Opening Day for baseball season was last week, which means that people across the country (and let’s be generous and also say the globe) were queuing up for fantasy baseball drafts. This experience (as I can tell you firsthand) is eminently fun, frustrating, and full of tough decisions. Back in 2014 and 2015, DC Beer released local beer fantasy drafts where staff members and other beer community members picked the beers from local breweries they’d want in their “fantasy lineup” if they were building a portfolio for a new brewery today.
Months ago I put out a call, internally to staff but also publicly to Twitter, for people’s fantasy lineups. I asked them to abide by the following parameters:
- First, any production brewery or brewpub as far north as Frederick or as far west as Ashburn was available to select from. Anyone who felt the need to include Baltimore breweries/brewpubs was free to do so, but was encouraged to pick from the more traditional DC market.
- Next, any beer, past or present from any of the aforementioned breweries was available for selection.
- Another rule that we all abided by was that when picking a beer, you could choose to make it more rare but not less rare. For example, DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon is a limited release now; those of us who picked it could choose to make it a limited release or a seasonal, but not a flagship. Conversely, if someone wanted to make DC Brau’s The Public, currently a flagship, into a seasonal or a limited release, that’s their permissible prerogative.
- Finally, we were restricted to pick no more than five flagships, four seasonals, and three limited releases.
This is a fun thought experiment, and although it’s easy to see it as a complicated way to list what you think the best beers in the DC metro area area, I’d contend it goes one step beyond that because asking someone to develop a balanced portfolio is tough.
Here are the submissions I received. Feel free to leave your picks in the comments!
Daniel Kolender, DC Beer Contributor
Atlas Dance of Days, which I believe was draft-only merely a year ago [Ed. Note: this was true when Daniel wrote this to me, which was a while ago. My delays in publishing should be taken into account], has evolved into my go-to at Safeway. The fact that I, whenever I damn well please, can pick up an $11 local sixer of deliciously crushable hoppy pale ale approximately 25 feet away from Totino’s pizza rolls may never cease to excite me. Port City is a gem and everyone is happy if you bring either their Wit or Porter over. Lost Weekend has improved so much, and was also quite good to start with, and Mexican Radio holds its own against hype-y line drawers like Abraxas (don’t @ me). My Happy Gilmore-style Happy Place is unlimited Sunnyside Dweller by a body of water (and girlfriend/family/friends, ideally, I guess). I Photoshopped a picture because I’m that excited about it.
I have Ocelot in each of these categories; I did not set out to do this, but they truly are amazing across the board. Aslin has yet to miss in my book, but my favorite rotational has to go to Master of Karate for balancing that big citrus/stone fruit softness with a pleasant bitterness to remind me I’m drinking a beer. Trouble in Paradise tastes like summer. The dream that is Port City’s Lager Series deserves praise that is beyond my writing skills; choosing just one was brutal, but I am dedicated to hyping up schwarzbier so that I can eventually find it more often.
Aslin DDH Dunley Place (Double IPA), Ocelot BA Here Kitty Kitty (Stout), Right Proper Don’t Go Chasing Lager Falls
I had to drive 50+ minutes out to Herndon for work recently, where my meeting was promptly canceled upon my arrival to the parking lot. I then drove to Ocelot, got a pour of the borderline-sinful tasting Here Kitty Kitty and immediately felt the trip was worth it. DDH Dunley Place is the best hazy IPA I think I’ve ever had; drinking it with a couple strangers on the Brookland Pint patio on a sunny day during CBC was close to a transcendental experience.
Don’t Go Chasing Lager Falls is when Right Proper “took the hopping concept from that of the New England style IPA and applied it to the grist and fermentation profile of the American adjunct lager to create this citrusy and crisp light lager.”
I got so excited about this beer when I first drank it that I went off to my girlfriend, opposite me on the patio table at Right Proper on a mild late-Spring evening, about the genius of the NEIPA/lager mashup. She (understandably!) could not have cared less, but I still have the memory of looking into her eyes, and rather than seeing them glazing over, lighting up at my excitement. It was a perfect beer for a perfect night. Beer can often be more than just liquid poison and moments like this are what keep me coming back.
Honorable Mentions: Right Proper Ornette (#MakeMoreGrisette); True Respite Country Wit (excited to try more from these guys); Saints Row Thick Lines (ditto); Waredaca’s Runaway series (drinking these at their farm with my mom watching horses is a Top 5 Beer Memory); Crooked Run’s 18% Glory; RAR’s Nanticoke and Groove City technically don’t count in the rules, but IMO deserve a mention for being close and plentiful in Giant.
Jake Berg, DC Beer Co-Editor
- Ocelot – Sunnyside Dweller (Pils)
- Port City – Optimal Wit (Wit)
- Bluejacket – For the Company (Helles)
- District Chophouse – Oatmeal Stout
- Bluejacket – Turning Road (IPA)
- Fall: Port City Schwartzbier, Rocket Frog Wallops Island (Brown Ale)
- Winter: Port City Porter, DC Brau – Sleeping Standing Up (Barrel-aged Barleywine)
- Spring: 3 Stars Brewing – Low Riderz (IPA, collab with Finback), Right Proper – Being There (Kellerbier)
- Summer: 3 Stars – Trouble in Paradise (Sour w/ fruit), District Chophouse Light Lager, Right Proper’s Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne. You choose.
- Right Proper – Peach mead barrel aged White Bicycles (collab with Charm City Meadworks)
- Aslin – Double Orange Starfish (DIPA)
- Ocelot – Watch Me Disappear (IPA)
I’ll add my voice to the chorus that sings the praises of both Sunnyside Dweller and Optimal Wit, and we’ll throw in a second lager because why not? Last time we did this, it was Forbidden Planet, but this time we’ll go with something a bit more “to style” with Bluejacket’s Helles. Chophouse’s Oatmeal Stout is a “three-season” beer, and in air conditioning you can make that year-round.
IPA has become a much tougher category over the last few years, but to me Bluejacket and Ocelot are the most locked-in of the locals. I went with Turning Road, not Lost Weekend or the haze of Lazy Jane, and I was tempted to stick with DC Brau’s Corruption here, too, because there really isn’t anything else like it locally (ooh, that blast of dank grass….). Right Proper’s Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champaign (Berliner Weisse) would be an excellent sixth flagship here were we allowed to do such a thing.
I was also really tempted to put another lager in the Flagship category, but past rules to this game stipulate that we can’t make limited release beers into flagships, so sorry to Port City’s Schwarzbier, the crown jewel in their rotating lager series. It, and the area’s best brown ale (Rocket Frog’s Wallops Island) signal the changing of the seasons. The best porter (Port City’s) and Brau’s British-style barleywine will help me get through the colder months. Spring starts with a floral, almost Brut IPA from 3 Stars and Queens’ Finback, along with the always in-style Being There from Right Proper, which really should be in cans by now.
Trouble in Paradise is your favorite sour if you don’t like sours, and maybe even if you do. Greg and Kelsey’s Wedding Ale from Bluejacket would also work here. Throw in a crushable light lager, too. Virginia’s finest hop monsters represent in the Limited Release category, as does a funky, dry collaboration between Right Proper and Charm City Mead.
Tony Budny, Screaming Into the Void Columnist
Whereas I abided by the parameters set forth above, I took the added step of not choosing the same brewery twice, which I fell into after realizing I had done it 75% of the way through choosing this list and just went with it.
- Fall: Lost Rhino Rhin’Ofest
- Winter: Jailbreak Dusk Til Dawn
- Spring: Denizens Bocho Bandido
- Summer: Mad Fox English Summer Ale
Now this is quite a fine beer list, if I do say. This is a pretty representative sample of my drinking history, along with every jurisdiction represented multiple times and every style with a tap. Every beer drinker could find something here walking in the door. The IPA fiends will find plenty to like with the juicy Citra Splendor and the punch of Sensei combined with the balanced and sneaky Talking Backwards. Fans of traditional English ales can pick up a pint of the two best interpretations the region has to offer with District Chophouse’s Nut Brown and Mad Fox’s easy-drinking English Summer Ale. Fans of tart, sour beers will feast upon Denizens Bocho Bandido, a refreshing beer with lime and Brett, and 3 Stars Ricky Rose, a dark sour ale with blackberries. Dark beer drinkers will revel in the best the area has to offer that can be found regularly, Port City’s Porter, Jailbreak’s imperial stout Dusk ‘Til Dawn, and Union’s Blind and Boozy-winning Chessie barleywine.
Some of my favorite beers in the area didn’t even make this list, with DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon, Bluejacket’s Mexican Radio and Forbidden Planet, Mad Fox’s Slobberknocker, and Union’s Double Duckpin falling just short. The competition in the region has only gotten more fierce as the years have gone on, and that’s a testament to growing talent entering the region. We are truly embarrassed with riches in the DC area. It’s a beer-drinker’s paradise.
Bill DeBaun, DC Beer Co-Editor
Wow. This was hard. One of the reasons it took so long to get this post out was every time I looked at the list of nearly 30 beers I would consider for my portfolio I got so frustrated trying to figure out what to put where that I said, “Screw it” and closed the window. But now I’m ready to make some tough decisions. Here we go.
- Bluejacket – Lost Weekend
- District Chophouse – Nut Brown
- Ocelot – Sunnyside Dweller
- Port City – Porter
- Fair Winds – Siren’s Lure
It’s good to see some convergence here around some of these beers. We came to these decisions independently, which indicates to me that where there’s some overlap it really says something about those beers. One of the interesting things about the flagships I chose is that most of them have a backup that could be substituted here in a pinch, but asked to pick a well-rounded portfolio, here are my favorites.
Lost Weekend remains the best beer brewed in the District in my opinion. That all-Citra, softly bittered, white peach and nectarine, slightly hazy beauty is still something I have a pint of every time I’m there regardless of what else is on. Barrett Lauer’s Nut Brown is perhaps the most underrated beer in DC, and it remains a delightful example of a classic style. Ocelot’s Sunnyside Dweller has some competition in the
Port City’s Porter remains gorgeous after all these years even if the style isn’t on the hype radar these days. Fair Winds’ Siren’s Lure rounds out my top five. Lightly dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Galaxy, it’s a masterful marriage between classic technique and modern flavor profiles. (Shout out also to Pale Fire’s Salad Days Saison, which is also a favorite in this style, but Harrisonburg, VA is way too far outside of the DC metro area for our purposes here.)
- Fall: Bluejacket – Company Porter
- Winter: Right Proper – Shawbecker Schwarzbier
- Spring: Mad Fox – Kellerbier Kolsch
- Summer: DC Brau – Joint Resolution
Company Porter is a relatively new addition to Bluejacket’s extensive portfolio. It’s a historical beer collaboration with the venerated Ron Pattinson and DCBeer’s own Michael Stein, and it joins my lineup as the fall seasonal. This is pretty far from the refreshing profile I normally crave, but there’s something about its dry, complex, slightly licorice-y flavor that has kept me coming back for more. I know porter isn’t for everyone, and one like this certainly not, but as the leaves start to turn, I’m reaching for this one.
For the winter, it’s easy to turn to a big malt bomb like Port City’s Doppelbock or 3 Stars Pandemic, and no qualms if that’s what you reach for, but I’m still looking to be refreshed by beer, even December through March, so Right Proper’s thirst-quenching Shawbecker gives me some of those wintry roast notes while still offering plenty in the way of sessionability.
Plenty of options as we round into spring, but let’s give a nod to Mad Fox’s Kellerbier Kolsch, which continues to hold its own. There’s a reason this is one of the most decorated beers in the area, and Bill Madden’s flagship finds a place in my rotation here.
Finally, the newcomer to DC Brau’s portfolio becomes my summer mainstay. I compare this favorably to Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing and Victory’s Cloud Walker, which is high praise indeed for our local brewery. Weighing in at 5.5%, there’s plenty to love here for fans of hazies while still being thirst-quenching and sessionable. It’s a tough pick between this and Solace’s Suns Out, Hops Out. It’s nice to have hard choices to make sometimes.
- DC Brau – Sleeping Standing Up
- Port City – Tidings
- Bluejacket – Full Fathom Five
This was the hardest category to pick for me mostly because I find plenty to like among our local breweries’ regular offerings and rarely have to stray from them. That said, I’ve got three very different beers here. DC Brau’s Sleeping Standing Up is a barrel-aged English barleywine that deserves your time and attention (and demands your caution and respect). Get a four-pack of this, drink it quarterly, and make sure you pair it with a giant wedge of Stilton or long-aged gouda. Port City’s Tidings remains my favorite holiday beer; it’s like a super-charged Optimal Wit with ginger, and I’m a sucker for it. I’d probably drink it year-round if it was possible to do so. Finally, Bluejacket’s Full Fathom Five is the beer I most clearly having a visceral and (positive) profane reaction to, which seems like a good criterion to use for selection to a list like this.
There are so many honorable mentions to make here. It was really tough not to find a place for these, but so it goes. 3 Stars: Above the Clouds, Grapefruit Ghost, Trouble in Paradise, Low Riderz (w/ Finback), Stardust, Two to the Dome; Atlas Brew Works: Dance of Days; Bluejacket: For the Company; Crooked Run: Heart and Soul; DC Brau: Turbo Boost Multiball, Corruption; Jailbreak: Ethereal; Mad Fox: Orange Whip; Port City: Optimal Wit, Schwarzbier, Helles; Right Proper: Kick.Kick.Snare, Kodachrome Dream(ing), Astral Weeks, Facing Future; Rocket Frog: Wallops Island; Solace: Partly Cloudy IPA, Sun’s Out, Hops Out
Thanks for reading! Be sure to let us know your selections in the comments!