Tag Archives: beer

“Fermentation Without Representation”: Touring DC’s First Brewery In 50 Years

Much to many a beer snob’s dismay, Washington, D.C. has never really been a beer town—according to the Kojo Nnamdi show, “It’s been more than 50 years since a production brewery operated inside D.C.”   Sure, there are plenty of beer bars and a smashing Beer Week, but we haven’t had beer to call our own in most DC residents’ lifetimes.  Until now.  In the past several months, both Chocolate City Beer (opened in August) and DC Brau Brewing Company (opened in April) have started up within the District, and DC Brau has opened its doors to tours, a tasting room, and the chance to meet the brewmasters.


I should note here that there are some great breweries very close to DC, such as Port City Brewing in Alexandria and Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick.  Also, there are some excellent brewpubs in the area, like Franklin’s brewery and restaurant in Hyattsville (which we covered previously) and Capitol City and Gordon Biersch with various locations.  These are restaurants and brewpubs rather than production facilities.

DC Brau is located off of Bladensburg Road in northeast DC.  It is in tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, and the unlabeled entrance is approached from the back.  The doors enter into a small tasting room, with tables, couches, and plenty of beer-related schwag.  When I toured, three beers were on tap to sample and fill grolwers—a pale ale, a stout, and a Belgian white.  Currently only 6-packs of the pale ale are being sold, but the staff told me they hope to expand that selection by the end of the year.

Tours, which are held only on select Saturdays, last approximately 20 minutes and are led by one of the handful of DC Brau employees.  This means that you’ll get a true first-hand take at what running a brewery looks like on a day-to-day basis.  Our tour guide literally went through his day, starting at 9am, showing us exactly what he does every hour.

On the tour you will see machines for heating up water and beer, adding hops and other ingredients, and cooling down the beer once it has boiled.  Also interesting is the canning machine—DC Brau is using cans for its 6-packs rather than glass bottles for environmental, fiscal, and quality of taste reasons.  If you’re lucky, the staffer giving your tour will show new experiments that the brewmasters are undertaking, such as a bourbon stout fermenting in wine barrels.

Touring DC Brau was great fun, and felt very personal.  It’s places like this that make DC feel small, and that you are very much a part of something new and exciting.

To visit:  3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE, 202-621-8890.  Open most Saturdays 1-4pm, tours at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30.  Best with a car or maneuver the B2, B8, B9, or H6 buses.

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Bayou Bakery and the Delights of Casual Cajun

There are a handful of joints in our city that pay homage to the Big Easy, from the stalwart Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe to the thrifty Louisiana Kitchen to the upscale Acadiana downtown.  But a newcomer to the hallowed Cajun scene, Bayou Bakery, offers a slightly different spin:  your low-key, friendly neighborhood coffee and pastry shop.

Bayou Bakery is steps away from the Courthouse metro, and serves up quite the brawny chicory coffee and downright heavenly beignets.  But don’t for a moment think it’s fit just for lazy Sunday morning.  The menu presents a diversity of soups, sandwiches, and larger plates featuring perennial Cajun favorites like gumbo, pimiento cheese, and andouille sausages.  There are also a few delightful imaginings, such as porKorn (caramel popcorn with bacon) and jars of spiced pecans.  Make sure to add the “deviled eggs with a kick” to your order—you won’t regret it!  Along with a few wines, the only beer available, of course, is Abita (not a bad thing).

Perhaps demonstrating the owner’s rather giddy love for New Orleans, along with every order you receive a laminated card featuring a parish.  So when your sandwich is ready, over the microphone you’ll hear “St. Helena, your food is ready,” or “Acadia, please come to the front.”  Also of note for die-hards are the whole King Cakes available for $35 in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.

The décor is spiffy and meant to showcase the quirks of New Orleans.  The nook in the back, separate from the dining area, is filled with couches and used books.  And an alligator head draped with beads, old-timey cookware, and antique-looking wooden shutters on the windows of the brand new building illustrate that although this place may be located in the heart of Courthouse, it’s not going to let any charm go unnoticed.

Bayou Bakery has only been open since November, but is beginning to be discovered.  So, take the opportunity sooner rather than later to discover the delights of this little Cajun coffee hot spot.

To visit:  1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington VA.  703-243-2410.  Monday-Friday 7am- 9pm, Saturday 8am- 9pm, Sunday 8am- 4pm.  Very close to the Courthouse Metro, or lots of local Arlington buses.


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Nick’s Nightclub Provides the Rare Opportunity to Boot-Scoot Boogie in DC

You might say country music is omnipresent these days, with modern country bands winning Grammys, topping singles charts, and going platinum.  And although country is traditionally southern, something about the pervasiveness of horses, wide open spaces, and loneliness in the lyrics make me think of the West.

Which is why I was more than thrilled to discover the only country music bar in our North-South border city:  Nick’s Nightclub in Alexandria, or “DC’s Premier Live Country Menu” as it calls itself.  Indeed I believe that this is the only country-themed bar in the area, and as near as I can tell the only one that even has a country night.  This seems odd in a city so close to and influenced by vast Virginia horse country and Appalachia bluegrass territory, and yet I’m not the only one asking the question, “Is Washington A Country Music Town?”  This 2007 Washington Post inquiry discovered that DC’s country radio station receives only 3-4% of the market share of listeners even though the average in America is 12%.

I won’t begin to speculate on the lack of country-ness in our city, but I will tell you that Nick’s offers an haven for those of you seeking a little Billy Ray Cyrus in your night out.  Nick’s is best enjoyed on the dance floor, where line dancers and two-steppers come out in full force, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.  Line dances lessons are offered on Tuesdays (free) and Fridays and Saturdays ($5), and live country bands perform on the weekends.  If swing is your thing, stop by on a Wednesday for lessons and some big band music.

My own line dance lesson was taught by Marcia and was successful!  We learned 3 dances and put them to music in just under an hour, and were able to practice on the dance floor throughout the night (if you go, be aware of the etiquette that line dancers keep to the center while couples twirl around the outside).  If you are not there with a date, be prepared for many gentlemen to ask you to dance!  Nick’s also has a full bar and surprisingly large and cheap menu.   And, apparently, a cowboys-in-their-undies contest—what self-respecting country bar wouldn’t?!

My favorite part of Nick’s is its truly non-Washington crowd.  According to servers and employees who I talked with, most patrons come from Virginia, some as far as an hour away.  You’ll see old-timers with the two-step perfected, dashing young men in Carhartt overalls, and prize belt buckles galore.  What you won’t see are suits, $8 pints, and White House staffers.

All in all, Nick’s offers a good time for those of us dealing with a bit of country music whistfulnesss, and for those seeking a one-of-a-kind night out.  You’ll have to go more than once to experience all it has to offer!

To get there:  642 South Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304.  (703) 751-8900.  15-minute walk from the Van Dorn Metro stop. Cover charge on weekends (ladies free ‘til 9).

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High-Brow Living at the Brewmaster’s Castle

The Brewmaster’s Castle, located in the heart of Dupont Circle, is the historic home of Christian Heurich, a German immigrant and beer baron who was one of Washington DC’s most successful 19th-century businessman and landowners.  His gorgeous home was only recently restored and opened to the public, and now is one of the most intact and original late-Victorian homes in the country.

The only way to see the Brewmaster’s Castle is by way of a tour, which are offered Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for a suggested $5 donation.  And going with a tour is a good thing, because Mr. Heurich had a number of fascinating quirks that the guide is more than happy to divulge.  For example, he became deathly afraid of fire after two of his breweries and one of his houses burned down.  Consequently, the house is the first “fireproof” house in the city, meaning that wood is sparingly used and instead the frame of the house is made with reinforced steel and concrete.  Decorations in the ornate interior also echo this fear, such as flame-retardant curtains and intricate fireplaces that were never used.

The home has many elegant details that are sure to keep you oohing and aahing, including hand-painted ceilings, rows and rows of china, and magnificent wood furniture.  But the best is an antique Steinway that was made especially for the house and features the same inlays as the wall behind it.

The Brewmaster’s Castle came very close to not existing at all.  From 1956-2003, it functioned as the headquarters of the Washington Historical Society.  But the Society put the house up for sale, and was on the brink of selling it to a developer and restaurateur.  Coming to save the day, the Heurich family stepped in to re-purchase the house, and used cash for much of the transaction in order to ensure a quick deal.  Renovations are still continuing to this day, funded by public donations.

It is very interesting to compare the visits to Heurich’s house as compared to Hillwood Estate, Marjorie Merriweather-Post’s self-tribute and gift to DC (Heurich and Post were friends and both incredible philanthropists).  Whereas Hillwood is sweeping and full of millions of dollars worth of art and artifacts, the Brewmaster’s Castle is a more sober and realistic peak into how a family—albeit a very wealthy one—actual lived in our city 100 years ago.

To visit:  1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW.  202-429-1894.  Five minutes from the South Dupont Metro stop, and off the 42 and L2 buslines.  Easy!


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A D.C. Resident Finds Maryland Crabs in Virigina

As strange as it sounds, it’s actually pretty difficult to find Maryland’s famous hard-shell blue crabs in Washington, D.C.  Baltimore and Annapolis, of course, are a whole different ball game, but after much searching I was coming up empty-handed in terms of a great off-the-beaten path crab place in or close to our city.  Luckily, the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Arlington was suggested, and it was just what I was looking for!  Newspaper covering the tables, mallets, and pitchers of beer, this place has it all.

We spent our late summer evening sitting on the enormous patio and feasted on piping hot blue crabs dressed in Old Bay spice.  You can order them by the dozen or half-dozen, in four different sizes, or go all out for the all-you-can-eat “crab feast” for $34.95.  In addition to steamed crabs, the Quarterdeck’s menu has a healthy variety of surf and turf, including a few vegetarian items (though, fair warning, you might be scrounging a bit).   Also highly recommended is the assortment of homemade pies, from key lime to red velvet to an odd yet yummy blueberry cream.  And I would like to note that the Quarterdeck is the only restaurant in my recent memory that has draft beer cheaper than bottled beer.  There’s something to be said for that, right?!

The location of the Quarterdeck leaves something to be desired, as it is nestled between highways in the condo metropolis that is the Courthouse neighborhood, but in some ways the journey out there adds to the fun.  No views of the Bay from this establishment!

I wasn’t aware until I visited that there is actually a season for blue crabs, from April to October (or “Tax Day to Columbus Day” as the website states).  So, this post may be a bit late for the year’s catch, but if you can’t make it this summer, file it away for 2011!

To get there:  orange line to Courthouse, then a 15 minute walk (with sidewalks most of the time).  1200 Fort Myer Drive, Arlington, Virginia.  (703)-528-2722.

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Dinner, Beers, and Bric-a-Brac in the ‘Burb: A Visit to Franklin’s

Franklin’s is a unique and hip find juuuuust over the District border in Hyattsville, Maryland.  The self-proclaimed restaurant, brewery, and general store is a whimsical place, and well-worth a visit for any lover of homebrews or family joints!  In fact, Franklin’s was named one of the 75 Best Bars by Washingtonian in 2009 (for anyone who needed the extra credentials).

First to visit while you are waiting for your table is the general store, a healthy mix of children’s toys, national microbrews, random trinkets, and wine.  The room is chock full of awesome games and kits for kids (I was particularly intrigued by the ant farm), as well as racks of candy, stuffed animals, jewelry, and beer and wine.  What more could one want out of a local “general store?”

Once you get your table in the large, high-ceiled restaurant you are introduced to the beer list, featuring between eight and ten house-brewed beers including an incredibly strong Belgian ale, the “Van Damme” (watch out, 10.2% ABV!).  A sampling of all beers is a mere $8.50.  Franklin’s also has an eclectic menu, proving that American bar food can indeed be delicious and vegetarian-friendly, such as a great veggie taco salad.  Waitstaff are friendly and contribute greatly to the warm, neighborhoody feel of the place.

The restaurant at Franklin’s has been around for the past eight or so years, but the general store was started by Mr. Franklin in 1992.  It is one of the staples of the expanding downtown Hyattsville corridor located between far-east DC and College Park.  Read this DC Foodies blog post for a look at how it really was the little brewery that could.

The brewery's sampler!

To visit:  5121 Baltimore Avenue, Hyattsville, MD, (301) 927-2740.  A 20-minute drive from downtown DC, and requires a car or proficient understanding of the bus system—Metrobus # 81 and 83 will take you right there from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro.


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