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GB in DC

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

By mid-May the cherry blossoms have disappeared, but beer springs eternal in the District of Columbia. Just this past January, our nation’s capital welcomed its fifth brewpub. Joining John Harvard’s, District Chophouse and two Capital City brewpubs is the newest in the Gordon Biersch chain.

Started in Palo Alto, California back in 1988, Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch sold their brewpub group to Chattanooga-based Big River just over two years ago. This expanded company continues to grow, as the fledgling establishment at the corner of 9th and F streets attests.

Gordon Biersch is known for its clean, traditional German style beers. In fact they brew only German lagers and the requisite German wheat beers, which use a special ale yeast. Though he has little room for deviation, DC head brewer Mark Loveland follows corporate recipe to perfection. Seated at the far corner of the wide-horseshoe shaped bar, just in front of a bank of sweating stainless steel taps, I sampled all four Gordon Biersch beers while enjoying an excellent bowl of Seafood Gumbo, pricey but delicious.

Floating a big head of foam above the fill-line on the half liter glass set before me, I studied the Golden Export carefully. Thin mouthfeel but nice drinking, this summer brew was a Helles Export, stylistically speaking, first brewed in Dortmund, Germany back in 1870. Back then it was a popular export to neighboring cities, hence the name. Hops played a role in the taste, but was not as dominating as a pilsner, rounding edges as flavor faded in the finish. Brilliant amber in hue, Marzen was all malt on first introduction. But initial taste can be deceiving for hops flavor, minimal in bittering effect, next appeared. Smooth with medium body, Marzen departed with complexity. Though malt taste coated the roof of my mouth, bitterness was present in a small way.

Dunkles wafted a spicy aroma. Its color, deep ruby, hid a dark burnt caramel, lip-smacking taste. Sweet though not cloyingly so, Dunkles is my GB fav. Its big mouthfeel results in a filling, satisfying drink. Served in its own glass, seasonal Maibock, an “Einbecker style lager,” was not quite as heavy in body as the Dunkles, yet its copper color was deceiving. Slippery, malty mouthfeel quickly unveiled bittersweet flavor and dry finish. At 7% abv, Maibock was surprisingly drinkable, perhaps due to the lingering effect of the previously consumed beers, inspiring an internal warming sense of well being. In other words, be careful.

Combined with a menu that includes GB’s trademarked (no kidding) Garlic Fries, Herb Roasted Chicken and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Moroccan Flavored Lamb Chops, Old Fashioned Meatloaf and Goat Cheese Ravioli, Gordon Biersch has another winner in Washington, DC.

The following night we found ourselves waterside in Alexandria, Virginia, Following a great meal at the Charthouse, we walked five or so blocks inland and found Virginia Beverage Company right where I left it last time I was in the neighborhood. The six stool bar had no vacancies, so we slid into a booth. Nine beers on tap and it was getting late, I started on a sampler tray while my drinking companions mostly watched. Darn- we missed Firkin Friday, a day too early.

Jones Point Kolsch was golden, smooth and clean, as was the ruby Das Brown, a misnamed caramel-esque German alt. Bavarian style and properly cloudy, Witty Blond Wheat was yeasty, citrusy even without a lemon. Governor’s IPA was done English style, though hopped with American-grown Cascades and a bit light bodied for style. Faintly sweet Wee Dram was a nice dry finishing Scottish Ale, while Native Dark was dry throughout the tasting experience, with little noticeable hops and, at 6.75% abv, obvious alcohol notes. Extra Special Amber was a fruity English ESB. More rounded than the IPA, Golden Goose claimed American heritage. And Dark Rider Oatmeal Stout, our nightcap, was opaque, offering roasted and bittersweet sensations.

This was quick trip, yet the beers were good. VBC opened for business in February 1996. Jason Oliver is the brewer. Virginia Beverage Company deserves more than a quickie.

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

© Bobby Bush

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