Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, Casey Brockman will walk to the line. The Murray State quarterback will look across the field to find Louisville’s stud linebacker Dexter Heyman, hoping to God the Cardinals’ won’t blitz on first. The 6’2’’ junior will lean over center Brock Rydeck, ignore the jeers of the Cardinals’ crowd, and demand the ball.

In all likelihood, it will be a bad day for Casey, Brock and the Murray State Racers, but an excellent day for the rest of us. Because on that day, when Rydeck snaps that ball and Heyman drives Brockman into the field of Cardinal’s Stadium, football will once again be with us (this NFL preseason crap doesn't count).

It’s been said that this game of grace and violence is our national religion. If that’s the case, then the sports bar is our house of worship. Being a fan of far-away teams (South Florida, Buccaneers), it took me a while to find a few decent bars and restaurants in the D.C. area to watch football. The region may be inundated with sports bars, but few offer the trifecta of great beer, good food and the promise of your team on the screen (unless you’re a Skins fan, in which case any Chili’s will do).

Well, friends, I’m here to help. Below are my top five bars and restaurants in the DMV to watch the faux-pros on Saturday and Pro Bowlers on Sunday. 

1. The Black Squirrel: The Black Squirrel has three floors, 49 taps and 11 TVs (and if you call ahead, the third floor can be your private sports bar). Owner Amy Bowman keeps this Best Beer Bar stocked with a top tier line-up of craft beers, while the talented Gene Sohn runs the kitchen (order the burger). Is it a coincidence that on game days all the TVs are tuned in? Nope, The Black Squirrel was co-founded by former sports columnist Tom Knott. (Disclosure: I’m friends with Amy and Tom. Still, The Black Squirrel is a great place to watch football.) 

2. Iron Horse Taproom: If the Iron Horse Taproom opened at noon on weekends it would be the best place in D.C. to watch football. The multi-level bar is big, filled with TVs, has a great selection of craft beers, and features the best menu in town -- by not featuring a menu at all. The Penn Quarter tavern (pictured above) doesn’t have a kitchen, so it allows patrons to bring in food or have it delivered. Want to dig into some Texas barbecue while watching the Lone Star Showdown? No problemo. Grab a pound of brisket from Hill Country or better yet, a burrito from Capital Q and head to the Iron Horse. How about some lamb vindaloo while you watch the John Beck/Rex Grossman quarterback controversy unfold this season? Mehak is just down the street. Just make sure your game doesn’t start before 5 p.m. If it does, you’ll need to head elsewhere. 

3. Frisco Tap House: What’s more American than football? Excess. The Frisco Tap House has 50 taps, a beer engine, a table where you can pour your own draft beer, an extensive bottle and can list, great burritos and eight giant flat screen TVs (with more coming this fall). Sure, the Columbia, Md., bar is a hike if you live in Logan Circle. But if you live in Maryland, you have one hell of a place to watch football.

4. Capitol Lounge: This is where it started for me. When I moved from Tampa to D.C. in the late 90s, Cap Lounge was the only place in town I could reliably catch Bucs games. It helped that one of the bartenders was a Bucs fan and wanted to watch the games, too. The Capitol Hill bar continues to be a great spot to catch a game, with a mess of TVs tucked and hung throughout the two-floor restaurant, and a stellar selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles and cans.  

41380020 5. Rustico: These days, it’s tough to write a story about beer without mentioning ChurchKey and its downstairs sister, Birch & Barley. But before there was CKBB there was Rustico, owner Michael Babin’s first crack at a craft beer establishment. While ChurchKey is unabashedly a beer bar, a fine one at that, Babin makes sure his two Rustico restaurants remain casual neighborhood spots, which makes them ideal for watching the game. Greg Engert oversaw the beer program at the original Rustico in Alexandria before heading over to ChurchKey, and continues to curate the draft and bottle lists for his original restaurant and the newer Ballston location. Although neither will be mistaken for a sports bar, the Rusticos have just enough TVs to catch most of the marquee games. And if the beer list and full menu aren’t enough to attract you, they’re offering beer specials as well. Beginning September 10, both Rustico locations will offer $3.50 cans of craft beer, including G’Knight, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub and Ten Fidy (they clearly have a thing for Oskar Blues’ beers), and $2.50 cans of college beer (because you or your buddy don’t know better) during games. 

DC Beer Week's Top Five Events (hint: they all involve beer)

DCBeerWeek Ladies and gentlemen, get your livers ready, DC Beer Week will be kicking off on Aug. 14.

As we reported, this week-long celebration of beer (especially local beer!) will include events at the District's best beer bars. The complete list of events can be found on the DC Beer Week site (in partnership with the folks over at the DC and it's quite a list. To help you pick some of the best events for the week (though all look promising) here are my top five:

1. Founders Beer Dinner with Co-Founder Dave Engbers at Birch & Barley - Monday at 7 pm
Birch & Barley- 1337 14th Street NW,

Founders Brewing Company co-founder Dave Engbers will host a food and beer experience, casting light on his fantastic ales. Beer Director Greg Engert will speak to the pairings of these great brews with a menu crafted by Birch & Barley Executive Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac. This is a 5 course tasting menu that will be paired with 9 different Founders hand-crafted ales. Details of the menu are on the way and will be posted here when available. The dinner will be $75 exclusive of tax and gratuity. Call Birch & Barley for reservations. 202-567-2576. 

2. Casks and firkins: All of them! (multiple events, multiple locations)

There are few things in life better than fresh, cask-conditioned beer. During DC Beer Week, there will be a lot of it. Rather than try and pick one event, I'm recommending all of them. Beginning Monday, Aug. 15, the Pour House will be tapping firkins through Saturday from Rhode Island’s Trinity Brewhouse, as well as great local beers from, Oliver Breweries, Evolution Craft Brewing, Heavy Seas, Old Dominion and Fordham. On Tuesday, ChurchKey will turn over all five of its beer engines to Heavy Seas. Because five cask ales is not enough, a sixth real ale will be served directly from a wood barrel previously used to mature bourbon. I tried a variety of Heavy Seas cask ales a few months ago at the brewery's Beer and Barbecue event. They were some of the best beers I've tasted from the Baltimore brewery. And on Thursday, District ChopHouse will be hosting local brewers and their cask ales. The lineup includes the ChopHouse, Capitol City Brewing Company, Rock Bottom Bethesda, Gordon Biersch DC, DuClaw, Franklin’s, Olivers/Pratt St Ale House and Sweetwater. Tickets are $35 and only 80 will be sold.

3. Rye Beer and Spirits with Jack Rose and 3 Stars Brewing – Tuesday at 6pm
Jack Rose Dining Saloon – 2007 18th Street NW,

Few things go better with beer than whiskey. This event pairs a flight of rye whiskeys hand-picked by the Jack Rose staff with the B.W. Rye ale, a collaboration beer from D.C. brewers 3 Stars Brewing Company and Steve Jones of Baltimore's Oliver Breweries. Meet the brewers and enjoy a guided tasting highlighting flavor profiles and key characteristics of the spicy and flavorful rye grain, which is in so many great beers and whiskeys. The price for this will be around $20-25.

4. Trinity Brewhouse Beer Dinner at Granville Moore’s – Wednesday at 6:30pm
Granville Moore’s – 1238 H Street NE, www.granvillemoore’

Granville Moore's Chef Maria Evans teamed up with Trinity Brewmaster Sean Larkin and Granville Moore's chef and co-owner Teddy Folkman to put together a five-course dinner featuring one of the beers she and Folkman brewed at the Trinity in July. Look for Evans' classic New England dishes, including sepia with milled malt and sorachi hop oil, a whole pig, and a bunch of other surprises, all with a Granville’s twist. Tickets are $70 per person. Reservations and more info at 202-399-2546 or

5. DC Homebrewers Association Homebrew Competition at Red Palace – Saturday at 4pm
The Red Palace – 1212 H Street NE,

Full disclosure: I'm a homebrewer and member of the DC Homebrewers club. I've tried a lot of these guys' and gals' handiwork, and let me tell you, they make good beer. If you don't believe me, come give them a try. The $10 ticket gets you entry into this homebrew competition at the Red Palace. There will be a DJ and the opportunity to taste beers from homebrewers all across the city.

IPAs And Indian Food: Like Peas And Carrots (In Mumbai)

Fact: Indian food is incredibly flavorful and can be quite spicy.
Fact: India pale ales are incredibly flavorful and can be quite bitter.
Fact: It's difficult to pair beer with Indian food.
Fact: It's difficult to pair food with IPAs.
Fact: Indian food and IPAs were made for each other, literally.

That last fact should be self-evident, but if it was Indian restaurants (at least the ones around here) would stick a few Loose Cannons, maybe an Avery IPA on the menu. But that's not the case. Instead, your beer options are limited to a redundant list of light lagers whose labels might invoke thoughts of India - Kingfisher, Taj - but are otherwise indistinguishable from the light lagers made in St. Louis and Golden, Colo.

To be fair, lagers have been the beer of choice in India for more than a century. In fact, lagers are the beer of choice in most parts of the world. There was a time, though, when bitter, hop-forward ales from England were all the rage on the subcontinent (and then the Indians booted out their British overlords and switched to the German stuff).

Travel to England today and you'll be hard pressed to find a pub that doesn't have curry on the menu. For a people known for fried fish and sausages, they have fully embraced an Indian staple as their own (thanks to their old Asian holdings). But travel to India, and the culinary cultural exchange doesn't stand up, at least where beer is concerned. 

That's a shame because there may be no better beverage to pair with a spicy curry than a hoppy India pale ale.

As craft beer has become more popular over the past decade, so too has the idea that beer can be paired with more than burgers and pizza. Thomas Keller commissioned Russian River Brewing and Brooklyn Brewery to make special beers for his restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se. Here in D.C., Chef Eric Ziebold's tasting menu at CityZen has included a beer course, and Michel Richard imports the Belgian pilsner Blusser for his restaurant Central. And then there's Birch & Barley, which offers a beer pairing with each course of Chef Kyle Bailey's tasting menu.

Once the domain of wine, beer is being recognized as an ideal accompaniment to food. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing and author of The Brewmaster's Table, has gone even further to say that beer offers a wider range of flavors and styles, making it the ideal accompaniment to food. (The Brewmaster's Table, as it happens, is a book about pairing food with beer.)

That may be true, but when it came to Indian cuisine, I never gave it much thought. As oafish at it may sound, I viewed curries and kormas as ethnic food made by people from foreign lands. So if the people running the restaurant wanted to offer a few light lagers with their dishes, so be it. Their food, their beer. After all, you go to Indique for the food not the drink. Well, a cold Fisherking may be common in Mumbai's curry houses, but it's not the ideal beer for the food. The ideal one might just be a California pale ale. (I know it's not an IPA. I'll get to that.)

Book I got thinking about this particular food and beer pairing after reading Pete Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory. In it, the British beer writer explores the development of the IPA and England's colonization of India, and chronicles his journey from Burton-Upon-Trent (the birthplace of IPAs) to Calcutta with a keg of IPA in tow. It's a good book, and in it Brown makes the point that IPAs not only go well with Indian cuisine, they taste like they were made for it.

"[The IPA he brought from England] really was dangerously drinkable, and when the tandoori canapés came round it went beautifully, cutting through the heat and harmonizing with the spices so perfectly it was as if the beer had been designed specially to go with the cuisine, and perhaps it had."

That sparked my interest. While Oliver and other beer writers have made the point that IPAs can go well with very flavorful dishes and spicy foods, Brown's 450 page treatise on the matter convinced me to try the pairing myself.

Because Indian restaurants don't offer India pale ales, I conducted my tasting at the next logical location: the Iron Horse bar in Penn Quarter.

I like the Iron Horse, a lot. Not only does it offer a great selection of craft beers and is home to bartender extraordinaire Scott Stone, but it has a tavern license. What that tavern license means is that they don't serve food, so you can bring in food from anywhere. As long as you're drinking, that's no problemo. You can even have food delivered and never leave your barstool. That's turned the Iron Horse into my go-to bar for watching college football (Pattison Avenue and pints, people) and in this case, my go-to spot for lamb vindaloo and IPAs.

DSC_0030 The vindaloo, which I picked up from nearby Mehak, was great. Chunks of lamb and potato swam in a pool of fiery red curry. It was delicious, and completely overwhelmed my pallet. The onion kulcha, a doughy flat bread filled with onions, was good, but no match for the vindaloo.

For the pairing, I ordered Flying Dog's Double Dog imperial IPA, which clocks in at 11.5% A.B.V.; Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA, which comes in at a more modest 7.1% A.B.V.; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (on the theory that English IPAs aren't nearly as high in alcohol as our IPAs), which runs 5.6% A.B.V.; and Sierra Nevada's new Juniper Black Ale, a hoppy 8% A.B.V. black IPA.

Of the four beers, the two with the lowest alcohol levels paired the best with the spicy Indian dish. The Double Dog (a personal favorite) was much too sweet for the dish and the heat of the vindaloo overwhelmed whatever hop characteristics the Juniper Black Ale had, making it taste like an ordinary stout. On the other hand, the IPA and pale ale were spot on.

Although the IPAs didn't compliment the curry in the same way the dark stouts compliment chocolate and coffee flavors, the Snake Dog IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale stood their ground with the vindaloo. A dish with the much flavor and heat would turn a Taj to water, but the IPAs remained bright, hoppy and citrusy deep into the bowl.

Between the two beers, I favored the pale ale. Both went well, but the bitter bite from the Snake Dog and the spicy of the vindaloo were a bit much for me. The Sierra Nevada, though, was refreshing, and the subtler hop bitterness helped restore my taste buds between bites.

These results shouldn't have been surprising, even if they were. This food and this style of beer should be easier to find together, even if it's not. But the fact is, IPAs pair well with Indian food, even if you have to bring the food to the beer.

And if Indian isn't your thing or you want a few more pairing options, you could try Thai (which Scott suggested) or fried chicken (which my wife suggested). I think they're both right. If it's spicy enough or fried enough, it can be matched up with an IPA. Brooklyn's Oliver has suggested pairing IPAs with fried fish, Mexican and calamari. Point being, IPAs go well with spicy and greasy food. When it comes to pairing Indian food with beer, though, I don't think there's a better option than an IPA (or pale ale).

Iron Horse Taproom
507 7th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
(202) 347-7665

817 7th St. N.W.
Washington D.C., DC 20001
(202) 408-9292

Savor: The Beer And Food Gala Is Still Trying To Get The Food Right

Savor, the Brewers Association’s dolled-up craft beer gala, is a fantastic event. 

Entering its fourth year, Savor is every bit the premiere craft beer showcase the BA intended it to be. For a city making a name for itself in the craft beer world, it’s also exactly what D.C. needs. Once a year, the craft beer community turns its attention to the District as some of the best brewers in the country bring us a few beers to enjoy. And enjoy, we do.

Thing is, though, Savor is a beer and food event, and so far, the food hasn’t lived up to the equal billing.

Ok, that’s not completely true. The Artisan Cheese Table and the Oyster Bar have been bright spots, exceptions to the rule. As for the rest of the food, it hasn’t always been worth the price of admission ($110 this year). Importantly, this is the food that’s paired with the beer. This is the food that the brewers are expected to talk up along with their beers.

At best, the food has been mediocre. At worst, it’s been quite bad. The food for the past three Savors has looked bad, tasted bad, hasn’t kept well, and hasn’t always paired well. I'm not alone in my opinion of the food, either. I've talked to past attendees and brewers and heard the same: the food has been a disappointment.

16 The sweet and chewy shrimp corn dogs, the gray meat sliders, the bland and cold quesadillas, and the grainy espresso sambuca parfaits are just a few examples of a food program that has been the biggest flaw of an otherwise excellent event. This wouldn’t bother me quite so much if Savor was merely a beer event. But it’s a beer and food “experience,” therefore the food must be as good as the beer. It’s not, at least not yet.

You have to hand it to folks at the BA, though, they are willing to tinker with their event. Every year for the past four years, they’ve changed something about Savor, and more often than not it’s been for the better. The first year Savor was held at the Mellon Auditorium. It’s a pretty venue, but it was too small, so they moved to the equally nice, but considerably larger Building Museum.

During that first year, the speaker salons were free. That was nice, but the sessions filled up quickly and led people to crowd around the salon room doors for a chance to grab one of the few seats. To bring some order to the salons, the BA started selling tickets. Sure, $30 is a steep price to listen to brewers talk about beer, but you don’t have to buy a salon ticket to get into the main event.

Recognizing the popularity of the event, the BA made this year’s Savor a two-night event, as it was the first year. A lot of people didn’t get tickets this year (thanks, in part, to the BA’s Website crashing when the tickets went on sale), but more people will be able to attend than last year.

And in this same spirit, the BA continues to work on the food.

Last year, the BA hired chef Bruce Paton to “enhance” the food experience, which for the first two Savors was pretty poor. Patton has experience with large beer events, having worked with the BA on the Great American Beer Festival, the biggest craft beer event in the country. Unfortunately, the food was as it as always was. 

This year, the BA brought in two chefs, Adam Dulye from The Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco, and our own Teddy Folkman, executive chef and co-owner of Dr. Granville Moore’s. However, Dulye and Folkman were hired to be consultants, not chefs. For all their culinary acumen, Dulye and Folkman did not contribute a single recipe or cook a single dish. They were contracted to conceptualize the food pairings, but the recipes and cooking was left to Federal City Caterers, which has catered all the Savor events.

09270011 Folkman said he has faith in the catering company and its staff, but was wary - and surprised - about not having a greater role in the dishes’ development or execution. For this article, Folkman put together a few of the dishes he was working on for Savor; however, the Cuban slider, stout meatballs and deviled egg that you see in the photos are not necessarily the same dishes you’ll see at Savor. You’ll see and taste Federal City Caterers’ dishes.

During a recent tasting led by Nancy Johnson, event director for the BA, Folkman got a chance to taste many of the dishes Federal City Caterers developed based on his and Dulye’s recommendations. While some dishes were just as Folkman envisioned, others needed minor revising, and some were altogether different - not always for the better, he said.

Deborah Allen, co-owner of Federal City Caterers, said she and her staff have to take many things into consideration when developing hors d’oeuvres for Savor. When necessary, she’ll change an ingredient or eliminate ingredient to make sure the dish works with the beer pairing and can be executed a thousand times over for the event.

In addition to making sure the dishes pair with all 144 beers, the food has to be easy to handle for attendees holding tasting glasses, capable of being transported to the event site and then served as is or with minimum heating (the Building Museum doesn’t have a kitchen). The food must be able to remain fresh for some time in case it’s not eaten immediately, and it has to meet the approval of the BA, the brewers, the consulting chefs and a couple thousand attendees.

09270021 Listening to Allen describe the preparation and execution of Savor’s food program you begin to understand the scope of Federal City’s task. The catering company will prepare more than 80,000 items for Savor. She began work on this year’s event two weeks after last year’s event ended. She’ll have 160 people serving attendees, refreshing ice trays and water pitchers, refreshing the food, dumping food that needs to be dumped, working the nonalcoholic stand, and cooking special dishes for the 12 sponsor tables.It is quite an undertaking. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but return to the fact that the quality of the food has never lived up to the quality of the beer.

And then when I see that this year’s menu includes grilled steak and sausages, crispy tuna rolls, braised sliders, pork belly and shrimp wrapped in a grit cake - all dishes that could be great when fresh and hot, but miserable if left to cool and congeal - I think I’ll be glad that I once again ate beforehand.

Johnson, who led the committee that came up with Savor, is understandably positive about her food program. Although the BA has continues to revise the food program - from how the food was paired with the beer to how much say brewers get in their pairings – Johnson said the BA started in a good place and is simply looking to improve.

For last year’s Savor, the participating breweries were sent a menu of “popular pub items” to choose from. Although there were more than 45 dishes on the menu, Folkman said many breweries ended up picking the same items, which led to a lot of redundancy (Savor: a beer and quesadilla experience).

This year, the BA abandoned the democratic approach and turned the pairings over to Folkman and Dulye. Folkman said he and Dulye took the list of beers the breweries plan to bring and divided it into style categories: IPAs, stouts, ambers, lagers. The chefs then came up with dishes to compliment the styles rather than specific beers. So there will be a dish for the pale ales and a dish for saisons, etc. 

09270020 Despite this broad approach, Folkman said he wants the beer and food pairings to make sense, to tell a story. So saisons and Belgian-style ales will be paired with the classic French croque monsieur, while the bolder-flavored India pale ales are matched with spicy crawfish fritters. And just in case the pairing isn’t completely obvious, every station will include a card explaining the match.

Like last year, though, the brewers won’t have a chance to taste the pairings until the day of the event.

For the 12 sponsors, Folkman has something completely different in mind: a cook for every sponsor. Folkman said Federal City Caterers will station a cook at each sponsor’s table. The sponsors’ offerings will be hot, cooked fresh and either prepared with the sponsor’s beer or for a beer the sponsor brings. The highlight of the sponsors’ dishes may be the lobster roll paired with Sam Adams Boston Lager. (Anticipating that the lobster roll will be a popular item, Allen said her staff will make extra to accommodate the interest.)

The BA is also adding a sushi stand and considering a panini station to accompany the cheese and oyster tables.Folkman, who led one of the educational salons last year, said he didn’t try any of the pairings last year, but agreed that the food could be better.“It’s progressively gotten better every year,” he said.

“Hopefully (this year), it will meet the expectations of the guests.”

Everyone I interviewed for this article was very positive about this year’s food program. Sure, Johnson and Allen said some things haven’t worked in the past, but that’s all part of the evolution of Savor. While Folkman was surprised that he wasn’t more directly involved with the food, he had nothing but good things to say about Federal City Caterers and expects this year’s food program to be better.

36 So then who’s to blame for the miserable dishes of Savors past? And who will be responsible if the quality of the food falls short again? Is it Federal City Caterers, who’s charged with feeding thousands of half-cocked beer enthusiasts while keeping the brewers, the hired-gun chefs and the BA happy? Is it the latest pair of chefs who have big ideas, but no involvement in the actual cooking and catering? Or is it the Brewers Association, which approves all the dishes, hires the famous chefs, hires the caterer, sponsors the event and insists that Savor is a beer and food experience? 

As the saying goes, the buck stops with the BA. With ticket prices for this beer and food experience climbing above the $100 mark, attendees deserve an event that gets it right on both counts. If it doesn’t, the BA should seriously consider either dropping the food (and the ticket prices) or turn the food program over to someone else to run.

Savor is an excellent beer experience. It’s time for it to be an excellent food experience, too.

The Queen Vic: A New Restaurant On H, An Actual Gastropub For D.C.

Ryan Gordon knows what a gastropub is.

"It's a place you go to have a drink, first."

That's absolutely right. But if you want to eat, there's a menu that combines traditional pub fare with plates typically scene in white tablecloth dining rooms.

Ryan knows this, too. He should, he's opening a gastropub next week.

89500003 On April 4, Ryan and his wife Roneeka will open The Queen Vic, the newest addition to the H Street dining corridor. On paper it looks good: 20 beers on draught and 20 bottles, soccer and rugby on the flat-screen TVs hanging behind the two bars, and a menu that hits the U.K.'s greatest hits while managing to work in enough culinary flourishes to put the gastro in gastropub.

The restaurant's name is even a nod to the long-running BBC soap, EastEnders.

But just because a restaurant calls itself a gastropub doesn't mean it is. Frankly, most of the gastropubs in D.C. aren't gastropubs, and some of the ones that were eventually dropped the concept.

CommonWealth opened as a gastropub in 2008. Offering cured pork belly, oyster pie and house-made head cheeses along side fish and chips helped establish the Columbia Heights restaurant as a solid example of a British gastropub. In time, however, the menu became more "continental Europe" and less creative. CommonWealth closed in February.

This begs the question: can The Queen Vic succeed where CommonWealth failed? Does D.C. know what a gastropub is and is it a concept people are interested in?

We're going to find out.

89500004 The Gordons, and silent partner Kevin Bombardier, brought in Adam Stein as their executive chef (on the right next to sous chef Blake Aredas). Stein -- who worked under chef Matt Jennings at La Laiterie in Providence, R.I., before returning to the area -- is a farm-to-table adherent. He plans to butcher in-house. He plans to source locally and cook seasonally. Even the British staples will be sustainable. So while the fish and chips may be standard fare, the fish Stein will use will change based on its availability and sustainability.

For inspiration, Stein cited April Bloomfield and Fergus Henderson. Henderson might not have invented nose-to-tail cooking, but he picked up a Michelin star revolutionizing it in his London restaurant, St. John. Bloomfield's New York restaurant, The Spotted Pig, is widely considered the best gastopub in the country. So when you say that your restaurant's cuisine will tack closely to Bloomfield's and Henderson's, the world knows what to expect ... and where you fall short.

Signs of Bloomfield's and Henderson's influence are tucked into The Queen Vic's inaugural menu. There are the fried oysters on the half shell - a trio of fried oysters served with foie gras, duck confit and cornichons. There are the rich, roasted marrow bones, an appetizer Stein said he is lifting directly off St. John's menu.

The chefs' influence will also be seen in the daily specials, which will showcase the benefits of butchering on-site, such as house-made head cheeses, braised beef cheeks and sweetbreads. Stein said the specials menu is where he will react most quickly to changes in seasons and ingredients.

While Stein clearly wants The Queen Vic's menu to be thoughtful and progressive, it's some of the traditional items that stand out. Certainly, you can't open a British restaurant without fried fish and french fries, but the traditional English breakfast (beans and all), pork scratchings and curries show an attention to detail that most of the British (and Irish) themed eateries miss.

(I can't overstate the significance of a good Cornish pasty. They're like a large empanada without the egg. Absolutely simple, absolutely fantastic. However, most of the ones I've had here in the states are sorry. More often than not, they're like doughy wontons straight from the frozen food isle. Stein promises the real thing. If he delivers, I'll trust anything he puts on his menu.)

89500018 As for the bar, the opening draft selection isn't all it could be. The taps are dominated by familiar names: Guinness, Harp, Kronenbourg 1664 and Smithwicks (none of which are British). However, there are a few bright spots, including Fullers ESB, Wells Bombardier, Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil and Old Speckled Hen.

Ryan admitted the beer lineup was the best he could do in a short amount of time. By the end of April, he expects to replace many of the beers with more interesting offerings.

89510006 In the mean time, thirsty punters can check out the Vic's bottle list, which includes Young's Double Chocolate Stout, St. Peter's Organic English Ale, Manchester Star and Skull Splitter scotch ale.

Although the gastropub doesn't have a beer engine behind the bar (a real shame, especially as so many beer bars around town now have one or five), there are four nitrogen taps behind the upstairs and downstairs bars. So there may not be the hand-pulled beers so typical of British pubs, but there will be eight taps pouring plenty of smooth, creamy pints.

It's not hard to understand where the level of detail that's gone into The Queen Vic came from: Roneeka was born in Britain and raised in Wales. Her parents own and operate a hotel and restaurant in Bridgend, Wales. Before she was a teenager, Roneeka was already working in her family's restaurant. The Queen Vic isn't so much a concept as an extension of the cuisine that she grew up with. At least it should be.

Just to make sure Stein is clear on the concept, Ryan and Roneeka sent their chef on an eight-day tour of Britain and Wales. The tour began at her parent's restaurant, the Bokhara Brasserie. It was there that Stein learned how to make murgh makhani, a butter chicken dish Roneeka grew up with. From there, Stein headed to a butcher shop in northern Wales and spent time in London, dining at The Bull & Last and St. John.

If the gastropub concept doesn't fly, it won't be for lack of effort.

89500007 Like the menu, the restaurant looks the part of a traditional British pub. The red and black exterior opens to a cozy bar and dining room. The layout is repeated on the second floor, which leads out to an outdoor deck on the back of the restaurant.

Ryan said The Queen Vic will accommodate a little less than 100 people, a couple dozen more if you count the deck.

While the gastropub may be small, it took a sizable effort to get it ready for its debut. The building burned down, twice. Before work could begin to turn the building into a restaurant, it needed to be gutted and rebuilt. The façade was out of alignment and had to be screwed back into place, and much of the roof was replaced. The deck was a new addition.

89500022 To give the rehabbed restaurant an older feel, they used as much recycled and refurbished materials as possible. Doors came from old schools, the phone booth is, well, an old phone booth. The roof may be new, but the exposed beams, stained a dark mahogany, help add a rustic, old(er) pub feel.

The Queen Vic will be located along the ever-more popular and ever-more crowded H Street corridor. Ryan, who's an investor in the neighborhood bar The Pug, says the gastropub should fit right in. Although H Street has an increasing number of bars and restaurants, it's an eclectic mix. So rather than being lost in the myriad of options, The Queen Vic do well situated between the sushi and tater tots joint and the Philly style sandwich shop.

Besides, Ryan said, the cadre of new bars and restaurants that have sprung up on H Street over the past few years tend to support one another (Teddy Folkman, executive chef at Dr. Granville Moore's, introduced Stein to the Gordons). It's the rising tide lifts all boats theory: the more traffic and positive attention one bar or restaurant can attract, the better off all the neighborhood bars and restaurants will be.

89500021 But positive press and big name inspirations will only help so much. The British gastropub is a great concept that most people misinterpret or simply don't understand. If The Queen Vic is a success, it'll be because Ryan, Roneeka and Chef Stein find a way to give D.C. a true gastropub, one that will hopefully stick around a while.

The Queen Vic
1206 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 396-2001 

Port City Brewing Company: The DC Area's Newest Brewery (For Now).

PORTCITYSIGN After years of drought, craft beer is certainly on the ascendancy in Washington, DC. It was a bit of a rocky start, but with the advent of SAVOR, and major advocacy by beer lovers, DC is now a primary market for America's finest microbrews. But in terms of real local beer, we have kinda gotten short shrift. Sure, there are a number of brewpubs, and the small and plucky Shenendoah Brewery is still out there, but inside the Beltway, that's about all she wrote. Soon, that will all change, with the approach of Chocolate City Beer and DC Brau, both District-brewed beers which are expected to launch in the next couple months.

PORTYCITYBAR In the meantime, a third Beltway Insider has beaten them to the punch: Port City Brewing Company of Alexandria. Named in honor of Alexandria's colonial status as the fledgling nation's most important seaport -- and later, home to one of the nation's largest breweries -- Port City started brewing late last month, and slowly but surely, have seen their product trickle onto the market. A couple weeks ago, I visited their facility for a quick tasting and tour.

Port City's spacious tasting room was pretty well packed when we arrived. We pushed ourselves forward to the bar, and managed a quick sampling of the wares, before the tour got going.

PORTCITYFLAGS Three of Port City's four inaugural beers were up for tasting that afternoon: The Optimal Wit, Essential Pale Ale and Porter. Due to various jostlings and general hubbub, I wasn't able to take pictures or notes, but I can say that I was duly impressed.

The Wit came first. This hazy, light golden beer is made in the Beligian style, with Belgian yeasts, and flavorings of coriander, grains of paradise and orange peel. PC's was definitely less aggressively flavored than many, with the spices adding a light PORTCITYAVAIL counterpoint to the mild yeastiness. Though not likely to impress lovers of the real heavy continental stuff, this beer is balanced and refreshing, and a perfect beer with which to blitz the market at the beginning of Spring.

The Essential Pale was next, and came as a bit of a surprise. This golden ale -- which I expected to be on the light-handed side -- had an aggressive hoppiness on the front, followed by clean, malty flavors. We're not talking IPA levels of IBUs here, but the Essential was no shrinking flower, despite being the most "basic" beer on tap.

 The Porter was my favorite. This powerful beer boasted a complex melange of dried fruit, dark chocolate, coffee grounds, and, again, surprisingly abundant hops. This beer is very nicely balanced, and not overly heavy and syrupy given its relatively high alcohol (7.5 %).

PORTCITYTANKS After the whirlwind tasting, we were escorted through the back to the brewery floor. PC's cavernous facility boasts a brand-new 30 Gallon brewing system, which can produce some 8000 pints per batch. Brewery owner Bill Butcher took us through the whole process, from grain to keg. To all but the truly geeky, a description will not translate, so I highly suggest you visit yourselPORTCITYBREWERf, especially if you have never seen a working brewery (hours listed below).

  One cool thing about the tour, though, is that we were allowed to sample the brewery's then soon-to-be-released Monumental IPA, straight from the tank. I was surprised to find it just barely hoppier than the Essential Pale we had sampled earlier, but the beer was due for another six days of dry-hopping, so I will forgo judgement till I taste it from the keg.

PORTCITYBOTTLELINE Perhaps most exciting was PC's bottling line, just purchased from Southern Tier Brewing Company. Though not much to look at, this little guy can bottle at a rate of 50 bottles per minute, and means that Port City should be hitting store shelves by as early as next week!

Barely a month old, Port City has a healthy list of clients for their kegs (note picture above), and sells growlers on premises. Keep an eye out for those bottles, though, and hang onto a sixer for your grandkids. When the DC area is once again one of the great brewing centers of the country, you can show them that six pack, and say you were there at the beginning.

Hey, it could happen!

Port City Brewing Company
3950 Wheeler Ave
Alexandria, VA 22304

Tasting room hours:
Friday 4-8pm
Saturday 12-5pm
Sunday 12-5pm

Public tours begin at 2pm and 3pm on Saturday, no reservations required. Cost is $5, which includes a tasting glass to keep and a full tasting of each beer on tap.

DC Beer Week 2011: It's Going To Be A Busy Week

DCBeerWeek Break out your calendars folks, the dates of DC Beer Week have been announced. And if Teddy Folkman is to be believed, it's going to be a busy week ... a very busy week.

Folkman, executive chef at Dr. Granville Moore's, leads the coordination of the seven-day beer celebration he helped put together two years ago. Every year since it's inception, the event has grown bigger with more bars, breweries and restaurants taking part. This year looks to be no different.

In the sweaty days of Aug. 14 to 20, Folkman is expecting more than 200 events spread across the District (I don't think he expects you to attend all of them). In addition to beer dinners and bar events, this year's DC Beer Week will focus on retail shops, include a homebrewing competition and may feature special one-off beers made for the event by participating breweries. 

Folkman is also reaching out to the area's upstart breweries, such as Black Squirrel Brewing Company, DC Brau Brewing Company, Chocolate City Beer and 3 Stars Brewing Company. Breweries to our north and south - including Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Port City and Starr Hill - will also be welcome, but will have to do events in conjunction with District bars and restaurants, Folkman said. Other outsiders will include Great Lakes and Goose Island (which happens to have a hometown connection with the family at 1600 Penn. Ave.)

Although the dates have been announced, there is still a lot of planning going on. Folkman has designated a number of the city's craft beer bigwigs as "captains" to handle recruiting and coordinating in their neighborhoods. So you can expect ChurchKey to hold a number of events for DC Beer Week because Beverage Director Greg Engert volunteered to be a captain. Engert will also be responsible for coordinating events with the bars and restaurants near ChurchKey, as well as the two Rustico restaurants in Virginia. Other captains include Greg Jasgur, bar manager for Pizzeria Paradiso, and Dave Coleman, general manager and beer director for The Big Hunt.

At Granville Moore's, Folkman expects to hold at least one event every day of DC Beer Week. Many of those events will include beer from Allagash. The brewery may be based in Portland, Maine, but Folkman noted that D.C. is its biggest market.

More details about DC Beer Week 2011 should be out in mid to late June. 

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow: Decadence On The Cheap

Whole Foods isn't a place where I expect to find anything cheap. It's understood that you go to the high-end grocery store to find organic artichokes and expensive cheese (honestly, I'm usually there for the solid beer selection).

57100023 So I was surprised the other day when I came across a $9 package of beef marrow bones in the freezer section. Sure, you can find marrow bones cheaper, but paying $9 for a dish that will take you 20 minutes to make and bring you the kind of joy that only fatty marrow can really ain't too bad.

Traditionally, bone marrow is used to thicken stews and stocks, but in the past few years restaurants from St. John in London to Blue Duck Tavern in the West End have roasted bones and served the marrow as an appetizer. It makes sense. Slathering marrow across warm toast is about as decadent as it gets. And for the restaurant, it's a cheap and easy ingredient.

I really can't stress too much how easy bone marrow is to roast. Stick a few bones in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. That's it. If you want toast, make toast. If you want to suck the marrow out with a straw, have at.

57100012 To pair with the marrow, I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's new imperial India pale ale, Hoptimum. At 10.4 percent A.B.V. and 100 I.B.U.s, it's a very big, very hoppy beer. It's absolutely fantastic and, frankly, difficult to pair with food. Although the folks at Sierra Nevada did a nice job balancing the bitterness with a malty backbone, it's tough to find a food that won't be overwhelmed by the flavors of an IPA.

Rich, fatty bone marrow works, though.

The bitterness of the beer cuts right through the richness of the marrow, yet marrow has more than enough flavor to stand up to an IPA, even one as big as Hoptimum. It's a hell of a pairing, whether you dine in or dine out.

(A quick word about Sierra Nevada. Hoptimum is the latest in a long line of great beers that Sierra Nevada has made. The brewery's pale ale is one of the best examples of an American pale ale you'll find. And then there's the Torpedo Extra IPA, Porter, Tumbler brown ale, and Kellerweis, all of which are outstanding examples of their styles. Even their organic, feel good Estate Ale is one of the best IPAs I've had lately. When a brewery is big enough to show up in corner stores and super markets it's easy to forget how good their beer is, but Sierra Nevada is one of the best craft breweries in the country. It just happens to be one of the biggest, too.) 

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow
(Makes 3 servings)

57100020 1 package of marrow bones (figure two to three bones per serving)
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 head of garlic, roasted (optional)
Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 sheet of aluminum foil (for optional garlic)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the marrow bones on a baking sheet, making sure they're standing up, not laying on their sides. Carefully place the tray in the oven and roast the bones for 20 minutes. Remove the bones from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes. Before you serve, drizzle them with a little olive oil and season with salt to taste.

(If you want to include roasted garlic -- and you do -- cook the garlic ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off the head of garlic and place in the middle of the sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Close the foil around the garlic, creating a tight pouch, and place the garlic in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove, open the pouch and allow to cool for a couple minutes. When the head of garlic is cool enough to touch, squeeze out the warm, soft garlic and spread on the toast with the marrow.)

Sour Beer 2: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And, Um, Appreciate Sour Beer

Combine water, malted grain, hops and yeast, and you have beer. Add bacteria and you have sour beer.

Mike Roy, the brewer at the Hyattsville brewpub Franklin's, doesn't like the term sour. It's too limited. He prefers to call them wild beers.

The sour in sour beers is acid imparted by bacteria, typically lactobacillus or pediococcus. To varying degrees, bacteria make beer tart, but lactobacillus doesn't taste like anything. That's why brewers add fruit to sour beers, age the beer in wine barrels or infect it brettanomyces (brett), a family of yeast that can impart earthy flavors ranging from smoke and leather to wet dog. Brett will also eat the sugars regular brewing yeast won't, resulting in a drier beer.

Because beers made with brett are not necessary sour, but are lumped in with them, Mike says the term wild beer is a better umbrella term that encompasses both sour and brett beers.

Depending on how much bacteria and brett a brewer adds, you can have a very dry, exceedingly tart beer (Hannsen's Oudbeitje), or a sweet, dry beer with just a hint of tartness. Then again, bacteria and yeast are living organisms, so you're never completely sure what they'll do to the beer. And even when brewers successfully control the yeast and bacteria, the range of flavors the microorganisms can produce is astonishing.

Wild, huh?

Mike is a fan of Oudbeitje, but lucky for the rest of us he's working on sweeter, more approachable beers at Franklin's. And if you're at all interested in exploring sour beers (er, wild beers), the Franklin's Funk Project will be a good place to start.

"It's not that you don't like sour beers, you just haven't found the one you like."

Sour (or wild) beer is a difficult style for the uninitiated. If your first sour beer is Duchesse De Bourgogne -- a big, sweet and sour Flanders red ale -- you're probably not going to be a fan of the style. Trust me. However, replace the Duchesse with a Monks Café or Helios from Victory and you'll wonder what all my fuss is about.

It's odd that a style of beer can have so much variation, but that's exactly why sour beers are as interesting as they are vexing.

Until recently, I was convinced that sour beer enthusiasts (sour geeks?) relish their little niche of the beer world. Unlike the rest of us slobs, they have sophisticated palates that can cut through the vinegar and barnyard flavors to discern qualities in a beer style most people would find repulsive.

It turns out I'm wrong, again. The people who like sour beers are an evangelical bunch. They're happy to talk about their kooky beers with anyone willing to engage in a conversation about infections, horse blankets and the romantic qualities of Belgian farmers (this may explain the limited popularity of sour beers).

28990016 I met up with Mike and fellow sour beer enthusiasts Nathan Zeender and Mike Tonsmeire for another beer tasting. Unlike the tasting I did at Granville Moore's, the goal of this session was to try a range of beers that were more approachable to the uninitiated. The beers included Helios, Petoskey Pale Ale from Leelanau, Fantome Hiver, a few sour beers Mike is working on at the brewpub, and a few homebrews.

Some were good, some were great, and a couple just didn't work for me (the Petoskey Pale Ale was too tart and dry, and a homebrewed Flemish red ale that Mike Roy brought tasted too much like a Flemish red ale). But given the chance, I'd try every beer again.

I brought the Fantome on Nathan's recommendation. Nathan is the rare individual who liked sour beers from the start. Nathan also has a barrel of sour beer in his basement. He's committed to the style, clearly.

The beer was Fantome's winter offering ("hiver" is French for winter), which is fine except for the fact that it was a saison, rather than a traditional sour ale, like a gueuze. Saisons tend to be sweet, refreshing beers, often served in warmer months. According to Nathan, style and tradition don't mean much to Fantome brewer Dany Prignon, who is more artist than beer maker. Prignon doesn't follow recipes much and brews what he likes. So, the Hiver might be a saison or it might be a lambic, but it almost always has a sour quality. You simply won't know what's in the bottle until you open it.

The bottle of Hiver we tried poured a hazy straw color, was mildly sour with a rich body and a bit tart. All in all, it was decent.

28990014 The Helios was a different story. This wasn't my first experience with the beer and it won't be my last. Although a little tart, the beer was slightly sweet, dry and very crisp. Easily, one of my favorites of the night. Helios is also a saison that gets its dry, tart qualities from the brett Victory's brewers add to the beer (ok, my theory about saisons not being sour beers is shakey).

Then there were Mike's beers (that's Mike on the right). He makes his funk beers by adding a small amount of lactobacillus and brett to samples of the brewpub's regular lineup. The result was drier, slightly tart versions of the original. They were delicious.

However, don't rush over to Franklin's for these beers just yet. The first Funk beers are still a couple months from being ready. In February, the first two beers, Gotta Have That Funk (a dark, copper brown ale) and Higher Ground (a tart tripel-style ale), will be available in limited quantities on draft and in bottles at the brewpub. Sometime in the spring or summer, Mike will release Miss Lucifer's Love, a funked fruit beer made with currants.

Because the Funk beers include brett, Mike keeps them in a corner of Franklin's basement. Tucked behind stainless steel tanks and sacks of malted grain are a trio of plastic containers and four small kegs. This is the home of Funk.

28990006 Judging from the sample he brought to the tasting, the Higher Ground is the farthest along. It has all the traditional fruity sweet qualities of a Belgian tripel, but it's just a bit drier, and the tart, sour flavors are subdued. By February, I expect it to taste more like Helios, with a more pronounced tart flavor and crisp finish.

In the mean time, here are a few other sour beers to try, as recommended by Nathan, Mike Tonsmeire and Belgian beer expert Bill Catron: Helios, Lindemans' fruit beers (kriek and framboise in particular), any of Jolly Pumpkin's Bam beers (Bam Bière, E.S. Bam, Weizen Bam Bière, and Bam Noire), Fantome, Orval, Founders' Cercie and Dogfish Head's Festina Peche

If I've learned anything in my sour beer trials, it's that there is no sour beer, but there are many, many sour beers. It may be the most varied of all beer styles, which makes it among the most interesting. When you order a pilsner, even if you've never had that particular pilsner before, you know what to expect. All pilsners tastes more or less the same. That consistency doesn't exist with sour beers. It's a wild beer style that demands exploration and I'm beginning to understand why sour beer enthusiasts enjoy them as much as they do.

In fact, I am too.

I wanted to do a follow up photo with the Duchesse for this post. So I popped the cork, poured a glass and took the pictures. Afterward, I decided to give the old gal one more try. Now that I've tried all these sour beers, I was curious to see if the beer was as repellent as before. At least I knew what I was getting into this time.

28980009 You know, it wasn't that bad.

The first taste was still a slap in the mouth, but once I got used to the vinegar I began to taste caramel and dark cherries hidden underneath. It was malty and sweet like I'd expected the first time I bought it, yet it was more effervescent than a traditional ale. Over the course of the next three hours, I watched the Bucs lose to the Falcons and polished off the 750 ml bottle of Duchesse De Bourgogne.

I didn't love the beer, but I certainly didn't hate it. And considering where I started with the Duchesse, that's quite something.

I know it's a cliche way of wrapping up this series, but I do think I'm acquiring a taste for sour beer. Developing a taste for lonely Belgian farmers will take more time.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Beer

XMASGREATLAKES2 Waiting in line for my Gingerbread Latte the other day, I heard the delightful strains of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" wafting through the air. I absolutely loath this song, and started muttering to myself, in true crackpot fashion, "God isn't it too early for this crap?"

It dawned on me pretty quickly, that no, it ain't. Merry frickin' Christmas, everyone! "The Holidays" is here! Amongst all the stress of shopping, abhorrent music, family-driven guilt, and special, Holiday-themed television shows ("Join us as The Situation and JWoww learn the true meaning of Hanukkah..."), there do shine some bright lights on these cold winters' nights-- Christmas Beers! Following close on the heels of Oktoberfestbiers, the Christmas subset of Winter Seasonals run in a wide range of styles, from Sierra Nevada's Celebration IPA to Delirium Noel. Amongst these well worn winter travellers, there are a few new additions to the DC areas yuletide selection: Here are a few that I have come across in the past couple weeks.

XMASSCHLAFLEYS1 Schlafly Christmas Ale
St Louis, Missouri
Style: Spice Ale
8.00% ABV

Appearance: Transparent, reddish-brown with a light, short-lived head. Lots of bubbles!

Aroma: Dry, grainy and mild, with bright spice notes of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and citrus.

Taste: Vibrant, with tingly effervescence on front (you can still hear the bubbles minutes after pouring). The attack is dry and sharp, with malty undertones and flavors of bright orange peel and a hint of hops. More cinnamon and clove come forward on the round, creamy mid-palate, leading to a dry finish with a wallop of spice, with an almost chalky texture persisting after swallowing.

This beer is a good deal drier than most holiday beers, and has a gorgeous sparkle. If you are a fan of a lighter Pilsener style, but want something with a bit more festive umph, this is a great selection, which is still pretty widely available in the $10 to $13 per six-pack price range.

XMASGREATLAKES1 Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Cleveland, Ohio
Style: Winter Warmer
7.50% ABV

Appearance: Clear russet-gold with light, short-lived head.

Aroma: Sweet and spicy, with notes of Cinnamon-sugar, grains, caramel and red fruit preserves.

Taste: Tangy, sweet and slightly sour on the front, complimented with hearty mulling-spice flavors. Medium bodied and very slightly creamy, with malt and toffee notes in the middle, leading to a very slightly sweet, nutmeg and cinnamon accented finish.

This beer has a lot going on, and is definitely one to sip and mull over (har). Sour, malt, and spice characteristics mingle beautifully, and it is far less sweet and syrupy than the ABV would imply. Unfortunately, this low-production ale is in hot demand. The distributor's first drop came and went very quickly; a second drop was made this week to select retailers, and most of them are keeping it under their respective hats. If you don't mind paying $15 + for a six-pack, ask your favorite retailer what he has kicking around the back room. Otherwise, keep an eye out for this on draught in the coming weeks; I'm sure if the better beer bars in town have any, they will release it soon.

XMASFIRESIDE121st Amendment Fireside Chat
San Fransisco, California
Style: Winter Warmer
7.90% ABV

Appearance: Dark brown, opaque, with red highlights, and a full, foamy, off-white head.

Aroma: Dark and roasty aromas of dried oats, with sour fruit, mulling spices, and just a hint of sweet maple.

Taste: The attack is wine-like and sour, featuring flavours of fermenting fruits and sour citrus, along with a hint of grain and a bit of spice. Maintains a dry character in the middle, though sweeter fruit flavors come through, leading to still more fermented-fruit flavors, accented with clove.

XMASFIRESIDE2 Though not labeled a Christmas Beer, the Fireside Chat's packaging does feature a kick-ass picture of FDR chillin after what must have been one of his more upbeat radio addresses, and that's good enough for me. If you like a heavy, mildly-sour, slightly-spicy beer that lacks the intense sweetness of most heavy winter brews, give this one a go. It comes in a convenient, fridge-friendly can, and is easy to find for about $11 a six-pack.

If you need a a little Christmas, right this very minute, or just a momentary booze-induced escape from the holiday nightmare, I hope I have provided a little bit of inspiration. Whether you revel in or revile this time of year, act fast, as the season -- and these beers -- will be gone before you know it.