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D.C. Brau Brews First Beer In The District Since 1950's

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D.C. Brau brewery.
Peter Granitz
D.C. Brau brewery.

Brew master Jeff Hancock has a bead of sweat above his mustache as he takes a big gulp of water before returning to one of the two "mash tun" processors located at his newly opened brewery in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood of the District.

"So what I want to end up with in here is about 16 barrels which is about 500 gallons," says Hancock. "And I also want to increase the gravity a little bit. Earlier at one point it was 1.055... I’m looking for 1.058."

If Hancock's statement sounds more like science than art – it is. The gravity predicts the alcohol content in the final product. Hancock checks it on a thermometer, which he pulls out of the boiling vat of wert.

Hancock says what makes Public Ale unique is the District's water – that and the times he adds the hops.

When the wort reaches its optimal gravity, it's a short jaunt across the warehouse to the 10-foot high stainless steel fermenters. This is where Hancock will add the yeast. The mixture will sit there for about a week, letting the yeast eat as much sugar as Hancock allows. The sugar that isn't consumed is what gives the beer its body.

Once the beer ferments, the next step is the canning process.

One of the main reasons DC Brau opted for cans instead of bottles is because of the lack of space. A bottling machine could take up half the warehouse, whereas the canning machine is just 20 feet long.

The cans start at one end, zip down a conveyor belt, gets injected with the beer, and then sealed. It cranks out thirty cans a minute.

DC Brau's CEO, Brandon Skall, says he and Hancock started their business with a little less than $1 million.

"Basically if you knew us, we hit you up for money," says Skall. "It was a period that quite honestly just sucked. I hated going around asking everybody for money: all my relatives, all my friends, all my friends' parents. The second they saw my name on caller ID I’m sure they said 'ah, he's calling about this brewery thing again.'"

It's not a place many people want to be, let alone if you're in your early 30's. That and legal wrangling made for a long two years for Skall and Hancock. But with kegs rolling out, and money about to roll in, Skall is finally relieved – not to mention proud of his native region. Back at DC Brau, Hancock laughs at the end of the day. It's easy to be light-hearted when you're leading a trend.

"Whenever I get down or get frustrated I really can't get mad," he says. I'm making a beer for a living. And if you need to drown your sorrows it's a couple of feet away."

Hancock and Skall are optimistic they'll succeed. Along with Public Ale, they're brewing Corruption IPA and Citizen Belgian Ale.

And, Skall, says, if things go really well, who knows, maybe you'll see a Marion Barry Lambic.

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