review: shenandoah brewing co.

My weekend was filled with firsts. My first smartphone arrived in the office mail late Friday, and I rode the metro home with the box tucked into my bag, excited to spend a homey evening in, importing and consolidating my contacts, and downloading free apps.

I’ve always thought of myself as fairly un-technological, and now here I am, an iPhone owner. My life is about to change dramatically.

On Saturday, I did my first D.C. yoga class, and later that day I brewed beer for the first time. Luckily I had my iPhone’s built-in camera to document the process. The quality of the pictures still isn’t up to snuff for fresh cracked pepper, but it will come in handy for those times I just want a record.

shenandoah brewing co

And as you can see, the record was of the vertical sort. Apparently, I didn’t realize my new gadget could take landscape as well as portrait, and here are all my pictures, lovingly rendered in vertical (instead of this blog’s usual horizontal). I laughed at myself when I uploaded them…the learning curve may only continue to steepen!

So after yoga downtown with my housemate, I biked the 13 rolling miles out to the industrial armpit of Alexandria to meet my new friend Rick. He’s the brewer for the church I’ve started attending—St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill. We were convening at Shenandoah Brewing Company, a brew-on-premise and brew-pub rolled into one.


I was expecting the inside to look like its surroundings—bare, soul-less, empty. But the door creaked open into a Willy Wonka factory of beer: cauldrons stewed and steamed away at the periphery of a room full of people. Long wooden tables were piled high with pretzels and chili, the merrymakers clinking their pint glasses and getting louder with each passing minute. In other words, I was home. (I later found out that much of Shenandoah’s equipment is from Canada, so I was more home than I even knew.)

Our working recipe.

Our working recipe.

Shenandoah is a special place. Couples, connoisseurs, and (apparently) church people alike come here to brew beer for their weddings, cellars, and in our case, congregations. First, we received our recipe (picture 3 above) for our “steam beer,” the afternoon’s project.  Then, we dipped into the stores of grain to find our “caramel 60” and “Munich mix” or whatever it was that we needed. We hand-ground the grain into a bucket lined with a cloth filter: basically a giant tea bag.


Here, the guys are tying the tea bag closed so that it can be lowered into the steaming pot of “wort,” another grain mix that the brewery takes care of beforehand. When that was finished, we added a huge pitcher of sweetener: wort reduced down to a thick, honey-like syrup.


I stirred the mix as Rick added the sweetener, using an old apple-sauce spoon from Pennsylvania. It was a rugged spoon fit for a Father Bear, and that’s precisely when the thrill of beer brewing hit me. Here I was, bent over the steaming broth of one of my favorite beverages (perhaps my favorite—this fact is still up for constant debate between Mark and I). It was a beautiful moment.


Next, we added the hops. We’d selected two different strains (the names of which I’m now forgetting), distilled into rabbit-food-like pellets that smelled…well, like beer. The first round (“bittering hops”) goes in for 60 minutes, the second (“flavoring”) for 20, and the third (“finishing) for 10, equaling a 90-minute hopped beer when all is said and done. The reason you do this is that you want the natural preservatives and the bitterness to equal out appropriately.


My friend Rebecca picked me up for a movie before we could get to the yeasting (see the vials picture following) and the aerating (where the two brewmasters push a barrel back and forth between them). After downing an IPA and a Stony Man oatmeal stout, however, I was ready to relax in front of George Clooney and Vera Farmiga’s collective sexiness.


Go to Shenandoah. It’s worth the trip to the end of the blue line, or, if you have a bike, from the far-flung haunts of Hyattsville.

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