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Washingtonians, particularly those recent arrivals from seemingly cooler places, love to tell themselves how far behind the curve things are here in the District. Neapolitan pizza is so 2002! Oh, we had micro-coffee-roasting shops six years ago in Seattle! New York is already in a post-mixologist period! You know, endless shit like that. Let me tell you one way we’re ahead of almost everyone else: Birch & Barley/ChurchKey. When the Neighborhood Restaurant Group opened this twin-concept operation last year, it instantly became the envy of beer drinkers from coast to coast. The upstairs ChurchKey bar has become something of a laboratory for beer director Greg Engert, as he endlessly thinks and rethinks the 50 separate taps and five casks, looking for the headiest mix of recognizable microbrews, classic Belgians, and funky, naturally fermented quaffs for those willing to stretch their palates. If you happen to fall into the last camp, look out: Engert will test your limits with the enthusiasm of a drill sergeant. Engert also works with chef Kyle Bailey to match beers with Birch & Barley’s concise menu of apps, flatbreads, pastas, and entrees. I’d say that collaboration is still a work in progress, but why shouldn’t it be? It’s not like there’s a weighty history of beer/food pairings to draw from.

1337 14th St. NW (202) 567-2576

Photo by Darrow Montgomery