Food & Drink

The Most Essential Craft Breweries Around Washington DC

You’ve got your work cut out for you.

Unlike in decades past, breweries are no longer a novelty in DC. Modern trailblazers like DC Brau and Port City continue to crank out batches of the brews that put the city on the craft beer map, while relative newcomers like Red Bear mean more variety than ever. There’s something for every mood, whether you are craving a juicy IPA, a delicate saison, or a warming porter. As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, breweries have begun welcoming back visitors for physically distant pints, fresh from the tap. Curbside pickup and delivery options remain safe bets, too. Here are the best area breweries that are open for business, and some of the best beers to drink from each.

The District’s modern beer boom can be tracked to DC Brau, which opened in 2009 as the city’s first packaging brewery since 1956. The brewery gained a following for its hoppy ales and has since expanded operations to cover store shelves and bars of all types, from upscale dining rooms to neighborhood dives. The production warehouse and tap room sits off an industrial stretch of Bladensburg Road in Northeast DC. The taproom remains closed to visitors, but curbside pickup and local delivery is available.

Beers to try: Get familiar with Joint Resolution, DC Brau’s hazy and crushable New England IPA. The year-round offering pairs well with just about anything. The Oktoberfest is an easy-going lager for autumn afternoons.

Beers here are produced in 20-barrel batches in a 100% solar-powered Ivy City facility. That means you can expect fresh product and a good deal of variety, from the citra and mosaic Dance of Days pale ale to the crushable District Common lager. Visitors are welcome to return to its original Ivy City location, as well as its newly minted location in Navy Yard for limited indoor and patio seating. Flights are back on the menu as well, and there is still delivery and curbside pickup. 

Beers to try: After a run through the flagship offerings, turn your attention to one of the seasonal offerings on tap, such as their interpretation of a classic German “Festbier,” offered during fall months. When available, the Rowdy Rye ale is a hoppy, peppery sipper.

Bold ingredients and funky flavor profiles like peppercorns and pecans are the calling card at 3 Stars Brewing. The beers here are simultaneously full-bodied and nuanced, making them great for sipping solo or pairing with food. The Takoma headquarters now has limited patio seating available for reservation online, along with curbside pickup and delivery to all DC addresses (including same-day when ordered before noon).

Beers to try: Pass the time with a pint of Ghost IPA, a white ale with Amarillo, Citra Columbus and Simcoe hops. It’s bright and light while still giving a hop kick. For something darker and sweeter, try a pour of the Southern Belle -- the silky and boozy imperial brown ale with pecans.

Denizens Brewing Co.

Silver Spring and Riverdale Park

There are many reasons to make a trip to this woman-owned brewery located just across the DC line. Both its Silver Spring and Riverdale Park (near Hyattsville) beer gardens have lots of room to hang out over a pint or flight of beer. If you prefer to the comforts of home, the brewery has its own “beermobile” to shuttle cans and bottles to neighboring zip codes.

Beers to try: As the name suggests, Denizen’s Third Party Belgian-style tripel is a strong, slightly sweet take on a classic that’s sure to please any beer lover. In the cooler months, seek out Big Red Norm, a seasonal ale with generous amounts of American hops.

Port City features a year-round lineup with something for all tastes, ranging from a copper-hued IPA to a Belgian-style witbier. The brewery is back to accepting reservations for outdoor seating. Beer can also be had in cans, growlers, or six-pack bottles via curbside pickup and local delivery. Port City has been releasing limited-release lagers, and September and October offer a window to enjoy an amber-hued Oktoberfest.

Beers to try: The robust porter is the best in DC, no matter what time of year. It’s well-balanced with roasty and bittersweet notes of chocolate and coffee. Careful though -- its 7.2% ABV sneaks up on you after a couple of rounds.

Bluejacket was born with the goal of pushing the boundaries of craft beer across styles and flavors, from strong ales and IPAs to dark stouts. Beer director Greg Engert is a household name in the DC bar community, having worked at Churchkey, The Sovereign, and other serious beer bars. Its on-site restaurant, The Arsenal, offers upscale American bar fare from sandwiches to steaks and seafood. Its patio recently reopened to guests in a limited capacity, and it continues to do a robust delivery and pickup service with the metro area.

Beers to try: Lost Weekend sits on top of the draft list for a reason. The mainstay IPA exclusively uses citra hops for a bright and juicy flavor profile. When it’s around, Mexican Radio is popular for its use of spices, milk, and sugar to create a sweet and silky roasted stout profile.

What started in 2013 as a craft brew pub in Shaw has since expanded to include a dedicated production facility in Brookland and distribution throughout DC bars. A visit to Right Proper is hardly ever the same, whether you make a reservation for indoor dining or walk up to a patio table. Its selection of wild yeast ales rotate frequently and are brewed in small batches, so you never know what may be next on tap. The Shaw location offers a full restaurant with sandwiches, entrees, and comfort food (delivery, too). Its Brookland production house is pouring and tastings with a three patio and three  indoor tables.

Beers to try: The dry-hopped Raised by Wolves pale ale is the most recognizable around the city and a good place to start. For something stronger, reach for some Baron Corvo, a farmhouse “biere de garde” full of funk, fruit, and spice.

It’s hard not to love a brewery named after a big, gnarly salamander. Hellbender also scores points for its sustainable mash press filter brewing system -- which reduces water, grain, and energy use. A handful of rotating selections are usually on tap with its core trio. Patio seating is first-come and open Friday through Sunday.

Beers to try: Even the biggest hop hunters will appreciate the clean, refreshing Bare Bones Kolsch. It’s among the best of its kind in the city and is crisp and drinkable while still being complex and well-balanced in its hop and malt profiles.

As one of DC’s newer breweries, Red Bear is aiming to be an anchor of Northeast’s NoMa neighborhood. The beer here has a bit of a West Coast flare, thanks to the Seattle roots of its co-founders. Its space is open and inviting, with free board games, indoor and outdoor seating, and weekday happy hour from 4-7 pm. Expect a lot of variety on the draft list as the brewers experiment across styles and flavor profiles.

Beers to try: The new Gourd Riddance pumpkin brown ale is sweater weather in a glass, packed with warming spices and roasted notes. After that, fire up the grunge albums and sip some Skookum, Red Bear’s Pacific Northwest-style red ale. It combines a malty backbone with grapefruit and piney hops in a way that’s bitter, dank, and balanced.

Another relatively young brewery, Silver Branch is inspired by “gemütlichkeit,” a German word evoking a sense of camaraderie and coziness among friends. The flagship brews draw from traditional European and American styles, including a Pilsner, a stout, and a Belgian-style saison. Both the taproom and beer garden are open daily, serving up brews and hearty pub fare like brats, veggie burgers and nachos.  

Beers to try: Quantum Shift IPA is made with a revolving recipe of hops, meaning each batch takes on a different character. It’s East Coast-style balance of malt backbone and hop bitterness is a welcome reprieve from the world of juice-bomb, hazy IPAs.