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Jeff Hancock Talks DC Brau Public Reformulation, Brewery Developments

While watching my belov-, okay, at this minute loathed, Everton Football Club on my birthday at Fado last December, I decided to forego a second Guinness and set my sights on a more local option. DC Brau’s Public Pale Ale showed up in a glass shaped like the beer’s now-ubiquitous can bearing a red U.S. Capitol Building. I expected the familiar caramel malts and assertive bitterness that I was used to and received anything but. What I got from that sip of The Public was bright, in color and flavor, with a nearly-electric grapefruit note and nearly none of the malt profile I have been used to since the beer’s launch in 2011. It was delightful, thirst-quenching, balanced. I rarely have “oh shit” moments in beer these days, because I follow TLC’s advice and stay relatively close to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used. This qualified as an “oh shit” moment.

I seldom reach for the east coast style these days in general. This isn’t to knock The Public, which I obviously like enough to have ordered it that day, it’s just being honest about what my proclivities are at this point. I lean more heavily instead on other, brighter takes like Union’s Duckpin, Port City’s Essential, or even the venerable Sierra Nevada Pale. Taking a sip of this glass of Public felt like walking into a good renovation: the bones were the same but the atmosphere was better than I remembered the original being. In a world of JOOOOOCE, The Public has always seemed to a callback to the “east coast” (not the new-age “New England” or “Northeast”) pale ales and IPAs of earlier this decade; heavy on caramel and back-end bitterness with some grapefruit up front and in the nose to keep it honest and away from becoming an amber ale.

DC Brau, DC’s first production brewery since the 1950s, has a lot of eggs in the basket of The Public. It is the brewery’s flagship, and the beer’s logo and the brewery’s are the same, and nary a neighborhood can claim to be free of stickers bearing that likeness. It has become a mainstay in bars and restaurants across the city. Given all that, a formula change to this beer seemed notable. I reached out to Jeff Hancock, DC Brau’s Co-Founder, President, and Head Brewer, to see if my tastebuds were deceiving me and, if not, what the story was here. What follows below is a transcript lightly edited for length and clarity.

I'm not crazy, right, you did tweak the recipe for Public?

You’re definitely not crazy, since we brewed the Public first back in 2011. It has seen some changes along the way with regards to playing with specialty malts and aroma hops.

What prompted the change? Is this the first time you've made a major tweak to Public since its inception? Was this driven by sales, personal taste, staff taste, some combination of the above, or none of the above?

The change was prompted, and driven, by the flavor that we wanted to achieve in the beer. This is not the first time we’ve made changes to the beer, though. The first adjustment happened early on when I swapped out the original aroma hop for another one that gave me the profile I was looking for. Then, we started playing around with the malt, and Briess C-60 was swapped out for Simpson’s Medium Crystal malt. That change was probably the most dramatic and took the beer more in the direction of a Red Ale and muted the hops.

Can you tell us what the changes are and what the resulting outcomes were in terms of the beer's profile?

Since bringing the new 40 [hectoliter] GEA brewhouse, we’ve reduced the amount of crystal malt by half to get the beer back into pale ale specs. The “action” of the boil lends a healthy increase in color and has also allowed us to reduce our boil times from 90 minutes to 60 minutes without sacrificing hop utilization. We’ve also increased the dry hop amount to further the aromatic hop prominence in the finished beer.

Have other folks noticed the change?

Yes, you’re one of the first outside of the brewery to notice. I have a feeling that once the previous version of Public sells through in respective markets, we’ll hopefully get the positive feedback we’re looking for.

For some non-Public questions: how is the new brewhouse working out? How has it changed brewery workflow and output?

It has definitely changed the way we’re brewing. It has given us infinite flexibility. We can now brew [more than] 120 BBLs per day, which has doubled daily output within the same timeframe that used to take us 60 BBLs. We also sprung for a heated mash tun that has decoction and step-mash regimes that gives us the ability to re-create beers of Europe, particularly Belgian and German beers among a whole lot of positives that could fill up many more pages.

You still have the other brewhouse, right? And you're planning to use it for smaller batches of one-offs? Anything cool coming down the line on that front?

Yes, we still have the original 15 BBL brewhouse in limited operation these days. We’re definitely planning on using it for smaller batches. It allowed us to start an outlet for our production staff to potentially scale up pilot recipes for on-site consumption. We’re also looking to use it for private label beers and small, local contract brewing scenarios.

Anything else you'd like our readers to know about what DC Brau has going on right now?

Yeah, within the last couple of weeks we’ve debuted the first in an ongoing series of brewery-only canned releases. [Ed. Note: With apologies to Jeff, I took my sweet time publishing this, so both of these releases already occurred. Be on the lookout for future brewery-only can releases! -BD] The first was “Sleeping While Standing Up,” which was a One Eight Rye Whisky barrel-aged English Style barleywine. The only other place the beer will be served outside of DC Brau will be at Mad Fox’s 8th Annual Annual Barleywine Festival held at the Falls Church, VA brewpub on February 23rd and 24th. The second release in this series was called “A Brief History of Time Travel,” which was a hop-bursted Double Dry-hopped Double IPA that came off the new brewhouse. We added upwards of 40 pounds of various aroma hop varieties exclusively in the whirlpool, included but not limited to Mosaic, Wai-ti, and Azacca.

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Thanks to Jeff for taking the time to chat about these new developments to Public and at the brewery. Be on the lookout for the revamped Public and let us know what you think at @dcbeer.

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