Craft beer makes a comeback in Washington

A smoky flavor. Hints of cherry. Taste carefully developed by allowing raw product an extra week on the vine. One would be forgiven for thinking those traits were being used to describe fine wine. But for a growing subset of connoisseurs, it is small-batch craft beer that inspires such attention.

Thousands of beer enthusiasts downed two-ounce samples of fine beer at Washington’s National Building Museum Saturday for Savor, the second annual craft beer and fine food tasting. It is part of a renaissance, brewers explained, that seeks to re-establish beer to its rightful place in an era of fine wine and designer cocktails.

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“Today we are at the beginning of a revolution, and the revolution is about beer being recognized as the equal of wine,” said Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Co., the brewer of Samuel Adams.

Koch’s Triple Bock kicked off the extreme brewing craze that has seen artisans using increasingly varied additives to flavor their beer. Coriander, blackberry, cherry and all manner of citrus fruits aid the beer that flies off shelves. Koch’s proudest achievement: the 52-proof Utopias, which tastes like cognac smells and, when swirled in a snifter, has legs that would give any good red wine a run for its money.

Hours before the event’s kickoff, Koch explained the rebirth of beer as something that could happen only in the United States.

“No place in the world has this enormous rainbow of beer styles,” he said. “They have a few great beers in Germany, but you can’t get a good stout.”

Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Denver might all be seen as better beer cities than Washington, but event organizers pointed to a strong subculture of local breweries keeping the nation’s capital satiated. And the city is a good destination for such an event, brewers said; about half the attendees at Savor hailed from Washington, with others flying in from around the country.

Perhaps the most useful advice of the night also came from Koch, who still tastes every batch of Sam Adams that comes out of his factory. He cited a simple remedy for cutting the amount of alcohol one absorbs, a method developed by a former employee and brewing pioneer.

Simply eat a packet of regular yeast, Koch advised. It will absorb around half the alcohol in a beer. It works like a charm, he insisted, save one minor drawback that might make a car ride home slightly uncomfortable.

“As near as I can tell, the downside is it makes you fart,” he said.