Last year, in honor of the NFL season kicking off, we took a stab at picking our local beer fantasy teams. It was a fun exercise and thought experiment, and it only got more difficult this year. The local beer fantasy draft answers the question: "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?"
Like last year, we abided by a few parameters:
- First, any production brewery or brewpub as far north as Frederick or as far west as Ashburn was available to select from. Anyone who felt the need to include Baltimore breweries/brewpubs was free to do so, but was encouraged to pick from the more traditional DC market.
- 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. Here's what we came up with!
Jacob Berg, Staff Writer
I could just go with my picks from last year, maybe swapping out Right Proper’s Ornette for Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne, but what would be the fun in that? I was also told I could add beers for Baltimore, but to me that’s a separate post, so I decided to try this again, without repeating any beers in their previous positions. Here goes.
Flagships: Flying Dog – Raging Bitch Belgian IPA; Ocelot – Home IPA; DC Brau – Brau Pils; Capitol City – Amber Waves; Franklin’s – A Modest ProposALE Irish Stout
Last year I went IPA-less in the flagship category, a bold move. So this year I have two, which is a much more “normal” choice in beer in 2015. Flying Dog’s Belgian IPA almost made the cut last year. This year it’s in, along with a newcomer, Ocelot’s Home, an homage to Alpine’s famed Nelson rye ale. A bit more cereal in the grain of the former is all that separates student from teacher. I'll also add DC Brau’s Brau Pils to the year-round list. It’s only been out for a few months, but it is already one of their better beers, and a sessionable pilsner never goes out of style. While American amber ales aren’t trendy, this one took the silver at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. A hit of Columbus and Cascade hops separates it from some of its more rote brethren. Finally, clocking in at 4% ABV, I could drink Franklin's dry stout, regular or nitro, pretty much all year-round.
- Winter – Right Proper’s Comrade, an “imperial stout” that is somehow only 2.4% ABV
- Spring – Bluejacket’s Vignette, an American wild ale made with tart cherries
- Summer – Port City's Optimal Wit, extra-crushable now that it’s in cans and the only repeat from last year, though it was a flagship then
- Fall – Mad Fox’s Reynard Black Saison offers up some oaky, grape-y, and funky dryness thanks to Cabernet wine barrel-ageing, a nice beer for the changing of the seasons
- Hellbender’s Southern Torrent Saison – This brewery’s best, in my opinion, is a hoppy saison that mimics the best qualities of white wine with tart grape flavors and a bit of minerality.
- Right Proper’s Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne Berliner Weisse – Maybe their best sour, no small feat.
- 3 Stars’ Zombie Date Night Imperial Porter – Riffing on their Pandemic Imperial Porter by adding raspberries and cocoa nibs, this beer is the high-gravity beast needed to round out the portfolio. Pair it with barbecue, game meats, chocolate desserts, or a cigar.
Chris Van Orden, Co-Editor
Flagships: Port City – Porter; Hellbender – Southern Torrent Saison; Mad Fox – Kellerbier Kolsch; Bluejacket – Lost Weekend; Atlas Brew Works – Rowdy
Seasonals: Spring: District Chophouse – Uberhop Czech Pilsener; Summer: Right Proper – Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne; Fall: Lost Rhino – Tmavy; Winter: Flying Dog – Barrel-aged Gonzo
Limited: DC Brau – On the Wings of Armageddon; 3 Stars – Harvester of Sorrow (Cabernet-Barrel-Aged Saison); Atlas Brew Works – Red Wine Saison de Brett
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I went back to my picks from last year and made substitutions where I thought they were merited. I still tried to cover a wide range of styles rather than assemble a thematically consistent portfolio; I respect breweries that go all lagers or all farmhouse, but I wanted to appeal to the widest audience possible here.
Like last year, my approach was to carry at least one flagship for every palate. I kept my choices in the dark and roasty, delicate lager, hop-forward, and wildcard categories. My only change was to use Hellbender’s saison, a great representation of the style, for the yeast-driven slot. Pretty much anyone who likes beer can find something up their alley from this core five.
For seasonals, I chose beers that hold a special seasonal appeal to me. Winter is the only time of year that I crave something massive, so I went with a classic: the barrel-aged version of Flying Dog’s Gonzo. At the end of winter, I’m dying for the weather to mellow, so I thought a nice clean pils would get me thinking of sunnier days. Bright acidity and low ABV do the trick in DC’s sweltering summer, while the fall’s rapidly cooling temps calls for a beer that you can enjoy equally in shorts and in sweaters.
Last but not least, the limited releases. I only changed one beer here from last year’s draft. I stuck with OTWOA, which remains “a world class hop bomb and, just as important, is crazy fresh when you drink it here,” as well as Harvester, the wine barrel-aged saison from 3 Stars that’s still one of the most memorable beers made in DC to date. And my new pick, the barreled and funked version of Atlas’s Saison des Fetes, gives me that Brett hit I need every so often.
Paul Josuns, Staff Writer
For the flagships, I really tried to satiate my palate for every occasion. I have a dark and bitter beer in Black Ox and a light and crisp pilsner in Denizen's Bo Pils (which is actually one of my favorite beers on this entire list). I actually find it odd that I don't have a traditional IPA as a flagship, but the Public and Ghost fill that gap nicely. I recently was re-introduced to Cutlass, and I'd forgotten how tasty a fresh version of this beer can be.
Seasonals were definitely the hardest category for me to complete, and I ended up leaving out a traditional "winter" beer and inserting Mexican Radio instead. I really like this beer, and I think the spices in a sweet stout like this go along with the winter season. I also drink a ton of commons in the summer time, and Port City's is definitely my favorite. I left out harvest ales and other hoppy beers in the seasonal category because they're prevalent in other areas. I'm going for balance here.
Penn Quarter Porter is relatively easy to find around town, and I was surprised Brau lists it as a "limited" release. That said, I like it enough that I had no problem moving it to the limited category. This is also where I can get my fix for the bitter and hoppy. Orange Whip is another of my favorite beers in the region, and Ways and Means is one of the better session beers around. Looking back, I'm a little surprised by the lack of imperial stout on my list, but then I can't really think of a local version that knocks my socks off. I'm not a huge fan of the "imperial porter" thing, and I have yet to have a truly great imperial stout from the area. I'm sure it exists, I just haven't had it.
I omitted two beers I do really enjoy: Hellbender Kolsch and Bluejacket Forbidden Planet. Kolsch is indeed one of my favorite styles, but I feel as though I would have to move away from the balance I have in my list in order to account for either of these. Oh well, my fantasy season is already over, so what does it matter?
Bill DeBaun, Co-Editor
Flagships: Bluejacket – Lost Weekend, DC Brau – Brau Pils (replaces DC Brau – The Public), Port City – Porter, Port City – Optimal Wit, Fair Winds – Siren's Lure (replaces 3 Stars – Peppercorn Saison)
Seasonals: Spring: Mad Fox – Kolsch (replaces Bluejacket – The Twit); Summer: Right Proper – Kick.Kick.Snare (replaces Mad Fox – Kolsch); Fall: Atlas – Rowdy Rye (replaces Lost Rhino – Rhin’Ofest); Winter: District Chophouse – Nut Brown (replaces 3 Stars – Pandemic Porter)
Limited Releases: Lost Rhino – Bacterium Blondus (replaces 3 Stars – Harvester of Sorrow); Bluejacket – A Little Golden Gem (replaces DC Brau/Union – Yonder Cities); 3 Stars – Pandemic Porter (replaces Port City – Tidings).
It was decidedly more difficult to pick my fantasy beer lineup than last year. Not only are there more local breweries to choose from, but existing breweries continue to expand their portfolios, and of course the beers that were good last year haven’t exactly decreased in quality this year. Challenging to say the least is picking from the abundance of riches in the local market.
Bluejacket’s Lost Weekend remains my favorite beer in the market and the first beer in my flagship lineup. In the last year, the recipe has been tweaked a little bit and has moved slightly away from the softness of white peach and nectarine and toward a more assertive Citra flavor. DC Brau’s Brau Pils replaces the brewery’s Public, not only because I’d like a lager in my flagship lineup, but also because I just prefer it overall. Port City’s Porter and Optimal Wit both retain their places. These are the best examples of each of their respective styles in the area and, given the GABF hardware they just picked up, the country. Fair Winds, which opened in the last year, cracks the flagship with its Siren’s Lure saison. This is easily one of the best local beers I’ve had in the past year, and apparently the GABF judges agree because the newcomers picked up a gold medal in 2015.
My seasonals have definitely been shaken up since last year. Mad Fox’s Kolsch (the unfiltered one!) slides one season earlier into spring and heralds the break from winter’s cold. It makes way for Right Proper’s frankly addictive Kick.Kick.Snare which is a Berlinerweisse heavily hopped with Citra and Cascade whose 3.1% is is better than Gatorade for a hot summer day. Although there are a number of great marzens in the area (Port City, Lost Rhino, and Flying Dog have all won medals for theirs and DC Brau will certainly get one sooner or later), I turn fall over to Atlas’s Rowdy Rye IPA. The intense rye flavor balanced with assertive bitterness eases the slide from summer’s scorch to autumn’s chill (and appeases hop heads, you’ve got to make what sells). Moving into full winter, I move the District Chophouse’s Nut Brown Ale in. Its comforting maltiness is a joy in front of a fire or on a chilly day, and if you manage to catch it on cask with hazelnuts all the better.
All three limited releases are switched up for me this year. 3 Stars’ Pandemic remains one of the most impressive imperials in the area, especially when it’s finished one of the multitudes of barrels the brewery has acquired. It is a high gravity treat that doesn’t disappoint. Pandemic replaces Port City’s Tidings, which remains an underrated holiday beer (and my favorite one each year). Although Union produced Royal Farmhouse, which is similar (in both style and excellence) to their collaboration with Brau of a few years ago, I bounced it from my list because it’s a Baltimore brewery. It’s replaced by Bluejacket’s kumquat gose, A Little Golden Gem, which is resource intensive and consequently expensive but ultimately something I can’t wait for the return of next year. Lost Rhino’s Bacterium Blondus, from its Genus Loci series, is one of the most impressive beers in the area. It is the only beer I’ve purchased a case of in the past two years, and it is every bit as tasty as most Belgian lambics I’ve had. Although they’ve added local fruit in other renditions, the straight up lambic remains my favorite of the bunch and decidedly worthy of a spot in my lineup.
Honorable Mentions: Right Proper – Kodachrome Dream(ing); 3 Stars – Above the Clouds; 3 Stars – Harvester of Sorrow; Lost Rhino – Rhin’Ofest; Hellbender – Red, White, & Gluten; Hellbender – Southern Torrent Saison; Bluejacket – Fields of Friendly Strife; Atlas Brew Works – Le Saison des Brett; Ocelot – Home
Seaonals: Spring: DC Brau-Brau Pils Summer:Right Proper-Songlines Fall:Right Proper-Haxan, Winter: Flying Dog-Barrel Aged Gonzo
Limited Release: Right Proper-Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne, DC Brau-Solar Abyss, Bluejacket-Red Wine Barrel-Aged Cherry Trouble
Ocelot was easily the biggest surprise to me this year coming in under the radar and consistently killing it on their hoppier offerings so I opted for not just one but two of their offerings as flagships. Two Lost Souls is a very juicy IPA that I've been enjoying recently and I couldn't resist pairing it with Kiss the Sky for it's excellent bitterness. At this point I think Forbidden Planet from Bluejacket and Port City's porter are ubiquitous examples of their styles and rounded out my flagships with Siren's Lure, another delicious addition to the DC saison field.
For seasonals I opted to go for styles that fit the best for the weather to me. To ring in the spring I feel Brau Pils is an excellent clean example of the style as the weather warms and I'm ready to get away from the litany of stouts of the past months. I'm going with a pair of Right Proper beers for the next two seasons with Songlines in the Summer and Haxan in the fall. Songlines has a wonderful balance of funk and citrus notes for the intense heat of DC Summer and the milky chocolate notes of Haxan make it perfect as the weather starts to cool. Finally I agree with Chris that Winter is for big beers and that Barrel-Aged Gonzo is always a great choice.
In the limited release category I decided to pick 3 of my favorite beers that I wish we saw more regularly. I know I'm a little Right Proper heavy but I would be remiss to not put Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne on my list since I love how delightfully tart it is and consider it my favorite beer made in the area. I have a bit of addiction to cherry beers and fell in love with how much cherry flavor Bluejacket was able to impart in it's alright delightful Trouble. Finally the batch of Solar Abyss this year from DC Brau had a nearly perfect mosaic hit so it gets the slight nod over OTWOA.