ChurchKey – Upscale Yet Casual in DC

Nestled in the newly gentrified neighborhood of Du Pont Circle is a seemingly nondescript restaurant called Birch and Barkley; directly above it is a brewery/eatery called ChurchKey. At first glance, it looks as if the owner bought an automechanic’s shop and reshaped it into a warm and inviting dining area (the front is a metal garage door with four small windows in the middle). The entrance is a simple wooden door, and once you’re inside, you can see the Birch and Barley immediately to your right and stairs leading up to ChurchKey.

The decor is mostly dark wood … high-set booths with soft leather cushions line the left wall while there are some seperate tables in the rear, and the long bar with its myriad tap selection dominates the right hand wall. All the staff are friendly and very well-versed in the selection of draughts and bottles. Looking for something comparable to your favorite brew? Perhaps your server could suggest three or four of their beers to sample.

The ChurchKey Draught List is extensive and divided by flavor profile. They rotate their tap handles each week, but yet still have some of the standards that stick around for a month or two before an equivalent that is new comes in. Check it out here:

Additionally, the menu at ChurchKey is simple bar fare with a decadent twist. When my partner and I visited this summer, we had the Charcuterie, the Caesar and Waldorf salads, and 8 beer samples between us. Each sample costs $2.50-$3.50 depending on the vessel in which it is served. Normally when I taste beer, I will taste about four and then settle on a glass of something, but that night we just had fun tasting. :)

If you happen to be in the DC area, I would highly recommend checking this place out. Birch and Barley, the restaurant that provides ChurchKey’s food, was awarded “Best New Restaurant 2010″ for the city of DC and the Executive Chef Kyle Bailey’s bio can be found here:
Also, their full website is updated weekly and has great, full-color photographs of food from the menu.

Look for the next blog post about a few of my other summer beer adventures, coming this week!

Hamilton’s Tavern: A South Park Beacon

This is the place!

The story of Hamilton’s namesake is as follows:

“Our tavern was named after Mr. Herman Hamilton, a South Park resident for over 35 years and an American patriot, having served his country as a member of the storied Montford Point Marines. Although he does not drink, you can find Mr. Hamilton at the Tavern nearly every day and he always has a kind word or classic story to share! Herman is our dear friend and we could not think of a better person as the namesake to our treasured alehouse then this remarkable man.” :)

For most craft beer loving San Diegans, Hamilton’s Tavern is that nice little place in South Park at which all the locals can hang out and not have to worry about tourists finding them. As I walked in for the first time, I felt very comfortable; the bar is a nice, antique looking wood with no taps to interrupt eye contact between the bartenders and their customers.

If you raise your eyes to the ceiling, you’ll find twinkle lights and tap handles … at least a hundred, all retired and many from local breweries. To the right, there are two pool tables and booth seating, and the window to order food from the restaurant next door is tucked into the far corner, out of the way of everything.

The bartender was very helpful when I asked questions about the different styles. I noticed that others who didn’t have quite as much of an understanding about craft beer could be educated and helped to find the style that was right for them in a two minute conversation. How’s that for service?

To start off, I ordered an Edgar Ale from Craftsman Brewing Co. in Pasadena. It is a Russian Imperial Stout ringing in at 8.2% ABV and has a nice, heavily malted flavoring with toffee and coffee notes coming through on the front. Mix that together with an overall smokiness and you have yourself a pretty complex brew. A chewy thickness gives the beer a heavy mouthfeel, which matches its black pour. Definitely a good choice! Next, I went with a White Rascal from Avery Brewing Co. which is quite a contrast to the Edgar Ale. If you like Belgian Witbiers, you’ll love this one: very nice and light with barely noticeable citrus and coriander tastes on the finish. The yeast, citrus and spice qualities are all supported by a nice pale malt base. There is lots of character and it is very drinkable.
My final choice of the evening was the Barbar Winterbok Belgian Strong Ale from Brassiere Lefebvre in Belgium. It’s a dark amber pour and a honey aroma is evident, but doesn’t contribute to too much sweetness, with orange there, too, and a nice drizzling of coriander. If you like any belgian strong ale, you will appreciate this 8% ABV winter warmer from our Belgian brothers.

Look for our next post about Irish New Year at The Field Irish Pub in the Gaslamp Quarter!

Atypical Brewery Is Claremont’s Main Event

It has been awhile since we’ve posted, and Marisa was in Claremont on a day trip this weekend, so she decided to pay a visit to the Back Abbey Brewery on Oberlin Avenue. The Back Abbey is a unique pub located in the Village Expansion area of Claremont. The pub, which opened in the summer of 2008, is located in a small California mission style building next to the Hotel Casa 425. When you first walk up to the brewery, it doesn’t look like much, but this place is packed almost every night of the week, according to the locals. The interior exudes warmth with natural dark wood flooring, reconditioned leather bar stools and matching bench-style seats that line the sides of the bar. Outdoors, you’ll find a more casual setting that consists of low couches and coffee tables, retro automobile chairs, and soft lantern lighting. Many of the patrons are faculty and students from the Claremont Colleges swinging by for a study break or an after class night cap with friends. If you’re planning on going Saturday night, get there before 6pm, otherwise you’ll be waiting for at least 30 mins, and you don’t want to delay on sampling this tap list!

From what I can remember, here it is:

St. Bernardus Abt 12, St. Bernardus Wit, Saison Dupont, Moinette Brune, Moinette Blond, Foret, Glazen Toren Saison, Glazen Toren Tripel, Scaldis, La Chouffe Golden Ale (delicious!), Leffe Brune, Delirium Tremens, Tripel Karmeliet, Lindeman’s Framboise, Chimay tripel, Stella Artois, Kwak, Piraat, Augustijn, Spaten Pils, Ayinger Celebrator, Unibroue Maudite and Trois Pistoles, Aventinus Weizenbock, and Fuller’s London Pride.
The Back Abbey’s website link doesn’t work, so we can’t direct you there for a menu, but Marisa had the most delicious burger there called the Winter Banana (incidentally, no banana is present) with her La Chouffe Golden Ale. On the Winter Banana were havarti cheese, bacon, sauteed apples, and field greens all nestled between two halves of a warm brioche bun. Be sure to try the pommes frites as well, which are double fried in duck fat, crunchy on the outside but warm and soft on the inside; the perfect combination.

Parking for the Back Abbey is on the street outside, which is metered, or in the free parking garage across the street in the square. As we mentioned earlier, the place fills up by 6pm on the weekends, so if you want to park for free, get there early. Whether you’re in Claremont for business or pleasure, this little place is worth the trip, and you’d better believe I’ll be returning! :)

Where in the World is Hess Brewing Co?

Marisa looking for Hess Brewing

We are both big fans of “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” and we found ourselves singing the theme song while trying to find Hess Brewing. The good news is, it was worth the search!

When we walked into the brewery, it is a true nano with a space about as big as a one car garage plus storage. But don’t let the size fool you – they are making some really interesting beers. We talked with Mike (both owners are named Mike, so it’s easy to remember!) and ordered the 5 tasters with a souvenir pint glass – which is really good looking. After tasting the first beer, which was a Kolsch, we noticed the strong nose of the beer (which means you can smell all the ingredients before you taste them) and asked Mike why this occurs.

It's in the back of the building!

Mike told us that they use a technique called dry hopping which means they add in hops during the fermentation stage which really increases the flavor. He also said they do not filter their beers, and this makes for more prominent flavors both upfront and while drinking. CJ liked the Kolsch and thought their carbonation was perfect and the taste was very robust – especially for this light of a beer. Marisa liked the Vienna Creme Ale. She was expecting a lighter beer more absent of flavor, but she tasted quite the opposite. Overall, we liked their selections and wish them the best as they grow. So, when you are in San Diego, make a point to try out Alesmith and Hess: two little breweries that are big on the craft brew scene.

Our Day of Tasting | Alesmith Brewing Co.

Brew Babes at Alesmith

San Diego Beer Week continues and we continue to not follow the schedule and do our own thing. We made our first visit to Alesmith, which like many San Diego breweries, is in an industrial area. We arrived at 1, and since they did not open until 2, went to have lunch and then came back. We liked the $1 tasting option but be careful as the alcohol content of most of the beers if 5.8% and above (of course CJ liked the 11% the most, just sayin’). We met Abby, who runs Alesmith’s social media, and who knows her craft beer. She was so helpful while we were tasting, explaining what to look for and talking about brewing techniques for Belgian Strong Ales. Somehow we got on the subject of distribution and how small breweries survive with the help of their larger counterparts. Quite a different business model than most industries and heart-warming to know the camaraderie in San Diego. Abby used some technical terms that we looked up so that you can learn with us about what to look for when you are tasting craft beer. Here is one:

Diacetyl (Die-ASS-eh-tuhl):   A chemical compound produced during fermentation recognized by a buttery or butterscotch aroma.  Perceptible diacetyl aroma is considered a fault in most beer styles and in excessive amounts in beers such as pale ale, where it is appropriate. 

Abby says one of her strengths is the ability to detect diacetyl in almost any beer.

So here is our run-down of the beers. CJ, true to form, liked the Horny Devil and the Lil Devil because of the low carbonation and minimal hops taste. Marisa liked Winter Yule Smith due to its red hue and just the right blend of flavor (toffee and caramel notes) balanced with good, mellow hoppiness. Nautical Nut Brown was by far her favorite with a distinctive “home made bread” on the nose, and a hearty coffee and biscuit in the taste. Though it was very complex, it was so smooth, she could drink it all night.

Abby recommended that we also try Hess Brewing Co. since it was around the corner, so we bid her farewell and headed out in search of Hess.

A Night at Stone Brewery

It’s San Diego Beer Week and we have been celebrating apart from the crowd. We spent an afternoon at Coronado Brewing Company and took home two pints glasses since they had a promotion of $6 per glass with $4 refills (and we WILL be going back). Next, we took friends to Stone Brewing for a special evening. Firestone Walker was there premiering their new releases – so it was difficult (OK, impossible) to get on a tour at 5, 6, 7, 8 ….. and if you are visiting the Brewery during the weekend (even without a special event in the mix), plan on spending the whole afternoon there in order to get on the tour list! You can sign up 2 hours in advance – so get there at 3 to sign up for the 5 pm tour (or just go during the week!)

So, after sitting an hour and a half waiting for our 6 pm reservation, we finally got smart and found seating at the indoor bar. We were greeted by Kayle, the no-nonsense straightforward bartender who really appreciates women who know beer. He knew of the Brew Babes from our tweets – which made us ridiculously happy.

After a glass of this year’s Vertical Epic Ale (CJ’s favorite beer right now), Kayle challenged us to figure out the next pour. After looking over the draft beer menu of 40 selections, Marisa knew immediately it was an IPA and then based on the color, decided the only logical guess was the Stone IPA. Kayle was pretty amazed but had tried to trick us even further because it was only 5/6th Stone IPA. The remaining part was Arrogant Bastard. Still, he gave us the next beer on the house for Marisa’s fabulous efforts – and so we are celebrating our first free beer as bloggers! Our plan is working!

Finally a table came open on the second floor overlooking the bar, which is the best seat in the house. During our wait, we had checked into Foursquare and read all the tips and based on that information, decided to order the pretzels as an appetizer. Do it! Well worth the $8. Dinner for the babes was a delicious lamb, cooked perfectly and our guests shared the Yakisoba, which they thought was the best one they have ever tasted. (If you like a little spice!) We ended with the brownie dessert, also a Foursquare suggestion that was spot on. Nom.

And if you go to Stone, stop by the bar and say hi to Kayle from the Brew Babes. Just don’t bring up the subject of women bartenders, unless you want to hear tales of their ineptitude. We do agree with Kayle that you aren’t a real bartender until you can change your own keg. And that there are many women bartenders who are not as educated as their customers about craft beer. So take the time to learn your products and you will make Kayle happy .. and us too.

Family Friendly Brewery Tour or Inappropriate Parenting?

We think a family visit to a brewery is a great idea. The kids can learn the business of brewing while you can sprint through the brewery tour corralling them – but all the time knowing there is a just reward at the end. We want to highlight several regional breweries that have great tours, as well as kid tolerated dining areas, to make any of these brewery visits enjoyable and legit!

But first, a short trip down memory lane. When Marisa was growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she remembers her dad packing up mom and the 5 kids every Mother’s Day to visit the Big Buck Brewery. Here are her thoughts:

“Mother’s Day would start out with my Dad sounding the alarm at 6:30 am, summoning us to clean the house for our Mom while he sent her out of the house to do whatever she wanted/needed to do. I asked her once what she did while she had a few hours to herself, and she said that the first time Dad sent her on her way, she didn’t know quite what to do! Spoken like a true home maker; your life is your house and family and without it, you feel kind of lost for a minute. As the years went by though, and Mom knew what was coming, she’d schedule breakfast with her lady friends from church, a basic manicure/pedicure at the local salon, or just a nice drive through the winding, scenic back roads near the old neighborhood in the Jetta 5-Speed my Dad owned.

Once she returned, Dad would walk her through the sparkling clean house, and end the tour with all 5 of us dressed and ready to take her out for lunch. I do remember that the first time Dad took us, Big Buck was full of life and bustling with people, but as Mother’s Day celebrations came and went, the Brewery patrons dwindled. I read recently that they filed for bankruptcy and had to close down most of the locations in Michigan, including the one I remember from my childhood. The only one left is in Gaylord, Michigan. So I suppose, you could say that I’ve been a Brew Babe since I was a little girl. Good craft beer appreciation runs in my family :) .”

From the look of their website, The Big Buck is still family friendly – although they do not list any brewery tour times – so not sure if that is part of their offerings. Still, if you are in Michigan, stop by and enjoy their craft beers!

But what about if you live in Seattle? Then Red Hook should be a must on your list for taking those visiting relatives with kids on a tour. Tours of the Woodindale Brewery operate daily and cost $1 per person. They run for 1 hour, and include up to five samples of beer. Guests also receive a souvenir tasting glass, a walk through the brewery, a Redhook history lesson and an explanation of how they brew their fine ales. It even states on the website that minors are welcome to attend. The Redhood Brewery Restaurant (at the same site) has indoor and outdoor seating and offers a kids menu.

In San Diego, Stone Brewing Co. has a similar set-up. They allow minors on the factory tour and they have a very “Napa-inspired” indoor and outdoor dining room filled with families and strollers. There are carp swimming around the center fountain outside that attract the kids and lots of outdoor areas for the kids to run around after they eat (supervised of course!)

Adirondack Pub & Brewery in Lake George, New York has a big “Kid Friendly” sticker on their website that tells you to “bring ‘em along”. Tours are given Saturdays at noon and there is a pub on the premises that doesn’t have a kids menu, but they do offer a big burger for $8.99.

Goose Island beer in the Chicago area offers tours at their Clybourn location on Sundays which last 60-90 minutes and reservations are required. They have a “small bites” section of the menu where you can get something for the kids for $9.

Know any other kid friendly breweries in the US or abroad? Leave us a note in the comment section!

You can follow the breweries mentioned in this article on Twitter at @Redhook_Brewery, @StoneBrewingCo, @adkpub and @GooseClybourn. (Big Buck is lucky to have a website up!)

How to get women to drink craft beer

Marisa and I have been talking a lot about women, marketing and beer. First, there was the excellent article from Drink with the Wench about how women’s bodies have sold beer for ages. Then, there was an article about how breweries can market to women. So we have been talking about the social marketing aspect of craft brew: how can we convince women to change their behavior and order craft beer at the bar?

I have not done any focus groups or looked at demographics of what age groups of women currently drink craft beer, but I am going to guess it is an over 25 market. Although this article says a growing group is the over-50 year olds! And given what we know about how women behave, the campaign will need to be bigger than one brewery and focused on female lifestyle. What do I mean? Women are joiners. We like to hang out and talk with other women. We like to share tips and feel connected and valued by our community – whether it is on-line or real life. So a successful campaign will need to tap (pun intended) into those values.

I can see messages aimed at moms who have worked hard all day, put the kids to bed – and now need some “mommy time” with a good cold craft beer. I can see networks of women talking on the internet about their favorite beers and arranging meet-ups with new friends – perhaps even traveling to out of town breweries. Marisa also commented that she sees a trend with breweries arranging food and beer pairings just for women – so that should be part of the marketing strategy as well.

What are your thoughts? The big brewers have certainly tried to increase the number of female beer drinkers by going after the light beer market. But what can the craft beer market do to get women to join us?

From the web:
Beer Trends: “Women are also drinking a lot of micro brewed beer. According to a National Restaurant Association survey, about half of women are ordering microbrews when eating out. Microbrewers must be even more aware of this trend in beer than industrial brewers.

Iron Fist Brewing Grand Opening

The Babes had to split up this weekend due to work obligations – so Marisa headed to Lake Havasu (and visited Mudshark Brewery) and I (CJ) headed to Vista for the grand opening of Iron Fist Brewing. Scot, the Beer Bud, was happy to fill in and go with me. I worked at the Vista Irrigation District, which is across the street from this new brewery on Sycamore, for 8 years back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. In 2001, when VID was building the new office, there was very little in the Industrial Park area – but now, the whole area is populated and bustling with businesses, restaurants, and now  – a new brewery. There still is an industrial park feel here – the brewery is built with stand-up concrete and large industrial doors that overlook the street. It is a large warehouse, but the bar area in front is small and right now, the only food offered inside is pretzels. (Plus, there is only one bathroom!) Still, it is the beer that is the reason for its existence, so that is what we were there to experience. I only had my iPhone with me, but I captured some of the images and talked with two interesting people about their tasting experience. Taylor Shaw (@theartofbeer) is a friend of the owners and does the marketing for them and made sure we knew about the opening via Twitter. Eve Sieminski (@EveSieminski) is one of the owners and her son, Brandon, is the Brewmaster. On opening night, everyone behind the bar was either a relative or friend helping out – and they did a great job of answering questions and keeping the beer flowing at the same time.

I also met Greg, from Premier Stainless Systems, who was standing in the back admiring his shiny silver contribution to the brewery’s success. This firm installs these kinds of industrial tanks for various businesses and craft breweries around the world, but are located just down the freeway in Escondido, so this was a really fun and convenient installation for them. The tanks are fabricated in China to customer specifications and then shipped through Long Beach and delivered to Escondido for testing and customization. I never thought about it, but Greg explained that they have to build the tanks to fit into the facilities depending on what space is available. So, if they have to get the tanks through a double door into a basement, they will be smaller. These tanks were on the larger side since there was plenty of room to bring them in and set them up. There is one brewing tank and four storage/fermenting tanks currently at the location. I was surprised to see the small bottling area – four hoses and one small tray. Better Beer Blog did a story on Firehouse and included photos of the mobile bottling operations they use on their premises – and seeing both processes convinced me that bottling is very labor intensive.

For my part, I really liked the Golden Age Belgian Style Golden Strong Ale. The website says this about the Golden Age:  “The mesmerizing march of perfect champagne-like bubbles to the foam front draws you in. Hints of lemon, grape, and apple keep you coming back.” I am beginning to see a pattern of the beers that I do like: the hint of fruit or spices seems to be part of each one.

The website says this about the Spice of Life: “Forsaking traditional ideas of subtlety and cowardly “Pinch of This, Pinch of That” brewing techniques, we embrace the flavors and launch them into a full frontal assault of delicious bitter orange peel and grains of paradise. Beautifully smooth coriander compliments and orange peel perfectly.” Another guy I met at the bar swore that he tasted cloves in this beer – so that must have been the coriander. I loved this beer and bought a bottle for Marisa to drink and review later.

I only sample I did not like was the Renegade Blonde because it tasted hollow and had a bad aftertaste – but I hear from Marisa that it should taste light because it is a Kolsch beer. Not sure if the aftertaste comes with this style, but still wouldn’t buy it again.

We ended the night with dinner from Tabe BBQ, which is always delicious. Some of the people at the opening had never heard of Korean BBQ, so they were a little reticent to give it a try. Too bad for them. It’s one of the best food trucks in town. According to Marisa, Eagle Rock Brewery in LA does business the same way: they host different food trucks each week, and Eagle Rock simply pairs its beer with the visiting truck owner’s fare. Quite a growing trend among breweries that don’t have the cash to build their own restaurant while they are getting off the ground.

As we were leaving, another guy who had been sampling for a while wanted to tell us his opinion about the other breweries in North County (his geography was a little loose) that he called “The Holy Four.” These included Green Flash, Lost Abbey, Alesmith, and Alpine. He did not say whether or not he was adding Iron Fist to his list, and I was not waiting around to find out. It was time for this babe to head home – a 40 mile drive in the rain – and we know how Southern California drivers are in the rain!

Fall is here!

Firestone Double Barrel Ale

The temperature in San Diego has dipped below 70, so fall is officially here. Marisa made some white bean and chicken chili to celebrate, so of course, we had to find a nice fall brew to accompany it. Firestone Double Barrel Ale was first, with its warm amber hue and hoppy, full bodied taste … a perfect accompaniment to a chili main course. The first sip is reminiscent of an IPA; a little bitter and the hops really come through, but the finish is smooth and malty like a traditional english ale. The next bottle for sampling was Lagunitas IPA , and like Firestone, it’s from California. Unfortunately, CJ couldn’t taste the difference between the two – she thought they both started out bitter but she drank them quickly and she liked them both. Marisa would like to note that, while this is most definitely an IPA, it lacks the strong floral bouquet that you would find with most others. The flavors that come through the most are the pine and orange rind, which make for a more bitter start and finish, which discourages those without an appreciation for craft beer. So to those who have tried IPA as their first craft beer: persevere!! There are many other styles that will delight your taste buds, and chances are, we’ll tell you about them here. :)

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