D.C. is Fermenting a Brewery Culture

Written by Greg Kitsock for Washingtonpost.com/blogs

Washington had four breweries operating in the early 20th century before the city was dried up by Congressional fiat in 1916.

With a little luck, we should exceed that mark in the coming year, as 3 Stars Brewing Co. joins DC Brau, Chocolate City Beer and the Gordon Biersch and District ChopHouse brewpubs.

Look for 3 Stars to open during the first quarter of 2012. “We’re going through buildout,” says Dave Coleman of the brewery headquarters at 6400 Chillum Place NW, a former postal sorting facility about 3/4-mile from the Takoma Metro station. “We’re having a construction team do the schematics for the electricity and gas.”

Coleman and his partner, Mike McGarvey, plan to use their 10-barrel brew house and 20-barrel fermenters to pepper the District with a variety of styles, in kegs and 750-milliliter bottles. They’re still mulling over what brand will be first out the gate. But Coleman said he’s leaning toward debuting with his “Illuminati” series of higher-alcohol brews. Among the homebrew recipes he can fall back on is Pandemic Porter, a “breakfast” porter brewed with milled oats for extra smoothness and cold-steeped in espresso.

Certainly, such a beer would differentiate 3 Stars from DC Brau with its well-hopped ales and Chocolate City with its maltier, more session-type beers.

“Or maybe we’ll start with one of our saisons or winter seasonals,” muses Coleman.

There’s more on the way.

Greg Engert, beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group that includes Birch & Barley/ChurchKey and two Rustico locations, has yet to set an opening date for the brewery he announced last year. His latest communique, e-mailed Dec. 15, stated:

“As far as our boutique brewery, bar and restaurant concept goes, we are in the very exciting development stages while construction continues at the site of the brewery, located in a historic boilermaker building at Tingey and 4th Streets SE — and we hope to have some news to share with the Post come January about who our brewer will be.”

(Meanwhile, Engert will kick off his Beer Academy, a series of monthly tutorials on craft beer, with a session titled “Tasting Craft Beer: Examining the Flavor Spectrum across the History of Beer,” to take place on Jan. 21 at Rustico in Arlington. A second class was scheduled for Jan. 28 after the first sold out.)

Thor Cheston, former beer sommelier for Brasserie Beck, has been prowling the Shaw and Petworth neighborhoods scouting sites for a brewpub. As of mid-December he had yet to settle on a location, and equipping the property and securing the necessary permits could take the better part of a year once a lease is signed.

But this venture should be worth the wait. Cheston’s brewer, Nathan Zeender, has dabbled extensively with barrel aging and wild fermentations at his home in Northeast Washington. (You can read about his experiments on his blog.) Zeender envisions a “very serious wild beer program” at the yet-unnamed brewpub, but he also plans to keep some “more normal” beers on tap, including a pilsner and a dark mild ale. “You can’t count on the beer geeks to pay your bills,” he laughs.

If all three of these projects reach fruition, that would give Washington D.C. proper a total of seven breweries. Will there be enough thirsty customers to support that many operations?

“Absolutely!” answers Coleman. “If you look at breweries-per-capita ratios around the country, a lot of areas have a much greater saturation than we have.”

Let’s see. Seven breweries would give Washington a total of one brewery for every 88,000 residents. That’s a bit above the national average of one brewery for approximately 164,000 inhabitants (based on estimates of 1,900 breweries and a population of more than 312 million).

But that’s still way behind Portland, Ore., the most richly endowed (with breweries) large city in North America, and maybe the world. Portland, based on recent statistics, had 38 breweries serving a population of 583,776, or one brewery per 15,362 residents.

If Washington were as densely populated with breweries, we’d have 40.

Maybe someday.


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