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The Citizen, The Haze, and The Flagships: DC Brau’s Smart Move

Last week we reported on DC Brau’s curious way of celebrating #FlagshipFebruary: they retired their Belgian-style pale ale, The Citizen, from their year-round lineup and will replace it with a new hazy India Pale Ale, Joint Resolution.

If you’re a fan of The Citizen – and the 2013 Great American Beer Festival judges agree with you – worry not; it will return from time to time. That said, the beer was out of step with current trends, and was a proverbial “odd man out” among Brau’s hop-forward core offerings. Few drinkers appear to be asking for more Belgian-style pale ales; Surly is also retiring Cynic as a year-round offering.

Joint Resolution fills a void in the District in that DC breweries have not really caught onto the haze craze. Bluejacket’s can releases for this style are sporadic and limited by the size and placement of their canning line. 3 Stars’ IPAs often lack the turbidity that one looks for in a hazy pale ale, and if there’s a style guideline to be followed, the beers’ perceived bitterness are consistently too high. DC breweries’ lack of attention to this style has been Virginia’s gain in particular, as we noted in our year-end wrap-up.

Solace’s Partly Cloudy is one of the best sellers at Meridian Pint and Brookland Pint, which also cycle through Ocelot’s IPAs. Meanwhile, H Street’s Craft Beer Cellar sales data shows that Commonwealth’s Big Papi, Crooked Run’s hazy IPAs, and Solace’s offerings are among that store’s most popular. Haze is where some very vocal customers are, and we now know that Brau knows it, too. Their rotating tallboy 4-pack releases at the brewery were perhaps a trial run for this new flagship, one of which purportedly began as a happy accident involving The Citizen. “We’ve seen a significant shift in the palates of our consumer over the past eight years, and feel like it’s a good time to freshen up our core, year-round offerings with a Hazy IPA,” said DC Brau Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Brandon Skall, in a press release.

A cursory glance at Untappd and Instagram, as well as Beer Advocate and RateBeer’s forums, show that, for at least some beer fans, haze is where the action is. It makes sense for Brau to capitalize on it as even larger breweries have.

Farther afield, Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing seems to be doing well, Firestone Walker and Bell’s are readying hazy IPAs as well. “People walk up to our bar… and say, ‘What do you have that’s hazy?’ If the bartender says, ‘We don’t make those beers,’ they turn around and walk away,” notes FirestoneWalker brewmaster Matt Brynildson. There’s a market for these beers, and prior to this moment it was surprising how few District breweries tried to meet that demand.

Citizen’s forced retirement will have its defenders and detractors. Despite the vocal sect of hopheads driving the market (as evidenced by nearly any bottle shop’s inventory), there are still those who shun hops and reject IPAs. Citizen’s shelving is part of the modern craft brewery’s constant (and required) churn in an effort to stay competitive. On the one hand, being nimble and responsive to trends serves breweries well with their distributors and markets. On the other hand, the path to 2019 is littered with discarded beer styles, many of them variations on a theme. Where are the west coast IPAs, red IPAs, black IPAs, white IPAs, grapefruit IPAs, and habanero mango IPAs of yesteryear? These styles come and go, though at some point even we have to admit that hazies have held on longer than any of their predecessors.

In any event, it can be easy to take DC Brau for granted as the first production brewery since Prohibition in Washington, D.C. Good on them for being thoughtful about catering to consumers’ needs. Other area breweries can (and should, and probably will) take note. Now if only a DC brewery would lean into beer trends with exploding cans of fruited kettle sours, we would really be on-trend as a beer market.

The author thanks Bill DeBaun for his assistance with this article.

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