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The chance to purchase tickets for Brew at the Zoo, the annual outdoor beer festival put on by Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), has come and gone. Helpful news, we know, but the fact that the July 15 event is sold out means many of you are going. The Lagerheads have decided to provide some tips for those of you lucky enough to have tickets.

  • Take advantage of fresh local beer – Localphiles should applaud the impressive number of area breweries participating this year. The event will include beer from Capitol City Brewing Company, District Chophouse and Brewery, Gordon Biersch, and Alexandria’s Hops Grill and Brewery as well as near-local beer from southern Maryland’s Hook and LadderFlying Dog, Heavy Seas, and Oliver Breweries. Even better news for the locally-minded is that over half of the listed breweries are from the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast regions.
  • Seek out the rare stuff – We have to admit that this year’s brewery list looks a bit lackluster compared to other years, but it’s nearly impossible to recommend where to spend your time standing in line without a list of the actual beers being poured. Larger craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Company/Samuel Adams would get points for bringing some of their special release beers over the regular old stuff you can buy in the grocery store (although that situation is improving). When possible, try the seasonals like Magic Hat’s current Odd Notion, a delightful blonde ale brewed with ginger (as opposed to their flagship #9 that you can get almost anywhere, anytime).
  • Go with what’s tried and true – To ensure some high-quality American craft beer we recommend checking out award-winning breweries like Dogfish Head, Victory, Flying DogHeavy Seas, and Ommegang. We are personally big fans of the authentic English-style ales from Oliver Breweries, which will be at the event for the first time. For imports, make sure you stop by the Palm and Unibroue booths for their delicious Belgian and Belgian-style ales, respectively.
  • Treat the fizzy yellow stuff as water – If it’s super hot like it was last year, you’ll likely need a break from some of the more intense beers. When you do, look for those pale ales and light lagers but be sure to find out what they are made of (rice? corn?). Speaking of lightly flavored beer made with inferior ingredients, it will be interesting to see what AB-Inbev will be pouring from their massive line of beers. Will the beer conglomerate stick with good ole’ Bud, try to pass off some of their craft imposters from the Michelob family, or do knowledgeable drinkers right (or the best they can) by offering Hoegaarden or Leffe? Another listing that made us lift an eyebrow is Chang, a Thai beer made by Cosmos Brewery in Bangkok. The beer has a C average on Beer Advocate and is classified as an “American Adjunct Lager,” a euphemism for fizzy yellow…water.
  • Get some unexpected NYC history – We were surprised to see McSorley’s, the house beer of the legendary New York City bar with the same name, on this year’s list. Brewing of McSorley’s Ale has changed hands over the 150 years it has been served, from pre-and post-Prohibition era Fidelio Brewery in New York City to Rheingold in Brooklyn, Schmidt’s in Philadelphia, and most recently Stroh’s and then Pabst in Milwaukee. There’s no telling how close the current version is to the original recipe, but people don’t go to McSorley’s for the beer. Joe Mitchell fans like us go for the history and shtick. Do some reading before heading to the event to appreciate this historic beer.

The truth is you should go around and see what you like. If it ends up being Bud Light Lime, who are we to judge? Just remember that Brew at the Zoo is not all about the beer. According to Bob Lamb, Executive Director of Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), zoo events are as much about raising awareness and appreciation of the zoo as they are about raising money for zoo programs. The Lagerheads chatted with Lamb at last year’s event where he said that FONZ plans their events to help bring DC residents out to enjoy the zoo in different seasons and to appeal to young adults and young professionals, as well as long-time supporters of the National Zoo.

Bummed that tickets are sold out and desperate to go? You can enter to win tickets here.

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