This is the first in a (potential) series about the brewmasters, bartenders, homebrewers, and drinkers who make DC’s craft beer scene so great. The idea is simple: if you know who’s on the barstool next to you, you’re more likely to strike up a conversation. It’s all about community, people.
A few weeks back, we got an email from Sean Gannon, a local homebrewer looking to get his Cicerone certification. To pass the exam, he needed to be able to correctly identify specific off-flavors in beer. This is tricky. How does one ensure that a given beer has appreciable levels of diacetyl or acetaldehyde? In his research, Sean came across a nifty Siebel product: a collection of vials containing concentrated off-flavor compounds designed to be stirred into unspoiled beer to mimic the characteristic aromas and flavors on which he’d soon be tested. The only issue was price. Rather than chalk it up as a loss, he put out a call asking other interested parties to join him in his tasting and split the cost. Brilliant. We love that kind of initiative, so we decided to meet Sean for a beer.
Despite growing up outside of Philly and attending college in the City of Brotherly Love – long a beer town – Sean wasn’t always sold on barley-based beverages. It took some “beer snob” friends to convince him of craft’s virtues. It’s a common story, but his drinking buddies were more than casual craft fans: many seriously homebrewed and one even went on to open up Port Jefferson Brewing. Once hooked, Sean made the most of his hometown’s resources, with Nodding Head, McGillin’s, Dirty Frank’s, and the Foodery playing prominent roles. He credits Victory’s Hop Devil as his conversion beer.
He still gets up to Pennsylvania a good deal, both to visit family and brew with his girlfriend’s brother on his 230 acre farm, which provides a bit more space than Sean’s apartment. He recommends Selin’s Grove Brewing, a tiny outfit established by two New Belgium alums, as a stop worth making if ever you find yourself in that neck of the woods. In Ardmore, he recommends The Beer Shoppe for their amazing selection of craft beers to go.
His tastes skew toward the big, abrasive, and creative, with a particular predilection for hops. On a recent trip to California, he indulged those tastes, taking in Lagunitas, Bear Republic, and Russian River. The state features prominently in Sean’s beer journey: on a post-college trip, he spied a sign and pulled off the highway for his first brewery visit. Since then, Firestone Walker has held a special place in Sean’s heart…and liver.
Despite his tendencies toward bombastic beers, he agreed to tone things down for the batches he’s brewing for his sister’s wedding. At the moment, he’s leaning toward a California common and a cream ale, which he believes will be a bit more approachable than the 11%, peat-smoked Wee Heavy he recently made with his brewing buddy, Brad Otto, out in Virginia.
In his 11+ years in DC, Sean has seen how far craft beer has come. When he first arrived, there were almost no dedicated beer bars and not a brewery in sight. Neither of his current regular haunts – ChurchKey and Meridian Pint – were open. "The Brickskeller was the only game in town and, although their list was amazing, they were often out of beers," Sean says, "So you would have to go through several rounds of 'do you have this' with the bartender before you got your beer." Pickings were slim, but things have improved enormously.
He “love[s] how 3 Stars pushes the envelope” and that DC Brau is keeping up such high quality. Despite initial reservations, he thinks Port City has “really hit its stride”, especially when it comes to seasonals. But he saves his strongest support for the “underrated” Mad Fox and their Orange Whip. After trying it for the first time at the Pint, which he considers his home bar, he drove out to Falls Church the next Saturday to try it at its source. That’s commitment.
So if you see Sean at a homebrew event or at the end of the bar, sampling glasses arrayed in front of him, say hey and share a drink.
Have suggestions for someone else that #DCBrews should know better? Drop us a line at editor(at)dcbeer(dot)com. Cheers!