- Written by Jeff Wharton
On Saturday, February 16th 2013 the new Mystic Brewery tap room opened it’s doors for the first time. Though the brewery has been open for a while now, it was only as of this day that you could sample the beer at the place where it was fermented (the physical brewing is done elsewhere, then unfermented wort is trucked back to the brewery for yeast pitching and fermentation). I’m a well-known lover of saisons, so I’ve basically been in a constant stoked state ever since Boston got a saison brewery of it’s own. Bryan Greenhagen, founder of Mystic Brewery, and his team have been doing crazy stuff with yeast over there and they’ve not disappointed the Boston beer drinkers. Their stuff is a constant in my fridge. So, on this day, there was no way I wasn’t going to be at the Mystic tap room to see what kind of specialties they might have on tap, just for those who made the trek. I ended up sampling a delicious “Half IPA” as well as their Table Beer, but perhaps best of all I walked away with 32 oz growler of their collaboration with D.C.’s yet to open Bluejacket DC, Vespula Mysticus, a saffron saison. (Sidenote, Bluejacket DC has Megan Parisi, former head brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company, as brewmaster...you know whatever she puts her name on will be good!) I had tried a sample previously at a beer fest, but was looking forward to a full, proper pour.
This one pours a slightly hazy, golden hue of deliciously enticing liquid. I’m already remembered the first time I sampled this at a beer fest and was floored by everything about it. As you can see from the picture, there’s pretty much no head, but I’m going to blame that on the fact that it’s from a growler and not on the beer itself.
Well it’s a saffron saison and, from the first time I smelled two ounces of this brew in a fairly crowded hall full of beer enthusiasts eager to sample the wares of brewers from across the U.S. until now, my opinion stays the same: it smells just like it’s called! I am honestly amazed at how they were able to capture the essence of saffron in a beer like they have! On top of that, the aromas actually gel quite nicely with the normal spicy saison aromatics, giving this beer a peppery, dried-flower aroma that is wonderful.
While the head may have faded a bit due to the growler, the carbonation is still there and it’s spot on! Tiny, prickly bubbles help to convey the smell of the beer to my nose while a flowery, light and bone-dry saison coats my mouth. The use of saffron is genius, as it lends perceived sweetness to the beer while allowing it to remain chalky dry at the same time. Honestly, put this in a can and the world will drink it all throughout the hot summer months! A minerally, grainy note comes along with the rest of the flavors, helping keep everything in balance and stopping those floral flavors from becoming too much like what I assume the potpourri in my grandmother’s house would taste like.
Honestly, this is a great beer that is well worth you getting out to Mystic’s tap room in Chelsea to get a sample and growler of! They’re open on Fridays 3-7pm and Saturdays Noon-4pm. If you want, you can find out what’s on tap before you go.
- Written by John Roche
OK, bear with me while I make two sweeping generalizations, and then attempt to justify them using a single example.
The first generalization is that the color of your beer follows the seasons (summer is lighter, winter is darker). The second - that the booziness of your beer matches the temperature (colder is higher ABV, warmer is lower). Right, fine, I know you can point out hundreds of examples to disprove either of these statements. But let’s be honest you agree just a little bit.
I bring this up because with spring here the temperatures swing wildly between day and night, which makes it hard to pick out exactly which beer to enjoy after a hard day at work. For us folks living in the DMV - DC Brau’s Oaked Penn Quarter Porter is a fine choice for the changing season. Named after a popular neighborhood in D.C., PQP was DC Brau’s first limited release beer, though it is fairly easy to find. The oaked version - aged on Catoctin Creek Distillery Round Stone Rye whiskey barrels - is a little harder to come by, but oh so worth it!
At 5.5% abv the beer works nicely in warm early evening weather, but as the sun sets and temperatures drop the robust boozy flavors of DC Brau's Oaked PQP keep you nice and warm.
Right off the bat you notice the opaque black pour with a caramel head, then the spicy whiskey and vanilla oak flavors hit your nose forcing you to double check that you didn't accidentally open an 11% abv brew.
Waves of vanilla, whiskey, bittersweet chocolate, cold brewed coffee and roasted malt enliven your taste buds, but are tempered by a jammy stone fruit funk and a slight hop bitterness towards the tail end of a sip. The complexity and layering of flavors is impressive, and the roastiness actually fades a bit faster than I find to be typical for the non-oaked version - a plus in my book. My senses tell me to expect a drunken punch to the face, but the beer delivers a jovial pat on the back.
Soon enough we’ll be inundated with summer beers - so take the opportunity to enjoy this versatile all-season beer while you can!
- Written by Devon
When I think of Mystic Brewery one word comes to mind, saison. Mystic has built a cult following over the last year or so based on their exceptional line of saisons. As a brewery they actually challenged my idea of what a saison was, and really opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities out there. While perusing the shelves on my local beer store I saw a new bottle on the shelf. On first glance you might actually miss the fact that it's from Mystic. As it turns out this series was spurred by one of Mystic's original employees, Alastair Hewitt, who is originally from the UK. Let me just say right now that I'm really glad they hired him.
I really like the way they've branded this series. If you try this beer expecting traditional Mystic funk then you'll be disappointed. If, however, you go into this beer looking for an amazing English inspired Oatmeal stout then you'll be in heaven. This is one of the best oatmeal stouts I've had in recent memory, perhaps ever. The aroma is laced with a subtle sweetness with hints of roasted malt. The first sip just pulled me in, though, in reality I can't call it a sip so much as a gulp, it was just so good as soon as I tasted it that I had to have more (cue Will Ferrell jokes). Seriously though, it's incredibly smooth, the oatmeal provides a fantastically good round mouth feel that just begs you to keep drinking more of it. The roasted malt is fairly subtle and the balance between malt bitterness and sweetness is sublime. I don't normally gush over beers like this but it's that good. One of the things that makes me happiest is a single line of text on the bottle "traditional ale series." That one line means there's more to come, and if the rest are anything like this then we're in for some seriously good beer.
- Written by John Roche
The Boston area should be proud of the proliferation of new breweries and craft beer friendly bars that have sprung up in the past two years – but they aren't alone. Washington, D.C. has nearly the same population as Boston, and the craft beer industry within the district boundary has grown exponentially since 2011. Three new breweries have opened, alongside countless restaurants and bars – and nearly six new breweries are in various stages of development.
One of these bars is Smith Commons, which opened in my soon-to-be neighborhood in January 2011, only a few weeks before I finalized my move. The bar is located in the rapidly changing H Street NE corridor, and they strive to provide an atmosphere where everyone can feel comfortable and try something new. Between hosting summertime homebrewing demonstrations, fundraising parties for local organizations and a visit by President Barack Obama for dinner the Smith Commons team has been busy working towards that vision! We recently asked Miles Gray, Managing Partner at Smith Commons, to share his story, his favorite beers, and his opinions on the future of the craft beer scene in DC.
Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?
Miles Gray: I got into craft beer about ten years ago after a night of drinking on the "old" U St. corridor. I found myself in this bar called The Saloon, where I had my first experience with Delirium Tremens. That led me to research and try the Belgians, which quickly led me back to the domestic crafts. As I'm sure many people have experienced, there is no coming back once you have great beer.
DCB: What inspired you to open Smith Commons, and how does that inspiration shape Smith Commons’ operations?
MG: My business partner, Jerome Bailey and I are long time friends and fraternity brothers, so that friendship sparked the conversations about an approachable, unique venue and that became Smith Commons. Our friendship has had a direct impact on the way we manage our team and interact with patrons, as we strive to always put people (all people) first. The best example is our beer program. We consciously chose to only place 12 taps, to avoid intimidating and confusing people, especially those new to beer, with an overwhelming number of choices. We also aim to educate and introduce people to craft beer by comparing our all American draught lines with the Belgian standards (Duvel, Chimay, Delirium etc.) which we carry in bottles.
DCB: Where do you see the DC area craft beer industry heading in the next year? And, in that vein, can we get a sneak peak at what new to expect from you in the coming year?
MG: The DC area craft beer industry will have to error correct and readjust the market strategy over the next year. We will see more breweries enter the area, which is a great thing, but the consumer education is not growing at the rate of craft beer distribution and expansion. What will happen is, the beer community will start to realize that the base consumer in the market has been left behind and not educated fully in regards to making craft beer and better food a lifestyle choice.
I would draw an analogy between where craft beer is at and the early days of the recycling/ sustainability movement before things like the "An Inconvenient Truth" movie gave large numbers of people a different view of a longstanding movement. By that I mean, there is little being done currently to explain the value of craft beer to the 80% of the population who will carry the movement beyond us beer snobs. The beer community does not do much in the sense of diversity, and the sole approach of beer dinners and tap takeovers is not a true platform for growth. Of the 2000+ bars in our area, there are maybe less than 50 that take craft beer seriously. To me, that is one of many signs that not all of the breweries in our area will thrive without creation of new consumers, inbound marketing, and analyzing market thresholds for price point, distribution etc.
DCB: I’m curious What types of activities do you think the industry can do to promote the value of craft beer to a broader audience?
MG: To promote the value of craft beer to a broader audience the craft beer industry needs to study the achievements and pitfalls of big beer, and the big spirits industry. I hear people saying they hate big beer without really studying the history of how big beer kept brewing alive during and post prohibition. I think Ommegang out of Cooperstown, NY has taken a huge leap in the right direction by partnering with Game of Thrones/ HBO for a beer series. On a more local level, what Brian Strumke of Stillwater did with Lower Dens is another great example of creating "beer venn diagrams" of overlapping cultures, music, tech etc.
Our "Masters of the #CraftBeer Universe" event for #CBC13 [ed. Craft Brewers Conference] was put together in that same vein.
DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one beer can be from your brewery.
MG: Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Ommegang Rare Vos, 3 Stars Southern Belle, The Wedge Brewery (Asheville) Hemp IPA, Stillwater Cellar Door, Allagash Curieux
DCB: You have one night in your favorite beer city with your staff. What city are you in and where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?
MG: My knee jerk reaction is Asheville, NC and their lovely local breweries, restaurants, music and scenery, but globally my favorite beer city is Ghent, Belgium. I would suggest that everyone take a trip there during Gentse Feesten (Festival of Ghent). The festival is a ten day party made up of about a dozen smaller festivals, and beer literally flows in the streets. They have incredible little things like this pop up meatball spot called Balls & Glory, and large events like Polé Polé music festival, spread out all around Ghent. It's a great experience to eat and drink beer, amongst the architecture of 1500 year old towns, and I would love to chill in Ghent with our team at Smith Commons.
DCB: Miles, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! Best of luck with the #MOTCBU event, we’ll be sure to stop by!
Smith Commons is located at 1245 H Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002