Denizens Brewing’s 4th Annual Make It Funky Festival is Saturday, September 29 from 1-5pm. Tickets are still on sale. The list 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.” Starting in October, Denizens will be closing off its massive patio in sections for remediation work, so Make It Funky will also be your last chance for a while to enjoy their outdoor space in all its splendid glory for a bit.
The beer list for this event is impressive. Really impressive. Power ranking it would be really hard, because normally the power ranking process relies on having low-hanging fruit to put on the chopping block, and there really isn’t a lot of that here. Be sure to check Denizens’ social media for the full list. That said, a list this long can be really daunting for elementary and expert beer fans alike. Consequently, we’ve identified some beers that caught our eye. Don’t stick to this list religiously, but if you’d like a starting point, we like to think we know a thing or two about a thing or two.
3 Stars – Bout That Life – American Wild Ale – 6.7% – There’s a lot of barrels in 3 Stars’ Funkerdome, and it sounds like this beer, with 12 strains of Brettanomyces, has seen at least a few of them. I don’t know by what order of magnitude better 12 strains is than three or four, but I’d be willing to find out. Sorry, what I mean to say is I’d be “bout that” finding out.
Allagash – Brett Pils – Brett German-style Pilsner – 5.6% – It’s a lager. From Allagash. With Brett. First of all, how often are you going to see a lager from Portland’s most famous brewery? Not often. The only question I have is whether I cans get it in a boot or not and what that would cost.
Allagash – Cultive – Fruited Wheat Ale – 5.4% – This beer is aged on peaches that went into “Farm to Face,” which is a ridiculously tasty beer. If you’re an Allagash fanboy (I am, unabashedly), you might also be drawn to beers from their portfolio you haven’t heard of before. This checks that box.
Atlas Brew Works – Pope Magic – Brett American Blonde Ale – Atlas’ work with Brett is a little underrated locally. Their Saison des Brett is excellent each year, for example. To begin with, I’m willing to take a flyer on nearly any blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels. Add in a manageable ABV (4.7%) and you’ll see white smoke going up around my decision on this one.
Black Narrows – Salts – Tart Oyster Wheat Ale – 4.4% – Here’s a beer on this list I’ve actually had before. Black Narrows’ brewer is Josh Chapman, all-around nice guy and formerly of Bluejacket. Salts is not over-the-top tart, but instead has a well-balanced salinity that’s thirst-quenching. If you can’t make it down to Chincoteague to check out their operation, give both of their offerings here a try. Once you have this one, you can check non-stout oyster beer off your bucket list.
The Brewer's Art – Rode Duivel – Barrel-Aged Fruited Sour Ale – 6.0% – I have an ulterior motive here. I’m sure this barrel-soured ale with a light touch of fresh raspberries is delicious, well-balanced, and excellently brewed. Yadda yadda yadda. But I’m adding this here because I don’t think enough people know about The Brewer’s Art, which is a longstanding brewpub in Baltimore (a short walk from Penn Station) and a pillar of that beer community. It’s wild to say that about a place that has been open for so long, but so it goes. If you haven’t gone up there for a delightful beer-paired dinner and either aperitifs or digestifs in the earthen, rustic basement, you should do that.
Denizens – Low County Common – 4.0% – I don’t actually know what a Kentucky Common is as a beer style, but this is “loosely” based on that style, but I do know I like the idea of making funky beers out of uncommon styles. The description says “the base beer is a Mild, which we naturally soured part of the wort in our open fermenters then pitched Brettanomyces Drie Fonteinen to ferment out the rest of the sugars and aged the liquid in a Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrel. Deep notes of lactic tartness, raisin, and sweet oak pack a lot of punch while still being balanced in this low ABV beer.” I have concerns about the barrel drowning the rest out, but I’m interested in what Brett does to a mild, so here we are.
Denizens – Salute Your Schwarz – Brett Black Lager – 5.5% – See the comments above about Low County Common. I love schwarzbier. We don’t see enough of them. Adding Brett to a schwarz seems like a questionable decision, but like a guy trying out a disused rope swing over a lake, I’d take my chances.
Hellbender – Dr. Fuzz – Fruited Farmhouse Ale – 4.8% – I was all set to amble right by this beer because this event has roughly eight dozen fruited funky or sour beers. What caught my eye here isn’t the 200 pounds of local peaches that the Hellbender team picked at Maryland’s Homestead Farms. No, what was intriguing was the use of Indian coriander and French Fleur De Sel and the use of a Norwegian farmhouse yeast. This sounds like a funky peach witbier, and I’m here all day for that.
Port City – Barrel-Aged Colossal V – Barrel-Aged Brett Ale – 9.8% – It remains so weird to me to see a barrel-aged beer from Port City (I know, I know they’re doing them more often, but this is not their normal modus operandi). To see a barrel-aged beer with Brett, from one of the cleanest-fermenting breweries in the area, and in an Old Ale no less? Sure, sign me up. But only for a little pour, at 9.8 percent this is a bruiser.
Sapwood Cellars – House Saison – Mixed Fermentation Saison – 7.0% – Sapwood Cellars is the just recently opened Columbia, Maryland brewery from Michael Tonsmeire and Scott Janish, two area homebrewers (and accomplished authors), who are no doubt going to become the new hotness for their funky beers and also their IPAs and also whatever else they put their name on. This is the first iteration of their mixed-fermentation saison, so get in on the ground floor and be able to say you had it. The culture was maintained through four years of homebrewing.
Sapwood Cellars – Hop-Ade Ale – 5.3% – “All the refreshing powers of a tart beer, with the bright aromatics of Hallertau Blanc and Mosaic hops. The acidity is provided by a rare yeast strain, Hanseniaspora vineae from our friends at Wild Yeast Co. Hops inhibit the Lactobacillus usually responsible for lactic acid in quick sour beers, but in this case alcohol and sourness both come from the yeast!” Were you not intrigued by the description I wrote in the beer above? Fine, more for everyone else if you pass.
Allagash: They're bringing two of their harder-to-find offerings, including a bourbon-barrel aged sour strong ale. You'll likely find me here until the keg runs out.
Black Narrows: The new brewery by former Bluejacket brewery Josh Chapman and his family in Chincoteague, VA is bringing two beers made with local ingredients, including local oysters, so be sure to stop by.
Denizens: Avo Ruby – Is it dark? Check. Is it barrel-aged? 6 months in ruby port barrels. Is it huge? It's an old-ale, so yeah. Welp, I'm sold. Denizens doesn't barrel a ton of their stuff and you're at the brewery and it's a special release, so drink up if you can.
Denizens: Salute Your Schwarz – An open-fermented schwarzbier you say? With Brett? Sold! It's hard enough to find this underrated style normally these days, let alone with this treatment.
Graft Cider: These guys make some of my favorite funky ciders and they are pouring two along with a collaboration with local favorites Manor Hill. Collecting them all is better than Pokemon for sure.
Sapwood Cellars: Not content to just soft-open their brewery on the same day, the brewery by the guy that literally wrote the book on American sour beer is bringing two of their first beers to the party. Don't miss them.
Upland: If you don't drink the most expensive beers here with your all-you-can-drink ticket, are you really getting your money's worth? They're good beers at a good price and that is the cost of admission.
And finally, perhaps the most important pick:
Tums: Please make sure to stop by this very important booth. The directions say only consume six a day to help with the inevitable heartburn, so consult your doctor first. Stay safe out there.
Denizens – Salute Your Schwarz – Brett Black Lager – 5.5% – If the Born Bohemian (Czech Pilsner) and Boho Chic (Kellerbier) have shown anything, it’s that Jeff Ramirez knows how to make a damn fine lager. Combine that with some funky yeast goodness and 90’s kid puns, and you are bound to have a delicious and unusual beer.
Allagash – Little Brett – 4.8% – “Funky beer w/ lots of soul! 100% Brett 100% Mosaic. Bursts of pineapple notes.” This is like a version of the “clean” Allagash Hoppy Table Beer made with Brettanomyces yeast instead. It is dry, floral, and slightly tart without being especially sour. Allagash has been putting out among the best beers in New England, if not the country, for over two decades. Their base Hoppy Table Beer is so refreshing, light, and tasty; it should be a staple of every American household. That it isn’t is indeed a sign that we are living in the darkest timeline. Add in the experience that Allagash brings from its sour/mixed fermentation program, among the oldest in America, and you are in for a treat. Come back to Little Brett throughout your time at the fest for a low ABV palate cleanser.
Oxbow – Italo Disco – 7.5% Foedre-Aged Farmhouse Ale – Aged in a Brunello di Montalcino oak foudre, this is a rare beer that you are unlikely to see outside of Maine. Oxbow is the second member of Maine’s big three (Allagash, Oxbow, Maine Beer Co), and the brewery is known nationally for their farmhouse ales. You will usually find 500mL bottles of Oxbow selling around DC for $15-$25, so definitely a value pour if that is what you’re going for.
Right Proper – Scott 5/Ravaged By Wolves – These are two great offerings from Right Proper, and I have a 4-pack of each in my fridge right now. Scott 5, is a 5% mixed fermentation farmhouse ale, with hoppy floral notes, and a dry peppery finish. Ravaged By Wolves, a 6.5% Brett version of Right Proper’s Raised By Wolves IPA, is likewise funky but with a maltier body/finish and more tartness. Both are excellent and should be enjoyed. If you’re only going to pick one, then make it weather-dependent. If it is hotter, pick the Scott 5, if it is a cooler and/or cloudy day, go for the Ravaged by Wolves.
Franklins – Older the Berry, Sweeter the Juice – Fruited Sour Strong Ale 10.5% – “Strong Sour Ale infused with Raspberries." Franklin’s is one of the OG’s of the Maryland craft brewing scene, and if you haven’t been to visit them in Hyattsville yet, you absolutely should. The brew pub has been at the center of Hyattsville’s Main Street revitalization, serving delicious food and making tasty beer since 2002. Strong ales tend to come with a lot of dark stone fruit character, so pairing that style with tart raspberries and a sour yeast culture, is going to make a flavor bomb. Just watch out for the 10.5% ABV on the back end. I’d probably try this one out on the early side.
Sapwood Cellars – House Saison and Hop-ade – For those who aren’t regular members of the DC Homebrewers Club, this may be your first chance to try the beer made by Scott Janish and Mike Tonsmeire. They are among the most respected writers on hops and sour beer in the country. Mike, helped to get the sour program at Modern Times up and running, and has consulted and collaborated with breweries all over the country on their mixed fermentation programs. Seriously, before you have to wait two hours in a line for cans of Scott’s IPA or bottles of one of Mike’s sours, check them out at Make It Funky.
Non-beer choice: Craft Kombucha – I’ve been enjoying Tanya’s fermented tea concoctions since 2013, when Craft Kombucha was first producing out the back of the old Heller’s Bakery, in Mt. Pleasant. Far more interesting than the flavors you normally see in bottles around grocery stores, Craft Kombucha has always incorporated ingredients (fruits, flowers,herbs, and hops) that truly make their tea stand out. If you want an alcohol free alternative, definitely stop by their booth. As a bonus, the Craft Kombucha mascot is Tanya’s adorable boxer, who you can see laying around the Mt. Pleasant Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.