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Idea brews, comes to a head to let beermakers offer tastings

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Anyone who watches a beer go from mash to bottle at their local brewery is going to want a swig at the end.

That simple fact, and a business prospect the District has not seen in almost 60 years, prompted three burgeoning beer-makers to visit city hall on Thursday.

The brewers, led by DC Brau Brewing Co. of Northeast, say the District should pass a bill to permit on-site beer tasting at breweries that hold a manufacturer's license. Right now, only grocery stores and other retailers can offer samples to their customers.

"We're the first one to come along and ask for this," said Brandon Skall, 31, who opened DC Brau with 34-year-old Jeff Hancock.

Their testimony before the council's Committee on Human Services marks a turning point for beer in the District, better known for its bar and brewpub scene than industrial malt-making.

"This is a new experience, as you point out," said Jim Graham, Ward 1 council Democrat and chairman of the committee. "We haven't had a brewery since 1956."

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts now stands on the site where Heurich Brewery closed shop 55 years ago.

But last week, DC Brau received a certificate of occupancy for its 6,700-square-foot plant on Bladensburg Road. It plans to offer its first brew, Public Ale, on tap at up to 115 locations after an April 15 launch party at the Meridian Pint on 11th and Park Road, NW.

Two other brewers, 3 Stars Brewing Co. and Chocolate City Beer, are wending their way through the regulatory process and appeared in support of the tasting bill.

Council Member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat whose territory includes the DC Brau site, introduced the legislation in February. He touted the proposal Thursday as a catalyst for economic growth and promotion of D.C.-made products.

Tourism could benefit as well, he said, noting the DC Brau site is near a War of 1812 battleground, and their beer could create an identifiable brand at Nationals Park and other landmarks.

Two self-described beer experts also testified, noting breweries across the country offer samplings at the end of their tours.

The only opposition came from Janae Grant, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, who felt "slapped in the face" over the procedural track of the bill. DC Brau, she said, chose to lobby everyone except the community "in which this brewery will reside."

Mr. Graham said his office notified Ms. Grant's people before Thursday's hearing, although the advisory neighborhood commissioner was displeased that the proposal did not first come before her constituents.

She encouraged business growth in the neighborhood but had concerns about how and when the alcoholic beverages would be served.

Mr. Skall said DC Brau would run stringent ID checks and keep a list of guests to avoid repeat visitors on the same day, especially since their brewery tours would be free of charge.

Under the proposed law, breweries must cap their sample size at 12 fluid ounces, or the size of one beer can. DC Brau likely would provide 3-ounce portions of four different beers, Mr. Skall said.

The brewery is adjacent to another warehouse and a railroad bed, making it unlikely that anyone would even see the brewery, not to mention stumble onto private property "on 12 ounces of beer," Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Skall offered to meet with Ms. Grant's constituency, and the pair exchanged contact information during additional testimony.

Mr. Graham's committee must approve the bill before it is considered by the full D.C. Council.

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