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: Thursday, December 5
Look, we’ve got three ChurchKey events in Draft Picks this month, but they’re all bangers, so buckle up.
First up is a December tradition that I’ve grown quite fond of: the Logan Circle beer bar’s annual showcase of Prairie Artisan Ales, a “small third wave brewery from Oklahoma” (according to its website) and one of the country’s best breweries (according to me).
Now, any Prairie event is worth attending. Much like Perennial Artisan Ales (who will also be featured in December at ChurchKey), the Tulsa brewery is equally masterful at hops, stouts, saisons, and sours. But Neighborhood Restaurant Group Beer Director Greg Engert (aka Slim Necktie, aka Lil Hand Pump, aja Adjunct-Rock, aka Fermentable Sugar Hill Gang, aka Doug E. Drink Fresh) really seems to have the Prairie hook up.
To wit, the December 5 event will feature six beers otherwise only available to the brewery’s private membership club, the Prairie Dawgs. All six of them are barrel-aged imperial stouts. Smash that link above to see the full breakdown.
ChurchKey will also be pouring nine brewery-only releases, including this year’s barrel-aged Christmas Bomb!, Bourbon Paradise 2018, Holiday Weekend, Pirate Punch, Pirate Weekend, Bye Reed, Cupid Deluxe, The Whale, and “a yet-to-be-named fruited sour ale.”
There does not appear to be any Brett saison in the mix, which is a minor tragedy, since Prairie knows how to make a Brett saison sing. But, hey, guess we’ll just have to make do with the 46(!) other #rare beers on the menu for the occasion.
When: December 5 + 7
Over the past year and a half, The Bruery Store at Union Market has hosted a number of pop-up can releases with out-of-town breweries. Mostly, though, these breweries have been located just barely out of town. See: The Veil and Triple Crossing (Richmond), Burley Oak (oceanside Maryland), Commonwealth (Virginia Beach… but they distribute in DC), and Other Half (New York City… and maybe DC soon?).
Are these highly regarded, hype lord breweries? Yes, of course. Could you get your lazy butt in a car and drive to Richmond on a random Saturday? Here I would say yes, too.
But this upcoming extended weekend, The Bruery Store is bringing us something extra special. It has arranged for a shipment of brews from Austin’s Pinthouse Pizza. Granted, the award-winning Texas brewpub (with three locations in the Lone Star State) sent beer to DC for SAVOR in 2014… but you’re really not going to find Pinthouse Pizza around here (unless a kind stranger on the internet sends it to you.) And you’re not driving to Austin on a random Saturday, even if their IPAs are truly outstanding – overflowing with bright hop flavor and aromatics while still relatively clean and quenching. So, color me ecstatic.
On Saturday morning, The Bruery will be offering “three freshly canned IPAs,” plus “additional draft goodies available to-go in growlers and crowlers.” If there’s a line, it’ll be worth it.
Or if you’d prefer to consume Pinthouse Pizza in the company of others and with actual pizza, head to Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont on Thursday. The restaurant will have five Pinthouse Pizza brews on draft: Fog Runner (a 9% double IPA hopped with Galaxy, Comet, and Citra), the flagship hazy IPA Electric Jellyfish, the DDH version of Electrtic Jellyfish, Green Battles (a 6% pale ale hopped with Mosaic, Citra and Chinook hops), and Jaguar Shark (a 10.5% blend of imperial stouts aged in whiskey barrels).
There will even be a collaboration pizza for the occasion: Pinthouse Paradiso Pizza. Founder Ruth Gresser’s riff on Pinthouse Pizza’s Shroomin’ Goat, the pizza is cooked with goat cheese, ricotta, roasted mushroom, roasted garlic, and roasted red peppers, then topped with a salad of arugula, toasted pepitas, and honey dressing. Yas.
When: Saturday, December 7
Where: Rocket Frog Brewing
It’s big beer SZN. Stouts. Barleywine. Wee Heavies. Warm my blood. Warm my cheeks. Warm it all. I’m cold. I’m so, so cold.
Rocket Frog gets this. On December 7, the Sterling brewery will host its second Winter Warmer Festival.
The event will feature almost a dozen guest taps, plus a “special lineup” of Rocket Frog offerings, including a barrel-aged version of their imperial stout Roscosmos.
Visiting beers announced thus far: Virginia Beer Company’s Mocha Evil Santa milk stout, Three Notch’d Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Biggie S’mores, Horus Fresh Ale’s Hazelnut Harris (a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with coffee and hazelnuts), Carton Brewing’s Sakura (a Cherry Blossom salted sour ale), and the 2018 vintage of Deschutes’ classic The Abyss. Not too shabby!
A ticket will run you $35, and that covers ten drink tickets and a commemorative 5oz tasting glass that you will cherish for the rest of your mortal life.
Denizens’ Drafts & Crafts + Aslin Snow Daze
When: December 8 + December 14
‘Tis the season for brewery holiday markets. On the heels of DC Brau’s OG seasonal gathering comes two notable others – one in Maryland, one in Virginia. (And I’m sure there are a dozen more, but this is not a brewery holiday market guide.) (Note to the editor: Please don’t make me write a brewery holiday market guide.)
First up, Denizens Brewing’s Drafts & Crafts! Hosted at the Silver Spring Barrel House & Beer Garden the December 8 event pairs beer with the local artisans of the Silver Spring Craft Market. (Revisit my July article on PGC Premium if you need to brush up on Denizens’ summer expansion.)
Unsolicited recommendation: I recently had a bottle of the brewery’s DC Beer collaboration Bock to the Future, and I’d highly recommend ordering a pint of that easy-drinking, malty goodness. (Denizens also recently released an oyster stout with Hank’s Oyster Bar. Friend of the blog Jake Berg has the story.)
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Potomac, Aslin Beer Co. throws its Snow Daze on December 14 at its Alexandria brewery. (Revisit another July article of mine if you live in a hole and don’t know about the Aslin expansion.) The event will feature “local makers, creators, and curators” from Virginia and DC. The brewery also promises a surprise release of “some swishy, sticky, sweet stuff,” so if Aslin imperial stouts are your thing, you’ve been given fair warning. (Or maybe it’s a barleywine! Who knows?!?)
When: Tuesday, December 10
Where: Right Proper Brewing – Shaw
It feels like both yesterday and 47 years ago that Shaw’s Right Proper brewpub opened. Does that make sense? It doesn’t matter. It’s an intangible feeling. Roll with it.
In reality, the brewery opened in late 2013. And on December 10, it will celebrate a half-dozen years of expanding DC residents’ palates.
Most breweries celebrate their anniversaries with the standard anniversary party and anniversary beer. (In fact, that combo accounts for 38.6% of Draft Picks blurbs.) But Right Proper has always been a little different, and that’s why we love them. (No joke, I literally got married at the Right Proper brewpub a month ago.)
So, for their birthday, Right Proper will host a dinner that pairs four beers from their Whimsy series (each conceptualized by a different member of their team) with plates from Executive Chef Jonatan Bohr.
Food includes a cheese course, autumnal acorn squash, BUILD-YOUR-OWN PRIME RIB SANDWICHES, and banana pudding with caramel and ice cream. The beers, meanwhile, run the gamut from fruited gose to spiced wild ale to super saison to a “wee heavy milk chocolate stout.”
All of these treats can be yours for a meager $50.
When: Wednesday, December 11
In years past, Black Note has been one of the most sought-after releases from Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery. Clocking in at 11.2%, the formidable brew is a blend of Expedition Stout and Special Double Cream Stout that’s then aged in bourbon barrels. And not to give too much deference to tickers, but Black Note currently boasts a 4.45 on Untappd, which at the least gives you an idea of the beer’s popularity.
So, it was quite surprising when Bell’s announced it would not be releasing Black Note this year…
BECAUSE IT’S RELEASING VANILLA BLACK NOTE INSTEAD.
Air horn. OprahScreaming.gif. Air horn, air horn, air horn.
“We wanted to give our fans something new and exciting for 2019,” says local Bell’s field sales rep Chris VanDeWeert. “But it’s a very rare release, even more so this year with only one keg and 24 cases coming to DC.”
You heard him: One single keg of Vanilla Black Note (which, to perhaps state the obvious, is regular ol’ Black Note aged with Madagascar vanilla beans). And, of course, that keg is going to ChurchKey.
“Churchkey is the epicenter of craft beer in the District,” explains VanDeWeert, “and they’ve been such an amazing partner since day one of launching Bell’s in the city.”
In addition to Vanilla Black Note, ChurchKey will be tapping a handful of other Bell’s limited releases (including the smoked porter Leaves of Grass IV: To A Locomotive In Winter and the imperial red IPA This One Goes to 11) and vintage kegs (Cherry Stout 2015, Third Coast Old Ale 2015, and Black Note 2017).
When: Sunday, December 15
Where: 3 Stars Brewing
I have many fond memories from the 3 Stars holiday party. It’s a tradition unlike any other, like The Masters, but with hashtags and hip-hop references.
As always, it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends whilst drinking a few of the brewery’s offerings (or perhaps some #rare offerings from the Funkerdome). And while the old holiday market concept fell by the wayside last year, attendees will still be dazzled with DJs, live music, face painting, a photo booth, games, some ultra-fresh (but not necessarily #ultrafresh) can releases. Fret not, Dave Coleman knows how to throw a party.
The $15 price of admission (or the, ahem, Mandalorian option) gets you one beer and a slick-AF commemorative glass that will forever let house guests know you were doing something cooler than they were on December 15, 2019.
Additionally, there is a $50 VIP Jedi Master Experience option that comes with early admission, extra beer tickets, a special beer release of sorts, and that aforementioned priceless commemorative glass. To further sweeten the pot, Coleman will freestyle any track from Mobb Deep’s 1993 debut Juvenile Hell upon request.
When: Tuesday, December 17
As has been noted several times in Draft Picks, ChurchKey is marking its 10th anniversary with a series of extraordinary flexes, like a collaboration blend with Allagash and a Hill Farmstead tap takeover.
The latest is Take 10, a collaboration with St. Louis’ inimitable Perennial Artisan Ales. (Another thing that’s been noted several times on Draft Picks: Perennial is one of my favorite breweries in the world.) Inspired by the candy bar Take 5 and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Take 10 is a 12% imperial stout infused with peanuts, cocoa nibs and sea salt.
The beer has enjoyed a bit of a soft opening at ChurchKey, where it’s lowkey been on tap for close to a few months – spoiler: it’s flavortown – but the decadent stout gets a proper unveiling on December 17.
As you might imagine, that night will also serve as a showcase for all things Perennial. That’s good for us, because Perennial excels at all things: classic Belgian ales (and American twists on them), mixed-fermentation funky stuff, pastry stouts, lagers, strong ales, and IPAs. (Have I mentioned that I love Perennial?) (Seriously, they crush all of these styles.)
The big attraction is likely to be the pastry stouts, mostly just because that’s what people go crazy for these days. (I wrote about the Perennial pastry stout complex in 2018.) In addition to Take 10, ChurchKey will be pouring Unicorn Tears (a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with cherries, produced in collaboration with Seattle’s Fremont Brewing) and both the coffee and vanilla variants of its blockbuster Mexican chocolate imperial stout Abraxas. Two other #rare big beers: Perennial’s 2019 Anniversary Blend (a whiskey barrel-aged strong ale) and Barrel-Aged Vermillion (a rye barrel-aged barleywine).
Personally, I’m most excited about a trio of beers I’ve yet to see in this area: Funky Wit Cherry (Perennial’s foeder-aged witbier… with cherry), Fruits of Labor: Blackberry + Raspberry (a mixed-fermentation ale… with blackberry and raspberry), and Grace Lager (a pale hominy lager).
And I’m guaranteed to close the night with a glass of Hommel Bier.
Dear Perennial, please send DC more Hommel Bier.
When: Wednesday, December 18
Where: Ocelot Brewing
This is the story of a collaboration beer, and like most such stories, it begins in the parking lot of The Veil.
That’s where the folks behind Ocelot Brewing and Wheatland Spring met this summer. Ocelot was there to pour at the Richmond brewery’s Forever Summer festival. John and Bonnie Branding, the owners of Wheatland Spring – a farm and brewery producing beer on 30 acres of land in Waterford, Virginia since late spring – were there as guests.
“I had been hearing good things about the brewery,” says Jack Snyder, Ocelot’s head brewer. “I had made a note to check them out, but then we crossed paths by chance.”
An Ocelot field trip to Wheatland Spring soon followed.
“I was blown away with what they’re producing, especially given how young they are as an outfit,” he remembers. “And then I got to meet [Head Brewer] Austen [Conn] and learn about his background and pick his brain, and I realized he knows what he’s doing – to put it very, very mildly. They have such a well-defined, deliberate ethos. It’s impressive.”
In November, the two breweries visited each other to brew a pair of collaboration beers. Wheatland Spring’s offering won’t be here for a while – spontaneously inoculated, it’ll need many months to develop. But Sun Hands, an IPA brewed at Ocelot, arrives on December 18.
Both beers utilize the same grain bill in roughly the same ratios. The components of that grist were the subject of great discussion. A self-described “sincere interpretation of what a European small farm brewery from the 1800’s would be if operating in Virginia today.” Wheatland Spring seeks to utilize grains that “almost exclusively come from our farm, Virginia farms, or farms in neighboring states.”
“It was one of the more intensive collaborations in terms of exchange,” shares Snyder. “We probably traded 30+ emails. But it was fun. It took more dedication to the collaboration process than usual, but I think it’s going to yield something that is especially meaningful to us.”
Sun Hands (like its as-yet-unnamed counterpart) was brewed with estate raw wheat grown on Wheatland Spring’s property, as well as wheat from the farm kilned by Charlottesville’s Murphy & Rude Malting. They also utilized the 434 maltsters Virginia Pils barley (which is grown in Queen Anne, Maryland). Oat malt, meanwhile, was provided by Durham, North Carolina’s Epiphany Malt. So far, so regional. But then a sole outlier: Due to recent crop failures in the area, the breweries had to source triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid) from Washington.
“It’s super regional,” Snyder says of Sun Hands, whose name is cribbed from a favorite Local Natives song. “We tried to be as regional as possible in sourcing the grist, and we got pretty close.”
When it came to hopping the IPA, the breweries opted to look beyond the immediate area. The beer received additions of Pacific Northwest varietals Citra and Crystal in the whirlpool, before a hefty dry-hop of two popular New Zealand hops: Nelson Sauvin and Motueka.
“The Crystal isn’t a huge player but it brings a little old world spice and nuances some of that crazy soft fruit and grapefruit from Citra,” says Snyder. “In the dry-hop, we’re playing with the vinous character of Nelson and the lime and herbal notes of Motueka. Overall, we wanted a lot of treble from the hops to correspond with the base of the malt.”
Snyder opted to ferment Sun Hands with Ocelot’s “House Ale 3,” a Conan derivative. Notably, it marks the third beer (following October’s Collision and the forthcoming Misunderstood) where the head brewer has sought to manipulate the strain (popularized by New England breweries) to drive attenuation to near-Chico levels of dryness.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to chase the past few months,” he shares. “We want to maintain the ester profile of Conan, but we also want to play with its attenuative capabilities and reduce the amount of residual sugar.”
At a time when most breweries will admit that collaborations typically involve choosing hops to plug into an existing double IPA recipe, Sun Hands stands out for its pursuit of something unique.
“There was a lot of thought that went into this,” adds Synder. “We’re hoping we hit the marks that we sought to for it.”
When: Saturday, December 21
Where: Port City Brewing
If you like sunlight, December 21 is a sad day. It is the shortest day of the year. It is the day the sun forsakes the Northern Hemisphere. It is the winter solstice. Woe is my Vitamin D intake.
Thankfully, the eternal optimists at Port City are here to cheer us up. The Alexandria brewery is putting a positive spin on this dark day by celebrating The Longest Night of the Year. Naturally, the stars of the show will be… dark beers.
On tap for the occasion will be barrel-aged versions of the past four colossal anniversary beers. Let’s work through the roll call: Colossal 5 (English Old Ale) aged in Cognac barrels, and finished with Brett; Colossal 6 (Russian Imperial Stout) aged in Catoctin Creek rye barrels; Colossal 7 (Scotch Ale) aged in Don Ciccio & Figli fernet barrels; and Colossal 8 (Doppelbock) aged in One Eight Distilling bourbon barrels. That’s quite a line-up.
But wait there’s more! The Longest Night of the Year also doubles as the release party for (the return of) Baltic Porter. At 8%, it’s the booziest entry in Port City’s Lager Series – well, tied for booziest with the initial Doppelbock – but you won’t be able to tell drinking it. This Baltic Porter is a smooth, stealth killer, and it’s one in my top 5 lager series entries. (That’s not a distinction I take lightly.)
To prevent you from passing out from these colossal offerings, Port City will have food trucks and live music on site.