Delegate Danica Roem joins us to talk traffic, tolls and the 2019 Va. legislative session, and Delegate Dereck Davis tells us why he wants to be the next speaker of Md.'s House of Delegates.
It’s been more than 50 years since a production brewery operated inside D.C. But those days are no more – a handful of small business are getting the District back in the game. We talk to the people behind two of those breweries about the business behind beer, and where D.C. fits into it.
- Ben Matz Founder, Brewer, Chocolate City Beer
- Jeff Hancock Founder, Head Brewer, DC Brau
Jeff Hancock, who along with Brandon Skall co-founded DC Brau brewing company, talks about what he likes about beer brewing, why he decided to start his own company, and what kind of work a brewmaster really does:
Brewer and founder of Chocolate City Beer Ben Matz talks about making beer in his home city:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWashington D.C. is officially back in the beer brewing business. Full-scale production breweries are up and running inside the District for the first time in half a century. And they'll soon be putting locally crafted ales and lagers into local stores and watering holes but the commercial brewing game is a big leap from crafting beer in your basement.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt involves raising hordes of private capital, securing real estate, hiring a legal team, purchasing industrial scale equipment, sometimes from other countries, intense marketing and when it's all said and done, pumping out beer that people can enjoy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore the business side of the craft brewing world and where Washington D.C. may soon fit into it is Jeff Hancock, head brewer at D.C. Brau, a new business in the District of Columbia, which he recently co-founded with Brandon Scholl. Jeff Hancock, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFF HANCOCKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Ben Matz. He is co-founder and brewer at Chocolate City Beer, a new business also in the District of Columbia. Ben Matz, thank you for joining us.
MR. BEN MATZThanks Kojo.
NNAMDIJeff, a few months ago, we spoke about the craft of home beer brewing, the science behind the art of making beer on your own. But both of you gentleman have taken your love for crafting beer on your own and spun into a commercial business.
NNAMDIStarting with you, Jeff, when did you start brewing beer and when did you realize that this was something you wanted to do professionally?
HANCOCKI started around the year 2000, 1999 and, yes, basically making beer at home, chatting it over with the missus and said, hey why, you know, why can't I do this fulltime? I'm already good with my hands and here we are, 2011.
NNAMDIWhat was your process, Ben Matz?
MATZWell, I didn't have a wife to bounce it off of. I started brewing when I was 21, just home brewing because a friend of mine was doing it and I got really interested in it and basically, started, I was working in a kitchen, I quit my job there and called Flying Dog, that was just moving into Fredrick, Maryland, and they said, sure we'll take a warm body. So that's how that started.
NNAMDIFlying Dog is a brewery in Maryland. There was another brewery that eventually became Flying Dog, is that correct?
NNAMDIIn Maryland. Was brewing something that you largely had to learn on your own through trial and error or did you have a mentor you could consult when you were first getting started? First, you again, Jeff?
HANCOCKWell, when I first started basically the criteria was just to show up early and I could ask as many questions I want. So it was a little bit of bouncing questions off the, you know, the brewer at time I was working with, and then just a lot of book reading on my own.
NNAMDIYou had to show up 5:00 in the morning and it's my understanding that that scared a lot of people away when you, that was at that Brewpub Franklins in Hyattsville, MD?
NNAMDIPeople just didn't want to wake up 5:00 in the morning?
HANCOCKYes, you know, it's one of those things, you know, everyone can make good beer but, you know, sometimes when duty calls that early sometimes that weeds out the committed people. So...
NNAMDIPeople don't want to do that. In your case, Ben, how was it? Did you have a mentor? Did you just start on your own through trial and error?
MATZWell, I mean, I started home brewing, yes, it was my own, trial and error. The first three batches were terrible and I started asking questions after that but as far as commercial brewing, yes, you always have, there's always one person that you kind of bond with or maybe a few people that you ask every question imaginable and they kind of deal with you and let you buy them beers while you're asking them questions and, you know, it kind of helps out.
MATZI definitely, when I started for Gordon Beers in Auckville, my boss there was definitely one of my bigger mentors as far as the entire brewing process and I still, you know, call him every so often just to make sure he's doing all right. He's still with Gordon Beers. He's working in the Indianapolis location.
NNAMDII'd like to hear a little bit about your early experiences. First you, Ben, raspberry sorbet to a beer?
MATZI don't know who I told about that. Basically, that was a batch I decided to brew outside on -- it was early January. I just wanted to brew some beer and completely missed my conversion temperature and my match time, which basically means that I got nothing out of my grain. So I, trying to think fast, went and got some all natural raspberry sorbet and threw it in and ended up with this pink beer that turned out pretty good actually.
NNAMDIIt turned out pretty good?
MATZIt did, it did. It's -- I still have some, as a matter of fact. I just, the bottles are several years old now.
NNAMDIJeff, you tried to develop the first beer for the first time, a Belgian style beer?
NNAMDIHow did that turn out?
HANCOCKJust kind of what Ben said. It didn't really come out drinkable so to speak. I bought a, you know, home brew kit from one of the head chef at Franklin's at the time and so the yeast was dried, which I didn't know I had to rehydrate. Secondly, it was about four years old so a little past its due date and, you know, went through all the process of boiling and cooling it down, adding my hops. Then when I put the yeast in, it literally came out in two big chunks. And kind of looking at visually, I was, yes, this really isn't going to fly. So, but yes, it's trial and error the whole way.
NNAMDIThose were only the early experiences. Now, Jeff Hancock and Ben Matz are willing to provide you with now commercially brewed beer. We'd be interested in hearing your comments. How do you think the resurgence of commercial craft beer brewing in the District will contribute to this city's local identity? Call us at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Ben Matz. He's a cofounder and brewer at Chocolate City Beer, a new business in the District of Columbia. Jeff Hancock is the head brewer at D.C. Brau, which is also a new business in the District of Columbia. You've officially gone pro, Jeff, since the days when you were first reading about brewing.
NNAMDID.C. Brau is only a few days away from having its first kegs and cans available for consumption but it's my understanding that even though you're the brew master of a budding small business, that you describe yourself of basically a glorified janitor who makes beer. What do you mean by that?
HANCOCKIt's definitely more than that. There's obviously a lot of art and science that goes into it. But, you know, when you're making beer a lot of the job is just cleaning. You know, you're getting stuff ready. I mean, of course there's the great part of, you know, picking your own ingredients, finding out how they're going to work together and kind of intertwine.
HANCOCKBut, yes, you know, there's a lot of cleaning. Seven days a week, every day I'm at the brewery, I'm cleaning one thing or another, brewing about four days out of the week but, yes, it's basically learning how to keep things clean, sanitary and, you know, get it ready to receive the beer.
NNAMDIA lot of cleaning involved in this job. Ben, you've come a long way from working with starter kits in a basement. It's my understanding that some of the industrial equipment you need to brew at this scale is stuff that's mostly made in foreign countries. How did you go about procuring that equipment that you're going to be making beer with?
MATZWell, that's, you know, basically take a look at your budget and start going with the process of elimination as far as, all right I need all of this stuff and I only have money for, you know, a third of it basically. So you start going through and finding your suppliers and ways you can work around, you know, with financing etc.
MATZAnd we got really lucky. We're dealing with a company out of, they're based in L.A. But they do all their manufacturing in China but what that means is that there's a little bit of a language barrier as far as getting updates on your actual production schedule and the shipping is another thing altogether.
MATZWe're still waiting on one final piece of equipment, which got delayed because Chinese New Year and I had no idea that Chinese New Year was such a massive holiday. But I think I need to start celebrating Chinese New Year and have a couple weeks of chill time. But it was awesome but now, you know, I mean, we had a great experience with Frank, the guy who's our equipment guy and so, yes, it's all there now.
NNAMDIAt what point do you expect you'll have your first batch circulating in public?
MATZWell, that is the million-dollar question, Kojo, I mean, we're hoping June at the latest. But, I mean, we've certainly had a few pilot batches out in an unofficial capacity but June is the official, hopeful, start date.
NNAMDIIt's "Food Wednesday," we're talking about commercial beer in Washington again after several decades. Have you ever had a fantasy of taking a hobby like beer brewing and spinning it into a business? What did you end up doing about it? Call us at 800-433-8850 and that's along the line of Katherine's question. Katherine, calling from Savage, Md. Katherine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHERINEHi, Kojo, thank you so much. I just started brewing a few months ago with my boyfriend and my friend, Connor, and we are having a blast. We absolutely love it. And I was actually, I've always had this entrepreneurial streak and kind of wondered about taking commercial and I wanted to ask your guests how they made the transition from home brewing over to commercial brewing? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIStarting with you, Jeff Hancock.
HANCOCKI would say just keep plugging away at home. You know, develop your recipes, get to know your raw ingredients, and go out and find a local brew pub. That's definitely the -- kind of the easier way to get started. You know, just start a relationship with the brewer, and volunteer your services, because you probably will not get paid your first brewing job out. You know, just offer to do anything, clean kegs, scrub the floors. I mean, not to tie it into the janitorial thing again, but, you know...
NNAMDIBut to tie it in, yeah.
HANCOCKBut it's a lot of cleaning. So just -- yeah. I would just say establish a relationship with, you know, a local brew pub or brewery, so...
NNAMDIAnd good luck to you, Katherine. I read that the last production brewery to operate in D.C., the Olde Heurich Brewing Company, made its beer in Foggy Bottom before it shut down in the 1950s. How did you go about looking for the space where you set up your brew houses, and what criteria did you use when you were scouting out locations? First Ben.
MATZWell, I mean, we had two criteria. Basically in D.C. in order to receive a brewery manufacturer's license, an ABRA, you know, whatever it is, we -- you gotta have commercial manufacturing space. So you have to have zoned space for either CM1 or, in our case, CM2. And there's not that many of those places around. So you -- you've got to find the space, and then be able to afford it, because the rents can be, you know, depending on your -- they can be staggering depending on how big of a space it is.
MATZSo that's how we were looking at spaces, was basically based on manufacturing zone, and we lucked out and found a small manufacturing zoning that was perfect for our needs.
NNAMDIHow about in your case, Jeff?
HANCOCKYeah, very similar. You gotta have that CM1 or CM2 and, you know, unfortunately, you can't do a lot of that in, you know, like the center of a city because, you know, they don't do any variances for it. So that was basically where -- where we started. And that's, you know, how we ended up at our current location up in Upper Ward 5. So you kind of got to start there, basically with the zoning and then, you know, it gets easier after that to any extent, so...
NNAMDIBen, speaking of location, your company is obviously trying to play with D.C.'s identity a little bit with its name. But when it comes to race and class, these can be sensitive things. How have people reacted so far to the name Chocolate City Beer, especially since we're -- we don't seem to be getting any chocolater?
MATZWell, we -- we're actually -- Jim Graham said the same thing to me when we -- when I talked to him a couple weeks ago.
NNAMDIThat's D.C. city council member, Jim Graham.
MATZYeah. And I was, you know, I think, the first night I met Jeff we were at some show standing outside DC9 and some guy commented on my t-shirt, and said, oh, well, you should change it to mocha latte beer, and I think, you know, it is an issue, but our take on the name is more of a celebration of the history of the D.C. area, and gave us an opportunity to plug a Parliament album.
MATZSo -- and plus we -- we're kind of trying to ally ourselves with more of the neighborhood feel of the city, the neighborhoods around the city, versus being the nation's capital beer. I mean, we are in the nation's capital, but we're a city as well. And I live her, Jay lives here, Jeff and Brandon both live here. So we're making a local beer for the local people. Certainly we'll share this with the tourists as well, I'm not going to turn them away, but the goal being to ally ourselves with the local population.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation on the beer brewing business coming back to Washington, D.C. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have lines open. 800-433-8850. What do you think you can learn about a city from the local beer available there? 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Food Wednesday conversation about the beer brewing business coming back to Washington D.C. complements of Jeff Hancock. He is the head brewer at DC Brau, which is a new business in the District of Columbia which he recently co-founded with his partner, Brandon Skall -- business partner, that is. Ben Matz is a co-founder and brewer at Chocolate City Beer, also a new business in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800 -433-8850. You've already gotten your first taste of the local politics involved with business. We got an e-mail from Rob in Lexington Park, Md. who says, "I wonder if the home brewers could talk about the tasting room," Bill, coming before the D.C. city council. You've been pushing the D.C. council to allow for businesses like yours to open your doors to people who want to sample the product on the premises. How's that push turning out for you?
MATZIt's coming out very good. It's, you know, it's just more about educating the city, since they haven't seen something like this in, you know, more or less 60 years. It's been very good, you know. So it's coming along.
NNAMDIThe Brewery Manufacturer's Tasting Permit Amendment Act of 2011.
NNAMDIApparently, it was tabled last month because councilmember Jim Graham didn't see a reason to rush through an emergency bill for it, but it's still gonna come up.
NNAMDIAnd that means that people will be able to drop by the premises and taste?
HANCOCKYes. That -- that's basically what it's gonna allow. It would basically be kind of limited hours for the brewery. We'd do maybe some, you know, some evening hours on Thursday and Friday, and mid-day hours on Saturday. But basically it would allow people to come, you know, check out our facility, check out Chocolate City's facility, you know. Get a couple ounces of beer to sample, just so they can get familiar with the product, they can see the process kind of from beginning to end, and generate further interest, and, you know, drum up further business for both of us, so...
NNAMDISame for you, huh, Ben? Tours of your facilities, a part of your business model. You see, we've already been getting a lot of questions about this at our website about whether or not people are going to be able to come into your brew houses and take a tour. That should be able to happen.
MATZWell, my facility is about a fifth the size of Jeff's, so you walk in the front door, and you already have your tour. But, yeah. In essence, I mean, it would be great because people do want to see -- they want to have a connection. They want to, you know, they want to come meet, you know, the people that are making the beer. They want to see the equipment where the beer is being made. They want to feel the -- the community.
NNAMDIAnd they want to talk to you also. Here's Jim in Hyattsville, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMKojo, I really appreciate the quality of your programs. And I'm from -- I grew up here and I've been in Washington state for 40 years, and just about every town where I lived in Washington state has got its own brew pub. We have two, we had three in our town of 100,000, and we've got another one or two out in the county, and at least two or three adjacent towns have their own brew pub. And it's really great. And I come here, and I go into a local tavern, and I've learned what I ask for is anything dark, and they usually come up with, you mean Budweiser?
JIMAnd it's just really sad. So I really am encouraged by hearing your guests. I think it's just gonna be great.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jim. We have to make a distinction that while some brew pubs in D.C. may make their own beer, there's a difference between those places and breweries that are trying to make their products commercially available. You got partners in this business, Ben?
MATZI do. I do. We've got my -- my good partner, Jay Irizarry, who is my co-brewer, as well as Brian Flannigan, and kind of an honorable mention, one Mr. Don Parker. That's the -- that's the core.
NNAMDIAnd if you want to see the new facilities and DC Brau and Chocolate City Beer, our web producer Anne Stopper conducted on-site interviews with both Jim and Ben, and you can find that at our website, kojoshow.org. Back to the telephones. Jim, thank you for your call. On to Audrey in Alexandria, Va. Hi, Audrey.
AUDREYHi, Kojo. I'm really calling about a different kind of ferment, not beer, but pickles and sauerkraut and kombucha, which are huge trends right now. I've got it to the meet up stage where I started sharing it with friends. But I want to know, based on the price of renting a commercial kitchen and the laws government edibles between the state and the USDA, it's a little daunting. Do you guys have any advice for taking it from the hobby stage to the business stage?
MATZOh, wow. Yeah. I would say just go on the FDA website and, you know, just -- that's where -- kind of where we started, and you just kind of just see what classification you fall in, and, you know, what -- what space you'll need to do that. Obviously being a food product it's very highly regulated as it should be, and I would just say start doing some digging online. That's probably the best -- the best way to start.
NNAMDIAnd Audrey, good luck to you. Here is Susan in Shadyside, Md. Susan, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
SUSANHi, Kojo. I'm from Wisconsin, and my favorite beer is made by a small brewery there called New Glarus Brewing Company. And the brew master there is a former Anheuser-Busch brew master. But they got really big. You can find their beer anywhere in Wisconsin, but they got so big they decided they weren't gonna sell their beer outside of Wisconsin anymore. So now you can only find it there. And I'm wondering if your guests are planning to just sell their beer in the district or regionally, and what they think about that.
MATZWell, with Chocolate City Beer, we have currently a good amount of space limitations. I mean, we are planning on staying solely in the District for the time being and the foreseeable future and in essence trying to limit the transportation that our beer goes through. Now, you know, who knows, in five years we may be looking at, you know, a lucrative financing deal to go with a distributor, and at that point, you know, there's a difficult decision to be made. But hopefully by that point we will -- we will stay true with our ethos and pick the best decision for us, the beer, and the customers.
HANCOCKYeah. That's kind of -- that's kind of where we're at too. You know, since D.C. has been without, you know, a good local beer for so long, we don't want to get to the point where we're growing so large so fast that, you know, we can't have beer for the local patrons. So yeah. Five, ten years down the road if -- yeah, if demand dictates growth, we'll probably look -- just right off the bat for DC Brau, we'll probably do DC Virginia, and Maryland soon to follow, and then maybe some, you know, some east coast cities, maybe Philly, New York.
HANCOCKBut like I said, nothing -- nothing that's really gonna leave District lines for the time being, so...
NNAMDIOkay. Susan, thank you for your call. We move onto to Jennifer in Woodbridge, Va. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFERHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to say thank you to both brewers, but especially to DC Brau. I know these guys have been working for years, and we're just now starting to see like some of the product of all of that hard work. But to quit your job and follow your dream, and find investors, and do all the things that you do for the love of this amazing, amazing project, is just great. In this economy, I'm sure everyone told you you're crazy.
JENNIFERAnd we just -- we appreciate it. All of your fans and followers are just super excited, and we cannot wait until you guys are up and running and selling beer to us.
NNAMDIJennifer, thank you so much for your call. And then there's this from Andrew in Washington. "Do either Jeff or Ben plan to do growlers?" Very large containers is my understanding of what a growler is.
HANCOCKYeah. A growler is basically a resealable mostly half gallon size. You do see some smaller and some larger. But yes, we're planning to do growlers.
NNAMDIAnd there you have your answer.
MATZYeah. We are, too.
NNAMDIJennifer, thank you very much for your call. They're both planning on doing growlers. On to John in Bethesda, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYeah. Hey, I just want to say really very great discussion here, Kojo, because I'm coming home -- I'm coming back to work after a late lunch, and the lunch was solely focused on getting my mash going for this American (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIUh-oh, you're breaking up on us, John. Stop moving, get stationary. I'll put you on hold and come back to you so that we can hear you again. In the meantime, here is Josh in Washington, D.C. Josh, your turn.
JOSHThanks for taking my call, Kojo.
JOSHBest of luck, Ben and Jeff. My question is, based on what you were saying earlier, do you guys need any help? I'm looking to volunteer.
NNAMDIHey, can you use voluntary help?
MATZYeah. We can always use volunteers. Yeah. Just, you know, at this point, not so much, but yeah. When we really get rolling here, we're probably gonna need a lot of -- a lot of volunteer help. So being, you know, small operations like we both are, you can -- you only have so many arms and hours in the day, so...
HANCOCKSend us an e-mail, and we'll get back to you.
NNAMDIBeer interns. If you're in college, you might get some credit for that, Josh. Thank you very much for your call. We've talked a lot during the past few years about the explosion of craft beers in the United States. Both of you are diving into a pretty competitive market. What niche do you intend to fit, what clientele are you aiming to appeal to?
HANCOCKWe're -- aiming to appeal to the clientele, basically just your -- your broad craft beer drinker that goes to a bar and wants something more than, you know, yellow fizzy beer. Where, you know, DC Brau and Chocolate City fit in is we're a local DC beer. So -- and, you know, what makes beer great is generally the content of it. It's 90 percent water. So you get your different regions that have different waters and you can, you know, that kind of makes an area distinct and unique and also the, you know, the individual creativity that the brewer puts into it.
HANCOCKSo -- and craft beer people always love the next best newest thing and so, yeah, they'll always be looking for it.
NNAMDIBen, do you see Jeff as your competitor?
MATZWell, that would be -- no, not really. Jeff and I, you know, we get drunk and we swap stories and, you know, we're -- the brewing industry is -- there is a slight amount of competition, but at the same time, we're both opening, and we're both giving each other, you know, publicity, you know. I mean, if DC Brau was opening on its own, you know, they would do fine. If Chocolate City was opening on our own, we would also do fine. But because we're gonna work together and we're gonna, you know, jump off of each other basically, and that's gonna bring up the entire scene.
MATZThe creativity is gonna be bigger, the events are gonna be better. I mean, people are gonna have more places to go than just one place, so it's gonna -- it's, in my opinion, it's better that there's two of us than just one of us.
NNAMDIAnd we got this comment on our website from Les. "I'm not a beer drinker. I've toured the Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn, Va. They make the finest root beer in the world. Will the DC brewers also be making root beer?
HANCOCKWe, unfortunately, will not be.
NNAMDINo root beer. Jeff Hancock is the head brewer at DC Brau. That's a new business in the District of Columbia which he recently co-founded. Thank you so much for joining us.
HANCOCKSure. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIBen Matz is co-founder and brewer at Chocolate City Beer, also a new business in the District. Ben, thank you for joining us.
MATZThanks a lot, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd gentleman, good luck to both of you.
NNAMDIWe're behind you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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