Beer Buzz: D.C.'s Craft Brewery Scene

A toast to the tasty pours and savvy craft masters of six D.C.-area breweries

After the Heurich Brewery closed in 1956, more than 50 years passed before D.C. claimed another “production” facility (one distributing beyond its site). But now vats bubble up all over town with inventive beer meisters tapping local history and their own sense of experimentation. Here are a few of our favorite craft breweries where you can tour behind the scenes and belly up to the tasting bar.

 


DC Brau cans

DC Brau Brewing Company

The story: With its April 2011 opening, DC Brau became the city’s first production brewery since the Heurich. Its founders, Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, met as DJs spinning at local clubs.

The place: Quirky murals like Pixel Pancho’s “Robot Reindeer” brighten the venue in northeast D.C. The tasting room opens daily with glassware and growlers for sale (on Friday, pints are half price) and free tours run every Saturday. 

The brew: The distinctive cans, which display a diamond pattern inspired by D.C.’s original shape, hold a variety of brews—porter, Belgian-style, India pale ale and one dubbed “The Public,” a hops-heavy local favorite. Skall and Hancock also develop recipes in collaboration with bands and other breweries like Bluejacket. And they’ve worked with Heurich House Museum to recreate a pre-Prohibition beer.

Get there: 3178-B Bladensburg Road NE


Atlas growler and glass

Atlas Brew Works

The story: A self-proclaimed “beer dork” since college, Tennessean Justin Cox elevated his home brewing in October 2013 when he opened this commercial space.

The place: The brewery name comes from its northeast zone, deemed the “Atlas District” after the art deco Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street. The depot (once a newspaper distribution center) holds up to 2,300 barrels—that’s 4,600 kegs. Free tours explore the solar-powered operation every Saturday.

The brew: Try the citrus-and-spice Rowdy rye ale flagship or one of the many experimental, small-batch brews in the new tap room, open daily.

Get there: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE


Port City tanks, Alexandria, Virginia

Port City Brewing Company

The story: Vintner Bill Butcher traded grapes for grain when he opened Port City in January 2011. The first brewery in Alexandria since Prohibition takes its name from the city’s role as a colonial seaport and its logo from a view of the 1855 Jones Point Lighthouse.

The place: A former lighting-supply warehouse holds the immaculate brewing operation where Thursday through Sunday tour leaders invite the curious to taste wheat, sniff hops and admire the “hopzooka,” a contraption that allows brewers to add bitter flavoring without introducing air. Every day the tasting room offers samples, T-shirts, glasses and growlers to go. 

The brew: Try one of Port City’s year-round standards like Monumental IPA, Downright Pilsner or the award-winning Optimal Wit. Seasonal brews and creative limited releases have included spicy IPAs and oyster stout, given a subtle briny flavor with the addition of local oysters during the brewing process.

Get there: 3950 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria, Virginia


Right Proper Brewing Company

The story: Founded by Thor Cheston and his wife, Leah Dedmon Cheston, the brewery-restaurant debuted in 2013 next to the historic Howard Theatre. Demand grew so much that in 2015 they opened a new production facility in an old car repair shop.

The places: In the brew pub, the pours are served alongside a full menu of Southern comfort foods like fried catfish and six-cheese mac and cheese; in the production house, it’s all about the beer. Both spaces are adorned with colorful chalk murals of city scenes gone quirky (think pandas on a rampage).

The brew: Head brewer Nathan Zeender concocts classic and quirky styles like Raised by Wolves pale ale, Haxan robust porter and Marginalia American primitive beer brewed with burdock and dandelion root.

Get there: Brew pub, 624 T St., NW; production house, 920 Girard St. NE


Bluejacket bar and brewery, Washington, D.C.

Bluejacket

The story: Hops guru Greg Engert oversees operations at this impressive venue near Nationals Park. He and head brewer Josh Chapman embrace Old World traditions while experimenting with house strains of yeast and unusual ingredients.

The place: Bluejacket’s behemoth three-tier, 5,600-square-foot brew space, once a U.S. Navy boilermaker factory, houses sour and non-sour barrel rooms plus a variety of fermenting tanks including the “coolship” for extra-funky styles. There’s also a restaurant-bar, tasting room and bottle shop.

The brew: A rotating selection of 20 beers and five cask ales offers standouts from double IPAs to spiced sweet stouts and dry-hopped kolsch.

Get there: 300 Tingey St. SE


3 Stars Brewing Company

The story: After getting their start in 2007 with home brews (and admittedly mixed results), longtime pals Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey devoted themselves to research, and in August 2012 opened 3 Stars, named for the D.C. flag.

The place: In a brick warehouse near the Maryland border, the duo (sporting matching beards) offer tastings and growler fills Tuesday through Sunday and free tours on Saturdays. With a nod to their early days, they offer a home brew shop with beer-making ingredients and equipment.

The brew: Bold flavors reign here. Think chocolate (Starsky & Dutch stout) or toasted pecans (the Southern Belle imperial brown ale). Cask versions of the brews earn complexity with aging and ingredients like vanilla bean and lemon peel.

Get there: 6400 Chillum Place NW