Open since March, 1997 on what was previously the site of Dock Street Brewery, John Harvard's Brew House definitely shows off its distinctive interior design. Stained glass politicos first great customers entering at street level. Downstairs lies a medium sized stone bar featuring a full liquor selection and two sets of the three-tap brass dual-post towers. A single beer engine serves up the current cast-conditioned offering. The dining area consists of a few dozen black upholstered booths with stone looking table tops surrounded by other small tables. Beneath lies a tile floor of gray and blue stone while above glistens a "wavy" metallic ceiling. A merchandise booth offers T-shirts, caps and glasses as souvenirs. The kitchen is hidden out of sight but the copper J.V. North West brewhouse and nine barrel stainless steel fermenters are visible at the end of the room up on the second floor. Stainless steel lagering tanks occupy the space below, on the ground floor.
The cast-conditioned Porter has a creamy head, with a smooth mouthfeel, light to medium body, and a rich dark malt flavor hinting of chocolate and black malts. The Light is a clear golden color with a light body and crisp hoppy flavor with some accompany fruity esters. The Hefeweizen is a hazy gold color with a clovey aroma, smooth mouthfeel and tangy but sweet wheat flavor. The Cherry wheat is a clear amber color with reddish hues. The medium bodied brew yields a lasting "Belgian lace", and offers a cherry-over-malt flavor combo and a tart finish. The Pale Ale is a dark amber of medium body where hops dominate the flavor profile but a nice malt presence contributes to the overall experience. The Stout is naturally opaque, with a lasting head, roasted malty aroma and flavor, medium body and ends with a sharp dry finish. $4.95 delivers a sampler of the various offerings while individual one ounce tasters are also a available. Pints run $3.25 with ten ounce glasses are $2.50 and pitchers $9.95. Happy hour is 4 to 7 PM Monday through Friday and features $2 pints.
The menu begins with Starters from $2.50 to $9. Seasonal Salads are $4 to $10, Brewhouse Classics range from $9 to $18, and Gourmet Pizza is $9. Daily specials are $8 to $13, while seasonal favorites like Jambalya, Jamaican Chicken, Pasta and Salmon are $10 to $14. All food is subject to a 10 percent District of Columbia meal tax,. The price paid for the privilege of having Congress manage your affairs? Brewer Mark Kauffman and executive chef David Kim have combined their talents to offer brewers' dinners. For $39.95 patrons can experience multi-course meals tailored specifically for the accompanying beers.
John Harvard offers a relaxed environment in which to enjoy its food and beers. No cigar smoking is allowed, per Historical District rules and pipes are not welcome either. A jukebox cranks out mellow Rock & Roll sounds. Wheelchair customers have easy access via an elevator. John Harvard's takes the trouble to manage multiple yeast strains to produce their various beer styles and the bar staff has the patience to use a spoon to authentically separate the constituent beers while pouring a black and tan. A single TV over the bar silently displays news and sports without destroying the ambiance. While not offering the "cellar" setting of their original namesake in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this John Harvard does offer the combination of attentive staff, flavorful beers and tasty food, all in a relaxed setting. These characteristics combine to make this brewpub worth seeking out.
As nearby Montgomery County Maryland goes non-smoking and craftbeer drinkers can breath a sigh of relief, DC patrons are still choking down secondhand smoke from uncaring bar patrons. Poor ventilation offers customers little relief from the 10 to 20% of customers who can't forgo smoking while tasting quality craft beers. Summer seasonals include the Half Wit Belgian-style wheat beer. A hazy dull gold, with noticeable carbonation, its coriander makeup bursts forth in both aroma and flavor. With an effervescent mouthfeel, this even dry/sweet flavor balance allows the wheat flavor to come through fully with only a hint of fruity fermentation by-products. The Mexicali Lager is a clear yellowish gold, well-carbonated, topped by a white head atop a light body and offering up a very light malt flavor with a dry character, mellow chili heat into the finish. The Pale Ale is a bright amber with a lasting white lace, dry, malty flavor accompanying a well-accented hop bitterness and a slightly coarse bitter aftertaste. A hand-pump draws a rotating selection of naturally-carbonated, cellar-temperature brews such as the Nut Brown. Although the bar seating is usually very occupied and the adjacent five booths are perpetually labeled "Reserved", it is worth dropping by to see what's on tap for happy hour.
John Harvard's Brew House
1299 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - August 1997 & July 2004
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