Did you know the number of breweries in the US has doubled since 2013? Just four years ago! There are breweries in Columbia, MD and Sterling, VA we’ve never heard of! Here’s a look back at local and national trends and news 2017 from the DCBeer staff.
Tony Budny: New England IPA is growing up and it's not going away. I have seen an increase in quality offerings from breweries that made their names off of this beer and an increase in capacity, such as the good people at Aslin, as they attempt to expand next year. This has also put pressure on breweries to find better ways to get product on the shelves fresher, which will continue to be a problem as long as there are three tiers, and to get beer to their customer in taprooms. The beer style is here to stay, so detractors still calling it a fad better get used to its existence.
Nick Rakowski: Jooce, milkshake, NEIPA is sometimes bad, sometimes fine, and sometimes good. When the Jooce is bad, it's not necessarily the Jooce-specific part that is bad, but it's the easy part to pick on because the beer looks like turbid crap. All that being said, clear IPAs are still good and people should still make those. This has been my take on Jooce.
Paul Josuns: I find myself getting increasingly frustrated at breweries simply making an unfiltered, dry-hopped IPA and calling it "hazy" because it's not bright-clear just on the basis of this trend. On the other hand, I've had a couple beers from the OGs of hazy beer like Tree House and they were great, but have also had others that are muddled with no structure and tasted of stale lettuce. The thing about this IPA subset is, it is not difficult to tell who are the pioneers. Spoiler: some breweries make great beer, others don't.
Jacob Berg: Yep, it’s increasingly obvious who’s good at brewing this style and who isn’t. Locally, Bluejacket put out a few on draft that were worth having, and once The Bruery’s location opens near Union Market we’ll have access to Offshoot’s renditions of the style, which are well done.
The Price, and What it Means for Diversity
Michael Stein: I'm particularly torn over the price point of beer. At my local sandwich shop, Port City's Optimal Wit is $12.99. At my Harris Teeter I've seen it drop to $8.99. Obviously I prefer the $8.99 price point. But I also enjoy giving my extra three dollars to the minority-owned mom and pop shop. I am not alone in this thinking. Of course it's foolish to think my $3 is going to further promote diversity in beer but if price point is one of the biggest barriers to entry in beer, what are breweries doing to address that? The counterpoint is of course, "my brewery can't afford to offer a $9.99 six pack" which I totally respect and understand. It's a cop out but it's also part of the reason I'll never own a brewery. It's no secret the chocolate city is becoming the chocolate chip city, or going from coffee to latte, or whatever metaphor for whitening and gentrification you prefer. If we're all going to live, survive, and hopefully thrive in this city, we need to make sure we're good neighbors and reaching out to communities that look different than the one we're in.
A great trend that I've seen in the beer business is the flourishing of diversity on both sides of the bar. Production still has a ways to go to look as vibrantly different as the typical DC brewery tap room or bar on a Friday night. But overall, the DC beer scene continues to be united and barriers to entry are being broken down by the falling prices of beer. There are a lot of us in the taprooms, bars, and restaurants, whose grandparents were barred from the polling station and the country club a century ago. I have a hard time caring a lot about a juice train or if a large regional brewery is making a style they haven't made before with hops that will be hard for smaller breweries to source, because when I walk into Trader Joe's, Giant, Safeway, or Harris Teeter, and see a six packs between $7.99-10.99 I know that those price points are going to drive beer consumer diversity. The last woman who bought that $10.99 sixer paid more than me and the guy who buys the $7.99 sixer after me paid less than I. Am I sad that the regional brewery took fruit-forward hops away from the small brewer? Maybe. But overall am I thrilled that more good beer will be in the hands of district residents? Absolutely. Now to get them drinking local and understand why some beers in DC in DC are worth paying $20 a sixer or $15 a bottle.
TB: Craft beer writers have pushed back on the 15,000 beers named panty dropper and other awful puns across the industry, successfully, this year. I hope that trend continues well into 2018 and beyond until we're rid of it forever. Give me hop puns all day over this garbage.
NR: It's the end of 2017 and we're still talking about incredibly sexist labels on craft beers and that's a goddamn travesty. We've seen breweries spout nonsense about how beers like "Stacked" and "Leg Spreader" are just, like, a name, man. We've seen a local favorite make a mistake and admit it. We've seen the BA come out with new guidelines to help stand in the way of these kinds of gross marketing ploys. And then we've seen a major local powerhouse leverage those new guidelines into a nonsense statement about 'independence' or some other sort of asinine argument and leave the BA entirely. All of this has happened as more and more women have had the courage to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, bringing to light the myriad horrors they have endured at the hands of men who were let off the hook for just 'being men' or just 'messing around' or just 'reacting to mixed signals.' With these stories continuing to emerge and bad-harasser-men increasingly being held accountable for their actions, I sincerely hope that the bankrupt notion that 'they're just labels' or 'they're just jokes' continues to erode. Let's see what happens in 2018 – and remember to vote with your wallet.
MS: Shoutout to Denizen's and their mission to unify us through beer, particularly to Julie Verratti, co-founder, and her appointment to the Brewers Association board. As we see more like-minded breweries popping up, it is essential that a strong woman with policy advising experience continues to sit on a board and in positions of power previously held by white men. I can't wait until we can say "the first of the female-and-minority owned breweries in Maryland." Non-white non-cis males love beer too! Sorry for the snark. But what are we really doing to change that? Chances are very little but as white men, it's also our duty to get out of the way.
Greg Parnas: On the beer business side of things, there have been some worrying trends in 2017 with Texas, North Carolina, and Maryland legislatures introducing bills that would harm their local craft breweries. The economics and business models of the beer world are changing, and legacy interests seem intent on forestalling that trend as much as possible.
TB: The trend toward hostility to craft beer coming from the Maryland state House and Senate. The passage of HB 1283 was met with anger among craft beer makers in the state. Comptroller Franchot addressed this with his serious of Reform on Tap forums across the state and the state House responded with hostility. This is outside of the usual tepidness the Maryland government shows toward smaller alcohol makers in the state in favor of distributors. It is a key time for the growth of beer across Maryland. I hope something better is worked out soon, or the state is going to miss an opportunity.
PJ: Even though it's painful, I like to see all the beer regulatory matters coming to the fore. My pals here are great at getting into the nitty-gritty, so I won't dive-in, but the hard convos need to be had in order to expose all the bad ideas people in government have…some people are just in charge of stuff. No one knows why, but they must be exposed.
JB: Anxo released the first DC-made cider and opened a 2nd location; The Sovereign cemented its status as the best beer bar in DC; DC Brau added a snazzy new brewhouse; Port City's lager series was a success (especially that smoked marzen) and will continue into 2018; Bluejacket is doing some very good things with lagers (that Helles!) and their cask game; 3 Stars dropped some real solid IPAs,… I was pretty pleased with the year in local beer. One of the more surprising things about beer in 2017 to me is that Port City’s Colossal 6, a Russian Imperial Stout, didn't medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
GP: Ocelot's Sunnyside Dweller (kellerbier) and Powers of Observation (Baltic Porter) more than deserve their respective Great American Beer Festival medals. The Baltic Porter especially is remarkably mild for a 9% abv beer, which kind of makes it dangerous because it’s so delicious you'll want to drink two or three in a sitting. Baron Corvo is a great DC malt-forward beer, with the high attenuation and funk that'd you would expect from Right Proper. I've also been impressed by the grisettes from both Manor Hill and Attaboy. They are the perfect warm weather beer, and Belgium's (superior?) alternative to the pilsner.
I'm looking forward to breweries introducing more lager beer options moving forward, particularly darker options like Doppelbocks and Dunkelweisses. Keep your eyes open for the grand opening of Parallel Worlds in Silver Spring on this front.
MS: Atlas' Dance of Days continued to be a stunner and it is a vote for balanced beer comparatively to some of the 5, 6, 7, and 8 pound dry hopped Mosaic and Citra beers that are highly popular. Not new new but for the first time in cans I found it as tasty on draft as it was in package and that's definitely a compliment to the brewers and packaging teams at Atlas. I'd be remiss to not mention American Zwickel from the District Chophouse was a beautiful beer both in its taste and the concept (a well-made Zwickel, unfiltered lager that showcased American hops!). Bluejacket's For the Company stood out as a great new beer, just an incredibly delicious Helles. Ro Guenzel, Director of Brewing Operations, has really played a masterful hand in not only producing pillowy soft, aromatic-focused IPAs, but also classic German styles like Helles (though not surprising as his pedigree includes a stint at the Kaltenberg Castle Brewery). The DC Beer Week beer also stood out to me, Solidarity Brett IPA, was a lovely beer which continued to evolve thanks to the beautifully complex Brett utilized by Right Proper and the packaging of the Solidarity beer, handled by 3 Stars, made the beer a truly collaborative process and harkens back to pre-prohibition days where beer was manufactured in one place and bottled elsewhere.
Bill DeBaun: Ocelot continue to impress me, you, and everyone in the fricking world with their beers. Sunnyside Dweller is simply a gorgeous beer, and if I can't distinguish between all of their many IPAs, I at least know I'm going to enjoy whichever one I happen to order. Similarly, whenever I encounter Crooked Run's IPAs (usually at Free State, my pick for best new beer bar in 2017), I find myself re-ordering it.
Within the District, Bluejacket and Right Proper continue to lead the pack for me. Having trouble picking a beer at a bar can be a good thing or a very bad thing, In the case of these two, their innovation, execution, and variety make the choice of what to order incredibly difficult in a very good way. Bluejacket's Full Fathom Five in particular was a "holy shit' moment for me that tickled every hop-loving fiber of my body on first sip. To the DC production breweries, there's no slight intended here. I like much of your work, too, and you're doing it at a scale that continues to build out DC's place on the beer map.
I continue to be surprised at the number of breweries popping up in the area (though not nationally – there's a lot of space in the beer map to fill in, especially where quality beer is concerned). The question that invariably makes my interview list to a new brewery coming into the DC market (either locally-grown or from further afield) is why do you want to distribute to DC? Yes, this town is thirsty, and yes we have a lot of accounts that take care of beer well, but everyone and their mother's brewery distributes here already, and their isn't that much shelf space. I guess it goes back to what I wrote in 2016: "If it seems like our market is a crucible that will challenge our breweries to stay current and avoid complacency, it certainly is. Consider that a feature, not a bug."
JB: Outside of the lines for the Craft Brewers Conference events, one of my favorite things about 2017 was DC's new post-whalez environment. Multiple bars made 3 Floyds Zombie Dust a happy hour special, and it was around for about a month. Hill Farmstead's Edward could be had for $4 at the late Red Apron Burger Bar (RIP to that happy hour, though you can find something just like it at EatBar). And nearly two weeks after its release, you can still walk into both bars and stores and buy a bottle of Founders' Canadian Breakfast Stout (which remains a gloppy mess that needs at least a year in the bottle, but that's another story). I think it's a sign of a maturing market.
The Business of Beer
Sean Dalton: 2017 was largely the year I learned to relax and love Big Beer. I just don't seem to have the stamina to keep up my righteous indignation at the near-constant acquisitions of small/independent/craft breweries by macros or private equity groups anymore. And moreover, does it even really matter? A Grapefruit Sculpin is still as delicious as it was two years ago, and Tony Magee is likely still the same hypocritical, sanctimonious twit he was before Constellation backed up its dumptruck of cash to his front yard. Beer is beer, and beer is a business.
Fortunately for those still interested in launching themselves against the barricades, the Brewers Association is more than happy to oblige you with abject silliness. From an ill-executed upside-down bottle logo pushing the shifting terms of "independent" and "craft," to an even more ill-conceived crowdfunding campaign to "Take Back Craft" by buying AB InBev, the Association used 2017 to undercut the very rational and serious arguments brewers have for joining. Huzzah, BA!
TB: I do not like the Brewer's Association looking more like a big-beer trade association with their tactics and rhetoric. Earlier this year, to much criticism, at the Craft Brewer's Conference in DC, they posted a graphic about the trend toward .08 as the legal driving BAC and received much criticism. Their campaigns this year, like the "joke" toward raising hundreds of millions of dollars to buy AB-Inbev, fell flat. Their public support of the craft beer related portion of the tax bill put them at odds with some of the smaller breweries and some drinkers. There are a lot of people that do good work there, but the trend I have seen from their public marketing has not impressed me.
BD: From a public health perspective, how is cutting excise taxes on beer any different than cutting taxes on cigarettes? I'm the most price-sensitive guy out there, and I certainly don't wish any ill on small business owners, many of whom I've come to be friends with, but as I've cheekily reminded folks repeatedly, beer is poison. I am glad the recently passed tax cut helps breweries reinvest in their businesses, and I know this was a hard-fought and hard-won battle, but the number of breweries nationally grew by 116 percent between 2012 and 2016. Are we really trying to say the excise tax is impeding its growth? I have trouble believing it.
New to Market Favorites
MS: Upland’s Champagne Velvet was one of my favorites. I also wanted to point out the ancillary trades which are of great import to us: namely distributors and retailers. Big shout out to Pekko for making an insane beer dinner happen, but also bringing in Prairie, Wakefield, LIC Beer Project, Suarez, Interboro, and a whole host of other hard-to-find or previously-impossible-to-find beers.
GP: This is the year I fell in love with malt. Maybe it's my contrarian personality, but in the year when seemingly every brewery in America decided that jooce and murky milkshake IPAs should be the focus, I found myself gravitating towards beer that had interesting malt profiles and was highly drinkable.
To that end, I drank a lot of Kent Falls Brewing. Their willingness to use interesting adjuncts – buckwheat, toasted hay, spelt -and focus on lower ABV beers (why are table beers not more of a thing?), and top notch execution should please everybody. Everyone should try their gratzer as well. Smoked beer is highly underappreciated in the American beer scene, and that's a shame because there's a great love of BBQ.
JB: I’m just going to dump a bunch of beers here. Ready? Any Offshoot IPA, and that Pils, too; Upland's sours and Champagne Velvet; Crux's Gimme Mo IPA; Ommegang's Pale Sour; Left Hand's Saison Aux Baies Ameres; Suarez Family's porter and pils; Schlafly's reintroduction of their Scotch-barrel aged Scotch ale; Lodgson's Peche 'n Brett; being able to get Urban Chestnut's Schnicklefritz hefeweizen with some regularity; Otter Creek's IPA game remains strong with Daily Dose; Allagash's Brett IPA; Burial and Interboro's collaboration IPA with Run the Jewels, Stay G-O-L-D; Grimm's Magnetic Tape IPA; Bell's Uberon and Whiskey Barrel Cherry Stout.
Imports: Cadejo Brewing's witbier, out of El Salvador of all places. Who knew? Ayinger's new-to-the-US pilsner; Rodenbach in cans; Weihenstephaner Kristalweizenbock,… Good work, all of you!
We Are Old and Possibly Spoiled
BD: Beer passed me by this year. I used to be with ‘"it," but then they changed what "it" was. Now what I’m with isn’t "it" anymore and what’s "it" seems weird and scary. It’ll happen to you! When I get to a good beer bar or read best of lists, I don't recognize the names of some of the breweries, let alone know their backstories or what they're supposed to be good at. The opportunity cost of mowing through pints and tasters to separate the wheat from the chaff isn't something I have the time for at this point, so this year has been largely marked by reconnecting with some old favorites. Beers like Allagash White and Dogfish Indian Brown have already gotten their deserved shout-outs here, but let's not forget local favorites that I disconnected from too. Beers like Evolution Lot 3 or Lot 6, the latter of which flies under so many radars that the Pentagon should be wise to it. Beers like Port City's Porter or the District Chophouse's Nut Brown. If I only get a pint or two on an outing these days, I like to make them count. I think my days of treating plowing through pints and pints as a badge of honor are over, and this is good for both my wallet and my liver. 23 year old me weeps.
PJ: This was the year of enjoying company in the presence of beer instead of the reverse. I found myself consistently having tastes of many different rare, barrel-aged, mix fermented, et cetera, beers and saying to myself "Wow, that's delightful! But, I'm glad I have a beer sitting here to drink en masse instead." I still enjoy getting down with my fellow beerheads and chatting beer, but this year I prefer to save those times for the rare exception. Drinking with Germans underscores that you can both enjoy beer and not spend time considering it at every turn. Sign me up for another liter of Augusteiner Helles, bitte.
John Fleury: 2017 was the year I stopped caring about what was in my glass as much and started focusing on who I was sharing it with. For the majority of events I went to this year, I couldn't tell you what what beers stood out. I can tell you who I was with — and to me, I remembered what was important. Beer is the tool and not the treasure. Ticks and whalez are the things of those who are drinking to impress their peers or obsessed with acquisition. One of my favorite events this year was Snallygaster. It is truly a wonderful festival and always is top notch in both operations and selection. I can tell you I had a Champagne Velvet and a sip of 3 Stars Trouble in Paradise (Ok, it was a big sip. I used to work for them). The majority of my time was spent in the hospitality tent talking with Nahem Simon (Jack Rose, Liquid Integrity) and Greg Engert (NRG) and watching the young ones in Engert's family play and dance to the live music. While we were at one of the most exclusive festivals in the country, I was sipping on a warm canned cider and it was much more of a backyard bbq than premiere event. And that is what made it both special and memorable to me. Beer is the tie that binds us, but focusing more on the liquid than the experience is missing the point. Don't get me wrong: I'm not ignoring good beer and just punching swill in my face on a regular basis. There are certainly times when we talk beer and want to indulge in the conversation that got us here, try new iterations that push the boundaries of beer, and indulge in our favorites. But I try to not lose sight of capturing the moment and letting the a delicious beer accentuate a wonderful experience and not be the focal-point. If good people drink good beer, then 2017 was the year I really started appreciating the beauty of drinking a [good] beer with good people.
TB: Classic beers are being recognized more and more. I've seen writing extolling the virtues of drinking Dogfish Indian Brown Ale (IPA), Anchor Christmas Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Allagash White. These beers have withstood the test of time and hold up among the best in their style and the go-to beers you can find at bars in your area. Drink the beers you drank getting into craft beer because they're good, not just for nostalgia.
Bill Jusino: I hope that we continue to call out sexist bullshit from people at breweries–and industry wide–who should really know better, and vote with our bar tabs when they demonstrate that they do not. Beer is and ought to be a (small d) democratic luxury, something nearly every adult should be able to enjoy responsibly. Especially after this year, I'd like to see the industry (and its customers and patrons!) go beyond addressing the toxicity that leaves people out: I'd like to see us all do more to make everyone feel welcome over a pint.
Aaron Morrissey: 2017 was a crummy year for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons, at least for me, is the beer-related question I keep coming back to over and over again this year: Is beer fun anymore? I mean, it used to be, at least some of the time. But for a number of reasons, it just doesn't feel like it is anymore. More often than not, being into beer in 2017 felt more like a chore than something we all enjoy.
Obviously, this isn't a new thing. Maybe it's just all the other crummy things that pushed it over the edge. But, to me, a lot of the the beer world has drifted — much like the broader world — toward a default state of exclusivity, privilege, and reactionism. I hate to be a downer here, but there are just so many really shitty things out there: the continued presence of sexism in brewing, both implied and blatantly not; the lack of minorities feeling excited and safe about beer bars and getting into brewing; the use of rarity as a measuring stick for quality; the fact that we spent a lot of this year talking about an marketing badge rather than how to get better beer into the hands of more people; the incessant "you're not craft, and I'm telling everyone" debates; legislative hostilities in our backyard (hi, Maryland!) and around the country; the repeated failures of the antiquated three-tier system; pricing in D.C.; the seemingly cratering amount of beer service and stewardship around town; and on and on and on.
Yes, there's really good beer out there. Yes, there's good people to share those beers with. Yes, there are good people making, selling, pouring, and examining beer and beer culture out there. Are those things enough to cut through the static? It doesn't feel that way — and it's definitely not happening as much as it should be. I'm hopeful everyone can put both their feet forward to making beer a more inclusive, jovial, and open-minded community in 2018. We've all got a lot of work to do.
SD: One of my favorite beer stories from 2017 didn't even happen in the DC area. Right around Thanksgiving, in my family's hometown of Hendersonville, NC, a new brewery called Black Star Line Brewing quietly opened. This brewery self-bills as black-, family-, and woman-owned. . . and that African-American woman who owns it is also queer and out. That this happened in 2017, or in any year, is something to celebrate in the industry; that it happened in a sleepy, white-dominated and conservative mountain town like Hendersonville, NC, before it happened in DC is amazing. Locally, Julie Verratti and Emily Bruno at Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring were among the first openly LGBTQ female brewery owners in the country. It's encouraging to now see such diversity in brewery ownership slowly increasing, and in places it would've been hard — if not impossible — to predict.
BD: Lastly, I want to call out some work on the site this year. Greg Parnas has done a tremendous, tremendous job covering the hullabaloo in Maryland over HB 1283. His passion for beer combined with his knowledge of the law and regulations make for an incredible pairing, and the site has benefited from his coverage. One post that I thought was extremely well done but also extremely unfortunate to have to press publish on was Jake Berg's on Flying Dog leaving the Brewers Association. I have a long history with Flying Dog and I'm sorry to see them leave the BA over perceived censorship. Just because you can say something doesn't always mean that you should. Shout out to us for power ranking every single Snally beer as well. Being able to contribute to the editing of pieces like these is a major reason I'm still here typing in this year-end post. Some great people and writers have come through this site over the years, and it's a pleasure to get to know them personally and as writers.
That's enough from me. I guess if past trends hold up I'll see you in 2018. Wishing you all a very happy new year. Thanks for reading the site and also for your feedback in how we can continue to make it, and in turn the DC area beer scene, better.