Craft Beer From the Nation's Capital
6 beers from DC that any party can agree on
Spring is bustling time in DC. Tourists by the busloads are here to see the famous cherry blossom trees blooming along the Tidal Basin. Visitors on spring break enjoy long walks around the National Mall and locals get to cheer on the Washington Nationals as baseball season starts anew.
With so many people in town, it’s time they got to know some of the fine local breweries. These breweries can be found in some of the fastest growing areas of the city including Shaw, Brookland and Navy Yard. Brewery visits have become a popular activity among locals and visitors, prompting brewery owners to build large and inviting taprooms. Better yet, many of the locally made beers have become a staple at bars and restaurants across the region.
To help make selecting my six favorite brews a little less difficult, I have excluded limited releases. Most of these beers below can be found in cans and on tap across the city all year long. I have also tried to seek a wide spectrum of beer styles, which reflects the diversity available in the district.
The Public by DC Brau
As no trip to Washington DC is complete without at least a drive by of the Capitol building, neither can a list of the district’s top beers leave out The Public. This 6% ABV pale ale was the inaugural beer from DC Brau which helped set off the craft beer revolution in the city. DC Brau in 2011 was the first package brewery in the city since Heurich Brewing closed its doors in 1956 at a location that would later house the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Public, which won a silver medal in the 2019 NY International Beer Competition, emits a sweet caramel and floral aroma accentuated by mild citrus notes fortified by Centennial hops. Sipping The Public brings a rush of bitterness at first, amid hints of orange peel and grapefruit flavors. But a malt backbone imparts sweetness that makes for a nicely balanced brew.
District Common by Atlas Brew Works
This 5.1% ABV lager is anything but a common beer. It’s made with just the right amount of Czech Saaz hops, but with a crisp lager mouth feel. Its well balanced with some modest fruity ale notes, making it easy drinking without overpowering the palate. Yet with the Common you don’t sacrifice taste. While Atlas makes a wide variety of beers from West Coast IPAs to sours, the District Common always gets my vote—particularly when inviting new friends to craft beer. Atlas Brew Works is in the city’s burgeoning Ivy City neighborhood in Northeast DC, which means one can tie a visit to the brewery with a visit to Ivy City Smokehouse for some of best smoked fish anywhere.
Bare Bones Kolsch by Hellbender Brewing
At 4.7% ABV, this beer is one of best American Kolsch style beers you’ll ever have. It has a mild aroma but with full flavor and a light, fruity sweetness that balances a mild hop bitterness. It’s a great beer to sip when you want something more than just a lager. With a foamy head, you’ll taste some bready malts that go with almost anything on your plate from pizza to steak. I spent New Year’s Eve at Hellbender brewery in Northeast DC and the Bare Bones Kolsch was a great way to toast the memories of 2018 and bring on 2019.
Häxan by Right Proper Brewing
This roasty, full-bodied 4.25% ABV porter has a wonderful aroma and taste of dark chocolate, coffee and dark fruit. Named after the silent era Scandinavian documentary on witchcraft, Häxan is brewed with assortment of roasted malts and oats. It’s a relatively light porter but still velvety smooth. Right Proper also has a Coffee Häxan made with Honduras coffee beans from Backporch Coffee in Bend, Oregon.
The Palace at 4 A.M. by Bluejacket
Hands down the best coffee stout I’ve had. This 7.5% ABV is served at the brewery at 54 degree room temperature in a snifter glass so its rich mix of milk sugar, vanilla and locally made coffee beans come together in fine form without one flavor overpowering the other. At its large location in the Navy Yard neighborhood just two blocks from the waterfront, Bluejacket loves to experiment with different styles. The brewery is owned by Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which runs some of the best beer bars in the Greater DC area including Churchkey near Logan Circle. (Having noted beer director Greg Engert at the helm means that its lineup of beer hits every palate and is ever changing except for a handful of mainstays like The Palace.) Bluejacket has a full service restaurant inside its brewery called the Arsenal that makes it a hot spot on Nationals game days or any other reason you can find to explore the neighborhood.
Peppercorn Saison by 3 Stars Brewing
This 6.5% ABV farmhouse saison is a great beer anytime with its slightly sweet fruit nose, hints of grass and coriander, modest underpinning of peppercorn, a tinge of bitterness and a clean finish. Its another drinkable ale that can satisfy craft beer fans and those still new to craft beer. It’s a fitting beer to try inside 3 Stars farmhouse style tap room at its brewery in Northeast Washington.