Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | October 22, 2009


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A new bar/restaurant with a heavy emphasis on beer named Birch & Barley is opening tonight on 14th street. I walked past the still under construction space about a month ago and did a double take on the size of the bar.  Orr Shtuhl of Young & Hungry has a post up on Birch & Barley that makes me weak in the knees with excitement to try it out:

Birch & Barley, the oft-promised beer bar and restaurant, will open tonight at 5 p.m. And while we’ve drooled over it for months, we’ve heard little about it other than the numbers they promised: 555 bottles, 50 taps, and 5 casks. I admit I was skeptical, worried that the list would be vaporware like the 1,000+ beer menu at The Brickskeller — but a swing by the bar yesterday put me at ease.

Beer director Greg Engert assured me that come tonight there will indeed be beer flowing from all 50 taps and all 5 casks, and from the looks of it, a bottle menu that will have the nerdiest beer nerds returning for “special occasion” beers. But for me, the casks were the real question mark. Cask beer is fresh, unpasteurized beer hand-pumped from the barrel rather than pulled out by carbon dioxide like regular keg beer, giving it a velvety feel. But it’s also more perishable, which is why nowhere in D.C. keeps more than one or two on tap. They’re hard to track down, and hard to sell.

Of the 50 taps, about half will rotate every week or so, while the other half will be good standbys. The dependable session beers include: Victory Prima Pils, Allagash White, Brooklyn Lager, Stone Pale Ale, Smuttynose IPA, Green Flash Hop Head Red, and Climax Nut Brown Ale. $5 for about a 12 oz. glass.

It’s really hard for me to express how good this sounds. I’m a huge fan of The Brickskeller, a legendary beer bar that at one time claimed to have more beers on the menu than any other bar in the world. In fact, my path to being a cocktail geek started at Brickskeller, where I first got into really, really, ridiculously good beers and set off on a path to find out what better tasting spirits were like. Being a beer geek lead in a fairly straight path to being a cocktail geek. But the frustration with Brickskeller is that they invariably don’t have the two-thirds of their menu in stock at any given time and ordering can be quite an ordeal.

That’s why my favorite beer bar in the US became El Bait Shop in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s a divey beer bar, but they have over 100 draft beers on tap — all of which are American microbrews. They augment that incredible spread with a few large, glass refridgerators of some of the finest imported bottles in the world. Enough to be a good selection of imports, but by no means a selection that aims to be all things to all people at all times. I love the concept of only having American microbrews on draft. First because it allows the bar to basically always have beer that they actually have in stock on the menu. Second because they go about getting 100+ beers by getting the full runs of many of the breweries they serve. If you like, say, Dogfish Head, you can try a bunch of what they have to offer before moving on. It’s just a great concept that I haven’t seen any east coast bars replicate.

It looks like Birch&Barley will split the difference a bit between The Brickskeller and El Bait Shop, with 500 bottles and 55 draught and cask beers. The food looks incredible as well. All in all, though I haven’t been yet, I can’t wait to go and hopefully find a new, favorite beer bar.



  1. […] & Barley / Churchkey I was able to make it by Birch & Barley last night. Or more precisely, I bypassed the first floor restaurant and went to the upstairs bar, […]

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