DC Brau is the leader in DC's craft beer scene. Being the leader has its benefits. No question. But the road to becoming that leader is often the most difficult to travel. Just ask Brandon Skall, one of DC Brau's two founders and our host for the afternoon. Being DC's first production brewery since 1956 came with a price. The rent every room in your house and sleep on the couch price. The brew all day and sleep in the brewery to not waste time price. The affect every aspect of your life kind of price. Being the leader is not easy. Yet, it's the sacrifice associated with being the first that makes this place so special. A sense of pride about every thing they do and every beer they produce. If it weren't for the sacrifice this just wouldn't mean so much.
The process of creation. The driving force. Leaving a well paying job so he could rent every room in his house and sleep on the couch just to be able to pay the bills (didn't pay himself for 8 months) while he started the brewery with his business partner, Jeff Hancock, is a decision most would not have made - but in the end, it's the impact of that experience that drives Brandon and DC Brau today. An experience that shines though the smile on Brandon's face when he walks us through the brewery. Personally, I commend them. That's sacrificing and following your passion. Fortunately, just like in the story books, the story only seems to be getting happier after the inherent struggle of the protagonists. DC Brau is doing well. Very well.
It was 2007 when Brandon and Jeff met and decided they'd open DC Brau. 2009 when the two officially started the trek, and not until April 15, 2011, that the DC Brau opened its doors. Only producing "The Public" their American Pale Ale, that to date, remains their most popular offering, for the entire first month they had their doors open and putting every single penny made on that beer back into the business. Sleeping at the brewery to ensure enough beer was produced and with no staff - it was on Jeff and Brandon to do every task required of running a production brewery including brewing, marketing, and distribution. Again, experiences that today allow the two to appreciate and enjoy every success and achievement received along the way.
Fast forward to 2015 and DC Brau is the leader of the craft beer market in DC. 80-85% of their distribution staying in D.C., with the remainder making its way to Maryland, Philly, Connecticut, and Virginia. Yet, On the Wings of Armageddon, a massive double IPA, has put DC Brau on the map nationally. The amazing part is that they can barely even produce enough beer to keep up with D.C.'s demand. So like in the past, they find ways to make it work - brewing multiple times a day and re-investing into expansion of the brewery and fermentation capacity, all while maintaining focus on creating quality balanced beers. As the brewery continues to expand, Brandon thinks that what the industry needs is advocacy in the legislative discussion. This can not be understated. Look at Florida for example: after almost getting crushed by the response to its own bill, craft beer is under attack yet again - the target: taprooms, the life blood of any craft brewery.
Interestingly, (I'm cynical but fascinated about the continued "camaraderie" in the industry); Brandon welcomes the birth of new breweries. Clearly put: "the more people who are making beer, the more people want to drink beer" and with that trend, Dc Brau has only increased sales as new breweries open in the D.C. area. One of those, Right Proper Brewery, is producing some fantastic beer and is worth a visit when in the area.
Brandon, like us, loves what Right Proper is doing. Hoppy beers, farmhouse beers, sour beer, and everything in between. Consistency. Flavor. Dedication to exploration and quality. Chris Percello, lead brewer at Right Proper, welcomed us wearing a worn shirt, beanie, and headphones. He had just finished brewing for the day when we arrived. The enthusiasm in his voice as he describes the latest creation or barrel obtained from local gin producer Green Hat is contagious. It's like watching a kid in a candy store, only he's blessed to be doing what he loves for a living, and he seems to know it. A gracious host and an incredibly talented brewer. As we discussed what was next for the brewery, the talk of barrels and wild yeast played a primary role, while they would maintain some staple clean offerings. Scott 5 for example, a hoppy, rustic farmhouse pale ale (6.5% ABV), which boasts Citra, Amarillo, and Chinook hops was a delicate approach to style, with notes of citrus, grapefruit, and peppercorn on the nose and followed by a funky, grassy, yet tropical fruit flavor that ended beautifully dry. A must try if available.
Right Proper, still in its infancy as a brewery, is doing some really creative and great things. Pushing the limits and finding balance with different yeast strains and hops in a way that many breweries with more years of experience couldn't and haven't. It's great to see. Most importantly, D.C. has taken note and the expansion is already in the works. Sure, it's a great thing for the brewery itself, but as a whole it's also a sign that things are on their way up - a sign of vitality in a market that only 5 years ago had nothing to speak of.
It's exciting to get into the breweries that will define the style associated with the area in the future. A style that will likely be a combination of many characteristics - DC Brau already establishing itself as a juggernaut in the hoppy beer world while breweries like Right Proper will be shifting focus to barrels, a sour program, and unique creations with wild yeast cultures. Just like the diversity in the people who live in the area, it's no surprise the beer being produced will find a way to remain intrinsically D.C., all while displaying the diversity that makes D.C. so great. Whatever the D.C. identity becomes, it's apparent that it will be centered around quality and balance. It's an exciting time in the Nation's Capital.