Denizens Brewing Co. in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland is open! This is exciting for several reasons: 1. The next nearest brewpub – a place that serves the beer it makes – is about eleven miles away through some of the worst traffic in the country. Eleven miles might as well be eleven years unless it’s a weekend and I get a head start. 2. Based on the one beer I’ve tried, and they only had one of their own on tap, it seems like they make pretty darn good beer 3. Their business model is rather interesting. I am intrigued and hopeful (Ye gods, you’d think I was over 50 or a business major or something, getting all excited about their business model). 4. They’re a short bike ride away – a mere 3.5 miles or so on a summer afternoon. Or fall afternoon. Or spring afternoon. Even some winter afternoons around here. 5. There are good breweries popping up all over the DC area, but Silver Spring had been sadly lacking. 6. I’ve been waiting for them to open, so it’s kind of like Christmas. You know I never write reviews, right? Neither beer nor brewpub? I don’t think my palate sophisticated enough and I don’t get out that often – certainly not often enough to justify my publicly evaluating a business that’s a source of livelihood. The stakes are pretty high for them, especially when they’re brand new. I leave reviews to knowledgeable beer journalists – yes, there are some, have you seen John Holl’s All About Beer webzine? – journalists whose full-time paying job is to check out the new and exciting in craft beer to see if it really is worth the buzz. Besides, I’m incredibly bad at calling popular trends. However, this place looks promising. Their logo is a play on the DC flag, which is local and cool. Lindsay Burton of Adventures in Beerland blog got there before me and nabbed us a corner table, one of those small round cafe tables with a couple of tall stools. Lindsay is my favorite beer buddy, a fellow beer blogger that I get together with once a month – well, really once a quarter, no matter what my intentions are, but it’s a date I kind of count on for periodic beer sanity. We tend to taste everything in the house and then opt for a pint or three while we talk like mad and catch up on life, the universe and everything. This was our maybe-last-for-a-while get-together, since Lindsay is moving out of Dodge – yay for her, boo for me. Our server was a rather nice-looking guy who was the soul of good-natured patience. He recognized us as beer nerds and made sure he kept them coming. He brought me small tastes of three different beers before I picked my first pint without a hint of a grumble (I tip for that). The place wasn’t packed but there were plenty of people, some of whom looked like they’d settled in for the evening, and not very many servers were keeping them all happy. It seemed that everyone who worked there liked being there. Given how new the place is, that caught my attention.
The Denizens building looks tiny at first, but looks are deceiving. The large outdoor patio with a wet bar looks much bigger than the building next to it. I had immediate tiki fantasies. And I do mean large. I would guess it seats 50-70 easily, in rows of handsome long tables with bench seats and shade umbrellas. Inside upstairs (the “upstairs taproom”) is a smaller space and feels cozy. You can choose 3 kinds of seating: the bar by the door, which is a comfortable place to wait for your friends; the overstuffed chairs and sofas by long low tables down the sides; or tall cafe chairs and little round tables. The cafe tables are great for a tete-a-tete, and the overstuffed-with-low-tables are perfect for hanging out and maybe gaming (BYOG, bring your own game). They don’t mind if you hang out. It is courteous of course to order something. Downstairs, which I’m guessing will be the “downstairs taproom”, seems larger, and is not yet built out. My homebrew club is meeting there in August, so I can give you an update then. There are large windows looking out the back, so it’s won’t be a total dungeon. Right now, you can bring your own food in. Yes, I said bring your own food. Denizens isn’t serving yet. To accommodate patrons, they have scheduled a variety of food trucks that park just outside. For those of you who don’t have the food truck phenomenon, let me attempt to describe it. They look a lot like old-fashioned ice cream trucks (my neighborhood still has a regular ice cream truck), vehicles shaped kind of like a van but with a large order window that opens on one side. Inside are small kitchens providing all sorts of astonishing things. Most food trucks specialize, and many in this area offer international foods (this is the Washington, DC metroplex, we do international pretty effortlessly). Some of them are quite upscale. The DC area is chock full of them. Downtown they’re a rising-professionals phenom. There’s a tracking app and everything. Standing in line at lunchtime is a great way to meet other young professionals in a city where that’s famously difficult to do. Food trucks have such identity that Denizens advertises which one is coming on which day (today I see pictures of delicious-looking fish tacos). For the bring-your-own option there’s also a great pizzeria, Pacci’s, across the street, and a plethora of little eateries along Georgia Avenue, of almost any ethnicity you could wish – Greek, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Balinese, Indian, Chinese, and those are just off the top of my head. Here’s the really important bit: one of these food trucks is going brick-and-mortar at Denizens. That’s a phrase I have never heard before juxtaposed with a food truck.Hopefully in the first week of August the Barbecue Bus will begin serving. It makes sense – let the food people do what they do best, let the brewery does what it does best, and put them side by side to serve the same people. I’ve just never seen anyone do it quite like this. Who doesn’t like barbecue with beer? Until they open, however, it’s bring your own food in or buy from the local food truck parked just outside. So Lindsay and I perched on our tall stools talking away just last week. The menu had six craft beers and six wines. (Our server told us right away they had run out of one of the beers.) Only one was Denizens’ own – their Southside Rye IPA acted as a teaser for September, when they plan to have five regular beers on tap and five rotating ones. In addition to their own Southside Rye IPA, that night their menu carried Allagash White, Brewer’s Art Birdhouse Pale Ale, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and Starr Hill Starr Pils from just a couple of hours down the road . Of course I had to try Denizens’ native beer. Now, I don’t like IPAs. Not at all, generally. This one, however – the spiciness really worked well with the dry bitterness of the IPA style. You got big complex-but-not-sweet malt up front, followed with the rye spice, and late in the taste some smooth caramel. It was lovely beer. They were due to bring in their ESB (Extra Special Bitter) last weekend. I can’t wait to try other Denizens beers. The night we were there, their new growlers and pint glasses had arrived – you can see them on their Facebook page – they already had their growler prices on a board at the bar. In case you’re not a beer drinker, remember there were also six wines, three red and three white. The list included an unoaked chardonnay, a sauvignon and a sauvignon blanc, a pinot noir, and two blends, one red and one white (in case you were counting). Denizens is tucked away from Georgia Avenue, one the busiest thoroughfares cutting through downtown Silver Spring. It’s a bit of a walk from the Silver Spring Metro, down Georgia Avenue and under the train tracks (the walkway has very nice mosaics) to Blair Mill Road or the light at East-West Highway (East-West is small here, but there’s a stoplight, and you can see Denizens from the intersection). It’s on the west side, on your right as you’re walking away from downtown. The RideOn bus 17 or 18 will get you there too- just get off at the big Montomery College building across the street (cross at the light, please, that’s a very busy road), turn right and walk about two blocks back to the light at East-West. You’ll see it on your left, less than half a block down. Denizens doesn’t have its own parking, but just behind is the (paid) parking structure for a highrise apartment building. Two blocks further on the other side you also have the parking structure (isn’t it funny we don’t call them buildings?) for Montgomery College, tucked behind their big building right on Georgia, which is often free in the evenings. I notice the Montgomery College website does not give the hours it’s free. Ignore the Denizens website, at least for now – it still says Coming Soon. The place for news is their Facebook page or Twitter. The FB page has a map. Even if it is Bing it should get you there. And you can plan your trip around your food truck of choice, and which Denizens beers are on tap.