70 Beers in Seven Days: My Experience at the 2017 Craft Brewer’s Conference

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Written by Senior Beer Correspondent, Anna Fu.  

At Churchkey a few weeks ago, while backed up against the bar with my friend Leslie, two new friends — guys we did not know an hour earlier but were now our drinking buddies — started talking about all of the craft brewers coming to the city in the next few weeks. They excitedly named some of the A-listers – Trillium, The Alchemist, Bissell Brothers, Tree House — that would be here for the mother of all beer events: The 2017 Craft Brewer’s Conference.

The CBC is to beer what the Library of Congress is to books. The CBC is the Alpha, Omega, Disneyland, Mecca, and Garden of Eden for beer lovers. The CBC is when thousands of craft brewers set up shop in bars around D.C. and showcase their best beers, and when beer snobs miss tons of work and die and go to beer heaven.

Thanks to my drinking buddies that day, I learned about the CBC in time to request a half day off work. While the conference officially began April 10, many brewers started tapping kegs the weekend before. Smoke & Barrel in Adams Morgan tapped some of Lawson’s Finest beers on Saturday — Sip of Sunshine IPA. Sip of Sunshine was one of those IPAs I heard people talk about with such reverence, so I was stoked to try it finally. And it lived up to the hype! It is a super juicy, fruity, and floral sipper.

On Sunday, April 9, the Lord’s Day, I stopped by The Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan and Churchkey to see if they too were tapping any good beers prior to the conference. The Black Squirrel had Creature Comforts’ Tropicália (OMG OMG yummy yummy). Churchkey had some local IPAs I had not yet tried from Manor Hill (Dust Up Pale Ale) and RAR (ChopDank). They were good, though none stood out. Another new buddy I made that day insisted I try The Bruery’s Tart of Darkness, a sour with chocolate and vanilla notes. I swear, I want to love sours but this one was totally lost on me.

Monday the conference rolled up its sleeves and got busy. I left work at 1pm so I could stand in line for Churchkey’s big East Coast’s Finest event. By happy accident, I ran into my friend Greg. We decided to stick together and share our beers so we could try twice as many.
*Note: Drinking with a buddy is good for safety and for tasting more beers.

East Coast’s Finest was my first (and favorite) official CBC event. Greg and I sampled more than 20 beers from Other Half, Bissell Brothers, Veil, and Trillium. The standouts were Trillium’s Swish IPA and Scaled Up IPA, Other Half’s Double Dry-Hopped Mylar Bags IPA, and Veil’s Hornswoggler milk stout.

Let me tell you just a little bit about the Hornswoggler, which joins Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine as one of the standouts. Hornswoggler contains Oreos and bourbon pecan peanut butter. Greg and I gushed like teenagers over how yummy and delicious and sweet this beer was. Chocolate milk stouts can either be smooth and creamy or cloying and oversweet, and it’s hard to strike the balance. Hornswoggler did it beauitifully. Some people get really snobby about their beers and probably will not give this beer its due credit. I say those people can leave that beer for me and go back to drinking spontaneously fermented ales that will probably give them heartburn.

Palate fatigue was already creeping in, but I came back to Churchkey on Tuesday for their New South event. Featured breweries included Burial, Creature Comforts, Fonta Flora, The Answer, and Westbrook. I focused mostly on The Answer, even though I have visited their taproom in Richmond, VA several times. Of the six Answer beers I tasted, my favorites were the Diablo’s Brunch stout and the Triple Dry-Hopped Hard in the Paint IPA. Modern Times and Creature Comforts had an excellent collaboration IPA called Modern Comforts.

Living in Adams Morgan puts me close to many good bars. I was able to talk my handsome hubby Frank into going with me to Smoke & Barrel Tuesday evening to do the Captain Lawrence beer tasting. I’ve tried a few of their IPAs before and they were fruity and tasty. Of the four beers I tried that night, the Frost Monster stout was solid, one porter and one IPA were mediocre, and the Schwartzbier had zero flavor. I was disappointed in this tasting.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Wednesday was a light tasting day. I stopped by Jack Rose Dining Saloon that night and tried two small pours – 3 Stars Lupulicious IPA (pictured above)and Cigar City Brewing’s Cestero IPA. Cigar City makes great beers but I did not care for this one. But Lupulicious? I could drink this all damn day. 3 Stars is a D.C. brewery so I really want to love them but I haven’t had luck finding a beer that I gush about and want to bring to parties. Lupulicious is just such a beer for me. Like Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, Lupulicous contains lupulin powder, something I am seeing more frequently in IPAs. Don’t ask me what that is; all I know is it tastes great in beer.

By Thursday, the last official day, I had tried three TKO beers (Lawson’s Finest Sip of Sunshine IPA, Veil’s Hornswoggler milk stout, and 3 Stars’ Lupulicious IPA). Now it was time for the granddaddy of IPA tastings. Meridian Pint hosted the IPA Fest, with more than 60 IPAs. I really was a little beer’d out at this point. But there was no way I wasn’t taking a long lunch break (Lyft’ed there from work, stayed 20 minutes, ran back to the office) to see what Singlecut, Melvin, Half Acre, Firestone Walker, Aslin, RAR, The Answer, Modern Times, etc. had to offer.

This event came second to Monday’s East Coast Finest event at Churchkey in terms of variety and quality. Brewers had coolers and kegs set up in the basement, on the tap lines, in every corner of the dining areas, and on the patio. Once they checked my ID at the door and gave me a bracelet, I bought $18 worth of tickets—exactly enough for four small pours. I tried Joose Pun, a collaboration IPA between Aslin and Meridian Pint (4 stars); The Juice is Loose from Transient Artisan Ales in Michigan (4.5 stars, wowzah was that flavorful); and Not From Concentrate and Blurred is the Word from Heist Brewery in North Carolina (both 4 stars each). I wish I had set more time and beer tasting space aside for this event.

Just like every other night that week, once I got home from work, ate dinner, and drank some water, I was ready to head to Smoke & Barrel again! And they saved their best for last. We tried three beers from Levante Brewing in West Chester, Pa. (The Chief IPA, Monk’s Night Out IPA, and Bullitt Train stout), plus a beer each from Firestone Walker and 2SP Brewing. Monk’s Night Out was my favorite out of that batch. If I’m ever driving through West Chester, a pit stop at Levante is definitely in order.

By Friday, the swarms of mostly-white dudes with beards and flannel shirts had gone home, and I was spent. But I checked Untappd and learned Churchkey just got a big shipment of cans of Focal Banger. This IPA is one of the East Coast’s most famous (the brewery that makes it, The Alchemist, is probably better known for Heady Topper, described by many as the best IPA in the country). It is also not sold in D.C. I stopped by on my way home from work and ordered a can. Focal Banger was great…

But we are living in the time of inventive and flavorful beers. Is Focal Banger, or Heady Topper, or Pliny the Elder, really any better than D.C. Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon IPA, or any IPA from RAR? Does it beat Lupulicious? Probably not. I’m glad I can now add an Alchemist notch to my beer belt, but I am suspect of any beer/brewery that someone claims is the best in the country if only because it is hard to get in D.C.

I am ready to take it easy for a few weeks and let my liver breathe. Unless you are offering me Lupulicious, to which I say, get thee behind me satan, but also I will take a pint, thank you very much.

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