Getting to Know Small-Batch Brewers
By Warren Rojas
According to Brewers Association director Paul Gatza, craft brewing is experiencing a renaissance the likes of which has not been seen in well over over a century.
“When there’s craft brew in the basket, the ring is higher on the register. So we’re getting more shelf space,” Gatza declares of the mass retailers’ slow but building appreciation for fledgling brewers.
The ranks of the brewingrati have so significantly swelled in the past few decades—closing on 1,800 active breweries, with 700 new players slated to come online by the end of 2011—the BA has had to redefine their constituency, tagging “small” breweries as those wheeling out under 6 million barrels per annum; “microbreweries” those rolling out less than 15,000 barrels a year; and loosely capping the nascent “nanobrewery” contingent as those producing under 100 barrels per year.
No matter where they fall on the production spectrum, all the participating breweries who attend the annual SAVOR gala in D.C. know to bring their A-game—because this town has gone craft brew crazy.
Beer chefs, local brews and cask ales have gone from amenities that restaurants might adopt as a goof to the cornerstones of the beverage/culinary programs. Take Neighborhood Restaurant Group: the burgeoning local chainlet keeps building bigger restaurants, it would seem, just to accommodate their dizzyingly deep and wildly diverse beer lists. Hell, now they’re even talking about opening up their own brewery in D.C.
Teddy Folkman, executive chef at Granville Moore’s and SAVOR’s local go-to menu planner, says he was so busy sweating the details of this year’s food pairings—a definite improvement over last year, but we still encountered more whiffs than homeruns—he barely got to bend the elbow.
“Beers … didn’t get to drink as many as I wanted to,” he suggests. “But I was really impressed with both beers from Trinity Brewhouse, Yazoo Rye Saison, Avery’s Dihos Dactylion and Saint Arnold’s Lawnmower Kolsch.”
Meanwhile, if any struggling home brewers need any additional encouragement to keep at it, take a page from Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.
He opened his first brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Del., roughly 15 years ago. Last year, he partnered with Mario Batali to launch the rooftop gastropub/brewery crowning Eataly in New York. Calagione is taking the fight to Europe next, mapping out plans to found a proper birreria in Rome by 2012.
We managed to swirl, sniff and sip—OK, and occasionally chug—with roughly a third of the six dozen producers on hand for the evening. The standouts included (in descending order):
Deschutes Brewery The Dissident: This one was pretty wild; big fruit nose, lots of sour on the palate.
Oskar Blues Brewery Gubna: Boldest can in the business; powered by summit hops and rye malt, this one is a quintessential hop bomb.
The Saint Louis Brewery Schlafly No. 20 Vol. 2 Hop Toddy: Forceful citrus open (think: lemon, grapefruit or tangerine tartness), but also very refreshing and totally unique.
Founders Brewing Company Kentucky Breakfast Stout: Thick, malty brew with brilliant coffee notes and a bourbon-y slow burn.
Nebraska Brewing Company Hop God: Spicy but light; a natural thirst quencher.