Freshly Tapped spotlights (usually) one recently released beer, whether it be a flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.
Today, we explore six collaboration beers brewed at or with DC Brau for the Craft Brewers Conference.
Previously in Freshly Tapped: Right Proper, Stone, and Pen Druid’s Soused; Denizens’ Backyard Boogie; Port City’s Colossal 6; Ocelot and Meridian Pint’s Talking Backwards; Right Proper and Pizzeria Paradiso’s Maslow; Union and Ocelot’s Lucifer’s Trees; 3 Stars and Charm City Meadworks’ Two-Headed Unicorn; Aslin and Meridian Pint’s The Adventures of Audrey; Atlas Brew Works’ Dance of Days; Old Ox’s Funky Face; Handsome Beer’s White Ale; Ocelot and Bluejacket’s Raised on Promises; and 3 Stars’ #ultrafresh.
There was a first, a second, and a third time that DC Brau told itself, “No more collaborations.”
When you’re the most recognizable name in DC beer and the Craft Brewers Conference is being hosted in your hometown, you field a lot of collaboration requests.
Each time, though, the brewery’s resolve would eventually buckle for just one more. When all was said and done, it had produced or participated in six collaboration beers.
It’s a fitting number: This week, DC Brau celebrated its sixth anniversary at the 9:30 Club with a concert featuring Baroness and Trans Am.
“It just kind of happened,” co-founder Brandon Skall says of symmetry. “Afterwards, we were like, ‘You know what? It’s appropriate. We did five collabs for our fifth-year anniversary. Now it’s six for the sixth. It seems like we’re starting a tradition.”
Sitting next to him, Christopher Graham slowly shakes his head.
“This is a really scary precedent we’re setting,” the production manager wearily observes.
In all fairness, the fifth-anniversary collaboration series was a much grander production for DC Brau. It hosted all five collaborations and released the resulting beers in a consumer-friendly, mixed six-pack, which took a mind-boggling amount of coordination, not to mention fermentation tank space. This time around, collaborations fell into place at a more leisurely pace.
DC Brau welcomed Firestone Walker and Hop Head Farms to produce a pale ale showcasing new German and Michigan-grown hops. It brewed an imperial pilsner with the rambunctious Wyoming brewery Melvin, which you can look for on shelves in the weeks to come. And it revived a beloved, four-year-old farmhouse IPA with Baltimore’s Union Craft.
Elsewhere, DC Brau partnered with REI and Atlas Brew Works on a session IPA called Rally Cry – a passion project of the fellow DC brewery’s founder. Its team took a field trip to Aston, Pennsylvania to brew a rustic, hoppy maibock with 2SP Brewing. And it sent head brewer Jeff Hancock to San Diego to make a playful twist on the altbier at Stone Brewing World Gardens & Bistro – Liberty Station.
Of course, the simultaneous release of six collaboration beers is still very much a significant undertaking, but this is the sort thing we’ve come to expect from the local brewery that always seems to go the extra mile.
“In an industry like ours, where there’s so much innovation on the beer side and the cultural side, you can’t help but be pushed by what your peers are doing – and, hopefully, vice versa,” Skall says.
Last week, I sat down with him, Hancock, and Graham in DC Brau’s office to discuss its collaboration beers – and, later, reached out to the other breweries involved in building this collaboratron.
The big decisions have been made weeks in advance. The recipe is locked in. The ingredients have been secured. The processes have been agreed upon. All that’s left to do set the thing in motion, drink a few beers, and snap some pictures for Instagram.
You would certainly expect this to be true when Firestone Walker visited DC Brau to brew a pale ale that would later be dubbed Green Card. After all, the two breweries didn’t particularly know each other, and Firestone Walker – already the country’s sixteenth largest brewery when it was purchased by Duvel Moortgat in 2015 – doesn’t seem like the type of operation likely to wing a collaboration. In fact, it’s not really the type to join such an endeavor altogether.
“I don’t do a ton of collaborations,” admits Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “I’m pretty picky about who I’ll collaborate with. I was really happy to do one this because it struck a chord with me – both the chance to meet new brewers and to work with hops that I’d never been exposed to before.”
Those hops were literally on display in DC Brau’s tasting the room during last month’s brew day. The breweries were still deciding what varietals and quantities of hops would go into the collaboration’s dry-hop. That’s not an insignificant detail when the whole point of the beer is to showcase the flavor and aroma of such hops – or, as Brynildson calls them, “cultivars.” So, DC Brau set up sensory stations inside the brewery for people to roam between, rub the hops together, and take a big whiff.
“It was a very cool collaborative, hands-on experience that you don’t normally have in those settings,” Skall shares. “I’ve never done a collaboration where we had such a cast of characters in here.”
In addition to Brynildson and the DC Brau team, that cast off characters included Dave Sipes and Nunzino Pizza of Hop Head Farms, a Michigan-based grower, processor, and importer of hops. Hop Head Farms had been the one to kickstart this whole thing. Last fall, it approached Graham on a trip to Chicago about partnering up for a CBC collaboration. Eventually, it looped in Firestone Walker, a brewery for whom it has procured German hops in the past. The two new hops Hop Head Farms wanted these breweries to showcase: Michigan-grown Cashmere and the German hop Grüngeist.
“Showcasing Michigan-grown hops was fascinating to me because I hadn’t really had a chance to work with them,” Brynildson says. “Up until recently, there were very few acres in the ground in Michigan, and what’s interesting is that now there are more than a thousand, which makes them a larger growing region than areas like New Zealand. In the U.S., we’ve always been focused on the Pacific Northwest, but Michigan is fast becoming a real growing region.”
Thus far, most Michigan hops have been snatched up by regional players like Founders, Bells, and Goose Island, but as more are produced, that’s sure to change. Like wine grapes or anything grown in the ground, they reflect a unique terroir. This was evident as the breweries smelled Hop Head Farm’s Michigan-grown Chinook.
“Take an American varietal that’s typically grown in the Pacific Northwest and plant it in Michigan, and you get a completely different aroma and flavor profile out of it,” Graham explains. “We ended up going a little bit heavier on the Chinook than we originally intended, but the Chinook was just so expressive that we couldn’t not put a decent quantity in this beer.”
Brynildson was equally impressed.
“We’re familiar with Chinooks grown in the Northwest – they’re super piney and have that classic Yakima aroma,” the Firestone Walker brewmaster says. “Grown in Michigan, they have a completely different fruit character that’s maybe more akin to some newer cultivars of ours like Citra. When I was rubbing and smelling those hops in DC, that’s what I was getting.”
Grüngeist and Cashmere – ostensibly the stars of the show – bring a stone fruit, peachy aroma and a distinctively spicy character to the beer, respectively. To highlight those qualities, Hancock devised a grist that wouldn’t get in their way, while still being mindful to give Green Card some interesting malt character. The beer was built on a base of Simpsons’ Golden Promise – a classic English 2-raw variety – to which Hancock added Simpsons Crystal Light for color, Simpsons Naked Oats to boost body and head retention, and some German acidulated malt to adjust the pH of the mash.
“There’s a really nice balance here between a hop character and a malt character,” says Skall, sipping on the final beer in DC Brau’s tasting room. “A lot of times, a pale ale can go too far into the hop territory.”
“It has a nice herbal quality,” Hancock chimes in. “It’s not over the top. It’s nice to work with people who have been in the industry for a while and want to make the same type of beer as you. As people are aging in the beer scene, they don’t want to keep drinking 9% to 10% beers constantly. When they threw out making a 5% pale ale, I was like, ‘This is great.’”
“I have nothing buy the utmost respect for Firestone Walker,” says Skall. “They’re an industry leader. They’re definitely the sort of brewery where you can say, ‘Yeah, I look up to these guys.’”
Few brewers in the world know hops like Brynildson.
“We’re fortunate enough to know a lot of growers and brokers around the world, and we’ve certainly had the opportunity to work with some experimental varieties and unique hops,” he says. “The thing is that you have to have a place to use them.”
At the beginning of last year, Firestone Walker unveiled a project called Luponic Distortion with the intention of addressing that problem. Every three months, a new version of a light-bodied IPA is released with entirely new formulation of hop varietals grown all over the world, from South Africa to Germany to the Southern Hemisphere to, of course, the Pacific Northwest.
“Luponic Distortion is really built for experimentation with new cultivars,” says Brynildson, who’ll miss the first few days of CBC as Firestone Walker commissions a new 300-barrel brewhouse. “We built it more for our curiosity with hops than anything.”
Much like Green Card, the Luponic Distortion’s grist was constructed with idea of letting the hops shine.
“We didn’t the malt getting in the way of the hops,” he shares. “We also wanted something that’s dry so that there isn’t any sweetness cloaking the hop flavor or the bitterness of them. You’ve heard it a million times, but a lot of the best hoppy beer brewers will say that they put very little specialty malts in their IPAs so that the hops really pop. I think it’s the same thing with Green Card.”
In a telling reflection of consumer preference, the evolving-hop series has performed even better than expected, which Brynildson notes with a modicum of reserved pride.
“When we designed the beer, we were trying to take a left turn when everyone was going right into fruit beers,” the brewmaster recalls. “Even Sierra Nevada is making a fruited pale now, and obviously Ballast Point was mimicked by a lot of breweries putting grapefruit and every other fruit under the sun in their IPAs. Then our marketing team comes to us, like, ‘What are we going to have in our quiver to fight this battle!’ I said, ‘Well, why don’t we go the opposite direction? Let’s go deeper into hops. We can make fruit-forward beers with hops, so let’s go that way!’ Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, God, we already have all of these IPAs out there. What are you doing to us?’ So, I’ve been pleasantly pleased with results.”
If you’re pleasantly surprised with a particular forthcoming Luponic Distortion, Brynildson says you can thank this DC Brau collaboration.
“Very soon – if not the very next Lupinic – we’re going to focus on Michigan hops because I got so excited about them from this project.”
Kevin Blodger loves Baltimore, but sometimes Union Craft’s head brewer wonders what could have been.
“I’m a DC kid,” he tells me. “I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. If I had known when I was first coming up in the scene that I could have opened a thriving brewery in the District while the whole city was coming back, that would have been amazing. In some ways, I’m kind of jealous of what DC Brau did. But I’ve got a lot of respect for them: They worked hard to be in DC, and now they’re the forerunners of the scene, and it couldn’t have happened to nicer people.”
The connection between Union and DC Brau runs deep. As brewers, Blodger and Hancock overlapped briefly at the old Frederick Brewing Company. In a funny twist of fate, the two were up for the same position at Gordon Biersch years later, and Blodger beat him out. (There’s no hard feelings. Things worked out for everyone.)
Further down the line, when DC Brau and Union were each working to get off the ground, they would consult with each other.
“We were talking with them when we were opening, and they were talking with us when they were opening,” Skalls recalls. “It was just a case of friends helping friends. We were doing it in different states with different regulations but still identifying the common factors where we could offer advice.”
Blodger remembers being at Meridian Pint the first night DC Brau served its beer.
“We just kind of clicked,” he says. “We were all into the same shit.”
It’s hardly surprising that after Union opened in the summer of 2012 – about 15 months after DC Brau – one of its first collaborations would be with its friends to the south. It was just a matter of when, and the right time would arrive alongside CBC’s 2013 stop in DC.
Union had recently worked with Stillwater Artisanal Ales on a smoked saison called Hard Times, and Blodger thought that the yeast used in that beer – the farmhouse strain S26, which Brian Strumke employs in a handful of Stillwater beers – would play well in a hoppy beer.
“That yeast puts out these great esters that really seem to make piney and citrusy hops pop,” Blodger shares. “It just gives you this flavorful, hoppy beer.”
“It’s saison yeast, so it’s a workhorse,” Hancock adds. “There’s not a lot of sugars that it won’t eat.”
The DC Brau head brewer wrote the initial recipe, some tweaks were made collectively, and, finally, Yonder Cities was born: a 6.5% farmhouse IPA hopped exclusively with Citra and Simcoe.
“Citra and Simcoe really play well together,” Blodger says of the hop bill. “With the Citra, you get these really great citrus notes, and from the Simcoe you get cat pee – but a good cat pee, you know?”
A grist of Belgian pale malt, wheat, flaked oats, and flaked rye gave the IPA a haze that Union’s head brewer considers slightly ahead of its time.
“Nowadays, if you made that recipe, you’d put London Ale III yeast in it, and you wouldn’t filter it, and it would be hazy,” he tells me. “We were on that already.”
The brewers didn’t suffer for that forward thinking: The response at CBC was immediate and near unanimous.
“We all loved it,” says Union co-founder Jon Zerivitz. “We just thought Jeff and Kevin did a fantastic job on this recipe, and it was very well received.”
“Yonder was one of the big hits that we came out with during that time period,” Skall adds.
In the time since then, the breweries – each of whom produced the beer back in 2013 – have repeatedly heard about the beer, both from consumers and each other.
“This a beer that people have continually asked for over the course of the past four years,” Zerivitz shares. “And every time that I had seen Brandon, he was like, ‘When are we doing Yonder again?’ It was definitely still in our minds.”
“Whenever we looked at the brew schedule, and there was the opportunity for something special, it was like, ‘Ooh, Yonder this year?’” echoes Skall. “But bringing it back for CBC this year was a no-brainer. Obviously, it’s a nod to the past, and the fact that CBC is back here in DC is really cool.”
Like last time, each brewery will brew and release its own version of Yonder Cities. The main difference between the two lies in the specific Belgian malts used, though neither brewery was positive about that when I spoke with them. If anything, these beers are more similar than before: Four years ago, Blodger and Hancock disagreed about IBU calculations and hopped the beer slightly differently, but things have changed since then.
“We kind of threw caution to the wind,” the Union brewer admits. “We’re not so worried about IBUs anymore so much as what we’re coaxing out of the hops. So, we went a little heavier than we did in 2013, and I think the beer is a lot better for that.”
Perhaps the biggest development of Yonder Cities’ return is how you’ll be able to purchase the beer. Both breweries have canned it, and spared no expense in doing so in a creative package.
“We just knew if we were going to bring this beer back out, we wanted to blow it out,” says Zerivitz, who acts as Union’s creative director. “I don’t even know if we had a canning line back then. This time, we were really excited to put it in one and really develop a visual graphic to represent it.”
Approaching the project, Zerivitz immediately thought of Matt Leunig, an artist who has handled a lot of DC Brau’s merchandise design, in addition to the poster for a 2015 collaboration between DC Brau, Union, and Stillwater called Magic Number. As with that previous collaboration, Zerivitz specifically asked DC Brau if they could commission Leunig’s work for Yonder Cities. A big fan of concert poster art, the Union co-founder had been an admirer of Leunig well before Union even existed. As a result, Zerivitz was confident the artist could handle what he had in mind for the farmhouse IPA.
“My concept for the image was that if it flipped, somehow we could represent both Baltimore and DC in some dual image,” he shares. “And with the way Matt thinks in this really psychedelic way, I thought he’d be perfect for the job.”
Leunig ended up creating unique cans for each brewery. The DC skyline is right-side up on the DC Brau can, likewise for Baltimore on the Union Can.
“We thought it would be really cool to have individual cans for the collaboration but they felt like they were the same,” Zerivitz continues. “This is probably the coolest can I’ve ever seen.”
Cans this cool don’t come cheap, of course.
“You know, it’s considerably more,” he admits. “You’re hiring an artist that deserves to be paid for his amazing art. There’s some budget involved. So, you put a little more investment in it, but for me, it’s totally worthwhile.”
If there was ever a beer to splurge on, a beer as meaningful as this one would be it.
“I’m friends with everyone in this industry but there are people that are really special to me,” Blodger says. “Those guys at Brau are really special to me. It was really enjoyable to be able to brew a beer with them again.”
“It’s always nice to do a recipe with someone who knows what to do and has knowledge and can give feedback,” Hancock adds. “It’s been awesome seeing them grow and track their progress, while we’re doing very similar things. They’re just up in Baltimore, we’re down in DC.”
When it comes to craft beer, the same might be said of Philadelphia.
“It’s tough to sell beer in Philadelphia,” says Mike Contreras. “It’s a really mature market. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could get stuff in Phily that you couldn’t get anywhere else on the East Coast.”
A colorful and blunt presence, Contreras is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Aston, Pennsylvania’s 2SP Brewing – a brewery that sells the vast majority of its beer in the greater Philadelphia area. He says that when a brewery like DC Bray enters the Philadelpia market – as it did in early 2014 – eyebrows are raised.
“Even if you’re local, you have to fight for draft lines here,” the veteran of Dogfish Head continues. “The tap lists are well curated. You have to make good beer. When Brau entered the market, they entered well. They brought good beer.”
One of the people helping move that beer early on was Erin Dintinger, a sales rep for local distributor Bella Vista. A fan of punk and hardcore music, she got along well with the Brau team, too. A year ago, though, she began working for 2SP, and CBC approached, she began to play matchmaker between the two breweries.
“Erin was like, ‘You know what, I feel like you guys would get along well with the DC Brau guys. They have the same attitude towards beer, and they’re fucking awesome,’” Contreras recalls in a gravely voice. “When CBC was here last year, we had worked with breweries that we didn’t really know, and we had a great time, and we learned a lot, so we figured why not.”
The brewery had caught DC Brau’s attention over that same CBC.
“We noticed all of these 2SP beers that were really good,” shares Skall. “All of sudden, we started seeing and drinking them all over town.”
The 2SP came down to DC Brau for a playdate of sorts, and things went swimmingly.
“I feel like we’re both the least pretentious people,” Contreras says. “We just want to make good fucking beer and do it the best way possible. There’s nothing about a creative muse or, like, ‘Oh my god, I had this moment, and I just wanted to brew this beer. It speaks to me.’”
The idea of a collaboration was floated, and even though DC Brau knew it was beginning to get overstretched, Skall was determined to make it work.
“I was like, ‘I really want to do this, because Erin is a good friend, and she always championed the brand when she was out selling it in Philadelphia,’” the co-founder says. “And we really liked this brewery and the product they were putting out. Also, we go up to Philly a lot, and now we have a friend in that market.”
The breweries decided to brew a beer that they could split between CBC and Philadelphia beer week, which meant settling a style that would taste great in both the middle of April and early June. 2SP head brewer Bob Barrar is known for his stouts – to wit, his Russian Imperial Stout won gold at GABF last year – but they wanted to avoid the obvious. They thought about a strong saison, but even that seemed clichéd. Someone suggested a maibock – a light-colored, well-hopped, boozy lager.
“2SP was like, ‘Hey, we don’t really want to do a maibock,’” Graham recalls. “And then wires got crossed and we ended up choosing to do a maibock but with an American twist.”
“We had to think about it, but then we said to ourselves, ‘It would be awesome if we could make a maibock that we would drink,’” says Contreras. “I think we did pretty well with it. I’m not going to lie: It’s good.”
The recipe for the maibock was penned by Andrew “Ruby” Rubenstein, 2SP’s head cellerman. He had one particular goal in mind: showcasing Pennsylvania agriculture. That meant sourcing hops and malts from his home state.
On the grain side, Rubenstein came across some locally grown spelt. And while he typically brews German beers with wheat, this ancient grain intrigued him.
“I liked the idea of taking a rustic beer like a maibock and then adding spelt, which I always associate with a rustic saison,” Rubenstein says. “It was sort of killing two birds with one stone: I maintain that rustic feel, and I get a type of wheat to give it a little head retention and body. So, it worked out pretty well that way.”
He also procured malted rye from nearby malsters Deer Creek Malthouse.
“I love rye,” the brewer continues. “I put rye in, like, every recipe I create.”
For hops, he approached local hop farm Sunny Brae and cleared them out of Cascade, Chinook, and Comet.
“The hop guys really came through,” he says. “They sold me literally everything they were holding onto for a special occasion. They even had to ask another farm to get me more because they didn’t have enough for what I wanted.”
All of these pellet and whole leaf hops – about two-to-three pounds per barrel – went into the maibock. That’s a fair amount of hops.
“It’s a very, very hoppy beer,” Rubenstein observes. “It’s one of the hoppiest beers that we’ve done here It’s way out of category for a Maibock. It doesn’t come through as very hoppy, though. All the hops were on the aroma and flavor side, so it’s not bitter by any means. It’s very floral and earthy. The earthiness and fruitiness of the Cascade went very well with the malted rye.”
The maibock spent five weeks in tank – three of which at near-freezing temperatures. The result is a 7.8% beer that’s dangerously smooth.
Its name is perhaps less so: Cross-Eyed Cat in the Meow Box – a riff on the cross-eyed cat that guards 2SP from rodents.
“It was supposed to be Meowbocks, but then the e-mail came and they had changed the name to that,” Skalls says.
“We always come up with funny band names,” Graham adds. “It was supposed to be a riff on that.”
“I don’t know if everyone shares our enthusiasm for coming up with fun names.”
“If you see someone at a show and you know they like the music you like, you’re instantly friends,” the co-founder of Melvin Brewing says. “That’s just the way it goes, no matter what.”
It was the Friday night of last year’s CBC, which Tofte knows because he remembers Graham wearing a Hawaiian shirt – a custom for the last day of the workweek at DC Brau.
The two started chatting.
“I was like ‘Are you guys with DC Brau?’” Tofte continues. “And they were like, ‘Are you guys with Melvin?’ And we were both like, ‘No fucking way!’”
Needless to say, the they got along. Flash forward a few months, and DC was hosting Savor. Melvin – which had made the jump from brewpub to production brewery only six months earlier – was not only pouring at the festival, it had also lined up showcases at pedigreed local beer bars like Meridian Pint and ChurchKey. (Winning Small Brewpub of the Year at GABF and several Alpha King Challenges has a way of the chumming the waters.)
The last of the Wyoming brewery’s events was a closing party at Bar Deco with Port City and… DC Brau. Skall convinced Tofte to swing by the brewery the next day. That Sunday, they hung out and consumed enough beer to drunk dial DC Brau’s friends at Sun King about Melvin being snubbed an invitation to their CANvitational festival.
“I was like, ‘FaceTime those people!’” Tofte recalls. “So, Brau FaceTimed them, and I was like, ‘What’s up, guys? What the fuck?’ Then I guilted them into inviting us. That’s how I knew DC Brau had the pull – that they were superstars of the East Coast.”
I ask Tofte if that’s the prevailing perception of the DC brewery out west.
“Yeah, is that wrong?” he says in faux panic. “Should we not have collabed with them?”
Melvin’s co-founder has a relentless sense of humor. A conversation zigs and zags so much so that when he does get serious, it takes a moment to recalibrate.
“It’s a silly, silly show,” Tofte says of his relationship with Brau. “The fun comes first. It’s just beer. But I know that Brau does a lot of work with charity, too. And as our marketing budget grows and we get bigger – if we don’t go out of business – we’ll be able to do the same. It’s great hanging out with likeminded breweries who are ahead of us and who we can learn from them. That’s also part of the collaboration process – learning how to be a steward in the beer industry. I know they definitely are.”
Of course, the other part of the collaborative process is beer. While Melvin and DC Brau have both garnered attention most for their IPAs and Double IPAs, neither brewery was inclined to produce one together.
“We like hops, but we’re both so well known for our IPAs that we wanted to make something else,” Tofte explains. “We wanted to branch out and let people know: Yes, we can make other beers. Not that people drink other kinds of beers, but once in a while, it’s nice not to have an IPA.”
The two breweries settled on a 7.5% hoppy lager that they’re calling an imperial pilsner.
“It just kind of stuck,” Graham says of the style. “It wasn’t too on the nose, but it was still something that we could get behind and throw a healthy amount of hops in.”
“As much as I love traditional pilsners, it’s always fun to put style on its ear and see what you can come up with in the hybridized American beer landscape,” Hancock adds. “And since both breweries are kind of pilsner crazy right now, I think it was a natural fit.”
This craze is fueled by Brau Pils and PilsGnar – the brewery’s respective pilsners, both of which are especially popular in-house. Their collaborative imperial pilsner, meanwhile, nods to each of these beers with a hop bill of Hallertauer Tradition (which is used for Brau Pils) and German Saphir (which is showcased in PilsGnar).
“This sounds silly, but it adds crispness of the beer,” Tofte says of Saphir, a hop that’s also notably used to dry-hop Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils. “I’ve never had a hop like it. It’s not super aromatic to the point where it takes over. It complements the beer. We’re so used to adding these big alpha acid hops with huge floral noses. It’s kind of cool to use a hop that just lets you know it’s there.”
Melvin’s co-founder makes the recipe formulation sound like a breeze.
“We almost agreed to almost everything,” says Tofte, talking to me from Southern California, where Melvin will expand distribution this fall. “Sometimes you do a collab and people are kind of at each other’s throats. That did not happen here. Period. There were some strong opinions but nothing to make everyone stop, drop, and roll.”
The double dry-hopped beer has a floral, herbal quality to it. At 7.5%, it approaches maibock territory, though the 100% pilsner grist lends a much lighter body than associated with that style. That’s why they’re calling it the nebulous “imperial pilsner.”
“There’s not supposed to be an imperial pilsner,” Tofte shares. “A pilsner is just supposed to be a pilsner. The Germans would not be into this – not that we’d let them drink it.”
That tension is part of why they named the beer Conflict of Interest. They had originally bandied about the name Indefinite Hiatus as a tribute to post-hardcore band and local legends Fugazi.
“Fugazi was a favorite band of mine growing up, and it still is to this day,” says Tofte. “We played a lot of Fugazi while we were brewing the beer, too. One thing we wanted to do is see if Ian Mackaye wanted to get involved with this beer, but he didn’t want to get involved because, of course, he started the straight-edge movement, so there’s a conflict of interest there.”
DC Brau still decided to inject what Hanock calls “some subversive fun” into the project by enlisting provocateur Mike Van Hall to design the can’s label.
“Brau asked me to do this design during the first weeks of 2017, when we in DC were staring down a big upheaval in the way our home works,” says the locally based artist. “There was so much tension and unease pervaded the atmosphere here… In that context, I give the Brau crew a lot of credit for handing me a fairly charged beer name and then being so hands off with the design.”
As he’s done in the past, Van Hall opted to use the receptacle to raise questions rather than provide neat answers.
“I tried to keep my personal views out of the design and instead interpret the frustration most of us feel when ideals are subjugated by the reality of politics,” he explains over e-mail. “I wanted to ensure there were multiple ways to read the message in the design, too. I have heard a couple interpretations that I did not expect or intend, and those seemed to originate in each person’s own view of the world. I think that means I effectively accomplished my goal, even with these simple forms.”
Van Hall says he’s shed light on some of the meanings and Easter eggs within the design to Mike Stein, the DC Brau historian who can often be found leading tours of the brewery on the weekends. Stop by DC Brau some time and maybe he’ll be kind enough to decode some of those secrets.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station is as big as its name is long.
Located on the grounds of a former Naval Training Center, it’s the brewpub experience on steroids: 23,500-square-feet of bars and indoor seating, a bocce ball court, an outdoor moving screening area, 40 or so draft lines. The list of amenities goes on.
“I mean, they have an outdoor koi pond,” says an astonished Hancock, who paid a visit to the location earlier this year. “The facility is just great.”
At any one point, about half of its draft lines are pumping beer made by a single person.
“I pretty much work all by all by myself down here,” says Brewing Manager Kris Ketcham. “The days can be long and a little stressful, but it’s all good.”
For years, Ketcham had an assistant brewer, but since that guy took a head brewing gig elsewhere in San Diego, it’s been just him operating the 10-barrel brewhouse. Of course, this being Stone, he reaps the benefits of it being a state-of-the-art system.
“They have a more advanced system as far as brewpub go,” says Hancock. “In most other brewpubs, you’re putting your hand on every nob and valve. There’s a lot of interaction. Kris has a nice touchscreen to work with.”
Ketcham also gets some company when people like Hancock visit to brew with him. This happens a fair amount. In fact, the brewing manager estimates he hosted about 30 collaborations last year alone. That’s because, in addition to serving as an R&D spot of sorts for the Escondido production facility, Liberty Station is the default location for collaborations that won’t be brewed on a massive scale – 120 barrels or more – and go nationwide. The planning that goes into such blockbuster releases is painstaking.
“The good thing about our spot is that we can actually fit in things as needed and try out different styles,” explains Ketcham, a 12-year veteran of Stone. “With our main production brewery, we have to plan everything out months in advance, and if we want to do a collab up there, it has to be something that’s gonna sell. We’re not going to make 120 barrels of something that possibly might sell or possibly might not.”
A dry-hopped altbier brewed with fruity, next-generation German hops? Yeah, that might be one for the smaller system – at least for now.
This spin on a traditional German ale is what Hancock and Ketcham ended up producing after Stone approached Brau about a collaboration.
“Our sales team wanted someone to come out to California to brew a beer for CBC, so we went down the list of brewers they like, and I think we all agreed that we like DC Brau,” Ketcham recalls. “Thankfully, they were willing to come out to San Diego and brew a beer for us.”
Stuck in DC’s winter, Hancock was not a hard sell.
“When they reached out, I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I can fly all the way out to San Diego,’” Hancock says, laughing.
The breweries settled, in part, on making an altbier because of its relative sessionability.
“CBC is a lot of beer drinking, so our sales reps wanted something low alcohol that they could drink all week, “shares Ketcham.
That it would specifically be an altbier – a malty, copper-hued ale fermented at lager temperatures – spun off from the sales team wanting to name a beer Alternatives Facts.
“I said, ‘If you’re going to call it Alternative Facts, it needs be an altbier,’” Ketcham recalls. “And Jeff was like, ‘Yeah! Let’s make an altbier!'”
The name turned out to be well-trodden territory, but the style stuck.
Save a spontaneous, last-second addition of Patagonian Perla Negra malt, the base of the beer is almost 100% Munich malt. Such a sturdy grist is consistent with the German brewing tradition, even though most American breweries will usually use significantly less of the pricey malt and then run up the bill with pilsner, 2-row, or other German malts.
“You can definitely taste all the Munich in there – it’s pretty rad,” says Ketcham. “There’s a presence to it. You get these really bready notes, but there’s also this chocolaty biscuit character, which is way different form the base malt that we would normally use.”
Altbiers are not known for aroma hops. Their hops typically just support the beer’s malt sweetness, and while Brau and Stone didn’t want to turn this characteristic completely on its head, they still wanted to introduce an interesting hop component. After all, this is Brau and Stone. So, into the whirlpool went Hallertau Blanc and Hüll Melon hops – two German varietals notable for their fruity characteristics.
“For me, Haulertau Blanc oozes a white wine and grapey aroma,” Hancock explains. “Hüll Melon – as the name suggests – has a huge melon character.”
And because these hops were added strictly in the whirpool and not before – a technique now known as hop bursting – those qualities are more accentuated.
“What you get is a beer that has virtually no bitterness until the very, very end of the sip,” DC Brau’s head brewer shares. “It has a huge aroma bomb.”
Both breweries wish the beer could have spent more time in tank, but given how quickly the collaboration came together and the CBC deadline, it wasn’t possible. Still, talking with Ketcham last week, he sounds satisfied with the result.
“It’s killer, and it’s really crushable,” he tells me. “You get a little, pleasant wine note in there but also the maltiness and breadiness from the Munich. It almost reminds me of fruit punch.”
Hancock hasn’t tried the finished product, but he can feel confident that he’s left his mark on Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station.
“They had me autograph a tank before I left,” he shares bemusedly. “That’s something I’d never done before.”
Since the early 1940s, the Northeast DC structure has been a stadium for hockey and basketball teams, hosted the Beatles, functioned as a temporary prison during Vietnam protests, stored trash, and been converted to a parking lot.
Now it’s one of REI five flagships stores. For outdoor enthusiasts, that might be bigger than the Beatles.
In any state or condition, the building has long caught the attention of Justin Cox.
“I’ve always been in love what that building – the history, the architecture, everything is really cool,” the Atlas Brew Works founder says. “I live near there, as well, so I was walking by it constantly before and during construction.”
When REI opened this fall, Atlas was primed to engage with its new neighbor. It teamed with DC Brau be part of the store’s grand opening party. It’s hosted REI bike classes at the brewery. And now it’s produced REI’s first collaboration beer with help and hops from DC Brau.
“REI is obviously a very large organization, so it’s awesome that we’re the first ones going down the path with them,”Cox says. “All our personalities and interest are pretty well aligned, so it’s a natural fit.”
Called Rally Cry, the 4.7% session IPA is a crisp, refreshing beer designed for a post-exercise cool down. To brew the beer, Atlas and DC Brau opted to use a new malt from Briess called Synergy Pilsen. It’s premium product on account of its higher extract, and it bring a slightly bready character to Rally Cry. When it came to choosing the malt, it didn’t hurt that it was free.
“Briess wanted an opportunity to showcase the malt at CBC, and we are always willing to take on a malt donation to make some good beer,” Atlas head brewer Daniel Vilarrubi says. He adds lightly: “In the end, the hops kind of dominate, so I don’t know if we did the best job of showcasing the malt for them.”
“For session IPAs, it’s typically all about the aroma,” adds Hancocks.
Rally Cry’s aromatics derive from hop varietals chosen to be representative of each brewery: Cascade from Atlas, and Falconer’s Flight from DC Brau.
“Falconer’s Flight was a cool one for us because we do use it locally more than just about everyone else,” says Skall, whose On the Wings of Armageddon is single-hopped used the blend.
“Session IPA is a tough beer to make, because you’re always trying to balance the low ABV but still have enough body in there to stand up to the hops,” adds Cox. “I think it turned it out really well, though. The nose is beautiful – that large dry-hop really shines through. It’s just a great, crushable session IPA.”
The brewery’s partnership with REI happened to coincide with the company’s announcement of a Legacy Grant for the Capital Trails Coalition, an alliance working to connect all the disparate biking and walking trails in region.
“We thought, ‘Hey, let’s combine all of these things. We’ll make a real kickass beer that will also be appropriate for after a long bike ride, and we can get the word out there about the cause, and support it financially with the proceeds from the beer,’” the Atlas Brew Works foundser shares.
These proceeds will go to Washington Area Bicyclist Association, an active participant in the Capital Trails Coalition. The beer itself will be split between the REI store and Atlas Brew Works accounts across Virginia, Maryland, and DC – particularly those located nears trails involved in the project. Don’t expect to run into Cox out there, though.
“I am a very, very amateur biker,” he admits with a laugh. “I bought my first non-Huffy bike about a year ago, and I ride into work as much as I can.”
Following a decidedly not sessionable dopplebock dubbed The Emprosator, Rally Cry marks the second collaboration between the two breweries in six months. Are they going steady?
“We love those guys,” Vilarrubi says. “They’re great people. Most people in this industry are, but just by virtue of our breweries being so close to each other, we’ve been pretty close.”
“This had everything we want out of a CBC collaboration: great idea, great brewery friends, community,” Skall adds. “Working with REI also shows that there’s a place for beer in an outdoorsy lifestyle.”