DC Brau taps into craving for craft beer

DC Brau chose to go with cans over bottles in part because cans are easier to take to picnics, concerts and other recreational events. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)DC Brau chose to go with cans over bottles in part because cans are easier to take to picnics, concerts and other recreational events. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)
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In a nondescript warehouse along a hardscrabble stretch of Bladensburg Road in Northeast, two entrepreneurs have set up the District’s first local brewery and off-site distributor in 60 years.

Since their beer began flowing through local bar taps in the spring, DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall and brewing partner Jeff Hancock have crafted a handful of ales and one porter — called the Penn Quarter Porter.

They plan on releasing seasonal brews and naming them after other D.C. neighborhoods to serve what Mr. Skall described as a community with a “fantastic beer culture.”

“More people want to drink craft beer and drink it fresh,” he said. “D.C. was missing out, on not having one.”

Capitalizing on a trend in recent years that has seen markets emerge for locally grown produce and wine, craft beer tends to be brewed in small quantities, often based on traditional recipes or inspired by the cultural flavor of the local community.

The last time the District had a local brewery was around the turn of the 20th century, when Christian Heurich brewed beer where the Kennedy Center now stands.

The idea to bring a local brewery back to the District took hold about 2½ years ago, when longtime acquaintances Mr. Hancock and Mr. Skall ran into each other at a party.

Mr. Hancock had become a professional brewer, and Mr. Skall worked for a wine and spirits importer and knew the ins and outs of marketing and branding a product. They quickly realized they “had the same intentions and were looking for that person to fit the puzzle,” Mr. Skall said.

“From that point on, it felt like a calling,” he continued. “It seemed more than just a business. We got into the idea of, ‘Let’s do this for the city.’ “

The brewery’s inaugural pour took place mid-April at the popular Meridian Pint, a craft-beer bar and restaurant in Columbia Heights, where Mr. Hancock and Mr. Skall clocked the sale of their Public ale at six pints a minute.

Still, they are not pushing themselves to meet inflated production quotas, but are satisfied that so far all their batches have been well-received.

“We haven’t had to pour any beer down the drain,” Mr. Skall said. “The amount of beer is proportional to the quality. That’s what is really important — making good beer, not making a lot of beer.”

Mr. Hancock says their goal is to prove to beer drinkers that beer “doesn’t have to be light yellow and fizzy.”

Sam Fitz, Meridian Pint’s beer director, said having a local brewery is great because “normally, you get beer that’s one or two weeks old, but the fresher, the better. Sometimes, we’ll get their kegs from the day before.”

Last year, craft brewers sold 9.6 million gallons of beer, up from 8.9 million gallons in 2009, according to the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group.

The association said the number of small, independent U.S. craft breweries has grown, from fewer than 100 to more than 1,700 since 1980 — a number not seen since 1900.

Inside the DC Brau brewery, hulking steel fermentation machines stand guard, and the rich aroma of hops fills the air.

Mr. Hancock and Mr. Skall hit a minor bump when they wanted to set up a tasting room at their brewery. Though the brewery is relatively empty, save for the brewing equipment, “there was a lot of red tape” and a law had to be written to allow a small tasting room on-site, Mr. Skall said.

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, helped draft the emergency legislation to get the permit for a tasting room.

“This creates another subculture of industry,” said Mr. Thomas, whose district is home to the brewery. “Why shouldn’t we have that opportunity?”

Mr. Hancock and Mr. Skall say they plan to expand to Virginia at some point and “pull people into craft beer.”

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