I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that has lots of places to buy excellent craft beer. However, these places generally fall into two categories: 1) grocery stores with a particularly good beer selection, or 2) wine shops that have a shelf or two dedicated to craft beer. The neighborhood was missing a shop that put beer first – until now.
The Brew Shop officially opened its doors on January 29th, 2016. Owners Beth Helle and Julie Drews have brought a welcome addition to the NoVA (Northern Virginia) craft beer scene. In addition to a vast selection of quality beer, the shop sells supplies for homebrewing, and growlers to take a selection of draft-only beers home with you.
I spoke with Beth and Julie about the new shop and its history. They first met at their previous jobs. They worked in the same field – litigation consulting – and discovered that they both had an interest in craft beer and homebrewing. They started brewing together on weekends, and after awhile, they started joking that they should open a homebrew shop. The “joke” soon became serious planning, and The Brew Shop was born.
The shop, Julie says, was “born out of wanting to do something different.” She describes the shop as a 180 from her old job, going from working with lawyers to working with beer people – a change she finds to be “very refreshing.” Beth adds that owning her own business was a dream of hers since childhood, and when Julie suggested they open their own store, something clicked – her lifelong dream could begin.
That dream has culminated into a brick-and-mortar shop on Wilson Boulevard. Beth and Julie chose the Court House neighborhood because of their desire as beer lovers to have a proper bottle and homebrew shop in the area. Beth has been a resident of North Arlington for many years, and a beer store was “something I’ve always wanted as a consumer.” Julie agrees, noting that the area is “a young neighborhood with people who like to drink,” and while there are lots of bars, proper beer shops were lacking.
My husband and I decided to pay The Brew Shop a visit on its second day in business. The first sight that greeted us was a table dedicated to local beers. What particularly caught my eye were mix packs put together by the store to highlight a) particular flavors, and b) particular flavors from a local brewery. I am a huge fan of mix packs, and my husband and I are much more likely to buy a pack of singles for ourselves than a uniform six pack. The customized mix packs are a good idea for something different, a way to highlight both local beers and particular flavors.
The next sight that greeted us was a wide array of homebrew supplies. We saw tools, books, kits, and bulk ingredients. I am not a homebrewer – I prefer the role of “One Who Samples Homebrew Made By Her Friends” – but even I was impressed with everything they had. The local theme continued with homebrew kits from local breweries such as Heavy Seas. But what most impressed me was the wide variety of bulk grains and hops available. Most places I’ve seen in the neighborhood sell kits only, so this is a unique and valuable offering to people looking to make their own brews in the area.
Being homebrewers themselves, Beth and Julie aimed to have a store that supplied beer brewers as well as beer drinkers. Beth notes that the Court House-Clarendon-Ballston corridor has a “huge homebrewing community,” but before The Brew Shop opened, there were no homebrew stores in the immediate area. Julie also notes that their shop is “the first, and currently only, metro-accessible homebrew supply shop.”
The shop also provides a vast selection of already-brewed beer, particularly from local breweries. In addition to seeing the usual slate of local breweries – DC Brau, Flying Dog, Hardywood, etc. – I saw a few bottles I hadn’t seen before, particularly Brewer’s Alley and Ocean City Brewing Co. The shop also sells beer from nationally-renowned brewers, including Founders, Stone, New Belgium, and Bell’s. However, the focus is on primarily local brews, which I always like.
Julie describes their beer selection as a mix of what they know and what they hear about from fellow beer fans and customers. While they’ve sampled many of the beers they sell, they have not had them all, because they trust the craft beer community to steer them in the right direction. She says specifically, “Buzz is rarely wrong.” Beth agrees, stating that a constant desire to try something new helps to drive their supply. She specifies, “It”s got to be something we know we would like or would be excited to try.”
Notably missing from shelves, though, were beers from outside of the U.S.The beer selection is entirely domestic, probably the only place in the neighborhood with such a focus. Julie confirms that right now their focus is strictly on American craft beer. This is partially due to the vast amount of craft beer on the market and a subsequent practical need to keep the focus narrow. However, she also thinks the American market is strong enough that the focus can stay there for the near future. She states, “There’s so much good American craft beer that for now we’re not going to go outside of the U.S. [Years ago], American brewers all went to Europe to learn how to brew. Now Europeans are coming here to learn [new techniques] … it’s an interesting about-face.”
In addition to bottles and cans, The Brew Shop features eight draft lines. Right now their draft lines are strictly beers from Virginia, Maryland, and DC. They do not sell pint glasses to drink in the shop, but they do have growlers for sale. One growler I was very happy to see was a mini growler that was 16 ounces. I’ve always been hesitant to get a growler because I could never finish one in the amount of time needed for peak beer freshness. The 16 ouncer will really come in handy for draft-only beers that I want to take home.
Beth and Julie have been very happy with the reception so far. Beth says she “couldn’t be more grateful for the community support,” and Julie notes that The Brew Shop has “only been open five days, but the neighborhood has been so welcoming.” Customer feedback has also been great – Julie reports that “people say they’ve been waiting for the store to open” and have been very complimentary upon visiting.
My voice can be added to those compliments. We left with a mix pack of our own (all local beers), and we will definitely return to restock our beer supply – and maybe get one of those mini growlers. The Brew Shop is a welcome addition to the Court House neighborhood. Cheers!
The Brew Shop
2004 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201
Hours: 9 AM – 11 PM Tue – Sat, 12 PM – 5 PM Sunday, closed Mondays