There's danger in planning a vacation around beer - but not the sort of danger you might expect.
I had already booked the flight to DC when I read about the Brickskeller in an issue of All About Beer; I would be traveling to DC to see the monuments and history, but the article made it seem as though the Brickskeller was a can't-miss. Over 1000 bottled beers, a dry-hopper, Russian River beers on the menu....
We started the night in the Brickskeller basement, a dark and cramped (yet inviting) space decorated with beer cans from decades before I was alive. We sat at our small table and dove into the beer menu - flipping first to the choices from Russian River, a highly regarded brewery whose offerings don't make it to Indiana. There were at least five Russian River choices on the menu, none of them cheap ($10-$25 bottle), but being that this was a vacation, I decided to spend the money.
But I couldn't because the Brickskeller was out of Russian River. And out of my next choice (which I currently forget). And Gina wasn't having much luck either.
The truth is that a menu so large is just flustering, especially when you've come prepared and can't find what you want. After banging my head against the table trying to make the perfect choice, the waitress finally asked if I'd just like her to chose something. I said "sure".
What I got was an Abita Pecan Harvest Ale - which wasn't as bad as ratebeer.com would have you believe - but it was hardly a beer worthy of selection amongst the largest selection of bottled beers anywhere.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on, and decided to order from tap next. I asked our waitress about their dry-hopped beers - the Brickskeller has a dry hopper on-site and although I'm not exactly a hop-head, I thought I should check out what the process does to a beer. The waitress informed me that beers on tap were not available in the basement, so we quickly finished our pizza, paid our bill, and headed upstairs.
The upstairs beer menu (taps only) was quite a bit smaller than the downstairs menu - instead of hundreds, we chose from eight beers. Except when we tried to order half of them (including the dry-hopped choice), we were informed that they were out. So we drank a Kill Ugly Radio and got out of there.
Now I'm not saying that the Brickskeller is a bad place - in fact the beer selection is still amazing and there's probably no place more dedicated to craft beer - but if you want that same sort of overwhelming beer menu, and choices that are actually in stock, you can do just as well on the southside of Indianapolis at Shallos.
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We did have a lot better luck at Dogfish Head's newest brewpub in Falls Church, Virginia. A well lit and spacious restaurant, Dogfish's newest space was located in a strip mall space, though it exists as its own building out in the middle of the parking lot. The aleshous featured great food (and a menu that some local beer houses would be smart to emulate), some year or two year aged beer selections (Worldwide Stout, Pangea...) - but I'm a big fan of Dogfish anyway, so I was probably a little biased. When we told our host that the brewpub was one of our two "can't miss" DC locations, he gave us a couple of Dogfish pint glasses on the house.
Although the cabbie had a horrible time finding the brewpub (and in fact ended up just dropping us off in a random mini-mall), the experience was great. I didn't have anything too exciting off the beer menu, to be honest, but Dogfish does really great work across the board, so the beer I did drink (Johnny Rawton Pils, Dogfish Black and Tan, 75 Minute IPA - a mix of 60 and 90 minute) was completely satisfying, and once again renewed my faith in beer.
If you're even in the DC area, any of the Dogfish locations are worth checking out.