WASHINGTON — Compare what’s in your pint today to what filled it eight years ago.
Odds are, you weren’t sipping on a local beer. Now, there’s a much better chance you are.
Since 2009, the craft beer industry has exploded, growing from 1,596 breweries in the U.S. to 5,234 in 2016. And trends in the D.C. area have mirrored the national numbers.
In the last six years, D.C. gained six new craft breweries; Maryland and Virginia added 40 and 124, respectively. And while these budding businesses are producing endless options for consumers when it comes to lagers and stouts, Bill DeBaun, editor of DCBeer.com, said they’re also forming a fellowship, of sorts.
“I’ve always said that beer, the product, is what gets people into craft beer, but the people and the community around craft beer is what keeps people here. And I think that certainly has to be a contributor to growth both here and nationally, as well,” DeBaun said.
Similar to the region’s wineries, local breweries play host to everything from tasting events to pairing dinners — even yoga classes and running clubs. On weekends, it’s not uncommon to find kids dancing to live music or playing lawn games while their parents look on with an IPA in hand.
DeBaun said one of the best things about the local craft beer scene is that no single brewery has a monopoly on great beer. Both in terms of their portfolios and the experiences they offer, each has its own unique vibe.
“Interspersed all across the city, you can duck into breweries and brewpubs that are showcasing different styles of beer that appeal to a wide variety of consumer palates,” he said.
“Go out to the different breweries and brewpubs and find out who’s making the beers and the styles that you really appreciate.”
If you need a nudge in the right direction, DeBaun shared a few of his favorites:
Port City Brewing Company: Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Port City Brewing Company is heavily decorated in medals from the Great American Beer Festival.
“They are producing really high-quality examples across a number of different styles,” DeBaun said, adding that the brewery’s rotating lager series “really showcases the technical ability needed to produce lager beers.”
Bluejacket: If you’re looking for a place to grab a pint before a Nationals game, DeBaun recommends stopping by Bluejacket Brewery near Navy Yard. The brewery has more than 15 rotating drafts on the menu, as well as a handful of cask ales.
District ChopHouse: Don’t discount this brewpub in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.
DeBaun said, “Their nut brown ale is just an absolute favorite, and I think it’s overlooked by a lot of beer consumers in the area.”
The ‘Northeast Swing’: Hoping to hit a few breweries in the same day? DeBaun suggests visiting DC Brau, 3 Stars Brewing Company and Hellbender Brewing Company, which are all located in the same general area.
“That would be a great swing and doesn’t take you too far from home while still feeling like a really cool experience,” DeBaun said, adding that ride-sharing makes it possible to do so safely.
If you’re looking to get out of town for a tasting or two, DeBaun points to Vanish Farmwoods Brewery in Leesburg, Virginia, which also houses a hop farm and a barbecue operation from “Top Chef” contestant Bryan Voltaggio.
“If you’re trying to get out of the city and enjoy some great food and beer, it makes for a wonderful day trip,” he said.
Up north, check out Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore.
“They’re another brewery that is just knocking out a bunch of different styles, and their Union Old Pro Gose is a wonderful gateway beer for those who think they may not like beer. It’s a salty, German-style gose that’s made a lot of converts,” DeBaun added.