You like beer. Bars and breweries like your money. These mischievous institutions are constantly devising creative ways to convince you to give them your money in exchange for beer. Many people call these things “events.” There are a lot of them. Possibly too many. Which ones are worth your time, hangover, and hard-earned, disposable income? That’s a great question.
Welcome to Draft Picks, the column where BYT picks the month’s ten best beer events.
Why ten? Because it sounds cool. What’s the criteria? Enough with the questions.
When: Saturday, April 6
Where: The Sovereign
It’s hard to believe The Sovereign is only turning three. The Belgian-focused watering hole (and snazzy bistro) already feels like an institution of the area’s beer scene. Every time I talk to a visiting out-of-town brewer, it’s the place that’s guaranteed to be on their itinerary. Seriously, every time.
To celebrate the occasion, Beer Director Greg Engert (aka Slim Necktie, aka Krieky Bones-n-Harmony, aka Ludacrisp, aka Méthodes Champenoises Man, aka Bubba Sparge, aka Kid Cuvée) is doing what he does best: organize an extravagant draft list. In doing so, he will surely have the assistance of his #2, Tim Liu, who swore off all nicknames following a motorcycle accident in 1966.
As you might expect, this list leans heavily on Belgian beers (Cantillion, Drie Fonteinen, De Cam, Tilquin) as well as some of the very best American breweries inspired by that tradition (Hill Farmstead, Allagash, Pen Druid, Jester King).
Highlights (to the extent that every beer here is not a “highlight”) include the first DC keg of Cantillion’s Carignan (a two-year-old Lambic matured on French wine grapes), Hill Farmstead’s Convivial Suarez, and Allagash’s Coolship Red.
As with most Neighborhood Restaurant Group Events, it’s all you can drink for all you can pay.
When: April 11 – April 15
As a general rule, I hate games. I’m here for sports and the occasional battle of the wits, like Pictionary or Charades, but when the construct is “childhood game… but for adults!” count me the fuck out. I’m too old for scavenger hunts, kickball, and red rover. I felt this way at 18. I sure as hell feel this way in my 30s. Also, Halloween is lame.
All of that being said, I am supremely here for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s inaugural Easter Keg Hunt, namely because the concept mostly involves drinking in various locations and the grand prizes are above and beyond dope.
The former is simple enough: Between April 11 and 15, visit ChurchKey, Bluejacket, The Sovereign, and The Partisan, and order the “secret beer” at each location (after solving a clue). That’s it. That’s the game. I like this game. I’ve been training for this game for years.
Order the secret beer at each location (and get a stamped scorecard to prove it), and you win a “limited-edition commemorative DC Easter Keg Hunt 2019 hooded sweatshirt (retail value $45).” Oh, you heard me correct: retail value $45. Not “$4 or $5.” $45. I would settled for $30 retail value. $30 seems like a fair retail value for a DC Easter Keg Hunt 2019 hooded sweatshirt. But $45?!? Are there sequins? Is it Gucci? Can I even put it in the dryer? I must know more about this $45 retail value hooded sweatshirt.
But in completing this journey not only do you win a hooded sweatshirt (retail value $45), you also get automatically entered into a drawing for one of the five grand prizes: a Belgian beer tasting for four at The Sovereign; a private brewery tour and tasting for four people at Bluejacket; a “Shared Supper” beer and food experience for two at Birch & Barley/ChurchKey; a one-month subscription to Red Apron’s “Biggie” Butcher’s Box; and four VIP tickets to Snallygaster 2019.
Um, those are all great. If you promise to make me one of your four, I’ll do the same for you. According to the Facebook event page, there are ways you can increase your odds of winning like solving a more difficult clue (cool), dressing up in costume (booooooo), and social media stuff.
When: Saturday, April 13
Where: Pizzeria Paradiso Georgetown
In early 2014, Stillwater Artisanal mastermind Brian Strumke set about producing his take on a beer-wine hybrid.
To start, he brewed a batch of saison at Alameda, California’s Faction Brewing. Then, he filled dozens of white wine barrels with the blonde beer and added: 1) the wild yeast Brettanomyces, and 2) a varietal of pressed white grape. (He did the same thing with red wine barrels, red wine grapes, and a dark saison, too.) And then he waited for the Brett to work its magic. And waited. And waited. What was taking so long? Mostly, the Brett moved very slowly at cool, Bay Area temperatures. Then, after three whole years of secondary fermentation, Strumke and friends blended and bottled five cuvées of the winey farmhouse ales. But just when the end was in sight, he detected some of the saisons had become infected with some kind of bacteria. So, he had to wait another two years for the Brett to clean the beer up.
Now, over five years later (!), these cuvées are finally seeing the light of day. Released in mid-February, they are collectively known as the Preternatural series. I recently talked with Strumke about the five beers, and you can expect a Freshly Tapped feature on them next week, right here on this very website. Get excited ;7 (In the meantime, you can revisit our 2017 feature Stillwater’s Modern Confusion.)
Also coming to DC next week: The Stillwater Preternatural tour! Because of the magnitude of the series, Strumke has been touring the world, leading tastings in various cities’ best beer bars. On April 13, he pulls up to Pizzeria Paradiso’s Georgetown, where Stillwater creative director Mike Van Hall painted a rooster mural. (The artist and Pizzeria Paradiso regular will likely be in attendance, as well.) For $30, you get 4oz pours of all five cuvées, plus one full pour from Paradiso’s draft menu, which will include other Stillwater beers, naturally. (The Preternatural bottles retail for around $28, so this is a pretty cost effective way to try all of them.)
If you can’t make it on Saturday, The Sovereign hosts its own Preternatural tasting on Sunday, April 14.
When: Saturday, April 13
Where: B Side
Last April, I relayed the story of Mixed Up / Torn Down, a fruited IPA brewed by Bluejacket in honor of Record Store Day. As I wrote way back then, music fandom is baked into the personality of the brewery.
“[Over the past four years], the Navy Yard brewery has produced hundreds of unique beers across an array of styles, and the vast majority of them have nodded in some form to music or the visual arts. There are references to bands (The Jam, Darling Buds, 9 Pound Hammer), to albums (Bone Machine, Murmur, Figure 8), to lost forgotten music styles (Anacostia Delta). And there are too many song titles to tally, though a flip through the jukebox of beers released since March reveals Love Cats, Part Past Part Fiction, Perfect Places, Jeepster, and Lights & Music.”
All of this begs the question: Is it weird to quote myself? No, just kidding, this doesn’t beg any questions. Bluejacket is a brewery owned by a music nerd (Michael Babin) and overseen by another music nerd (Greg Engert). These are facts.
So, it should come as no surprise that Bluejacket is back for Record Store Day 2019 with a special new brew called Out All Night. It’s a strawberry-vanilla milkshake IPA, which is very 2019. (Generally speaking, milkshake IPAs are brewed with milk sugar and oats, then conditioned on vanilla and some kind of fruit.) The name is reference to “Out All Night” by hometown ska legends The Pietasters. And, lo and behold, Out All Night is actually a collaboration with The Pietasters, whose 1997 record Willis will be reissued on vinyl this Record Store Day. (Like last year, Mobius Records and Red Apron Butcher are collaborators, as well.)
Bluejacket will celebrate the release of Out All Night on Record Store Day (duh) at B Side. In addition to the milkshake IPA, the Mosaic District spot will tap a slew of Bluejacket beers including the Citra-Nelson triple IPA Dream Songs, the #rarity Escape Momentum (a red wine barrel-aged sour red ale conditioned on cherries), and the perennially unfuckwithable Helles lager For The Company. To compliment those refreshing beverages, Executive Chef Nate Anda, will be offering a menu of sausages inspired by his favorite Pietasters tracks. #synergy
When: Saturday, April 20
Where: Ocelot Brewing
In the vast and expanding universe of DC-area IPAs, one thing has become abundantly clear over the past year (if it wasn’t already): There is Ocelot and there is everyone else. That’s not to say there aren’t various tiers within the latter group, nor is to suggest that there aren’t a handful of other local breweries making very good to exceptional IPAs. It’s just to say, with as much objectivity as I can muster, in addition to a burgeoning beer belly, that no one within 120 miles can match the Dulles brewery IPA for IPA when it comes to flavor, aroma, and (perhaps most importantly) clarity of vision.
Each Ocelot IPA is a treatise on the pairing of hops (with the exception Home* and Mr Kite, the brewery never repeats a combination of varietals), grain, and technique. Simply put, what founder Adrien Widman and head brewer Jack Snyder (building on the foundation of former head brewer Mike McCarthy) are producing is world class.
Why am I delivering an Ocelot soliloquy? Because the brewery is turning four and I’m already getting a little emotional. Ease off, OK? The brewery will celebrate this milestone on April 20. (Four tweeeeeeeenty.) Festivities will include: a flea market featuring over a dozen local vendors, Mobius Records on the 1s and 2, anniversary swag, and all of the Ocelot beer, including a new birthday double IPA called Soul Kitchen. Admission is free. So are the good vibes.
Here’s what we know about Soul Kitchen. The name is a Doors reference. The beer is 8% ABV and hopped with two New Zealand varietals (Nelson Suavin and Motueka) and one from the PNW (Mosaic), all three of which are luxury items. And it’s constructed from a base of Pilsen and oats. That last bit probably means the least you, but keep in mind that the brewery’s previous Pilsen + oats DIPAs have been fucking flames: Lucky You and Lean on Me. These are juicy, high-ABV beers that go down like 4.5% session IPAs. I drink it up.
The brewery has some of its greatest hits queued up as we approach the party, including fresh batches of Vandals (Mosaic + Galaxy) and Mi Corazon (Galaxy + Citra) this week, and one of Home* (Nelson Sauvin + Citra) next week. There are also rumors of a key lime sour ale and a “My Only French Toast” variant of the imperial stout My Only Friend.
When: Saturday, April 20
Where: Pen Druid Brewing
Speaking of world-class beers, most of what I just said about Ocelot and IPAs holds true for Pen Druid and wild ales. Their rustic brews (often fermented with native yeast and typically utilizing local grain) are truly special, from the “wild double IPAs” to the dark sours to (their pride and joy) spontaneously-fermented ales.
If you’re at a Neighborhood Restaurant Group bar or festival (the only place you’ll really find the Virginia brewery around here) and you see a Pen Druid beer, don’t think – just order it. (A number of area brewers and beer directors would surely agree, too.)
Or you can actually go Sperryville and drink the beer from the source. I would recommend this pretty much any time of year – the tasting room is homey and no frills and delightfully you don’t get cell service out there – but if you’re the type of person who needs an excuse, Pen Druid holds two big annual events: YEASTER and End of Oktoberfest. (I don’t know if YEASTER is officially all caps; I think Pen Druid’s keyboard might be broken.)
Last fall, I wrote a What the FAQ on End of Oktoberfest, and I think that #content more or less holds true for YEASTER. They’re both farm-to-table events, with Pen Druid teaming up with neighboring farmers to celebrate local agriculture in the beautiful, pastoral setting that is their front yard. The key difference is that YEASTER highlights fermented foods. So, this is an event equally for beer nerds, foodies, and nature enthusiasts alike.
When: Saturday, April 20
Where: Diamondback Brewing
[Extreme Wayne Coyne voice]: Is it getting greener?
Yes, it is indeed getting greener, because it was not as green as could be.
Allow me to explain: Greener Fest, Diamondback Brewing’s biggest event of the year, is back. What does this party entail? Two can releases (Greener Machine and Cold Taxi), three bars (with drafts), two food trucks (Masarap and Smoke BBQ), outdoor games, and live music. It’s going down for real at the Baltimore brewery on April 20.
Let’s take a step back and talk about these cans releases. The first, Greener Machine, is the imperial version of Diamondback’s very popular, very juicy house IPA Green Machine. Like the original, it’s hopped with Citra and the Australian varietal Ella; Greener Machine just has, you know, more of them. And it’s boozier. You know how this imperial thing works. Meanwhile, Cold Taxi is an unfiltered lager, dry-hopped with another PNW-Aussie duo: Mosaic and Vic Secret.
I want to go to there. Also, proceeds from the day benefit the Baltimore Tree Trust.
When: Friday, April 26
Where: Evening Star Cafe
Years ago, before he became the head brewer at Bluejacket, before he left DC to open Black Narrows Brewing on Chincoteague Island, Josh Chapman was a line cook at Evening Star Cafe. Then, after he went to work at Bluejacket, he and his family lived above the Alexandria restaurant.
So, suffice to say, there probably isn’t a more meaningful location for Black Narrows to launch in Northern Virginia on April 26.
To mark the occasion, Chapman will be sending a boatload of his uniformly excellent beer, both wild and “clean,” including Fancy Vittles Barrel Fermented Farmhouse Ale, Crummy Family Dry-Hopped Brett Saison, Culling Hammer Barrel-Aged Strong Dark Ale, Here’s To Dry-Hopped Irish Red, and (my personal favorite) How Bout It Heirloom Com Lager.
If you can’t make the NOVA launch party, Black Narrows will be taking over the taps at Free State in Gallery Place the evening before. (Since I work down the street, you can 100% bet to find me there.)
No matter which event you go to, you can expect Josh Chapman hugs.
When: Saturday, April 27
Where: Pizzeria Paradiso Georgetown
As Lost Lagers has meticulously documented, homebrew competitions have a storied history in craft brewing culture. During the Victorian era, if one homebrewer insulted the quality of another homebrewer’s ale, the two would meet on an open field in late morning, walk ten paces from each other, and then hurl full growlers in the opposing direction until one homebrewer was knocked unconscious, thus proving the inferiority of his beer.
Thankfully, these competitions have grown more civilized in recent centuries. To wit: On April 27, Pizzeria Paradiso will hold its first homebrew showdown, and the only determining factors are taste, appearance, mouthfeel, aroma, and overall impression.
The competition will keep things hoppy, limiting entries to pale ales and IPAs between 4.0% and 7.0% ABV. There are also some restrictions on the hops that can be used. (I imagine Amarillo and Mosaic will be more popular than Tettnang and Saaz, nah mean?) Aside from that, it’s NO HOLDS BARRED.
The winner (as determined by a combination of popular vote and the judges panel) will get to brew their recipe at DC Brau. Three or so weeks later, that beer will be served at all five Pizzeria Paradiso locations. Pretty rad! Second and third place entries get prizes and the lingering regret of not switching more Centennial to the whirpool.
I’m not seeing any price details, but I assume tasting and crowd judging these beers will require some kind of currency exchange.
When: Saturday, April 27
Where: Ocelot Brewing
“Bruh, another Ocelot event?” you ask. “Didn’t you just drop 350 words on their anniversary party?”
Yeah, yeah, I hear you, but this one is for the kids. Like, literally. This is about raising money for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Oh, you feel bad now? It’s OK. There’s an easy way to atone for your cynicism: Go to Hops for Hope on April 27.
“What is Hops for Hope?” you inquire. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once a year, Ocelot brews an IPA called Hope to raise money and (more importantly) awareness for NCMEC. It’s a cause personal to brewery founder Adrien Widman: He worked at the Center for seven year prior to opening Ocelot. All of this is a subject I explored in length back in the 2017 article Freshly Tapped: Ocelot’s Hope. It’s one of my favorite Freshly Tapped entries – more hope than hops.
But we also love hops around here, so let’s talk about Hope. It’s typically around 6.6%, brewed with a hefty charge of oats, and hopped almost exclusively with the pungent, pricey, peachy, passionfruity Australian varietal Galaxy. It’s a ba-ng-er.
Each year, Ocelot has collaborated with different breweries. This year, it’s just Vint Hill’s own Old Bust Head. (Here I direct your attention to Freshly Tapped: Old Bust Head’s Table Talk, another personal favorite in the never-ending series.) So, you can find Hope at Old Bust Head, in addition to a maybe few beer bars around town eventually. But the big party is April 27 at Ocelot. Check NCMEC’s write-up of Hope 2019 here, too.