Beer in Washington D.C.

I had only been to Washington D.C. briefly as a kid, so as I ventured there recently  for a concert I was anxious to check out a bit of the beer scene during what little free time I had. I was in for some nice treats.

I didn’t spend time doing any research before I left other than reading s posts from the SAVOR event only a week before my visit. If nothing else, having his ChurchKey recommendation was enough to make the visit a success (more on that later).

When we arrived late on Saturday night our first priority was food. I looked up what was nearby to find Capitol City Brewing Company had “above average” pub fare. Good enough. We arrived to find a fairly large place with more of a restaurant feel and a large circle bar in the middle (and plenty of flatscreens playing ESPN).

I opted for the sampler – their four staple beers and one seasonal. We started out pretty strong with a solid Kolsch and hoppy, tasty amber. From there we moved into a less than impressive pale and unforgettable porter.

They did have one of their summer beers on, a “Red, White and Blue Wheat” that used white malt and was brewed with raspberries and blueberries. Taste like America? No. Summer? Yes. It was refreshing. There were about three more rotating house beers on the menu as well. Overall the service and atmosphere was meh, but the food and beer hit the spot in the moment. (But if you’re wondering, I wouldn’t go back).

On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a nightcap at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, a nice wood paneled, traditional steak and seafood restaurant that turned into a happening bar at night. We grabbed the only open spot available in the three bars inside and relaxed as we watched blue collar guys, cyclists, couples, and more make their way in, a true “all are welcome” place. There was a good vibe and I enjoyed my Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA, a balanced beer I could easily have more of.

The next night proved to be the highlight of the trip for me. The ChurchKey is a new bar (open since fall ’09) that takes their beer very seriously. Situated above their Birch & Barley restaurant, the upstairs bar claims to serve 555 beers, and I didn’t see any Bud Light in sight. They feature more than 50 beers on tap and offer a 4-ounce taster of anything. Additionally, they have their cold room sectioned off into three separate storage areas so they can keep beer at one of three optimal temperatures (42, 48 and 54 degrees).

During my two different stops there in one night I powered through tasters like Great Lakes Edmond Fitzgerald, BrewDog Devine Rebel 2010 (w/ Mikkeller), Great Divide Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti and more. The decor and crowd were welcoming and service was spot on. You know you’re in a good place when the waiter sits down to give you a list of 7-8 more bars to visit based on your location, hand-drawn map included (sadly, we did not make them all).

They rotate their beer menu out every two days, and I believe it. By the time we stopped back by three hours later, the first three beers we requested were gone.

From there we headed on a little crawl along 14th street, a great “in the city but neighborhood feel” area. We hit up Cafe Saint Ex next where a hipster bartender served a refreshing Bell’s Oberon pale wheat, perfect after out short hike there. The Saint Ex offered a small, but quality tap and bottle selection and appeared to draw people in for their house made concoctions from the bar.

Unfortunately we hit a hitch in our plan when we discovered the next stop, the Saloon, was closed on Sundays. I was sad to have missed out on this place after hearing about the grizzled bartender and house “rules”, such as you will be refused food service until you order a drink and that they will kick you out if they feel you are getting too loud.

We were back on track with a stop at the Bar Pilar, a somewhat noisy but overall inviting galley bar with a solid draft and bottle selection. Here is where I split a Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout with a coworker. Bad idea. It deserved a full pint. Overall 14th street was a great area to hit up, and with beer tasters, walking between bars, and stops for food along the way, we never even really felt a buzz.

On our last night there, work receptions precluded us from going to much, but we did get to stop in at RFD near Chinatown on the way back from dinner to enjoy a pint of Two Hearted Ale and some of the Flying Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo Porter (which took some warming up to really enjoy). I also had a taste of the Dogfish Head Immort Ale they had on tap. Not bad, but not really what I was looking for while I sat on the patio on a muggy evening. The place itself was large and felt like it could fit in on 6th street, but they did give a lot of thought to their draft and bottle selection.

All in all, D.C. was great and I enjoyed more of the city that I expected during my time there (but don’t worry boss, I didn’t miss a single session). The people were friendly, the public transportation easy and the craft beer abundant. And for any runners out there, morning jaunts around town were a nice way to see the city in action. I feel I just scratched the surface so I’m looking forward to heading back to that area again, but hopefully next time just for pleasure.

If you have a different take on any of the places I visited or stops of your own to add, make sure to leave a comment below!

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