It used to be that reserve lists were the dominion of wine drinkers with deep pockets. However, as the craft beer culture continues to explode, an increasing number of restaurants are expanding the beer offerings with an eye to high end products.
Restaurants like Churchkey/Birch and Barley, Brasserie Beck, and Café Belga offer beers from home and abroad in a variety of styles that are a bit beyond the normal ticket. But the great thing about a beer reserve list, is that for most of us it is still something we can consider without totally breaking the bank. While wine bottles in some restaurants run beyond hundreds of dollars, most of the specialty beers will cost between twenty and sixty dollars, with a few notables topping out at about a hundred dollars.
It is no surprise that Churchkey/Birch and Barely boasts the most extensive reserve list in the city. Greg Engert shared with me that when he is considering a beer for the list he asks himself is this a beer that is “unique, delicious and ready to be consumed right away” or is this a beer with those same qualities that can be aged in house for spectacular quaffing at a later date? Of course there are many factors that go into selecting a beer that has been aged or will be aged on the premises (and we will have more details on cellaring for you soon). Some of the standouts for aging that you will see on Engert’s reserve list include American barleywines, English strong ales, foreign export stouts, quadrupels, gueuzes and unblended lambics.
So who is drinking these fine beers?
It used to be that only the most devoted geeks would open their hearts and wallets for a pricey brew but now more people are expanding their palate on reserve lists. Engert notes wine enthusiasts, foodies and even just burgeoning craft beer enthusiasts are turning to beer reserve lists to complement a meal or for a new experience.
Engert offered this explanation:
Wine drinkers are particularly enamored with tasting beers that have been treated like fine wine (and often share a similarly high price tag). That said, the most expensive beers we offer are far cheaper than a similarly precious bottle of vino. Unlike wine, beers do not need aging to taste great. Many age-worthy wines are not palatable when young. Beers do not become palatable, but rather transform into something new. Often, a beer will be delicious young and aged, just in different ways.
Reserve lists offer much more than just the stigma that comes from ordering from the “fancy menu.” Beers spanning the spectrum from Drie Fonteinen Schaarbeekse Kriek to Brewdog Tokyo (2010) to Schafly Reserve Imperial Stout (2008) to BFM Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien and including selections from many favorites like Stone, Allagash, Avery and more make the reserve list at Churchkey/Birch and Barley and the many other great beer bars around DC certainly something to check out and add to your beer repertoire.
Of course, these great bottles are sometimes not on a specially titled list. Other favorites like Big Hunt, Pizzeria Paradiso, Granville Moore’s and others mix their specialty, high-end selections with the regular menu or only offer them at certain times depending on availability. That is why it is always best to be out and about talking to the fantastic bar staffs around the city about the great beer they serve.