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Adventures in DC: ChurchKey

At the end of April I once again found myself in the Washington, DC area. This time I was there for a conference, and so I had flown down alone. Freed from the restrictions I’m usually under when I travel with my family I wanted to make the most of things. As soon as I got into my room I set down my suitcase, looked up directions and headed to ChurchKey.

2014-04-23 17.14.16The metro stop was across the street from my hotel. ChurchKey was a few blocks north of the blue line. As I tend to do while in DC I cursed the anemic public transportation system we have in Buffalo.

I scanned the impressive tap list, looking for something light. I usually fall victim to the common trap of all imperial all the time, as though I have to “get my money’s worth”, and wanted to avoid that this time. I had also spent the trip reading Ambitious Brew for our book club, so I was in the mood for  a lager of some sort.

There were some beers I could get at home but quite a few I couldn’t. The Prima Pils would have done the trick for me but I could get that anywhere, man.

Ooh. The Bruery. I like them ((Even though, in hindsight, they’re distributed in Buffalo)). Humulus Lager, you say? Four ounces of that, please. I was planning to be there all night, but as WNY Craft Beer Magazine said I’m focused on the variety, and half pints (or less, in this case) will let me taste more.

It arrived and I took a sip. Pleasantly hoppy, but not as light as I was expecting. It had a certain amount of sweetness that comes with- I check the menu: “Imperial Pilsner. 7.4%”


So maybe I had just done the exact thing I was trying to avoid. That notwithstanding, I quite enjoyed it. It was certainly imperial but not, say, an imperial porter with ghost peppers. I eyed the cask of Anubis from Laughing Dog.

I’ve had “Imperial Pilsners” before, but this really had the bright hops I was looking for. Does the Bruery always use Belgian yeast? It tasted like it, even if it wouldn’t necessarily have fit the style, but that could have been phenols coming from stressing the lager yeast with the high gravity.

I put in an order for their smoked eggplant and tomato flatbread (oh, right, one must eat when drinking all night) and ordered DC Brau’s The Corruption IPA, which was made with all Columbus hops. I’ve had an all Columbus IPA before: we made one! This was completely different. It was much maltier, almost making the hops taste thin. Not overpowered, just… thin.

I surreptitiously snapped a picture of my food, knowing full well how ridiculous I looked.

I surreptitiously snapped a picture of my food, knowing full well how ridiculous I looked.

The flatbread arrived and reminded me how much I love chickpeas. Tiny little balls of joy. Plus cucumber, tomatoes and eggplant, and what I think was a raita. It didn’t pair particularly well with The Corruption, but that was on me: they were both good on their own.

On to 3 Stars’ Phoenix Rye Saison, which was what I actually wanted to pair with the flatbread. The Corruption was my waiting-for-food beer. What an aroma! Pepper and plastic, but, you know, in a good way. A very smooth mouthfeel, all cream and… something. Not banana or clove, but reminiscent of a hefeweizen. It’s made with rye but I’d have guessed wheat. I needed to let go of the need to figure out the flavor that was eluding me before I drank it all without having paired it with my food.

This pairing was better, but still not perfect. I debated ordering The Brewmaster’s Table from the Amazon app while sitting at the bar ((Which was a bad idea for a few reasons, one of them being that I’ve made it my goal to order all my books through Talking Leaves)). The sourness from the raita would go perfectly with… something. There’s enough of the flatbread, and I’m getting small enough pours, that I should get a third shot.

And I do: off color brewing’s Troublesome, a blend of wheat and “100% lactobacillus fermented beer”. Yes please. It had an effervescently vinegary aroma. I expected more sour from it, but it was good. Maybe a little too much wheat, allowing the creaminess to overshadow the sour, but damn. I was in love. It was far more complex than just “sour”: lemon and cream and a hint of pepper. It still seemed to get overpowered by the flatbread, but it was the best pairing so far.

Next up: New Belgium’s Rampant. Damn. This was, as I wrote down, “really fucking good”. Yet again I didn’t see that it was imperial until I drank it, but I had reached the point where that was okay. Super hoppy, pleasantly sweet, just… damn.

Continuing the trend of hop-focused beers I went with Saucony Creek’s Hop Suplex. This was also damn good: it was downright woody. It wasn’t barrel aged, but the hops, mingling with the malt, conjured the image of a tree. This was a sipper. It demanded it. The bitterness coated my tongue to the extent that I needed to take my time. That was a good thing, because I was on my, what? Sixth beer? I had been there maybe an hour and a half ((Four ounce pours, remember! I’m not a lush.)).

I was forcing myself to not check Twitter or Tumblr, though I had posted a picture to my Instagram. I wanted to live! Not that I’m one of those “kids these days with their smartphones are missing out on real social interaction!” people, but I do tend to use my phone as an antisocial crutch. I still wasn’t talking to anyone, but at least I was handwriting this post, and that was analog?

Beer and scribbles

Beer and scribbles

Now it was time for my mad science. Laughing Dog’s Anubis, three ways. They had a keg of the porter with cold-pressed Sumatran coffee, then casks of it with rye barrel oak chips and, as previously hinted, ghost peppers. I was going to try all three.

Anubis I: the coffee. There was a huge coffee and roast aroma. It was less roasty in flavor, but still very obviously a coffee beer. Sweet coffee was what I tasted, a variant on the “sweet tea” of the south, with a bit of carbonation and maybe a hint of alcohol. I check the menu again: this was imperial too, huh? Ninkasi bless the Metro system.

Anubis II: the oak cask. The aroma was much more muted, softened, rounded. The oak complemented the beer very nicely, replacing the coffee with barrel. I like barrel aged beers but understand the criticism that some have of them, saying that in many cases it’s like a shot’s been poured into the pint. That was not the case here: it was definitely present, but in a way that accentuated the porter instead of dominating it.

Anubis III: the ghost pepper cask. Because I hate myself. The aroma: not much different from past Anubises. Anubi? Is the plural of Anubis also Anubis? The flavor had a bit of spice, but honestly? If you tell me there are ghost peppers, a pepper that practically demands its italicization, then I expect my face to melt like it’s at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I might not enjoy it, sure, but there was informed consent going in. Far from face melting, this gave me a little tickle. I think every other pepper beer I’ve had has been spicier. Hm.

My science complete, I ended the night with the 3 Stars Ebony & Ivory, also on cask. It was an imperial ((Sense a theme?)) brown ale with pecans, vanilla bean and cocoa nibs. The Anubis overshadowed it. It was incredibly pleasant, with more chocolate flavor than anything I had tried, but I probably should have ended with the Anubes. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the Ebony & Ivory: I did! It was a wonderful end to a wonderful night.

Ten beers down and it was still light out. Time to find a geocache and read some comics in my hotel room.