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Typical DC Night

January, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Stuck in Washington alone, the night before an early morning business meeting, I set out prepared for a typical DC night. There’s always good beer and good food at the District ChopHouse. Starting with a deliciously smooth cask-conditioned Amber, hoppy with a peach-like body, I ordered a plate of Maryland crabcakes to go along with a tart Old Mule Brown Ale, which left a sweet aftertaste. I was well into my dessert, a cask Bourbon County Stout conditioned in Old Grandad wooden barrels, when the brewer, an affable young man, struck up a conversation. I failed to retain his name but did learn that the ChopHouse chain, owned by the Boulder-based Rock Bottom clan, had just opened a new facility in Cleveland, Ohio. Not really in a hurry, I paid my tab and headed to the Brickskeller, home for beer geeks and the site of my $60 beer dinner a few years back.

A quick $5 taxi ride to the northern side of Georgetown, just north of Dupont Circle, deposited me at the foot of a short flight of stairs leading into the venerable beer-lovers institution. Having been to the Brickskeller, 40 year old house of over 800 bottled beers, several times before, I immediately noticed something askew as I started toward the downstairs bar. The upper level, usually closed, was nosily active. Brickskeller management, it seems, goes out of their way to educate the uninitiated in the ways of beer and, for beer fiends like me, they strive to soothe the savage curiosity with special events centered, of course, around beer.

Well, as luck would have it, it was Sierra Nevada Brewing Company night at the Brickskeller. This would not be the two or three beer night that I had planned on. Shoot, even though I arrived after the appointed starting time and had to finagle my way into the crowded room, I was still able to sample nine of the ten Chico, CA-brewed beers available for tasting. While each beer was passed around on trays, plant manager Steve Harrison presented a slide show on this wonderful regional-gone-national brewery and answered questions from what seemed to be a knowledgeable crowd.

The folks at Sierra Nevada have come a long way in the 18 years they’ve been brewing. From a tiny seat-of-the-pants micro to a well-known, internationally recognized brand (and incidentally, one of my favorites), this grown-up northern California brewery now has over 160 employees, including eight brewers and eight lab technicians, all with degrees in microbiology. Sierra learned how to make great beer back in the early days of micros and has been perfecting that process ever since.

Along the way they’ve put together a pretty serious brewing philosophy, some of which Harrison shared with us. Sierra Nevada does not pasteurize their beer. “Pasteurization is a crutch,” he announced, used to kill bacteria which shouldn’t be in the beer in the first place if sanitation practices are thorough. Primarily to assure product consistency and quality, Sierra will always operate out of a single plant. There are no plans for an East Coast brewery. The brewery has spent a small fortune on refrigerated trucks to haul beer eastward instead.

Now, about those beers. All were served from kegs brought in just for this event. Two recipes, Brown Ale and IPA, are normally served only at their brewpub in Chico. The draft Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the anchor (no pun intended) of the company’s line, is slightly different than the bottled version. It is not naturally carbonated and was a bit milder than the 12 oz version. The bronze Pale Bock featured a sour malt taste. The Porter, deep red-black, sports a white head and well-rounded milk chocolate overtones. As black as night, the Stout, with its heavy body, balanced its rough black patent malt texture against a harsh bitter taste. Perfect. I missed the Summerfest seasonal but found the Wheat pleasant, somewhere between American and Bavarian in style. Brewed in the fall, Celebration is a twisted British IPA which is hopped and hopped. This hefty brew needs aging to mellow its sharp characteristics. Bigfoot, a 10% alcohol barleywine, is brewed in January. Its syrupy body and surly hoppiness work better at least a year later.

This tasting was hosted by Bob Tupper, a loyal Brickskeller beer lover who designed, and now has contract brewed at Old Dominion Brewing in Ashburn, Virginia, an extremely colorful and satisfying beer named Tupper’s Hop Pocket Ale. But that, my beer guzzling friends, is another story.

Just another night in DC. Not! When in the area, stop into the Brickskeller, where the entertainment is always beer. There’s an Oktoberfest tasting coming up in September. Always check with the Brick when visiting DC.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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