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Right Proper Ornette

Where in Town: Right Proper Brewing Company, 624 T St. NW

Price: $4/12 oz

God Is Good

Brewers love to highlight special grains and exotic hops. (Seen the latest oatmeal rye brown ale with galaxy hops?) But the flavor profiles of most beers are defined by a far less glamorous ingredient: the yeast. Some brewers might fear that calling attention to yeast can evoke less-than-appetizing thoughts. Not D.C.’s Right Proper Brewing Company, which prides itself on featuring beer’s least-touted ingredient, believed to be a magical gift from God before modern science proved otherwise. The “yeast-forward” quaffs flowing from the recently opened Shaw brewpub’s taps—at an impressive rate of one or two new releases a week—are the thoughtful creations of head brewer Nathan Zeender. Often inspired by historic beers but rarely adhering to conventional styles, his brews are distinct originals.

Beauty Is a Rare Thing

A prime example is Ornette. The name pays tribute to free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and plays on the word grisette, a lesser-known Belgian wheat style on which the beer is based. Fermented in an open tank, as it would have been a century ago in Wallonia, Belgium (where the Grisette style originates), Ornette features a blend of some of Zeender’s favorite yeast strains from European farmhouse breweries. At merely 3.7 percent alcohol, the rustic beer is subtle but complex, with an earthy nose and a dry, peppery finish. It is medium-bodied and malty with fruit and spice flavors. A version aged in an apple brandy barrel Zeender lent to New Columbia Distillers to age its gin-aquavit hybrid will be on draft at Right Proper soon, the first of the brewer’s anticipated “baroque” line of barrel-aged brews.

Photo by Tammy Tuck