With punk music blaring among the fermenters and brew staff hurrying from tank to tank, DC Brau was operating at full swing, yet brewmaster Jeff Hancock, was unfazed. DC Brau, which he co-founded with CEO Brandon Skall in late 2009, had just marked a successful, if breakneck, first year of brewing. The next day, they’d be debuting Ground Wolf, a session IPA brewed with Meridian Pint. The following Wednesday would see the release of Hell’s Bottom Oatmeal Stout at ChurchKey. Two weeks later, it was the American Craft Brewers Festival in Boston, immediately followed by SAVOR, the prestigious Brewers Association reception. It’s been this busy since day one.
DC Brau was born of serendipity. In 2009, Hancock attended a house party where Skall was DJing; at the time, Skall was Southeast manager for New York-based wine importer Frederick Wildman and Sons and Hancock was a production brewer for Flying Dog Brewery (and a DJ himself). A mutual friend made the introduction: “You want to open a brewery and you’re a brewer. You guys should talk.” They did, and two weeks later, they began to form their business. Hancock admits, “It was probably a little bit of a leap of faith for both of us.”
After securing initial private investment, getting some legal assistance (Hancock graciously acknowledged the firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge, and Rice), and building out their Northeast DC space, the pair started brewing in April 2011. Hancock describes their philosophy as “making solid beer that people like to drink rather than something that fits the [style] guidelines.” The public seems to appreciate this approach; their flagships – The Public Pale Ale, The Corruption IPA, and The Citizen Belgian Ale – are already mainstays on the District’s tap lines.
From the outset, Hancock and Skall channeled their natural sociability into collaborations. First came Fermentation Without Representation, an imperial pumpkin porter brewed with Salt Lake City’s Epic Brewing. Then it was El Hefe Speaks, the German-style hefeweizen formulated by the owners of Solly’s, former brewers themselves. Other special releases include the H Street Festival release, Atlas Fest Bier; NATAS, the Belgian-style imperial porter made with Stillwater brewer (and fellow DJ) Brian Strumke; and Burial at Sea, the ruby mild brewed with Steve Jones of Oliver’s Ales. Describing each, Hancock is just as interested in the friendships behind the collaboration as in the technical aspects of the beer itself.
It’s these relationships – along with their growing roster of respected beers in a market that, until recently, was wildly underserved – that has turned DC Brau into a hometown favorite. In the hour I spent at the brewery, Hancock fielded calls about setting up a brewery tour and the best place to buy CO2, toyed with the idea of presenting at an upcoming beer festival, and showed me labels designed by local artists. On their own, these interactions demonstrate that these are good guys; taken together, they’re slowly transforming DC Brau into a major part of Washington culture.
The brewery is growing fast. In the coming year, they’ll take over the space next door, nearly doubling their square footage and providing room for additional dry storage and a barrel program. They’re planning to triple their output in 2012 and expand into several Maryland counties. New beers, including another Epic collaboration, are in the works. Skall even got to take a vacation.
With the expansion, the co-founders will serve more as brand ambassadors, handing much of the daily operations over to the their brew staff. But don’t expect them to slow down. They’re working to prevent the District’s proposed six cent drink tax increase; they’re setting up more advanced analytical tools; and they’re out meeting more brewers and drinkers who might inspire DC Brau’s next step.
Meet DC Brau and sample their beers at the grand opening of the Rhode Island Row apartments on June 21. www.ontaponline.com/row for details, the event is free and open to the public, but you must RSVP and be 21+ to drink.
DC Brau: 3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE, DC; 202-621-8890; www.dcbrau.com