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Denizens’ Julie Verratti Chats Their 4th Annual Make It Funky Festival

The Make It Funky Wild Beer Festival returns for the fourth year at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring on September 29 from 1-5pm. The massive event features over 100 beers using Brettanomyces, Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, or other non-Saccharomyces yeast and other bacteria from over 30 craft breweries around the country. The description notes “from briny goses to barnyardy Brett beers, participating breweries will be showing off their best rare and one-of-a-kind wild beers.”

The fest is both indoor and outdoor at Denizens’ space. Soul Witness and DJ Kenny M will both perform in the beer garden. A special menu of festival fare will be available to ensure bellies are just as full as tasting glasses.

We had a chance to catch up with Julie Verratti, Chief Brand Officer and Co-Founder of Denizens, to ask her about the event. A transcript lightly edited for length and clarity follows.

DCBeer: Make It Funky is already in its fourth year! Why put on a festival exclusively devoted to these beers? Why are they so important to you as a brewery when so much of your portfolio is "clean"?

Julie Verratti: We've had a robust sour program since we've opened, and while our portfolio does feature "clean" beers, we have always kept sour beers as part of our offerings. Out of the ten beers currently available in our taproom, three would qualify as sour, and two of those have seen barrels. We're proud of what we've been able to due within the small confines of our space when it comes to storing beer in barrels, managing complex yeast strains, all the while meeting an increasing demand for our beer. If you haven't been to our taproom you are probably not as familiar with our sour program because we do not distribute those styles as much as we do our clean beers. We knew when we were in our planning phases that we would have a barrel and sour program, as it is a genre that Jeff (Ramirez) has been making for his whole brewing career. He was first introduced to the style while brewing for Iron Hill in their Maple Shade, NJ location, and then as the head brewer of Mountain Sun in Boulder, CO, where he grew their barrel-aged sour program.

What's Denizens' philosophy on producing sour and funky beers? Why do you do it, and what are you trying to achieve when you do?

Our goal as a company from the beginning was to produce a draft list at our taproom that had the diversity of a craft beer bar while only serving ten drafts at a time. Our year-round brands are an ESB, rye IPA, Czech pilsner, and a Belgian-style tripel. This covers a wide variety by featuring low-ABV to high-ABV, hoppy beers, Belgian-style beers, and lagers. We also produce other seasonals using one of the three Saccharomyces strains we keep in house or specialty ones that we bring in. However, barrel-aged sours touch on a range of flavors and aromas that are unable to be achieved by standard modern day brewing practices. These beers have the ability to achieve characters of whiskey, oak, pineapple, cherry, and a rusticity all at once that somehow thrive in harmony with each other. Having sours in our lineup allows us to fully diversify our offerings.

How do you find the audience to be at this event? Lots of new beer fans exploring? Lots of experienced beer fans being targeted about what they try? A little of both? Should these beers, which often push people's perceptions of what beer is and can be, make people nervous?

I don't know that beer should ever make people nervous. If you're nervous about a beer, then you're probably overthinking it. The audience at Make It Funky has been incredible, and we've loved what the event has become over the years. We often hear from the breweries who are invited to participate that their brewers love coming to this event. I'd like to think it's because we keep the crowd size small, help orient folks around the space, and have some of the best sour beers available all in one spot. I will say that if you are new to sour/wild beers and are curious to try them, then this is a great event to attend because there is such a variety of offerings, and you can even discuss the beers with the brewers who made them.

Had any concerns about having funky beers near your clean-fermenting offerings?

We are extremely serious about quality control and making sure our brewery is extremely clean. Every year we've hosted this event, we have aggressively cleaned the lines after the event is over. During our production, we have dedicated hoses, rubber parts, kegs, and process pumps specifically for these brands that are then rigorously cleaned and exposed to extensive periods of 180+ degree water. With the limited cellar space and our numerous amount of organisms we use for beer production, yeast management takes a strong attention to detail to ensure our beer production is timely and consistent.

Can you assess the local beer scene for sour and funky beers? What do we do well and what would you still like to see?

The sour beer scene locally is fantastic. I think it's really shown you how far the "sour beer" category has come when you start seeing effective management of wild yeast and bacteria presence in styles that normally don't have it. Folks like Right Proper are constantly pushing the boundaries of style categories while having fun doing it. And, Bluejacket continues to churn out amazing fruit-forward sours. I also think it is great that we have access to a lot of "quick" sours around town as well. Union's Old Pro Gose has penetrated the market really well, and I believe it has influenced folks' willingness to try other sour beers.

Any favorites in the beer list you're personally looking forward to?

Denizens beer, of course! We're featuring some hits like Georgia Ave, our Berliner Weisse that we finish with peach puree, as well as some more esoteric styles like our schwarzbier with Brettanomyces, Salute Your Schwarz. We are excited that Black Narrows is coming back this year, and we will even be able to have Sapwood Cellars showcase some of their beer before they open in Howard County.

[Ed. Note: Here’s the list of Denizens’ beers that they’ll pour at their fest. The full list is forthcoming!]

  • Avo Ruby – 10% old ale aged in ruby port barrels with Brettanomyces
  • Backyard Boogie – 7% mixed-culture farmhouse ale aged in Chardonnay barrels
  • Berry Petit – 5% petit sour ale with strawberry puree
  • Brett Party 9.5% Belgian-style tripel with Brettanomyces
  • ChiChi – 5% petit sour ale aged in tequila barrels
  • Georgia Ave – 3.8% Berlinerweiss with peach puree
  • Ill Cru – 12.9% mixed-culture sour quadrupel aged in bourbon barrels
  • Jobu – 10% Brett dubbel aged in rum barrels
  • Low County Common – 4.1% sour brown ale aged in bourbon barrels
  • Papagayo – 6% Brett saison with soursop and pineapple puree
  • Salute Your Schwarz – 5.5% ABV Brett Black Lager

You've got a new production facility coming in the next year (next few months actually, right?) Can you provide us with an update on that?

We wish it was the next few months! We're looking at opening our doors in Riverdale Park in early 2019. Construction is underway, and we're more than excited about what this second facility will enable us to do. We'll have 9,000 square feet of new production space and another taproom of 3,000 square feet. It's a long project because we're building it from the ground up – literally – but every day brings us closer to achieving this important milestone.

Thanks to Juiie for chatting with us about Make It Funky! Tickets are still on sale; $60 in advance, $75 at the door. Stay tuned for more info about the beer list and Denizens' forthcoming additional production facility!

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