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Fritz Hahn on Virginia’s Dominance in DC Beer

I recently emailed Fritz Hahn, Nightlife Reporter and Beer Columnist for the Washington Post, to ask him whether Virginia breweries are getting more shine than DC breweries inside the District. Does the hype favor Virginia beers over D.C. beers? Is there a perception among beer drinkers that Virginia produces better quality beer than D.C.? Do Northern Virginia and Maryland breweries get more attention than DC’s and, if so, is it because many of them are newer on the scene?

Fritz Hahn responds

In short, yes, some younger Virginia breweries are putting out high-quality beer right now. But I think the situation is more complex than that.

Like it or not, we live in a world where craft beer lovers are always craving something they haven’t tried yet, and right now, that’s coming from Virginia. The Old Dominion has more than 200 breweries. That’s more than twice as many as Maryland and D.C. combined. There are undoubtedly going to be some hits. I think Solace has had a tremendous year. Partly Cloudy is an IPA that could make just about any tap lineup in the city. I’ve been banging the drum for Basic City since the fall of ’17, and I’m really happy their well-made Bask DIPA is showing up across D.C. (Now if we could just get Our Daily Pils up here.) Crooked Run is still doing great things, and everyone knows about Aslin and Adroit Theory by now. Plus we’re seeing some of the brewers that built the NoVa scene go out on their own — Favio Garcia with Dynasty, and Vibrissa, from former Ocelot brewer Mike McCarthy. So there’s lots of hype, and deservedly so.

Compare that to D.C., where there’s a little more fatigue. Hellbender was the last production brewery to open in D.C., and that was more than four years ago. The flagships — DC Brau Public, 3 Stars saisons, Right Proper Raised by Wolves — have a “been there, done that” feeling when the casual drinker sees them on tap at bars. I know all of those breweries have been doing much bigger things with their portfolios, such as Brau’s Jameson barrel beers, or 3 Stars’ collabs with Interboro and Captain Lawrence, but unless it’s a special event, I haven’t seen much of those beers outside of their respective taprooms. When’s the last time you enjoyed an #Ultrafresh on draft downtown?

The other issue is distribution, especially when we’re trying to separate Virginia from Maryland beers. Virginia beers have been aggressively moving into the D.C. market. Maryland, not so much — and that makes a difference when we talk about buzz or the number of tap handles.

If you told me I had to choose between Solace and Burley Oak for the rest of my life, I’m taking Burley Oak, no question. But how often do we see any of the J.R.E.A.M. series or Aboriginal Gangster IPA in D.C., even compared to “rare” beers from the Veil? Burley, like RAR or Diamondback, keeps a lot of its exclusive beers in the tap room, and I’ve seen more social media postings about RAR or Burley events at Max’s in Baltimore, but not much about similar gatherings in D.C. When we do get good stuff from RAR or Diamondback, it tends to go to a small number of craft-centric bars in D.C., such as the Pints or Anxo, or maybe Free State. Meanwhile, Solace’s Suns Out, Hops Out is pouring at the BlackFinn on Farragut Square, Rasika West End and a good number of other bars not populated by beardy craft dudes, which means it’s in front of a lot more consumers.

In conclusion…

Fritz’s responses echo what many have felt for some time: that there is a fair bit more Virginia beer in DC then there has been over the last five years, and that craft beer lovers have a kaleidoscopic taste in draught beer.

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1 comment

Shep May 31, 2019 at 3:24 pm

I agree 100% about Solace. The way they’ve rolled out their beer on draft and aggressively had it available everywhere has been a nice contrast to the brewery only, we want all of the margin sales model that we seem to see from most of the trendy craft breweries. The first time I had Partly Cloudy, I was very impressed. Draft and grocery store was the most sought after sales channel for so many years and now, it has become all about taproom off-premise. It has been really interesting to see a newer brewery succeed in aggressively using a very traditional beer sales model. The bottom line is that they have a very good product.

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