Where to Drink Beer


English beers don’t get a lot of hype around here. Continental brews are the hit at most of D.C.’s serious beer bars. That said, there is a place to get your post-work fix of fine-sipping English ales: The CommonWealth GastroPub in Columbia Heights.

britishpintI did exactly that last night, sampling Wells Bombardier English Premium Ale, one of seven English beers on tap. It sported a nice balance of hops and malt, with a smooth finish. The bar also offers a choice between U.S. and English (Imperial) pint sizes. But mind your P’s and Q’s, the Brits mean business with their 20oz pints. God save the Queen.

Plans for a responsible night evaporated shortly after I walked into the 18th Amendment last night. The bar almost makes me wish I lived on Capitol Hill. It leans on an art deco theme, with low lighting, a wooden bar and a chrome ceiling. All nice touches, but the beer list is the real highlight. Nothing too crazy, but over 50 options (12 on tap), many of which can lead to mischief.

To that end I recommend the offerings from Unibroue, a word that I don’t know how to pronounce as well as a brewery unibrow1out of Québec. The 18th Amendment carries three of their beers, including La Fin du Monde. It’s a Belgian triple with a nasty 9 percent ABV.maudite

Some of the other Unibroue beers share nefarious names, all the better for experiencing the dark side of beer drinking. My favorite: Maudite, or “the cursed.”

I’ve been fascinated for a while by the ideas in Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice. To put it bluntly: having more choices doesn’t make us happier. In fact, often it makes us less happy. Also, turns out that sweating over a choice often serves to just make us more invested in making the best choice. So that researching, weighing, considering, talking, listening — all the things that we do before some choices — make us care a whole bunch about getting the decision exactly right. And then when don’t, we are even more disappointed. People who make that choice without all the sweat and toil are often happier with the outcome — even if it wasn’t the “perfect” choice.

I got to thinking about all of this again last week at Brasserie Beck — one of the city’s best beer locations, with a beer list that would make any beer snob swoon. (I’d link to it here but the restaurant has an artsy and totally frustrating Web site that is just a giant Flash graphic so I can’t. Next campaign: free the beer lists from the tyranny of proprietary software.) Back to Beck … I had taken the day off and ended up there for a late lunch, solo. I’ve been told the place is packed in the evening though this was my first visit (I know, embarrassing). I sat at the nearly empty bar, enjoying the solitude. But then was presented with the mammoth beer list. Where to begin? First, I eliminated all the beers that I had heard of — no Kasteel Rouge, Delirium Tremens or Duvel. I was in the mood for something entirely new. Second, I eliminated anything over $10. I spent time imagining what life event I would have to be celebrating to justify a $70 beer. They all involve international awards or class-action lawsuit victories. Still, I found the list daunting. Usually, I’d ask for some help from the bartender but the woman behind the bar was brand new and couldn’t pronounce any of the beers much less talk about them.

Floreffe TrippelSo after five minutes of perusing the 16 pages, I put the list down and picked up the little plastic card highlighting the lunch specials. Ah, simplicity. I ordered the polish sausage (with the gruyere, of course) and then at the bottom I saw three beer specials. I chose the Floreffe Trippel: “medium in body and sweet to the nose with hints of spice and light fruits.”

It was all those things. Plus, it was $5. And I had invested even less in the choice. So yes, in the end, I made the cheap choice. Also, at least for me on that day, the smart one.

Charlottesville is a fine place for gluttony, in both brews and food. And now at least one Charlottesville beer has made it to D.C. I sampled a draft of Starr Hill Amber at Bourbon (Adams Morgan location) last night. Good stuff.

Starr Hill is one of two brewpubs in which this correspondent used to lurk during a stint in Charlottesville a few years back. While I preferred South Street Brewery, Starr Hill is no slouch. And the brewery endeared itself to many when a fire temporarily disrupted the beer-making operations at South Street. (My boss thought I took a bit too much personal interest in the near-tragedy.) The powers-that-be at Starr Hill stepped in and brewed a few batches for South Street, keeping our pints full. A fine example of beer trumping capitalism.

OPSINJOOR UPDATE: Alert reader Jac Holtzman has alerted us to another photo of Opsinjoor. It’s worth a look.