A decade ago, breweries were a novelty in DC. Choices were limited, and grabbing a brewed-in-the-beltway pint felt like a special point of pride. Now, thanks to modern trailblazers like DC Brau and Port City, there’s more variety than ever, whether you want a juicy IPA, a delicate saison, or a warming porter. The freshest (not to mention rare and interesting) kegs are often at the breweries themselves, and each has its own vibe waiting for visitors. Here are the best area breweries to visit and what to drink while you’re there.
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The District’s recent 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 space offers growler fills and pints of its flagship and rotating brews as well as special events and weekly specials like half-priced pints on Fridays and free tours on Saturdays.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: Get familiar with Joint Resolution, DC Brau’s hazy and crushable New England IPA. It joined the flagship rotation in early 2019 and pairs well with just about anything. More adventurous palates will likely find a limited-run sour, farmhouse or barrel-aged experiment to enjoy.
Beers here are produced in 20-barrel batches in a 100% solar-powered 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 easy drinking District Common lager. Visitors are welcome at its tap room, located in emerging Ivy City, home to a handful of local distilleries and restaurants. Atlas Brew Works holds a few tours on Saturday afternoons, with food trucks often on site for a beer and a meal.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: After a once through the flagship offerings, turn your attention to one of the seasonal offerings on tap. When available, the Belgian-style Saison de Fetes winter warmer is an ideal partner of cool weather.
Bold ingredients and funky flavor profiles like peppercorns and pecans are the calling card at 3 Stars Brewing. The beers here are at the same time full-bodied and nuanced, making them great for sipping solo or pairing with food. Guests at the Takoma headquarters can grab fresh pints, flights and growlers from the bar. In addition, aspiring brewers can peruse the onsite homebrew shop for the equipment and ingredients needed to get up and running.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: 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.
There are many reasons to make a trip to this women-owned brewery located just across the DC line. Its Silver Spring barrel house and beer garden has lots of room to hang out over a pint or flight of beer. There’s happy hour weekdays from 4-6 pm, trivia on Tuesdays, and plenty more programming throughout the year. Plus, after maxing out capacity at its original location, Denizens opened up a production house and taproom near Hyattsville this past spring in order to keep up with the demand of its year-round Southside Rye IPA, Born Bohemian Pilsner, and Lowest Lord ESB. They must be doing something right.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: 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.
Port City features a year-round lineup with something for all tastes, ranging from a copper-hued IPA to a Belgian-style witbier. Tours run Thursday through Sunday in the taproom for a cost of $12 per person, which includes a flight of six beers. Reservations are suggested as groups have a maximum size. The brewery hosts other weekly events and food trucks, so there’s usually something going on in addition to fresh beer and growler fills.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: The robust porter is the best in D.C., 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. Bluejacket is a popular spot for pre- and post-game drinks on Nationals game days. It’s on-site restaurant, The Arsenal, offers upscale American bar fare from sandwiches to steaks and seafood. Tours are offered Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays at 1pm.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: 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. Mexican Radio is also 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. Its selection of wild yeast ales rotate frequently and are brewed in small batches, so you never know what may next on tap. The Shaw location offers a full restaurant with sandwiches, entrees and comfort food, while the production facility is a casual bar for enjoying beer inside or on the small patio (outside food is allowed).
The beer you shouldn’t skip: 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. There are no frills to a visit here -- just fresh beer, board games, a few TVs, and the occasional food truck parked outside on Saturday afternoons. Tours happen at 3 and 5pm on Saturdays. A handful of seasonal selections are usually on tap with its flagship trio.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: 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 newest breweries, Red Bear is aiming to be an anchor of the 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, lots of indoor and outdoor seating, and a food pop-up in its kitchen on most days. Expect a lot of rotation on the draft list as the brewers experiment across styles and flavor profiles.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: Fire up the grunge albums and start with the 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.
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Travis Mitchell is a DC-based food and drink writer, with stories appearing in outlets including Eater, DCist, Paste, the Washington City Paper and others. Follow his travels and eating adventures on Twitter at @travisjmitchell and Instagram at @_travisjmitchell.