The north side of Euclid Avenue between Ashland Avenue and East High Street is a real center of higher learning. For nightly lessons in sociology, there's Chevy Chase Inn; a few doors down, Blue Moon Saloon is a laboratory for observing the interaction of alcohol and post-adolescent hormones. Now add to these The Beer Trappe, a craft-beer retailer and tasting bar next door to the Blue Moon, where all you need to start educating your palate is a few dollars and a valid ID.
Countless bottles of beer on the wall: Enter The Beer Trappe, and the first thing you notice is the stocked shelves on the left — there are more than 399 kinds of beer on the wall, starting with Argentina's Quilmes on one end and finishing with an extensive selection from the United States, with names like Night Tripper, Gonzo ("Good people drink good beer" wrote Hunter S. Thompson), Delirium Nocturnum and Chocolate Indulgence.
Hops with Pop: The Beer Trappe's owner, Brett Behr, comes over from the bar with a spring in his step. At age 24, he has only a few years of legal drinking under his belt but learned the trade at his father's elbow: His dad owns Pazzo's down the road, which has a generous beer selection of its own.
Behr says he picked up knowledge working there and at a bar in Athens, Ga., when he went to college. While working at that bar, he met with the beer reps and talked to people who view beer making as an art. Add to that an Alltech internship last summer and visits to breweries and beer festivals in the United States and Europe, and you end up with a young entrepreneur who exhibits a refreshing blend of business savvy and youthful exuberance without a trace of acidity. Robust, with a clean edge and a warm finish.
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Stocking stuff: The Beer Trappe opened May 25. "It was a lot of work," says Behr, who estimates he was putting in 70 hours a week at first. Luckily, he had help from his family and others from Pazzo's who already knew the business. "I didn't have a lot of time to show anyone" what to do, he said. It took a while to find the best system for stocking the shelves and to smooth out other kinks, but things have settled down.
Timing is everything, but so is location: The craft-beer business has kept its head up during the downturn; it has even been called recession-proof.
"I don't know about that," Behr says, "but I know the craft beers are doing a lot better than the Budweisers."
It's being reported that Americans are losing their taste for cheap, mainstream U.S. beers; craft-beer sales, in contrast, grew 7.2 percent last year, even though they cost more, according to the Brewers' Association. Behr, then, seems to have timing on his side. And his location in Chevy Chase, within walking distance of the University of Kentucky, can't hurt. "It's been up to 40 percent neighborhood business," Behr says.
Ale 12 won: Where did the name The Beer Trappe come from? Behr points to the picture of the monk on the sign. "Some of the best beer in the world comes from Belgium, and Trappist monks make some of Belgium's best."
Brands like Chimay and Rochefort, for example, are made in Belgian Trappist monasteries, he explains. So, too, is the Westvleteren 12 ale, the top-rated beer in the world, according to ratebeer.com. Westvleteren 12 comes from the Abbey of Saint Sixtus near the town of Poperinge. It can be acquired only at the abbey gate, with a secret knock under a new moon — or something like that. Being hard to get has advantages.
London's calling: Behr says he was after an Old World feel with the design. "I'm a big fan of London. The façade and the area behind the bar are modeled on a place there called the Lowlander my dad and I visited."
Behr wanted hardwood floors, dark wood shelves for the bottles, glassware of various configurations (the Belgians are said to have a different glass for every beer) and advertising posters for products like Stone's Ruination and Avery's The Beast. There are large leather chairs that lend a clubby feel.
The Beer Trappe has eight craft beers on tap, and they are rotated daily: "The kegs are a third the size of a regular keg, so we can switch them out regularly." They can be tasted in amounts down to 2 ounces for $1, and this reporter can attest: Even that small amount can steady the hand when the alcohol content is 9 percent. (Most average 5 percent to 7 percent.)
Here comes the judge: Behr is happy to discuss the basics of aging, shelf life and trends (fruity, flavored, barrel-aged, ales), but for the more complex questions, he defers to the Trappe's resident beer expert, Kevin Patterson.
Patterson, a nationally ranked judge, advises on selection, pouring techniques and sanitation. He writes beer descriptions for the Web site and the daily draft-beer list. His trained taste buds can detect flavor elements down to chamomile and clove.
But a major part of his job is helping customers venture into the constantly expanding universe of beer. "I like to pinpoint what the taster's experience is so far," he says, "and then go from there."
"Mmm, beer": What if, say, Marge Simpson were to drag in Homer to broaden his experience beyond Duff beer? What would Patterson suggest he try? "If Homer were to visit The Beer Trappe, I would happily serve him a crisp and refreshing German Pilsener. Maybe a bit fuller in flavor and body than Duff, but I don't see Homer turning his nose up at any beer."