The National Football League regular season returns tomorrow when the Packers and Seahawks face off. Arguably as important to many fans is the concurrent return of fantasy football, a freight train of a hobby that picks up steam year after year. In honor of the return of both flavors of football, real and fantasy, DCBeer and some of our friends decided to pick our own "local beer fantasy teams." Given the chance to pick up beers from area breweries to pack into one ultimate fictional brewery, which would make the cut for each of us?
There were some parameters that we abided by. First, any production brewery or brewpub as far north as Frederick or as far west as Ashburn was available to select from, except that we excluded breweries/brewpubs from Baltimore. No offense to our good and respected friends in Baltimore, but we were trying to pick predominantly from our typical coverage area. Next, any beer, past or present from any of the aforementioned breweries was available for selection. Another rule that we all abided by was that when picking a beer, you could choose to make it more rare but not less rare. For example, DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddon is a limited release now; those of us who picked it could choose to make it a limited release or a seasonal, but not a flagship. Conversely, if someone wanted to make DC Brau's The Public, currently a flagship, into a seasonal or a limited release, that's their permissible prerogative. Finally, we were restricted to pick no more than five flagships, four seasonals, and three limited releases. Those rules established, we each set off to pick our own fantasy brewery. We invite, and actually strongly encourage, you to email your own fantasy picks to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to play by the rules outlined above and give us a brief explanation of your picks (if you care to)! Next week we'll collect all of these and publish them in one big community post to see what some other members of #dcbrews think are the choice local beers. Good luck to your football and fantasy football teams this season. Here's what we came up with!
Nick Rakowski, DCBeer Staff Writer
Flagships: Forbidden Planet, Bluejacket (Hoppy Kolsch); Ornette, Right Proper (Grisette); Lost Weekend, Bluejacket (American IPA); Public, DC Brau (American Pale Ale); Porter, Port City (Porter)
Seasonals: Summer: Kellerbier Kolsch, Mad Fox (Unfiltered Kolsch); Fall: Rowdy, Atlas (Rye Pale Ale); Raging Bitch, Spring: Flying Dog (Belgian IPA); Winter: Winter Madness, 3 Stars (Winter Warmer)
Limited Releases: Harvester of Sorrow, 3 Stars (Cabernet-Barrel-Aged Saison); Hell's Bottom – Rye Barrel, DC Brau (Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout)
Forbidden Planet, on tap on Bluejacket since day one, is an eminently interesting and decidedly quaffable (if stylistically dubious) beer that deserves a place at my imaginary brewery. Another one of my selections, Right Proper's pleasingly tart and bright grisette, falls distinctly on the lighter end of the beer spectrum as well, which is a place I've been spending more and more time lately. You should too. In the hoppier realm, my taste skews more towards juicy and tropical, as opposed to piney and dank. DC Brau's The Public brings an assertive, but balanced, bitterness to the table along with bright citrus. Bluejacket's Lost Weekend, on the other hand, positively explodes with tropical aromas and flavors in a way that makes it almost taste like fruit juice (and that's a compliment). On the dark side, the clear pick is Port City's Porter. This is the best porter brewed in the area and one of the best in the country, and I'll fight anyone who thinks otherwise (ok maybe not…but maybe). There's no match for its balance, just-enough roast and rich chocolate flavors.
Bill Madden's straw-yellow, hazy Kellerbier Kolsch is a must-have for any season, but shines even brighter when the weather warms up. Atlas Rowdy, which is something like eating a loaf of rye bread, provides a rich, malty alternative to the pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests we've come to expect in the fall. Winter Madness, 3 Stars' massive winter warmer, is boozy and assertive enough to warm you, but nuanced and layered enough to keep you interested. Raging Bitch, my pick for the spring, is the true standard-bearer of the Belgian IPA style.
I expect you'll see a lot of 3 Stars' Harvester of Sorrow across the DCBeer team. This is my favorite beer they've ever made and certainly one of the best I've had in the area. DC Brau's Hell's Bottom is a great example of how stouts don't need to be 'imperial' to pack flavor – picking up some heat and bite from a rye barrel puts it over the top.
Chris Van Orden, DCBeer Co-Editor
Flagships: Porter, Port City (Porter); The Duke, Right Proper (Belgian Golden Strong Ale); Kellerbier Kolsch, Mad Fox (Unfiltered Kolsch); Lost Weekend, Bluejacket (American IPA); Rowdy, Atlas Brew Works (Rye Pale Ale)
Seasonals: Winter: Barley Wine, District Chophouse; Spring: Tmavy, Lost Rhino (Czech-style Lager); Summer: Dead Rise, Flying Dog (German-style Ale with Spices); Fall: Skibsol, Right Proper (Ship's Beer)
Limited: On the Wings of Armageddon, DC Brau (American Imperial IPA); Harvester of Sorrow, 3 Stars (Cabernet-Barrel-Aged Saison); Moby Grape, Bluejacket (Sour Brown Ale)
I cast a fairly wide net, both in terms of the breweries I pulled from and the styles to offer, to show what DC breweries can do; the result is a bit scattershot – no real unifying theme underpinning it all – but when you choose among other people’s beers, you can at least attempt to be all things to all people.
I approached each category differently. The idea was to carry at least one flagship for every palate. There’s something dark and malty, a yeast-driven Belgian, a delicate German number, something for hopheads, and a bigger category-bender. I’d like to think that, among these five beers, I could find something for just about any mood I’m in.
For seasonals, I went with what I personally like to drink at each time of year. In the winter, it’s big and ponderous stuff, so I turned to Barrett Lauer’s barleywine. In the wet, transitional spring, I like a beer that can straddle the seasons; the tmavy’s refined touch is belied by its dark color. Come summer, I want a lean beer that carries a bunch of flavor; in the fall, I start to crave welter-weight malt, and the slightly smoky, low ABV Skibsol does the trick.
For the limited editions, I picked the beers that I (and many other DC drinkers) order any time they’re on offer. OTWOA is fast-becoming a breakout star of #DCBrews, and for good reason: it’s a world class hop bomb and, just as important, it’s crazy fresh when you drink it here. I can still relive all the flavors of Harvester, 3 Stars’ wine barrel-aged saison, many months after last drinking it. And Moby Grape, an Oud Bruin-y number, expertly scratches that sour itch that so many people seem to be feeling lately.
Jake Berg, DCBeer Staff Writer
Flagships: Optimal Wit, Port City (Witbier); Doggie Style, Flying Dog (American Pale Ale); Porter, Port City; Forbidden Planet, Bluejacket (Hoppy Kolsch); Kellerbier, Mad Fox (Filtered Kolsch)
Seasonals: Winter: Coffee Pandemic, 3 Stars (Imperial Porter); Spring: Ornette, Right Proper (Grissette); Summer: Rye Gose, 3 Stars and Oliver Ale; Fall: Octoberfest, Franklin's (Marzen)
Limited Release: On the Wings of Armageddon, DC Brau (Imperial IPA); Yonder Cities, DC Brau and Union Brewing (Belgian-style IPA); Harvester of Sorrow, 3 Stars (Cabernet-Barrel-Aged Saison)
So yes, let's get this out of the way immediately. I have two Kolsches. Yes, I like Kolsch, but Bluejacket's hoppy take is basically an India Pale Lager (it hurt less to type that than it does 'hoppy Kolsch"), and when coupled with Doggie Style, I think that those two hoppy beers make up for the lack of a flagship IPA. After all, Schlafly doesn't have an IPA as a flagship guys, right? Right? Port City's Optimal Wit and Porter are two of the best examples of those styles anywhere, period. All breweries should be so lucky, and talented, to have those two as actual flagships. I've been drinking Bill Madden's Kolsches since he was at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, way back when. Same as it ever was, it's here. Doggie Style is, IMO, the best pale ale in the area. And according to the New York Times, beer savants that they are, the best anywhere. It's a well-balanced, well-put together beer, one I'm always happy to drink.
When 3 Stars first launched, I was hoping all their Pandemic would be the coffee variety, no offense to the boozy, slightly vinous regular version. I'll bring it back here. As the weather warms, however, I want something lower in alcohol. Enter Right Proper's yeast-forward grissette, with a bone dry finish, and the sour rye snap of a collaboration between 3 Stars and Baltimore's Oliver Ale. Franklin's marzen is my favorite in the area, and for one glorious weekend every fall, they'll sell it to you for a nickel.
My lack of IPAs up until this point is corrected by two entries from DC Brau. Wings is DC's first legit whale beer, the kind you can trade for out of market rarities on message boards, and deservedly so. Their collaboration with Union was one of the best things to come out of the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference.
I'm not a big fan of hefeweizens, but Lost Rhino's, Final Glide deserves a mention as an omission, and there are probably at least two more of their beers I could put on here (RhinO'fest and their pilsner). The same is true of Flying Dog's Belgian IPA, Raging Bitch.
Bill DeBaun, DCBeer Co-Editor
Flagships: Lost Weekend, Bluejacket (American IPA); Optimal Wit, Port City (Witbier); The Public, DC Brau (American Pale Ale); Peppercorn Saison, 3 Stars (Saison); Porter, Port City (Porter)
Seasonals: Spring: The Twit, Bluejacket (Witbier with Lactobacillus); Summer: Kolsch, Mad Fox (Filtered Kolsch); Fall: RhinO'fest, Lost Rhino (Marzen); Winter: Pandemic, 3 Stars (Imperial Porter)
Limited Releases: Harvester of Sorrow, 3 Stars (Cabernet-Barrel-Aged Saison); Yonder Cities, DC Brau and Union Brewing (collaboration) (Belgian IPA); Tidings, Port City (Belgian Strong Ale with Spices)
It's nice to see people are apparently listening when I extol the virtues of Bluejacket Lost Weekend (except Jake, who is a contrarian by nature). Its "Vermont IPA"-ish (God help us all) character, namely soft bitterness and a huge fruit nose makes it, for me, the best IPA among a number of great ones brewed in the area. (Although we ignore logistical considerations here, procuring all that Citra can't be a lot of fun.) Port City's Optimal Wit, a standout in the style nationally, pulls double duty in both hooking curious beer newbies and satisfying aficionados with its citrusy, peppery finish. Real talk: I wasn't a fan of Brau's The Public when it launched, but it has grown on me. Extremely assertive in terms of bitterness for an APA, it packs a ton of grapefruit and pine into a tidy little 6% package. Add in that populist name that begs for it to be the Boston Lager (but better) of DC, and this is an easy pick for a key flagship style. 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison is the most approachable of the Takoma brewery's flagships and fills an important (to me) role of educating people about the versatility of saisons as a style. Food friendly and drinkable year-round, Peppercorn is another "hook" beer like Optimal (and hell, maybe I could throw it on some bugs and get a funky version 2-for-1). Moving back to Port City, their Porter is a no-brainer, as my colleagues have noted. Arguably (and people will argue) the best dark beer in the area, this is everything I want in a porter (though admittedly, I don't often want a porter).
You won't find a more stark study in contrasts than my winter and spring seasonal picks. Pandemic is a massive beer redolent with dark fruit, roast, and cocoa. At 9.6% it'll get you through the cold months where you pretend you're in Siberia living off the land…in Dupont Circle. Props to Jake for picking Coffee Pandemic, which is also a fine choice. As winter relinquishes its grasp, Bluejacket's Twit is a reminder of all that is bright and sprightly in the world; exceedingly tart with peach and citrus notes and at just over 4%, it shocks the palate right into a new season. Although some of my colleagues have picked the unfiltered (and deserving) Kellerbier Kolsch from Mad Fox, I prefer the crisper, slightly more refreshing filtered version (just "Kolsch") for summer's hottest days. This could easily be a flagship for me, but I ran out of spots and have to abide by the arbitrary rules I helped to create. Lastly, in an area filled with great Oktoberfests (Flying Dog's and PCBC have both earned GABF medals for theirs), RhinO'fest edges out its competition and makes it on this list as an homage to all that malt can be.
Let's close out with some limited releases. Harvester of Sorrow makes an appearance here, as elsewhere, as a true standout produced in our market. Vinous, complex, and retaining a bit of that saison spiciness, it isn't hard to put it on this list. More difficult was deciding between Flying Dog's Raging Bitch and DC Brau/Union Yonder Cities. Both are top-tier examples of Belgian IPAs, but the latter, which is lighter and more tropical edges out the slightly maltier (with more banana) edition from Frederick. With either, in this imaginary land, I'd add Brett to make this an even more special "limited release." Finally, PCBC's Tidings, which drinks like an imperial witbier with ginger and other spices, is the only holiday beer I look forward to each year. A criminally undervalued sleeper pick, this is an almost refreshing (though still sweet) holiday beer that doesn't become a quasi-quad.
Flagships: Ornette, Right Proper (Grisette); Forbidden Planet, Bluejacket (Hoppy Kolsch); Lowest Lord ESB, Denizens; Cerveza Nacional de La Capital, Chocolate City (Vienna Lager); Imperial Stout, Franklin’s Seasonals: Spring: Kellerbier Kolsch, Mad Fox (Unfiltered Kolsch); Fall: Foxey Brown Smoked Brown, Lost Rhino (Brown Ale); Summer: 51, Our Statehood Radler, 3 Stars (Grapefruit Radler); Inverted Jenny Imperial IPA, District Chophouse
Limited Releases: Yonder Cities Farmhouse IPA (red wine barrel-aged) DC Brau & Union (Barrel-Aged Belgian IPA); Colossal Three, Port City (Heller Bock); NSFW, Atlas (Imperial/Double Black IPA)
I don’t know much about football and even less about fantasy football, but I’ve seen enough episodes of The League to anticipate that my approach to this exercise may draw some sneers. A good-sized portion of my picks are under 5 percent a.b.v., and my list includes two lagers, two Kölsches (no apologies—I was tempted to add Gordon Biersch’s SommerBrau as a third), and a (ridiculously delicious) radler of all things. I chose not a single straight-up IPA but instead went for brews like Yonder Cities, NSFW, and Forbidden Planet, all great beers that use hops in inventive ways. And I’ve got a few wild card players from spots like Franklin’s, District Chophouse and Chocolate City, whose standouts sometimes go sadly overlooked amid the buzz of DC's many new and/or more widely available breweries.
But those of you who have tasted them know that each of these beers is more than worthy of a first-round draft (pun intended). Mad Fox’s crisp, unfiltered Kölsch is almost indisputably perfect, as are Right Proper’s rustic grisette and Lost Rhino’s malty, smoky and yet perfectly balanced brown ale. I’d happily run these or any of my line-up direct to my house. With unlimited Inverted Jenny or Heller Bock by my side, I might even be able to sit through an entire football game. (Maybe…)
Presumably, if you've made it this far, you agree or disagree with various picks here. Much like fantasy sports, there are sleeper picks and favorites that are points of contention for everyone. There are more good beers in the DC area than we could all fit onto our teams. That's a good thing! Be sure to let us know what you agree and disagree with in the comments, and we look forward to the submission of your fantasy local beer team!