Brewery Name: Ocelot Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: 23600 Overland Drive #180, Dulles, VA 20166. The building houses a variety of different businesses, but Ocelot is located right on the corner. You can’t miss them.
Facebook: Ocelot Brewing Company
Background: Ocelot was founded by people who just plain love beer: “From beer trades, to home brewing, to attending release parties and festivals one thing became clear…we rarely drink the same beer over and over again, and we love to share.” The brewery they created is a reflection on this. From hoppy IPAs to sour beers to big imperials, this is a group that loves to experiment and share their passion with the world.
Growlers: Yep. Growlers are available for purchase in the taproom.
The Beers: I admit, I knew very little about Ocelot going into our D.C. trip. It was too far out for me to easily visit when I lived in the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect from their beer offerings. When we walked in and saw almost 20 beers on their tap list, you could have knocked me over with a feather. It’s about double what I would have expected, and, naturally, we had to try all of them. Here were a few of the most interesting:
Vibe: Hands down, no doubt, without question my favorite venue we visited during our D.C. beercation. Ocelot has an incredible amount of space in their taproom. It has massive ceilings without feeling like a warehouse, an huge amount of floor space without feeling empty, and a gigantic wooden bar that feels as solid as a tree trunk. In the back of the taproom, you have a full view into the brewing area and the myriad tanks where they brew their many delicious beers. The huge chalkboard above the bar stretches almost to the ceiling and lets you know just which of those beers are currently available.
Speaking of the beer list, Ocelot takes the time to create incredible chalk artwork for each of their beers. Where some places are content to just scribble down the name of each beer and erase them when they’re finished, Ocelot spends a generous amount of time generating cool and unique artwork for each one. When even the tap list contributes to the awesome vibe of a venue, you know you’re someplace cool.
Turn your back on the tap list and bar and you’ll be greeted by Ocelot’s barrel wall, complete with Pink Floyd-esque artwork. It’s always cool to see breweries aging their beers right out in the open, and the number of barrels stacked against the wall is impressive. We tried a couple of casked beers while we were there, and I would definitely love the opportunity to come back and try a few more.
Past the barrel wall is a small outdoor area. Sadly, we were there in the middle of winter, so drinking beers outside wasn’t exactly an option. But I could definitely see it being a nice place to lounge about outside while you sip your drink. Fortunately, there are plenty of options indoors as well, as a handful of massive tables are set up around the taproom. There are also bar games, including darts, which we were only too happy to try our hand at (York managed to impale one dart on another, Robin Hood-style, which I have never seen happen in real life before. Chalk it up to drunk magic).
I’ve already touched on how impressed we were by Ocelot’s beers, but it’s worth noting that their presentation is outstanding as well. Flights come on solid wood boards that look almost fresh-cut, with the beers poured into neat little tasting-sized tulip glasses. Each beer is clearly labeled with a letter, and a dry-erase card is provided with the appropriate beer name next to each. Ocelot runs their taproom like a well oiled machine, and it’s very, very cool to see and enjoy.
Dogs: Yes! There were no dogs in the taproom while we were there, but Ocelot is known throughout the area for being pet friendly.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. I’m actually shocked at how affordable Ocelot is, given what a great space they have and how many amazing beers they have on tap at any given time. We tried every beer and came away with a handful of growlers, and I never felt like we were breaking the bank.
Food: No food, though I wouldn't be surprised to see a food truck or two parked outside every now and then.
Final Thoughts: I asked Pete and York if I could write this review because Ocelot was, hands down, my favorite stop on our trip. The space is amazing, the beers are delicious, and we enjoyed outstanding service the entire time we were there. Tasting every beer on the menu took a while, and we originally weren’t sure if we wanted to stick around and take the time to do it. Just two or three beers in, we knew we weren’t leaving. Ocelot is creative, well run, and just generally a blast to visit. Next time I’m in D.C., there is no question in my mind that I’ll be heading back to this brewery, and you should, too!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: It is with great sadness that we report that Sehkraft Brewing has closed. We visited the brewery during our Washington, DC beercation, and shortly after we each returned to our respective cities, Sehkraft announced that they would be closing their doors. Since we enjoyed our time at the brewery very much, I have chosen to post this review anyway as a fond retrospective on a great place to drink beer, despite the fact that the closing of the brewery has rendered it obsolete. -Shane]
Brewery Name: Sehkraft Brewing
Type of Brewery: Brewpub (also Beer Bar)
Location: Arlington, VA
Facebook: SehKraft Brewing
Background: This place is another well known beer bar that has made the leap from serving beer to brewing it. This location is part of the Westover Beer Garden, which provides North Arlington with a large variety of quality craft beers. It is part garden, part beer store. The store is really cool. Imagine a normal grocery store with about half the shelves crammed with as much craft beer as it can handle. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. They also have a great low key beer garden that is ideal for sitting outside on a summer evening. The Westover Garden opened up this new brewery right down the street from my school, but it took them a while to get the brewery up and going. The bar has a large collection of great craft beer with a strong focus on Virginia. Sehkraft did a few collaborations with local breweries so they could get some of their beer on tap. It’s really nice to try a few beers from Sehkraft and also get a sample of a really hard to find craft beer like Kentucky Christmas Morning from Hardywood.
Growlers: Yes, only their own beers.
The Beers: While there, we tried the handful of house beers that Sehkraft had on tap:
Vibe: This place is massive. You can sit right by the bar with all the brewing equipment, which is a nice intimate drinking environment. They also have bands playing pretty frequently--there is a huge stage in the middle of the dining area with a ton of seating. They also have an outdoor fire pit that was open into January, thanks to the great weather here in Virginia. It is really nice to have several options for going out if you want food or just drinks and entertainment. The brewery really put a lot of thought into spacing and the entire layout of the location.
Dogs: Outside, yes.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. Not super cheap, not super expensive. Pretty much par for the course in the area, really.
Food: The location has its own butcher shop, so you they have a great meat selection (including homemade sausages). They have a lot of good bar food and a decent barbeque. Hey, any place that has a smoker parked outside has to be good!
Final Thoughts: This is a really cool hybrid of the brewpub and beer bar concept. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are in the area and want to sample a bunch of cool Virginia beers.
Brewery Name: Denizens Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Brewpub
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Facebook: @citizensbrewingco [WHAAAAAA? Yeah, more on that below]
Background: What has to be discussed first about this brewery is the name. The name kinda doesn’t make sense. Sounds like a pirate brewery, no? But the logo has red white and blue? Huh, not a big deal, guess they are a little weird, right? Not so fast! Citizens Brewing Company would make a lot more sense given the color scheme. But during the opening of the brewery, DC Brau sent Denizens a cease and desist letter citing conflicts with their beer “The Citizen.” Now, I will not come down on either side of this issue because I can see the potential confusion with the brand while also understanding how someone could see this as an unfair action by an established brewery to influence an upstart company. It all depends. Thankfully this did not stop Denizens from opening their doors and starting to make a name for themselves in the region.
Growlers: Yes (also cans to go).
The Beers: We made sure to try every beer on the menu during our visit. These were a few of our favorites:
Vibe: This place is really cool. The brewery has a couple levels. The upstairs is a sleek restaurant bar with a ton of great outdoor seating. I could see this place being an amazing spot to sit and have a few beers in the middle of summer. We chose to go to the downstairs bar, which is right by the tanks and barrels in the brewery. It has a really cool basement feel, and I like it when you can see the brewing equipment. It seems like a place that you could have a nice dinner or just go out for drinks with friends.
Dogs: Not sure, but seems doubtful since they serve food. Probably fine outside, though.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$.
Food: The food is an interesting riff on the standard bar fare. They have wings and burgers and pretzels, but the chef clearly has put his own twist on everything. Really crazy sauces and burger toppings are there. And they also have some nice vegetarian options!
Final Thoughts: Overall, a really great, low-key spot in Silver Spring that I would absolutely make my local bar if I lived up there.
Brewery Name: DC Brau Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: 3178 Bladensburg Rd NE B, Washington, DC 20018. The brewery is located on the DC/Maryland border, just north of Fort Lincoln Park. Unfortunately, it isn’t super Metro accessible (but since the Metro is a perpetual disaster, you’re probably better off taking a quick Uber ride from Brookland anyway).
Facebook: DC Brau
Background: I have a confession to make: I used to hate IPAs. Back when I was in college, you couldn’t pay me to drink one. They were too bitter, too harsh, too overwhelming. Give me a good brown ale or lager any day. It wasn’t until years later that my tastes began to change and I started to realize that the pale ale was a style that it was possible to do an awful lot of things with. One of the beers most responsible for that realization was DC Brau’s The Public pale ale. It’s a rich and malty pale ale that serves as the perfect introductory beer for those trying to get into the style. I haven’t had much DC Brau since moving away from the city, but The Public will always hold a special place in my heart.
Growlers: Yep. DC Brau makes tasters, pints, cans, and growlers available at the brewery, so you can get a beer in pretty much any form you desire.
The Beers: There were seven beers on tap during our visit. Naturally, we had to try all of them.
Vibe: DC Brau is one of the most visible breweries in the city, so, if I’m being honest, I was expecting something a little more...corporate? But wow was I wrong. DC Brau perfectly captures the dive bar feel that they’re going for. Wooden high tops and barstools populate the small, intimate space, and the walls are covered in stickers, posters, banners, and all kinds of Washington, DC memorabilia.
The space is small and cozy--it almost feels more like a soccer bar than a brewery. There are a few TVs scattered around on the walls, and staff are always bustling in and out of the backroom, restocking beer fridges and helping out customers. When I say DC Brau upended my expectations, I mean that in the most positive way. The fact that one of the District’s most successful and high profile breweries has been able to maintain a small and grounded footprint within the city itself is very cool.
Honestly, I even love the fact that they serve their flights in scribbled on cardboard boxed. It’s that sort of casual, unassuming attitude that really draws me to the place. Not to mention the fact that the beer is pretty damn good.
Dogs: Not sure, but I would guess yes. We didn’t see any during our trip to the brewery, but since they don’t offer food and the setup is pretty low-key, it seems fair to assume that your furry friend won’t be turned away.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. Nothing too pricy here. Flights are pretty cheap, and the beer itself is affordably priced. You can find beers like The Public in just about any beer store in DC, but, for some of the more limited offerings, you might be better off heading straight to the brewery itself.
Food: No food here (unless you count bags of chips), which is probably for the best. DC Brau isn’t a huge space, and definitely feels designed to supply tasters and flights to as many people as possible while facilitating a pretty quick turnover. There just isn’t enough space to have people linger.
Final Thoughts: DC Brau is one of the most successful breweries in the city, and it has definitely earned that reputation. Sometimes I feel like DC Brau suffers from the Sam Adams Effect, which is to say that, for some reason, a certain subset of people seem to resent them for their success. I’ve never understood it, and I don’t think I ever will after spending some time in their actual brewery. DC Brau is run and staffed by cool people, remains dedicated to turning out high quality (and creative!) beer, and maintaining the same low-key attitude that they’ve always had. I would happily pay another visit to DC Brau, and I’ll happily order The Public anytime I see it in a bar. Cheers!
Brewery Name: Bluejacket
Type of Brewery: Brewpub
Location: Washington, DC Navy Yard area right by the Washington Nationals Stadium.
Background: This brewery is the brainchild of Greg Engert and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, famous for DC’s landmark beer bar Churchkey. I have been fortunate enough to try so many special beers at Churchkey that I cannot even begin to recount them for you. This group really took beer to that next level in the area. Bars like the Brickskeller may have existed before the NRG started, but Churchkey singlehandedly put DC on the map as far as a premier beer destination. 50 taps, five cask ales, shelves upon shelves of bottles. Truly the ideal exploitation of the District’s open beer distribution laws.
Not too long ago they opened up this brewery. There was much anticipation and one big question: yes, you can serve, describe, and pair amazing craft beer with food...but can you brew it? It’s always an interesting transition. I have been going to this brewery ever since they opened, and, to be honest, there have been ups and downs. Sometimes I walked away impressed, sometimes I left wondering why I didn’t just go to Churchkey. But after our last visit, I am happy to report that they have worked out whatever kinks were in the early stages of the brewery. Every beer we tried was amazing, and this brewery is truly a great part of the DC beer scene.
Growlers: No. The brewery does have its own bottle shop adjacent to the brewery that sells a good variety of their beers in bottle. I go back and forth on these decisions because while I understand wanting to use the bottle to preserve freshness, you can also get older bottles sometimes that sit around. I get that they don’t want old growlers sitting in fridges, but, growlers do not last very long in my house to begin with. Overall, a discussion for another day.
The Beers: I won't list them all, but here are a few of our favorite beers on tap during our visit:
Vibe: The brewery is situated in an old warehouse that has been renovated into a really cool looking building. This place has just the right feel of hip restaurant and middle-of-the-brewery experience. The tanks are right behind the bar, overhead there is dining, and you can sit right across from an elevated walkway leading to a massive collection of barrels. The lighting is just right--you can see, but you don't feel trapped in this cavernous building. This place is great for meeting friends for a drink, dinner, or just sitting at the bar and trying all the beers on the menu. It is in a really hip part of DC that makes you really excited to go there. Just one word of caution: depending on the season, it does get very crowded. They are right by the baseball stadium, so if you are looking for a relaxed experience, you may want to avoid this place when the Nats are in town. They do have sitdown areas that you can reserve, but the area by the bar is all first-come, first-serve, so you’ll have to be quick if you want a large table or a lot of seats at the bar. You can generally get in when it’s not baseball season, but just be aware.
Shane's Thoughts: I just want to say that I was blown away by Bluejacket. I had never been there before, and I had no idea what to expect from the place. But from the quality of the beer to the quality of the food to the quality of the venue...if Bluejacket has any shortcomings, I can’t find them. Just a really nice place to grab a few drinks (or, if you're like us, every beer on the menu).
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$$. That isn't to say that Bluejacket is prohibitively expensive, but it's important to remember that it's more than just a microbrewery--it's a restaurant, too.
Food: Really good mix of pub food taken to the next level. Everything from fried chickpeas to house-made pickles. You can get a burger or a really nice meal. You can kind of do everything there because they have a nice dining area with a great bar area as well. The food is top notch.
Final Thoughts: A great part of the growing DC beer scene, and I am really glad to see that they have started to take their beers to the next level.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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