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Whether tiny or encyclopedic, bottle lists can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are some recommendations to jog your memory, or at least whet your appetite.
You might be inquisitive about Estadio’s Spanish selection, but Surly Brewing Company’s Coffee Bender ($13, 16 oz.) is the menu’s must-have, a coffee beer with a deserved cult following that will beat your bloody mary for a brunch order. If you must go Iberian, try the Ted Leo-approved Moritz ($7, 12 oz.). Yellow import lagers are usually imbued with study-abroad nostalgia, but this pilsner has enough malt to stand up to the jet lag. 1520 14th St. NW, (202) 319-1404
Proof has plenty of single-serving options from Victory, Southern Tier, and Oskar Blues, but its 750 mL bottles make its menu stand out. Jolly Pumpkin ages all their beers in the same barrels, giving them a signature funky character that’s notoriously food-friendly. My favorite is Noel de Calabaza ($30), a tart but chocolaty Belgian-style Christmas ale. 775 G St. NW, (202) 737-7663
My only rule at Brasserie Beck: Don’t order anything you’ve seen at the grocery. Drinking Chimay here is like having chicken at a steakhouse. You might roll your eyes, but with a staggering bouquet of anisette, candied orange, and allspice, Terre Ferme by À l’Abri de la Tempête ($16, 12 oz.) is worth its equally staggering price. Meanwhile, the peppery Victory Helios ($10, 22 oz.) is one of the best deals in downtown D.C. 1101 K St. NW, (202) 403-1717
Policy’s good beer list is a recent surprise to me, in part because I tend to avoid bars that look like the set of Tron conceptualized by Ed Hardy. But if you’re in the mood for bottle service, you can forgo the $300 liquor menu and enjoy a deliciously resinous Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA ($27, 22 oz.) or the classic sour Rodenbach Grand Cru ($20, 750 mL). With those bottles on ice, at least I’d think you were cool. 1904 14th St. NW, (202) 387-7654
The Big Hunt has two types of bottles: big, good ones, and “domestic shite,” says manager Dave Coleman. The short list changes every week, but there will almost always be an adventurous saison from Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and it will almost always be very good. 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 785-2333
Meridian Pint also keeps a compact list of top-notch big bottles. I’m in love with Saison Rue ($21, 750 mL), The Bruery’s uber-dry signature farmhouse ale spiked with rye malt and wild yeast. And those Jolly Pumpkin beers I was raving about? Find them here, too, for a few bucks cheaper than downtown. 3400 11th St. NW, (202) 588-1075
Bier Baron’s menu is more about breadth than depth, so it’s more geared toward curious new drinkers than beer nerds in search of a rarity. As such, go with one of the many American classics at your disposal, such as the licorice-tinged Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, the grassy Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, or the perfect middle ground, Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale (each is $4.95, 12 oz.). 1523 22nd St. NW, (202) 293-1885
At Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont Circle, I’m guilty of looking at the draft list first, probably because they do such a good job with it. But the bottle menu is loaded with finds, such as Jendrain IV Saison ($20, 750 mL), an extravagantly hopped saison from Brussels’ newest rock-star brewery. If you’re after a beer with darker complexion, Finland’s Sinebrychoff Porter ($9, 11.2 oz.) is one of the world’s best, with searing notes of smoke and espresso. 2003 P St. NW, (202) 223-1245
Given that ChurchKey’s menu includes some 500 bottles, I lean toward beers that I know will improve over time. That way, if they’ve been on the shelf a few months, all the better. With monstrous mocha notes, the 13 percent imperial stout De Struise Black Albert ($20, 11.2 oz.) is a surefire bet to split with friends. If you’re feeling contemplative, have an Anchor Old Foghorn ($8, 12 oz.), an English-style barleywine rich with plums and pipe tobacco, and let the noise around you fade away. 1337 14th St. NW, (202) 567-2576