By Philip Runco.
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.
Note: The Heurich House’s Oktoberfest has been cancelled.
When: Wednesday, September 6
Where: Golden West Café
Almost one year ago, I wrote about Two-Headed Unicorn, a barrel-fermented sour ale brewed with honey. The fusion of mead and beer was brought into the world by 3 Stars Brewing and Charm City Meadworks. (There’s a round two in the works, too.) At the time, I talked with Charm City co-owner Andrew Geffken about fighting the misconceptions that people have about what mead can be.
“Most people drink mead at the Renaissance Faire,” he told me. “And that’s great, but the approach we’re taking is that there are 364 other days of the year that you could drink mead, when you don’t have to dress up. It can be in a totally normal way, like, ‘I’m going to a party on a Friday night, and you know what? I’m gonna grab a four-pack of mead.’”
Launched in 2014, Charm City puts a particular type of mead into its four-packs. Technically honey wine, they’re carbonated like a cider or a beer, they sit at an unintimidating 6.9% ABV, and they’re infused with ingredients like elderberry, basil lemongrass, and even hops.
One way that Geffken has sought to reach new audiences (in addition to the larger goal of making inventive and tasty liquids) is by collaborating with breweries like 3 Stars (and Denizens and Port City). The meadery’s latest collaboration is Francis Scott Bee, a kettle sour brewed with honey and sour cherries. This adult beverage was produced at Maryland’s Key Brewing, and it will be #freshlytapped at Baltimore’s Golden West Café on Wednesday. So, if you’re in the Hampden area, get your ass over there.
In other mind-melting Charm City collab new, the Maryland operation will release another joint project up in New York on September 14. This one has nothing to do with beer. It’s a collaboration with Graft Cider, and it’s a “hopped mocha cyster” called Hivemind. This bonkers liquid clocks in at 9% alcohol and contains New York apples, orange blossom honey, Citra hops, matcha, milk sugar, and lemongrass. YOU CAN’T JUST PLAY GOD LIKE THIS, GUYS. Look for it on shelves around town later this month and probably on-tap at Pizzeria Paradiso. (Just guessing.)
When: Friday, September 8
Where: Port City Brewing
Another month, another release party for a seasonally appropriate one-off lager from Port City. I’ll stop writing about them when they stop being delicious! (That’s probably not going to happen.)
This month brings us a Rauch Märzen. If you parlez bière, you should be able to suss out that it’s basically an Oktoberfest with smoked malts. If you’re looking for the beer porn description, though, here it is (via the press release): “Brilliant copper in color, the beer showcases German malt character, including a judicious amount of traditional beechwood-smoked malts that impart an appetizing, savory smokiness.”
Ooh la la, is it getting smoky in here or is it just my Märzen?
When: Saturday, September 9
Where: Atlas Brew Works
Atlas Brew Works is turning four years old. Well, it technically already turned four years old, but unless you posses a magically air-conditioned auxiliary space or a giant-ass parking lot, an August anniversary party is a dicey proposition. So, on the presumably more temperate September 9, Atlas will celebrate four years of Rowdiness.
Tickets for the all-day rager cost $15, which includes your first beer and a donation to the Living Classrooms Foundation. So, you can totally write it off as a charitable donation. (Fact check: not true.) There will be live “local music” – none of those macro import bands, thank you very much! – and several food trucks for your chewable nutritional intake. All beers will be $5 all day.
The main drinkable attraction will be the brewery’s fourth anniversary beer. Like last year’s Rowdier and the summer’s Double Dance of Days, head brewer Daniel Vilarrubi has doubled down on an existing recipe: flagship steam beer District Common. In addition to the 8.5% imperial Californian common, Vilarrubi promises “a few extra special tappings” – so stay tuned for more details.
And for more about the state of Atlas – and the runaway success of its “Citra and Mosaic pale ale” – revisit our Freshly Tapped story on Double Dance of Days from a few months ago.
When: Saturday, September 9
Where: Up Top Acres
What’s cooler than your average beer garden? How about a beer garden… in an actual garden? Pretty cool, right? OK, now hold onto your butts: put that beer garden (in an actual garden) on top of a building. Did I just blow your mind?
Well, on September 9, Michigan craft beer institution Bell’s Brewery is teaming with the folks at rooftop farming company Up Top Acres to blow some minds. The pop-up beer garden (with a view of Nats Park) will pair Bell’s beer with food from Equinox chef de cuisine Colin McClimans. For $40, you get five beer-and-food pairings. Looking over the menu, I think the odds-on favorite has to be Two Hearted Ale paired with roasted hot beer can chicken. I mean, c’mon. But there’s also an Octoberfest and boudin noir corn dog combo. And Japanese-style pulled pork tacos with Lager of the Lakes. Shit, this all looks good.
There’s also a VIP option that gets you in an hour earlier, during which time you’ll have access to two additional pairings. Oh, and it’s “all you can eat/drink” during that hour, so get ready to play Supermarket Sweep with your mouth if that’s the path you choose to follow.
When: Saturday, September 16
Where: 771 Elden St, Herndon
Aslin Beer Co. is turning two years old. Times flies when you’re brewing hot fire. To celebrate, the Herndon brewery is throwing a birthday at the site of its future tasting room.
“Future tasting room?” you ask. “What kind of science fiction is this?”
OK, if you haven’t been paying attention, Aslin closed the taproom it operated for its first year or so back in January. (Revisit my Tap Takeover from this winter for all of the politics behind the decision.) Since then, that space has served as Aslin’s brewery and distribution point. Basically, that’s where the can releases and growler fills happen, but you can’t order a pint. However, Aslin somewhat recently unveiled designs for a new tasting elsewhere in Herndon. That space will include “2500 square feet of interior tasting room space and 2500 square feet of outdoor space, including rooftop deck & bar, bocce ball court, and a covered deck.” It will also house its sour and wild beer production. It’s hard not to view this as a game changer for the brewery.
Anyway, this all a long way of saying that Aslin’s birthday party will be held there. On the beer side, they’re making an anniversary double IPA with cotton candy for the occasion. Oh, and they’ve also invited a shit-ton of highly regarded (and rarely found around here) breweries to pour at the party, including Burial, Heist, Pen Druid, The Answer, Finback, Southern Grist, and Great Notion, among many others.
Unsurprisingly, this event is super sold out. To paraphrase Scott Stapp, it’s good to be Aslin. So, hit those message boards or start making more friends in Herndon if you’re looking to scrounge a ticket.
When: Saturday, September 23
Where: Yards Park
Last September, I had signed up for a half marathon on the Sunday after Snallygaster. Then I was gifted a Snallygaster ticket. So, I thought, “I can go to the festival and enjoy myself like a responsible adult human being.” Two things end up happening: 1. I showed up drunk to the race expo. 2. I did not run that race. Long story short: Snallygaster happens.
I mean, what else is there to say about the festival at this point? Snallygaster is the biggest single beer event on the DC calendar. 125 breweries. 350+ beers. All selected by tha god Greg Engert. It’s an event equally suited for newbies and hardcore beer nerds. If you’re the latter, you get to hunt #whalez like Perennial’s Barrel-Aged Abraxas, Allagash’s Ghoulschip, and Jester King’s RU55. And if the previous sentence looks like a collection of random words, that’s cool, too – there are no wrong choices! Talk to the brewers! Or drink whatever sounds cool!
OK, back to nerd mode. Some big additions this year: Oklahoma’s American Solera, Seattle’s Holy Mountain, Asheville’s Burial, Miami’s Civil Society, NYC’s Finback, Vermont’s Hill Farmstead, and NYC’s Other Half. Access to their beers will run you $35 (which includes $25 of drink tickets) or $60 for the VIP early admission. Beers are priced on a sliding scale – the #rarer, the more #expensive – so plan to spend a bit more once you’re inside Yards Park.
When: Saturday, September 23
Where: The Sovereign
Neighborhood Restaurant Group beer mastermind Greg Engert gets to pick and choose a lot – namely, what breweries will be showcased across his vast and prestigious web of beer programs – but there’s one thing has no control over: Zwanze Day.
Let’s take a step back. What the eff is a Zwanze Day? Good question.
Each year, world-class Belgian brewery Cantillon picks 70 or so locations around the world to pour a special and new blend of lambics called Zwanze. The beer is different every year, and there’s not a lot of it, and every bar has to tap its keg at the exact same time.
It’s a big deal that DC has a bar that hosts a Zwanze Day tapping. So, Engert probably isn’t pumped that this year’s Zwanze Day falls smack-dab right in the middle of his Snallygaster festival. But such is life.
The 2017 Zwanze blend is an “homage” to head brewer Jean Van Roy’s youngest son, Sylvain, who turns 18 in October, and thus can probably legally drink because he doesn’t live in America. Per the press release, the beer is based on Sylvain’s love of iced tea. (Someone give Sylvain a wedgie.) Accordingly, Van Roy finished the two-year-old Lambic with Oolong, a “semi-fermented blue-green tea sourced from the Nong Cha tea shop in the center of Brussels.” The bottle’s graphics were inspired by Game of Thrones, apparently, because Sylvain is “a huge fan” of the show. (Sylvain, bro, you are killing me.)
Doors open at 11:00 a.m. The Zwanze keg gets tapped at 3:00, but pours are being pre-sold (seriously), so get there before closer to opening. The Sovereign will have Cuvée St-Gilloise, Gueuze 100% Lambic, Nath, Saint Lamvinus, and Vigneronne at 11:00
Pale Fire Tap Takeover
When: Tuesday, September 26
Where: All-Purpose Pizzeria
Beer and pizza: It’s a love affair as old as time. And All-Purpose is familiar with this story. The best restaurant in DC (at least according to Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsima) has a solid beer program and isn’t afraid of a well-executed tap takeover.
Case in point: On September 26, the Shaw hotspot welcomes Pale Fire Brewing, the only good thing to ever come out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. (I kid, I kid.) If you frequent DC’s primo beer bars, you’re probably familiar with Pale Fire. The Commonwealth brewery specializes in hazy IPAs and (sometimes hoppy) Belgian ales. It’s very good stuff. It’ll taste great with pizza, too. Trust me on the one.
Ornery Beer Co. Tap Takeover
When: Thursday, September 28
Where: Mad Fox Taproom
After its wildly popular Aslin Beer Co. event during DC Beer Week, Mad Fox’s Glover Park taproom is chugging ahead with its Virginia Tap Takeover Series. Next up: Woodbridge’s Ornery Beer Company on September 28.
Actually, Winchester Ciderworks is up next on September 14, but this is a beer column, so I do not recognize the legitimacy of that event. Not going to do it. I already made an exception for mead. This has gone too far. Fuck cider. (Just kidding, love you Winchester Ciderworks.) (You too, Graft.)
Anyway, Ornery Beer Co. Very good brewpub across a handful of traditional European and new school American styles. To wit: Its Kolsch, Light of Cologne, won a gold medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. Not too shabby! Come scope out the work of head brewer (and Cap City alumus) Ferdinand McAdoo.
When: Saturday, September 30
Where: Denizens Brewing Company
Denizens Brewing Company boasts arguably the area’s most adventurous wild and sour beer program, so it’s only fitting that the Silver Spring brewery would host our premier festival for wild and sour ales. That shindig is called Make It Funky, and on the last Saturday afternoon of September, it’s back for the third time.
Yet again, it features a fantastic selection of breweries. As you’d expect, Maryland is well represented (Burley Oak, UNION Craft, and Black Flag, among others), as are head brewer Jeff Ramirez’s old stomping grounds of Colorado (Avery, Crooked Stave, Mountain Sun) and Pennsylvania (2SP, Free Will, Conshohocken Brewing). Personally, I’m most excited about a special appearance from Black Narrows, the forthcoming Chincoteague Island brewery co-founded by former BlueJacket head brewer Josh Chapman. Oh, and I’m excited about Ocelot, because Ocelot.
$60 gets you access to unlimited nectar from all those breweries, plus literally dozens more. All in all, we’re talking a selection (of mostly one-offs and rarities) in the triple digits. That’s a lot of beers. And if last year was any indication, they’ll cover a wide range of flavors: tart, tropical, citrusy, hoppy, Bretty, fruit-forward, acidic, vinous, and on and on. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of wild yeast and Lactobacillus, here’s your crash course. It’s a wonderful and not-at-all-scary place to visit – especially when you’re drinking the best stuff.