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Birch & Barley, the oft-promised beer bar and restaurant, will open tonight at 5 p.m. And while we’ve drooled over it for months, we’ve heard little about it other than the numbers they promised: 555 bottles, 50 taps, and 5 casks. I admit I was skeptical, worried that the list would be vaporware like the 1,000+ beer menu at The Brickskeller — but a swing by the bar yesterday put me at ease.
Beer director Greg Engert assured me that come tonight there will indeed be beer flowing from all 50 taps and all 5 casks, and from the looks of it, a bottle menu that will have the nerdiest beer nerds returning for “special occasion” beers. But for me, the casks were the real question mark. Cask beer is fresh, unpasteurized beer hand-pumped from the barrel rather than pulled out by carbon dioxide like regular keg beer, giving it a velvety feel. But it’s also more perishable, which is why nowhere in D.C. keeps more than one or two on tap. They’re hard to track down, and hard to sell.
Engert showed me a dozen casks in storage, ranging from regional session beers like Troegs Hopback Amber to rarer breeds like Allagash Hugh Malone and Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40, an English old ale aged in 40-year whisky casks. Tonight, taste the Ola Dubh side-by-side with BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran, a whisky-barrel-aged Scottish imperial stout. Also on cask will be Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale and two others TBD.
Of the 50 taps, about half will rotate every week or so, while the other half will be good standbys. The dependable session beers include: Victory Prima Pils, Allagash White, Brooklyn Lager, Stone Pale Ale, Smuttynose IPA, Green Flash Hop Head Red, and Climax Nut Brown Ale. $5 for about a 12 oz. glass.
But tonight, I’ll be there for the cask ale, the spectacle, and hopefully some surprises on tap. For pictures, check out ReadysetDC, whose photography is much better than my own.
(Bonus question: Anyone notice that Birch & Barley’s address is 1337 14th St. NW? The number 1337 holds a special place in the heart of many a computer geek.)