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Bethesda Celebrates Craft Beers

Rock Bottom's fresh craft beers are a delicious bargain.

May 14 - 22 marks National Craft Beer Week. For beer aficionadoes, it’s a week to celebrate the talents of our local brew masters. In Bethesda, it was Rock Bottom’s week to shine. The restaurant/brewery posted a list of recently brewed beers (see photo of blackboard), offering pints for a ridiculously fair price of $4.49 for a pint. Compared to which charges $9 for a comparable Belgian-style beer, this is a major bargain, not to mention a chance to drink the freshest, frostiest mug in town.

Rock Bottom has something for every enthusiast whether their preference is dark, lager, ale or wheat beers.

My husband and I dined at Rock Bottom this week where a very knowledgeable waiter named Mack took the time to explain some of Rock Bottom’s weekly offerings. With a little discussion, he zeroed in on the perfect choices for both of us. I selected the Belgian-style white ale, pale with a touch of haze, hints of orange peel, coriander and Belgian yeast. Eric selected the IPA with a hint of cloves.

When these cold, frothy brews arrived at the table, we gaped with glee. Why had we not come here before? This was awesome!!!

Mack explained how customers can bring home a hefty portion of their beer of choice (2 liters) in a large bottle shaped like a cask of moonshine. It’s called a growler. I had no idea what this meant, but my husband was clearly excited about the prospect of paying $20-$22 for the first installment and $8 for subsequent refills. Mack said that growlers should be consumed on the day you open them so be sure you have enough people to join in what translates to 6 hand-crafted beers in one bottle!

Rock Bottom also brews seasonal beers which are slightly higher in price but comparable to a fine wine. Currently, the selection is called Saison, but starting May 24, Rock Bottom introduces its Summer Ale. The tapping event if from 7 – 8 pm and brewmaster Geoffrey Lively will be there to discuss beer with guests. Lively describes his new Summer Ale as “American-style golden ale with copious amounts of hops loaded in the back end, full of fruity citrus flavor with very little bitterness.” I think I’ll need to check that out.

If you’re not sure what style beer you prefer, or you want to do conduct your own taste test, Rock Bottom offers samplers for 79 cents each.

Inside Rock Bottom’s expansive bar, there are 20-somethings enjoying post-work relaxation, conversation and happy hour drink specials. The restaurant consists mostly of multi-generational groups meeting for food, although some people were drinking wine. They actually have a good selection of wines by the glass so you’re forgiven if you don’t order the beer. Upstairs, Rock Bottom has pool tables if you want a quieter atmosphere.

The food we had was tasty but not haute cuisine. The pizza is baked in a wood-fire oven, and I liked the vegetarian version which was like a salad on crust. I also tried the chili—a very smokey, thick meat and bean combination covered with cheese.

The food was fine, but frankly, I was here for the beer. The appetizers looked good, hot pretzels and nachos, and are likely to be better accompaniment for the beer. Rock Bottom also serves sandwiches, fish tacos, jambalaya, pasta, steak and burgers—American favorites that please the kids in the restaurant—surprisingly, there were a lot of kids for Thursday night at 7pm (But Mom and Dad must have their beer, so sit quietly Junior and play with your iPad).

If you missed out on Craft Beer Week, do not fret. Savor Beer Week runs from May 30 to June 5, 2011--another opportunity to celebrate the wonders of handcrafted, small-batch beer making. For more information on Savor Beer Week events in the D.C. Area, visit City Paper’s blog Young and Hungry. And, if you’ve wondered how to host your own beer tasting party, I asked expert Jeff Wells for advice. Here’s how to start:

  1. Study the hues and aromas of the beer
  2. Organize your menu around each beer course
  3. Use a variety of brews that compliment the food courses including salads, entrees and desserts

Wells was the specialty beer manager for DOPS, an independent family owned beer distributor in Maryland. He notes, “Beer industry events are flourishing, because people are realizing that beer is just as diverse as wine.” Each month, the Mid Atlantic Brewing News web site lists upcoming beer events, including Union Jack’s craft beer specials, Brew at the Zoo and CapCity Octoberfest. Through events like these, craft beer entrepreneurs have elevated the image of beer.

In fact, Gallup’s Consumption Habits poll, published in July 2010, showed drinkers aged 30 to 49 prefer beer over wine. In the same poll, 18 to 29 year olds consistently showed a preference for beer over wine. Only the 50 plus group consumes more wine than beer, with liquor a distant third. The poll also showed 79 percent of college graduates drink--Gallup correlates higher education with higher consumption levels. This might explain why restaurants in Bethesda can count on a steady flow of customers in their bars.

I leave you with this quote from our forefather, Ben Franklin, who was known to tip back a few: “Beer is God’s Proof that he loves us and wants us to be happy.”

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