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Right Proper Turns One Tonight: An Interview with Nathan Zeender

Shaw's Right Proper is turning one, and to celebrate, they're putting on a few rarities and barrel-aged beers, but the real present was unveiled last month, when the brewpub announced a production brewery in Brookland. We sat down with co-owner and head brewer Nathan Zeender to find out a bit more about the new space, and to reflect on a year of Right Proper. 

DCBeer: Have you been surprised by the response and crowds at Right Proper?

Nathan Zeender: We didn't know what to expect and the immediate positive response was very reassuring, if a little overwhelming at first. It was definitely a case of the right place at the right time.

DCB: When did you realize you had hit brewing capacity at the restaurant, and how soon after that realization did you and Thor [Cheston, another co-owner], et al., move to look for another facility, or was a stand-alone brewery always part of the plan?

NZ: Within the first few weeks we realized the demand was outpacing the supply. After busy weekends we were down to just a few of our house-brewed beers, so we added 3 fermenters and started thinking of future plans. We looked into renting capacity at a larger brewery, but it ended up making more sense for us to pursue our own space.

DCB: Related, what's the brewing capacity at the restaurant, and what will it be at the production brewery?

NZ: Fully cranked we can turn out right around a thousand BBLs [barrels, 31.5 gallons] at the pub. At the new space we'll have to gauge demand, but with the system and square footage we could produce at least 5 times as much with room to go beyond that with future expansion.

DCB: What's the timeline for the production brewery to open?

NZ: I'd be happy if we were functional within 6 months, but so much of it is out of our hands. So I guess the most honest answer is that it will be ready when it's ready and we will try to keep everyone looped-in on the progress–it's never an easy journey opening a brewery.

DCB: Will Right Proper bottle or can?

NZ: We will start out draft-only and then we will consider packaging options once we have everything dialed-in.

DCB: Will there be pints/growlers/tastings/tours as with other production breweries?

NZ: The current plan is for a nice sized tasting room for on-premise and off-premise sales. Tours will be part of the experience–we envision being a community brewery, so whatever we can do to harbor a sense of welcome and hospitality.

DCB: Your favorite food and beer pairing from the first year of Right Proper?

NZ: Our in-house cheese monger Tim Lake does a great job sourcing interesting cheeses to pair with whatever beers we are pouring from week to week. I think it's fun and I like to encourage folks to challenge Tim to come up with pairings. For me it doesn't get much better than good cheese and good beer.

DCB: You have brewed many beers over the last year. Do you have any favorites? Least favorites?

NZ: Broadly speaking I've been really pleased by all the different beers we've done with our house mixed fermentation culture like Astral Weeks, Songlines, Kodachrome Dream(ing), Scott 5, etc. It was the vision to have a strong, cohesive house character for these beers and they all have a wonderful small wild side to them with strong aromatics, refreshing acidity and a bright hop character… and they only get better with age. The Lubitsch Touch is another personal favorite.

As for the other side of the coin. The Range Life series allows us to focus in on specific hop varieties and one of the numbered experimental varieties had a big onion/garlic character that I wasn't a big fan of and that thankfully volatilized-off after a week or so in the serving tank.

DCB: Any other reflections on year one you would like to share?

NZ: I would just like to sincerely thank everyone who has supported us over this first year, it's been a lot of fun. I still can't believe that we are building a second brewery in my home neighborhood of Brookland as our 1st anniversary present.

What we don't know is how Right Proper will handle distribution between the two facilities, if they plan to send beer to Maryland, Virginia, or other spots in the Disctrict (Right Proper beers make an occasional appearance at Meridian and Brookland Pints, among a few other locations), or the division of labor between the brewpub and brewery. Whether one location is used more for sours, barrel aging, or open fermentation, and what two locations means in terms of hiring more staff is all to be determined. Stay tuned. 

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