What better way to spend a cloudless, 90-degree Sunday than waltzing around the city deciphering obscure clues to discover new beers? As soon as Ben and I saw that DC Beer Week was hosting a scavenger hunt in Dupont, one of the iconic Washington, DC neighborhoods, we were basically all in. After calling in some serious brownie points to keep the babies and wives occupied for most of a full day, we registered as All Hopped Up, settled on UVa football jerseys for our costume/uniform (why, you ask? ‘cuz we’re hopeless, but not hopless!) and sauntered downtown for a few sudsy hours. With it just being Ben and I when most teams were four (or in some cases, apparently more) players, how would we fare?
The premise of this event is that with twelve participating breweries (and beers) and seven participating bars/restaurants/grocery stores, teams would have five hours to track down two different beers at each of six of the venues, with all the teams assembling at the final venue for awards and swag. To get credit for figuring out the clues, you have to purchase the beer and present it to the judges at each location; pick the wrong beer, and you (sadly) have to drink it and try another. And with both breweries featuring as many as 10+ beers between them at each venue, the odds of being “punished” for a bad guess were pretty high. For other points, teams had to take pictures in front of some semi-iconic landmarks around Dupont. To kick the whole thing off, the first clue steers you to your starting venue.
Naturally, we had one distinct advantage, and several glaring disadvantages: while we know a heck of a lot about the local beer, we had fewer team members to a) figure out the general clues, b) decipher clues about the neighborhood, c) split the beers, and d) throw down all the wrong guesses. While that seemed like a tall order, we were there to have fun, check out a few new places, and most certainly try a few new beers (and it turned out, some familiar favorites). But first…
…we threw down a pizza each in just under 10 minutes to gird our stomachs, livers, and constitutions.
First Stop: GBD
Featured Breweries: Hellbender and Union Craft
With our initial clue telling us to look for “kitchen slang,” this was a seemingly obvious choice as GBD stands for “golden brown delicious.” To my utmost chagrin, the scavenger hunt special dish at GBD was cheese fries, and my stomach was sufficiently full! We spent a few clueless moments looking around for the judge, but finally our first beer clue! And it’s a Simpsons reference about amphibian names in Australia! Seeing the Hellbender lizard on their draught handles, that gives us our first hint. The beer names themselves all seem fairly innocuous – that is, until we came to… Chazzwazzer. That was 1 for 1. The next clue related to betting terms, and after far too many visits to the dog and horse tracks in my younger days, it was all too easy to lock onto Union Craft’s Perfecta. I thought the Chazzwazzer (IPA) was fairly smooth, and the Perfecta (Pilsner) was a blessing to start the day with something lighter. Since we decided to each take one beer, I went with the IPA. Our next venue clue referred to “360 degrees of food” and after a moment’s thought…
Second Stop: Pizzeria Paradiso
Featured Breweries: 3 Stars and Lost Rhino
…the realization dawned that a pizza is a circle, and circles have 360 degrees. We barged in, and our clue referred to a song released 27 years previously. Now, there were a few potential names on the list from both 3 Stars and Lost Rhino, but I’m a Metallica fan, so it was Harvester of Sorrow from 3 Stars or bust. The heaviest metal song ever made would not be denied! The beer itself was surprisingly tart, even for a Saison, but I had plenty of time to sip it as the next clue gave us fits. We knew it was Lost Rhino, but the clue referred to a surfing term. I immediately leaped at Dawn Patrol (which, it turns out, really is a surfing term about surfing at first light), but I missed the second part about how surfers loved seeing it on beaches. Well, my guess was good but not the right one. After some more process of elimination we went with Rhino Chasers, and for my bad guess I took on the extra beer. I reviewed Rhino Chasers as one of my first features here on VBR, but as you may imagine, it was hard to keep pace even with the light body and it went down like a glass of rocks. We did discover that it’s a kind of surfboard, so after cursing the trick clue, we peeked at the next venue clue. We needed to find a bar that was an update on an establishment pioneered by several famed figures (or, ahem, barons) of DC beer, and gee, such a place was about 3 blocks away. With a picture beside a “man’s best friend” that may have been a homeless dude’s dog (we’re still not sure), we continued.
Third Stop: Bier Baron
Featured Breweries: Monocacy and Brewer’s Art
Baltimore beers?! Uh oh. On a previous visit to Bier Baron I’d sampled Monocacy, but this was shaping up to be a challenge. The next beer clue, though, wasn’t as much of a brain teaser – asking for an ingredient which was locally sourced, it didn’t take long to settle on the Riot Rye (Pale Ale) from Monocacy. Nice and malty, and in the trend of several RyePAs I’ve discovered recently, a beer I wanted to take my time with and enjoy. And the next clue gave us pause once again. Referring to an incident involving a naming scandal, this one positively flummoxed the pair of us. I mean, there’s Wit Trash staring us in the face, and what appeared to be references to streaking with Stripping Run as well. But those seemed overly clever, and almost too obvious. And a changed named wouldn’t be clever, right? That left Beazly, and luck was on our side! A Golden Ale originally named for Ozzy Osbourne, it was another solid choice for the hunt.
Interestingly, at this point the judge somewhat strongly hinted that we should slow down as there were no extra points for finishing first. It was also only 90 minutes into a 5 hour event, and were halfway through! Despite Hamilton cracking the whip from afar, we did settle back into the corner to people watch and enjoy the Riot Rye some more. We quickly knew we would lose Best Costume to the Swedish vikings assembling at the bar, but interestingly enough few teams appeared in anything remotely resembling matching attire. We also enjoyed some of the signage in Bier Baron.
After a few chuckles and a (much deserved) break, we checked back in with the judge, who in this case was also the hunt’s clue master. After swapping some notes (he’d thought the Simpsons clue was particularly hard), our next venue clue pointed us to a place that sourced its food exclusively from the Chesapeake Bay. Of our final three options, we could immediately rule one out, and despite my fears that we had two farm-to-table offerings left to us, I realized that our route was starting to resemble a loose figure 8 so only one made sense. With several stops along the way for more pictures by historical figures, museums, and the like, we arrived for more vindication.
Fourth Stop: Glen’s Garden Market
Breweries: Flying Dog and Atlas
On the way to Glen’s I kept pondering why a grocery store would make the list of venues. I mean, yes, Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and others are getting a reputation not only for carrying good beer but also in filling growlers and even having bars/restaurants inside. With so many bars in Dupont, it still seemed odd – that is, until we saw all the bikers, joggers, and others in the outdoor seating area. And then we discovered that the beer is “$4 all day, every day,” and we became instant fans. Once again, the clue seemed ready to bewilder the masses, referring to a defunct local business which utilized an ingredient of our next beer. Glancing down the list, I spied Flying Dog’s Juniper White IPA, and we realized the business was probably a distillery (gin being made from juniper). The fan of White Ales that I am, I practically left Ben on his own to go snuggle up with what again turned out to be a good beer for a sunny summer day. As I enjoyed the refreshing, piney notes, Ben’s mission was to endure the line as we’d quickly deciphered a “doesn’t pay dividends” financial clue to identify the Atlas Ponzi. As an IPA the Ponzi was also fairly light (a recurring theme on the day, it seemed), and we again stretched this stop for a good while. I thought that the Juniper White IPA would steal the day as best beer, but our next venue’s occupants would prove me decisively wrong, yet again.
Fifth Stop: Scion
Breweries: Port City and DC Brau
Upon entering Scion we ran into the Port City team, who hinted we might want to try a beer that wasn’t featured in the hunt. But more on that in a second. Our first beer clue involved Tony Danza, and with the offerings to be had we were fairly certain it had nothing to do with being optimal, corrupt, or overly public. You didn’t have to know who the boss was to settle on El Hefe Speaks, a beer from DC Brau we’re quite familiar with. A quintessential Hefeweizen, I took this one on as a Paul Ryan reference in the next clue easily provoked a prompt order of PCBC’s Ways & Means, a Rye beer Ben reviewed last year. Undaunted by all the suds settling in my stomach, I took PCBC’s hint and ordered a snifter of their new Metro Red, an Imperial Red Ale they debuted in quite limited fashion earlier on for DC Beer Week. And oh, my, did this one hit all the right notes. Silky, subtle, and equally balanced between malts and hops, I have to highly recommend that you try to find this limited run brew. It will be worth whatever adventure you put yourself through. Their tasting room lists it as available, which means I’ll be making a pit stop in the next few days (hopefully for a growler!) …back to the scavenger hunt. At this point Ben is sending out cocky “tailgating practice” tweets, but as to my own opinion I was getting thankful that the day was almost done.
Sixth Stop: Big Hunt
Breweries: Heavy Seas and
With no need to guess our fin… next destination, we ambled down to what turned out to be our favorite bar on the day. Big Hunt is what you expect of a Dupont bar – unpretentious, meandering, loud, and pretty divey. Those are all good things, especially when it’s nearing dinner time and you realize their special for the day is 20 cent wings (!!!) For barely three bucks we spent the next hour breathing fire and really starting to feel the effects of all the beer. I’d already had a few extra, and after successfully nailing the loud mouth / Loose Cannon reference for Heavy Seas, I decided to trust Ben on our very last clue. Being the (increasing) idiots that we were, we’d forgotten who the second featured brewery was at Big Hunt. My logic was that since they were featured they’d have several draught lines, but Ben was ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that a clue referring to what happens when you have a lot of energy meant Ocelot’s Idle Hands. I made him drink the mistake, and seconds later turned in the final, correct guess for Evolution’s Rise Up Stout. As subtle as the coffee flavors may have been, that was a hard beer to finish the hunt on. But finish we had! With time beginning to dwindle, we made a dash to the “after party.”
Last Stop: Buffalo Billiards
We beat the 5pm deadline with a few minutes to spare, but quickly realized that with several dozen teams in the mix that all the sorting of points, raffle tickets, and team awards would take some time. It turned out to be closer to an hour, so with a DC Brau Solidarity Session IPA and Atlas Rowdy Rye to keep us company, we observed the setup and I spanked Ben in some foosball (even though several of my “players” were missing their legs). Some of the swag looked fairly legit, and since we’d maxed out our points/tickets save the pending awards for best name and costume, we looked to have a decent shot to walk away with prizes. Alas, that was not to be.
For whatever reason, most of the tickets called were off the block we were clutching on the order of several hundred or thousand. A few days removed, the realization that 50+ teams with an average of 30 or more tickets would lead to some lower-than-expected odds assuages my memory, but man did it sting to watch all the man cave-style apparel walk off that stage to several teams which got lucky more than once. C’est la vie, and in any event the star of the day was rightfully the beer and the bars. I came away with better impressions of Bier Baron and Dupont in general, and solid first impressions of Big Hunt and Hellbender. As always, it was great to find some more most excellent beers from Flying Dog and Port City.
We also want to make sure we give some props to the DC Beer team. Chatting with one of the volunteers while at Scion, it’s clear these guys and gals really do it for the love of the beer and their city. As much as we heard some of the brewing teams thank their lucky stars a hard week of promos was over, none of it would have been possible with the DC Beer volunteers. They’re continually coming up with new ideas, and including ever more breweries and venues, and I imagine their sigh of relief at another successful week was long and loud enough to touch off another Atlantic hurricane. If I have any suggestions to offer, it’s that it’s hard to have an after party following 5 hours in the hot sun on a Sunday…and really, with so many participating VA breweries, would it kill ya to have a featured event on the proper side of the Potomac on weekdays??