Monday, January 8, 2018

☸️ DC Brau, Washington DC

Brewhouse at DC BrauNeal and I took an extended drive to visit a legendary DC craft brewer, DC Brau, this past weekend. While we were very pleased with the variety and distinctive flavor of most of their beer, the taproom was surprisingly spartan for a well-established and renowned brewer.

My Untappd ratings for this visit may be found here.

DC Brau is located around the beltway from us, and given the weekend traffic we opted to follow Waze through the city. I’m not certain that was the optimal route. If you’re coming from northern Virginia, opt for the outer loop to I-295, then north and find your way from there.

The entire facility is accessed from the back side of a row of small businesses along Bladensburg Rd NE, nearly hidden but for a sign over an alleyway. Parking is at the rear, among the grain silos. The entrance is alongside the oxygen tank.

Imagine a large industrial space almost completely filled with stainless steel tanks, with a small taproom across the front walled off from the production area and seating added. A short, crude bar and cashier station sits just in front of the wall. Bathroom is to the right. Through a door to the left is another seating area just in front of the grain mill, but the space is unheated. This is where we found seats after ordering two flights of eight.

The beer varys from a pristine, malty pilsner to a rich, nitro-tapped porter. The pilsner was worth four stars, and exemplified something sorely lacking in the craft beer scene: a straight-up rendering of a classic style. This one was very good.

I’m all for brewers putting their distinctive mark on beer, but my intuition is that first they’ve got to produce a style where there’s nowhere to hide brewing errors. Just a few degrees off in the fermentation stage, for instance, can render odd flavors in a beer. Over-hopping and cask aging can hide these. If a brewer can succeed with a pilsner, say, or a kolsch, then plunging into hops mania and bourbon barrel aging is more a craft than a mask.

Penn Quarter porter was served as a standard, CO2-tap pour and a nitro pour. Go for the nitro and its attendant creaminess. We also sampled The Citizen, a surprisingly good Belgian pale ale. Many brewers attempt brewing with Belgian ale yeast. Most of the results aren’t worth coming back for. DC Brau succeeds with this beer. Four stars.

Neal sampling beer at DC BrauIn the middle of our tasting we encountered two IPAs, one of which is DC Brau’s biggest seller, On The Wings of Armageddon, or OTWOA. The other was The Corruption. Of the two the best I can say is, two stars. The phrase “one-note wonder” was heard about one of them. Neither Neal, an IPA fan, nor I could get into either of these two. In fact there were only seven beers on tap that could be put into a flight, so we had to go double on one of them to round out our flights of eight. We both doubled OTWOA, and both left the second sampler on the table when we left.

This was a shame, as their IPAs were the reason we drove an hour-plus to the brewery in the first place. Neal had received a growler of DC Brau’s Alpha Domina Mellis as an anonymous Christmas gift a year or so back and shared it with three of his pals. We uniformly loved it. These two were not the IPA we were looking for.

Rounding out our sampling was an on-the-sly half-pour of DC Brau’s barleywine. Five freaking stars; this was hands-down the finest barleywine I’ve ever had. Many of this style are overly hopped or drenched in alcohol. They call it barleywine for good reason. At 10% ABV, Sleeping Standing Up is a milder barleywine, and that likely informs its tamed alcohol flavor. This is a beer well worth returning for, and the highlight of the expedition for me.

As you can see from the photo of DC Brau’s brewhouse, above, they pack in the tanks. That’s because they’re selling a lot of beer in our region, and as far as I know it all comes from this room. This is not an artisanal brewhouse-under-glass. This is a major production facility. Pay them a visit on a Saturday for a free tour, otherwise you’re but a fly on the front of their engine.

We’ll return to DC Brau for growlers of next winter’s Alpha Domina Mellis, as it’s only available in limited supply November through December. I get the feeling DC Brau’s local fans quickly wipe them out of this lovely IPA every year.

#DCBrau #craftBeer #expedition