Capital Weather Gang tells us, “Saturday highs should reach the upper 60s to low 70s under partly cloudy skies, with Saturday night lows falling back to the upper 40s to mid-50s.” Sounds like a pretty good day to have a beer festival. Fortunately, Snallygaster, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s monstrous beer festival, is back for its eighth year.
Your DCBeer team has their power rankings of all 400 or so beers, an exercise I reluctantly have to abstain from this year, but I’ve been asked both this year and in the past how I approach beer festivals like Snallygaster and to pick some out. Looking over the list I plucked 25 or so beers I would be on the lookout for. (Full disclosure: a family obligation keeps me from attending Snallygaster this year, but I’ll be with you, yes you, in spirit up until the point you start dancing in an embarrassing fashion in front of the Gallery Stage or have trouble pronouncing the word “Mosaic” during hour three. At that point, you’re on your own.)
How do I pick these beers? Honestly, it’s what I would want to drink if I were at Snallygaster 2019. That means drinking beer for refreshment not for blowing out my palate or padding my Untappd. Sure there are some whales on the list below, but you’ll find very little in the hazy realm, even fewer stouts, and a bunch of lagers and zippy beers to keep my mouth awake and happy.
In past years, economics/cost-effectiveness was a big factor in my decisions here, but now that they’ve moved to an “unlimited” system, that’s not relevant. What is more relevant now that folks aren’t paying for every pour is what will still be available later on in the day and where lines will be longest.
Listen now: The DC Beer Show’s Snallygaster 2019 Preview!
Readers will notice I’ve mostly skipped the (deservedly) hyped stuff like Other Half, The Veil, and Cantillon. That’s for two reasons: 1. Most readers already know this is the stuff they’re going to want to get to and 2. I hate waiting in lines. Instead, I’ve tried to find some gems and underhyped offerings that I’d make a beeline for if I were passing by their tent.
Remember to have fun and hydrate often at Snallygaster 2019, an event I’ve come to appreciate a lot for a number of reasons. There is way, way, way more good beer there than you’ll be able to reasonably drink. So if you don’t get your top choice, remember there are like 25 others behind it to enjoy.
Anyway, here’s my list. Cheers!
Bill DeBaun’s Snallygaster 2019 Top 25
Brewery – Beer Name – Style – ABV – Snallygaster Station
3 Fonteinen – Intense Red 2019 – Lambic w/ Cherries – 6.0% – Kraken
Fresh on the heels of me saying I’d mostly skip the hyped stuff, here’s a beer from Belgium’s acclaimed 3 Fonteinen. This will kick first, as will the rest of the 3F and Cantillon, but the idea this is unlimited pours is phenomenal. Fond memories of drinking this at the Max’s Taphouse Belgian Beer Festival, and the name holds up: the cherry flavor here is pure joy. Snag a pour if you can.
Alesong – Ginger Snap – Barrel-Aged Sour Brown Ale w/ Ginger, Cinnamon & Vanilla – 7.9% – Jabberwock
I don’t know anything about Alesong, not one thing, but I like the idea of a barrel-aged sour brown ale (oud bruin?) with an unusual assortment of additives. I’m not huge on the vanilla, they could’ve stopped after ginger and cinnamon, but I’m fascinated by what the idea of these spicy offerings will do to a beer in this style, and fascination is good enough for inclusion here.
Allagash – River Trip – Belgian Blond Ale – 4.8% – Poseidon
You need “standing in line for whales” beers, and this is a great one. However much Allagash River Trip you have in your life right now, there’s no way it’s enough. Crisp, refreshing, enough hops for the average Snallygaster attendee, and perfectly crushable.
American Solera – Save 750 – Mixed Fermentation Table Beer (Stillwater Collab.) – 4.8% – Medusa
I’m a sucker for table beer (see Allagash River Trip, which has its roots in the now-defunct Hoppy Table Beer). American Solera gets a lot of praise for its mixed-ferm offerings (I mean, Solera is in the name…) and if Stillwater’s Brian Strumke is involved you know there will be some kind of quirk.
Ardent – Little X – Hazy IPA w/ Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo, Loral & Simcoe Hops – 4.6% – Jabberwock
There are a lot of hazy IPAs from Richmond at Snallygaster between The Veil, The Answer, and Triple Crossing, but having just recently taken a trip down there, I’m going to steer you toward Ardent’s Little X. Their IPA X was a deeply satisfying, dangerously drinkable beer, and the smaller version (which still incorporates five hop varietals) surely packs a ton of flavor as well.
Bierstadt – Märzen (5.0%) and Slow Pour Pils (5.1%) – Jabberwock
Denver’s Bierstadt Lagerhaus is, um, well if you can’t read German it’s a house of lager, and they do these quite well, as you might suspect. The Slow Pour Pils was a rite of passage and pilgrimage-worthy offering for many who were just at the Great American Beer Festival. I haven’t had the Märzen, but I suspect it’s every bit as good. I’m not sure I’ve seen Bierstadt here on the east coast, and I’m not sure if this will be a regular thing, so if you’re not going to Denver any time soon, here’s your chance.
Black Narrows – How Bout It – Pale Lager w/ Heirloom Corn – 4.2% – Rodan
Aside from being a very tasty beer, How Bout It also shows off (as do all of the Black Narrows beers) local ingredients, in this case heirloom corn from Virginia. While you’re at the booth, chat with former Bluejacket brewer Josh Chapman, who is one of the very nicest people you’ll ever meet. Tell him I said hi, he’ll probably give you a hug for me.
Bluejacket – Dreaming – Rauchbier (Bierstadt Collab.) – 7.4% – Nessie
See what I said above about Bierstadt Lagerhaus. Sure, you’ll be able to get this beer at Bluejacket, but there is something extremely Good, Cool, and Autumnal about the idea of drinking a rauchbier outside on a fall day in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. If you’re one of these Philistines who “doesn’t like smoked malt,” the ride ends for you here, and I thank you for your time.
Cigar City – Margarita Gose – Gose w/ Orange & Lime – 4.2% – Cyclops
Sure, “gose + [fruit]” is a dime a dozen these days, but this one has two things going for it: 1. Margaritas are extremely good; 2. Cigar City does excellent work. Even if this doesn’t taste like a margarita (and, arguably, there should be a Snally-branded margarita station somewhere to break up all of the beer), it will probably be a welcome respite. Bring your own salt rimmer.
Creature Comforts – Athena Tiki: Swizzle – Berliner Weisse w/ Apricots, Pineapple & Orange – 4.5% – Nessie
Okay, we’ve hit the “tart beer style” + [fruit] section in this list, I promise we’re almost done. Same as the Margarita Gose, I like tiki drinks. If this is intentionally going in the same flavor profile, I’d be hard-pressed not to try this, especially at 4.5%. Bummer Creature Comforts isn’t bringing their excellent Bibo Pilsner this year; I’ll take this as a replacement.
Crooked Run – Crispocurrency – Pale Lager (Fair Winds Collab.) – 4.0% – Mothra
The Bluejacket/Crooked Run “Paper Jets” dry-hopped pilsner collaboration is one of my 2019 beers of the year, so when I see Crooked Run teaming up with another brewery whose lagers I respect immensely (Fair Winds), this is a no-brainer for me. Bonus points for the excellent and not-at-all-groan-inducing pun in the name.
Crooked Stave – L’Brett d’Or Grand Cru – Sauvignon Blanc Barrel-Aged Sour Blond Ale – 5.0% – Gamera
Crooked Stave’s price point is usually a little too high for me to indulge in, but here’s the wonderful thing about unlimited pours: it doesn’t matter. For someone who doesn’t drink a lot of wine, I’m a sucker for light-colored beer styles aged in white wine barrels.
De La Senne – Taras Boulba – Belgian Blond Ale – 4.5% – Kraken
There are worse mantras you could have than “Drink more Taras Boulba.”
De Ranke – Amer-Amer – Belgian IPA w/ Cascade Hops – 6.0% – Kraken
Always interesting to see how Belgian breweries execute on Belgian IPAs with American hops. Consider this their take on a hazy. Quick anecdote, I was at Cantillon earlier this year and had their “BLIPA,” which the bartender told me was a little bit of a joke they were playing on American brewers. Their take on a Belgian IPA, it had five hop varietals, including Sorachi Ace. The bartender told me wryly that “Belgians brew beer seriously but don’t take it seriously; Americans do the reverse.” Sick burn.
District Chophouse – Decade Dunkel: Sunbeam – Dunkel w/ Sunbeam Hops (Cask; DC Beer Collab.) – 5.6% – Poseidon
The DCBeer 10 Beers for 10 Years series is a joy to see, and the Chophouse’s Barrett Lauer makes beer that’s a joy to drink. Nice combination of things. I really enjoyed the Decade Dunkel on draft, but the Sunbeam hops add a really nice Saaz-like note (read: spicy, herbal, noble hop) to the chocolatey malt bill. I’m not sure how many more of these casks are floating around or if this will ever be brewed again, so get on it.
Fremont – The Rusty Nail – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout w/ Cinnamon & Licorice – 13.9% – Kraken
This is not at all the kind of beer I normally enjoy drinking, but Fremont’s imperial stouts get a ton of respect from me. Their barrel-aged Abominable with cinnamon is one of the more memorable pours I ever had (until I had too much of it and it became less memorable). I have no idea how licorice, an ingredient most people abhor, will fit into this, but coming all the way from the left coast I’d take a 4oz (and not much more than that) flyer on this.
Great Raft – Come What Mayhaw – Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged Sour Blond Ale w/ Mayhaws (Upland Collab.) 7.0% – Gamera
A “mayhaw,” for those unfamiliar with the fruit indigenous to the American South, taste kind of like a cranberry. This collaboration from Shreveport’s Great Raft (a personal favorite of mine, as longtime readers know) and Upland (a brewery whose fruited sours have a long and deserved pedigree) is worth your time.
Jester King – Nocturn Chrysalis – Barrel-Aged Sour Red Ale w/ Blackberries – 5.1%
I know, I know, by the time you get down to this part of the list all of the Jester King beers will be gone. I know nothing about this beer except that Jester King tends to make well-regarded sours and I like the idea of a sour red ale with blackberries. That’s it, that’s the motivation here.
Medusa – Mahr’s – aU Ungespundet Naturtrüb – Kellerbier – 5.2% – Gamera
This is mostly a placeholder for all of the gravity kegs that will be available at Snally. Yes, theaU Ungespundet Naturtrüb (which you will inevitably choose by pointing to it, looking dubious, and going, “Uh, that one…?”) is excellent, but so are the others that the NRG team brings in for this event. They tend to be clustered together, so take a run through them to compare and contrast.
Pen Druid – Sun People – Barrel-Aged Sour Blond Ale – 7.0% – Rodan
I somehow have still not been out to Pen Druid, and Snally is good for bringing in local beers that are still not quite local enough for me. For example, where is “Virginia”? Seems exotic. Anyway, all I hear is how delicious the beer they’re making is, and Pen Druid is bringing this sour blond ale, a spontaneously fermented wild ale, and a sour brown ale. Seems like a good chance to get acquainted.
Sante Adairius – Recency Effect – Gin Barrel-Aged Saison – 7.4% – Medusa
Much like the Crooked Stave above in the sauvignon blanc barrels, I’m a sucker for gin barrel-aging. I don’t know anything about Sante Adairius (literally I’ve never heard of them), but if they’re going to put a saison into a gin barrel then by god I will be by to say hello.
Sapwood Cellars – Cheater X – Hazy IPA w/ Galaxy & Nelson Hops – 7.1%
Although I drink a ton of hazy IPAs (while decrying them on Twitter, look it up, it’s a brand), there aren’t a lot of them on this list. There are a few reasons for that, first is that I think they all kind of run together. Like Tolstoy said, “All good hazy IPAs are alike in the same way, but all bad hazy IPAs are bad in different ways.” Second is that no matter where you look at Snally you will never be more than 10 feet from a hazy IPA. It’s in the Snallygaster bylaws. That said, I don’t know when I’m getting up to Columbia, Maryland any time and I have a ton of respect for Sapwood’s founders (and locals) Mike Tonsmeire and Scott Janish and I’d like to see what they’re up to. In case you’re interested about where the “cheater” name comes from, check out Mike’s Mad Fermentationist blog.
Rodan – The Lost Abbey – Framboise de Amorosa – Barrel-Aged Sour Red Ale w/ Raspberries – 7.8% – Gamera
This will surely be gone early, and there’s almost no chance I’d get a chance to drink any of it even if I were at Snallygaster, but a boy can dream.
Union – Schmoke – Rauchbier – 5.6% – Gargoyle
In all the time I’ve been drinking Union’s beer (and, by the way, if you haven’t gone to visit them in Baltimore it is surely worth the trip) I think I’ve been disappointed maybe once. That kind of track record is hard to come by, honestly. I’m also a sucker for rauchbier. Sign yourself up for this.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more of DCBeer’s coverage of Snallygaster 2019!