Get ready folks because it’s that time of the year again: DC Beer Week!
As has been the tradition for many years, the District’s breweries have joined forces to make a Solidarity Beer in honor of the week. This year’s creation is a lager style known as kellerbier — a crisp, traditionally noble-hopped, malty, and slightly sweet “young” lager — that will premiere at the DC Beer Week Kickoff Party at Bluejacket on September 8.
Brewing the Solidarity Beer
This year’s Solidarity Beer was brewed at Bluejacket on Monday, August 12, and I took the opportunity to hang out with the members of the Guild during the brew session to learn more about the planning process for this year’s beer.
It started with a discussion between Paul Dean, Executive Director of Brewers’ Guild, and Ro Guenzel, Director of Brewery Operations for Bluejacket during one of the Technical Committee Events that the Guild organized this year. Ro initially suggested brewing a lager, perhaps owing to his prior experience studying and working as a brewer in Germany (more on that later) and surveyed other brewers to get their input on the malt bill, mash schedule, and hopping schedule.
According to Barrett Lauer, Head Brewer at The District ChopHouse and Brewery, this is the first year that the Solidarity Beer style and the process were determined by a blind survey, and he felt it created a much more efficient and straightforward process. The input from his fellow brewers allowed Ro to create a “brand definition” for the beer; a precise set of descriptors that would drive the final development and execution of the recipe.
“Every beer that we create at Bluejacket begins with this type of discussion among the staff to develop a brand definition for the product,” Guenzel said.
The kellerbier features a mix of Pilsner, Munich, and Caramunich malt, which will provide the beer with a crisp, biscuity, slightly caramel flavor. It will be fermented using a Weihenstephaner lager yeast strain. The hops were not yet set during the morning of the brew session, but Guenzel and Lauer indicated it would be a more American (i.e., aggressive) use of German hops.
Decoction, a traditional take
One reason I was excited to be at the brew session for the kellerbier was the use of a traditional brewing technique called decoction, which I had never seen in a large-scale brewing setting. In decoction, a portion of the mash is separated from the main brew vessel and brought to a rolling boil. This sets off Maillard reactions in the boiling mash, which caramelizes the sugars in the grain and generates a more complex set of flavors. This process was, and in many homebrew circles is still thought to be, the secret to a quality German lager.
Surprisingly, Guenzel said decoction was part of the process for the Solidarity Brew more from tradition than anything else. He spent many years living in Germany, apprenticing and working at the Kaltenberg brewery, and explained that “German brewers have mostly stopped doing decoctions for their beers and view it as inefficient.” Modern malting techniques and varieties, along with greater temperature control, have largely alleviated the need for, or benefit of, the decoction process.
This year’s malt grains and yeast were generously donated by BSG and Jasper Yeast, respectively. Since the annual Solidarity Beer is a fundraising product for the DCBG, donated ingredients ensure the money raised from the sale of the beer supports the Guild. The Solidarity Beer will be available on draft at every member brewery of the DC Brewers’ Guild, with about 40 cases of the beer in cans, donated by Wine & Beer Supply in Ashland, Virginia, available for sale at Bluejacket.
Dean says he is very proud of the tradition of the Solidarity Beer because “[it is] a unique collaboration of all the brewers getting together to benefit the whole community.”
In addition to the release of the Solidarity Brew, there a number of other exciting events taking place throughout the week. Barrett Lauer, who has been an institution in the DC brewing scene for its modern history, is especially pleased with the evolution, he says, because, “events during the week are now much more involved and creative. We’ve moved beyond just having tap takeovers.”
You can find a full schedule of events and coverage at DCBeerweek.net and DCBeer.com. And remember, DCBeer.com and the DC Brewers’ Guild would like to remind you to “Drink Local.”