Last week, The Public Option opened at 1601 Rhode Island Avenue NE. It isn't fully featured yet, operating with limited hours and, at the moment, without a food menu, but it does offer local beer options as well as its own house-brewed beers. Operating on a very small scale (they'll be "settled in" making 1 BBL batches soon), they nonetheless represent a further expansion of the craft beer growth we've been seeing for the past half decade.
The brewpub is operated by husband and wife team Bill Perry and Cathy Huben. Other media outlets have focused on the fact that The Public Option will not allow tipping and instead pay its employees a living wage during a full 40 hour work week. For now, Perry and Huben are the only two employees, but their payroll will need to expand when their hours of operation do. The Public Option is currently open Friday 3-7 PM, Saturday 12-9 PM, and Sunday from 12-7 PM.
We recently had a chance to discuss the brewpub's beer philosophy and operations, among other topics, with Bill Perry via email. A lightly edited transcript of that conversation follows here.
DCBeer: Can you tell us more about your brewing system?
The system I'm using now (and plan on using going forward) is a very basic/low capacity set up which would be familiar to any home brewer. I'm in the process of replacing some hardware, but will be settled in making 1 BBL batches in the next couple of weeks. Although I'll be continuously tweaking (as is the custom), I expect this capacity will be fine for at least several months to come. The Public Option aspires to be a neighborhood tavern, and we are only open afternoons/early evenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday right now. We are also only using part of the building's space for now.
DCBeer: Will you be doing the brewing yourself?
I don't have an accurate record of exactly when I started brewing. But I know I'd been at it for a few years when I brewed a "Baby Porter" which was fully bottle conditioned by the time my son was born, and he's going to turn 21 in March. So it's been a while.
Initially, I am doing all the brewing. But that's just for now. Once the dust settles a little, I intend to get as many guest brewers in as possible to mix things up. I've met a bunch of home brewers who have some great recipes that I'd love to collaborate on and offer here.
We're also pouring (and offering in cans) a selection of other DC brews (as well as some of the big names). We'll continue with that, at least for a while, since not everyone likes craft beer.
DCBeer: What is your brewing philosophy/what styles do you tend to lean toward/what do you suspect you'll be brewing the most at The Public Option? It seems like there's a lot of malt on the opening draft list.
You are right that the initial offerings are pretty malty, which is my (current) personal preference. And while I am doing all or most of the brewing, that's likely to continue. But one of the benefits of brewing on such a small scale is that you can try lots of different things (and make some mistakes) with fairly small risk. One of the brewers I've spoken and hope to collaborate with soon makes a sour – something I've never done and really enjoy drinking. So we will probably be all over the map.
In terms of styles, a few of our early patrons have pointed out (in the most gentle terms) that we are stretching the boundaries of some of the styles we referenced in our initial beer menu descriptions. That is a very fair point. So for the next group of beers that we roll out, we'll be a bit more clear that what we are making is "inspired by" or "a departure from" a particular style.
That doesn't mean we won't try to hit some styles dead on. But our basic philosophy is one of experimentation in the pursuit of great tasting beer.
DCBeer: What led you to want to open a brewpub in DC? Have you been here long? Where do you see The Public Option fitting into the scene that has been growing so rapidly over the past few years?
I was born and raised in DC, and have spent virtually all of my 55 years here. I'm not sure exactly where The Public Option will fit in the overall scene, but I do hope it will end up being a place where at least a subset of brewers will be able to collaborate and share beers. And as I said above, I see our place serving the neighborhood and filling a niche between the carry out places (there are some great ones) and the higher end dining (some great ones too) in the immediate area.
Beyond beer (certainly a central pillar), we hope to produce some interesting pub food and collaborate with some chefs on specials. We'd also like to honour the building's history (it was a pretty hopping jazz club back in the day) by attracting some musicians for jams (probably acoustic). I'm not sure exactly what else will be in store, but that really is the point. I hope to be surprised.
Thanks to Bill for his time, and good luck to he and Cathy as they get off the ground.