SAVOR the Pleasures of Craft Beer in D.C.

By Lucy Saunders

Named as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s top sommeliers in 2010—not for wine, but for beer—Greg Engert is one of the most-recognized advocates for culinary appreciation of brewing creativity. In his role as Beer Director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Engert’s take on the Washington, D.C. beer scene shows the impact of SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience.

“SAVOR has certainly inspired me,” says Engert of the Brewers Association’s sold-out event, “as it reinforces ideas I had had about the possibilities of pairing beer and food, and [SAVOR] demonstrates that many people are embracing both.”

Yes, D.C. is stoked for SAVOR, with dozens of beer dinners, vertical tastings, “meet the brewer” receptions, and other events scheduled to coincide with the two-day beer and food celebration, June 3 – 4, 2011.

More importantly, the number of dining destinations that highlight craft beer all year long has almost tripled in the years since SAVOR began in D.C.

Dave and Diane Alexander, of Washington, D.C.’s Brickskeller Pub (now the Bier Baron Tavern), was one of the earliest advocates for diverse beer selections in the area. Today, the Alexanders’ legacy lives on at R.F.D. (Regional Food & Drink).

Teddy Folkman, chef-proprietor of Granville Moore’s, says, “If you look back five years ago, there were classic beer bars, but now there are many more full-service restaurants offering craft beer and serving creative cuisine to match.”

Here are some of the top DC destinations for American craft beer (listed alphabetically):

Birch & Barley / Church Key
1337 14th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20005
(202) 567-2576

Birch & Barley is a groundbreaking D.C. restaurant dedicated to an unparalleled collection of 555 artisanal beers with creative cuisine to match. Under the direction of award-winning Chef Kyle Bailey, Beer Director Greg Engert, and Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac, the full service restaurant delivers a completely unique food and beer experience, celebrating a full spectrum of styles, traditions, regions and flavors.

ChurchKey is the 3,200 sq. ft. beer bar with an expanded bottle program and tasting menu, which features special events with Big Boss Brewing Co., Cigar City Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and Short’s Brewing Co., before SAVOR.

The Black Squirrel
2427 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20009
(202) 232-1011

The Black Squirrel opened four years ago, and the Adams Morgan neighborhood bar/restaurant has just added a new downstairs bar with 32 draft lines, predominantly American craft brews, with plans to open a nano-brewery on premise soon. According to the future brewer and current Beer Director, Hollie Stephenson, “The reaction to the expanded beer list has been great, with new beers added every week.”

The Black Squirrel’s owners, Tom Knott and Amy Bowman, founded the bar and casual restaurant to feature specific pairings with each item on the menu. “We now list recommended beer styles, and offer beer themes every week that are regional in focus, or style specific, with dishes or small dishes offered as specific pairings,” explains Stephenson. “For example, our pastry chef prepared a reduction of honey and Flying Dog Raging Bitch Ale, as the base for a gelée with a blood orange sorbet for a fantastic pairing.”

Tammy Tuck of The Lagerheads and The Black Squirrel will host a reception for women in craft beer, All ‘Ale The Ladies, on Sunday after SAVOR.

Granville Moore’s
1238 H Street NE, Washington, D.C.  20002
(202) 399-2546

American craft and Belgian styles of beer star at this neighborhood gastropub, named after the doctor who once ran a popular community clinic in the building. Headed by Executive Chef Teddy Folkman with Chef de Cuisine Maria Evans, the pub offers fresh, uncomplicated food, much of it inspired by traditional Belgian cuisine à la bière. Mussels steamed in beer, frites (twice-fried fries, hand-cut) with various dipping sauces, bison burgers, and assorted sandwiches and salads make up the menu.

Folkman consulted on this year’s SAVOR pairings, along with San Francisco’s Chef Adam Dulye. “Now, D.C. is  a draw for educated and well traveled beer drinkers,” says Folkman. “People who visit love the discovery of regional craft beer from across the U.S. We just had a group of visitors from Oregon who ordered pints of Rogue Ales for everyone at the bar because they were so excited to find it on tap.”

Meridain PintMeridian Pint
3400 11th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20010
(202) 588-1075

Meridian Pint blends modern design, sustainable operations, and imaginative cooking with American craft beer on draft. The menu features seasonal offerings such as asparagus soup, Asiago risotto fritters, braised fennel and lentils, and meaty choices such as short ribs braised in Porter. Chef David Shewmaker will be hosting a beer dinner with Brewery Ommegang before SAVOR.

R.F.D. (Regional Food & Drink)
810 7th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 289-2030

A block away from the Verizon Center, R.F.D. has an extensive craft beer menu, generous bar seating, and lots of large screen TVs reflecting its popularity as a pre-game or event destination. A large tented beer garden and special event room makes it good for large groups. It’s boisterous and busy, with 40 taps and lots of casual dining choices (salads, soups and sandwiches).

Pre-SAVOR, R.F.D. hosts a special tasting event, featuring Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing, Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Co., Bill Madden of Mad Fox Brewing Co.and Nick Funnell of Sweetwater Brewing Co.

Smith Commons
1245 H Street, NE, Washington D.C., DC 20002
(202) 396-0038

Nestled in a neighborhood of warehouses, Smith Commons sparkles as a newly renovated restaurant featuring American craft beer. Partners Miles Gray and Jerome Bailey, together with Chef Frederick DePue, often sit down with brewers to taste beers and develop pairings.

“Our beef carpaccio (shaved beef dressed with capers, olive oil, parmesan tuiles, arugula and toasted pine nuts) paired with DC Brau Brewing Co.’s “The Corruption” IPA has been a hit,” says Gray. “Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock over at DC Brau are brewing some very exciting and flavorful ales. We’ve been fortunate enough to have them meet with our chefs and work on really some inspired food pairings.”

Smith Commons features a bar on every level of the restaurant, each with its own vibe, from social bar with high tables and seats, to cozy couches and upholstered chairs, to clusters of tables for dining. “Smith Hour” (5 – 7 pm on Tuesday – Friday) features $5 drinks and bar snacks, from sliders to seared scallops, depending on the season.

“SAVOR has led the craft beer charge in D.C.,” says Miles Gray, adding “the organizers do a terrific job of working with the local food/beer community and creates excitement around the event. It also helps the community to understand just how large craft beer is outside of D.C., and what great opportunity there is for growth.”

Capital Beer Week

Capital Beer Week, May 30 – June 3, was created to share the American craft beer culture in D.C. and to celebrate the arrival of SAVOR .  With more than 40 events scheduled to take place at nearly 20 locations in the city, Capital Beer Week is a perfect time to explore a new craft beer bar, or check out the special events going on at your favorite pub.

Photos © 2011 Eddie Arrossi and courtesy of Meridian Pint and Smith Commons

Lucy SaundersLucy Saunders is the author of The Best of American Beer & Food, and explores craft beer and cuisine from her home in Milwaukee, WI.