Photos by Clarissa Villondo.
When it comes to DC’s premiere modern beer bars, there’s ChurchKey (and the rest of the NRG group), Meridian Pint (and its sister restaurants), Pizzeria Paradiso (all three of them), and… Roofers Union. Since opening in the winter of 2014, the three-tiered Adams Morgan restaurant has firmly established itself as a vociferous champion for local beer and a purveyor of top-notch beer from around the country – particularly the tart and sour stuff. As such, it only made sense for us to ask Roofers Union beer director and general manager Dave Delaplaine to document his experience during the week leading up to the city’s biggest beer event: SAVOR.
Alright, a bit about Roofers Union and our beer program and myself, in case you are not familiar.
- I love to support local breweries, but I enjoy pouring anything craft that we find worthy.
- I stay away from the macro conglomerates (see: the crisis of morality upcoming below).
- My favorite part of my job is introducing guests to new beers they haven’t had before.
- I’m probably less of a purist than others in this industry. Some people hate beers with more than the standard four ingredients of water, barley, hops, and yeast. I don’t scoff at some additional ingredients in brews as long as they are natural and come through in balance.
- Big, intense beers can be a ton of fun as long as they are cellared appropriately.
- Did I mention that I love to cellar beer? While I sometimes cellar for too long, I love to experiment with aging beers (both in bottle and in keg). I’m still learning this skill – as you will see from a few epic fails this week – but I keep trying and learning.
With that out of the way, let’s get to SAVOR week.
If you aren’t familiar, SAVOR is an amazing beer festival held most years in DC at the National Building Museum. It is a dangerous amount of fun and usually brings huge crowds of beer lovers into the city for a week of really geeky events at all the top beer bars in DC.
But this year was a bit tricky because DC had just hosted the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) earlier this spring, and the beer geeks came in droves to support some really awesome events around the city. So, since so many of those beer fans were here a couple of months ago, SAVOR week was a big question mark. Who – and how many of them – wound turn up?
Throw in the fact that the week would begin on Memorial Day Monday (thus spanning a time when much of DC runs off to the beach) and, as a beer director, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Now, to the planning…
Let’s backtrack to April 17th.
CBC week has just completed, and we’ve had a weekend to “recover” and start getting back to the normal flow. And this means thinking about SAVOR events.
I had run into Evan [Crutchfield] from Wicked Weed at a CBC event the week before and started talking about how great it would be to do an event with them during SAVOR. So, that’s one event.
Every year since we opened, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting Avery (a brewery I’m obsessed with) for our annual SAVOR tip-off party on the Thursday before events gets going. So, that’s two events figured out, and I set the goal for four events total to round out the week.
As the weeks of planning go by, I run down the list of breweries participating at SAVOR that aren’t normally distributed in DC and reach out to two of my favorites: Reuben’s Brews (from Seattle) and Odell Brewing (of Fort Collins). Odell is a strikeout as they still aren’t sure if they’ll actually be attending, but Reuben’s is a definite maybe. Once Adam Robbings (Reuben’s brewmaster) knows he’s be coming to DC, though, we schedule the event for Thursday – about an hour after his flight arrived from Seattle!
This leaves Tuesday, and I can’t decide between two breweries that I have a lot of respect for but haven’t had the opportunity to do any events with (yet). Great news: We are talking beer, not wine, and this means collaboration, so I ask Two Roads and 4 Hands if they would want to co-host an event at Roofers Union. They both say heck yes and we are set… or so I think.
With a couple of weeks to go, I get my hands on a really exciting keg from a (new-to-me) brewery from Richmond called Ardent, and I say to myself, “If two makes a great event, then three breweries should make an excellent event.” So, I check-in with the others and we decide to go for it. Take these three awesome breweries that may not have that much in common but are harder to find around DC, and we have ourselves a SAVOR trifecta.
Here we are: four events with six breweries in eight days. Soooo many lines to clean. I’ll go ahead and tell you: Yes, I bit off more than I should have, but with our awesome team helping me out, we made it work.
Shortly after 5:00 pm, we overcome a few printing disasters, which are basically an automatic expectation when you’re preparing for a tap takeover. Ten new drafts means that our team is working hard to clean those lines the night before and all morning. With three floors of Roofers Union, we are effectively cleaning 33 lines in prep for the event.
Avery highlights from the night include Tequilacerbus (tequila-barreled sour), their entire botanical series, and three beers we had been cellaring in the keg room for a good while now. From the cellar, I pick: 2014 Mephistopholes, 2015 Pumpkyn (I know it isn’t fall and I’m still pouring a pumpkin), and 2016 Xolotl. We also carry over 20 different Avery bottles, so I decide to offer them all at half price to encourage folks to get extra geeky.
Of the three cellared kegs, I expected the ’14 Meph to steal the show, but I have to admit that ’16 Xolotl (an imperial stout with chilies, cocoa nibs, and vanilla bean) and ’15 Pumpkyn (a bourbon-barreled pumpkin ale) were actually the wow beers. The Meph was great – don’t get me wrong – but I wish I’d sat on it another three years. It’s still drinking tight. (Note to self: Don’t tap the keg of 2015 Meph until 2020 or later). The Pumpkyn and Xolotl, which were extremely tight when I tried them young, are drinking hellishly good. Oh, and a quick warning if you seek them out, these three beers are 14-15% ABV.
We are joined by Chris Banich, a friend and rep from Avery, and I decide to open a few beers from my home stash that I’m excited to share. Unfortunately, I aged these a bit too long, and though they are good, they aren’t where I hoped they’d be, so we quickly go back to enjoying the Avery options. The event is a huge success, and we are joined by a lot of good friends of the restaurant that share my infatuation with Avery.
We have 14 new draft lines. That means 42 to clean. Thanks again, team!
It’s a great event with some really awesome and very different beers, but I am reminded of a lesson I’ve learned many times: We are notoriously slow on the Tuesday after a holiday weekend. We have a great crowd from the beer industry, and some regulars are there too, but it’s not the bustle we would have experienced during CBC or SAVOR another year.
Since we aren’t crazy busy, this only frees me up to have some extra fun geeking out with a lot of passionate beer drinkers. My three favorite beers from the night: Ardent’s Chardonnay Brett Saison (which tightrope walked the fine line between funky and elegant), Two Roads’ Persian Lime (an awesomely aromatic lime gose), and 4 Hands’ War Hammer (a refreshing, yet assertive imperial IPA).
As the night comes to a close, I get a second wind and get a head start on the draft lines for tomorrow, cleaning six in prep for tomorrow’s event to make the afternoon easier.
Yes, that Wicked Weed. Before we get to the elephant in the room, a quick report of the night.
We have eleven awesome beers on tap, plus three more by the bottle at half price. Normally, Wicked Weed beer is heavily allocated when it comes to town, so you are lucky to get your hands on more than one or two of their sours, but Evan totally hooked it up. Our line-up boass five sours, two goses, two IPAs, one fruited Belgian strong, and barreled imperial stout. Thank you, Evan! My favorites were the Tropicmost (a passionfruit gose), Genesis (a barreled sour blonde with mango, guava, and papaya), and Oblivion (a red wine-barreled sour red with blackberry and date).
I had a great time with the Wicked Weed guys. The crowd was again not what I would have expected during CBC or SAVOR another year, but we made some new regulars and got extra geeky. It’s hard to say whether we were slow because of the holiday week, CBC hangover, or folks wishing to stay away from Wicked Weed given the elephant (almost there, I promise).
OK, back to getting extra geeky. Wait ‘til you hear what we opened – some from the list, some from the personal stash. Highlights: Wicked Weed Medora; Hill Farmstead Anna (if you are the brilliant soul who gifted me this beer, I love you and am eternally grateful and kicking myself for not remembering who it’s from); 2016 The People’s Pint A Slippery Slope (thanks, Mike!); 2013 Dogfish Head Positive Contact; Urban Family Lady of the Night; 2015 New Belgium Le Terroir; and 2008 Alaskan Barley Wine. I’m super excited to say that all these beers were drinking really well. There were no strikeouts where I waited too long to get to it which is often the case with me.
So, to the elephant in the room: Yes, we did an event with Wicked Weed on the heels of their sale to InBev.
If you’ve met me or followed our beer list, you may know that we draw a hard line in the sand against InBev and big conglomerates that make it harder for the smaller innovative craft breweries to succeed. So, about a month ago, the sale is announced and my first words are “oh f—-!”
Next, I ask myself, “Do we still honor this event given the change or do I cancel?” As I tackled what I can only term as a crisis in morality, I asked many friends in the beer world for their advice. Greg Engert (who, let’s be real, puts the rest of us to shame) recommended I consider what craft means to me and what I love about the beer we serve.
To answer the latter first, I love bold new styles that push the horizon and aren’t afraid to get it wrong at the cost of getting it ohhh so right. So, since the sale hasn’t even processed yet and the juice was all made before any changes, I think I’m good on this front. The beer is still Wicked Weed. We’re not seeing any rice going into that beer anytime soon.
Now, to the former, and the one that requires more soul searching. To me, craft beer is about getting geeky and developing awesome relationships in our industry. As Mr. Runco will warn you, I love to “geek out” with beer guests and am often insisting that they try three more beers (at least) in addition to the one they ordered. Craft beer is amazing. The ingenuity and creativity this industry’s brewers have dialed up is a true art, and I love the opportunity to share their art with our guests.
At each brewery, it goes beyond the brewing team. The owners and reps from the breweries that I get to work with are not coming and saying, “If you buy these five macro kegs, I can give you three more for free.” They are coming in to share an art they truly believe in and are passionate about. Yes, it’s a business, but to succeed in this industry, you have to have the passion. So, it’s the relationships with these passionate folk that I never want to damage. Soul searching complete, I’ve decided that craft is an opportunity to celebrate the artists that made the inspiring beer.
Back to the elephant. Here we are with an event scheduled for SAVOR week with a brewery that is about to sell its soul (not that any of us should blame them given the price tag), but also one that I’ve had an immense respect for years. And I recognize that if I am dealing with this crisis of morality, it can only begin to approach what their great employees are going through during this transition. They’ve helped build this amazing product that, among other things, rivals any sour program in the world. Two weeks before, I was raving to friends about how excited I was to do a SAVOR event with some really awesome Wicked Weed people. Well, they’re still the same great guys, and the beer we’re pouring was made long before this deal was revealed to the public, so I chose to proceed and think of this event as a sendoff and farewell to a brewery that in its short life span did a lot to push the envelope and expand taste buds everywhere.
Does this mean I will purchase Wicked Weed after the sale is completed? No. I do not like what InBev does to the breweries they purchase. I do not like what they do small breweries that just want a fair playing field. But, while we’re waiting in limbo, let’s thank Wicked Weed’s team for all the awesome art they have provided the craft world.
A huge thanks to Adam [Robbings] who shipped beer directly to us (and our friends at Nanny O’Briens) so we could put together a truly unique event. We also themed trivia this week to be beer focused – thanks, District Trivia!
A note if you are a beer buyer: It’s pretty easy to directly import beer for the right occasion, and the ABRA office was super helpful (thanks, Danny, for the assist!) and less intimidating that I expected.
The Reuben’s beers are amazing. My favorite are either the Rye Crush (a hazy NE-style IPA with rye) or the Kentucky Common (a dark rye sour). We’re visited by some great beer people I have a ton of respect for. (Even Mr. Runco can’t resist this event.) At the end of the evening, we’re joined by three good friends – Reggie, Chrystalle, and Jeremy – and this keeps the night going long after we close and the last beer is drank. Somehow, we talk for 30 minutes about “Supergirl” and “The Arrow”. A good night is had.
Oh, and in addition to the great beer from Reuben’s, we dive back into the stash from home, highlighted by a can of 2015 Union Craft Older Pro with blueberry. So good. Union Craft: PLEASE START MAKING MORE OLDER PRO!
One lesson learned (again) the hard way this year: When you have a successful week of multiple events, it makes for a hellish following weekend. With so many leftover partial kegs, it’s been a ton of work since the last event trying to rotate the various beers back on. Some will go in a day, some take longer. But on a busy Friday or Saturday, when we steamroll through kegs, it’s very difficult to keep up with all the beers constantly kicking. To any guests inconvenienced by a list that had multiple beers kicked early that evening, I apologize. We will work to be better.
I capped the week off by attending SAVOR on Saturday. Thank you to Daniel and Keith for holding down the fort while I was away.
I won’t begin to list all of my favorites but I do want to mention one beer that impressed me immensely both in theory and in flavor. Atlas Brew Works teamed up with MOM’s Organic to make a beer using all the bruised stone fruit that wouldn’t be sold at the grocery store. And it came out great! Tart with a bit of body but still incredibly refreshing.
Okay, two more to mention… The Triple Crush from Reuben’s was out of this world. And then Sierra Nevada aged some of their Bigfoot in barrel with ginger, and it was reminiscent of drinking a nice amaro at the end of the night. Please, Sierra Nevada, tell me this will be made again.
I finished the night off at Free State, which is a fantastic bar if you ever find yourself in the Chinatown region.
It was a great week but I’m glad to return to a more normal life.
A last and most important thank you to my beautiful pregnant wife who helped me not only endure but enjoy a crazy week. I look forward to doing it again next year, but I’m admittedly glad SAVOR isn’t a weekly occurrence.
Edited by Philip Runco.