Brew at the Zoo: Where’s All The Local Craft Beer?
Brew at the Zoo, the annual outdoor beer tasting event hosted by the National Zoo, will pair biology and the buzzed on July 14. The suds-filled soiree, which attracts some 40 breweries and about 2,000 thirsty guests each year, regularly sells out weeks in advance. As of Thursday, there were still about 600 tickets available. Why?
Those less knowledgeable on antelopes may assume this year's logo is the reason. Perhaps the more zoologically savvy can identify a head-on view of the scimitar-horned oryx, but upon first glance the image looks like the dorsal view of a cow-like quadruped, making the beer glass its body and the foaming head....well, I'll leave that to your imagination.
But I have another guess about why some may be less eager to purchase tickets for the popular event this year.
The current list of featured "micro" breweries offers festival-goers little opportunity to taste craft beer. Until yesterday when Gordon Biersch and Heavy Seas were added, only a fourth of the 28 participants were small, independent brewing companies. Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, and the recently opened Port City Brewing Company of Alexandria will be pouring beer at the event. But aside from a few imports like Belgium's Duvel and Canada's Unibroue, the bill is comprised of large macro-brew producers like MillerCoors and its international counterparts and formerly independent breweries like Magic Hat and Leinenkugel's that have been purchased by the large conglomerates.
According to the National Zoo's Jodi Legge, organizers reached out to local distributors and dozens of breweries at the beginning of the year to solicit participation in events like Brew at the Zoo and Zoofari. "All are invited to participate," Legge says. "Breweries just have to agree to the terms, which include donating the beer." According to Legge, the team uses previous participant lists and guest suggestions to try to reach out to everyone and would like to have a robust event with a wide variety of breweries and beers.
When I contacted noticeable absentees to inquire why they weren't participating this year, Baltimore's Oliver Breweries, DC Brau and Ashburn's Lost Rhino, the newest craft brewery on the local scene, each said they had not been contacted but would like to be part of the event. In fact, Capitol City Brewing Company brewer Micah Krichinsky responded to my email with, "What??? We WILL be at Brew at the Zoo. We love animals! How could we miss it!!!???" Paul Rinehart, the man behind Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville, told me he spoke to someone about participating but never received the paperwork.
Luckily, they all still have the opportunity to join the roster. Interested breweries can contact Helen Moore at 202-633-3069 for details. With hope, I am waiting to see how things pan out before purchasing a ticket. But since the event is likely to sell out again this year, there may not be much time for fussy beer drinkers like me to make up our minds.
Tickets for the three-hour unlimited tasting are $50 for members of Friends of the National Zoo and $65 for nonmembers. VIP tickets ($85 for members; $100 for nonmembers) include perks like access to a private bar featuring Belgian beers and food tastings from Belga Café, Et Voila!, Firefly, and Brasserie Beck.
The price is a bit steep, but the event is a fundraiser. Plus, the purchase is tax-deductible (well, because of tax rules all but $25 is). Brew at the Zoo, which is staffed completely by volunteers, annually raises over $50,000 for animal and habitat conservation and care and is part of the Friends of the National Zoo's Young Professional membership level programming.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this article misidentified Helen Moore. Her name has been corrected. The author regrets the error.]
Photo by Tammy Tuck; image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution National Zoological Park