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Checking in with Atlas Brew Works

It’s been nearly six months since we’ve checked in with Atlas Brew Works, which feels like a lifetime for DC’s eager drinkers awaiting a grand opening.  I recently popped over to the Ivy City brewery to chat with founders Will Durgin and Justin Cox to learn how things are progressing.

The nascent brewery is located in the middle of a fairly nondescript stretch of warehouses directly across from the Mount Olivet Cemetery.  In my hunt for the right door, there’s little evidence that I’ve come to the right place.  Once inside, however, the space’s purpose is instantly recognizable.  Tanks sit in clusters on the concrete floor, with a walk-in refrigerator dominating the right wall.  A small desk and two laptops – one bearing the complicated Excel files used to formulate recipes – constitute a temporary office.  It’s clear that Justin and Will have been working very, very hard here. 

The pair immediately offers to take me on a tour of the future layout.  We start with the steam-jacketed mash tun, a tall, slender number that Will is especially excited about.  He slides a ladder over so I can peer down into its empty belly.  They’d purchased the vessel back when they’d been planning to call a different location home – one with taller ceilings and a smaller footprint.  When plans changed, there was some concern about the fit in their shorter, more expansive digs.  Thankfully, an open elevator shaft accommodates the mash tun nicely. 

The kettle, three 20-BBL and two 40-BBL conical fermenters will reside a few paces away, while a section against the back wall will house a small barrel-aging program.  Overhead, glycol lines designed to keep tank temperatures in check will run in neat rows.  Justin points out how their excess cooling capacity allows for future expansion.  Speaking of cooling, the freezer (pictured right) is already on-site. 

There’s not much in the way of inputs on hand just yet.  The pair have secured some of the rarer hops used in their recipes, but they remain secret for the moment.  I can say that Will’s a fan of the ‘overlooked’ Chinook.  The guys stress that their clandestineness about ingredients and processes is temporary.  They’re big on transparency – once their product hits the streets, they plan to release brew and cellar logs on their site.  Not only will homebrewers get to try their hand at cloning Rowdy or any other Atlas beer, the average beer drinker will be better informed about how the tasty beverage they’re enjoying came to be.

But that will come later.  First, they’ve got to wrap up the licensing.  They’ve gotten the go-ahead from ABRA and the TTB, with only DCRA yet unspoken for.  And then there’s the buildout, including drain installation and construction of the office and tasting room.  Given the status of these and many other tasks, they hope to be pouring tasters and filling growlers (from custom handles designed by Silver Spring’s Bates Creative) in about 6 months.

For now, we repair to H Street to have a beer brewed by someone else.  While I gather up my camera and Will locks doors, Justin gives his email one more look.  “DCRA wrote back.  Won’t be too long now.”

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