The stereotype held by many craft-beer geeks about Gordon Biersch (with locations currently in the District, Rockville, and Annapolis, and thirty-plus other locations across the country) is that of a lager-friendly brewpub chain doling out mass-market-friendly "cookie-cutter" recipes to their outlets and telling the brewers to crank them out repeatedly, sending samples to the corporate lab for quality-control analysis. And there's a lot of truth to that. Meanwhile, Rock Bottom (with an award-winning location and brewer in Bethesda) was widely seen as the "chain that isn't a chain," with each location having its own distinct line-up of beers.
Gordon Biersch locations still have to keep five standard German-style brands on tap at all times and release four set-in-stone seasonals at the appropriate times. But the brewers are being granted considerable leeway in crafting “gap” beers to fill the down times between seasonal releases.But over at Rock Bottom?
Last summer, brewer Kevin Blodger [whom many readers here may remember as a brewer at Capitol City Brewing in the Harborplace location] of the Gordon Biersch in Rockville released a “Gose,” an obscure eastern German-style ale flavored with coriander and salt. It was so well received that Blodger will likely repeat the recipe in 2012. On Dec. 28, Grant Carson of the Tyson’s Corner Gordon Biersch will tap a Rauch Dunkelbock, a strong dark lager made with 60 percent beechwood-smoked malt. Carson previewed the beer at R.F.D. Washington’s holiday tasting on Dec. 15; first sip brought out those bacony, phenolic notes typical of Bamberger rauchbiers, but it quickly was replaced by a depth of bittersweet chocolate flavor.
What’s more significant, Gordon Biersch for the first time is allowing its brewers to experiment with non-German styles. Blodger was set to tap a hoppy, American-style pale ale this week. In late January/early February, as part of a new Brewer’s Select program, all three local Gordon Biersch restaurants will unveil unique house beers. Blodger has a barley wine in the works. Scott Lasater at the Washington Gordon Biersch plans to tap a Belgian-style dubbel. And Carson will offer a saison, an IPA and possibly a Vienna-style lager.
Before the merger, each Rock Bottom brewpub offered a unique lineup of beers. Now, brewers are required to toe the line by keeping four year-around beers on tap at all locations: Rock Bottom Kolsch, White Ale, IPA and Red Ale.Left out of this comparison is District ChopHouse, one of four ChopHouse locations taken over by Craftworks, which is but a block away from the D.C. location of Gordon Biersch, and for which Wharf Rat/Oliver Ales alumni Barrett Lauer still brews......
“We’re being stigmatized because we’re all brewing the same beers, but we picked award-winning recipes that have a lot of hardware behind them,” protests brewer Dave Warwick of the Arlington Rock Bottom. The Red Ale, for instance, is based on the Raccoon Red formulated by Geoff Lively of the Bethesda Rock Bottom, winner of numerous Great American Beer Festival medals.
Both Warwick and Lively, however, stress that they’re still allowed considerable freedom in brewing a rotating dark beer and a once-a-month seasonal release. For about the 12th year in a row, Lively released his Anniversary Ale, but this year for the first time he added a dry-hopping with Amarillo, Mt. Hood and Cascade varieties, which contribute a spicy, herbal underpinning to the fresh ginger and sweet orange peel traditionally added to the beer. (He was also planning to tap one-, three- and five-year-old versions of his Atom Smasher barley wine.)
Have you seen these places lately? Thoughts? Do folks still want a GB or Rock Bottom in Baltimore?