City Paper is not for tourists
After almost nine years, Bill DeBaun is putting the proverbial pen down as the co-editor of popular local beer blog, DC Beer. The outlet connects beer fanatics with the best beer events in town in addition to writing on industry trends and profiling the people who make the District’s beer scene special.
While you can read DeBaun’s farewell letter here, City Paper wanted to know more. Specifically, as DeBaun reflects back on almost a decade of being fully engrossed in local suds, what are five things he’d like to see change that would make D.C. an even more exciting place to order a pint.
1. Increased Diversity and Inclusion in Craft Beer
“There really does need to be a focus on diversity and inclusion in the beer scene,” DeBaun says. “It’s gotten a little bit better.” He’s not just referring to brewers. “When we go out to beer bars and beer events, I would like to see a more diverse crowd. I would love to see more women at beer events, more people of color. I’d love to see beer events in other parts of the city.” He says he has never attended (or heard of) a large-scale beer event in ward 7 or 8.
DeBaun credits both the website Beer Kulture and the work of Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, who was named the Brewers Association’s first-ever diversity ambassador in 2018, for making strides. In January, the association put out a best practices guide for diversity and inclusion.
Diversity is critical for the craft beer world, and not just because “it’s the right thing to do,” according to DeBaun. “Craft beer needs to grow the pie that is its audience to be successful. You can’t keep going back to the same demographic well.”
2. More Robust Beer Education
“This is something we’ve beat the drum on for a long time especially through DC Beer Week,” DeBaun says. The festival celebrating local beer typically has a slate of educational events, yet DeBaun feels it’s not enough to sustain the District’s thirst for beer knowledge year-round. “The craft beer scene evolved so quickly that there are information barriers to entry. It can be really daunting.” He knows what it’s like to look at a drink menu and feel his eyes glaze over reading terminology he doesn’t understand; that’s what he feels like when he’s reading a wine list. “It’s a little easier from a price standpoint to dip your toe in and explore beer,” he continues.
Well-versed bartenders at some of the city’s top beer bars certainly help. But DeBaun would like to see more educational opportunities when new styles of beer debut. “Things that are introductory explainers to people,” he says. “That used to happen a lot more. One of the reasons that it doesn’t happen now is tickets are really hard to sell for beer events. That’s why you stopped seeing beer dinners.” He thinks bars gave up when they were only selling a handful of tickets. “I don’t have an easy answer to this question, but to me there are so many cool educational angles out there.”
3. A Strategy for Top-Tier Beer Bars to Capture Attention in a Saturated Market
“The floor for beer quality has been raised so much across the city, which is awesome,” DeBaun says. Washingtonians can find cutting-edge, quality brews at neighborhood watering holes. “But it’s a double-edged sword because the decentralization has made it harder to be a top-tier beer bar.”
He cites a recent example. “The Sovereign just had its third anniversary this past weekend,” he says. The Belgian bar sourced rare finds for the occasion, and DeBaun believes they would have drawn lines in years past. “The list was very very impressive on Saturday, but then [Post reporter] Fritz [Hahn] tweeted on Sunday that all of the super exclusive beers were still on tap.”
“Talking to beer directors and staff, it really has put pressure on margins and volume,” DeBaun concludes.
4. More Consistent Collaborations
DeBaun feels brewers are quick to work together on policy issues through the D.C. Brewer’s Guild, but he’d like to see more collaborations consumers can actually taste in the form of jointly brewed beers and beers brewed for a particular bar or restaurant. “Each D.C. brewery has a distinct identity with its own niche and strengths and weaknesses,” he explains. If one brewery excels at IPAs and another lagers, they could jointly release something interesting together, for example.
D.C. is uniquely positioned to have an exciting beer scene. “One of the great things about beer distribution in D.C. is how many breweries we have distributing here,” DeBaun continues. “It would be even better if we saw some collaborations with some of the larger craft breweries who distribute here. Folks who are based here have an understanding of the lay of the land and the nationals have resources. The middle of that Venn diagram could make for some cool experiences for local beer fans.”
Don’t get comfortable. That’s the message DeBaun has for area breweries when it comes for their flagship beers that put them on the map. “There should be a real belief in continuous improvement and not getting complacent,” he urges. “They should always be trying to refine their product. It’s really competitive out here. Being local isn’t good enough, and hasn’t been for a long time.”
One time he ordered a can of DC Brau‘s Public and noticed it tasted like the recipe had gone through a refresh. He wrote about it last year and hopes others will take note when breweries make exciting tweaks in the future. “I think it takes some courage to tinker with what your flagships are, but competition being what it is, there isn’t room to not be creative.”
One for the road:
DeBaun wishes the Capital One Arena would up its beer game and pour more local brews. He credits Nationals Park with its success in this area. “I know it’s all tied with money and contracts and that kind of stuff,” he says. “That’s what the big obstacle is. At the end of the day, beer fans don’t care about that.”