There were three DC Beer Weeks without beer from a DC-based production brewery.
In 2008, DC Beer Week co-founders Teddy Folkman and Jeff Wells brought into reality their vision of a whole week celebrating the DC craft beer scene while generating bar sales during the city’s traditionally slow mid-August. It was a wholly different beer environment than fans enjoy today.
Brewpubs like District Chophouse, Gordon Biersch (at the now-defunct 9th Street location), and Capitol City Brewing (which was at that time still brewing at its Union Station location which is also now defunct) were slinging DC-produced suds, but none of the six current production breweries was yet open. The same was true of Port City, Denizens, and many more that we’re now familiar with in the broader DMV.
The Brickskeller was still open and neither ChurchKey nor Meridian Pint had served their first beer. Come to think of it, most of the places you probably think of as the top beer programs in DC hadn’t opened yet (except Pizzeria Paradiso, which was here before most of us and will probably outlive all of us as an institution). The largest local brewery was Flying Dog (that’s still true, depending on how inclusive of “local” you are from DC).
To be sure, DC Beer Week was different in those years. Regional and national breweries like Flying Dog, Brewery Ommegang, Bell’s, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams (among others) filled the DCBW slate when local options weren’t as numerous as they are now. Events were different, too. “Tap takeovers” and “steal the pint” nights were legion. Anything to generate some momentum for beleaguered bartenders hoping to make it past Labor Day and into the more lucrative fourth quarter of the calendar.
Beer scenes, like everything else, change. Port City opened February 2011. DC Brau followed close behind that April and the now-shuttered Chocolate City Beer opened in August (and had its debut at the now-closed RFD during DC Beer Week 2011). These openings ensured that there would never again be a DC Beer Week without beer from a DC production brewery.
3 Stars opened in 2012 and Atlas Brew Works, Bluejacket, and Right Proper all sold their first beers in 2013. Hellbender followed in 2014. Beer events with local beer proliferated on the DCBW calendar with increasing intensity; these openings helped to advance craft beer across the city. Beer programs and the directors who curated them wove together the fledgling local breweries’ offerings, stalwart regional and national beers, and occasionally took advantage of DC’s gray laws to bring in unfamiliar specialties from afar. Slowly, craft beer infiltrated tap lines and beverage menus at other bars and restaurants across the city, too.
The night ChurchKey changed everything
These developments all set the stage for the most important DC Beer Week event ever: ChurchKey’s First Annual DC Total Tap Takeover, which took place on August 13, 2015.
The concept was simple: the crown jewel of DC’s craft beer bars would turn all 55 of its draft and cask lines over to DC-made beer. The event featured beers from 3 Stars, Atlas, Bluejacket, DC Brau, Hellbender, and Right Proper (the one knock was the omission of DC’s brewpubs, which was rectified in subsequent years) and represented a celebration of how far the DC beer scene had come and also what it had become: an environment in which local brewers could (and did) largely meet beer fans’ demand themselves. (The changing relationship between our beer scene with regional and national craft breweries is a story for another day).
I was a co-chair of DC Beer Week 2015 (along with Chris Van Order and Mick Nardelli), so the event was especially meaningful to me. Running DC Beer Week is no joke of an experience; there are a million things to juggle during a chaotic, intense run-up and week-of experience. Still, it was exciting to have this inaugural focus on DC taking place. I hoped people would buy into it so they could see the best of what their city was producing.
Boy did they ever buy in.
By the time you walked over after work that Thursday, it was one-in, one-out at the door with a line stretching down the block. Upstairs was packed, a sweaty morass of people and pints. Beer fans, brewers, distributors, and everyone else associated with the scene crammed into ChurchKey’s long, narrow space all to be a part of, and get a pint of, what this was all about.
To be cliche: it was really, really cool, and at least for me showed the best of what DC Beer Week can be. It also cemented a change that endures today: the DC Beer Week calendar is now mostly populated with events from local breweries with a handful of non-DMV showcases sprinkled in. With more local breweries opening, it was an inevitable trend, but the inaugural event at ChurchKey provides a clear demarcation between then and now.
Fortunately for beer fans, the tradition continues. The fifth iteration of the DC Total Tap Takeover occurs tonight, September 10. The lineup is diverse, creative, and making me thirsty.
I’m not sure if Folkman and Wells ever imagined a DC Total Tap Takeover would occur during the week they started way back in 2008. Even if they did, I’m not sure they could’ve fully imagined a line out the door for it. I hope we’ll see a similarly sized and enthused crowd tomorrow night. The beer scene deserves nothing less for how far it has come since those early years.