey, it’s different. Whiskey is the entrée.”

Amen, James.

Still feeling tentative in your decision-making skills? Try these (very) loose guidelines around proof and age to get started.

If your favorite “entrée” is a younger, lower-proof bourbon (80 proof is the legal minimum), the lower alcohol content will allow it to share table space with more delicate favors like fish and shellfish, as well as cheese and fruits.

Move up to a slightly older (say, a seven to nine-year-old), 90ish-proof bourbon, and the flavors become more pronounced. In this range, pairings work best with seared poultry, smoked pork and game – as well as older and moldy cheeses, and robust fruits. Try apple pie, a slice of aged cheddar and a couple fingers of Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon.

Once you start pouring an older, 100-proof bourbon, you’re in steak and chocolate territory, since those flavors have the cajones to play ball with the booziness and tannins in the glass.

Anything over 100 proof? That’s a standalone course – either the heat of the alcohol will be overwhelming, or it will be so divine that pairing would be sacrilege. If you have a 15-year-old Pappy, it deserves all your attention.

There is a creamy exception to the high-proof guidance: gelato, and very smelly cheeses. Fold a couple tablespoons of a non-divine bourbon into gelato; the tsunami of cold, creamy fat beloved by hipsters is able to cut into the fire of the booze and tease out its subtleties. And stinky-sock cheeses, like Époisses, are made more manageable by the hotness of the alcohol, mingling with the bourbon to create a strange umami high.

The next set of considerations involves the bourbon recipe, or mash bill. All bourbon is at least 51 percent corn (and it is usually closer to 70 percent). Along with corn, a little barley provides much-needed enzymes, and then a mix of wheat and rye determines the finished flavor profile.

This is what happens.

Rye forward: These are spicier, peppery bourbons – try Four Roses Single Barrel or Basil Hayden. The brightness of the pepper pairs well with heavier dishes involving beef or chocolate.

Wheat forward: Higher amounts of wheat result in softer, more approachable bourbons – think Maker’s Mark, or the much-coveted Pappy Van Winkle. Their smoothness contrasts nicely with spicier foods, such as mustard-based BBQ sauces.

These are very general guidelines. Ultimately, there is only one voice you need to heed.

“If you listen to the bourbon, it will tell you what it should be paired with,” instructs Torrence Swain, the head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. “Bourbons with strong undertones of vanilla go really well with fruit, for example. You just have to put the same level of diligence into pairing bourbons as you do with wine.”

Cole Burger, the lead bartender at Blue Duck Tavern, agrees.

“Like red wine, it’s best to pair similar attributes when aligning bourbon with food,” he says.

Knowing your bourbon’s age, proof and mash bill is not enough. You need to sip it, commune with it, meditate on it. What flavors speak to you? What voices do you hear in your head? Many bourbons have an undertone of dried fruit, “like candied raisin or apricot,” notes Woods.

“With dried fruit, proteins are going to pair well,” Woods says. “Off the shelves at Bourbon, that might mean something like Woodford Double Oak or the Henry McKenna 10-Year.”

Meanwhile, for peppery and smoky bourbons, Burger directs Blue Duck Tavern diners toward the grill, while “the sweeter, more caramel-toned [bourbons] make a delightful dessert accompaniment.”

Dessert is a common theme. Woods says pairing whiskeys with dessert is his “favorite thing,” while Swain sends Bourbon Steak diners in a very specific direction.

“We have the Bourbon Chocolate Bar [brownie, caramel mousse, peanut butter] paired with a robust bourbon – we select a cognac-finished, nine-year-old, high-rye bourbon from DC’s own One Eight Distillery [“Untitled”] – and it is out of this world,” Swain says. “It’s like they’re holding hands.”

Does building your own bourbon-food pairings seem more alluring now, but still daunting? Then these are three places to start your adventures. Each has a fantastic bourbon collection presided over by wise bartenders to guide you in your decisions. Go forth and enjoy responsibly.

Blue Duck Tavern: 1201 24th St. NW, DC;
Bourbon: 2321 18th St. NW, DC;
Bourbon Steak: 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;