PART 2: Ward 5: DC’s Craft Brewing Capital: DC Brau
By Stephanie Liotta Atkinson
In part 2 of my Ward 5 brewery series we head to DC Brau, located at 3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE (drive between the two white buildings and turn to the right parking lot to find their space).
[click gallery pics to see slideshow]
Upon arrival in the back parking lot of DC Brau, the Insider’s Greg and I spot two bearded guys manning a grill next to a rolled-up garage door. Four feet above these intrepid bar-b-quers, standing inside DC Brau’s loading dock, is a crowd of visitors sipping beers and snacking on half-smokes. Good sign.
We make our way under DC Brau’s homemade flag (a black and red DC flag, stars swapped out with skulls), up the stairs, and into the back door where we are greeted (and carded) by a volunteer sporting a DC Brau baseball cap (they are selling them). The tasting room is an open industrial space with scattered seating, a counter, and plenty of craft-beer-themed decor.
The crowd in the tasting room, and I do mean a crowd, is an assortment of bearded hipsters, young urban professional types, and some adventurous suburbanites from Maryland (finally we’re sucking money into the city, rather than flooding the burbs with our discretionary dollars). Brandon Skall, co-founder and part owner, tells me that since DC Brau opened in April 2011, they’ve seen 200-400 visitors each weekend. One of the weekend regulars is Brandon’s dad, a proud investor and weekend volunteer at the facility.
It makes sense that DC Brau, a production brewery that exists to manufacture a product, is becoming a Ward 5 destination unto itself. While there you can tour the brewery, taste the beer, buy a growler, and eat a fantastic halfsmoke from the guys at 13th Street Meats. My tour of DC Brau was narrated by brewer Chris who guided our cohort of 25 through a 30 minute seminar on the art and science of brewing. From milling their own grain, to Catoctin Creek barrel-aging their NATAS porter, to canning their brau, Jeff Hancock (the other co-founder), Brandon, and Chris do it all in house and split each 14 hour day into shifts to get it done. It’s a labor intensive and time consuming process to run a brewery, but the gentlemen at DC Brau don’t seem taxed or tired.
The tasting license seems to be a real boon for this brewery. Curious visitors swarmed the counter to sample DC Brau before heading around the corner to take the tour. I sipped on the Corruption IPA (which I’ve previously enjoyed at Rhode Island Ave’s own Boundary Stone) and the Public Pale Ale. You’ll note that the beers are named after civic themes and the brewery visibly supports DC statehood. One exception to this theme is the NATAS porter, which is described by DC Brau as “pitch black in the glass with wafting aroma’s of burnt sugar and caramelized fruit.” The brau’s color and the guys’ dark sense of humor explains the name NATAS, which, backwards, spells SATAN and is billed as a beer fitting of the dark lord. Evidently DC Brau is trying to corner the underworld as well as DC.
Between pulls on the sampling tap Brandon explained that DC Brau is expanding its distribution capability by 66% this month. Additional tanks just arrived and are being brought online. The expansion is a testament to the demand for their product, which can be found at restaurants and bars about town, and will soon allow DC Brau to move into the retail market with cans.
DC Brau’s instant success speaks to DC residents’ interest in well-made, local, artisanal products, and community-centered experiences. That 200-400 people, in a four hour window, will flock to a Bladensburg Rd NE industrial site to be a part of the action is a bellwether. To distil this point for you entrepreneurs: if you build high-quality establishments in Ward 5, including Rhode Island Avenue NE, and are responsive to community desires, your business will thrive. We will reward you if you invest in us, just as we reward DC Brau and Chocolate City Beer. End of sidebar.
Until cans of DC Brau make it to a store near you, visit the brewery and take home a six-pack or a 64 ounce growler, as I did ($6 for the logo’d jug, $10 for the fill). I opted for a growler of Citizen Belgian Ale, which I knew would please my dinner guests (who like anything you can potentially float an orange in). Note: we didn’t actually adulterate our DC Brau with fruit. The Citizen pours an orangy-gold and had a yeasty, mildly fruity taste, although it’s not too sweet. It’s certainly not a hoppy beer, and with it’s medium-body, the Citizen is easy to wash down. My guests loved it. The following weekend I brought three growlers (2 Corruption, 1 Public) to a friends’ Christmas party – all were kicked by a group of new DC Brau converts.
DC Brau’s visiting hours are Saturday 1-4pm, with tours at 1:30, 2:30, & 3:30. You can also volunteer to help the guys can the beer if you feel so inclined (but, no, you can’t take your home brewer chemistry skills to the shop floor with them – they have that covered).
Next stop: a chat with Steve Sorrell, the founder of Low Brau.