Bottoms Up: Take one down, pass it around

February 4, 2010

In 1980, sixteen men were pulled from the North Sea an hour and a half after their fishing vessel had sunk. The frozen fishermen headed below deck to warm up with a drink. Sixteen steaming beverages later, according to an account of the incident in Outside magazine, each one promptly dropped dead—due to “rewarming shock,” when hypothermia victims are warmed too quickly, their blood pressure drops, and their hearts stop.

Such is the plight of the beer drinking college student.

Freshman through junior years are spent floating in a sea of Natty Light and metallic Keystone. Then adulthood beckons, along with its requisite nutty lagers and rich India Pale Ales.

College students can be in for a jolt when emerging from that collegiate ocean of sudsy urine—admittedly not a fatal jolt, like our poor fishermen, but vividly unpleasant with a bitter aftertaste.

The answer, of course, is to warm up slowly to the vast world of beer that lies beyond the front gates. And in D.C., there’s no better place to do that than ChurchKey over on 14th and P St., the District’s hottest new beer joint.

ChurchKey offers the bounties of the microbrew beer world—it boasts 50 beers on tap, 5 casks, and hundreds of bottles—without the typical beer-snob pretension. Instead of being categorized by style, beers are grouped on the menu in seven flavor categories, making the menu accessible even to beer newbies.

“I’m trying to spread the word of great craft beer to everybody, not just people in the know,” ChurchKey beer director Greg Engert said.

To that end, Engert provided me with a beer itinerary meant to help college students navigate ChurchKey’s repertoire, starting with unassuming, yet flavorful relatives of light beer and concluding in a foreign landscape of meaty and sour brews.

So earlier this week, Will Sommer, the Voice’s Editor-at-Large, and I headed over to ChurchKey, a short ride away on the G2, to test out Engert’s recommendations.

Our journey began in the “Crisp” section of the menu, which Engert assured me wouldn’t be too big of a leap from light beers.

“Tasty without being overwhelming,” he described the beers. “Just a touch more body and true flavor, great malty, bready flavors.”

This turned out to be an apt description for our Brooklyn Lager. If I were in the annoying habit of personifying beers—and I am—I would describe the Brooklyn Lager as a friendly but timid beer.

Emboldened, we turned to Engert’s next recommendation: fruit and spice beers.  For this, we chose Aventinus, a dark-ruby Bavarian beer that brought to mind the exotic spice bazaars of, well, Bavaria, I suppose.

By the time our third selection, which hailed from the “Roast” section, touched my lips, Busch-fueled townhouse parties seemed a hazy world away. This Russian stout, aptly named The Czar, had a chocolately, coffee flavor that masked its 11 percent alcohol content.

Our second-to-last stop was also my favorite: the “Hop” beers. Hop was what we got too, in a strapping India Pale Ale called Double Trouble that smacks you across the face with its hoppiness—an incredible sensation. If you’re into that kind of thing, anyways.

From here, Engert offered two possible end-points: “Smokey” beers—“peat smoke or sausagey, spicey, bacony” flavors—or “Tart and Funky,” marked by an “earthy funkiness.”

We choose “Smokey” and as soon as I tasted it, I knew we had gone a bit too far. It was smokey, indeed, and rich, like a slab of cured bacon. No matter, though. Next time I hit up ChurchKey, my palette will be rested and ready. All in due time.

Relax and knock back  a case of cold ones with Sam at ssweeney@georgetownvoice.com

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