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Photos: Courtesy of Schneider’s and Granville Moore’s
Photos: Courtesy of Schneider’s and Granville Moore’s

Age-Old Brews: Belgian Beers in the DMV

To honor the establishment of a country with a long, deep and rich beer history on Belgian National Day (July 21), let’s go through a quick and dirty breakdown of Belgian beers: a what to know and where to go in and around the District to drink and buy these complex brews. As Belgian-inspired, Belgian-style and Belgian beers are more accessible, look to these places in the DMV for help in learning, growing or just enjoying a traditional, historic style of beer.

Granville Moore’s
The H Street Corridor’s old-timey, Belgian-inspired gastropub puts an emphasis on harder-to-find Belgian beers and new or up-and-coming local breweries. Check out Granville’s menu for an extensive bottle list, and on the many chalkboards in the restaurant for unique Belgian or local drafts, many of which pair well with the spot’s nationally recognized mussel options.

Granville’s beer maven, Erin Gilbert, suggests Ertvelds Wit, on draft during the summer to complement the corn chowder mussels. The gastropub is known for its unique draft list, including the Tripel Van de Garre.

“It’s an 11 percent tripel and goes down like a 5 percent,” she says. “It’s a beautiful example of what a tripel should be.”

Granville Moore’s: 1238 H St. NE, DC; www.granvillemoores.com

Roofers Union
Want to have fun? Go into Roofers Union in Adams Morgan, find beer director Dave Delaplaine, smile nicely and start asking him questions about his favorite beers in stock – many of which are tart, sour, spontaneously fermented lambics. The restaurant and bar has a huge sour beer focus, with at least one to two on draft from Belgium at any given time.

“I love what Belgian yeast brings to the table,” Delaplaine says. “Whether it’s a beer from Belgium or a beer using yeast from Belgium, the complexity created is so extravagant, I cannot get enough of it. When searching for sours, I love the lacto acidity that really makes your mouth pucker. Many of these beers may seem unnecessarily acidic until you pair them with that perfect fatty meat…then bliss.”

Several sours will make their debut on tap at Roofers this summer. In the meantime, enjoy two 2014 sours from Roofers’ cellar that Delaplaine is currently crazy about: Oud Beersel and Weyerbacher’s Riserva.

Roofers Union: 2446 18th St. NW, DC; www.roofersuniondc.com

Schneider’s of Capitol Hill
Browse through an interesting craft beer selection at Schneider’s, a shop known for its eclectic selection and 60+ year history. Beer Director Stewart Phillips posts to Twitter (@schneidersbeer) when he has harder-to-find beers in stock. Or, if you’re one of his top customers, you might get an email with a heads up when new brews come in.

Phillips mixes up Schneider’s beer selection with Belgians because, unlike many U.S. beers, they’re not as hop-forward – especially during the summer, when he recommends a light, citrusy tripel. He suggests starting your Belgian education with the regularly stocked La Trappe Tripel or Quadrupel, or Saison Dupont.

“They’re easy to get into,” Phillips says. “Belgian beers can have a great flavor without being overwhelming. A classic saison can especially be easy drinking, but as you progress in your beer education, you can get into more heavy stuff, like quads.”

Schneider’s of Capitol Hill: 300 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; www.cellar.com

The Sovereign
It would be silly not to include the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s newly opened bar and bistro in Georgetown dedicated to “celebrating the rustic cuisine and fabled brewing culture of Belgium.” The Sovereign’s beer program features 50 drafts and more than 350 bottles curated by Beer Director Greg Engert.

But don’t expect to order the Belgian beers you know from your drinking past. The Sovereign’s brews aren’t sweet or overly nuanced.

“We are really focusing on fewer producers, because we are concentrating on the best,” Engert says. “But, we also have a full range of flavors from those Belgian brewers.”

In regards to the exclusivity of the beer that The Sovereign stocks, Engert says, “We get consistent, direct shipments of exclusive Belgian and Belgian-style brews from the likes of Cantillon [Brewery] and Tired Hands [Brewing Company].”

This month, The Sovereign is setting up events to showcase bottle and draft pours of some very rare lambics. You will most definitely find options not available anywhere else in the DMV, and possibly the U.S.

The Sovereign: 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.thesovereigndc.com

Photos: Courtesy of Schneider’s and Granville Moore’s 

Sehkraft Brewing
Photo: Courtesy of Sehkraft Brewing

The Bierdo Visits Sehkraft Brewing

Good things happen to those who wait, Bierdos (just ask my editor!) I’m finishing this beer article on the lawn after my deadline, while at and inspired by the Edward Sharpe and Magnetic Zeros show at Wolf Trap, wishing they had bottled the treasures I just drank at Sehkraft Brewing to-go for my cooler at the show. Poor planning, I know. But sometimes writing, like beer drinking, is done best where you feel at “Home.” Certainly, Sehkraft and Wolf Trap know this about beer and music.

For those of you who haven’t been to Arlington’s newest brewery (or maybe you have, but didn’t know the beer was finally released this month), I’ll momentarily introduce you to a new Clarendon nightlife hotbed of entertainment and local culture. With weekly music gigs from the area’s best talent for only $5 most nights, wine nights and tastings, fundraisers, open mics, kids’ programming, and even a monthly trivia night, Sehkraft makes you feel like it’s been there for years.

And maybe that’s because it’s the sister bar to Westover Market and Beer Garden just down the street on Washington Boulevard, your home for craft beer, comfort food, fire pits, camel burgers, kimchi, a book club and patio fun for over 10 years (or 50, if you count the market). Add in their killer menu, beer selection and butcher shop, and it’s a win-win, Arlingtonians (times two!)

The fact that I’m even explaining this to you all makes me feel silly, being a local, but I’m happy to point you in the right direction. Simply put, both places rock just as much as this show does. Here’s what to drink at CEO Devin Hicks’ Sehkraft Brewing.

Hoptastic IPA, 6.9 percent: Every place has that one “money” beer. This is the one for me. Cha-ching! Yummy tropical citrus hops with piney notes, it finishes crisp and juicy (in fact, it makes my mouth all watery in anticipation of the next sip, it’s so good) with residual bitterness at the tail end to let you know it’s an IPA. Absolutely loaded with hops. Rating: Hopsurd!

Good to Go Session IPA, 4.8 percent: Crisp citrusy session IPA that’s dry and drinkable. You can drink these like water all night long on the patio. Rating: “GREAT to go!”

Uber-Awesome IPL, 6.5 percent: Tons of hops create this floury, bright, citrus India Pale lager with a huge, bitter finish. Rating: Bitter beer nerds and hop heads rejoice – this has a ton of both just for you, kiddos!

Amber, 5.5 percent: Not a hop head and want something smooth? Try this caramel-infused, malty red ale. Rating: Decent and super drinkable. A great place to start!

Sehkraft Brewing: 925 North Garfield St. Arlington, VA; 703-841-5889;www.sehkraftbrewing.com

Have a beer for the Bierdo to try? Drop him a line at nick@ontaponline.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Sehkraft Brewing

Homebrewing 101
Photos: Courtesy of Sara Bondioli

Homebrewing 101: Crafting Fermentables at Home

How it begins differs. Some picked up at-home fermentation creation in college because it was cheaper than buying beer, others as an adult hobby after getting a “Mr. Brew Kit” as a present. According to data collected by the Brewers Association in 2013, America has an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers; two-thirds of them only started brewing in the last 10 years.

The commonality among homebrewers is their commitment to taking up personal space and time to make their own beer. Thousands from all over gather this month in Baltimore at the 38th Annual National Homebrewers Conference/Homebrew Con 2016 (open only to American Homebrewers Association or Brewers Association members) for seminars, a trade show and events. Homebrews will be shared and recipes swapped. Regional beer clubs will have made special brews just for the Homebrew Con, like the Baltimore Beer Babes ( www.facebook.com/BaltimoreBeerBabes/) who paired up with Baltimore’s Brewer’s Art for a dry-hopped saison.

“The most enjoyable aspect of homebrewing is the social aspect of making something you enjoy to drink with those you enjoy,” says Christian Layke, head brewer at Gordon Biersch in Rockville, Md. Layke is a long-time homebrewer and member of the DMV’s homebrew club Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP).

Northeast DC’s Hellbender Brewing Company Co-Founders Patrick Mullane and Ben Evans homebrewed together for four years before making business plans. Mullane, a former political operative, has three tips for hopeful homebrewers.

1. Don’t be intimidated. There’s so much information out there, especially websites that are hard to navigate. So, Mullane recommends finding a local homebrew store who will tailor your setup based on your needs and space.

2. Embrace your failures. “My first batch of beer turned out great,” Mullane says. “My next one was an unmitigated disaster, and I threw it out before I even finished. Out of your first four of five batches, one of them is going to be undrinkable. Your friends are going to humor you and be really nice in helping drink those cases that you made.”

3. Start with the classics. “There are different perspectives, but I am a firm believer in mastering red ales, browns, hefeweizens [and] wits. One of these longtime classics done really well means you have a good base and can move on to IPAs, where you’re putting in more hops.”

Other perspectives include starting with IPAs, because then if you mess up your homebrew, you can throw in additional hops to cover up any mistakes.

Arlington’s new homebrew store, The Brew Shop on Wilson Boulevard, which opened in February and also has a bottle shop, caters to experienced homebrewers looking for parts for their DIY setups or newbies who get sent out with either an extract or an all-grain, one-gallon ingredient kit. Co-owner Julie Drews says that the one-gallon versus five-gallon kits take up so much less space and work well for apartment or townhouse dwellers. She also points customers toward reference resources, like websites Brewtoad, HomeBrewTalk or BeerSmith Home Brewing. The Brew Shop has its own Android app for recipe guidance and several books in the shop.

“I like to recommend really great and classic [books] that are perfect for taking you from your very first brew and beyond, specifically either John Palmer’s How to Brew or [Brewers Association founder] Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.”

BURP members since 1993, couples Pat and Janet Crowe and Tom and Colleen Cannon scoured and followed The Complete Joy of Homebrewing to a tee when they first started homebrewing, almost always as a team, 25 years ago. They keg and give away most of the beer they make. In May, the foursome won the BURP’s annual chili cook-off with their maibock. Competitions among regional beer clubs occur frequently. Occasionally, breweries in the area, like Atlas Brew Works in Northeast DC, will host homebrew contests. And, the number of homebrews entered into the national competition at Homebrew Con 2016 have more than doubled since 2008.

“Don’t think you’re going to make cheaper beer than you can buy,” Janet Crowe says. “Do it because it’s social [and] fun, and start simple, like with a stout or pale ale. I caution new brewers to be sensitive to keeping it clean, because yeast will eat anything, and more than likely, it will eat the wrong things. Also, be careful [of] jumping on the sour bandwagon right away. You easily can end up making a sour beer by doing something wrong in the process. Or, you can contaminate your equipment, and you’ll never get out of doing sours.”

The theme of cleanliness is big, whether brewing at home or professionally. Layke suggests replacing all hoses once a year to avoid getting a hose infection in your equipment.

“They don’t cost that much and it’s worth not having a batch of pale ale taste like a batch of Orval because of the brettanomyces,” says Layke, who fell in love with brewing because of the process and the social sharing of the crafted product. He welcomes homebrewers to hit him up at the brew pub if they need any yeast, or to bring a beer by to talk about it. Then, he points them in the direction of his homebrew club, because “the best way to learn is to talk and see what they brought to share.”

Vice president of the DC Homebrewers Club, Sara Bondioli, says, “Once I started going to homebrew club meetings, I got helpful feedback. They could taste it and say, ‘This is pretty good, but maybe next time you could tweak the recipe this way. It might be that you’re keeping the beer too warm, so next time…’ Non-beer friends tend to say the beer is always good because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So bring beer to people who also brew, and they will be honest and helpful.”

Bondioli’s biggest tip to those starting out is to buy an auto-siphon. It costs $6 and she swears it will save many headaches and hours of annoyance.

Check out the American Homebrewers Association for recipes, and to find clubs and competitions in the DC area.

DC Area Homebrew Clubs
– Brewers and Drinkers Around Silver Spring (BADASS) in Silver Spring, MD:www.badass-beer.com
– Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP) in Rockville, MD: www.burp.org
– DC Homebrewers Club in homes/public establishments around the District:www.dchomebrewers.com
– GRiST Arlington Home Brew Club in Arlington, VA: www.gristhomebrew.com
– NoVA HomeBrew in Sterling, VA: www.novahomebrew.com
– Prince William Brewers Guild in Woodbridge, VA: www.pwbg.org
– Stafford Brewer’s Club in Stafford, VA: www.staffordbrewersclub.com
– The WortHogs Brew Club in Herndon and Reston, VA: www.worthogs.com

Photos: Courtesy of Sara Bondioli

Gordon Biersch American Craft Beer Week
Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Biersch

Gordon Biersch Presents American Craft Beer Week Brewer’s Dinner

Gordon Biersch invites beer enthusiasts to a six-course meal paired with six craft beers at its downtown location on Wednesday, May 18 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. This unique dining experience is in celebration of American Craft Beer Week (May 16-22), and includes pairings that run the gamut from tenderloin carpaccio with IPA to beer-infused chocolate truffles with milk stout. On Tap caught up with the talented minds behind the brewer’s dinner, Chef Peter Saletta and brewer Scott Lasater, to learn more about the upcoming event.

On Tap: What was your vision when putting together the six-course menu for this brewer’s dinner?
Chef Peter Saletta: My goal in mind was to celebrate the richness and craftsmanship in our beers by letting the food complement the flavors, not [overpower] them.

OT: What inspired your course selections?
PS: The inspiration for my course selections comes from sampling the beers with Scott, our brewer, and cross-pollinating ideas on [what] taste, texture and region would be the best fit.

OT: Is there a particular course that you feel stands apart from the rest?
PS: Duck confit. This dish has always been close to my heart.

OT: What role did you play in pairing each course with a Gordon Biersch craft beer?
PS: Scott and I worked very [closely] in bouncing ideas back and forth [until] we came up with what we thought our [guests] would really enjoy and would give them the experience they have come to expect from us.

OT: What was your creative process for selecting which of your craft beers to include in the brewer’s dinner pairings?
Scott Lasater:
First, I considered the major flavor and aroma components of each beer, such as malt and hop varieties, yeast esters, bitterness, carbonation levels and alcohol content. In some cases, the pairings are intended to complement the food; others are designed to provide a counterpoint to certain ingredients.

OT: Do you have any favorite beers on the list? Any recent additions?
SL: Maibock and saison are our most recent seasonal beers.

OT: What sets Gordon Biersch’s dinner apart from other American Craft Beer Week celebrations around town?
SL:
1) $45 is a great deal; 2) you can get a tour of the brewery; [and] 3) you could win a date with the brewer.

Tickets to Gordon Biersch’s American Craft Beer Week Brewer’s Dinner on May 18 are $45 per person, and can be purchased here: www.eventbrite.com/e/american-craft-beer-week-brewers-dinner-tickets-24791755809.

Gordon Biersch: 900 F St. NW, DC; 202-783-5454; www.gordonbiersch.com

Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Biersch

Sovereign
Photo: Joy Asico

The Bierdo Visits The Sovereign

Greeting Bierdos! May I point you to DC’s newest Belgian hotspot? The Sovereign is a brand spanking new beer destination in Georgetown. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Beer Director, Greg Engert,  who is “known for his award-winning beer lists at Birch & Barley, ChurchKey, Rustico and more…is now curating and creating a Belgian beer list unlike any other at the Sovereign alongside a menu of classic Belgian cuisine from Executive Chef Peter Smith.”

Don’t believe the hype? You better believe it, buster. As Flavor Flav says: “Yeahhhh boy!” It’s time to try some Belgian brews a little closer to the Virginia line, just across the river in my old college stomping grounds – only much classier than $3 Bud Lights and Jäger in the Georgetown scene of my youth. It’s a destination perfect for dates and fine drinking.

“With 50 drafts and 200+ bottles (in a dark and romantic, 131-seat, two-story bar), the beer program [features] the work of Belgian brewers who embody the standards, techniques and innovative spirit that underpins the fabled Belgian brewing culture…showcasing the widest array of drafts and bottles from the very best Belgian brewers.”

Temperature-controlled taps and coolers keep every beer at the appropriate serving conditions, and the staff works hard to ensure that the excellent bar, brunch and dinner fare (the menu features rustic, ingredient-driven Belgian dishes, drawing from French, German and Dutch cooking traditions) pairs well with the extensive wine and cocktail selections.

I had the Drie Fonteinen Beersel Lager (a crisp, unfiltered, bready kellerbier lager with residual bitterness, 5.2 percent) and the Thiriez Extra (a rich and hoppy European collaboration golden ale, 4.5 percent), and they were outstanding. Throw in the crispy fried bitterballen and other European-style bar snacks, and you literally feel like you’re overseas and getting the real deal experience.

Experience it for yourself! Here’s what the folks at the Sovereign wanted me to share with you about what their beer menu includes:

  • The deliciously dry offerings of De la Senne, De Ranke and Kerkom, among others
  • Singular farmhouse ales, including those of Blaugies and Thiriez
  • Balanced, complex and bold Belgian strong ales, including those of De Dolle and De Struise
  • The work of Trappist Monastic producers such as Achel and Rochefort
  • Authentic Lambic from Belgian brewers and blenders, including Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Girardin, Tilquin and De Cam
  • Up-and-coming Belgian brewers, including Sainte-Hélène, Alvinne and Jandrain-Jandrenouille
  • The best international producers of Belgian-style ales, such as Dieu du Ciel (Quebec) and Toccalmatto (Italy), alongside selections from American brewers like Jolly Pumpkin, Prairie, Crooked Stave and Jester King

The Sovereign: 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; 202-774-5875; www.thesovereigndc.com

Have a beer for the Bierdo to try? Drop him a line at nick@ontaponline.com.

Photo: Joy Asico

Bold Rock Honeydew Hits Shelves

Bold Rock Honeydew Hits Shelves

The U.S. hard cider industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. A traditional beverage overseas, cider had early adoption in this country, but had fallen out of favor with the passing of time. Fast forward to the 21st century, and cider is back in a big way. The reasons for the resurgence are plentiful – the growing interest in gluten-free diets (cider is naturally gluten-free), the strength of the farm-to-table (or glass) movement and the growth in general of craft beverages. Although there are several national players in the market, local and regional cideries are thriving.

We are fortunate to have one of the leaders in the field just down the road in Nellysford, Va. Bold Rock Cider, the award-winning undertaking of master cider maker Brian Shanks and his partner John Washburn, has received dozens of awards for its flagship Virginia Apple and Virginia Draft ciders. In 2014, the cidery saw an expansion of its lineup with Bold Rock Pear, and this year brings another flavor to the family – Bold Rock Honeydew.

Honeydew, as the name implies, marries apples grown at Bold Rock orchards in the Blue Ridge Mountains with honeydew melon. The sweetness of the melon blends with the tartness of the apples to create a flavor that is light and slightly sweet, with a tart finish. Best accompanied by summer dishes, the flavor is a seasonal release and will be available in bottles and on draught through the summer or while supplies last.

When asked what inspired the new flavor, Shanks explained that, “As the largest regional craft cidery in the U.S., Bold Rock stays true to our roots by staying connected with our consumers. Our tap rooms allow us to try some of our new recipes out with our loyal consumers and get their feedback. They love being a part of the process and we value their input. One thing that we are seeing right now is [that] our growing millennial consumer base likes to experiment with new styles of cider. Similar to what is happening in craft beer with brewers blending grapefruit and lemon lime with IPA, Bold Rock is constantly experimenting to blend other natural flavors into our ciders.”

Bold Rock has an IPA of their own. In late 2015, they released their India Pressed Apple, a cider dry-hopped with a blend of five hops, including Centennial, Cascade and Citra. When asked about plans for future releases, Shanks replied that, “[Our] IPA has been very successful both on tap and in six pack bottles, and will be launched in cans and as part of our Variety Crate this summer. Honeydew is our first seasonal style, but Bold Rock will continue to look at new recipes that could later become new styles, and we anticipate some being announced later this year.”

In the meantime, you can find Bold Rock ciders on draught and in bottles at area bars and restaurants, and in bottles at grocery and retail outlets. Or, make the trip to their taproom and orchard in Nellysford. Who knows, you may help craft the next Bold Rock flavor.

Bold Rock Cider: 1020 Rockfish Valley Hwy. (Rt. 151), Nellysford, VA;www.boldrockcider.com

Summer Canned Beer Roundup

Summer Canned Beer Roundup

Hopefully you’ve wrapped up your spring cleaning by now, so you can devote all your attention to the outdoors this summer. That means pool parties, day trips to go tubing in nearby rivers and, of course, outdoor music fests. We know you’d never get rowdy enough in the drippy summer heat to put your neighbor in danger with a glass bottle, but there’s always that one wobbly, angry dude – so most venues discriminate against any liquid wrapped in glass. Fear not. The craft beer revolution continues to progress at breakneck speed, and this summer happens to coincide with a glorious moment in craft history: the can is becoming king.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of the decades-old debate between can and bottle advocates, but rest assured, cans have their place in the beverage world. They’re easy to recycle. They keep the sun out. And they’re light to carry. So do what my cousin taught me to do back in high school: line your backpack with a few garbage bags brimming with ice, rip open a few cases of canned beer and then crack a can of craft goodness as you enjoy one of the best summers of your life!

DMV’s Finest
Craft breweries in the DMV are on the cutting edge in more ways than just taste and unique styles. When DC Brau hit the city’s streets back in 2009 – the first in the nation’s capital since 1956 when Heurich House went under – they were intent on filling local coolers with city pride. Their signature punchy pale ale and subdued IPA, Corruption Ale (shout out to you, Congress!) are canned and ready-made for anything the outdoors brings your way in the coming months.

But other local breweries are now catching up with DC Brau and the canning revolution. Atlas Brew Works’ flagship brews, Rowdy and District Common, are both available in cans and sold locally. And the Eastern Shore’s RAR – or Real Ale Revival – is now widely available in stores throughout the DMV (try their Reaper, which, at 8.3 percent ABV, you may want to be sitting down for). You’d also be wise to hop on a mini-road trip and hit up their Cambridge, Md. brewery, which is walking distance from the Chesapeake Bay and the freshest crabs around.

Down in Virginia, Devils Backbone is also getting into the canning business. They came out of the gates with a refreshing 4.7 percent ABV Hefeweizen – the Trail Angel Weissbier – so whether you’re hiking in the Shenandoah or listening to wofty jam bands, make sure to grab an orange or two to accompany your Hef.

Throw Your W’s Up
No one knows the outdoors better than our brothers and sisters out west, so let’s start this tour in Colorado – a craft beer mecca. Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins just started canning their Loose Leaf Session Ale. It’s only 4.5 percent ABV, which means you’ll be able to sip it all day and keep standing until the stars come out and you leave the fest for a friend’s backyard BBQ. Oh, and their remarkable canning setup is cranking out more than 300 cans per minute, so I don’t think we’ll be suffering any Leaf shortages this summer.

Be That Guy: Bring Nitro to a BBQ
You wanna turn a head or two at a cookout this summer? Grab a four pack of Sam Adams’ new nitro cans. Nitro was made famous by Guinness, but we’re Americans, damnit! Just like the original Boston Tea Party way back in the day, the Boston Beer Company is taking an idea from across the pond and making it vastly better. They’re currently available in three varieties: Nitro White Ale, Nitro IPA and Nitro Coffee Stout. You’ll wow anyone when you pop one and the heady foam bubbles up. These are better for a park concert than a festival, because once you pop it, you’re advised to immediately pour it into a glass.

Can’t Make Up Your Mind
Let’s face it. It’s summertime and you likely checked your brain at your office door on Friday before catching a happy hour. We’ve got you covered. If you don’t know what you – or your BBQ hosts – are in the mood for, just scoop a variety pack of CANundrum by Oskar Blues. It includes four of their staple Dale’s Pale Ales (which in its signature blue and red can often passes as a Pepsi at any place that discourages BYOB), four tasty yet muted Mama’s Little Yella Pils and four powerful Old Chub Scotch Ales. You can’t go wrong no matter what direction your taste buds direct you.

Sure, glass bottles are debatably better – or, at the very least, easier to consume – when you’re close to your own fridge, but this is the season to get outside and embrace all of the DMV, nature and whatever your wacky friends throw your way. Besides being easier to enjoy at outdoor venues, craft beer cans have made monumental strides this season. Why not show your appreciation, and cutting-edge style, by ditching the glass and grabbing a sixer next time you hit the local beer store? Oh, and don’t forget to pack plenty of water, too. It’s gonna be a hot one. Don’t be that wobbly one at the fest.

Devils Backbone Cran Gose
Devils Backbone Cran Gose

Craft a BIG Adventure

Spring is almost here and it’s time to elevate your sense of adventure. Canned beer has become the darling of the craft beer industry and for good reason – beer stays fresher in cans, cans recycle easily and when you’re ready to head outdoors, they are more portable than bottles.

Devils Backbone Brewing Company’s basecamp, its original location, is in the heart of Nelson County, Virginia and touches on the Appalachian Trail. Who better to come up with a collection of canned beers that encourages you to get outdoors and have some fun? Their canned offerings include the Daypack seasonal collection and new this spring, their award-winning Vienna Lager and Eight Point IPA will be available in cans.

The Daypack series is a collection of four seasonal beers and one beer available year-round: Goldleaf Lager.  First in the series and available now is Cran-Gose, a 4 percent cranberry ale that is brewed in the “gose” style.

“A gose is an old Germanic-style sour ale, lightly flavored with salt,” says Brewmaster Jason Oliver. “It’s a really great base to build upon and for this beer, we added hundreds of pounds of pureed cranberry. The natural tartness of cranberry works well with the fruity character of the beer.”

In May, Trail Angel Weiss, winner of a 2010 Great American Beer Festival gold medal, is the featured beer of the series.Trail Angel is a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen brewed with Tettnang hops. It has a honey colored, light-to-medium body with a fruity, spicy finish, and carries flavors of banana, honey and clove.

Bravo Four Point ushers in fall, and while it keeps to the under 5 percent ABV level of all of the beers in the Daypack series, it has a bolder, hoppier flavor well-suited to the season. Ginger Brau, a honey-hued lager infused with three types of ginger, wraps up the year in November.

Devils Backbone is one of the fastest-growing breweries in the country, and much of that growth is courtesy of its flagship brews, Vienna Lager and Eight Point IPA. Both beers have won numerous accolades and in 2015, Vienna Lager received a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Devils Backbone beers have been so successful that the company has had to expand capacity at its outpost production brewery in Lexington, Va. from an estimated 10,000 barrels in 2011 to 250,000 barrels currently. And now for the first time, the beers that have driven that expansion will be available in cans. Vienna Lager will be offered in 12 and 16 oz. cans, and Eight Point IPA will be offered in 16 oz. single-serve cans.

Single-serve cans are a newer but fast-growing package option for craft beer. The appeal of the larger can includes all the benefits of a regular can – easier to take places and more suited to concerts and sports venues, but also offers the opportunity for consumers to sample new products. Rather than commit to a full six or 12-pack, the 16 oz. can gives the beer drinker the chance to try a beer they may not have had before at a friendly price point, and without fear of wasting beers if it’s not to their liking.  Speaking from experience, the larger size is also a nice option when you are at a show or event, as it’s certainly a little more beer per trip to the bar!

So for those ready to craft an adventure, be it on the trail or at the show, Devils Backbone has a beer that can suit your needs. Look for their beers at area retail and restaurant locations.

To learn more about Devils Backbone or to get more information on their award -winning beers, visit  www.dbbrewingcompany.com.

pints by state

Primary Pints: Suds by State

Washington’s political class has been turned upside down watching traditional Beltway wisdom shrivel on the vine throughout this presidential election cycle. It’s time to throw orthodoxy by the wayside and get back to the basics of American elections: booze.

Pundits and politicians forget how integral alcohol has been to U.S. politics. In fact, the foundation of our first president’s political career was paved with liquid gold.

George Washington lost his first political campaign when he ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses at age 24. He chalked the loss up to not plying voters with enough booze. When he ran again two years later, he bought 144 gallons of beer, rum, punch and hard cider, according to author Daniel Okrent, and he won. Go figure. When you provide about a half-gallon of booze for every vote you receive, you better win!

It’s time for today’s presidential aspirants to tap into the sudsy goodness that made politics great in America’s infant days. Trump’s comedic dominance in this year’s race has moved the nation further away from the coolheaded statesmanship the nation’s first president hoped would embody his successors. Still, all hope isn’t lost: the state of our beer union is strong.

Nothing embodies that more than thumbing through the upcoming primary schedule. The great thing about the Washington region is that you don’t need a seat on a campaign’s charter jet to enjoy the myriad of beers that primary voters are wildly toasting (or crying into).

So come with me and take a stroll through the primary calendar from right here in the DMV.

March 15:  North Carolina
I’m predicting this election will be injected with booze politics sooner than we’ve seen in the past, and Ashville, N.C. – the unofficial beer capital of the East Coast – is where politicians would be wise to hit the local bar scene in full force.

Voters there come out on the crucial March 15 primary. It’s admittedly hard to find most of N.C.’s best beers in DC. But there seems to be a North Carolinian picking the kegs at ChurchKey on 14th Street. They have four different local choices on tap, including a 12-month aged barley wine from Fullsteam Brewery and a light porter from Foothills Brewing.

But if you really have a hankering for Ashville’s finest brews, just stop by the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Patrick McHenry, who is a co-chair of the Small Brewers Caucus. He has a nice little fridge that’s usually brimming with his town’s finest craft brews. Tell him I sent you!

April 5:  Wisconsin
The next big primary contest is on April 5 in Wisconsin – the home state of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In honor of his drink of choice and all of the big, watery beers coming out of the Badger State, that seems like a good day to just grab a Miller Lite (what the Speaker was sipping during the Super Bowl), which you can snag for a cool $3 a pop on Tuesdays at the Cleveland Park Bar and Grill on Connecticut Avenue.

APRIL 19: New York
The New York primary on April 19 seems like a great day to get toasted in honor of the state’s two leading presidential contenders: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If you’re a Trump supporter, you likely have bad taste (yeah, I’m looking at you, Chris Christie!), and your presidential candidate is a teetotaler so maybe just grab a decaf tea and leave the rest of us alone that night!

For Clinton supporters, you might as well put on some skin-tight hipster jeans and sip a cold one from Brooklyn Brewery, which is just a short jog away from her campaign headquarters. Iron Horse Taproom and Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Northwest have been known to showcase some of their specialty brews. If you’re an energetic Bernie Sanders supporter, that’s promising to be a night where you want to avoid being in public. Sorry.

APRIL 26: Pennsylvania
The race to the White House may be more clear when Pennsylvania voters weigh in on April 26 than it was in 2008 when then-Senator Obama was duking it out in a tight contest with Clinton. You could tell they were both pandering to blue collar voters, because Clinton allowed herself to be filmed taking a shot of whiskey and Obama sipped a Guinness for the cameras.

But hey, I wish more candidates pandered to voters with booze! In honor of the PA contest, head out of DC and go to the classic Philadelphia Tavern in Manassas, Va., where they’ve been known to showcase a wide variety of special Yards Brewing Company ales based on the original recipes from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. If they’re out of the brews from our founding fathers, just crack a Yuengling and watch the returns roll in.

The nation is at a crossroads and it seems like it’s silly season when it comes to political discourse. But there’s no reason to despair because the craft beer revolution is alive and well.  So even if our politics suck right now, keep your chin up as you keep sipping.

Matt Laslo is a veteran congressional reporter and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s MA program.  He hosts the craft beer and politics show “Bills and Brews.” Follow him on Twitter: @MattLaslo

New District Brewing & Vanish Farm Brewery

New District Brewing & Vanish Farm Brewery

While you may find yourself “green” on the couch from too much Jameson or in full body paint for your team this March, may I suggest a better way to spend your weekends getting in the spirit of the season?  How about some new and great local beer?  Yes, instead of painting, drinking or literally turning green this March, why don’t we make your beer buddies “green” with envy? Grab a pen, plot the course on your GPS and head to Virginia for two (TWO, Johnny Utah!) new breweries that should be on your radar.

“Just tell your girlfriend you’re going out to walk the dog…and then walk your butt to the damn brewery.”  – Roommate wisdom  

NEW DISTRICT BREWING COMPANY
New District in Shirlington is a labor of love from some local ex-rock ‘n’ rollers who had a dream of putting down the drumsticks and starting their own brewery, but did so at an unbelievable, under $350K budget with the help of many, many friends and their engineering degrees. These dudes literally MacGyvered their own equipment and entire build-out on a shoestring budget to create a small up-and-coming brewery with, dare I say, Arlington’s first walk-up growler fill-up window.

While it’s only open on Saturdays, once they expand their capacity, you can expect some additional hours for enjoying their great brews, tunes and food trucks. Or bring your dog since the Shirlington Dog Park is nearby and grab a beer without the usual scolding from your partner about day drinking on a Saturday – because let’s face it, that’s why God invented Saturdays and your boss gave you off, isn’t it? It’s the American thing to do. Drink these for America.

1821 Belgian-style Saison 5.5 percent: Crisp and easy to drink, this floury,  biscuity craft homage to your favorite glass of Stella Artois – only local, better and more crafty.
Rating: Just “sais” yes.

1821 Black Lager, 8.5 percent: Easily my favorite, this malty, easy drinking lager improves on the Greek family recipe with a special mystery ingredient that I still haven’t guessed yet. No worries, however, as it has a slight licorice/anisette-type dark lager feel with a bitter ending that’s delish. Rating: Smash a lager, not a plate. Yamas!

*Looking for something drinkable for the beer nube? Also try the bitter but drinkable Kolsch or the light cocoa nib First Time stout.  I will always remember my first time well. Thanks Katrivanos family!

VANISH FARM BREWERY
Still need to walk “the dog” a little further? Try a new farm brewery like the epic Vanish in Lucketts, Va. Owner Jonathan Staples originally bought the farm to grow hops for his spirits at James River Distillery in Richmond. However, his friends at Flying Dog Brewing planted the brewery idea in his head (which he continued with alone after the partnership idea disintegrated), and so his rustic and historic Virginia farmland became the site and supplier for Vanish beer.

Here you’ll find an immaculate, 200+ seated tasting room and hop farming facility with a satellite kitchen for weekend BBQ, tasters around $2 and $4 to $5 pints. Plus, an outside biergarten is in the works for the warmer weather. I’d talk more about all the cool farming and local ingredient sourcing, but I’m going to let the owner’s knowledgeable staff regale you with that. I’ll just do the drinking, thank you very much!

Session IPA, 4.5 percent: One-of-a-kind flavor from rye malt and “Brett” yeast, and dry-hopped with Chinook and East Kent Golding. Citrus and dry, earthy tones. Very flavorful/drinkable. Rating: Hands down, you’ll like this beer. If not, replace your tongue (it’s broken), and repeat.

Double IPA, 8.5 percent: Imagine a lighter 75 IBU version of the Heavy Sea’s Double Cannon. Is that possible? Yes it is.  Dry-hopped with slight  tangerine  fringe
and ever so slight dry  bitterness.  It’s  hop   heavy without weighing down your taste buds.  Rating: Double the booze, singular light flavor.

Abbey Dubbel Ale, 7.2 percent: Prunes and raisins dominate the palate with a clean, full-bodied ale that warmed my ruddy facade. Perfect fit for the wet and cold weather. Rating: Plums up!

Sahti (unfinished at 8 percent): Coming soon and amazing. Juniper sourced from the farm, seeds of paradise and hops make this Finnish-style fermented ale just pop on my taste buds.  Rating: The best and most unique thing I’ve tasted in the DC area in months – just amazing!

*Need something more approachable for a beer newbie? The Brown and Oatmeal pale ales are decent, too.

NEW DISTRICT BREWING COMPANY: 2709 S Oakland St. Arlington, VA; 703-888-5820;www.newdistrictbrewing.com  

VANISH FARM BREWERY: 42264 Leelynn Farm Ln. Leesburg, VA; 301-471-6015;www.vanishbeer.com 

Have a beer for the Bierdo to try? Drop him a line at nick@ontaponline.com.