Typical DC Night
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