Drink Diary: City Tap House’s Beverage Director Dave Donaldson
Jeff Martin | Jun 5, 2015 | 9:00AM |

Photos By Jeff Martin

Dave Donaldson, beverage director of City Tap House, has a palette for beer that leaves us mere mortals in awe. He gives us a glimpse into a week in his life preparing for Savor, a week long series of beer related events culminating June 5 and 6 at the National Building Museum. The hours of a beer maven’s day are long but at least there are plenty of good brews.

Sunday, May 24

7 a.m.: Coffee at home. I close the restaurant tonight, so it’s time for a little rare quality time with my wife (Eleanor Holdridge, who is directing two plays in the city right now so we rarely see each other). Long walk with the dogs. Breakfast.

2 p.m.: I arrive at the restaurant and head straight for the bar. We tapped the Perennial Hopfentea – one of my favorite Berlinerweisses, bright and tart with subtle notes of tea and tropical fruit – after I left last night, and I’ve been dying to have a taste. It’s everything I remember from last year’s batch and perhaps even better.

6 p.m: Every Sunday is beer class for new hires, and we’ve been beefing up staff for summer and patio season so it’s an especially large group. Two new hires have terrible afflictions – one is underage and the other is allergic to alcohol. One of them can be thankful that she’ll grow out of her problem, but for tonight both of them will have to allow sight and smell to be the only senses they employ.

Everyone in the class gets a flight – four 4.5oz. pours – and tonight I’m using some of our wheat beers to illustrate the great variety that can exist within one style. We start with the Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, granddaddy of all hefes, then move through Bell’s Oberon, Allagash White and the supremely luscious weizenbock Schneider Aventinus.

10 p.m.: A neighboring restaurant’s staff party. We’ve cleared the restaurant and it’s all theirs to let loose for one night.

2 a.m.: 100+ industry with a DJ and an open bar could be a recipe for disaster but not tonight. With everyone gone, it’s time for me to crack open a session and take care of closing. A can of Firestone Walker Easy Jack should do the trick.

Monday, May 25

8 a.m.: Coffee mixed with a healthy dose of dread. It’s Memorial Day, and it’s going to be a long one.

11 a.m.: I arrive to start preparation for Shuckfest, an oyster-palooza accompanied by a Flying Dog tap takeover. They’ve sent us two casks of Pearl Necklace, one conditioned with coconut and the other with chicory and horseradish. The coconut notes are a great addition for a dry oyster stout, but I wish they’d gone a little further with the horseradish.

Noon: Time to prep for the oyster shooters. We’re offering three, one with Charm City Basil Lemongrass Mead, one with Effen Cucumber vodka and the third a traditional spicy bloody mary. If I weren’t working these could get me in some serious trouble.

3 p.m.: Andrew Geffken from Charm City Meadworks is here with his wife and some friends, so I stop by their table to chat for a bit then move on to say hi to Nate Eckert (Flying Dog) and his wife. Nate is ready for new beer so I grab him their new Maibock and pour a small taster for myself.

6 p.m.: Shuckfest is done and we’ve served almost 4000 oysters and a ton of Flying Dog to a phenomenal holiday crowd. A cucumber oyster shooter seems like appropriate celebration.

1:30 a.m.: The bar emptied early tonight as the holiday weekend wound down quickly. Everyone else is gone, time for a full pint of that Maibock. Really good stuff.

Tuesday, May 26

8 a.m.: Coffee and while I’m looking forward to two days off, a pretty rare occurrence, there’s much to do to prep for Savor.

1 p.m.: The car is fully laden after trips to Harris Teeter, Target and Petco. I find a cool underground parking space and find my way onto a bar stool at Lost Dog Café in Arlington. They have a great list, and I start with a session IPA from Lickinghole Creek. I’ve heard intermittent talk of them distributing in DC, but this is my first chance to try their stuff and I’m impressed. I then move on to one of my favorite American pale ales, Peeper from Maine Beer Company, which goes nicely with the Pitbull pizza in front of me. Finally, it’s time for a Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale. We’ll be featuring it as part of our Barrel-Aged Night next Wednesday – one of more than 25 barrel-aged beers we’ll have on draft or in bottles – and it’s a dangerously drinkable 9.8% ABV strong ale, brewed with molasses and aged in oak barrels.

6 p.m.: I’d planned on an evening at home, but Eleanor has a break and she’d like to meet. I head out to Glen’s Garden Market where I’m happy to see their beer director Ezra. I have a Tarte Nouveau from Weyerbacher, which could have a little more tart and a little more funk, but it’s pretty solid.

Wednesday, May 27

7 a.m.: Coffee. It’s another day off and that’s a bit more than I can handle. It won’t be all work today, but I need to put some time into our Savor events.

11 a.m.: A phone call with Grant Smith from New Belgium, who has been an enormous help in arranging our Saturday night Savor event – a New Belgium and Wicked Weed tap takeover. We’ve always poured a lot of New Belgium and I absolutely love almost everything in their Lips of Faith series, but even Grant admits that bringing Wicked Weed to DC is an extremely exciting happening. Hop Burglar blood orange IPA, Coolcumber cucumber ale, Oblivion sour red with blackberries and dates… the mouthwatering list goes on, including the Wicked Weed/New Belgium collaboration Tributary, an imperial brett saison with sugar beets. I exchange emails with Evan Crutchfield at Wicked Weed, who will be loading up the kegs and bringing them up to DC himself.

1 p.m.: I head up to Duke’s Grocery for lunch, planning to keep up the emails from a bar stool. I start off with a Great Lakes Rye of the Tiger but I’m going to need to pace myself. Dave Coleman of 3 Stars texts me from Tap House, asking if I’m around. I text him back with a picture of my Stiegl Grapefruit Radler, my favorite hot weather all-day-drinking choice. Dave texts me back with a picture of the Stiegl that he’s drinking at my bar and we have a virtual toast.

8 p.m.: A couple of Lagavulins at home and I’ll be knocking off early. Tomorrow Savor ordering begins in earnest, and I need to be well-rested to spend all that money.

Thursday, May 28

8 a.m.: Coffee on my way to the store and I have my spending shoes on. We’ll bring in more than 150 different drafts for our Savor events, and I’ll be bringing in at least half of them with tomorrow’s deliveries.

Noon: I meet with Kevin Flint and Timothy Schliftman from Premium, who have been tirelessly putting together pallets of beer all week for all the Savor events around the city. We go through the list of Allagash brews for Barrel-Aged, Ithaca drafts for Late Night Brunch with Ithaca on Friday and a host of other kegs. Katie and Nick from Dogfish Head are there as well with a list of the 38 Dogfish Head drafts we’ll feature on Thursday, including three randles. I sample this year’s version of the Dogfish Head Festina Peche with the Dogfish guys. It’s perfectly tart and refreshing with a fuzzy hint of fresh peaches.

2:30 p.m.: Liz Gartzke, our enormously talented head of marketing, and I climb into her Jeep to slog through DC traffic on our way to 3 Stars. The only thing keeping Liz from road rage is my reminder that we have beer waiting at the other end of this infuriating trek. Dave Coleman, Mike Dee and Mike McGarvey don’t disappoint, immediately ushering us to the new bar in the brewery and pouring us pints of their new Berliner-rye. Rage dissipated immediately, both Liz and I agree that Cognitive Dissonance will be our summer draft of choice.

Dave departs but is immediately replaced by Nathan Rice, their lead brewer, and we get down to the main reason for our visit. Another round of Cognitive Dissonance is poured and we start discussing the creation of a house beer from 3 Stars for City Tap House. Nathan is excited with the proposed concoction, a light summery saison with peaches. The first batch will launch at our July 4th Beer-B-Que Battle (which will see Dave and Mike D. behind a grill on our patio) but future batches will get more experimental, especially now that they have a sour room.

We finish off the meeting by cracking open a bottle from their Illuminati series, a pale aged in bourbon, and discuss the beers 3 Stars will have available for our Barrel-Aged Night and our Sunday Locals Only Brunch, which will have 40 lines devoted to DC, Virginia and Maryland brews.

Friday, May 29

4:30 a.m.: It’s admin day, and I’m starting a bit earlier so I’m ready for the scores of kegs that will start arriving at 9. It’s so early that Starbucks isn’t even open. I guzzle a Red Bull.

6 a.m.: Payroll is done and Starbucks is open. I grab a venti Pike’s, black.

9 a.m.: Inventory and COGS are done, and the first driver arrives. One of my favorite distributor reps, Bob Gill from Hop & Wine, has secured an Avery oak-aged sour red ale with raspberries for me, and I’m extremely pleased to see it on a hand truck. It’s all I can do to not tap it, but it’ll have to wait until Wednesday.

1 p.m.: Our hallways are now lined with dozens of sixtels, half barrels and firkins. It’s time to add some organization to the chaos, but first I’m going to have a Flying Dog Numero Uno Summer Cerveza.

5 p.m.: An impromptu visit from Justin and Chris from Atlas Brew Works is a welcome cap to a long day. We sit down with cans of Rowdy, talk about what’s happening with Atlas and about the golf tournament Chris and I are playing in on Tuesday, which will be my last respite before the madness of Savor.

Saturday, May 30

5 p.m.: Friday’s always leave me a bit drained, so today was an easy day with much coffee and more than a little gawking at the parade of Awesome-Con attendees heading to the convention center. I leave the store and round the corner to RFD

…where I am greeted by the unmistakable gruff tones of Brian Harrison, chilling before his Saturday night gig behind the bar at Jackpot. Brian jokes that all the young bucks he slings with tell him that “legendary” just means old, but in Brian’s case the adjective fits. As the owner of the late-lamented Reef, Brian presided over one of the best rooftops in the city with a tireless energy I’ve never seen matched. I love this man. He introduced me to the Duchesse and sour beers. He introduced me to Dave Coleman. He helped me to stay sane as I worked as a GM in Adams Morgan. A few times when I’ve been behind a crowded and lively bar, I’ve even tried to mimic his trademark ebullient growl: “IS ANYBODY THIRSTY?!?” I fell woefully short.

Brian shares stories of wild times with Sam Calagione of Dogfish head and Rob Todd of Allagash, and we catch up with family news over a Dogfish Namaste, then a Perennial Regalia, then a Perennial Hopfentea, which he agrees has a cleaner finish than last year’s version. He heads to work. I head home.

7 p.m.: It’s a year and a month from my first Savor at Tap House, and just a few days from my second. It seems like the perfect time to break out the bottle of 2014 Savor Collaboration beer, Flying Dog/Firestone Walker Hydra Cuvee, that I’ve been aging at home. The time has served the beer well, mellowing the alcohol warmth and bringing out more depth in the figgy fruit notes. Between this beer and catching up with Brian, I couldn’t have had a better end to the week.