Last December, in a sea of poorly stitched Rudolph emblems and adult-sized elf costumes, Dave Delaplaine hatched the idea for a beer dinner with four DC breweries.
The baby-faced Delaplaine serves as general manager – and also beer director, he’s quick to note – at Roofers Union, Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s three-tiered restaurant and bar in Adams Morgan. The two-year-old venue has quickly distinguished itself as a go-to spot in the city, in large part because of Delaplaine’s curation of a rotating beer list that draws shrewdly from around the country while simultaneously digging deeply into local production. It also doesn’t hurt that Roofers Union has some prime roof real estate, the popularity of which on the weekends allows the space to keep craft beers reasonably priced. And, of course, let’s not underemphasize that Meek-Bradley – Ripple executive chef and current Top Chef finalist – is behind the menu.
It was on the middle floor of the establishment, during the its annual ugly sweater party and DMV lovefest, that Delaplaine floated the idea of that beer dinner to local brewers.
And last Wednesday, almost four months later, it came together.
Serving up the food? Meek-Bradley and Right Proper executive chef Sarah Biglan.
“My encouragement to everyone: Let’s go a little crazy and have some fun,” Delaplaine said of shepherding the event. “At this point, I think people know that in my book, the weirder, the better.”
Beer Pairing: Right Proper Brewing Company’s Baron Corvo.
Right Proper opened its Brookland production facility this past December, and one of the lures to get you out to the new tasting room – besides the piano in the bathroom – are beers that you can’t find on tap at the Shaw brewpub. An example of that is Baron Corvo, a rustic bierre de garde brewed in Brookland using Right Proper’s big, French oak foudre. (As discussed in our 3 Stars Tap Takeover last week, foudres are a hot commodity right now.)
The slightly tart, dark, strong ale was a wonderful way to start off the dinner – a sort of counter-programming to a more typical light offering you might expect. It was paired with a potato croquette so decadently rich and creamy that I mistook the starch for cheese when I first split it open. As a nice tribute to the beer, Meek-Bradley and Biglan utilized Baron Corvo in a tangy mustard sauce, too.
Course Two: Roasted tiger prawns with pineapple-jalepeno aigre doux and black garlic-eggplant puree.
Beer Pairing: DC Brau’s Alpha Domina Mellis III on nitro.
Speaking of counter-programming, DC Brau’s Alpha Domina Mellis is essentially the anti-winter seasonal: a double IPA rolled out in December, when most breweries are stocking shelves with spiced ales, winter warmers, and oatmeal stouts. As co-founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock explained in our Tap Takeover last year, the beer collects assorted stray hops – which vary each year, of course – and combines them with local honey. “With the special projects that we do – like Smells Like Freedom – we often end up with these experimental variety of hops left over, so we try to not let them go to waste.” Hancock explained at the time. “Alpha Domina Mellis is a fun kitchen-sink beer.”
The twist with the Alpha Domina Mellis on this particular night was its nitro pour.
Some background: Carbonating IPAs with a mix of nitrogen and CO2 (a roughly 70/30 split) is increasingly becoming a thing – an assertion that I will back up merely by pointing to Sam Adams’ “Nitro Project.” Any time you carbonate a beer with nitro, you end up with a smoother drink, largely because nitrogen bubbles are smaller than CO2’s, and that makes a beer feels less carbonated. But while everyone loves nitro stouts, nitro IPAs have been somewhat divisive. The gas unquestionably changes the flavor perception and texture of an IPA. And within the District, DC Brau has been the only brewery sporadically putting IPAs on nitro, as it did with Smells Like Freedom last spring.
It was interesting, therefore, to hear Skall, who was in attendance for DC Brau on Wednesday, make the pitch for nitro IPA.
“Doing it with this nitro preparation gives it a little bit of different character,” he said before the room. “Normally, you’re going to get some bitterness not just from the hops but also from the carbon dioxide in the beer. It raises up some of the flavors and the characteristics of the beer, but it also gives off a bitter prickliness to the pallet that’s actually from the gas. The nitrogen is a lot smoother. When you’re doing it with an IPA, its smooths some of that hop character out. I think you get a little bit more the floral expression of the hop instead of the extra bitterness that’s in a normal beer.”
Since late December, I’ve had a chance to drink Alpha Domina Mellis III on nitro and good ol’ CO2 several times, and personally, I think the hop complexity is what makes it a very good beer, and most of it gets drowned with nitro. Ultimately, perhaps it just comes down to what you seek out in a double IPA.
The Alpha Domina Mellis was paired with a massive, citrusy prawn, and a slightly bitter pineapple-jalepeno aigre doux that contrasted nicely with the beer.
(As a complete aside: Skall mentioned dinner that DC Brau will be canning and distributing its five-year anniversary collaboration series with Austin Beerworks, Cigar City Brewing, Perennial Artisan Ales, Port City Brewing, and Sun King Brewing. Get excited for that.)
Beer Pairing: Atlas Brew Works’ Town & Country.
The evening’s main course was described alternately as a “lamb medley” and “lamb a gazillion away.” Either way, there were three very tasty preparations of lamb, and while that would normally call for red wine, we would settle for the next best thing: Atlas’ Town & Country.
As Atlas Justin Cox and former head brewer Will Durgin explained in our Tap Takeover last year, Town & Country originated a few years ago when the brewery procured red wine barrels for their sour program and then realized the vessels were clean from “bugs.” So, Atlas decided to brew a barrel-aged Belgian strong ale with them.
As Atlas brewer “Sam P” explained on Wednesday, each year’s Town & Country varies slightly based on the barrels (Atlas only uses a barrel for this beer just once) and the inexact science of barrel-aging. “This is the second rendition of this beer,” he told the crowd. “We don’t always know exactly what we’re going to get every year. This time, I think it came out with a lot of tobacco, a lot raisny character.”
This was my first time trying this year’s vintage, and Town & Country remains a delightful, complex beer. It is well worth the trip to Atlas to stock up on a few 750 mL bottles – some for now, some to cellar for later.
As for that lamb royal rumble, it hard to pick a winner, but the merguez sausage was spicy and flawless.
Beer Pairing: 3 Stars’ Ebony & Ivory on cask.
3 Stars’ Ebony & Ivory is already a desert in a glass – an imperial brown ale conditioned with roasted cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. It is not, however, an aggressively sweet beer. There’s just enough smoke and coffee in it’s full body to make you want to drink the whole thing and come back for more. (As co-founders Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvery said in our initial Tap Takeover, even they were surprised by its popularity.)
Fittingly, Meek-Bradley and Biglan paired Ebony & Ivory with an actual dessert in a glass – a so-good-it-has-to-be-wrong combination of flourless chocolate cake, raspberry mousse, sorbet, and white chocolate cremoux that should be added to Roofers Union’s full-time menu ASAP.