Silver Branch Brewing Company, coming in late 2018, is slated to become the third and largest brewery to open in downtown Silver Spring. Silver Branch will be located in the Silver Spring Metro Plaza, right next to the Metro station and transit center. Brought to you by the experienced team of Christian Layke (former head brewer at Gordon Biersch-Rockville) and Brett Robison (former general manager of Republic in Takoma Park), Silver Branch is an exciting new entrant to the DMV beer scene that aims to highlight the best of the big four brewing traditions: Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and America. Christian and Brett were kind enough to sit down with me and share their philosophy around brewing and what unique or new offerings the brewery will be bringing to the area.
While originally named Parallel Worlds, a trademark notice in the form of a cease and desist letter caused a name change for the brewery-in-development. Robison believes that it was actually a blessing in disguise. “It caused us to do a deep dive into naming and marketing, the significance of a brand name, and the image that we wanted to put forward.” The name Silver Branch harks back to an old practice of English and German pub owners where they would hang a branch outside of their pub when they had beer available for consumption. That, plus the desire to tie their establishment to the area of Silver Spring (where both Christian and Brett live), led to the name Silver Branch. Christian explained that, “We’re not trying to be edgy, but more of a family brewery. A comfortable place to visit regardless of [beer] knowledge level.” The concept of creating “gemutlichkeit” in an American brewery may sound a bit gimmicky, but it is something that Brett and Christian are very serious about. Brett notes, “We know that based on our location and offerings we can probably have a full taproom on the weekends. The core question is: what does our place look like on a Tuesday evening? Every decision we make is geared with that question in mind.” One of Christian’s favorite beer cities is Bamberg, Germany, because of the number of breweries in close proximity to one another. He “loves the idea of bringing a walking brewery scene to Silver Spring and contributing to our city’s diverse economic and social fabric.”
Brett’s journey to the beer world began several years after graduating college. He finished up with a degree in engineering and then joined a financial firm where he helped to develop automated quantitative trading programs. Not being particularly interested in life as a finance bro, Brett determined that he wanted a change of culture and went to work in a now-defunct brew pub in Virginia. “I was living with my parents at that time, not making a lot of money, and working at the brew pub. [That job] taught me how to manage casks and also a lot of what not to do on the business side." After the brew pub, Brett moved over to the Black Resturant Group and eventually became general manager of Republic, where he started the first entirely local and self-distributed beer program in the area.
Prior to beginning his career as a brewer, Christian worked at an environmental non-profit. One of the perks offered to the staff was to take up to a ten-week sabbatical to pursue a personal interest, and Christian took the opportunity to travel to Belgium and complete an apprenticeship at Brasserie à Vapeur. During that internship, the head brewer at à Vapeur also set up opportunities for Christian to participate in brew days with other operations around Belgium. After coming back from Belgium, Christian continued to work on environmental policy, but he was eventually given a “dispensation” from his wife to pursue a brewing career professionally. He went and worked under the venerable Barrett Lauer at District Chophouse until Barrett helped him get a job as the “beltway brewer” with multiple DMV Gordon Biersch locations. He was then made head brewer at the Rockville location.
The two partners linked up when Christian was experimenting with self-distributing small amounts of beer from Rockville Gordon Biersch. A big part of Brett’s ethos as a restaurant manager was to really know a brewery prior to buying beer from there. He insisted on visiting the facility, meeting with the brewers, and seeing how they managed their brewhouse and approached the business. Only if it was a right fit did he agree to work with them. It is an attitude towards detail, quality, and building long-term relationships that Brett hopes to bring to Silver Branch.
Among the most exciting offerings at Silver Branch will be a regular lineup of cask ales. A cask-conditioned ale refers to the process through which beer is naturally carbonated via a secondary fermentation inside a steel or wooden cask. Unlike in most modern production, where beer is force carbonated in a brite tank and then pushed through tap lines with CO2, cask ales rely on a beer engine that the server uses to pull beer from the cask, which is vented so it is not under pressure. The piston in the beer engine creates a vacuum in the line for the naturally carbonated ale to pass through. This tends to produce beer pours with a softer mouthfeel and more delicate aroma. It also means that the beer in the cask changes over time, and to hear Brett talk about cask ale is to hear a man in love:
Cask ales are alive in a sense. You can try a pour from a cask a couple of days apart and it will be slightly different. You and a friend can each have a pour from the same cask even an hour apart and there would be an argument over the exact perfect time to have had that beer. It provides a truly unique drinking experience because the beer you had will always be slightly different than the next pour and one before it. We are aiming to be one of the few real ale breweries/bars in America certified by Cask Marque.
In addition to the cask ale offerings, Silver Branch will also feature flagships like a Czech pilsner, a tropical Stout (common in the British Caribbean), and a witbier. For these styles, the brewery will use traditional techniques such as decoction and multi-step mashes and reverse osmosis for their water in order to ensure that the beers are as true to their roots as possible. The brewhouse at Silver Branch is cleverly set up, with a 15 BBL brewhouse and 45 BBL fermenters that can be also be used to ferment 15 and 30 BBL batches. This will permit Silver Branch to brew both long-fermenting beers like pilsner or a quick session pale ale on a schedule and volume that provides the needed flexibility for such a diverse portfolio. The large initial production capacity will allow Silver Branch to stay put in their location for the foreseeable future. “We have a good partnership with our commercial property owners and have signed a 10-year lease. This is our home, this is where we want to stay, this is the community we want to build.”
Look for Silver Branch and their huge 1,000 square foot patio to open in late 2018. Brett and Christian will be happy to host you and your family and share a hearty toast. Best of luck and prost to them!
Greg Parnas, is a contributing writer to DC Beer and local alcoholic beverage attorney. If you'd like to discuss more about this issue, or other concerns with beer and the law, please feel free to reach him at Greg@dcbeer.com.