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What beers did you love drinking over the past twelve months?

Each year, that’s the question I ask the people who make my favorite beers. 2020 was unique and tragic in so many ways, but it was not without fantastic beer. Fantastic beer, it should be noted, that was brewed, packaged, and distributed by those braving a pandemic.

So, I reached out to 14 breweries around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and I asked them some questions about the year in beer.

For starters, what were the local beers they tried for the first time in 2020 that impressed them most? “Local” can be defined a lot of ways, so I didn’t really limit them. It could be anywhere from Loudoun County to Hagerstown – and if they wanted to include Richmond, Charlottesville, or beyond, sure, go for it. These beers could be brand new or just new to them. We’re not going to split hairs.

Another question: Outside of the DMV (or perhaps just further outside the Beltway), what beers did they fall in love with? These could be beers they tried while visiting other cities or beers that are distributed locally (but produced elsewhere).

And since most of these people brewed their own beers, it was only fair to ask them what new or improved beers they were most proud of. Who else knows those beers better?

We all need to consume beer somewhere, so I asked them where their favorite places to drink were this year. It could be a local bar, an out-of-town establishment, or a brewery taproom. Of course, during a pandemic, the answer could be – and often was – the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, I posed three big-picture questions: What were some encouraging beer trends they noticed taking shape this year? What were some less-desirable trends? And what do they hope to do or see in 2021?

What emerges from these answers is a great snapshot of where the DC-area beer scene finds itself at the end of 2020. They also feature some fantastic recommendations for beers to seek out, places to visit, and styles to reconsider.

John Branding

Co-Founder of Wheatland Spring Farm + Brewery

Best Local Beers

Gorgeous & Alone from Ocelot was poured at our Land Beer Fest. It has such an enjoyable hop expression and malt foundation.

Something Blue from Crooked Run was really well done. The blueberry and herbs are integrated so nicely.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

Oude Vat from Wolves & People hits all the right notes.

Untergiesinger Erhellung from Giesinger Bräu offers a really pleasant hop and malt balance.

Favorite Wheatland Spring Beers

We feel fortunate that our estate yeast ales are developing on a path that resonates with us. Each strain that’s been wild-captured on our farm is expressing a different, articulated flavor profile.

A couple of examples are Merveille du Terroir, a farmhouse pale ale open fermented with one strain and Fieldborn, a farmhouse ale with another strain. Both are very different, but they still taste like Wheatland to us. Combined, the strains also meld together well. First Cut is a nice example of the individual flavors layering into a single offering. As we keep integrating more estate grains, herbs, and produce, we expect it’ll further express our farm’s agricultural character.

In a different lane, we’ve also been happy with how our lagers are reflecting our estate, Virginia, and regional malts. Found Artifacts is my go-to pilsner.

Favorite Place to Drink

I didn’t get out much this year, but having a beer in the middle of our grain fields was a quick escape and especially welcome over the last months.

Positive 2020 Trend

Beer is an agricultural product, and it’s great to see people looking more and more at what’s going into their beer and where it’s coming from. There’s a long way to go before agricultural character/terroir is understood and accepted in beer like it is with wine, but we’re at the start of a really positive and transformational development in beer.

Thankfully, craft maltsters are working every day to bridge the gap. They’re doing it by serving as a clearing house for information and building trust between farmers and brewers. Craft maltsters make a huge effort to know their farming partners and strengthen the grain supply chain. It puts them in a unique position to share with brewers what they know about the malt, based on knowing the grain from the field and the farmer’s practices. Their dedication to the highest quality and freshest malt from regional farms is something else.

This year in particular, the flexibility and resilience our craft malt partners Murphy & Rude and Epiphany have shown is inspiring. We’re lucky to call them colleagues and friends. Craft malting is being increasingly recognized for the huge role it plays in making beer with a regional identity, and the maltsters deserve all of the accolades they’re earning and more.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

This year makes it tough to tease out longer-term trends from short-term responses made to keep the train on the tracks. Honestly, I think most everyone is doing the best they can in a challenging environment.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

I hope people continue to develop an interest not only in the connection between agriculture and beer, but also the vital role small farms play at the local and regional levels.

On our farm, the upcoming crop season has us excited. Among others, we’ll be taking a type of grain out of the ground that was developed for Virginia’s climate, but scarcely grown here for a long time. Growing grain for our beer that’s especially well suited for this environment means we’ll have a better shot at healthier crops and a truer flavor expression at harvest. It’s a step closer to fully integrating our land’s agricultural character with the goal of making beer that’s balanced, nuanced, approachable, and unique to our farm.

Greg Engert

Beer Director at ChurchKey, Bluejacket, and the rest of NRG

Best New Local Beers

Wheatland Spring continues to evolve, improve and impress. I love how they’ve remained so committed to employing local ingredients, even as they’ve tinkered with technique. Later Flowers, their Tmavý, was especially tasty.

I think Cushwa is making the very best hazies in the area, and they just keep getting better and better. Always soft, fluffy, and fruit-forward.

Port City’s classic styles remain on point each and every time. A recent firkin of Essential Pale Ale at our new DC beer bar, Shelter, was seemingly made for that service format. The Rauch Märzen cans were phenomenal, too, and transportive.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

2020 was a great year for lining up the consistent supply of some of the absolute best German brewers previously unavailable in our area (and much of the USA). The lagers of Traunstein and Schönramer, as well as the weissbiers from Schwendl and Michael Plank, have been fantastic additions to the tap lists at Grand Delancey and Shelter, as well as to the retail lists of the ChurchKey Beer Shop (Neighborhood Provisions).

My friends at Halfway Crooks in Atlanta have been shipping us exceptional brews, too, with lagers, mixed-fermentation beer and even clean Belgian styles all impressing. They also have one of the coolest taprooms in the states – a hipster-vintage blend of 1980s AV nerdery and Flemish nostalgia. I can’t wait to return when things get back to normal.

Favorite Bluejacket Beers

I am really proud of what we achieved at Bluejacket in 2020. Director of Brewing Operations, Ro Guenzel – along with our brewing team of Colin Jordan, Aaron Adams and Robbie Charles – managed to pivot our brewpub model to a production brewery model pretty much overnight, all while working with me to continually experiment, explore, and refine our ever-expanding collection of offerings.

Our hazy IPAs and DIPAs are improving with each release as we continue to play with grist composition along with fermentation and dry-hopping techniques. We also transformed our fruited sour canned offerings to include twice as much fruit while maintaining shelf stability.

I am most excited by the advances in our barrel-aged sour program. Both Voyages and Dinosaurs combined the character of mixed fermentation with wine barrel aging and huge amounts of fruit for complex, balanced, and nuanced offerings.

We have made massive progress in our spontaneous project after all of these years, and Borrowed Time is indicative of the kind of dynamite releases we have on deck for next year. (And it shows how natural carbonation and very long bottle maturation – 18 months in this case! – can provide for unexpected aromatic and textural complexity.) Ro and I just tasted through a dozen spontaneous barrels, ranging from 9-months to 24-months old, and each showed great promise. We are going to have a lot of fun with these barrels in 2021.

Positive 2020 Trends

It has been exciting to watch more and more brewers try their hand at classic styles again, particularly within the lager category, since consumers remain very interested in those offerings. It’s also been great to see brewers explore the low ABV market, whether to pay homage to brewing traditions or to capitalize on the interest in low-calorie options. Either way, I’ll take it. Hopefully, this all leads to more sub-4% British styles, particularly dispensed from cask, but that could take some time still.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trends

While I certainly appreciate the options and convenience provided by direct to consumer shipping, both as a drinker and producer during the pandemic, I look forward to a day where we can go back to a more interactive beer tasting and purchasing experience via bars, taprooms and retail outlets. The sharing of knowledge, the service standards, the social engagement, the connectivity, the relationships – these elements of the beer experience are as tantamount to beer enjoyment as the liquid itself. Tilquin had something interesting to say on this topic recently via Facebook, which I found inspiring.

Kofi Meroe

Co-Founder of Sankofa Beer Company

Best New Local Beers

Senate Lager, a Heurich House and Right Proper collaboration. I was really happy to see that Right Proper partnered with Heurich House to distribute this beer – I wasn’t able to get my hands on any when it was first released last fall. The beer is super clean and sessionable, for all times that call for beer.

Hellbender’s Wave of Phase Double IPA. Crisp and very flavorful. Fruity aroma. Doesn’t go down like a DIPA

Best Out-of-Town Beer

Cold Brew Mocha Porter – by Dirtbag Ales, out of Hope Mills, NC – is an awesome blend of coffee flavor/aroma and dark roasted malt flavor. They delivered a very refreshing and approachable coffee porter. I had a chance to visit their brewery this fall for the Blacktoberfest collaboration, and I am a big fan of what they are doing.

Favorite Sankofa Beer

Black is Beautiful (Dark Lager). This was a limited one-time release, a collaboration with Saints Row Brewing in Rockville. The dark lager was brewed with Ethiopian coffee and West African honey.

Favorite Place to Drink

I spent some of my best beer drinking moments in one of my friend’s backyard. His backyard has always been a gathering spot for us, but in 2020, it’s been fully appreciated. 

Positive 2020 Trend

I have seen an increase in the popularity of mixed-fermentation and sour beers. Although this has been increasing over the past few years, I felt that there are a lot of interesting mix-fermentation beers available.  It also seems like hard seltzer is here to stay.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

I have seen the increasing trend for breweries to put out more and more variety. I saw the evidence of chasing this trend in 2020, with a more than a few beers that didn’t quite hit the quality mark I would have expected.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

My biggest hope for 2021 is that we can get back to being able to enjoy our favorite beers together again in person. Many of the joys that beer brings me are from being able to share it with people. I look forward to getting a chance for that in the new year.

Matt Cronin

Co-Founder & Head Brewer at Astro Lab Brewing

Best New Local Beer

Sapwood Cellars’ Amethyst Throne was a stand out for me this year. Aged in port barrels with blackberries, the fruit and acidity paired beautifully with the malt.

Best Out-of-Town Beer

A good mate shared a bottle of Leaner Saison, dated 9/10/18, from Casey Brewing & Blending. This beer was really complex and struck the perfect balance between the sweetness of the peach flesh and the tartness of the peach skins. It was a great representation of how fruited beers can capture more than just fruit flavor.

Favorite Astro Lab Beers

I was quite pleased with Gravitas Rainbow, which is an IPA hopped with Cashmere and Citra. I think the melon and citrus notes played off each other well and made this beer super crushable.

No Mates – Nelson Sauvin IPA was my favorite in our single hop No Mates series.

Rounding out my top three is our first triple IPA, Supergroviest. It was our biggest beer yet, and we had to trust in our processes and intuition on this one more than usual, but I thought it turned out pretty good.

Favorite Places to Drink

With a toddler and a pandemic, I didn’t get out much in 2020, so I’d have to say the backyard, but I am really looking forward to getting back into the city and having some beers at The Sovereign and nearby spots in Silver Spring, like the Quarry House and McGinty’s.

Positive 2020 Trend

I thought that the way craft brewers as a whole rallied to support the greater community was a trend worth continuing. The Black is Beautiful collaborative project to raise awareness of racial injustice stood out to me, and we were stoked to be part of it.

Also, the local community and our regulars, in particular, have really gone above and beyond to support us and other local businesses during the pandemic, and that is really what has kept us going.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Closing down our taproom, though warranted, was a trend that I hope will stay in 2020. Having opened just over two years ago, our taproom was our core business, but on the upside, the pandemic has forced us to diversify our business and get more beer into cans, which will hopefully help us out in the long run.

As far as beer trends, I’m a fan of fruited beers, but the heavily fruited beers, particularly those with an artificial candy like sweetness, aren’t my jam – pun intended.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

We are planning to embark on some longer-term beer projects. We have repurposed our serving tanks and will use them to age and blend. The idea is to grow our saisons and mixed fermentation portfolio. To date, we have produced a few hundred bottles to test the waters, but I am hoping to really start experimenting in 2021 and see what we can come up with.

I’m also hoping for an end to the pandemic and a busy taproom.

Allison Lange

Head Brewer at Old Ox Brewing

Best New Local Beer

On that one perfect weekend this summer, when the air started to smell like fall, my husband and I snagged one of the gazebos at Wheatland Spring and had our favorite local beer of the year brought to us on a hay bale. On a Day Like Today (I had no idea how perfect that name was until right now) starts life as a saison and undergoes refermentation with Brett in one of the puncheons that you can glimpse just inside the brewery window as you try to spy on all of the stainless (well, that’s what I do anyway).  As y’all are going to see in the rest of the answers, I’m Team Saison all the way, and this beer’s rustic malt bill and easy tropical funk really nailed it for me.

Best New Out-of-Town Beers

Right at the very end of the beforetimes, I had the good fortune to be pouring Old Ox beers at Wakefest, which necessitated a warm and wonderful trip to Miami. On a break, I wound my way through the packed tent (yes, this now seems wild) trying everything I could.  Forest & Main was pouring Cult Vibes, a saison with chamomile and lemongrass that was fermented with foraged yeast and bottle-conditioned on their house funk blend. After the plethora of (admittedly good) pastry stout and fruited sour samples, the delicate floral notes and crisp lemonade acidity of this beer had me coming back an embarrassing number of times.

Favorite Old Ox Beers

I’m sure you’ve already guessed, but Old Ox’s SightSeer Saison is my favorite beer that we made this year.  Loosely inspired by Boulevard’s Tank 7, SightSeer Saison is brewed with a blend of Ardennes and Chimay yeasts from Jasper yeast and dry-hopped with Amarillo.  It starts with aromas of clementines, strawberries, and bubblegum; moves into classic Belgian flavors with a hint of sweet malt, orange, and peppercorn; and ends with an 8.0% ABV hit. SightSeer Saison won gold in the Saison category at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup this year.

Lest you think I’m in a rut, I did drink (and we made) lots of other styles this year, too.  I love our Bigger Blacker Ox, which is a souped-up version of Black Ox, our Rye Porter (6.0%). This 9.4% variant and a barrel-fermented 11.4% iteration called Biggest Blackest Ox were brewed in preparation for a big party focused on Black Ox that didn’t get to happen – hopefully we’ll get to celebrate next year!

Favorite Places to Drink

Didn’t get to visit my perennial favorite B-Side much this year, so I’ll go with my kitchen while making dinner.

Positive 2020 Trend

Like many brewers, I’m excited to see drinkers enjoying lagers again.  Old Ox tried to keep at least one lager on tap at all times last year. A couple that quickly became favorite shift beers around the brewery were SightSeer Pilsner, a New Zealand-style pils with Motueka and Wai-Iti, and Motor Goat, our bock.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Exploding cans.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

I hope to lean against a bar and have a beer soon!

Jack Snyder

Head Brewer at Ocelot Brewing

Best Local Beer

Wheatland Spring’s Good Days to Come. A spectacular balance of dynamic yeast character and real citrus makes this beer remarkable; the name (which says it all, really, for 2020) solidifies it as truly memorable. I couldn’t get enough of this beer when it dropped in early June.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

It’s not new, but it is out-of-town, and it is captivating in its simplicity and flawless execution: Brauerei RothausTannenzäpfle Pils.

Favorite Ocelot Beer

Yachtside Party Dweller. A beer that was developed and brewed with our good friends at Charlestowne Fermentory right before the pandemic hit full force, this light lager is a constant reminder of ante-COVID life for me — but its straightforwardness is also a calming presence. Sometimes it’s nice (and necessary) to unwind with a mindless crispy and talk about anything but beer.

Favorite Place to Drink

2020’s hottest drinking spot is… the narrow strip of yard behind my apartment building. It’s got everything — a camping chair, squirrels, distance from the rest of humanity, beer.

Positive 2020 Trend

I’m going to use this space to thank every single person who bought beer from an independent brewery over the past year. Even if it was only once, your support made a massive difference in the survival of this industry. I cannot thank you enough, and you inspire me to hold up my end of the bargain as a brewer each and every day.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

Even more inclusivity across the industry. No matter the progress we all make throughout any calendar year, the work of bringing more people into production areas and tasting rooms is never done. I could easily copy and paste this into every year’s hopes and wishes.

Garrett Chambers

Co-Founder & Head Brewer at Cushwa Brewing

Best Local Beer

Washington County has a brand new brewery called Homaide that opened in our old location about a month ago. They are a great crew of people making really unique beer. They have a low-ABV stout called Fight Milk that is absolutely delicious. I believe I could drink it daily and never get tired of it!

Best Out-of-Town Beer

When we were in Charlotte brewing with some friends a couple months back, I picked up a case of a beer called Out to Pasture, which was brewed as a collab by Outer Range and Resident Culture. It’s a 2.5% table beer, and it’s awesome!  I’m holding out hope that beers like this come back into style so more breweries make them.

Favorite Cushwa Beers

Overall, I think we saw the quality of our whole portfolio improve this year. We finally moved into our new space, and brewing on the new system is total game changer. We have so much more control over process than we did before ,and it’s really allowing us to fine-tune everything.

Favorite Place to Drink

My house. In any other year, that would probably be a silly answer, but I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who responds that way.  We live in the woods, and I’m very happy to sit outside on my deck and have a few.

Positive 2020 Trend

Overwhelming local support. I think breweries have always benefited from a strong tie to our communities, but this year people really showed up to help us get through. The number of people who came through for to-go sales when the lockdown initially hit was humbling and more appreciated than I can put into words.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

In many ways, the industry continues to stray further and further away from what classifies as actual beer.  I’m less concerned that brewers are making crazy stuff with odd ingredients and more concerned with the fact that it takes the focus away from great beer styles that don’t get brewed because they don’t get any love in the market.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

At this point, I’m just hoping that everyone makes it through to the other side. I look forward to the day when taprooms are full and beer is flowing like normal again!

Jon Harahan + Leon Harris + Drew Shaw

Brewers at Port City Brewing

Best Out-of-Town Beers

Harahan: The beers coming out of East Branch Brewing in my home town of Downingtown, Pennsylvania have always tasted great, and each of their newer beers released this year has lived up to my expectations of tasting world-class.

Favorite New and Improved Port City Beers

Harris: I think the beer we have dialed in the best is our Integral IPA. It is by far my favorite beer we have on tap. I’ve always been a hop head, and I think that this one has the perfect balance of hop flavor, aroma, and smoothness that a lot of people sleep on.

Shaw: I’ve been obsessed with Beach Drive since we released it earlier this year. It is clean, crisp, and infinitely drinkable. I’ve had hundreds at this point, and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

Harahan: The Lager Series is tasting as great as ever! Colossal 9, our weizenbock, was as true to style as they come. And, Integral IPA, our most underrated beer in my opinion, never fails to impress me.

Favorite Places to Drink

Shaw: I enjoy my beer most outside, so I don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful to have a nice backdoor patio at my house. Nothing beats lighting a fire in the fire pit, pouring myself a beer, and kicking back to enjoy a quiet night in quarantine.

Harris: My favorite place to drink has always been in my basement. I have a decked out my basement with a lot of beer memorabilia that I’ve collected over the years, and when and I get some beer from of those breweries, it’s kind of like reminiscing on better times.

Harahan: Hands down my favorite place to drink this year was at home. A month or so before COVID hit, I purchased a kegerator. Replacing the tower, I converted it to two taps, and replaced the brass shanks with 304 stainless, and replaced the hoses. I always have Integral and one of our Port City lagers on draft.

Positive 2020 Trends

Harris: The fact that PCBC has survived this long is a testament on how strong our people are and how loyal our fan base is. This pandemic has closed a lot of local businesses, made millions file for unemployment, and has changed how Americans go about their daily lives. To see that our customers still check in on us – come down to the shop, and while socially distancing, enjoy a few pints – and the fact that our crew hasn’t gotten sick has been amazing.

Harahan: The fact that we haven’t seen massive closures of our local breweries has been a plus this year.

Shaw: Nothing was more encouraging for me than seeing the amazing amount of support from our customers. When we at Port City opened the tasting room for drive-through pickups and deliveries, I was blown away by how much support both of the services were receiving. Part of why I love this job is how happy our beer makes people, and seeing how much our community wanted to support us through these rough times was incredibly validating. I couldn’t thank our customers enough.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Harahan: It’s the inept federal response to the COVID pandemic, which has led to too many layoffs and businesses closing while the stock market is at an all-time high.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

Harris: In 2021, I’m hoping for a sense of normalcy. Indoor dining, gatherings with friends and family, etc. Beer wise, I’d like to try a beer that I haven’t had before. I really enjoy learning about the history of beer, and I’d really like to try a Sahti beer

Harahan: My 2021 hopes and wishes are for COVID cases to begin to trend downward, and that not just the Port City tasting room reopen indoors, but that some of my favorite restaurants reopen indoors. I want to eat sushi inside. I want to have a pint inside Boundary Stone. I want to give a tour of Port City to the public. Please, take me back.

Jeff Ramirez + Julie Verratti

Head Brewer + Chief Brand Officer at Denizens Brewing

Best Local Beer

Ramirez: In My ’64 (a West Coast IPA hopped with Simcoe, Cascade, and Eurek) was a memorable beer from our collaboration brew with Calvert Brewing Company. Jared Pulliam brewed a nice West Coast-style IPA that he put in front of me that November morning when packaging the BAM Collaboration Italian Pils. We were supposed to be sampling the tap list, but I just ended up going back to that beer. It’s nice to have that style done so well and fresh.

Veratti: I have really enjoyed the IPAs that Astro Lab has been putting out this year. Fresh As is a go-to for me. I think they have done a great job of leaning into their strengths as a brewery by putting out interesting and hop forward hazy IPAs that all taste different from each other.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

Veratti: To be honest, the only “out-of-town” beers I had this year were beers made in DC and Northern Virginia. I am always a fan of Atlas Brew Works’ Dance of Days and Port City’s Porter. Especially right now, buying beer from local breweries is so important. The DC area is economically connected, so if I’m not having a Maryland-made beer, then I’m not venturing beyond DC and VA.

Favorite Denizens Beer

RamirezThe Glow, a 100% Brett Golden Ale, was a brand I have been waiting to package and serve for quite some time. With our Riverdale Park Production House open for 1.5 years now, we have been able to prioritize smaller projects at our Silver Spring location. Sparkling aromatic brett ales are one of my favorite styles to drink, and I hope our customers are enjoying it, too.

Veratti: I agree with Jeff about The Glow. I am a huge fan of the fruity, funky start and the crisp finish in this beer, and I think it is one of the best beers his team has released in our small batch bottle series this year. The flavor profile reminds me of my favorite beer made by Allagash called Little Brett. In 2020, we started turning out new bottles more frequently, and in 2021, folks can expect a lot more of these from Denizens. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention our MoCo Hard Seltzer, which we launched in May this year. It was my go-to drink this summer, and I think Jeff and his team knocked it out of the park.

Favorite Places to Drink

Ramirez: Salt Line in Navy Yard provided fantastic and memorable drinking/dining experiences during the end of the summer, while following the COVID guidelines safely. They were serving up seafood, beers, and wine. For about an hour-plus, I was able to forget about the pandemic and feel like summer actually happened.

Veratti: By “favorite,” I mean where I frequented most this year. My backyard. The parking lot at Denizens. The bar at Denizens. One of the few things I felt lucky about this year is that I still had access to fresh draft beer, which I know a lot of people have been missing. I miss going to bars and restaurants, and I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.

Positive 2020 Trend

Ramirez & Veratti: Delivery. We were the first brewery in Maryland to offer delivery—and it not only became a lifeline, but it also got our beer into a lot of homes and grew our customer base. It’s been great making things a little easier for people during COVID with our delivery service, and we are hoping it is made permanently legal across the area. We continue to deliver (aka The Denizens Beermobile) and this new way of getting beer to customers is a trend that we fully support.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Ramirez: Hopefully supply chains for all materials stop being affected by COVID-19.

Veratti: Obviously, the global pandemic has been a terrible trend. I think another trend that hasn’t been great (to say the least) is the federal government not stepping up to bring long-term relief to small businesses – especially the hospitality industry. Local and state governments have done what they can, but they are financially strapped right now, too, since they are bearing the brunt of the public health fight right now. I wish this year that Congress and the federal government would have been hyper-focused on helping out the country instead of their own political agendas. Partisan gamesmanship is something that I hope goes away forever. (A girl can dream, right?)

2021 Hopes and Wishes

Ramirez: I hope that the craft brewing and restaurant industry can bounce back from 2020 so that we can go back to enjoying the things we love.

Veratti: I have two big hopes and wishes. First, is for the government on all levels to step up and bring this country together. We need leadership to work together to bring economic recovery to small businesses, workers, and state and local economies. My other wish is for the world to experience the Roaring 20s, 21st Century edition. I am hopeful that once we get to a place where it is safe to be out in the world regularly again that folks are willing to spend their dollars in the local economy and celebrate by frequenting their local breweries, bars, and restaurants.

Jace Gonnerman

General Manager at Starr Hill Brewery

Best Local Beers

Wheatland Spring was a revelation for me in 2020. Supremely well-made beers with as many hyper-local ingredients as possible. Found Artifacts, their unfiltered pilsner, was phenomenal, as was Servus Bavarian Helles Lager.

There were tons of outstanding beers from Elder Pine as well. Their first barrel-aged wild ale release, The Waves Have Come, was phenomenal as is their entire collection of lagers.

The Veil’s Dusty Dusty Roadz Roadz (a DDH Nelson and Citra Pale Ale) hit massive levels of hop saturation while maintaining supreme drinkability.

Ocelot continues to release bangers, and their “East Meets West” IPA series – Collision, Tangled, Clash, etc. – is as good as it gets.

I’ll buy any beer with the words “Port City” and “lager” on it, and the Rauch Märzen and Tmave Pivo were both spectacular.

Silver Branch’s Obsidian Castle (a dark Czech lager) was just released again and is stellar as usual.

Crooked Crab’s Infinity Crab was a Double IPA take on my favorite local beer of all-time (Excelsior Hazy Pale), and it certainly did its little brother justice.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

I’m really enjoying starting the process of exploring the breweries in and around Crozet and Charlottesville. The recent Bourbon BA Karabash release from Decipher Brewing was excellent, and their Kolsch is also stellar.

Rockfish Brewing’s New England IPA is bright and tropical but crisp and drinkable.

Triple Crossing continues to set the bar for IPAs and also boast phenomenal lager and wild ale programs.

The 2020 versions of Redbeard’s Moriarty were all excellent, with the Booker’s version being the best of the bunch.

Hill Farmstead’s Susan IPA is still perfect.

Let’s Keep It Platonic, a 14% BA Stout collab between Boulevard and Side Project and WeldWerks, was a perfect barrel-aged stout

Double Dry-Hopped Small Nelson Everything from Other Half was a perfect expression of that hop

Favorite Starr Hill Beers

Starr Hill pulled out of the DC market in 2018 because they couldn’t keep up with volume – so it had been a while since I’d had much of their beer. You don’t get to year 21 as a brewery without making good beer, but I was blown away tasting through everything.

Ramble On Juicy IPA (Citra/Mosaic/Galaxy heavy) at $10.99 a 6-pack is the best deal on the planet. And Grateful Pale is supremely underappreciated for how much hop flavor it packs at 4.7%.

But what really blew me away was how good the German-style stuff is. Jomo is a phenomenal Vienna lager. The Love is on par with any American-made hefeweizen. Snow Blind Doppelbock is big and rich and chewy but still clean and dry on the finish. Our Oktoberfest lager, Festie, won a well deserved Bronze at GABF in 2019. And we have a 4.2% rauchbier on right now that I’m actively campaigning to have around more often.

Favorite Places to Drink

Like most folks, the vast majority of my 2020 drinking took place at home. It’s been a tough year and hopefully 2021 can see the safe re-birth of the bar/restaurant/brewery taproom industry. I do love the taproom attached to the Starr Hill Crozet Brewery. Full of character with tons of regulars and a great small-town feel.

Positive and Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Unfortunately for the DC market it’s hard to overlook just how badly 2020 and COVID have ravaged the industry. I’m sending all my love to the folks in DC and hope that the industry can rebound. Because, frankly, it’s pretty bleak at the moment. As far as beer goes, there really is something for everyone at this point. If you want a vanilla/hazelnut/lactose/cherry pie/chocolate cake/cheesecake fruited sour, they are easy to find. But if you want a classic. first-wort hopped, decocted Czech Lager, you can find those as well. It is nice to see West Coast IPA making a quasi-comeback in a sea of haze.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

In early 2021, we should open our new pilot brewery and taproom in Charlottesville. I’m very excited to get that up and running as it marks our return to Charlottesville after moving to our Crozet production facility in 2005.

We debut a new, year-round hazy IPA (Sonic Haze) in early March that I’m quite excited for.

And I hope to continue immersing myself in the local beer scene here as there are lots of breweries pumping out high-quality beer.

Meth Gunasinghe

Lead Brewer at 3 Stars Brewing

Best Local Beers

The DMV is really pumping out some solid beers.

I’ve been really impressed with the lager game at Silver Branch. The Vespucci Connection was really solid and their Oktoberfest was also a great example of the style.

Astro Lab is doing really great IPAs as well. I haven’t had a beer from Matt [Cronin] that hasn’t been really well done.

Wheatland Spring has also been great, I really loved Found Artifacts.

Best Out-of-Town Beers

DSSOLVR is the first one that comes to mind. They’re about to be celebrating their one-year anniversary. Contact Contact was really well done, and they just put out a Schwarzbier that was beautiful.

Hi Wire’s rotating hop series Hazy & Juicy & Hoppy & Fresh DIPA has also been cool. They’ve been pairing some really killer hops together in that series.

Green Bench has also been real dope. Their Kulture Khronicles: Volume 2 was so good – a single-decocted kellerpils that was clean, refreshing, and a total crusher. Khris [Johnson] is nailing everything, from lagers to hazies to sours to some next-level ciders, as well.

Favorite 3 Stars Beers

I’ve been really happy with a couple of our new hazies this year. Zoombox was a really fun beer with Sabro and Citra cryo, I threw in a touch of torrified wheat and I think it was a very layered beer and was an easy crusher at 7.1%. Time Well Spent also came out this year, which I really dug with Motueka and Simcoe. I feel like Motueka gets overlooked but it’s really versatile with notes of lime, along with that old school grapefruit and pine from Simcoe.

Greg Schmidt, our sour brewer, has also been putting out some great fruited sours this year, with our Low Hanging Fruit Series, along with Can’t You See the Sunshine, a blended sour with lime which was really refreshing during the summer.

Favorite Places to Drink

I always enjoy hanging out at breweries and bars but this year has made that tough. I didn’t really go out much this year like I used to, but the few times I have, I’ve had a couple beers on the patio at Silver Branch and Astro Lab, and they’re doing a really great job of having a socially distant space outside and inside.

Pre-COVID, earlier in the year, Moreland’s Tavern was definitely my go-to – great beer list and an equally solid food menu and really solid peeps.

I think we all miss beer events, and I really missed Battle of the Barrels and St Baldricks at Boundary Stone.

Manor Hill also has a really beautiful set-up on the farm with a ton of space with some great beers on tap.

But because of everything that is 2020, I’ve spent a lot of time drinking at 3 Stars, and we’ve got a really sweet set up on the patio, with fire pits and heaters and plenty of space between tables.

Positive 2020 Trend

The ability of the industry to pivot. This year threw up a ton of roadblocks, and it’s been really cool seeing everyone adapting in their own way and still finding a way to keep crushing it. It’s a testament to the creative talent that makes this industry a really cool thing to be a part of.

Beer wise, I’m always going to be a fan of more breweries brewing more lagers. It’s been low and slow, but over the past couple of years they’ve been picking up steam and I’m hoping next year keeps up with that trend.

Also, not beer, but I’ve been super into the natural wine trend picking up this year. There’s so many killer natural wines coming out that have been awesome and I’m hoping that that keeps trending upwards.

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Adjuncts. So many adjuncts. I appreciate adding adjuncts to a solid base beer to create something that’s balanced, but when the beer becomes something that doesn’t taste like beer at the end or is pouring thicker than fruit puree, or is sweet enough to give you a cavity we need to reset.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

I’m hoping that 2021 will be a year where we can all reset and reconnect. Support local! I think the DMV has so many breweries that are really putting out some really killer beers. Order for delivery, come hang out on everyone’s patio’s. I’m hoping with having to stay at home, lagers will gain more popularity!

Jake Endres

Co-Founder & Production Manager at Crooked Run

Best Local Beers

Dynasty Brewing opened a satellite location in Leesburg down the street from our original spot. They’re making some great IPAs and lagers, and I love walking over there after work. Plus you’ve got so many other good options for food and beer right around.

It’s local-ish – only a little over an hour from the DC area – but Pen Druid’s new spot is awesome.  Their spontaneous stuff is all great. They’re also making cider now!

Best Out-of-Town Beer

Unseen Creatures in Miami. These guys are making some of the best beer in Florida, and some fantastic mixed ferms in particular.

Favorite Crooked Run Beer

Our framboise-style beer this year is really nice.  It’s called Drupulet, refermented with a huge amount of Virginia-grown raspberries, turbid mashed, and coolshipped. These beers are a pain in the ass to make, but we’re really proud of them and can’t wait to release more.

Favorite Places to Drink

I really enjoy Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church and High Side in Fairfax. Fantastic selection of both beers and food at both and some of my favorite people. They also put a lot of effort into customer safety during the pandemic.

Also, in general, downtown Leesburg is great. If you don’t get outside the Beltway much, all I can say is that Leesburg is a lot of fun – easy parking, and many good places you can walk around to.

Positive 2020 Trends

In general, seeing great beer become more available to customers is a positive trend, whether it’s via online sales or out-of-state distribution.

For Crooked Run, I don’t know what it is, but people are finally really starting to dig the lagers and mixed-ferm stuff we’re putting out. Something has definitely changed over the last year, and I can’t put my finger on it. Sales for those styles have shifted to other styles for most other folks, but not for us. Who knows, but I’ll take it!

Less-Desirable 2020 Trend

Sugar in beer. I really can’t talk too much smack here because it’s something we are guilty of, but there doesn’t seem to be a ceiling for the level of unfermented sugar customers want in their beers. You can have an entire DIPA’s worth of unfermented sugar in a stout and people will say it tastes thin. Superfruited sours are reaching sweetness levels so high that I cannot see how anyone can enjoy them. We’ve had to retool stuff just because what was considered adequate a year ago no longer cuts it. Please let this trend stop.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

Aside from the obvious, I’d like to see people get more into large format bottles again, and sharing them with friends.  It’s one of my favorite things to do at a good beer bar – splurge on that $100 bottle and share it either with your friends or just the people next to you.  Just bottle pours in general – bottle conditioning makes a big difference.

Erik Raines

Brand Manager at Aslin Beer Company

Best New Local Beers

Front Royal Brewing’s Park Pass Helles Lager and Head Lamp West Coast IPA with Strata. The few beers I’ve had that Mike McCarthy is now brewing have been a welcome change to the local scene, and these two pick up right where he left off.

Favorite Aslin Beers

That’s Facts (New Zealand-style Pilsner dry-hopped with Waimea and Motueka). This debuted in June, and we instantly fell in love with it. Big notes of honey and biscuit with a hint of lemon/lime and pine. This will definitely come back and hopefully soon!

Peccavi Piquette. We used grape pomaces from a wine-hybrid we had just completed and added it to a barrel-aged gose. The result was a balance of acidity, salinity, citrus and light oak. A perfect low-ABV summer drink.

Positive 2020 Trend

The commitment from the beer industry as a whole to recognize that we have a lot of work to do to make our industry more inclusive and diverse has been great to see.  I’m extremely proud of the action and dialog that Aslin has had to ensure that we are a better ally to the underrepresented.

2021 Hopes and Wishes

We can’t wait for the day when we can open our doors without restrictions and share our brand new Herndon brewpub the way it was designed to be enjoyed.

Jennings Carney

Co-Founder & Brewer at Pen Druid Brewing

One of the first attributes I noticed when my brothers and I first got into the beer world and subsequently opening our brewery was the openness and camaraderie exuded by brewers. In Virginia, in the US, in Europe and all over the world. It is a rare thing to be able to meet your heroes like one can in brewing. And so when the pandemic hit, because of its global scope, just texting or emailing a friend and opening the message with “isnt this weird?!” Needed no context. I felt how everyone was being effected in all degrees of intensity. That camaraderie was there in support, in people reaching out and talking and sharing their stories of how they are and were adapting. It was really wonderful to have that connection.

I haven’t gotten out much this year. I don’t suspect anyone has. And so I haven’t been drinking as diversely as in years past. Most of our time has been spent tending our new orchard, moving locations, and organizing the new brewery’s production and tasting area outside.

We are certainly very grateful for our customers who were sending in orders during lockdown so we could deliver, for those ordering for our farmers market and shipping. And once we opened the new spot, the unbelievable outpouring of support. It’s been heartwarming.

I’m so thankful to have such wonderful customers and colleagues in brewing especially during these times. Really though, any beer or cider or wine shared with a friend is the best one I’ve ever had. And getting back to the fundamentals about why we brew and share a beer or cider together is the number one positive trend this year. Cutting out the bullshit and being with those you love the most, having a beer and being in the moment is what I cherish the most.

I’m hopeful for the future and cannot wait to take on the next adventure!!

Compiled, edited, and hyperlinked by Philip Runco.

Watermarked photography by Clarissa Villondo.

Jennings Carney image courtesy of Pen Druid Brewing.

All other pictures by Philip Runco.