Earlier this summer, Brandon Miller received an odd text message from his boss.
“Hey,” it read, “how’s my IPA for the party coming along?”
As head brewer at 3 Stars Brewing, Miller has a firm grip on his production schedule. Beers rarely get made when he’s not there, and they assuredly don’t without his knowledge. So, he was somewhat perplexed that 3 Stars co-founder Dave Coleman had asked him about an IPA that, to the best of his knowledge, did not exist.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” recalls the head brewer, whom everyone refers to by the nickname “Milhouse.”
The only thing Coleman sent in the response was the image of a beer label.
At the label’s bottom sat a collection of drab cubes inked various shades of grey. Farther up, though, these cubes started breaking off and floating away, turning red and yellow and purple and green and blue as they rose. Like confetti in suspension, they hovered around two brightly colored words printed in all caps: TECHNICOLOR LIFE.
Miller didn’t miss a beat.
“I told him, ‘I’ll start working on that right now,’” the brewer shares with a hearty laugh that erupts often in conversation with him.
From there, Miller set about the unusual task of developing a recipe based on a preexisting label. Looking at the image, he realized one thing quickly.
“With that name and the way the label looked, I decided that I wanted to do it all Mosaic hops,” Miller tells me over the phone. “There’s no way that I could make a beer called Technicolor Life and not have Mosaic in it.”
“I didn’t know we were doing an anniversary double IPA, but I’m kind of glad we did,” Miller says. “Technicolor Life is such a vibrant name, and I think it describes how a lot of us are feeling right now.”
For Coleman, the name runs much deeper than that. After all, he’s the one who set the concept in motion.
“Technicolor life is kinda my whole philosophy,” the co-founder shares. “It’s about trying to live in bright, vibrant colors, even though that comes with both highs and lows. Some people are fine sitting behind a desk, living in grey – their lives are very even. But that grey, same-routine-all-day-every-day, ho-hum, hate-my-job shit doesn’t work for me. That so doesn’t gel in my brain.”
Standing a few feet from his new 20-barrel brewhouse, Coleman turns and motions to the production floor around us.
“It’s all of this that makes life worth living,” he says. “For a lot of people, the highest thing they value life is safety and security. We wouldn’t have done this if security was our highest priority. This whole endeavor is a risk. Before we ever brewed a drop of beer here, our houses were collateralized.”
Interviewing Coleman is like listening to a Drake song: Sooner or later, he reminds you that he started from the bottom but now he’s here.
The former Big Hunt general manager and his longtime friend Mike McGarvey didn’t have a lick of commercial brewing experience when they leveraged everything to open 3 Stars in 2012, and Coleman remembers every skeptical landlord, miserly lender, and keg he personally lugged along the way. Five years later, those struggles help form the sizable chip still on his shoulder.
“People don’t look at me and say, ‘That guy’s a businessman,’” says Coleman, whose personal aesthetic usually pairs a shaved head and formidable Dutch beard with cargo shorts and oversized sunglasses. “They just don’t do that.”
If the past half-decade has proven anything, though, it is that Coleman is an incomparable businessman. Arguably no one in the DC-area beer scene is better at selling his or her brand.
Part of his pitch is the underdog narrative, which extends from those early days through every major decision 3 Stars has made since, from constructing its Funkerdome sour room to buying a new brewhouse and a 60-barrel fermenter to putting in a canning line. To hear Coleman explain it, no one has taken bigger or more costly risks. He fosters the impression that this brewery is putting everything on the line every day, working harder than anyone else but barely making ends meet, so that you can have a pint of Peppercorn Saison. So, drink up and enjoy.
At the same time, for whatever tribulations 3 Stars has endured, Coleman wants you to know that things have never been better than they are at this very moment, whenever that may be. That’s the other part of his pitch: unrelenting optimism. The brewery’s beers have never tasted better. Everything is flying off the shelf. No beer director or distributor can get enough. Creativity has run amok. Everything is awesome.
The agony and the ecstasy, the darkness and the light – all in all, it’s an exhilarating pitch. And it’s one of the reason the brewery has essentially doubled its output every year since opening: 3 Stars knows how to move beer. It knows how to make it, too.
On the eve of its fifth anniversary, Coleman and McGarvey find themselves coming off a year of significant change. At this point in 2016, the brewery had an entirely different brew team. It’s sour program had only just started to pay dividends. It was in the process of revamping its approach to (and focus on) double IPAs. And the property adjacent to the brewery was a South African tabernacle church – not the future site of 3 Stars’ continued expansion.
But change happens quickly when you live in Technicolor.
There’s nothing to see in the 7000-square-foot space next to 3 Stars Brewing, but it is a whole lot of nothing.
“It’s really big,” Dave Coleman purrs. “And it’s good.”
Today is the first day in August, and Coleman and McGarvey are walking me through their new warehouse. As with the brewery’s current home, the ceilings stretch impossibly high, which makes sense – it’s part of the same building. They’ve graffitied the walls and brought in a few picnic tables, but that is the extent of their restoration efforts to this point. Over by the windows looking out onto Chillum Place, a few plump flies sunbathe on Other Half keg shells left over from 3 Stars’ Craft Brewers Conference party The Gang’s All Here.
That April event was the only time that 3 Stars has invited the public into the adjacent space. In the four months since then, it has basically been collecting dust. Before 3 Stars leased this wing of the building, it had served as a church, and the humor of such institutions rubbing elbows does not escape Coleman – even if the bickering over parking spots was less funny.
“There was a weird dichotomy of who’s sharing the building,” Coleman says. “On the weekend, they’d be having services, and we’d have 300 people drinking beer.”
Long before it was a church, the space had been inhabited by the Bell Telephone Company. The only vestige of this previous life is a large room towards the back – a walk-in vault where “Ma Bell” once hoarded pay phone collections. 3 Stars is thinking of repurposing this miniature fortress as a special events space like bachelor and bachelorrete parties.
Coleman and McGarvey have a lot of plans for the space. In the front half, they’re developing a restaurant concept with an “unannounced chef partner” whom they’re not quite ready to disclose. (“I would tell you if I could, but it’s going to be pretty epic,” Coleman says.) Along the right side, they’ll put in a new bar with a counter and shingling overhead to match the Urban Farmhouse taproom next door.
“The nice thing is that it doesn’t need a whole lot of work,” observes Coleman. “It needs some flooring and some paint and a kitchen.”
Such relative low maintenance is a big reason why 3 Stars has been leasing an empty space for half a year. The brewery doesn’t need the property now, but it will at some point, and Coleman and McGarvey didn’t want to risk leaving it on the open market.
“If our landlord leases this space to someone else, it’s going to be gone, and we’ll never see it again,” explains Coleman. “When we needed it, we would be stuck. And the last thing we want is someone to open a similar concept next to us. It’s zoned right. You could do distilling here. You could do another brewery here.”
In a sense, 3 Stars will be opening another brewery of its own in the back of the space. That’s where it’ll be moving all of the barrels, fermentation tanks, and equipment currently housed in the Funkerdome. If McGarvey has his way, those barrels will be joined by a few new oak foedres, too. As for the existing Funkerdome structure, the sour room will be thoroughly cleansed and transitioned to cold storage. With 3 Stars’ expanded capacity and widening distribution, the brewery is simply running out of space to store kegs.
“It’s not terrible to have sour production in a completely different space, either,” adds McGarvey, alluding to the contamination risks posed by working with bacteria and wild yeast strains near “clean” beer production.
For 3 Stars, it’s been worth the risk and more. Over the past year, sour production is perhaps the area where the brewery has shined most brightly. The barrel-fermented sour ales from the Funkerdome haven’t seen release at a breakneck pace, but what has leaked out has been uniformly excellent, from Funkyard Dog to Two-Headed Unicorn to the taproom-exclusive Smashing Atoms.
Released a few weeks ago, the most recent offering from the program is Jilted Comrade, a sour Baltic porter named as a wink towards the currently frosty relationship between the presidents of the United States and Russia. (The original, somewhat less subtle name – as championed by director of sales Mike Dee – was Putin’s Tears.)
Jilted Comrade offers an interesting insight into 3 Stars’ development of sour ales. For starters, the base of the beer wasn’t brewed with the Funkerdome in mind. Instead, 3 Stars had brewed a Baltic porter with the intention of aging it in red wine barrels. But as a half-year passed in those barrels, Coleman and McGarvey were left underwhelmed with the results.
“We started tasting it, and we were like, ‘It’s got some great character, but we’ve had it in these barrels for six months – we’d really like it be wow.’” Coleman recalls. “Then, I was like, ‘What if we soured it? We’ve never done a dark sour.’”
To inoculate the beer, the brewery blended it with pulls of whiskey barrel-aged sour ales it had in the Funkerdome. Then, to cut the tartness of the liquid, it added some of the Irish amber ale that 3 Stars produces for The Dubliner. From this unlikely swirl, the final product strikes a balance between tart and funky characteristics, sweetness and a rich dark malt presence. Both co-founders liken Jilted Comrade’s taste to the iconic Flanders red Duchesse De Bourgogne.
“We didn’t set out to make a beer like this,” McGarvey explains. “It just became that way through blending.”
While brewing is a combination of science and art, what leaves the Funkerdome is ultimately the product of the latter.
“Our sour program is definitely based around blending as a technique,” McGarvey continues. “There are so many different types of barrels and so many different types of beers back there. A lot of them are really strong, but it takes time to sample and blend, and sample and blend. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the flavor profiles of what we’re doing.”
The story of Trouble in Paradise starts with another beer, which was itself inspired by another beer. The technical term for this is “third-generation inspiration” – at least, so says Brandon Miller. And as the brewer primarily responsible for Trouble in Paradise, he can call it whatever he wants.
When Miller joined 3 Stars as head brewer in September, he didn’t possess much of a background in sour ale production. The past year has thus been a series of learning experiences. The most pivotal of these arrived in early spring, when Miller was charged with developing a cherry sour ale called Go-Go Weisse.
In any scenario, Go-Go Weisse – a 6.5% fruited sour – would have been a challenge for Miller.
“You see so many fruited sours in the market these days that I think people make the leap that they’re easy to make, but a 3.5% Berliner versus a 6% sour ale is very different,” McGarvey explains. “From the time you make that beer, you’re creating this terrible environment for your yeast and your bacteria at every step in the process. You’re holding its hand the whole time.”
To further ratchet up the pressure, the beer was a collaboration with hotshit New York City brewery Other Half, and the follow-up to their 2016 collaboration blackberry sour Ricky Rosé, which remains perhaps the buzziest beer 3 Stars has ever released. In other words, there was very much an audience waiting for Go-Go Weisse.
To meet the challenge, Miller knew that he needed to brew a base sour ale that would hold up to the fruit. For inspiration, he turned to Allagash Brewing’s Monmouth Red, a Flanders red aged in brandy barrels.
“Not only do I make beer, but I’m a beer consumer,” Miller shares. “When I drink a beer that really speaks to me, I do research on how that brewery did it.”
Picking apart that recipe revealed a hearty dose of rich Munich malt, in addition to its base of 2-row malted barley and wheat. Even though Miller would opt for Vienna malt in lieu of Munich, the principles of the construction informed his thinking.
“Vienna malt brings more complexity to a sour than just wheat,” he explains. “It’s slightly bready – that crust-of-the-pie taste. You need that because when you put the lacto souring in there, a lot of those beers can take just one direction. Layering in the wheat and the Vienna and the 2-row and the pilsner malt, you’re getting a nice mix of malts along with the mix of flavors, so when the lacto hits it, it’s not just, ‘Hey, I’m really sour.’ It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m sour, but there’s still a beer underneath here.’”
Go-Go Weisse would be another hit for 3 Stars, and the DC brewery wanted to parlay that fruited sour formula into something else – a seasonal, potentially.
“It opened up all our eyes to what a fruited sour in a can could do,” Miller says. “At the same time, I was like, ‘The cherry was really good, but we want to go a different direction this summer.’”
After Miller modified the grist again – adding more Vienna malt – the brewery set about picking a novel combination of fruits. Eventually, it would settle on mango and guava. These tropical fruits would instigate Trouble in Paradise.
“There are so many fruits that have been done,” the head brewer says. “Everyone is doing blood orange. Mango has been done, too. You almost need that mix of flavors, and mango and guava were fruits that weren’t really represented in the market. Plus, they spoke to us for a beer called Trouble in Paradise.”
McGarvey says the brewery gleaned tips for producing the beer from another past collaborator and friend: Miami’s J. Wakefield.
“As we’ve been working on Trouble in Paradise, J. Wakefield has been someone who’s been great to talk to because this is his wheelhouse,” he shares. “This is what he does: fruited sour beers.”
Producing Trouble in Paradise is a labor-intensive process. First, 3 Stars brews the wort. Then, it’s “soured” over the course of a week with lactobacillus (or “lacto”) inside a Funkerdome tank. After its pH is brought down to sufficiently tart levels, the liquid is boiled to kill the bacteria in their beer. (Because the beer will be run through 3 Stars’ regular canning line, it has to be “clean.”) Then, the 40-barrel batch is fermented with thousands of pounds of guava and mango.
“It’s like making three beers at once,” Miller says. “Each step along the way has its own hurdles. I think it’s aptly named Trouble in Paradise.”
After an initial draft release earlier this summer, the beer was canned for the first time in August. That’s a little later than was planned – the product of an unexpectedly extended fermentation period – but there’s plenty of warm months ahead.
“Whatever, it’s still summer,” Coleman shrugs. “And the beer awesome. It’s super crushable.”
This was a sentiment shared by many in the DC area. Response to the beer has been overwhelming. If this beer scene has a song of the summer, then 2016 belonged to Atlas Brew Works’ Dance of Days, and 2017 belongs to 3 Stars’ Trouble in Paradise.
“We’ve gotten through the first round of production, and we’ve learned a lot,” McGarvey says. “Now, subsequent production rounds are going to be way, way better. It really helped to advance our capabilities across the brewery for these pseudo-clean sours. We do a lot with sour beers back [in the Funkerdome] because we want that complexity of flavor, with Trouble in Paradise we’re doing it with a blend of fruit and beer.”
For Miller, the beer is a gift and curse. On one hand, people love his beer. On the other, he’ll now be kept busy with the onerous task of producing it again and again.
“When everyone has one, and they say they enjoy it, it’s well worth the effort,” he says. “If there’s a demand for this beer, we’re going to keep making it, until it’s time for Starsky & Dutch. And then it’s got to get out, because we’ve got to get Starsky & Dutch in tank.”
When Brandon Miller first brewed Starsky & Dutch last fall, he ran into one problem: He knew how to make the seasonal, but he didn’t know what it tasted like.
The popular double chocolate milk stout had been the creation of former 3 Stars lead brewer Nathan Rice, but that brewer had moved to Texas a few months earlier. Complicating matters, the other three brewers around during the fall of 2015 had, for various reasons, also left 3 Stars in the ensuing year, too. This meant that the two members of Miller’s team – Greg Schmidt and Meth Gunasinghe – were equally clueless about Starsky & Dutch.
So, Miller followed the recipe on the brew sheet, and then sheepishly brought the final product to Mike McGarvey.
“One of the funniest things that I’ve ever had to do is go to Mike and be like, ‘I need you to taste this beer because none of us know what it tastes like,”” the amicable brewer says. “It was something so foreign to me, because where I had come from we built the recipes up from scratch.”
Miller came to 3 Stars from Baltimore’s DuClaw Brewing. Not only was he stepping into the void left by Rice and subsequent lead brewer Allison Lange (who had accepted the head brewer position at Old Ox), he would officially be the first 3 Stars head brewer not named Mike McGarvey. For years, the former consultant had pulled double duty as CEO and head brewer of 3 Stars, but those had become responsibilities too big for person.
“We were at a point where I needed to focus on what’s next for the brewery, and how are we funding and enabling it?” McGarvey explains. “I just couldn’t do that plus the day to day. Luckily, we found Milhouse, and what a great fit he was. Getting him allowed me to step away a lot faster. I still have a really strong hand in what we’re doing and certainly our materials, management, and purchasing, but as you grow, you have to give other people the opportunity to be creative.”
Bringing a new head brewer up to speed is one thing, though. Doing it while training a whole brew team simultaneously is another.
“It was crazy,” the CEO continues. “I mean, it sucked. It’s a lot of work – you have to essentially retrain everyone. We have SOPs in place, but on top of that, we were planning for a new brewhouse very quickly after that. It was like, ‘How do we get the team fortified?’”
According to Miller, that fortification was spurred by the uniqueness the situation.
“We fed off each other,” he recalls. “We were all in a brand new position. I wasn’t used to supervising, and these guys were just coming up through the ranks, so we kinda made it up as we went along. Dave and Mike had already built the infrastructure, the recipes were there from the brewers before us, and we could just focus on being a team.”
Coleman carries the team metaphor a step further.
“A head brewer needs to be not just the guy who can do the job – he’s the coach,” Coleman observes. “Milhouse has a good ability to lead a team. He knows how to give people responsibilities and value in their job, and at the same time, he knows how to get it done. He’s a highly experienced brewer. He’s also a father, so he has these experiences that go into leading a team. But even the young guys that we have around here are fucking killing it. They’re all hard working, there’s not griping. At five years, it’s like, ‘I love that.'”
Not everything his brewers do enthralls Coleman, though. Earlier this year, when the co-founder was out of town, Schmidt and Gunasinghe proposed brewing a 20-barrel batch of malt-rich wort. They split the liquid between two ten-barrel fermenters – one pitched with 3 Star’s house ale yeast, the other with a lager strain.
If you’re familiar with Coleman’s outspoken stance on kölsch and pilsner, you know the implications of this. They did, as well.
“I came back and I was like, ‘What’s in these two tanks?’” Coleman recalls. “And they were like, ‘Um, oh yeah…’”
“They came to me first, and they were like, ‘So, we did this, this, and this,’” McGarvey interjects. “I was like, ‘Did you talk to Dave before you did that? You know those are beers that he doesn’t typically endorse.’ They said, ‘Yeah, but…’”
Coleman recalls the incident jovially now.
“I was like, ‘It’s fine. Creativity is a driving force around here,’” the co-founder shares. “”They knew they were being sneaky, but the reality is that 3 Stars is not just me. As much as I might think that, it’s just not.”
What becomes of the lager – which Miller likens to a doppelbock and calls “the most non-3 Stars beer that we could ever make” – remains to be seen. It may go into barrels or see release through the brewery’s Illuminati reserve society. Some of the ale, however, will see release this weekend at the brewery’s fifth anniversary party.
A 10.5% English-style barleywine, the anniversary ale was refermented with an unusual ingredient: maple syrup. Like Coleman, this particular maple syrup is the product of Ohio. The co-founder had brought back a gallon from a recent trip to northeast Ohio, where his parents moved after he graduated high school.
“It’s, like, the northeast Ohio maple company,” Coleman says of the purveyor. “When everyone in that area talks about syrup season, that’s what they’re talking about these guys.” (When I ask if he grew up on this syrup, Coleman responds: “I grew up in Cleveland Heights. In Cleveland Heights, we had Aunt Jemima.”)
Coleman had initially suggested adding it to barleywine, and when the cursory tasting intrigued his brew team, he secured a few more gallons to go into a portion of the barleywine. (The rest will be barrel-aged, possibly for the sixth-anniversary release.)
“It does not taste like we thought it would,” Miller says of the final result. “The maple added some crazy nuances, and the beer has this fantastic caramel aroma – almost like dulche de la leche. As you drink it, you get a little bit of that dark fruit, and then it goes to this smooth toffee. You definitely know that it’s 10.5%, too. It’s a real mouthful.”
Overall, Miller is satisfied a beer that marks not only 3 Stars birthday, but also his first full year at the brewery.
“I really wanted to make a barleywine for our fifth anniversary.” he shares. “And Dave bringing the maple syrup from his hometown brought it all together.”
“You’ll notice that we’ve taken a big swing since the end of last year in the IPA category,” Dave Coleman told me last summer. “Now, we’re coming at it hard.”
At the time, the brewery had recently unveiled the rotating-hop double IPA #ultrafresh, which followed on the heels of itsrevamped Two to the Dome. Regardless of how big of a swing this constituted, there is no questioning that 3 Stars has redoubled its efforts to leave a mark on the IPA market this year. Aside from Bluejacket, it’s the only DC brewery at least partially committed to playing the game set by hop-forward breweries around the country: sourcing the priciest hops, double dry-hopping IPAs, incorporating lupulin powder, rolling out special drops, and the like. If you’re going to be a double IPA brewery, this what you have to do.
“Two years ago, if it just said ‘double IPA,’ that was fine,” Coleman observes. “Since then, that style has become this very competitive, widespread market that a lot of breweries are trying to capture, so the customer who’s buying double IPAs has gotten more educated and more primed towards something new.”
In January, 3 Stars released the first batch of Star Dust, a double IPA brewed with Mosaic lupulin powder, thus joining Maryland’s RAR Brewing as one of earliest adopters of the alternative to hop pellets.
“The only reason I know we were one of the first people to use lupulin powder is because after we said we were using it, everyone that I knew in the brewing business was asking me how I liked it and how to use it,” Miller recalls. “So, we got to step in the mud first, and we realized that it’s not that easy to use.”
Developed by YCH Hops, lupulin powder is a purified concentration of resin compounds and aromatic oils found in whole hop flowers. In other words, someone figured out how to isolate a hop cone’s lupulin glands (where all flavor and aroma you’d want for soft and juicy IPA reside) from its leafy parts (which give of green, grassy, bitter flavors). Lupulin powder is twice as expensive in weight as pellets, but given its surface area, a brewer only needs to use half the amount of it. Plus, because it takes up less space in the tank and absorbs less of the beer during the dry-hop, it results in a higher yield.
What breweries like 3 Stars also found in experimenting with lupulin powder is that it produces different flavors than hop pellets. Miller likens the substance to “hop essence.”
“When you’re using Citra pellets, you’re getting lemon and some citrus and a little bit of the herbaceous parts,” the brewer explains. “When you use Citra powder, it’s so much fruit that it almost comes off as a melon flavor and aroma. You’re not getting the full part of the plant matter that’s in the pellet. It’s just the essence. You’re getting these super intense flavors.”
As with all breweries, learning to work with lupulin powder has been about trial and error for 3 Stars. Despite the “sprinkle chef” meme sometimes associated with the substance, getting it into solution is tricky.
“It’s a very labor-intensive process,” Coleman says. “When we first started using it, we were hyper critical. We didn’t just go, ‘This is a new product, and it’s going to be awesome.’ We were like, ‘This shit is kind of a pain to work with. It’s taking forever. Our guys could be doing something different with their time.’ Then we tapped the beer, and it was like, ‘Totally worth. Sorry, guys, it’s just going to be like that now.’”
Similarly, 3 Stars has taken to double dry-hopping its double IPAs, something it says creates a greater depth of flavor.
“One of the things about double dry-hopping isn’t that you’re necessarily dumping more and more and more hops,” McGarvey says. “You are layering them at different stages in the beer. In my view, it makes a difference. Then, the lupulin powder on top of that sets it off.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the DC brewery would dip into the “hop essence” for a trio of hop-forward beers timed for release around its fifth birthday: Jabberwocky Superfly, D is for Diamonds, and the aforementioned Mosaic-showcase Technicolor Life.
Like Technicolor Life, Jabberwocky Superfly combines the pellets and lupulin powder of one varietal (in this case Citra) to balance the familiar flavors of the latter with the intensity of the former. Brewed with mostly pilsner malt – plus a bit of Munch, rolled oats, and white wheat – the 8.3% double IPA is a platform for its copious whirlpool additions (Galaxy, Cashmere, and Citra) and a double dry-hopping of Galaxy, Topaz, and Citra two ways.
“We were tasting it off the tanks today, and it is a total juice bomb,” Miller relays. “There’s next to no bitterness, and a surprisingly high ABV for all the tropical flavors in it”
The juice bomb was the fruit of a collaboration with LIC Beer Project, a New York City brewery best known for its hazy NE-style IPAs, in addition to spontaneously fermented wild ales. The two breweries became fast friends at Modern Times’s Festival of Funk in May, and quickly set up a collaboration upon returning to the East Coast. (3 Stars will visit Long Island City to give their coolship a whirl later down the line.)
D is for Diamonds, meanwhile, falls on the other end of the spectrum, at least in terms of its booziness. The session IPA is a collaboration with Brooklyn’s Interboro, a dual brewing and distilling operation owned by former Def Jux Records founder Jesse Ferguson. Coleman dropped by Interboro one evening while making the rounds in New York earlier this year, and what was supposed to be a 15-minute hang turned into two-and-a-half hours of connecting over beer and hip-hop.
“I was totally going, ‘Oh my god, you know all these cool people!’” recalls Coleman, a devout New York rap fan who has named at least one beer after a former Def Jux artist’s lyrics. “By the end of the night, he was like, ‘Dude. We gotta work together.’”
The two plan to brew a imperial chocolate rye stout at Interboro – bottling half, distill the rest – so Miller decided to create “the counterpart” of that at 3 Stars.
“Since we’re going to do something ridiculously big in New York, I was like, ‘Let’s take a 4% session IPA, build up the body with golden naked oats, and then put enough hops in it that it tastes and smells like a double IPA,’” the head brewer says. “Dave and Jessie were both like, ‘I love it. Let’s make it happen.’”
The resulting “pocket rocket” – as Coleman refers to session IPAs – was brewed and double dry-hopped with Denali and the combination of Simcoe pellets and lupulin powder.
“Lupulin powder and double dry-hopping are kind of where people are with double IPAs,” McGarvey says. “We want to make stuff that impresses, so we’ve got to be at least there.”
Dave Coleman will tell you that turning five is no big deal.
“It’s just a milestone,” he’ll say, standing behind the bar in his brewery’s taproom, the light bulbs of the 3 Stars sign burning bright behind him. “As people in western society, we like to think decimally. It’s the only reason why 40 is such a big deal and 39’s not.”
Then he’ll tell you that maybe, on second thought, it is a big deal, but for a broader reason than you might imagine.
“Some people say, ‘If you make it three years in this business, you’re good,’” he continues. “I think that every year that you’re still doing your thing, it’s something to celebrate.”
There is much to celebrate in the 3 Stars universe. In addition to deepening its footprint in the DMV – and lowering its prices while doing so – the brewery has established itself in three satellite markets: New York City, Boston, and Miami. This sort of “spider web expansion” is exactly what Coleman envisioned 17 months ago, and now he’s pulled it off.
It’s likely, however, that it didn’t happen exactly as planned. In each instance, Coleman credits friends he’s made in a respective market with helping to ease 3 Stars’ entry.
“The decision to move into New York was basically prompted by Matt [Monahan] at Other Half,” he says. “He was like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about coming to New York?’ I was like, ‘Kind of, but I’m not trying to step on your toes.’ He’s like, ‘I got the guy you need to talk to.'”
Monahan connected him with a distributor, and now when Coleman visits New York, the two will often connect.
“The guys at Other Half or Interboro or LIC will be like, ‘Hey man, let’s meet up at this account, have a couple beers, and then hit up some other spots, so that they know we’re all in this together and people can try your beers,’” the co-founder continues. “It’s supportive like that. It’s the same thing in Miami and Boston. If you go in blind and you don’t have any friends, it’s real hard.”
“Drink local” may be an approach that more craft consumers apply to their purchases in aggregate, but preferences vary from market to market. Or at least that’s the hope.
“We’re in major metropolitan cities where people understand DC and what DC is to the East Coast,” McGarvey explains. “We’re in markets that are somewhat friendlier to other metro areas. It makes a difference. Being the odd guy out in a city that’s totally adopting local is hard.”
With new markets and new friends come new experiences, too.
“Sometimes, when you’re only in your little area of the world, you miss a lot of things out there,” shares Coleman. “For lack of a better term, there’s a lot of different ways to skin a cat.”
“We’ve definitely picked up a lot from just the casual conversation you have around beers,” adds McGarvey. “As the lupulin powder was coming out, we were definitely getting a sense of what everyone else was doing with it. It helps the edification of your own ideas to be like, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not so crazy to say we’d change our contracts to do this.’ With certain beers, it’s about technique stuff, too.”
For Coleman, it’s perhaps most importantly about camaraderie.
“A lot of people talk that shit about ‘oh there’s this community,’ but it’s for real,” he says. “The only people who can understand all the shit you’re bitching about or singing the praise of are people who’ve done what we done: started up a company. And starting up a brewery is very different than starting up a bookstore.”
Of course, even in an industry of characters with shared experiences, Coleman is a singular presence. His brewery may be five years old, an age at which when many founders – even his own partner – start to delegate and pull away from the day-to-day grind of lesser tasks, but he is fully and unapologetically still immersed in it. The social media posts, the beer names, the label concepts, the events, the partnerships – it all siphons through him. And he has no intention of slowing down.
“This my job,” Coleman says. “3 Stars is my baby. I’m trying to make sure that it goes as far as possible. I’m a little bit of a control freak about it, but not in a weird way. I’ve been a project manager or a beverage director or a GM for my whole life, so part of my thing is that I need shit done, and I want it to be done right, and sometimes ‘right’ in my head is ‘my way.’”
As 3 Stars has expanded to its satellite markets, it’s been Coleman who has logged the miles and shown up at the doors of random bars.
“I think that our company is more successful when I’m out in the market,” he tells me. “When I’m in New York, people are like, ‘You’re selling still? Don’t you have a sales guy for that?’ I’m like, ‘I have three sales guys for that, but this market is important to me, so I’m going to be the guy who comes and does that.’”
At 40 years old, Coleman is as relentless as he’s always been.
“I’m still going in,” the co-founder says. “That’s that Technicolor life again.”