SAVOR is back after a 37 month hiatus. This year twenty local breweries are pouring forty-two beers at the event. Participants include 2 Silos, Adroit Theory, Atlas Brew Works, Bluejacket, Board Room Brewing Company, Caboose Brewing Company, DC Brau, Denizens, Dogfish Head, Dynasty, Fair Winds, Heavy Seas, Lake Anne, Manor Hill, Old Bust Head, Port City, Right Proper, Smoketown Beer, Union, and Vibrissa.
Dogfish Head is the oldest of the pack, having opened in 1995. Like Dogfish Head, Caboose Brewing splurged on a sponsorship and is bringing three beers; all other breweries are bringing two.
Out of the forty-two beers, eight are IPAs (American IPA, Double IPA, Hazy IPA, and Session). There are seven lagers, the majority pilsner. There are three each of imperial stouts and saisons. Two are listed as fruited sours, and two red ales, but only one Kolsch, one Hefeweizen, and only one Biere de Garde.
In addition to a plethora of new beers, there are seasoned brewers who’ve been making beer in the area since roughly when Dogfish Head opened. Their expertise in the brew house and the cellar have informed my opinion of beers I’m eager to try. Also, I am entirely biased as the CEO of Lost Lagers, DC’s premier beverage research company, so the entire list is composed of lagers. Full disclosure, I have also worked with some of these breweries, though none of them asked for the nerdiness you’re about to read. And some of them have provided me with free beers over the years for how eloquently I recanted stories of brewing centuries ago (that last part is up for debate).
Stein’s must try lagers are as follows:
Bluejacket, Change Tomorrow, German Pilsner, 5.0% alcohol by volume
Brewed with Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops + Virginia craft malt from Murphy & Rude and served from a stichfass keg
Bluejacket has been brewing more and more lagers and they’ve been using more and more Murphy and Rude malt, grown and malted in Virginia. I believe Murphy and Rude are the only maltsters in the state using Virginia-grown barley to create Virginia-made malt. Beers like Small Conversations, effectively Bluejacket’s For the Company Helles, but with 100% Virginia barley, shows that the nuance and subtlety we’ve grown to love in a mellow beer like a Munich-style Helles, is achievable with locally grown and made malt. While not lager, their second beer is Glee, a 4% English-style Golden Ale, a new iteration of a collaborative beer brewed with Duchess Ales. This new batch is also brewed with Murphy & Rude Malt, as well as English hops: Challenger, Fuggles, and East Kent Goldings. Also, it will be served via a cask! Although far from lager, it gets a big nod from this cask-beer lover who’s greatest joy in beer drinking is celebrating beers under 5%.
Dynasty Brewing Company, El Supremo, Italian-style Pilsner, 5.6%
Double Dry Hopped with German Saaz and Tettnanger
Dynasty is co-owned and operated by head brewer Favio Garcia. Garcia has been brewing beer since the 1990s and it’s entirely possible he was already dry hopping beer when Dogfish Head turned a year old. He could have been doing it at Richbrau Brewery in Richmond or at the original Virginia incarnation of Bardo Brewpub, which we know sported a dry hopped barleywine when Dogfish Head turned one in June, 1996! Remember when barleywines were dry hopped with whole cone hops? Nah. Me either…. I also don’t remember Garcia brewing at Bardo or Richbrau but LinkedIn and the mensch himself told me so!
El Supremo is a wonderfully earthy, yet light and crisp pilsner with just enough malt to zing the palate. Joining the malt is a slightly citrusy, matchstick-like pine needle earthy goodness imparted by heavy handed additions of German hops. Double dry hopped, meaning the beer takes twice as long to produce as some “fine pilsner,” it’s clear this beer is the result of decades of brewing experience and expertise.
The Saaz hops Garcia uses are wonderfully soft. The last two boxes of German Saaz he’s received at Dynasty have had an alpha acid content of 3.8% and 2.5%. Combined with German Hallertau, Tettnang, and the aforementioned Saaz, his double dry hopped Pilsner is the culmination of decades of brewing experience, designing, and understanding the intricacies of European hops. This beer really hums and we think you’ll find it a vibrato in a sea of baritones as the Pilsner’s subtle oscillation expertly blends malt and hop pitches.
Port City Brewing Company, Pizza Night, Amber Lager, 4.8%
Port City’s Pizza Night stands out as a wonderful representation of styles being more than advertised. At first glance, Pizza Night looks like an amber lager (indeed the can label reads amber lager) but the depth of bready character from the floor malted pilsner and dark roasted carafa malts, and the balanced layering of Czech Saaz and Kazbek hops is truly phenomenal and lets you know there’s more in play than a mild amber lager here. There have been several “Polotmavé” or what’s known in Czech lands as half-dark, amber lagers coming into our market in recent months. They’ve come from red hot and wildly popular breweries in New York, New Hampshire, and Maryland amongst other locales. In my humble opinion, this Czech-style amber lager is the best amongst them all. It’s funny this beer was branded an “American Lager” by the fine folks running SAVOR but it certainly passes for Czech. If it had been open-fermented and presented slightly more diacetyl character it’d be identical to some of the amber lagers I last had in Czechia in 2012.
Manor Hill Brewing Company, Infine Italian Pilsner, Italian Pils, 5%
When Brandon Miller left 3 Stars, he headed north to Manor Hill, Howard County’s first, and Maryland’s biggest, farm brewery. In October, Miller celebrates four years at the Maryland brewery and has put in some wonderful work while on the farm, serving as Lead Brewer, and beekeeper.
In Infine Italian Pilsner your palate will be pleased with Pilsner, Spelt, and Malted Wheat comprising the grist of this lager, which was bittered and dry hopped with Hallertau Blanc. Look for aromas of white wine, citrus, and lemongrass. A minimalistic malt character allows for a clean, crisp and refreshing beer fermented with Weihenstephaner lager yeast. Low bitterness and slight grassy notes accentuate a dry finish. Miller says “I’ve found it is very good with BBQ and mild cheeses.”
Fair Winds Brewing Co., Pohick Bay Pilsener, Bohemian Pils, 5%
Rob Fink is an obsessively focused brewer whose persistence and dedication allow us to reap the fruits of his labor. For Pohick Bay Pilsener (you see an extra “e” provides for an extra classy lager) Fink uses almost exclusively Weyermann floor malted Bohemian Pilsner malt, as well as Czech Saaz hops, and German lager yeast.
Not too hoppy, not too malty. There is a good bitterness, which I have found pairs wonderfully with rich double cream brie and salty crackers. A little malt and a little hops, this beer brilliantly represents gestalt: a sum greater than its parts. Good with pizza, grilled fish, or spring pea risotto. I’ve thrown many dishes at this lager and they’ve all been better with its place next to the plate.
Other breweries worth mentioning:
Outside of these breweries making beer that interests me, some of them have been deeply interested (as individuals) or deeply vested in causes I consider important. One cause or issue I find of great import, is a brewery ownership group that better reflects the groups of people in our nation and our nation’s capital.
Some of the best beer available around town (bias alert) is Senate Lager, a beer my Lost Lager colleague, Peter Jones, uncovered via a 1948 laboratory report in the National Archives. Beyond the delicious corn lager (#praizethemaize and #dontscornthecorn) brewed by Right Proper, their Shaw brewpub is run by Leah Cheston. Cheston is also a Pub Brewery Representative on the Brewers Association’s Board of Directors.
In addition to the Right Proper brewpub being a wonderful place to eat and drink, they have a wonderful brewer, Lily Schulz, piloting experimental beers there. They brew clean lagers, make funky foeder-aged beers, and typically always have a few things on tap we’ve never tried before. Beyond Schulz, the Right Proper Brewpub is firmly planted as a piece of DC Beer history having hosted the launch of several beers brewed by Eamoni Collier. Eamoni Collier is the CEO and Co-Founder of Urban Garden Brewing, the first entirely Black-owned Woman-led beer brand in DC history.
Just up the road from Right Proper is DC Brau, also featuring female ownership. Mari Rodella is not only Chief Community and Culture officer of DC Brau but also Secretary of Craft x EDU, and sits on the Board of the Heurich House Museum. The Imperial Oatmeal Stout DC Brau is pouring will be delicious if it’s like last year’s. If you see DC Brau’s Proud to Say Gay around town, order this quality pilsner. This beer is their Brau Pils, rebranded with proceeds benefitting SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) and The Washington Blade, “The oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the U.S. covering the latest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news in Washington, DC and around the world.”
From a top-down perspective, it’s great when brewery owners effect change and work towards the goal of making the world a better place. But there’s also those on the ground, in the cellars, working to see the brewing world more representative of the society in which we live.
I recommend Atlas’ Half Street Hefeweizen and their 202 Brett Beer. While I haven’t had the chance to try the 202 Brett Beer, and it’s been a year since I last had their Hefeweizen, I regularly discuss beer quality and quality control with Atlas’ Sean Palmateer. I know Palmateer works on a daily basis to make better beer in DC, making the Mid-Atlantic region’s brewing scene stronger. We share the belief that the best thing production staff can do on a daily basis is to encourage staff members who are not white and not male to learn the skills that will make them good candidates for any job in the industry. If you’re paying attention to what’s happening in the world of beer, you’ll notice that the grassroots changing of the industry is happening throughout the country. If you follow the work of Breeze Galindo, who brews at Other Half, you know her work in mentorship. You know the work she does with the Michael James Jackson Foundation, is of the utmost importance. And finally you may have participated in Galindo’s Other Half Women’s Forum, launched in 2021.
Outside of making excellent beers, none of the breweries mentioned above have named beers after serial killers. This should seem like a pretty low bar but alas, 2022. One local brewery did just this, putting not one but four serial killers on their beers’ labels. But the crazy shit about that is these killers’ victims still have families; their ongoing trauma influences how I think of breweries, and then I think of my own trauma. Should I just get over it? Heal myself and give up on it? Sure. But understand that I am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. This shit stays with us.
2025 will mark the 80th anniversary of my grandfather’s liberation from interment in the concentration camp of Terezin, in Czechia. There is (thankfully) a proliferation of “Bohemian” beers and “Czech-style Pilsners” for which I am truly thankful for. But the reality is I cannot think of Bohemia and not think of the time my grandfather spent incarcerated because his father and mother were Jewish.
I think of our families’ trauma. That makes me think of those who have lost loved ones to gun safety issues. As that number grows, we think of those who have lost loved ones to senseless violence.
Consider those who may not favor a beer named after the murderer who took a loved one from their lives. Specifically those in communities already traumatized by the historic wrongs (far older than 1945) inflicted upon their ancestors. For example:
“Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 people, all but one of them in a 3 1/2 -year burst of bloodletting in and around Milwaukee. Most of his victims were [B]lack or gay or both. Most of them had families that deeply cared about them.”
And so rather than call attention to a brewery using marketing they shouldn’t, I’ll say that there are a brewery owners working to make the world a better place. Naming beers after free jazz pioneers, brewing beers for DC Dyke Night, or hosting Black owned beer brands to make beer for DC’s Funk Parade all seem like better place to start than with violence.
In the end, these are the beers I want to drink. Please don’t mistake them for the beers you want. If you want weird stuff, check these out.