Over the summer, I wrote a 7-part series about my summer 2011 tour of Maryland brewpubs. In that same spirit, I offer my Winter 2011-12 DC Brewpub Tour, another multi-part series featuring even more local places to get great beer. I hope these posts encourage you to support the awesome DC-area beer community and visit more of our local breweries and brewpubs.
Part 1: Rock Bottom Bethesda, Bethesda, Maryland
When Visited: December 23, 2011
Occasion: First day of Christmas Break. It was the Friday before Christmas and the office was clearing out quickly. I joined the crowd and blew off the afternoon in favor of a brewpub.
The kids were still in school so I picked up Beth in Kensington and we drove into Bethesda for lunch at Rock Bottom. We grabbed a table in the bar, across from the large beer menu chalkboard. We started lunch with an amazing appetizer: Blue Cheese Chips, which are fresh house-made chips covered in blue cheese cream sauce and topped with scallions, smoked bacon and blue cheese crumbles. But of course we were there for the beer!
Beers Sampled: I ordered the sampler, which the last time I visited came with Rock Bottom’s five standard house beers and one seasonal. Since Rock Bottom joined with Gordon Biersch, a few things have changed. The standard house beers have been revamped and the sampler rack now includes all of the beers on the menu. There were nine house brews on tap when we visited:
- Kölsch, Rock Bottom’s session beer for the masses, light and drinkable at 4.9% ABV. Replaces the Lumpy Dog Light Lager as a standard house beer.
- IPA, a hoppy American-style IPA (6.3%). Replaces the house Potomac Pale Ale.
- White Ale, a classic Belgian style Wit beer brewed with orange peel and coriander (5.3%). Replaces the house Brown Bear Brown.
- Red Ale, a easy-drinking Red (5.7%). I’m not normally a fan of Red Ale because there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the style. But I love this Red — the best I’ve tasted. It is the only hold-over from the old house beer line-up; it was formerly called Raccoon Red.
- Robust Porter, a dark and roasty Porter (6.1%). This was the rotating house dark beer, a spot formerly occupied full-time by Stillwater Stout. Add a second sampler glass for the cask version of this brew.
- Winter Wheat, a spicy, strong Wheat Ale (8.2%). Quite different for a winter seasonal.
- 15th Anniversary Ale, a Belgian Strong Ale (8.5%) that I had sampled at the Annual Multiple Guest Brewmaster Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee, and the inspiration for my visit to Rock Bottom.
- 2010 Atom Smasher, an amazing Barley Wine (9.5%) that was cellared for a year.
Best Beer: The beer at Rock Bottom is brewed by medal-winning brewer Geoff Lively — all of his beers are excellent and it is hard to pick one as the best beer of the tasting. So I’ll pick three. The three seasonals, Winter Wheat, 15th Anniversary Ale, and Atom Smasher, are incredible beers that you simply don’t come across every day. I picked a damn good day to visit Rock Bottom!
I was most impressed with: Everything? Another tough call. We’ve been going to Rock Bottom for a long time and I really like everything about the place. Yes, it is part of a chain, but don’t hold that against it. To me, this Rock Bottom is an original. It has a comfortable neighborhood feel, great service, delicious food, and well, I’ve already said enough about the beer.