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The Audacity of Hops

Where Spotted: A basement in Mount Pleasant

Price: Not for sale, but if you’re in the neighborhood you can contact the brewer at sam@humblegourmand.com.

Hop Springs Eternal: Inauguration Day fever has sparked product tie-ins from the requisite apparel to an Obama cameo in a Spider-Man comic. To join the celebration, D.C. resident Sam Chapple-Sokol turned to his favorite set of tools: water, barley, yeast, and hops.

The result was the Audacity of Hops, a homebrew crafted by Chapple-Sokol for an election-night party. The first batch was tiny—51 numbered bottles, named for each state in chronological order by statehood, and the District. Chapple-Sokol unveiled the beer in his column for online food mag the Humble Gourmand, and it soon earned him a smattering of recognition from local and national food media, as well as from renowned face-kicker Chuck Norris, who called it Obama’s “beer of choice” in an online column.

“Four more beers!” suggested one food blogger, and Chapple-Sokol listened. For his InaugurAle Edition, he made four batches, or about 200 bottles, and to reflect the new year he amped up the alcohol content from 8 percent to “’09” percent. He chose hop varieties called Progress and Liberty. And the beer is brewed with a coffee blend home-roasted by Chapple-Sokol’s father in Vermont (the family also makes its own maple syrup), with an Obama-lineage blend of Kenyan, Indonesian, and Hawaiian beans. It’s all very cute—but what’s it taste like?

The Taste of Victory: Audacity is a damn good beer. It pours a cloudy oak-brown, and the sweet aroma is laced with java and optimism. As a high-gravity ale, you could label it an imperial brown, but this beer is as category-defying as its namesake. It’s sweet and malty, and it finishes with a pleasantly bitter toffee note.

Joe the Brewer: It’s 1 p.m. when Chapple-Sokol greets me for a brewery tour, only a little less hungover than I am. He’s 23 and dressed like a true Vermont native: barefoot in brown corduroys and a dark-green brewery T-shirt. Chapple-Sokol in his group house, on one of those Mount Pleasant streets that has more stairs than leaves on the ground. He brews in a basement kitchen, surrounded by a comfy couch and chairs and beer—andVermont-centric wall art, as well as a constellation of bottle caps from Magic Hat, a Vermont brewery. The kitchen houses the brewing equipment, and unfilled beer bottles clutter the counter like the aftermath of a very clean party.

Over an InaugurAle and a sampling of his previous work (including a grapefruit-tinged IPA he brewed for his last birthday), we discuss D.C.’s minute but concentrated homebrewing community (he knows four others in his neighborhood alone), and the irony of that most blue-collar of drinks being taken to nerdy extremes. Open a homebrew catalogue, and the talk of “alpha acids” and“International Bitterness Units” sounds more D&D than PBR.

Chapple-Sokol has a full-time job at the Department of Justice, where he’s a paralegal in the antitrust division, but it doesn’t take much to get him talking about brewery business models, distribution law, and the market conditions that would allow him to go pro.

“I guess I have a hard time considering this work,” he says of his homebrewing. But quit his day job? “My friends hope so.…I’ve thought so.” It would be quite a change, but then again, change is making a comeback.

Seen an interesting quaff lately? E-mail beerspotter@washingtoncitypaper.com