What beers did you love drinking over the past twelve months?

Each year, that’s the question I ask the people who make my favorite beers.

2021 was another strange year, to put it mildly – hopeful and seemingly triumphant in moments, yet still riddled with intensifying economic hardship, lingering inequalities, and the tragedies of a sustained pandemic. Once again, however, it was not a year without fantastic beer. Fantastic beer, it should be noted, that continues to be brewed, packaged, and distributed by those braving that pandemic.

So, I reached out to 16 breweries in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and I asked them some questions about the year in beer.

For starters, what were the local beers they tried for the first time in 2021 that impressed them most? “Local” can be defined a lot of ways, so I didn’t really limit them. it could be anywhere from Loudoun County to Hagerstown – and if they wanted to include Richmond, Charlottesville, or beyond, sure, go for it. These beers could be brand new or just new to them. We’re not going to split hairs.

Another question: Outside of the DMV (or perhaps just further outside the Beltway), what beers did they fall in love with? These could be beers they tried while visiting other cities or beers that are distributed locally (but produced elsewhere).

And since these folks brewed their own beers, it’s only fair to ask them what new or improved beers they were most proud of. Who else knows those beers better?

We all need to consume beer somewhere, so I asked them where their favorite places to drink were. It could be a local bar, an out-of-town establishment, or a brewery taproom. Of course, the answer could be – and often was – the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, I posed three big-picture questions: What were some encouraging trends they noticed taking shape this year? What were some less-desirable trends? And what do they hope to do or see in 2022?

What emerges from these answers is a snapshot of where the DC-area beer scene finds itself at the end of 2021. They also feature some fantastic recommendations for beers to seek out, places to visit, and styles to reconsider.


Elder Pine Brewing & Blending

Paul Davidson (Co-Founder & Head Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Premium Extra Pale Lager by Waredaca Brewing Company. Waredaca are our neighbors, and we love having them and their fantastic beer less than a mile away!

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEER

Stands to Reason by Suarez Family Brewery. Stands to Reason is the most beautifully balanced smoked lager I’ve ever had. It is truly an inspiring beer.

FAVORITE ELDER PINE BEER

We’re all very proud of Royal Pilsner. We feel our lagers are becoming more refined than ever before and will continue dialing in our lagering processes. Royal Pilsner utilizes Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka hops from New Zealand. Riwaka is becoming one of our favorite hops for its lovely bold citrus characteristics while maintaining noble saazer undertones.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

My favorite place to drink in 2021 was in the forest seating area at Elder Pine for the incredibly unique atmosphere. Also, at home while playing classic Nintendo games.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

Lagers, lagers, lagers! We’re so happy to see lagers pick up momentum at this rate. We produced more lager in 2021 than we ever have and plan on further increasing lager production in 2022.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

Seeing things like cream cheese, ice cream, candy, unfermented fruit puree, etc. being added to beer is my #1 least-desirable trend. I’d prefer to see less carbonated fruit puree disguised as beer being produced next year.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

We’re hoping the desire for local craft lagers brewed with dedication and passion continues to rise. We’re currently installing a second walk-in cooler at Elder Pine so we can produce more beer – a lot of which will be lagers.

In 2021, we filled 100% more whiskey and wine barrels than in 2020, so we’re very excited to release a ton of barrel-aged beers in 2022!


Ocelot Brewing

Jack Snyder (Head Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Always a tough call, but I’m going with Wheatland Spring’s Westerly. What’s not to love about a good open-fermented and oak-aged farmhouse ale? In typical Wheatland Spring fashion, though, this example isn’t good – it’s great. A delicate expression of oak and terroir, in both microflora and Virginia grain, Westerly is pleasingly floral and herbaceous, with a touch of orchard fruit.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

Dutchess Ales knocks it out of the park with their Ketzer Lager, and at least one four-pack comes home with me every time I see it in this market. It’s a relatively bright approach to Helles lager, with a bit more mineral and hop treble than malt bass. For that reason, one four-pack is basically a serving size.

FAVORITE OCELOT BEER

I’ll go with a recent beer – probably because it’s so fresh in my mind – and say Forever More. We’ve spent the past year or so pushing ourselves on pale ales, and I’m encouraged by the results and the responses to them. Forever More combines a high-protein multigrain grist with expressive yeast and IPA-levels of hopping with Sabro and Citra — all in a 5.2% package. We use quite a lot of Citra throughout any given year, but that’s definitely not the case with Sabro. Its wild array of coconut, lime, mint, cedar, and sage make it rather unique among our offerings.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

Our own stoop at home was still the primary establishment this year, though we definitely enjoyed some time at Dominion Wine & Beer. We also got to check out The Grand Delancey on a quick trip to NYC, and it was an impressive space.

More accountability, more diversity in every phase of the industry, and more lager.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

More accountability, more diversity in every phase of the industry, and more lager.


Denizens Brewing

Julie Verratti (Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer)

BEST LOCAL BEER

I am always going to be an advocate for Reveille by Waredaca Brewing Company. It’s the best coffee stout I’ve had, and I go back to it every year.

FAVORITE DENIZENS BEERS

I have been so impressed at Jeff’s and his team’s talent throughout every release of the Hike the Alps series this year. This was a long-time-coming passion project that Jeff has been wanting to make since we opened in 2014, but we never got around to it. COVID actually gave us some of the breathing room in our production schedule to be able to start the series. It has been tremendously successful, and the Hike the Alps Hefeweizen won a gold medal this year at the 2021 Maryland Beer Competition. The Hike the Alps series consists of styles of beers inspired by generations-old breweries along the base of the Alps in Austria and Germany. My favorite that the team brewed this year is the Doppelbock, which should still be available through January 2022 in both our taprooms and a few select locations in Maryland. We will be repeating the series in 2022 and adding two more beers to the line up as well. Look for a Dunkel, Helles, Hefewiezen, Austrian Pilsner, Marzen, Rauchbier, Kellerbier, and Doppelbock this coming year. They are always available on draft and in bottles.

FAVORITE PLACE TO DRINK

I actually cut back on my drinking in 2021 because I spent a lot of the year working from home. When I have gone out for drinks, my favorite place this year has been the 4 Corners Pub in Silver Spring. (It’s usually in my top five most-frequented places every year.) There is nothing better than a local neighborhood bar that also has delicious pizza, a down-to-earth vibe, and serves locally made beer. I know the suburbs can be intimidating for some city-folk, but I highly recommend checking this family-owned-and-operated place out if you ever want to venture out of the city. They’ve been around for quite a few decades – I used to celebrate here as a kid after soccer games with pizza parties, so it definitely brings out some nostalgia for me as well.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

My hope for 2022 is that we all take action as an industry to take care of each other and ourselves. This pandemic has caused so much turmoil and anxiety in people’s lives, and there is an unbelievable amount of trauma and fear that folks are still experiencing. This is true whether you are an owner or an employee in the hospitality industry. Finding happiness where you can is so important. I hope folks know that they are not alone in this. A little bit of grace and understanding can go a long way. So can doing activities regularly that have nothing to do with beer.


DC Brau

Robert Rodriguez (Director of Operations)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

I rarely drink the same beer twice – instead, I look for what’s new and rarely remember the name. I lean toward IPAs and stouts with big bold flavors. I like Ocelot because they have unique beers and a good variety to try that rotate frequently.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

Our fridge typically has some Founders barrel-aged beer and the [New Belgium] Voodoo mixed pack. Founders’ barrel-aged lineup is always expertly done, and new ones are available every year. (Right now, it’s the espresso KBS.) Voodoo regularly rotates what is in the pack, so I get something new with each box.

FAVORITE DC BRAU BEERS

Auld Dubliner is one of my go-to beers that is newer to our lineup. It’s a classic amber ale that is well balanced and goes well with most foods. The Imperial is the newest IPA to our core lineup and goes well with all foods.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

My kitchen and dining table. I like cooking while sipping on a beer or wine then find a beer to pair with dinner.

The return of lagers. It’s not my favorite style, but when done well can be quite refreshing.

Bar service open again! I enjoy eating at the bar and talking with others enjoying themselves. It’s fun meeting new people and hearing their story.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

I’m over fruit juice sludge bombs, in any form. If I wanted a smoothie, I would go to Jamba Juice. I can appreciate a fruited beer, but do not want my beer thick and slimy.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

For travel and life to get back to normal. I moved to the DMV a few months before the world shutdown, so I’ve not had an opportunity to explore the area. We have also not had much opportunity to meet new people because of Rona, but we’ve enjoyed anyone we have met. As an area with so many coming and going, we look forward to all the people and amazing stories.


Wheatland Spring Farm + Brewery

Bonnie Branding and John Branding (Co-Founders)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Really enjoyed Bluejacket’s Small Conversations. Flavorful and highly drinkable — just right for a lager. It’s a great example of what happens when you combine an innovative approach to high quality ingredients like craft malt, with a proven ability to create excellent beer. Well done all around.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEER

We took a trip to spend time with friends at several New England breweries, so we were especially fortunate this year to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to excellent out of town beers. Among many memorable experiences, we had a really enjoyable time with Wunderkammerbier’s Found Object 1. Complex, dynamic, balanced. It may have helped that we were lucky enough to enjoy it with Vasili over a picnic lunch on a summer afternoon in the Vermont countryside. Couldn’t not mention the context.

FAVORITE WHEATLAND SPRING BEER

We just released Return Piedmont Pilsner. It’s the first release from our new Estate collection of beers. Over the last years of operation, we’ve used estate grain and other ingredients we grow in many offerings. The Estate line of beer is the first built upon 100% of the grain being farmed, fermented, conditioned, and packaged at Wheatland Spring.

The barley we grew was gently custom-malted in small batch to retain as much of the field’s character as possible. We’re happy with how the Alsatian hops gracefully integrate with the malt’s delicate profile. The result is, from our perspective, an elegant Pilsner with impressions of spring flowers, fresh citrus zest, cedar wood, and Wheatland.

We’re excited to share this with folks.

FAVORITE PLACE TO DRINK

Snallygaster was a lot of fun — it felt good to be back together again. It’s really something how they pull off organizing that event so well. It was incredible to be part of it.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

This could be our own echo chamber, but we see a lot more brewers and guests caring about ingredients and sourcing. In particular, buying small batch, craft ingredients from small business. Beyond the quality and uniqueness of the ingredients, it’s great to see small businesses making a real effort to support other small businesses — particularly in our region.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

Less-desirable 2021 trends… yeah… you know the movie “Koyaanisqatsi”? It’s been explained to mean “life out of balance” in the Hopi language, and that’s what parts of 2021 have felt like. It seems like there’s an opportunity to take a step back and re-center on a number of fronts.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

There’s been a lot of rapid pivots and expectations for more everything over the last 12-18 months. Across the board, it seems there’s fatigue. Not exactly sure how we get there from here, but as an industry and community, it would be great if we could find a sustainable path and a steady rhythm for everyone.

What’s up next for us? There’s a bunch of projects in our barrel cellar we’re excited to share over the coming months.


Sapwood Cellars

Michael Tonsmeire (Co-Founder)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Implexum finally launching! I got to try barrel samples last year, and really enjoyed the bottles I’ve opened this year. Glad to have another barrel-aged sour-focused program in Maryland!

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

I was really blown away by the hop aroma on the IPAs and DIPAs I tried from Fidens Brewing in Colonie, New York. It was really cool collaborating with them, and it made us reexamine our dry hopping process to push the bright/vibrant/raw aromatics in certain beers.

FAVORITE SAPWOOD CELLARS BEERS

I’m really proud of our first barrel-aged stout bottle release, BSCV (Bourbon Stout Coconut Vanilla). Whole new program that we got to design from the ground up! We’re taking the same sort of approach we took to our barrel-aged sour program, starting with a variety of stout bases and barrels to provide options to create a blend that suits a given adjunct or achieve a particular balance.

FAVORITE PLACE TO DRINK

My wife and I recently adopted a new dog (Leroy), so spending more time drinking in the backyard with him and a couple friends (and sometimes their dogs).

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

It’s been fun seeing the continued excitement for drinking lager and unique spins on lager. I’ve enjoyed a few oak/foeder-aged lagers from Elder Pine, Modern Times, and Tree House. Not something we’ll be doing ourselves anytime soon, though!

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

It feels like the interest in barrel-aged sour beers is getting narrower. The people who love mixed-ferments are just as excited for them as always, but I’m not sure the “average” beer drinker is as interested as they were a couple years ago.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

We’re in the process of adding permanent outdoor seating and a dedicated space for private events… so we’re certainly hoping that more people feel comfortable going out for a beer in 2022!


Bluejacket

Greg Engert (Beer Director)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

The year started off just right with Cushwa’s Broken Resolutions. A fluffy IPA focused on the beauty of Riwaka, it hits with intense tropical fruit and a sort of savory, nutty sweetness. I also loved Dewey’s fruited sours, Pen Druid’s spontaneous offerings, and all things hazy from Ocelot.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

De la Senne’s Saison de la Senne was one of my favorite beers in 2021. Only Yvan De Baets would blend dry-hopped saison with Cantillon lambic and let it mature for three years in barrel before packaging it in a 330ml capped bottle and simply calling it “saison” (while barely mentioning the derivation of the lambic on the label). A gorgeous, uber-drinkable beer with balanced acidity and bitterness that deserves all of the fanfare the packaging denies.

I continue to love Suarez Family Brewery’s Palatine Pils each and every time I get to drink it. Same for the classic styles produced by The Seed. I was also impressed by the lagers from Human Robot.

FAVORITE BLUEJACKET BEERS

I continue to love the lagers that Ro Guenzel and his team are producing at Bluejacket. We’re using more and more malt from Murphy & Rude, and it’s really having a positive impact on mouthfeel and flavor.

The spontaneous program continues to evolve and improve, with some exciting beers on the horizon. I’m looking forward to a blend of very special two-year-old spontaneous brews with peaches in the new year.

All of that said, I may have been most excited by our cask program in 2021. More guests on-site meant more real ale, and we even started filling 5-liter mini-kegs to bring that experience home. From Love Language (English-style bitter) to Glee (English-style golden ale collaboration with our friends at Dutchess Ales), everything was on point. A cask of We Are Family kölsch, gently dry-hopped in firkin with Centennial, was probably my favorite Bluejacket beer of 2021.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

This is a three-way tie between Zebulon Artisan Ales (drinking imperial pint after pint of the cask brown ale on their makeshift patio), Cantler’s (Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, piles of crabs, sunshine), and Cafe Berlin (liters of Rothaus Pils in the shade of their beer garden).

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

While fruited sours keep dominating the sour beer landscape, I’m happy that delicate, nuanced beers of mixed fermentation continue to be expertly crafted by a small cadre of exceptional brewers. Everything I had from Mindful AlesKeeping Together, and Floodlands reminded me why I fell in love with these kinds of beers in the first place: they’re soft, subtle, and mind-bogglingly balanced. In a word, elegant.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

I’m hopeful that imports keep coming back. Beyond being remarkably delicious, the best brewers have been turning to traditional ales and lagers for inspiration since the inception of craft beer. As long as brewers continue to taste, discuss, and learn from the classics of world brewing, they’ll keep producing traditional styles and – more importantly – making them better and better.


Mike McCarthy (Head Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Maybe not brand new, but Matt Ryan out at Cedar Run is, not surprisingly, making some great beer. He has a passion for good beer and it shows in his wide offerings. I do not think they are in distro with their beer yet, so you will have to plan a trip to the farm for now. It will be worth it.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

My favorite new out-of-town beer would have to be any lagers being brewed by Triple Crossing. What they have been producing as far as bottom-fermented goodness is nothing short of outstanding. They all seemed to be thoughtfully brewed and executed.

FAVORITE VIBRISSA BEERS

I would have to say that two beers in our lineup stood out in’21.

First, Park Pass Helles Lager winning the silver at GABF was very rewarding. With that category becoming increasingly more difficult, I was very excited to receive recognition for that beer.

The second beer is Shooting Brake (ESB) and the fanfare it received. Being able to brew English style ales again and see the consumer responding positively to it was a pleasant surprise in the current market.

FAVORITE PLACE TO DRINK

My house. Like many people over the past year, I decided to stay home and enjoy beers with my wife rather than go to a bar. We plan on being out much more in ‘22.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

A positive trend I have noticed is breweries starting to expand the style selection past IPA, fruited sour, and adjunct stouts. I am noticing local and regional brands start to brew more styles, and the consumers seem to welcome the offerings. Having more choices only helps our industry as we all cannot be competing for the same few categories.

Pricing of raw materials, shipping, and equipment started to rise in the second half of 2021, and it continues to be something breweries will have to respond to through price increases. I hope it’s not too long lived, as craft beer can already be somewhat expensive.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

Here at Vibrissa Beer, we are hoping to be brewing beer at our new Winchester, Virginia location by late spring. We are also planning on opening the taproom and kitchen shortly after. In 2022, our goal is to be distributing beer statewide and growing our brand.


Matt Cronin (Co-Founder & Head Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

I enjoyed Wheatland Spring’s Du Champ. It’s a delicious and refreshing Brett grisette that really highlights the ethos of the brewery.

Yachtside Party Dweller, a German-American hybrid light lager from Ocelot, was perfect for the hotter months. Too easy and tasty.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

Seattle’s Fast Fashion has been making some killer IPAs. One in particular that stood out for me was the triple IPA Fan Death. It was so good that my wife ended up commandeering my glass.

Hudson Valley Brewery’s Kindling was unique and delicious. This smoked Helles has a lovely straw color and smoky campfire note.

FAVORITE ASTRO LAB BEERS

I felt like we stepped up our lager game this year. With Crowded Haus (NZ pils), Rock Creek Lager, and Battle of Nantes (schwarzbier), I wanted to showcase the breadth of the style and highlight lagering techniques, as well as the complexity of these beers. We plan to continue building this portfolio in 2022.

Startaker IPA is one of our opening OG beers. We rejigged the recipe, modifying the hop additions and water chemistry to really elevate this beer to the next level.

I was also proud of our anniversary beers Sidereal Year Three and Groovier, which used Phantasm and Cosmic Punch yeast. Combining these classic IPA and DIPA styles with newer products was fun and translated to aromatic beers with an interesting tropical and white grape notes.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

I still didn’t get out much with a young family, but I thought Snallygaster was a blast and superbly run (kudos, NRG). It was great to be around other brewers and beer enthusiasts. I’ve missed some of that camaraderie during the pandemic.

This summer, we got out to Wheatland Spring a few times. They have a great setup, and they even let me come back after my toddler and his little mate ran through their pristine grain fields.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

There is still more that can be done, but I think the increase in accountability and greater awareness of the need for inclusivity are positive steps.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

I think everyone is just trying to survive the pandemic. It’s tough not seeing as many people in the taproom, but we understand and are thankful to everyone who comes in or gets beer to go.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

Surviving this winter and having a great spring and overall fantastic 2022!


Jake Endres (Co-Founder & Production Manager)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Vibrissa’s Pastoral Life pale ale. It’s a beautiful version of this style – not bitter, not malty, not juicy, just perfectly balanced.

It’s not beer but Capital Hive Meadery. Great meads if you like the Garagiste/Superstition style stuff, and also some really tasty dry and session meads.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEER

Good Word & Bluejacket’s Only Memories Remain Czech-style dark lager. This beer already got a lot of attention for good reason – it’s superb. Malty lagers can be a tough sell, but this is something that’s just so enjoyable.

FAVORITE CROOKED RUN BEERS

Our schwarzbier, Motorhead, gets released for Oktoberfest each year. This third iteration probably will go mostly unchanged for next year. It’s got a very low level of maltiness, really restrained roast and coffee flavors, none of that raisiny flavor, and a touch of chocolate.

We released a barrel-aged quad, Bless, along with some other big beers for Black Friday. I really like how it turned out – nice flavors of Tootsie Rolls, plums, caramel, and vanilla in a beer that is drier than your typical big, barrel-aged stout or barleywine.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

I visited Schilling up in New Hampshire over the summer. It’s a beautiful spot overlooking a river in the mountains – very picturesque. Super nice folks and great German-style beers.

Locally, in a kayak while fishing. NOVA may have bad traffic and sprawl, but you’re usually only ten minutes away from some water.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

We started brewing English-style beers again and people seem to really be enjoying them. We put a beer engine in at our Sterling location, too. I feel like these beers scratch the same itch in wintertime that a lager does in summertime. They are getting a very positive reaction so far, which I don’t think would have happened a year ago or so.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

The events arms race.  There’s a lot of competition and events are becoming so frequent that they’re the norm, not the exception.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

I wish people would go out more! Don’t watch “Dune” on your TV! Get that nice dinner out. Sit at the bar.

We’re looking forward to releasing more wine and cider.


Meth Gunasinghe (Head Brewer)

Mike McGarvey (Co-Founder & CEO)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Gunasinghe: Astro Lab’s Sidereal Year Three was awesome – the Nelson and Motueka melded beautifully with the Phantasm. I also dug Que Rico, the Ocelot x Jasper Yeast collab; it was super clean and crushable. Along with those, I really enjoyed Un Altro, the Italian pilsner that Manor Hill did in the fall.

McGarvey: I don’t really have specific beers, but rather brewers that I’ve recently had a chance to sample that I think are making great interesting beer. Black Narrows, Vibrissa and Cushwa are a few.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

McGarvey: Again, in this case I don’t have specific beers, but couple brewers I’d look out for are Burnish (out of Salisbury, Maryland) and Proclamation Ale Company (out of Rhode Island).

Gunasinghe: Green Bench’s Tmave Pivo was absolutely gorgeous. Nice, easy 4% dark lager that hits all the notes that you’d ever want in that style. I had the Recycled Brewing Co. x Motorworks collab Erratic Advice at Snally this year, and it was awesome – insanely juicy but still balanced on the palate.

FAVORITE 3 STARS BEERS

Gunasinghe: I was extremely happy with the way our first Festbier came out. We are also launching Chillum Lite, a 4.7 % American lager that is real easy drinking. I have a love for cheap American light lagers, and brewing this beer was super fun. It started off as a two barrel pilot batch – just because I wanted to have a light lager on tap for the brewers to drink – and now we’ve scaled it up, and its tasting great.

McGarvey: Of what we added in 2021, I’m most proud of our new Cellar Series and Chillum Lite, our new American lager. The Cellar Series was exclusively available at the brewery this year.  We’ll be making the series more available through distribution next year. The 2021 series included a Kellerpils, an Italian Pils, a Munich Dunkel, and a Spelt Saison.  We have new styles planned for the series for 2022. Chillum Lite is just hitting the market now as one of our new flagship brands, but we’ve been hearing interest in a lite lager for some time now and decided it was time to start making a local lite beer.

We’re also always looking to improve our existing flagship beers, and over the past year or two we’ve added a lot to our packaging procedures to improve shelf life. This has helped beers like Ghost to taste fresh and hoppy for a longer period of time. For Peppercorn Saison, we’ve changed yeast strains to make flavor improvements as well.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

McGarvey: In 2021, my favorite place to drink was at Snallygaster. With operating much of the year under strict COVID protocol, I didn’t have as many opportunities to sample new breweries. Snallygaster allowed me to taste new stuff from local producers, as well as some from far away, and was the first mass gathering that we were able to attend.

Gunasinghe: I still haven’t been the best at getting back out and about, but I really enjoyed going out to Other Half with their spacious patio. Getting back to Boundary Stone was so, so good for Battle of the Barrels this year. It was awesome catching back up with so many people, and the Stone is such a great hangout.

Gunasinghe: The research and experimentation into getting the most out of hops has been really intriguing. From Phantasm to Incognito to thiolizing yeast strains, it’s been really cool learning more about different process and products that can really take your beers to the next level.

McGarvey: A positive trend in 2021 was more interest from craft beer drinkers locally in different styles – one being lagers.  IPA is still the most popular, but the emphasis on hazy beers has lessened allowing for more differentiation among our IPAs.

McGarvey: The interest in what I’d call shock-type beers or hard seltzers now – with lots of adjuncts that are sometimes a little overdone – is still pretty high, but it’s also a force of innovation in beer, so it has its place, I guess.

Gunasinghe: The pandemic.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

Gunasinghe: I’m hoping to continue to be able to explore more classic styles that we really never did in the past. The Cellar Series has been really fun, and I’m hoping to expand on that next year. I’m also looking forward to getting back out and about and visiting more pals at breweries and sitting back down at a bar more often!

McGarvey: DC has been slow to recover from COVID, so for 2022 we just want to continue to see more people getting comfortable with being out and about.


Jon Humerick (Co-Founder & Director of Operations)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Unfortunately, I don’t make it out that much anymore, so I don’t get to try a lot of new local stuff. But when I can make it out, it’s usually to Ocelot. (I mean, it’s three miles from our Sterling spot and always killer beer). I got over there recently and got to try Greener Gloves. I still love a good West Coast IPA, and Adrien, Jack, and the crew there really nailed it with Greener Gloves. Bitter, grapefruity, dank. Everything you want in a West Coast IPA.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEER

It’s not new, but I’m writing this after just spending a week in Florida visiting family. So, it’s super fresh in my mind. The only beer I really drink when I’m down there is Jai Alai. (I know I could get it up here, but I just never do). And I definitely think it’s had some tweaks in the last year or so. It’s always been a “juicy” IPA, but this past week it definitely seemed softer and way less bitter. I feel like it’s in line with the “type” of IPAs we tend to brew, which is what I like to drink.

FAVORITE SOLACE BEERS

From Sterling, definitely our new holiday seasonal, Griswold’s Doppelbock. There’s just something about a darker lager in the fall and winter. Our Gute Nacht Oktoberfest is easily the beer I most look forward to every year, but Griswold’s turned out absolutely fantastic. And I know I’m going to be looking forward to it next year.

From the Outpost in Falls Church, it’s the When in Rome Italian pilsner. Super clean, bright, and crisp. I really want to bring this beer over to Sterling so we can put it in cans and have wider distribution of it!

FAVORITE PLACE TO DRINK

Like I said, I don’t make it out much anymore… so if I’m having a beer at the end of the day, it’s usually while playing a round (or two) of Golden Tee in the Sterling Tasting Room.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

On-prem coming back. We don’t need to rehash how much of a bummer 2020 was. But seeing kegs going out this year and seeing people back in bars are definitely two of my favorite things about 2021.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

Inflation. I won’t drone on and bore readers about the challenges facing breweries as a result of inflation. So, I’ll just leave it at that.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

For Solace, we have some exciting plans in the works for 2022. The biggest and most notable right now is opening our second Outpost location in DC’s Navy Yard, right across the street from Nats Park. I know it’s basically 2022 already, but that spot should actually be open before the end of the year.


Crooked Crab Brewing

Earl Holman (Co-Founder and General Manager)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Sapwood Cellars always makes fantastic beers, but I was especially floored by their BSCV. Just a ridiculously smooth blend of coconut chocolate and bourbon.

I found myself drinking more and more crispy boys this year, but one that blew me away was Other Half DC’s Zipfeltannle Pilsner. Absolute crusher with just the right amount of hop expression. One of the best lager’s I’ve had – not just locally but in general.

Cushwa has made a number of great beers recently, but I particularly enjoyed their higher-gravity hazies. 13 Emojis was one that stood out to me. Triple IPAs are a difficult style to do well, in my opinion, since they most often end up being too sweet and boozy, but Cushwa really has them dialed in.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

One good thing to come out of the pandemic was an increase in packaged offerings, and in particular, Bierstadt Lagerhaus. I had quite a few cans of their Slow Pour Pils this year, and it’s about as close to perfection as beer can get.

FAVORITE CROOKED CRAB BEERS

For the first time ever this year, we dipped our toe into triple IPAs. I mentioned earlier how difficult those can be to execute well, and I was particularly proud of the two we put out – End Crab and Excessively Juicier. Both were tropical juice bombs that drank more like lower ABV DIPAs.

Lagers also seem to be a trend for me, but our Pils Boh Baggins was probably my favorite beer this year (and one of my favorite can labels, as well). Also, Gnarly Shredder was a dry-hopped NZ Pils we did in collaboration with Monument City that I thought was exceptional.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

I don’t drink too much beer outside of home and Crooked Crab, but I highly enjoyed my time at Snallygaster this year. Not only a great venue and great selection of beers, but one of the best well run and executed festivals I’ve attended. Also shout out to Elder Pine and Wheatland Spring, two venues I found particularly enjoyable to enjoy a beer outdoors.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

I’ve particularly enjoyed that more and more breweries are making classic styles again. I’m as big a fan of a hazy IPA as the next person, but give me more pilsners, Vienna lagers, and anything else lower on the ABV range with lots of flavor.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

Smoothie sours.

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

While 2021 was a step back towards normalcy, I am really looking forward to the return of beer festivals and gatherings with friends. Beer is always better when enjoyed with company.

Beyond that, we are in the process of expanding both our production and taproom space at Crooked Crab, along with the addition of in-house food. So, I’m looking forward to more Crooked Crab beer and hopefully more events and more people coming to enjoy it with us in our taproom!


Port City Brewing

Leon Harris (Brewer)

Jon Harahan: (Brewer)

Drew Shaw (Brewer & Beer Guide)

Carly Klima (Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEERS

Harahan: All of the beers coming from the Solace Outpost in Falls Church were pretty tasty this year.

Shaw: Shamefully, I was pretty neglectful of local beer this year. That said, I had an excellent night at the Solace Outpost in early October, catching up with some college buddies and the Italian pilsner they had on tap was delicious. It was crisp, clean, and cold. The perfect beer for a warm October night.

Klima: Any beer from Other Half, really. My personal favorite one was Forever Green because it was more dank and resinous compared to their usual juicy IPAs.

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

Klima: On my recent trip to San Diego, I visited all the breweries I could, but the one that stood out was Mission. I tried their GABF winner – a barrel-aged stout – and it was worthy of winning.

Shaw: I’ve been really enjoying 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust. I’m still not 100% what makes the pale ale “undead,” but I know I’m really into it.

Harahan: I was fortunate enough to find some bottles of Plan Bee Farm Brewery out of New York from the Craft Beer Cellar earlier this year. The brews that Evan Watson comes out with are truly world class. If you see Plan Bee on a shelf, don’t buy it. Leave it for me.

FAVORITE PORT CITY BEERS

Harris: My favorite beer this year was the Giant Panda Haze we made for Giant. It was a hazy pale ale that used Hull Melon, and it was a recipe that I had a hand in making. I was very proud of this beer, and I’m looking forward to improving it and making it again soon.

Shaw: Our Downright Pilsner gets the Most Improved award from me this year. A few small tweaks to our recipe have made surprisingly large improvements. I’d say it definitely competes with the rest of our superb Lager Series now.

Harahan: I did a side by side of our Colossal IX Weizenbock against Aventinus this year, and I absolutely love Aventinus, but wouldn’t ya know that Port City’s Weizenbock won the day. It’s a great beer!

Klima: Any of the beers in our Lager Series are new to me because I was never a fan of lagers until working here. Every new one surprises me with how much I end up loving it, and they are all so different from one another.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

Klima: I’m a homebody. I love to drink at home and when the weather is nice out on my balcony.

Harahan: My kitchen continued to be a favorite place to drink this year. But, if I wasn’t in my kitchen, I was probably having an Optimal Wit at Boundary Stone.

Shaw: While the world is slowly going back to normal and I’ve spent a little time returning to some of my old favorite bars, I still find myself enjoying most of my beers after a work shift, either in the tasting room or on The Beach (our Port City staff secret hide out).

Harris: Other than having a beer with my coworkers after work, my favorite place to drink lately has been this liquor store in Bowie, Maryland called Crescent Wine and Spirts. It has a great craft beer, wine, and alcohol selection, plus you can sit down and have a beer that’s on draft. They already serve PCBC’s beer on tap and have a lot of our brands for sale there, too. When I go in and sit at the bar, I’m usually wearing something that has Port City’s logo on it, and the patrons and bartenders usually ask a few questions about the brewery.

Harris: One of the more positive trends I’ve noticed this year is how much the educational portion of craft beer and alcohol has taken off. With the emergence of the Brewers Association’s Mentorship Program, Oskar Blues’ scholarship program, and the Michael Jackson Foundation’s scholarship program, it’s refreshing to see so many people, especially minorities and women, pursuing and excelling in our chosen field of interest.

Klima: That breweries are embracing change due to this year’s earlier awakening of what’s been happening within breweries. It’s a hope for women and people of color to grow and actually thrive in this industry.

Shaw: I’m happy to be seeing inequities in our industry being called out loudly and aggressively. I love the beer industry so much, and it hurts to see people feeling excluded because of racism, sexism, etc. I want everyone to feel safe in the beer world because beer is for everyone. (Provided you are of legal drinking age, of course. Stay in school, kids.) So, it’s awesome to see so many people joining together to clear out all that bigoted crap.

Harahan: Well, at the start of 2021, the vaccines were just beginning to roll out, so getting vaccinated – and working for a brewery that is 100% vaccinated – was very nice indeed.

Harahan: The threat of CO2 shortages, issues with malt, and aluminum supplies seemed to bother a lot of our industry nationwide this year. Hopefully it’s not a trend, but since I live in the District, being sent home early on January 6th was less than ideal.

Klima: The fact that a lot of breweries are shifting to seltzers and super-fruited IPAs. Some fruited IPAs are good, but let the hops shine!

2022 HOPES AND WISHES

Klima: For more West Coast IPAs, and that Citra won’t be the most utilized hop – there are so many other great ones!

Shaw: Despite still feeling the strains of the pandemic, 2021 was a really great year for us at Port City. We had a lot of really exciting wins at competitions across the globe, and I’m looking forward to seeing us improve even more next year. I’m lucky to be working on such a positive, motivated, and cooperative team.


Right Proper Brewing

Justin Larson (Head Brewer)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Working and being part of the local craft brewing industry, you get to try and have the pleasure of drinking plenty of outstanding beers from great brewers in the area. One standout would be Forever HBC 586 from Other Half DC. HBC 586 is a new hop variety that pairs perfectly with the malt bill from their Forever series. It has a delicious berry flavor with a touch of spice. Really, really good and well done.

Huge shoutout to Silver Branch Brewing for Nitro Chronicle. First time on nitro, this version of their Foreign Extra Stout creates an awesome smooth mouthfeel. And who doesn’t love to dump of full can of beer into a glass at full speed and not have to worry about too much foam or making a mess on the counter top?

BEST OUT-OF-TOWN BEERS

A couple of my favorite (new-to-me) beers of 2021 would be The Fruitful Barrel Tayberries from Garden Path Fermentation (Burlington, WA) and Strawberry Sumac from Scratch Brewing (Ava, IL).  Both beers were incredibly complex fruited wild ales.

Strawberry Sumac had a pronounced/upfront strawberry aroma. The taste was a perfect balance of sweet, tart, and funk. And the combo of strawberry and sumac worked so well together in this beer. Scratch really nailed this beer.

Garden Path really took me by surprise trying their beers at this year’s Snallygaster. The Fruitful Barrel was simply a 10/10 in my book. It has a nice soft acidity and the right amount of fruit flavor from the tayberries. The tayberries kind of remind me of mix between a blackberry and a red raspberry, and I’m not sure what else to say about this beer other than it is fantastic.

FAVORITE RIGHT PROPER BEERS

There are a lot of beers we have done recently and since the beginning of 2021 that I am very proud of. But I will shout out Terra Firma and Bawk! Bawk!.

Terra Firma was brewed at our production facility, and my plan was to brew a classic Helles lager, but the end result was even better than I originally formulated in my head. We brewed it with a specific blend of Pilsner malts and Mt. Hood and Wakatu hops. Except it back on draft late January or early February.

Bawk! Bawk! is a smoked doppelbock we originally brewed at our brewpub in Shaw last year. However, we just brought it back, and it is currently pouring over at the Right Proper Shaw location. It’s brewed with beechwood, cherrywood, and oak-smoked wheat – but it’s not overly smoky. The smoke malts complement an overall complex malt-forward sweetness that works very well for a doppelbock. Fantastic beer for the winter season.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

I love to be outside drinking beer. So, other than Right Proper: Other Half’s 2,000-square-foot rooftop, Dacha Beer Garden, Garden District, and Ivy and Coney. We are still in a pandemic, so the deck at my family’s house in Maryland might have been my #1 go to.

Seeing the resurgence of the dark mild style. A rich, fruity beer with chocolate notes, and a dry finish. Great balance and really easy drinking. A low-ABV, flavor-saturated beer that I hope continues to gain popularity in 2022. If you are in Pennsylvania, look for Forest & Main’s Poor Yorick as a great example of this style.


Kofi Millet
Photo via Allagash

Sankofa Beer

Kofi Meroe (Co-Founder)

BEST LOCAL BEER

Hellbender’s cucumber kölsch. Very refreshing and was a hit this summer.

FAVORITE SANKOFA BEER

I have to mention our collab with Allagash – Woven in Time. It’s a dark ale brewed with millet and smoked maple syrup.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

I really enjoyed my time at Other Half in Ivy City this year. They have a great outdoor space.

POSITIVE 2021 TREND

Breweries and brewers seem to be “coming back home” – focusing on brewing traditional styles at higher quality. Lots of breweries are taking on the challenge of lagers.

LESS-DESIRABLE 2021 TREND

There are still a lot of hazy IPAs on the market that are really hard to differentiate. The “had one, had them all” term is really starting to set in.


Pen Druid Fermentation

Jennings Carney (Co-Founder & Brewer)

I am incredibly grateful every day that I am able to wake up and open the doors of the brewery. Coming home to Rappahannock after so many years away on tour was a dream come true that I had not even known I dreamt. But here we are into our seventh year! Sperryville is only about 400 people and yet we have two breweries. Hopkins Ordinary Ale Works, which is our other brewery in town, opened their doors about eight months before Pen Druid. They are dear friends of ours, and it is always so lovely and relaxing to drink their beers in their biergarten.

Just the other day, my partner and I were in Charlottesville and were able to check out my friend’s new wine bar Crush Pad, which is amazing and has a really incredible selection. Moving to our new location, my brothers and I decided to sell our old fermenters, and the guys over at Altered Suds in Warrenton gave them an awesome new home and are making some great beer.

This year marked our new collaboration with the amazing palates and souls at Domestique in DC. Their vision and focus on the natural wine world is always inspiring and challenges me to always think with a beginner’s mind when it comes to natural fermentation.

Any drink shared with friends and family is my most favorite. Any place where people are able to feel love and safety and comfort and camaraderie is my favorite place to be. I am so excited to begin our spontaneous season this winter, and our third cider vintage has been barreled for the winter.

When people come to the brewery and buy our bottles they invariably ask, “How long should I age this?” And I tell them, “I’ve done the aging part, drink it now! Life is impermanence and we do not know how much time we have.” The same applies to our everyday lives. We do not know how much time we have. To meet each moment and each day with the burning urgency of now allows for spontaneity, compassion, and the creativity of being alive to flourish. Have a wonderful new year and may 2022 be fucking awesome for you however you find it!

P.S. A trend that I do not like is drunk buses.


Compiled, edited, and hyperlinked by Philip Runco. Further edited by Jacob Berg. All photos by Philip Runco, aside from Sankofa (courtesy of Allagash) and Pen Druid Fermentation (courtesy of Betty Clicker Photography).