An inside look into DC's first brewery in over 60 years, DC Brau
Local craft beer enthusiasts have been raving about DC Brau since it first opened three years ago. The first brewery to open within city limits in 60 years, DC Brau is exciting for many reasons, having them be so invested in the DC commnity is a plus. Before I start off on how DC Brau got its current partnership with DC United, DC's popular soccer team, I'd like to take you back in time 10+ years when I was a young college student embarking on my second year in DC.
It was the week 9/11 happened, time seemed frozen, and my roommate and I spent most of it at our friend Jessica's apartment in Brentwood near Catholic University. Her next door neighbors were a fun couple named Jeff Hancock and Mari Rodela. Jeff as a drum and bass DJ and Mari was his quirky easygoing sidekick who was also attending Trinity pursuing her Bachelor's. They had a serious love for beer and they hosted a beer tasting I happened to go to later that year. "I remember we drank alot of beer that night," Mari recalls. Over a decade after that beer tasting, Jeff Hancock, along with childhood friend Brandon Skall, are now the co-founders of DC Brau. Mari Rodela is still the quirky sidekick, only with an amazing new title, DC Brau's Chief Community and Culture Officer.
Jeff, is still a DJ and sporting some longer hair, only he has been slightly busier for the past three years being President and Head Brewer at DC Brau. Brandon leads the company as President & CEO. I loved everything about DC Brau, from the quaint 50's style booths in the main office, to the graffiti art inside the brewery, to the alternative rock music playing loudly inside, only slightly overpowered by the sound of the cool canning machine where empty cans appear to do the conga before zipping down a conveyor belt, and getting filled with one of the many varieties of DC Brau beer before being sealed at a beat of about 30 cans per minute.
That will come in handy as the ink is barely dry on a recent distribution deal with Reyes Beverage Group's Premium Distributors of Washington, DC which Brandon shared, "Will definitely increase DC Brau's market presence and we'll be able to accomplish more. Just in time since we're in the process of our second largest expansion, we'll be increasing our production capabilities by almost a third. So we'll have alot more beer and we're going to need a home for it."
Having a major distributor is a game changer for DC Brau. "When Jeff and I started the company it was literally us two doing everything. So to have a delivery driver and get a truck was just not in our budget. We signed with a distributor right from the start, that was Hop and Wine, and right now we're just taking the logical step to expand our market," Brandon shared.
Since we were talking about expanding, I mentioned that the Latino market is largely untapped when it comes to craft brews. Jeff and Brandon agreed and then laughed when I mentioned that we at Kesta often have to warn venues hosting Latino events to stock up on beers, because let's face it, we Latinos drink alot. "Alot of the times with craft beer it's an acquired taste. So it takes some time to really develop the character especially with a really hoppy beer or a dark roast beer, that's why I think 'The Tradition' is such a success because it's such an approachable beer. You don't have to be a craft beer aficionado or enthusiast to enjoy it," shares Brandon.
"DC United approached us with the idea last year and we were definitely interested in the marketing opportunity but also the idea of reverse engineering a beer for mass appeal. Brandon and I are big supporters of local DC sports teams to begin with so it was a great opportunity for us. In terms of the beer itself, I wanted to give them a beer that is great for tailgaiting, essentially something you can drink alot of and not get totally sideways. Something you can enjoy under the sun," recalls Jeff. He admits that most of DC Brau's catalog features strong beers with higher alcohol content, which makes "The Tradition" at 5% ABV, one of the lightest beers currently offered. In terms of the Latino market, Jeff and Brandon hope that "The Tradition" will serve as as a stepping stone for Latinos to crossover and try out some local craft beers and find out more about DC Brau.
Of course this made me want to try out "The Tradition" and I mentioned I had a hard time finding it before the interview. "You can go to our Brau finder online to see if your local watering hole has DC Brau," Jeff shared. Brandon added, “For The Tradition, in addition to being available at all DC United games, many DC United bar partners will also have it in stock." Of course with the new Premium distribution deal, having trouble finding DC Brau offerings throughout the DMV will be a thing of the past.
The Tradition isn’t the first beer that Jeff has concocted in partnership with an outside source he previously created a beer for local Ska band The Pietasters. “The Model Citizen is our second brew for them and it’s a kind of creamy refreshing beer. I wanted to give them something they can drink alot of on stage since they can go through a number of beers when performing," added Jeff.
Since I'm Mexican I asked them which was their strongest beer (don't judge me). It just so happens to be the one with my favorite name, On the Wings of Armaggedon or OTWOA. Not knowing much about beer, I expected this beer to be dark, however, being an Imperial IPA it was a golden color and surprisingly smooth with no bitter aftertaste. At a solid 9.2% ABV, I could definitely get into some trouble drinking OTWOA on the regular. In the name of science, I volunteered to try out ALL the beers and each one became my new favorite. The great thing about craft brews is they don't focus so much on mass appeal but rather in developing robust and varied flavors that will satisfy many different palettes. This meant that each beer has it's own personality, smell, and a unique taste.
Despite numerous offerings, DC Brau’s staple and most successful beer is “The Public”. Jeff shared that, "The American style Pale Ale is kind of the benchmark, if you ask anyone out on the street to say what the highly sought after craft beer is, it's the Pale Ale. It's how you can measure a brewery's chops, the hops and bitterness make it the most easily identifiable."
Although Brandon grew up in VA and Jeff in MD, they both love DC. However, at the beginning of their new brewery venture, DC didn't exactly love them back. "What we found out is that there was a brewery license on the books so applying for the license itself was easy. However, the surrounding laws were really antiquated and needed to be updated. One of my favorite ones was we couldn't even be in here on Sundays. We couldn't brew, answer work emails or do anything alcohol related on Sunday. That's a relic from blue laws and such but it still wasn't as easy as going in and asking them to change it. Another one was the tasting room, we're still not allowed to sell beer for on premise consumption but we had to get a change in so we could do tastings. Grocery stores and liquor stores have tasting permits, yet ABC would not give us a tasting permit for our own brewery. We had to write special legislation crafted just for us," Brandon shared.
That was then and this is now. DC Brau just turned three last month, and Brandon and Jeff have come along way. "I remembering for our launch party three years ago we had it at Meridian Pint and neither of us expected such a big turnout. We had a line around the block and Jeff and I had to alleviate the tension of waiting by handing out french fries to those in line," remembers Brandon. Although time has passed and DC Brau is a success, Jeff and Brandon are still the kind of guys you can imagine handing you french fries while you wait to try out some beers.
DC Brau is the only production brewery located within city limits that packages their own product. "We do it all in house. We chose can's over bottles for ease of use and environmental applications. A pallette of cans weighs much less than bottles so the trucks are burning less diesel when delivering, and aluminum cans are 100% recyclable," shares Jeff.
As we talked about all the DC Brau offerings, I asked which beer would go best with my current addiction to micheladas. A michelada is a mexican version of a bloody mary made with beer, tomato juice, lime juice, and hot sauce. Mari who is also Mexican via Texas immediately told me she loved Micheladas too and the Tradition would make a great one. She offered to share her cousin's recipe which I will definitely be trying out!
If you've never tried a Michelada or craft beer for that matter, Brandon has a message for you, "Be adventurous, try new beers, see what you like. You won't know until you try it."
Since DC Brau offers free tours and tastings, Saturdays from noon to 4, there's no excuse not to give them a try. "We offer great beers, free tours, and we often have a food truck catering on Saturdays. You can make a day of it and learn about how beer is made," shared Mari. I for one will definitely be back often as I couldn't get enough of several beers including Penn Quarter Porter (a Gold award winner), and NATAS a Belgian style porter that is pitch black in the glass and wafts an aroma of burnt sugar and caramelized fruit that is to die for. Is it beer o'clock yet?
DC Brau has a number of events scheduled in May (Cinco de Mayo hellooo) so now is a perfect time to be adventurous and give them a try!
May 5 - Cinco de Mayo with Flying Dog & DC Brau at Jack Rose - 5pm
May 8 - DC Brau & Baxter Brewing Company Black Oyster IPA Collaboration Launch at Meridian Pint starting at 5pm
May 10 - Belgium on the Beltway at Dogfish Head Alehouse in Fairfax with Sierra Nevada, Allagash, Dogfish Head, Elysian, New Belgium, Boulevard, Brooklyn Brewery and DC Brau starting at 10am. Tickets are $20 each.
For more information visit www.dcbrau.com.
All pictures by Daniel Martinez, for full gallery visit: http://www.kestadc.com/gallery/2014/apr/dc-brau-brewing-company-interview-tour