When the Brickskeller closed this month, it left most of its beer stash and walls of memorabilia to the new owners. But what will happen to the Brick’s beer brain trust? For the last four years, bar manager Rachel Murray brought some of the world’s best beers to the subterranean saloon, and now she’ll take her talents to Bourbon‘s Glover Park location. Murray sat down with Y&H to discuss the Brick’s last days, her plans for Bourbon, and “junior-high level” beer drinkers.
Young & Hungry: How have these past few weeks been, closing down Brickskeller?
Rachel Murray: I guess it seemed kind of unreal most of the time. I think many people didn’t believe it was going to happen until they saw it with their own eyes. But for the most part, it was partly sad, understandable, and exciting at the same time.
Y&H: What did you do on the last day?
RM: I was bartending at the upstairs bar. My bar was mainly filled with people I knew who I either used to work with or who used to come in. Most of the night I was just ready for it to be over. I was exhausted from the whole week. Luckily it wasn’t insanely busy the last night, but the entire week leading up to it was.
Y&H: Were you seeing familiar faces all week? It was packed the night I stopped by, but I felt like a lot of people were coming for the first time.
RM: It was a mix. From working there for over five years, most people knew to come find me at the bar so I personally saw many familiar faces. But many people I think came because of the hype.
Y&H: What are you up now that Brickskeller’s closed?
RM: First of all. I’m taking some days off to relax after the craziness all month. But I’ll also be working at Bourbon in Glover Park. I’m going to help pump some life into their beer promotions and use it as a base for my beer education program. But I’ll also be creating more options for beer school. I have plenty of ideas for programs I can offer to other bars/restaurants or to anyone who is interested in having someone help them plan a beer event. It’s all going to be part of my D.C. Beer Goddess work.
Y&H: Right, you did a handful of beer classes out of the Brickskeller.
RM: I had three different intro classes I ran out of the Brick. I’m planning some smaller sessions based more on styles. And I’m also working on a class for bar staff serving beer.
Y&H: How long have you been at Bourbon?
RM: I’ve been working brunch there since August.
Y&H: What is their beer program like right now?
RM: I’ve always been impressed by it. Since Bourbon opened its door, they’ve focused on carrying good American craft beer. The market in Glover Park is only recently getting interested like the rest of D.C., so we can start putting more interesting stuff on draft hopefully. The Bourbon in Adams Morgan receives more demand for the beer, but Glover Park is catching up.
RM: I think as more bars in the area start devoting a part of their menu to craft beer, people are exposed to it more. Bourbon has always had good beer in the bottle, but it was BreadSoda that put in many great domestic and imported craft brews which I think piqued some more interest in the neighborhood. Glover Park is an interesting neighborhood. I think the national interest in craft beer we are more exposed to today, whether it’s actually good or not, gets more of the average customer looking for something different, even if they think Blue Moon or Magic Hat No. 9 is exotic at the time. At least it’s a stepping stone.
Y&H: Sure, kind of a “rising tide” idea. How do you approach diners at Bourbon? What have you had success with, in terms of getting people into beer?
RM: I’ve only been serving brunch but it’s actually a good time of the day to sell beer because it’s more of a brunch drink. But if someone is interested in beer, they usually go for draft, I talk about the different flavors we have on draft and try to get someone out of their comfort zone. Even if I’m just selling a Schlafly Kolsch instead of a Miller Lite.
Y&H: And now that you’ll be spending more time there, will we start seeing some of the more adventurous beers you were serving at Brickskeller?
RM: I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to get to that point. I feel like I’m dealing with a junior-high level of clientele, beerwise, that hopefully I can push into a high school level of beer drinking. But it’s gonna be a while before I can get to the Ph.D. level the Brick helped me provide. However, people and places can surprise you. Maybe because I’m there now, we’ll get a case of the crazy beer in town.
Y&H: That raises an interesting question to me: What’s preferable, dealing great beer but sort of preaching to the choir, or introducing new people to beer but working with less exciting product?
RM: There are pros and cons to both of course. But seeing someone realize what they have in front of them when you give them a lineup of great beers, it’s a satisfying feeling to know that you just converted someone.
Y&H: OK, quick last question: It’s cold as hell outside. What are you drinking these days?
RM: I switch between a nice nutty Bell’s Best Brown or a rich, chocolaty Founder’s Porter.
Y&H: Awesome, I love seeing respect for the session beers.
RM: Of course.
Y&H: Cool. Well Rachel, thanks for taking some time to talk, and good luck at your newly expanded job.
RM: Thanks for everything.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery