This past week some 6,000 brewing industry professionals descended on Washington D.C. for the 30th Annual Craft Brewers Conference. When I first heard that the Craft Brewers Conference was going to be in Washington D.C., I truthfully wasn’t that excited. Sorry D.C. I didn’t know much about D.C. (besides the monuments) or really thought of it as a place with a thriving beer scene. I’m a bit spoiled living here in Chicago and I often make trips out west to Portland, Oregon. So, D.C. really hasn’t been on my radar that much. That’s changed after these last few days hanging out in the city, it’s time me and everyone started to pay attention because the scene is blowing up there now. One person described it as being where Chicago was 5 or so years ago. I can see that, it’s small right now with a few key players but it’s changing fast. Over the three days we were there, I was able to check out a number of fantastic bars all around the city.
On the first day, Maeve and I stopped in at Capitol City Brewing Company. In 1992, Capitol City Brewing Company became the first brewpub to open in the city since Prohibition. Capitol City Brewing Company isn’t a bad stop if you’re wandering around downtown and looking for a quick beer and a bite. If you’ve been to a Rock Bottom, it has a similar vibe. A big food menu, plenty of TVs with a game playing on them and a handful of beers on draft. We ordered a flight of their beers and particularly liked their Amber. From there we went over to the opening ceremony which was held at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This is probably one of the most fun events at any of the Craft Brewers Conference. The opening ceremony is usually held at a museum, zoo or just landmark location in the host city. It’s held after hours and there is a ton of beer and food to sample. It’s pretty amazing to be walking around a museum with a beer and checking out all the great displays and interactive exhibits. At the opening ceremony you’ll run into any and every brewer you’ve seen or heard about. Since we’ve interviewed a good amount of brewers and hung out with so many people in the industry over the years, its almost like going to a reunion of sorts; so many familiar faces and people to catch up with. At one point I found myself waiting in line for the bathroom with Jim Koch. We spent several hours chatting with people, wandering in and out of cool plane and space exhibits and tasting many solid beers from D.C. and the surrounding area. From there Maeve and I ran into Eric Hobbs and Tom Korder of Penrose Brewing and went with them to enjoy a couple more beers in the great city of D.C. Right here was the moment I realized D.C. was going to be a lot more fun than the previous year in San Diego. Listen, we had a great time in San Diego but being Chicagoans, we’re used to being able to walk or jump on a train to our next beer destination and San Diego is a sprawling city where a car is needed. In D.C., we had the ability to walk to another great beer bar or easily grab a cab and go across town. In San Diego, it was hard to travel around and because of that most people just stayed where the convention was held, The Town & Country and hung out. But in D.C. everyone was on the move going to and from a number of different places.
Day two was all about checking out more of D.C. as well as shooting a couple great Hop Cast episodes that we’ll be putting out in the next few weeks. We made it over to Meridian Pint, a great local bar and chatted with Tim Prendergast, their beer director. From there Ken, Maeve and I jumped in the cab and went to ChurchKey to interview Greg Engert. Just to clear up any confusion, the ChurchKey in D.C. isn’t the one with the canned beer that you need a “ChurchKey” to open. The D.C. ChurchKey is a killer beer bar and the folks involved are working on opening their own brewery soon, named BlueJacket. You can already try some of the beers BlueJacket has collaborated on with other breweries, so keep an eye out. The night we were at ChurchKey there was also a Chicago event going on so we stuck around to try a couple of those limited Chicago releases as well as making sure we said hello to all our home town beer friends. It was crazy in there, the line to get in wrapped around the building. Its pretty great to see people in D.C. loving Chicago beer as much as we do. From there we moved onto Smoke & Barrel. Bar hopping is really easy in D.C., most cab trips only cost $10 – $15 each way for us. Smoke & Barrel is a great beer, bourbon and bbq bar. We also had a chance to visit a couple other places that night like The Pug on the NE side. The Pug is a bit of a dive bar and that night they were pouring some excellent beers from our buddy Kevin Blodgers Baltimore brewery, Union Craft Brewing. Since the Craft Brewers Conference was going on, the draft lists at all these bars were insane and every bar we went to had a great atmosphere and were filled with craft beer lovers. These bars not only featured beers from the growing number of local breweries but also breweries from all over the United States. Since D.C. has some relaxed or different distribution rules than other places they are able to get beers from all corners of the US.
Thursday morning we took it easy. We hit up the conference for a bit in the afternoon and wandered around town. Giving beer a break for the moment, Maeve and I met up with Taylor AKA TheArtOfBeer for some cocktails at the speakeasy style bar, The Gibson. I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a great craft cocktail. After a few drinks and a bite to eat, Maeve and I walked down the street to the 9:30 Club for the Festival De Cans. This was a ticketed event and was a blast! They showed off a dozen films from different breweries that can their beers. You could tell that everyone took some time to make something that they were proud of but there were a few that stood out. After the films, the music kicked in and the dancing started. Maeve and I had an early flight back to Chicago the next day so we took off but I saw on Twitter a number of folks ran into Ken and danced the night away.
Those couple of days we were in D.C. went by fast and were a lot of fun. In fact, events are still going on and Ken is still there representing for the Hop Cast. For anyone who lives nearby the city that is hosting the conference, it’s worth just hitting up some of the tap takeovers and beer dinners that happen. They are great and give you a chance to meet the brewers as well as enjoy some amazing beer. Next year the Craft Brewers Conference is off to Denver and hopefully we have the time to make it out.