There is no one way to experience SAVOR Week.
There are too many events, too many visiting breweries, too many beers to try.
The overabundance of choice is a good thing, of course, because there are no wrong decisions. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure with delicious beer at the end of each chapter.
For the unfamiliar: SAVOR is an that event draws almost 80 breweries to the National Building Museum on Friday and Saturday night. The event itself is a spectacle. New breweries bring their very best offerings, and established breweries bring what they’re most excited about. (And in some cases, they brew beer especially for SAVOR.)
But SAVOR Week extends well beyond those two days. Many of these breweries don’t distribute in DC, so this is their chance to show the city what they’ve been brewing up (and to scope out the city’s beer scene for possible expansion in the future). So, there are events across essentially every beer bar in town from Monday through Sunday: tap takeovers, foeder seminars, geographical spotlights, beer brunches, collaboration debuts, you name it.
This is our attempt to document one such SAVOR Week adventure.
We’re still recovering from it.
And we can’t wait for next year.
Bier Baron is hosting Smutt-Putt, which sounds inappropriate, but is actually just putt-putt with Smuttynose beer. The event also involves coaster toss and darts challenges, and all of this sounds like a beacon for all bros within a three-mile radius, so I decide to pass.
Instead, I head to Smoke & Barrel’s fourth annual pig roast, which is delightfully low key. There’s not much happening: It’s just plates of pulled pork on the menu and a selection of beers from some craft beer heavyweights: Boulevard Brewing, Firestone Walker, Brewery Ommegang, and Victory Brewing. (Yes, those first three are now owned by Duvel.) It’s sticky outside, threatening to storm, and I’ve run a marathon the morning before, so I’m glad to be inside, sitting, and casually sipping Firestone Walker’s vaunted bourbon barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout Parabola.
Sitting with five friends in the early afternoon, the table is quickly littered with tasters. I will soon learn these four-ounce glasses are the currency of SAVOR Week. Everyone wants to try all of the beers, but nobody wants to vomit and/or die of alcohol poising, so they all order sippers. It’s the craft beer equivalent of speed dating. I’m not against the practice. Moderation, restraint, and all of that good stuff. But I generally have a much firmer opinion on a beer after a full ten to sixteen ounces. And I’d rather drink fewer beers and really get to know them. Anyway, that’s a conversation for another day. It’s lunchtime. Tasters will do.
Following up Parabola is tough, but among the sea of tasters, Firestone Walker’s Bretta Weiss (a Berliner Weiss aged for eight months in French oak foudres with Lacto and Brett) and Ommegang’s Rosetta (a blend of old and young Flanders Old Bruin with Liefman’s Cuvée Brut) are the clear standouts. I get the appeal of a late afternoon rosé spritzer.
Big Hunt is hosting a stand-up night later that evening, but I call it a night. Actually, I end up doing a bottle share with friends and watching game 7 of OKC-Warriors. (In retrospect, this was an extraordinarily bad decision.)
When I spoke with 3 Stars’ co-founder Dave Coleman a few days earlier, he described the origin of DoCo District thusly: “We were up on the shore with [RAR], and they wanted to use some Summer hops, and we were like, ‘You know what? Let’s just make a monster IPA that we can crush all summer long.’”
I order a DoCo District. I drink a DoCo District. I declare mission accomplished.
The combination of hops from Yakima (El Dorado) and Australia (Summer) lend the 7.8% beer a citrusy taste and aromatics, while the base of Pilsner Malts – with a dash of Golden Promise – keep it light and clean. I could indeed crush this beer all summer long. I hope to find it around town after this week. 3 Stars has produced a number of very good Double IPAs this year with #ultrafresh and the revamped Two to the Dome, but DoCo District – and its slightly fuller body – might be my favorite.
There are two other RAR rarities pouring at Brookland Pint, at least when it comes to what’s available within the Beltway. The first is House Roast, a 9.2% imperial cream ale brewed with coffee. The other is Marylan, a 5% blonde ale that’s heavily hopped with Galaxy. DC gets RAR flagships like Nanticoke Nectar IPA and Groove City Hefe, but House Roast and Marylan are the type of beers that RAR cans and distributes directly out of the brewery. Those usually sell out the day they’re released. There’s a reason why: House Roast and Marylan are fantastic – huge flavors with a subtle creaminess. They have me contemplating making the drive to Cambridge before the weather turns irrevocably.
3 Stars head brewer Mike McGarvey is in the house, sipping a big glass of his Brandy Lynn, a blend of bourbon barrel-aged cider and brandy barrel-aged saison. It’s a drink – technically, a graff – that 3 Stars only brews once a year and squirrels away for big events like SAVOR Week. McGarvey says he never passes up the opportunity to drink some. He’s sitting with Coleman and John Andrade, owner of Brookland Pint, Meridian Pint, and Smoke & Barrel.
It’s a big week for Andrade, whose bars are hosting over a dozen events over five days. Of all the spaces in DC, his have handled SAVOR Week most impressively: line-ups announced far in advance, easy to find webpages with artwork for each event, and, of course, the quality and range of beers brought in. He takes no credit for any of this and says he’s just hired the right people. That’s something worth taking credit for too, though.
I leave Brookland Pint for the crown jewel of Andrade‘s properties, Meridian Pint. The bar is hosting six “out-of-market” Virginia breweries: Aslin Beer, Triple Crossing Brewing, Redbeard Brewing, Ocelot Brewing, and The Answer Brewpub.
Of these breweries, the DC premier of Aslin is probably the biggest story. As Meridian Pint beer director told me the week before: “Right now, Aslin is as hot as hot can be.” A few days later, The Washington Post dubbed it the “Best Brewery You Probably Haven’t Heard Of.”
Suffice to say, the SAVOR Week Meridian Pint crowd probably has heard of the Herndon operation. They’re best known for their hazy, Northeast-style imperial IPAs, so I give full pour treatment to Stellar Parallax (an 8.2% brew hopped with Galaxy, Citra, and Simcoe) and Mind the Hop (9.2%, and single hopped with Citra). Both go down remarkably easy, but the more assertive hop character of Mind the Hop makes it the winner in my book. The Answer’s Hard in the Paint (single hopped with Mosaic) is a Double IPA just as memorable, too. The hop-bombs are spelled with tatsers of Redbeard’s Jim Beam barrel-aged imperial stout, Moriarty, and The Answer’s blood orange and black cherry Berliner Weiss, Obey.
I’ve picked up a few friends and we head to Roofers Union for “Easy Come, Easy GOSE,” a modest celebration of the tart and salty German wheat beer. Mostly, I just want to try the cask of UNION Craft’s Old Pro with ginger. It doesn’t disappoint. Head brewer Kevin Blodger is truly the master of goses, and his exploration of aging the style with fruits and, in the case, root is reaping incredible rewards.
Next thing I know, Roofers Union manager Dave Delaplaine has opened a half dozen bottles of heavy duty beers for sampling. Ostensibly, he is spotlighting the beers he’ll be serving at that Sunday’s brunch with Deschutes Brewery (and Allagash): The Stoic, Black Butte XXV, 2014’s The Abyss, 2014’s The Dissident. He cracks a can of Westbrook Gose and a bottle of 2013 vintage Bruery White Oak for good measure. I honestly don’t think there’s another person in DC who enjoys the act of sharing beer – and broadening horizons – more than Delaplaine.
But once I’ve finished the last glass in front of me, I literally make a dash for the door. I have to get out of there before another beer shows up. It’s only Tuesday. There are at least four more days to go.
Ending a big beer week night perched at the Roofers Union bar is both the best and the worst idea in the world.
In the moment, it’s former. All day Wednesday, it is decidedly the latter. I am dying.
After work, I head to Atlas Brew Works new tap room. It’s hosting a press event to show off the sleek, modern new space. I chat with the Ivy City brewery’s founder Justin Cox and its Director of Operations Corey Poole. Clarissa Villondo is with me to photograph. All of this turns into a separate article on the tap room that you can read here.
Going to a press event for a DC brewery in the middle of SAVOR Week means missing out on one-time attractions, but I had been looking for an excuse to get over to Atlas and taste some of the tap room exclusives: Kalinkin (a 6.4% Baltic Porter finished with Brett and Harper Macaw cocoa nibs), Gaslight (a Belgian Blonde Ale finished with Brett), and Pope in Barrel (a bourbon barrel-aged version of last year’s third anniversary Belgian Blonde, Pope Magic).
All three are worth the trip, particularly the Kalinkin. Atlas’ flagship IPA Ponzi – recently revamped by brewer Sam Puffenbarger – is tasting great, too.
The new tap room and its offerings should have no trouble attracting both locals and brewery-hopping beer tourists.
We head to the Aspen ski lodge rooftop of Jack Rose for “Wood You Be My Savor?” The punny event showcases beers aged in foeders and various repurposed barrels by 3 Stars, Allagash, New Belgium, 4 Hands, and Right Proper. Incredibly, all beers are $5 from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. In a week where I might as well have lit my bank account on fire, this is much appreciated.
I start with Ricky Rosé, 3 Stars’ collaboration with Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing. The barrel-fermented sour ale is making its debut this night.
A few days earlier, 3 Stars co-founder Dave Coleman discussed brewing the beer to me.
“We took wort directly from the kettle and put it into white wine barrels,” he shared. “Then we added Lacto and Brett, and we let them ferment and sour in the barrels. Once we reached terminal [gravity], we added blackberries to it, and then let that ferment again.”
“I’m over the moon about this beer,” he said, and that story hasn’t changed on Wednesday, when he’s looking glowingly at all the chalice glasses filled with dark pink beer around Jack Rose. He tells me he’d put Ricky Rosé up against pretty much any domestically produced sour. It’s certainly a tasty beer: tart, clean, balanced fruitiness. I order one for my girlfriend and receive the keg’s last pour. It’s the first beer to run dry. I’m not the only fan.
I move on to 4 Hands’ Cascara, a Famhouse Ale aged for 13 months in Cabernet wine barrels with Cascara fruit. It is one assertive beverage.
I transition back to the smoothness of 3 Stars’ Brandy Lynn. When else am I going to get to drink Brandy Lynn for five bucks?
We end up at Meridian Pint again, this time for its “SAVOR Blowout,” which is code for “Good Beer Hodgepodge.”
“I don’t have theme except for: These are three breweries that we can’t get here, they’re all sending up an incredible selection of beers, come drink and enjoy it,” Merdian Pint beer director Jace Gonnerman told me a few days earlier. “They just all make outstanding beer.”
I immediately order up 12 ounces of Parish’s Ghost in the Machine. The brewery is pouring the Double IPA at SAVOR but I can’t wait to try it. This is one of the more talked-up beers to make it into town this week. It lives up to the hype: huge citrus nose, oversized hop character, and yet utterly smooth.
SAVOR is less than 48 hours away, and based on the assortment of brewers shirts in the room, many have arrived into town a little early. I chat with Adroit Theory owner Mark Osborne. His brewery is in Purcellville, Virginia, but he and his wife Nina (who handles the distribution of the beer) are in DC until Sunday.
Ocelot head brewer Mike McCarthy is at Meridian Pint for a second night in a row, too. As discussed in BYT’s SAVOR Week preview, the Dulles brewery and Columbia Heights restaurant have a special relationship. The latter is one of the few places you generally rely on finding the former’s beer. I tell him I’m going to try Melvin’s 2×4 Double IPA, but he guides me towards the Wyoming brewery’s The (Hop) Shocker. The recommendation makes sense: 2×4 is pinier in the West Coast IPA tradition, but The (Hop) Shocker – brewed with Mosaic and Simcoe – falls closer to the lighter, citrusy IPA profile that Ocelot favors.
Tomorrow is the Brewers Association’s annual Capitol Hill climb. That’s when brewers from all 50 states descend upon the House and Senate office buildings to meet with their representatives (or more appropriately, their staff) and advocate for federal legislation. (The big target this year is the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, which would lower the federal excise tax paid by craft brewers.)
One of those brewers is Tim Barnes, co-owner of Wyoming’s Black Tooth Brewing and the President of the Wyoming Craft Brewers Guild. He talks about being the last state to form a guild – there wasn’t much of a need due to his state’s lax restrictions – and pouring at SAVOR. There are a lot of hot shot breweries in town, and many of them carry themselves with standoffish swagger, but Barnes – whose brewery has won several GABF medals – is just a sincerely nice guy.
At the end of the conversation, he tells me that I can have his spare SAVOR ticket. I buy him a beer to say thanks. This week is OK with me.
Thankfully, there probably isn’t a better way to ease into another night of beer consumption than an Allagash tap takeover.
And I mean a true tap takeover: It feels like Allagash is everywhere this week, but there are close to 40 of their Maine beers flowing through the lines of City Tap House when I show up after work.
Choosing from that draft list is agonizing. I settle on glasses of Uncommon Crow (a tart 7.7% Brett-fermented ale, aged sixth months in stainless steel and finished with blackberries) and the 2015 vintage of Victoria (a 9% pale Belgian Strong Ale fermented with Chardonnay grapes). But the Dougernaut, a 7.6% Belgian-style stout brewed with cold-pressed coffee, is the true revelation. It’s smooth and rich without being heavy. I could drink this morning, noon, and night.
The Allagash team – including founder Rob Tod – are gathered around a high top table near the entrance. They don’t wear brewers shirts. They wear varying patterns of flannel with the Allagash logo. Of course they do. Goddammn Allagash. Always so on point.
Just when I’m ready to head out into the evening, the ship steadied, the City Tap House event team slings a Nancy sour red ale my way. Of course, I have no mechanism of turning this down.
The Ruby Mild continues what Port City head brewer Jonathan Reeves called his “year of reddish brown beers.” I order a pint, and it’s delicious: big malt flavor, some toffee, and a hint of roast in a 3.5% beer.
It reminds me of what Schalfly Ambassador Brewer Stephen Hale said at the Heurich House a few weeks earlier.
“I think the flashier beer has become the lower alcohol beer, the balanced beer, the beer style that somebody hasn’t had in a while. It’s not the extreme, barrel-aged, triple something,” he remarked. “I like to think that what’s more unusual has become the more sought after. That’s one of the reasons that we chose the Ruby Mild.”
It’s a little bit of wishful thinking at this moment in time – many craft beer drinkers are and will continue be addicted to chasing the extreme triple somethings – but VaStLy Mild still makes the case that small can be the new big. That is to say: the execution of a complex, low alcohol beer can feel far more impressive than something on the other end of the spectrum. That’s certainly the case with this Mild.
I think about ordering another, but I notice that Scion is pouring Port City’s summer seasonal, Derecho Common, a week before its official release. Port City sales manager Jason Camsky razzes brewer Robert Henry for delivering beer ahead of schedule. Henry reminds him its better to have it early than late.
Port City doesn’t make a less than very good beer, but the California Common – now single hopped with Centennial – is a personal favorite of its seasonals. It tastes like summer, and I’m ready to have a six-pack permanently in my fridge.
En route to ChurchKey, we make a detour at the Big Hunt to satisfy my craving for another DoCo District IPA.
The endearingly grungy DuPont beer bar smells like frat basement and is spotlighting 3 Stars’ collaborations.
I think if I polled everyone in the bar, probably a quarter would know what SAVOR Week even is.
This is a nice breather.
We end the night at ChurchKey, where the Logan Circle bar is spotlighting a handful of Southern craft breweries: Burial Beer, Country Boy Brewing, Great Raft Brewing, Parish Brewing, Wicked Weed Brewing, and Fonta Flora.
There’s also a few lines of Surly and Shorts left over from the night before, so I order a round of beers for my friends: Four Todd: The Axe Man IPAs. The bartender comes back with what looks like a stout and an IPA. Both of us confused, we play the SAVOR version of “Who’s on First?” before realizing he has brought me one Surly Four (its anniversary double espresso milk stout) and one Todd: The Axe Man. I feel bad for the bartender and offer to buy the Four anyway.
There’s no need for sympathy.
“Oh, I can sell this to someone else,” he says with no lack of confidence. I realize that working the ChurchKey bar during SAVOR Week would probably make anyone feel like a god.
After those beers, we only have one more in us – a trio of Ghost in the Machine for my friends, and Parish’s Opus Vert for me.
It’s time to get some sleep before the main event.
I arrive at the National Building Museum twenty minutes before the doors open for SAVOR. The line is already down and around the corner. The front of this queue has been here for 45 minutes already. These people have paid $135 for a ticket – or more if they’re attending intimate parlors – and they intend to get the most beer for their buck.
This is my first time attending SAVOR, so I can’t compare it to years past. I am told repeatedly going into the evening that I shouldn’t expect to eat much. I am told the food runs out quickly, and it isn’t that great to begin with. After haphazardly sampling a few beers – Black Cloister’s Marty and Bear Republic Tartare – I head to the Red Apron charcuterie station and go H.A.M. on some ham.
As fate would have it, FATE Brewing Company (ugh, sorry) is set up next this cornucopia of meat. I’m not familiar with Boulder brewing operation, but its Laimas (a 5% Kolsch) and IRA (an India Red Ale hopped with Azacca and Mosaic) are both wonderfully refreshing.
As the night progresses, it turns out that concerns about food were either much ado about nothing or SAVOR has corrected any deficiencies. The bite-sized dishes are plentiful and thoughtfully paired with each beer.
I spot Melvin Brewing reentering the first floor and head for their 2×4 Double IPA. I tell the brewer pouring the beer that I had enjoyed the (Hop) Shocker the other night. He lets loose a big smile, makes the “shocker” hand gesture, and exclaims, “The Shocker!” My girlfriend, trailing behind me, detours to another table.
2×4 is another beer that lives up to the hype. The piney aroma of West Coast hops gives way to an unexpected complexity and fullness.
I stop by Flying Dog’s station. CEO Jim Caruso and Director of Field Marketing Nate Eckert are pouring two offerings brewed especially for SAVOR: Notorious B.A.G. and Goseface Killah. Notorious B.A.G. is a version of Gonzo Imperial Porter that’s been aged in whiskey barrels with tart cherries and sweet cherries. It sits at 12%. “I guess it soaked up some that whiskey,” Caruso says wryly. Goseface Killah, meanwhile, is a traditional gose dry-hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic. I would happily drink either again.
I ask Caruso how the expansion is coming along. He says its years and year away, and even after production starts in late 2018, Flying Dog will have to brew on both system simultaneously for a stretch to assure recipe consistency. It sounds like a headache. Caruso is much more excited to talk about the farmhouse brewery that Flying Dog plans to build on his property. This will allow the brewery to produce wilds and sours that it doesn’t want contaminating its system. In the world of Flying Dog, it’s almost a pet project.
Several other beers are immediate standouts: Great Raft Brewing’s Oceans Between, an IPA fermented completely with Brett; Uinta’s Birthday Suit Sour Raspberry Ale; Perennial’s Sauvant Blanc, a bottle-conditioned Belgian Blonde Ale aged for 5 months in Chardonnay barrels with Chardonel grapes; Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Expedition Stout, a 13% doozy of a beer; Country Boy’s whiskey barrel-aged 4th Anniversary Wild Ale; The Lost Abbey’s Track #8, a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian Strong Ale steeped on cinnamon sticks and dried chili peppers; and Parish Brewing’s Serendipite imperial stout. Of course, I do not pass up another opportunity to drink Ghost in the Machine.
I swing by Adroit Theory to sample its reliably boozy offerings. First up is Triptych, an 8.8% farmhouse ale that’s been aged in Brandy barrels with rambutan, a tropical Southeast Asian fruit that owner Mark Osborne describes as “hairy testicles.” Next is a batch of Ortolan Bunting Strong Ale that’s been aged in Armagnac barrels. Saving these for the end of night was a good idea. Adroit Theory has the Brandy barrel-aged beer game on lockdown.
The event organizers announce last call, and I have room for two final beers, so we make our over to my new friend at Black Tooth Brewing.
His beers don’t disappoint.
Elegant and refined, the Black Eagle Baltic Porter and 1314 Bourbon Very Strong Ale feel like the perfect nightcap to a dizzying evening.
But there are worse places to be than the Potomac River on a muggy Saturday morning, so I pull it together. So does my girlfriend, who is about ready to kill me.
We head to Alexandria and get on the boat with ten minutes to spare. Upon entering, I am given a full pour – as in, the entire 22-ounce bottle – of Adroit Theory’s 9.2% farmhouse ale, Two Headed Calf. That’ll take the edge off your hangover.
This is the third year that Devils Backbone has organized such a jaunt, and the first that it’s invited other breweries to participate. Joining them on the trip: Port City, Allagash, Ninkasi, and Adroit Theory, who probably think I am stalking them.
I’m in line to get a beer with a gentleman who’s wearing a captain’s hat, gold reflective sunglasses, and a Devils Backbone shirt. I ask him what he does for the brewery. He says he “sort of the head brewer.”
I realize that it’s Jason Oliver, Devils Backbone’s actual Brewmaster, not “sort of the head brewer.”
The last time I saw Oliver, he was projecting a professorial vibe in a black flat cap, thick-framed eyeglasses, and a fleece vest in the basement of Meridian Pint. This is a decidedly different look.
That was February, and of course, a lot has changed for Devils Backbone since then. Mainly, there was that little transaction with AB InBev.
Talking with Devils Backbone staff on the Ramble, most discussion of the deal focuses on new opportunities and “new toys” that Oliver could now afford. It’ll be exciting to see what Oliver does with them, and I won’t complain when I can find out at a Verizon Center concession stand.
But this event is more focused on kicking back than brass tacks. In some ways, I feel like I’m crashing a work retreat for a friend’s overly personable company. There is a whole lot of Devils Backbone staff on this boat and they’re invariably nice.
There’s BBQ on this Ramble. All I can stomach at the moment is beer and artichoke dip, but the BBQ is there. I can smell it.
Standing outside, a guy next to me finishes his chicken wing and casually tosses the bone towards the Potomac River. The problem is that he bricks the shot and the chicken wing carcass lands with a thud in the middle of the retractable red boarding walkway. My view now includes a historic steamboat, the water, and his chicken wing. Because I’m starting to lost my mind, I find this hilarious.
On the whole, the Riverboat Ramble was a classy affair, even if I do spy Port City and Devils Backbone engaging in a friendly chug-off towards the end.
It has the spectrum of offerings, from Devils Backbone’s delightfully refreshing Trail Angel Weiss to Adroit Theory’s B/A/Y/S V 3.0, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. In between, it has a little Little Brett but that goes quickly. (Fear not: An Allagash rep tells me they’ll be distributing four-packs into DC in the not-too-distant future.)
As the boat pulls back to shore in Old Town, I realize this is the final destination of my SAVOR Week.
My friends may text me about tonight’s the Bar Deco after party, and I know how good tomorrow’s Roofers Union’s beer brunch looks, but it’s time to call it a week.
It’s been a good one.