PART 3: Ward 5: DC’s Craft Brewing Capital: Low Brau

By Stephanie Liotta Atkinson
Three breweries, three different stages of the commercialization process, all in Ward 5.  This mini-series on brewing in Ward 5 now turns to a fledgling start-up: Low Brau.

Steve Sorrell is a Fort Totten resident and long-time home brewer.  For several years Steve has been brewing five gallon batches in his Fort Totten row house, perfecting his recipes and honing his craft.  At the dawn of 2012, Steve is ready to leave the nest for a commercial space where he can brew for wider consumption.  For the past several weeks he’s been on the hunt for a location amongst Ward 5’s CM-zoned (manufacturing) warehouses.  From these new digs, Steve will brew under the name Low Brau.

Low Brau’s motto is “embracing simplicity” – German simplicity.  Steve spent a chunk of his youth in Germany and maintained his connection to German culture when he moved to PG County for high school.  His identification with German culture engendered an appreciation for German brewing techniques.  As a result, Low Brau’s cornerstone offerings feature only the four main ingredients of beer: water, yeast, German noble hops, and malt, without any adjuncts to flavor the beer.  Steve does expect to brew seasonal beers that feature natural adjuncts, but those will be exceptions rather than the norm.

Low Brau’s flagship brew called the Heidi Weiss is a German style Weiss (wheat) beer (it’s named after Steve’s energetic Jack Russell, Heidi).  The Heidi is a session beer meant to be refreshing and in the lower alcohol range (falling somewhere in the 5% range, equivalent to an American Lager).  It has fruity and clove notes with a huge head that adds to the aromatics.  The Heidi is unfiltered, so it has a cloudy deep orange color with tiny effervescent bubbles resulting from champagne and weizen yeast.  It’s delicious, smooth, and hopefully coming to a tasting room near you soon.

Steve is aiming for a 2012 opening of a Ward 5 nanobrewery: a 2 barrel system that will yield 4 kegs per cycle, and a number of fermentation vessels for production.  He has been touring various locations in the Ward in search of a space that fits his size requirements and is in decent shape.  So far he hasn’t committed to a space, but I’ll update the blog when he does.

As the lone brewer, Steve is initially planning to stay small and specialized with his German brewing style.  (Limited partners would undoubtedly increase Low Brau’s distribution capacity.)  He will also feature a weizenbock, called the Totten Bock.  The Totten will be a wheat beer but closer to the 9-10% alcohol range (this is characteristic of weizenbocks).  With caramel malts it will be a bit darker than his Heidi, and will have a sweeter amber flavor and higher alcohol content.  Low Brau will also offer a seasonal apfelwein (hard apple cider) made from local apples that is dry, light and crisp.

Low Brau’s new website is up and running (although still has some holes): www.lowbraudc.com  Stay tuned for updates on where Low Brau finally opens shop.

Note: the two professional-looking photos courtesy of Nubbs Photography.

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6 thoughts on “PART 3: Ward 5: DC’s Craft Brewing Capital: Low Brau

  1. I’d be interested to see a brewpub on RIA that features beers from all 3 microbreweries. I see this as a real possibility for the NE DC breweries to have a neighborhood presence while not spreading out business to an unsustainable point. I think it’s unlikely that these breweries could sustain a brewpub on their own in their current form, as they are really just getting off the ground. And there probably no way that the neighborhood could (in its current state) support 2-3 brewpubs anyway. Think of it as a farmer’s market of beer… local brands have a venue to sell their beer as a partnership.

    Increased collaboration between the brands may be a good thing that highlights them all as NE DC breweries, and would provide a venue for all 3 to market their beers while reducing their own financial investment. Low Brau could have capacity to brew on site, and the other breweries could continue to brew at their existing facilites, or have increased capacity if needed.

    I’m just thinking outloud here, but I’d love to see that happen. Is that something the profiled breweries in this series would be interested in?

    1. We looked into doing a brewpub initially and here are a couple of reasons why we decided to stick with the brewery.

      Brewpubs historically tend to end up focusing more on the food side rather than the beer. In other words, 60-70% of why people go to the brewpub is for the food, and the beer becomes a secondary focus. What this also means, is that if the food portion ends up being subpar or worse, the beer has no possibility of saving the brewpub, and in the end, the brewpub sinks.

      Since we wanted to have the focus being on the beer, we didn’t want to have it compete with the food, rather let the beer do the talking.

      Not to mention, brewpubs are also a lot more expensive to get up and running. As now you have a restaurant component (design fees, permitting, space requirements, equipment, finishes, etc) in addition to the brewing equipment. Rent is also more expensive on spaces that are zoned for brewpubs.

      I think I understand your suggestion, is that there is a brewpub which is one of the breweries home, and then it would sell it’s own with the other two breweries? Based on ABRA, production falls into a few categories, brewpubs, breweries, taverns, restaurants, hotels, etc. I think a tavern would be best for what you are suggesting, and then it would only sell local beers from the immediate market. That way you don’t have to worry about the brewing portion.

    1. As of right now, we have interest from a couple of bars in DC. We haven’t talked to Menomale yet, but it’s a good possibility and would be nice to have some Low Brau so close to home.

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