One might argue that the main contributing factor to the ever-growing beer culture in DC is not the beer itself, but rather the people behind it. The brew masters, bartenders, beer geeks and distributors promote the scene, and in many ways, are responsible for the great selection DC has to offer.Â Have a beer with… is a new feature in which we spotlight individuals who play a significant role in promoting the DC beer scene in one way or another.
Our first interview is with Tom Cizauskas of Falls Church, VA.Â We first came in contact with Tom through his active twitter account and blog in which he often talks about new cask offerings and various happenings around the DC Metro area.Â A perfect example the type of beer scenesters we are looking to profile here: I once heard Tom speak for a half hour about the complexity and aging technique behind an obscure Cassis Lambic. It became quite apparent that Tom has a lot to say about the DC beer scene.
Andrewâ€“ Tell us about your background and how you go became so involved in the beer scene.
Tom â€“ I might say I have a love affair with beer: not simply its flavors â€”as delicious, complex and varied as they may beâ€” but with its history, science, lore and evolving creation. I began as a home brewer in the mid 1980s. â€œBrewing Lager Beerâ€ was a book I consulted often. Its author, Greg Noonan, passed away this past weekend. At the time, I was managing a restaurant on Capitol Hill. We were the first restaurant in DC to carry the then new bottled beers from Wild Goose Brewery. I joined the ‘official’ world of beer in the early 1990s, taking brewing courses at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. Since then, I have been a brewer, a brewery manager, a brewpub owner, a beer and wine salesman, a restaurant manager, a brewery consultant… and, since 2002, a beer blogger.
Andrewâ€“ What do you think about the label Beer Snob vs. Beer Geek?
Tom â€“ They are silly terms of no real difference or distinction. Enjoying good beer is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s that pleasure, not the label that matters.
Andrewâ€“ How do you feel about the DC beer culture?
Tom â€“ The recent explosion of good beer bars and restaurants is indeed a wonderful thing. Kudos to Joe Englert, Robert Wiedmaier, Ruth Gresser, Dave Alexander and Greg Engert, to name only a few responsible.
A sizable portion of DC’s population seemingly changes with each federal election. That transience fights against one key ingredient of a good beer culture: a local loyalty. You’re more likely to find beers from far afield than beers from local breweries. Even the three brewpubs in DC â€“ Capitol City, District Chophouse, and Gordon-Biersch â€“ get less notice than other breweries. By the way, DC beer culture should refer to the Greater Metropolitan area, that is the city AND the ring communities of Maryland and Virginia.
Andrew â€“ What are your Top 5 â€œdeserted islandâ€ beers?
- Fresh cask beer
People often ask me “What does fresh beer taste like?” I respond, “What does salty taste like, what does sweet taste like?” You have to taste a fresh beer, a cask-conditioned beer, treated properly, to understand. A cask ale does not have to be a high-alcohol, highly hopped beer. In fact, it’s the smaller beers, like the bitters of the UK that are such marvels in their cask form. Taste some of them bottled and shipped thousands of miles here, and they fail to impress. But, ah, fresh from the cask!
- Session Ales
Session beers, because sometimes I want to enjoy the taste of good beer and remain relatively sober.
Pilsner is the style many good beer fans tend to disparage. Miller Lite has been so successful palming off its watery beer as a pilsner, that many good beer fans disparage the style. Taste a FRESH, well-made pilsner and the essentials of beer — malt, hops, and refreshing bitterness– are clearly and wonderfully revealed.
- Sour beers
- Aged beers – Because ONE barley wine after a good meal is a great finish.
Andrew â€“ What do you think is the next ‘big thing’ for craft beer? More IPAs?
Tom â€“ I think IPAs have gone as far as they can. The style has moved from the crisp slug of hop bitterness and aroma: I find many of the so-called Imperial IPAs to actually be barley wines with lots of hops.
We’re already seeing the next ‘big thing’: the use of oak. Moving from the use of oak for its flavor (first revived in the U.S. at Goose Island with its Bourbon Stout of the mid-1990s; the bourbon stout from District Chophouse has been a local mainstay), more breweries are experimenting with oak for aging, vatting, and, in a good way, souring. (Russian River, Allagash, Lost Abbey, for example).
We’re also seeing a spurt in the growth of cask ale in the U.S. In our area, Maryland breweries Clipper City and Flying Dog have both made large recent investments in cask cooperage. More bars are building cask systems in-place.
Andrew â€“ Who is doing the best beer and food pairing in DC ?
Tom â€“ I’m going to pass on specifics. There are several wonderful candidates. What IS new in the US, and in DC, is the increasing acceptance of better beer at better restaurants, which in the past might have had fine wine lists, but only a few mainstream lagers and, maybe, Guinness. Good beer lists create beer pairings every night, rather than limiting them to special events and beer-dinners.
Andrew — Any last comments?
Tom — WellÂ as I usually finish …
Yours for good fermentables,
Got a local beer celebrity, scenester or architect in mind? Drop us an email and we will try to arrange an interview.