As taps flowed and beer lovers drained tasting glass after tasting glass at the 10th annual SAVOR craft beer fest over the weekend, Greg Engert, beer director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group and co-founder of Bluejacket Brewery, couldn’t help but wonder if the industry had become a victim of its own success.
“This is what we wanted. We wanted craft beer to be ubiquitous,” he told Eater as hundreds of guests swirled, sniffed, and sipped the wildly diverse lineup of specialty pours orchestrated by The Brewers Association. ”But sometimes I worry that the passion that drove that from the beginning has not been echoed in the service of it.”
While overjoyed that SAVOR has continued to elevate the conversation about marrying food and beer, Engert said that experience building is lacking in day-to-day dining around D.C. “Too often now, you can take a rare beer and put it on draft in some random place and people will line up down the block whether the staff is knowledgeable or whether the beer is cared for … or whether they are pairing food with it,” he said.
Engert pointed to Birch & Barley, one of the many restaurants in his beverage managing portfolio, as a consistent performer in terms of well researched beer and food pairings. “But I don’t see it happening in a lot of other places,” he said.
Engert stopped short of naming any specific causes for alarm, his concerns stated in more general terms than as a finger wag at a single suspect. Keeping tabs on everyone would be challenging, given the explosion of beer-based establishments over the past decade. There’s certainly no shortage of seasonal beer gardens cropping up in and around the District. And there’s plenty of growth happening — Brookland Pint joined sibling Meridian Pint in providing local beer drinkers additional choices; restaurateur Evan Matz split from chain World of Beer to focus on local beverages at newly minted Crafthouse; Adams Morgan gastropub The Black Squirrel is expanding to the suburbs with a new location in Fairfax County — across the region.
But quantity does not trump quality in Engert’s opinion.
“There’s lots of craft beer bars, I guess … that just get a bunch of beers, put ‘em on draft and call themselves a craft beer bar,” he said. In his mind, stocking a bunch of stuff that’s trendy without knowing the history of the product or mishandling the materials (clean draft lines are paramount in his book) devalues everything that the whole craft beer movement is supposed to be about.
“I worry that it’s becoming more and more about that, almost the game for rarity and scarcity and trading,” he said of the current scene. “All that stuff that we’re seeing is kind of distracting away from the original idea of serving great beers well and creating experiences around them.”