Happy Hour with Fritz Hahn

Sep 14, 2017

Every other Thursday, Washington Post Weekend and Food reporter Fritz Hahn discusses happy hours, new cocktail destinations, local beers, date ideas and the late-night scene. Of course, he's also happy to talk about staples of the old Got Plans chats, such as weekend getaways, brunch spots, new exhibits and other ways to have fun in the Washington D.C. area.

Hi everyone. Hope you had an enjoyable Labor Day and that you're slowly acclimating yourself to the fact that Fall is around the corner. A few things:

Oktoberfest begins Saturday. Here's the big annual roundup of beer gardens, festivals and celebrations, and also a beer column looking at why American craft brewers are looking to Germany for inspiration for their new Oktoberfest beers.

We're in peak festival season, with two of D.C.'s biggest street parties taking over city streets this weekend. (And if you look up, you'll see plenty of fighter planes.) Here are 14 things to do this weekend.  

Trying to save money without staying home all the time? Check out our Cheapskate's Guide to Washington.

Okay, let's go.

Fritz-a while back you reported that the H St Whole Foods' bar would have reasonable beer prices, hoping to appeal to a neighborhood crowd. What the heck is going on? Beer prices at the bar are now some of the highest in town. A typical IPA/DIPA on the menu starts at $9 per 16oz, with Maine's Lunch currently costing $11. Not to mention "rare" stouts being served run upwards of $14 for 8 oz pours. Any chance you could follow up with WF and figure out what gives?

I haven't noticed this as trend, honestly. I'm looking at Whole Foods' draft menu from yesterday, and they do in fact have Maine's Lunch for $11 a pint, and 3 Stars Technicolor Life for $9 a pint. I don't think those prices are too far out of line -- the last time I had a fresh pint of Lunch, I think I paid $8 or $9 for a 12-ounce pour. (It's not the most common Maine to find down here.) Same goes for Technicolor Life: It's a double IPA made with super-trendy hops, and it's rare to find it in a 16-ounce pour, even though it comes in 16-ounce tallboy cans at the brewery. A half-pint (8 oz) pour for $5 doesn't sound like a rip-off.

And yeah, $14 for an eight-ounce pour of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout is steep. It breaks my personal "don't pay more than $1 per ounce" rule. But it's a very hyped and rare beer, and there are people who'd pay that to try it on draft. And hey, they also have the Duck Rabbit stout on for $6 a pint. I'd rather nurse one of those all night. 

What local brewery makes the best Oktoberfest beer?

I have not delved too deeply into local Oktoberfests yet, to be honest. I've had Port City's and DC Brau's, both of which struck me as solid takes on the traditional Oktoberfest style. Port City's is malty and has a nice, gentle carbonation (it's unfiltered and naturally carbonated), and DC Brau has a clean lemon/herbal note in the finish to cut through the heavier malts.  Both easy-drinking.

My two favorite local Oktoberfests are usually Barrett Lauer's version at the District Chophouse, which gets some zesty brightness from hops that he grows in his backyard, and Lost Rhino's pitch-perfect RhinO'fest, which has deservedly won awards at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. But Chophouse is tapping its beer tonight, and I haven't seen the RhinO'fest on tap anywhere yet. 

Anyone else?

Going to Nationa Harbor in 2 weeks for a bachelorette party. Where would you recommend going for dinner (not too expensive) and fun? We were debating Bobby McKey's unless there are better places?

Most of the buzz about dining at National Harbor these days is actually buzz about dining at the MGM Casino adjacent to National Harbor. Fish by Jose Andres can be fun, and if you read Tom Sietsema's new review of Marcus carefully, you can find some dishes that would please a group. (I agree with Tom that the cocktails are better than the hit-0r-miss service.) 

If you're dining at National Harbor itself, Succotash, chef Ed Lee's mix of updated Southern cuisine and bourbon cocktails, is probably the way to go, and has a more of an "event" vibe to it than elsewhere in the neighborhood. McCloone's Pier House is, I think, better for happy hour and casual seafood with a great waterfront view -- something a lot of its neighbors don't have. 

As for Bobby McKey's -- it basically exists for bachelorette parties and girls' night out. If you want to do something else besides sing along, I might add margaritas at Cadillac Ranch, and give the bride-to-be a turn on the mechanical bull. 

I read that the H Street Festival is expecting 150,000 people? That's basically every fourth person in D.C. coming! Is it really that good, and can they handle that many people on one street?

That's a lot of people, and it's far, far more crowded than I remember around 2010-11. At some points, especially around some of the most popular spots -- say, the double-decker bus serving as a bar outside the Queen Vic, the display of Art Cars, or the Oktoberfest party at Biergarten Haus that stretches out the front door and onto the sidewalk, it's really, really congested.

The good news, I guess, is that the festival spreads for 10 blocks and lasts for eight hours, so you're hopefully not going to run into all 150,000 people at once. Try to go early, so you can leave early if it gets uncomfortably crowded. 

How insane will it be to try to get into any biergartens or other bars during the H ST festival on Saturday. Weather is supposed to be gorgeous.

Biergarten Haus officially opens at 11 a.m. I expect there will be a line to get onto the patio -- especially the rooftop -- at that point. Things usually die down in the middle of the afternoon, though that's a relative term, and then there's a huge rush to get into the bars late in the afternoon around 7, when everything in the street closes and people realize they have to get into a bar to get a drink. 

If you're going to try to hang out outside, I might try some of the bars that aren't as big as Biergarten Haus -- say, the rooftops at Avery's or Red Rocks, the patio at Chupacabra or the rooftop at Hikari. The latter two, especially, aren't near the crush of the 1200-1400 blocks, so they might be easier to get into (and enjoy).

Hi Fritz, do you have a favorite IPA made within the district? Always curious to know what I should be trying.

Right now, it's Turning Road at Bluejacket, a super aromatic IPA, brewed with wheat and oats for an ultra-soft body. Stick your nose in it and it's packed with peach, nectarine and mango. Also only $7 for a 16-ounce pour. 

I was there last weekend to try For the Company, a wonderful helles lager that actually tastes like it's been aged in tanks for five weeks -- most breweries can't afford to do that, but Bluejacket somehow finds the space. I loved For the Company as a palate refresher, and something I could drink all night, but man, that Turning Road is a beer I'm coming back to. 

This is probably better suited to the Free Range discussion, but I missed that yesterday. I just don't see why American craft brewers, who do such interesting things already, bother with a style that the Bavarians pretty much perfected on a large scale long ago. My personal favorite among the Oktoberfest beers is still Spaten, though I also like the Augustiner-Brau and Ayinger that you mentioned. I tried both the Sierra Nevada and Port City versions this weekend. They are good, better than most American versions, but still, why? Especially when they cost more at Safeway and Total Wine than their German counterparts.

This is an interesting philosophical question, honestly. To take an example: Most brewers aren't going to make a pilsner that (to me) is as good as what I can get Suarez Family, Victory or Firestone Walker. (Well, when I can get Suarez Family.) So why should anyone bother?

I think part of the thing is, which I mentioned in the story, that yes, German brewers have nailed the classic märzen style. But when I hosted a blind taste test of German and American Oktoberfests a few years ago, with both folks from the industry and friends who just like good beer, almost everyone complained that there was no point in the tasting, because all the beers tasted exactly the same. (To be fair, a lot of them did. Lots of caramel malt. Too sweet. Too flabby.) 

But to go back to Pilsners: A lot of brewers make them because a lot of brewers like to drink them. Pilsners (and lagers, in general) are a litmus test: If you can make a clean, flawless lager, you can technically brew anything. And brewers, in general like Oktoberfest beers. They want to test themselves against a Paulaner or a Spaten, to see where that goes. 

This year, I honestly think the Sierra Nevada is better than most of the Germans I've tried, outside of Ayinger and Augustiner, though I haven't tried the latter in 2017. It's easier and more fun to drink than swilling through the Hofbrau, which I found too sticky sweet last year. 

The other thing, which the brewers from Otter Creek pointed out in my interview (and I just ran out of room in print) is that when you drink a well-lagered American Oktoberfest next to a German Oktoberfest, you should be able to tell that the American version hasn't spent weeks on a ship on its way from Europe. It should be brighter and sharper than the (competitively) older German beer. Freshness with lagers is always key. 

ideas in DC than just movies. Not sure if I want to give away all my secrets, and haunting the websites an be tedious, but the Smithsonian does all sorts of evening lectures/movies/book related things/arty stuff and other places do too. If you go once, you will forever be getting a heads up by email on what is happening next.

Oh, completely true. We didn't have enough room to run everything they do -- the Hirshhorn after-hours programs this summer were fantastic, and I'm a big fan of the After Five jazz concerts and related activities at American Art and the Portrait Gallery.

The grand reopening weekend of the Freer and Sackler next month should be amazing -- oh, and that reminds me of their Made in Hong Kong Film Festival, which is so dope, and also free.

On a related note, I always try to get as much free stuff as possible into the Going Out Guide's Things to Do blog posts on Mondays and Thursdays, so check those every week. This week, there's a free DJ night with Hannibal Buress, a free Hitchcock film, free walking tours of D.C., a free arts festival in Alexandria ... we go on and on.

Okay, that's going to do it for me. See you back here in two weeks. 


Post Points code is HH 9437.

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Fritz Hahn
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes.
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