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 best beer events.
When: Wednesday, May 1
When I was growing up, my mother always stressed one thing to me: When life gives you ninjas, make ninja sauce.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to receive this wisdom because this week Atlas Brew Works debuts a new summer seasonal called, of course, Ninja Sauce.
I chatted with Atlas founder Justin Cox and head brewer Daniel Vilarubbi about the Belgian-style pale ale in late January when I was reporting on the brewery’s spring seasonal, The Precious One.
“It’s fairly off-style for a Belgian pale,” Vilarubbi quipped, “but it almost fits the bill when you drink it.”
Clocking in at a sessionable 5.6%, Ninja Sauce is fermented with an “orange-forward” saison yeast strain, then dry-hopped with blockbuster American hop Mosaic. Atlas first produced a pilot-scale version of the recipe last summer in collaboration with (and exclusively for) City Tap House. Based on its popularity, they decided to scale it up this year.
“It’s the whole reason we have the pilot system,” said Cox. “We brewed it as a one-off and everyone was like, ‘Holy shit, this is great.’”
Fittingly, Atlas will reintroduce Ninja Sauce to the world at Penn Quarter’s City Tap House on Wednesday. In addition to Ninja Sauce, the bar will have three other Atlas beers on tap, including Hop Bot, which is definitely not Dance of Days.
When: Saturday, May 4
Where: Rocket Frog Brewing
It feels like just yesterday that Rocket Frog Brewing was a wee tadpole, starting to develop hindlegs, undergoing a metamorphoses that will allow it to transition from living underwater to the drylands of Virginia, but the Sterling brewery will soon celebrate its first birthday.
Over the past 365 days, Rocket Frog has produced over 50 beers (and variants of those beers), snagged a GABF medal for its brown ale Wallops Island, collaborated with DC Beer, produced a very nice hoppy red, moved into canning, and begrudgingly made some quality haze. In other words, it’s been a busy little froglet.
The brewery will toast to these achievements on May 4 with a birthday party and anniversary triple IPA.
On the former front, the “festival-style event” will feature 22 taps of that sweet Rocket Frog nectar, including barrel-aged Wallops Island brown ale, a fruited kettle sour, multiple variants of the Russian Imperial Stout dubbed Roscosmos, barrel-aged Shame and Torment barleywine with coffee, and nitro barrel-aged Shame and Torment. There are two ticket options, one of which involves a four-pack of anniversary triple IPA.
Speaking of which, that beer is called is Slingshot Maneuver. It clocks in at 10.5% and is double dry-hopped with Citra, Eukanot, and Mosaic. Sounds nice to me.
When: Thursday, May 9
Where: The Heurich House
We are living in strange times.
Gone is the era of clear, clean, and bitter hoppy brews like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. These days, pretty much every brewery is making a hazy IPA. In fact, there’s a good chance that all of a brewery’s IPAs are hazy IPAs. These beers taste “soft,” possess next-to-no bitterness, and are extravagantly hopped with pungent, expensive varietals. They’re frequently opaque. In fact, the murkier the better, in consumers’ eyes. Somewhere, Bill Madden sheds a single tear.
Venture outside of IPAs (the king of craft beer sales), and you’ll find pastry stouts and intensely fruited kettle sours. The former are dark beers with alcohol content cranked well north of 10%, sweetened with milk sugar, and loaded with adjuncts like chocolate, vanilla, and literal candy. Many modern-day sours, meanwhile, are conditioned on so much fruit that consumers could actually confuse them with regular ol’ fruit juice. And if consumers don’t keep cans of such sours cold, they might explode from all the unfermented sugar still in the beer.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot else happening in craft beer (most notably, pilsners have made a comeback), but walk into the taproom of a buzzy new brewery and you’ll often find exclusively these three things. Walk into an older brewery and you’ll find them scrambling to adjust to and incorporate these trends.
Over the past few years, I’ve had numerous conversations with brewers and beer directors about what all of this means for the future of craft beer. How did we get here? Is this the new normal? Will styles keep getting more extreme? Is this sustainable? Do brewers actually like all of these styles? What’s the deal with vanilla IPAs?
For the third installment of my interview series at Dupont;s Heurich House museum, First Runnings, I want to dig into all of these questions. And I’ve somehow convinced a wildly accomplished panel to join me: ChurchKey, Bluejacket, and general NRG beer overlord Greg Engert; Chris Brohawn and Shawn Smith of Maryland’s RAR Brewing; and The Pint Group beer director Jace Gonnerman.
Nobody has their fingers on the pulse of craft beer more astutely than Engert and Gonnerman. And few breweries in the area are making hazy IPAs, fruited sours, and pastry stouts on par with RAR and Bluejacket. Relatedly, we’re going to find out how these two breweries got so good at these once unconventional styles. Also, how important their unique label design and branding is to their sales? So many questions.
This is an all-star panel. Come hear what they have to say on May 9, and sip on a Bluejacket or RAR beverage while you do. Rumor is they’re sending the good stuff, too.
When: Friday, May 10
Where: Rustico Ballston
OK, technically Oxbow makes beer about an hour away, in rural Newcastle, but it operates Oxbow Blending & Bottling – where its aged beer is, um, blend and bottled – in Portland, so I’m going to count it. My blog, my rules.
Anyway, these two breweries are not only geographically close, they’re personally close. They’re buds, pals, amigos, etc. And occasionally they get together to make a beer called Rivulet, a grisette open-fermented in Allagash’s coolship with a blend of Oxbow and Allagash’s house yeast strains. And by “occasionally,” I mean it’s happened twice – once in 2017 and once in 2019, both times for Saison Day.
What is a grisette? Where did it come from? And who is Allagash? These are all super questions. Last Friday, I dropped a cool 6,380 words on these very subjects (plus some other stuff) in Freshly Tapped: Allagash’s Darling Ruby. Block off 45 minutes and give it a read.
Then, on May 10, head to Rustico Ballston for The Oxbow & Allagash Extravaganza! (That’s not my exclamation point, but it’s well earned.) On that night, the NRG spot will showcase five beers from each brewery, including Oxbow’s 2019 take on Rivulet, a rare keg of Allagash’s Coolship Red, the aforementioned grapefruit grisette Darling Ruby, and other rare things.
Rare or not rare, there are no bad choices when Allagash and Oxbow are on the menu.
If you don’t feel like crossing the river or you booked on May 10, Allagash will be taking over the taps at Georgetown’s Church Hall on Wednesday, May 8 for an Into the Wild Tap Takeover. As you might guess from the name, this event will feature some beers from Allagash’s wild and sour program, most prominently the #rare Coolship Resurgam (the brewery’s take on a gueuze) and FV 13 (a Belgian-style golden ale aged in French oak foudre for four years on a blend of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria).
When: Saturday, May 11
Where: U Street
Is Funk Parade a beer event? OK, probably not. It’s DC’s free, day-long, annual “music and art street festival.. that aims to unite the community through the celebration of funk music, visual arts and the diverse cultural history of the U Street neighborhood.”
So, it’s probably more important than a beer event, and we all know I take beer events very seriously.
Why am I talking about Funk Parade then? Because I have been getting Funk Parade press e-mails for five years, and I finally caved.
No, just kidding, it’s because I have been getting Funk Parade press e-mails for five years, and a month ago I got one saying that Aslin was making a Funk Parade beer, and if the top five breweries of all time is involved in an event, that event is going into Draft Picks.
That beer, Keepin the Funk Alive, is a sour ale brewed with dragon fruit, passion fruit, blackberry, milk sugar, and vanilla.
“The beer will be light, sweet and slightly tart, which should complement the weather in May,” Aslin co-founder Andrew Kelley said in a press release.
“I can’t wait to watch people’s heads explode the first time they try a fruited vanilla sour,” I said in a corresponding statement.
Aslin will be releasing cans of the beer at the brewery on May 4, but you’ll be able to find it at various U Street bars on the day of the Funk Parade. Notably, Aslin will be donating a portion of the proceeds of cans sale to support The MusicianShip, the new stewards of the Funk Parade Festival. Good on you, Aslin!
But whether you score cans or not, head to the parade, take part in the magic, shake your hips, and have a Keepin the Funk Alive on May 11.
When: Saturday, May 11
On May 11, DC’s now-undisputed (if it ever was disputed) best beer bar will celebrate ten years of making anyone typing words onto a screen ask themselves, “Wait, is the K capitalized? Is it Churchkey or ChurchKey? Because the website text is all-caps, so I can’t tell, but when you Google it, Churchkey shows up. Also, why isn’t award winning hyphenated?”
To mark the occasion, Beer Director Greg Engert (aka Slim Necktie, aka Trappe Lord, aka Silkky Mouthfeel, aka DJ Jazzy Hefe, aka OJ da Juicebomb) is flexing so hard you can see his cephalic vein from the International Space Station.
So, just casually a half dozen of the country’s most hype breweries.
Highlights include: Literally Everything (DDH IPA), The Whole List (red wine barrel-aged sour blond ale with papaya), Seriously I Can’t Pick a Highlight (double Brut IPA with chardonnay grapes), and Other Half’s Triple Nelson Daydream (triple IPA with Nelson Sauvin hops and lactose).
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the line already forming.
When: Friday, May 17
Where: National Building Museum
SAVOR is back, baby! And it’s only one night this year! And it’s already sold out!
If you missed out on tickets, fret not, there’s a whole week of events preceding it.
And I’ll be back early that week with a handy dandy guide.
When: Saturday, May 25
Where: Port City Brewing
As I teased in January’s Freshly Tapped: Colossal 8, this summer Port City is introducing a new limited release called Rivershed Ale (official name: Rivershed Dry-Hopped Pale Ale).
Rivershed Ale is a 5.2% pale ale brewed with 100% Virginia wheat and 100% Delaware barley, then dry-hopped with Loral and Centennial – one a relatively new Pacific Northwest varietal, the other slightly old(er) school. So, it’s the cool, hip younger brother to Essential Pale Ale, much like Integral IPA is the cool, hip younger brother to Monumental IPA. Gotta keep up with the times!
I tried a beta version of the beer earlier this year (spoiler: it good), but Port City will release the official version over Memorial Day weekend. They also have not one but two May 25 events around the release.
The first comes in the morning with the Rivershed Run 5K, which is… you know, a 5K. At the brewery. Where you can have a Rivershed Dry-Hopped Pale Ale. After you run 5 kilometers.
Registration includes an official race glass, water, fruit and snacks, and post-race entertainment. That’s not a bad deal for $45. Also, PSA, if there is a medal, do not wear it all day or I will give you a wedgie.
Not really digging on physical exercise? Well. the fun continues after the race with a Memorial Day party featuring live bluegrass, burgers, apple pie, and a pig roast. America, fuck yeah!
When: Thursday, May 30
Where: America Eats Tavern
I don’t always write about beer dinners, but when I do, they’re at dope Jose Andrés restaurants with iconic U.S. breweries.
Case in point: The Summer Road Trip Festival Kick-Off Beer Dinner.
There’s a lot to unpack with that title. For starters, what is America Eats Tavern’s Summer Road Trip Festival? To be honest, I’m not quite sure, but I’m being told that it will “run through July 7th with a big party on the 4th of July.” More details to come.
Here’s what I do know: On May 30, they’ll kick off that festival with a Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head beer dinner. $65 gets you four courses. The first three are paired with a beer from each brewery. The dessert, naturally, will be served with their collaboration Life and Limb III, an imperial brown ale with “pure maple syrup from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts and estate barley grown on the Grossman ‘farm’ at the [Sierra Nevada] brewery in Chico, CA.”
As the Roman numerals indicate, this is the third time that the two breweries have produced the beer since 2009. And it sounds delightfully decadent. All of the evening does, quite frankly. Treat yo self.