The Dish: A Monstrously Good Time

by WL Author

Beer sommelier Greg Engert on creating ‘Snallygaster,’ a beer and food fest of beastly proportions.

By Brittney Dunkins

Photo courtesy Kyle Martel

The “Snallygaster” is a legendary beast, half reptile and half bird, that’s said to haunt the Blue Ridge Mountains. But for one day only on Oct. 13, 2012, it’s an epic celebration of beer and food taking place at Yards Park in Southeast.

Organized by Neighborhood Restaurant Group, owners of such popular dining destinations as Birch & Barley and Churchkey, the festival also features over 100 handpicked beer selections from Churchkey beer sommelier Greg Engert. He recently chatted with Washington Life about the festival and some stand-out brews.

Greg Engert (Photo courtesy The Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

Q: What was the inspiration for Snallygaster?

A: After throwing our big “Oktobeerfest” at Rustico in Alexandria for five straight years, we finally outgrew the space due to its popularity. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue the tradition with “Snallygaster.” We’re pouring a slew of delicious craft brews and showcasing amazing food crafted by chefs from throughout the Neighborhood Restaurant Group — all with the backdrop of Yards Park, right near the building, where our brewery, restaurant and bar, Bluejacket, will debut next year.

Q: How far in advance did you begin choosing the beers for the event and what was your process?

A: Pretty much right from the finish of last year’s festival! I began by selecting beers I loved pouring and knew I’d want to feature this time around. I then began contacting brewers and distributors to discover new seasonal brews that would be coming up for Autumn. About six months ago, I decided to continue to focus on fall brews, like Fresh-Hop Harvest Ales, Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Ales, as well as German-brewed beauties, but to also round out the selection with a vast array of delicious non-seasonal brews — something for every palate — including a host of super-scarce treats I have stashed away for the event. At last count, we are pouring nearly 150 different brews on tap.

Q: Which beers should festival-goers definitely try?

A: We will debut two beers by our forthcoming brewery Bluejacket: Mad Jacket, a strong, dark Bavarian-style wheat beer brewed with Mad Fox Brewing Company of Virginia; and Freestyle #10, a low-alcohol, sessionable Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale with New England-grown rye. It is brewed in collaboration with Oxbow Brewing Company, a new and exciting craft-brewer in Maine. Be sure to taste some of the 10 different rubber-clad gravity kegs we’re pouring from Franconia in Germany. Each is an unfiltered, unpasteurized take on some classic German styles, and all are subtly nuanced for understated complexity.

Q: How were the food pairings decided?

A: I made sure we had a flavor for each and every palate. If you love crisp brews, hoppy, roasty or smoky beers, fruity, malty sweet and even sour, we have plenty of options. Be sure to match up any of the Oktoberfest lagers you can find with a classic brat from Red Apron and a smoked beer, like the Schlenkerla Marzen or Spezial Lager, with the spit-roasted turkey legs.

Q: Any advice for navigating through all these beers?

A: The obvious first brews to seek out are the Oktoberfest styles, the toasty, slightly strong, yet refreshingly crisp amber lagers that will pervade the event. We have countless examples brewed both stateside as well as from overseas. You also want to check out the array of Pumpkin Ales, those pumpkin pie-in-a-glass brews that always announce the arrival of Autumn.

Hop heads should pounce on the Fresh-Hop Harvest Ales, true seasonally-brewed ales that pack a fresh and floral punch and delicate bitterness from the addition of just-picked Pacific Northwest hops. Then you’ll want to seek out the countless authentic German-styles, the classic Hefeweizen, the Helles and Dunkel Lagers, Pilsners, Schwarzbier and Bocks. And be sure to try all of the rare and heavily anticipated sour brews, hugely hopped ales, and oak barrel-aged beers as well. The myriad styles will fully represent the monstrous beer list befitting a fest called Snallygaster.

Snallygaster takes place Sat., Oct. 13, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Yards Park, 300 Water St. SE, near Nationals Stadium. For tickets and more information, visit the festival website.

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