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10 Legendary Events of DC Beer Weeks Past (and Present)

Somehow we’re already into September, which means DC Beer Week is upon us for the 11th time. The event calendar is super full this year and largely populated with events from local breweries showing off their finest brews and most fun ideas. Be sure to check out DCBeer’s excellent coverage of these events and the week itself; per usual this site is your best source for all craft beer coverage in and around the District. 

Admittedly, looking at the calendar for the upcoming DC Beer Week triggered some nostalgia in me, so I started thinking about all of the great beer events I’ve seen during past DC Beer Weeks. Just for kicks, I’ve assembled some of them here so you can either remember them fondly or be jealous you weren’t there. I gave preference where events were truly innovative, particularly fun, or, ideally, both.

Here we go, in no particular order!

DC Beer Week Cruise (2011-2013, 2019)

There’s a DC Beer Week cruise this year and boy will I be interested to hear about how it differs from those in 2011-2013. Perpetual money-sinks for the week’s organizers who brought it back multiple times anyway, it’s entirely possible that there were more attendees comped than actually purchased tickets to attend.

Why? Because it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was really a different era in terms of selection; the boat was populated with a handful of local breweries, there were only four production breweries operating inside the Beltway during that time, but fleshed out largely with regional and local offerings.

DC Brau brings the DC Beer Week cruise back this year!
DC Brau brings the DC Beer Week cruise back this year! (Click the image for tickets.)

On one of these cruises I found out that 3 Stars Brewing co-founder Dave Coleman can really dance. That knowledge has been invaluable to me in my personal and professional life. Good luck to DC Brau this year and keep the yacht rock and the Brau Pils coming.

District ChopHouse & Brewery Cask Day/Night (2010-2019)

District Chophouse

The DC beer scene doesn’t have a Dean the way the U.S. House of Representatives does, but if it did, District ChopHouse’s Barrett Lauer would have the title. Barrett has been brewing excellent beers (including the incredible Nut Brown Ale) for a very long time, and every DC Beer Week he puts on a two-day cask event featuring 20 or so offerings from his peers around the city and metro area. He’s also made a habit of livetweeting his retrieval of all these casks.

There’s both a lot of skill and camaraderie that goes into the Cask Night, and in that way it truly represents what DC Beer Week is all about. Now back for the ninth year, Cask Night this year is Friday, September 6, and Cask Day is, you guessed it, Saturday, September 7.

ChurchKey Welcomes Great Raft Brewing (2018)

Long-time readers of this site will remember that I rarely miss(ed) a chance to plug Shreveport, Louisiana’s Great Raft Brewing Company. Andrew Nations, the brewery’s co-founder (along with his wife Lindsay), is an editor emeritus of this website and organized DC Beer Week’s media coverage in 2011.

In 2018, ChurchKey brought Great Raft into town for a feature. This is one of those warm and fuzzy stories that, to me, makes craft beer great. It’s the product that got me into this, but the people who kept me here. Andy and Lindsay are great people and to see them come back up for a DC Beer Week was awesome. Hopeful we’ll see some other DC beer scene alums come back for this DC Beer Week and all those moving forward.

New Belgium Sour Beer Blending Workshop at The Black Squirrel — It’s Sour, It’s Funky, It’s Alive (2013)

RIP the Adams Morgan craft beer institution that was a SAVOR and DC Beer Week mainstay for years. Owner Amy Bowman and the New Belgium team really outdid themselves with this one.

The idea was that attendees would blend their own sour beer using five rare wild ales from New Belgium. Lauren Woods Limbach, the Fort Collins’ brewery’s long-time sensory specialist and blender, gave attendees a background on their sour program. From there it was up to attendees to blend the beer samples in whatever proportion they found most pleasing.

I hadn’t seen anything like this event before, and I haven’t seen anything since. I’m sure it was labor-intensive, but attendees walked away knowing they had gotten a rare and awesome experience.

DC Brau’s Evening of Magical Mystery featuring Chef Mike Friedman (2016)

Full disclosure, I didn’t actually attend this event when it occurred in 2016, but I still think about it every DC Beer Week. Guests bought their $100 tickets knowing they’d get dinner from Mike Friedman (All-Purpose, The Red Hen) and beer from DC Brau, but they wouldn’t know where they’d eat that dinner.

Phil Runco has an excellent recap, but spoiler alert the dining destination was the National Cathedral. If you’re seeing a theme here, it means you’re perceptive. This sounds like it was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Kudos go to DC Brau for thinking of it and for pulling it off. 

The Port City Beach Party (2015)

In a classic example of taking advantage of everything the city has to offer, the team at Port City took over the National Building Museum for one night in 2015. The museum was currently occupied by an exhibit called “The Beach” in which it was filled with nearly a million translucent plastic balls within a 10,000-foot space.

Port City knew that a lot of DC folks in August head to the beach, so for those who were staying for DC Beer Week, the brewery team figured they’d bring the beach to the people. Inflatable rafts, umbrellas, and more set the mood for an extremely memorable event. Please, no drinking and diving. 

The Craft of Comedy at The Big Hunt (2014)

No bombast or over-the-top beers at this one, just folks hanging out and watching stand-up comedy in the middle of DC Beer Week.

As fun as they are, these weeks are grinds if you’re really committed to going out multiple nights. I look back fondly on finding these little pockets of relative normalcy with good people and tasty beers and actually relaxing during what can be a pretty hectic few days.

Assuming you’re going to check out DC Beer Week 2019, try to find the events like these to break up big event after big event.

Sam Adams 30 Years for 30 Beers (2014)

DC Beer Week 2014 included the 30th birthday party for Sam Adams. It included 30 different restaurants pairing a dish with 30 different beers(!).

My recap from that year notes, “As a judge who was charged with trying to sort out the best pairings, I have to say I would have been just as happy if the Boston Beer Company was turning 15. 30 dishes and beers is just too many, especially when many of them are sliders.”

The event was ambitious as hell and showed what a national craft brewery can bring when it puts its mind and resources toward it. I’m not sure we’ll ever see one brewery do another 30-beer tasting, but it’s pretty great that this one is part of DC Beer Week history.

Churchkey returns in 2019 with the 5th Annual Total Tap Takeover.
Churchkey returns in 2019 with the 5th Annual Total Tap Takeover.

ChurchKey’s Total Tap Takeover (2014-2019)

Now a DC Beer Week mainstay, ChurchKey’s first Total Tap Takeover occurred in 2014. The concept is simple: fill all 55 of the venerable DC beer program’s draft and cask lines with beers from DC breweries.

To be very clear, these were breweries whose beers were accessible to beer fans in a lot of venues across the city, but it didn’t stop said fans from packing the bar. To see a line of people stretching down the block just to have the opportunity to drink DC beers in DC was a very cool moment for me personally and also for the scene.

I’m glad ChurchKey is keeping up the tradition on September 10.

Blind and Bitter at Scion, then Scion and Crios, then ChurchKey (2013-2016)

Speaking of lines stretching down the block, the one that the first Blind and Bitter caused on P Street in Dupont Circle surprised, well, pretty much everyone during DC Beer Week 2013. Scion and Crios hosted the event, which featured 24 pale ales or IPAs identified only by three adjectives on the menu.

Guests blind-tasted the beers and voted for their favorites without the preconceptions about breweries or beers. The event was so successful we brought it back in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (at ChurchKey). We also did a Blind & Boozy iteration with high-gravity barleywines, stouts, etc. File that one under events we didn’t try again.

Kudos to friend of the site (and to me) Jake Bishop-Green for proposing a blind tasting event and to then-Scion and Crios beer director Tim Liu for taking a chance on the concept. Hint to other venues out there: blind tasting was popular every time we did it, so maybe bring it back?

A Final Note

There are many more great beer events than I could possibly list here, but these are the ones that stand out for me personally. Keep in mind I’m just one guy (formerly) trying to squeeze as much juice out of each beer week as possible. Still, do you see a glaring omission? Let me know at @BillDeBeer or in the comments below. Given the week’s event calendar, I’m fully confident one or more from DC Beer Week 2019 could appear on a future iteration of this list. Cheers!

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