I've got some good news and some bad news for DC craft beer fans. The good news is that, thanks to the overwhelming response last summer, Savor is back for 2009! On Saturday, May 30th, the Brewers Association will be hosting 65 of America's best craft brewers at the National Building Museum, each featuring a selection of their finest beers, specially paired with an assortment of sweet and savor appetizers, meant to highlight the range of culinary possibilities in food and beer pairing. I attended last year, and it was a blast — if you are a beer and food lover with a hundred bucks to spare, keep your calender clear.
The bad news is, if you come upon a beer you are particularly like, you are going to have a much harder time finding it. Back in October the DC government, in an effort to fight vagrancy and litter, put forward a bill banning the sale of single beers in retail shops. The bill passed in Wards 4, 7 and 8 late last year, and a similar ban for Wards 2, 6, and parts of Ward 1 went through this past Christmas Eve. Effectively, this means that come February 10th, it will be illegal to sell half pints of liquor, or beer in any package less than 70 oz in volume, in nearly every part of the city.
Tired of dealing with empty 40s of Old English and Bud 22s littering their streets, many ward councilmen expressed great support for this bill, as has Mayor Fenty. As Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells put it, "More often than not, single sales of alcohol are bought so they can be consumed as soon as you walk out the door – turning alleys and backyards into public restrooms and leaving empty bottles strewn through our neighborhoods."
I'm not going to go so far as to say Mr. Wells is wrong, but he is certainly making one broad-ass generalization. Claiming that the majority of beers purchased as singles are consumed illegally is extremely cynical and narrow minded. As most of you probably know, the majority of high end craft beers are sold as singles, whether in 12 oz, 750 ml, or any number of other standard sizes. The singles moratorium dictates that no beer may be broken out of a manufacturer's package of less than 70 oz, meaning that the only way to get, say, Dogfish Head's beloved 120 Minute IPA, is to buy an entire 24 bottle case, which will run you upwards of $200! Happen to be a fan of Chimay or Duvel, those longtime ambassador's of Belgian beer? Hope your prepared to drink a lot of it, as those adorable little four-packs are also on the chopping block. Of course, you can still get all your faves at your better beer bars, but you'll be spending two to three times retail price, and that doesn't address the problems of the home cook who loves to pair beer as well as wine.
Speaking of wine, the moratorium doesn't touch it. Call me crazy, but isn't that a bit hypocritical? Oh, I know that wine is a rich person's drink, and rich people would never do something so irresponsible as to litter... but still, it's kinda suspicious. Makes a man wonder if there weren't a few oenophiles on the drafting committee who didn't want their rights infringed upon. Funny, that.
On the bright side, the bill does allow stores to petition for an exemption (the shop I work at is in the process of applying right now — fingers crossed!). That notwithstanding, competition and supply are going to suffer, and the city is going to lose thousands of dollars a year in tax revenue to fed up consumer's crossing the Virginia border for their beer fix. Were we talking about one part of a comprehensive, proactive plan to combat the city's many ills, then I'd say sign me up. As it is, the singles ban is a lazy, classist, and even rather racist approach towards covering up the aesthetic portion of an endemic problem, which I feel does a disservice to the residents of DC.
I admit, I may be way to close to this issue to see it clearly, so I wonder what you think. Please chime in with comments, and feel free to let me know if you think I am way off base here. Also, if you live in Wards 2 or 6, remember that date: February 10th. You'll probably see some great beer sales in your neighborhood in the preceding weeks.