Greg Engert of Rustico Talks Beer
Greg Engert is the 28-year-old beer guru at Alexandria's Rustico, where he pairs the gourmet pizzas and comfort fare with brews from his hand-picked list of over 300. Want to learn some tricks for pairing beer with food? Wondering how he progressed from E Host Greg Engert

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Published April 15, 2008
Greg Engert is the 28-year-old beer guru at Alexandria's Rustico, where he pairs the gourmet pizzas and comfort fare with brews from his hand-picked list of over 300. The Middlebury College alum discovered his passion for beer while traveling in Europe after graduation. He's a veteran of the Brickskeller in Dupont Circle and is now a partner in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's newest venture, a beer-focused restaurant on 14th Street NW. Engert will be chatting live on Washingtonian.com on Thursday, April 24 at 11 am. Want to learn some tricks for pairing beer with food? Wondering how he progressed from English lit major to beer sommelier? Ask him anything!

Washington, DC
Hi, Greg! I live in Logan Circle, so I'm way too excited for the new spot opening where Dakota Cowgirl used to be. Give me as many details as you can, please! When is it opening? Will it serve food late? Do you have a sneak peek of the menu (food or drink)? My friends will all love you if you tell us. Thanks!
We are excited to join the burgeoning restaurant scene of Logan Circle and bringing en expanded version of Rustico's beer program to the District.  I plan on offering 50 draft beers all served at the appropriate temperatures (we will have 3 temperature zones to ensure that each style is drank at the temp that will most duly accentuate that particular style's flavors) and all served in the proper glassware (to highlight the nuances of aroma and flavor that each brew possesses).  Each draft will be craft-brewed and there we will rotate about half from week to week.  While we will offer more mainstream beers, we won't have them on draft and they will be in addition to 500 craft bottles representing nearly 100 styles and over 20 countries.  And we will have 5 cask beers available at all times. Now for food.  Rustico's Executive Chef, Frank Morales, will be overseeing this kitchen as well, bringing his craft approach to local ingredients, while concentrating on house-made foods.  His pizzas will continue to be a focal point, while his house made breads, meats, and pastas will remain extraordinary.  Late night menu is a must and we always want you to be able to pair your beer. not just sip it.
Washington, DC
What's the ickiest beer you've tried so far? And, for my real question, I'm hosting a family gathering with relatives and friends (many of whom have a more refined palate than me). It will be an afternoon outdoor bbq at my house in May. Do you have any interesting beer suggestions outside of Bud Light that would suit hamburgers and brats? Thanks!

I haven't met too many beers I find icky.  Many will suppose I would answer this by bemoaning the ubiquity of mass-marketed beer.  But I don't hate these beers and I certainly don't find them to be icky. I have been known to knock back my share of ice cold rice lager on a hot Summer morning, day, and night. I think a beer I found icky at first is one called Lammin Kataja Olut, a Finnish Sahti beer.  It is not hopped, but rather relies on a filtering through juniper branches to offset the cloying sweetness of the malt.  The, without a boil, it is brewed with a baker's yeast leaving it turbid and lowly carbonated.  It tasted like gin and tylenol. Later I warmed up to it, discovering the beautifully robust mouthfeel and getting enamored by the strange earthy acidity.  I have plenty at Rustico if you're bizarrely intrigued (they aren't going anywhere).

BBQ.  Get your hands on some nice Amber ales for those burgers.  The caramely malt draws out the caramelized flavors of the charred beef and infuses with the meat's juices (same for steaks, but the more pronounced roastiness of Porter and Stout is better with grilled steak flavors) and the sweetness is a nice contrast to the acidity and mild spicy tang of your tomato, onion, ketchup, and mustard.  Try Bell's Amber, Firestone Double Barrel Ale and North Coast Red Seal.  For Porter, go with Smuttynose Robust Porter or Pripps Dale Carnegie from Sweden.  Stout? Check out Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout, or even a Belgian Stout like De Dolle Export Stout.  If you have trouble finding them at your local shop, I can get you some to-go at Rustico.

Washington, DC
I am not a big fan of drinking beer but everyone around me tends to be. Any tips for warming up to it?
At Rustico I have developed a short list of transition beers for people, like yourself, who maybe love wine, but just don't do beer.  The trick is starting with beers that have a good amount of acidity like wine.  Flemish Red, Oude Brune, Lambic (both Fruity and not), Gueuze, Witbier and Weissbier and so forth will hook you with acidity and then more comfortably welcome you to the beauty of malt texture and flavors.  From there you'll move on to more malt (i.e. sweet) accented brews (thing Belgian ales and German (amber to dark) lagers) and then discover the allure of hops (think bitter, but also floral, herbal, earthy, citric).
Washington DC
This is more of a comment than a question. Brickskeller is such a fraud. They advertise that they have a billion beers, but whenever you try to order your first choice, they are invariably "sold out." My sense is that they stock about 1/5th (at most) of the beers on their menu. Still, they advertise like they have the best beer selection in DC. Such a fraud. Is this kind of thing common in the industry?
First off, let me say that without the Brickskeller we just wouldn't have the variety of beers we have in DC and I think that they are in part responsible for ushering in this new age of beer appreciation.  And personally, I wouldn't be where I am without the hundreds of beers I tasted, and the hundreds of industry insiders I met while working there.  Also, beers are in short supply.  products come and go frequently and it has been tough to maintain even at Rustico.  You also want beer to run out at times to insure freshness (if the brick just stockpiled, it wouldn't be good either).  That said, there is an art to managing a sizeable list and I think that I have discovered a few tricks to being able to offer what you claim to have.
Washington, DC
Greg, Love Rustico. Great work. Someone told me this at the bar and I don't believe it. Is it true you once frolicked with sheep that were bred specifically for their unique manure, which is used in hops fiends in Ireland? Brendan
That was me frolicking, that manure is actually a melange of Shepherd's Pie and puddings and I wish I could say I spent as much time reading about beer when studying in Dublintown as I did imbibing it.  Christ, I didn't eat solid food for a solid year.
Washington, D.C.
I have a few friends who I just can't seem to get into beer. I've tried Blue Moon... any other suggestions?
I touched on this earlier, but Belgian-Style Witbier is a perfect starting point.  It's not as beer-y as most beer.  You'll find a lightness of body and refreshing tang from both malted and unmalted wheat.  Then the coriander and orange peel that are added provide a delicious citric spice.  Low levels of hopping make this not so bitter.  Look for more craft-brewed examples like Allagash White, or Southampton Double White (more malt, more body, more alcohol, more fun) and the mother of all contemporary Witbiers, St. Bernardus Blanche Witbier.  Pierre Celis, the man who revived the Witbier style with Hoegaarden in the 1960s collaborates on this brew now. Amazing.
U Street
What DC bars do you hang out at? Other than your own, where are your favorite beer lists in the city?
If I am in the mood to drink beers I don't see very often and want to be at the mercy of whatever is currently on draft, I head to Birreria Paradiso.  More likely, I'll want to have something different and something I can count on.  For that, I head to the BIg Hunt or the Reef.  Their selections are excellent, focused, and they take great care of their product.  Knowing I can get that bolleke of De Koninck at the Reef always, or that pint of Bell's Two Hearted at the Hunt is comforting. I also like Bar Pilar, Bourbon in Adams Morgan, and Matchbox.
Fairfax, VA
What's up with this Belgian beer craze taking over the city? Is it a good thing, or just kind of some weird passing trend?
The Belgian beer question.  Belgians have an incredible beer history and make some of the finest beers on the planet. Period.  I think the craze has to do with the fact that Belgians are the least beer-y beers as far as the familiarity with mass marketed beer goes, or in comparison to IPAs (hoppy) or Stouts (roasty).  They are a great way to get into beer and I truly love their complexities, but I think they tell only a part of the voluminous beer story.  I want to be able to have a warming barleywine, a mango-ish hop monster, a snappy, floral pilsner, a bubble gummy Hefeweissbier Dunkle, in addition to that herbal Belgian Tripel.  I want variety and the best thing about beer is the insane varieties of flavor, of mouthfeel, of carbonation, of mood.  And then when food enters the equation, I love having all of the aforementioned styles available to me for pairing.  One significant way that I need non-Belgians is with meaty fish.  I find Belgian beer to exacerbate the fishiness of salmon or tuna.  A nice English Bitter draws out the umami flavor of the fish with its gentle malt and the bitterness quells the fishy notes.  Belgians will always be a major part of the beer scene, and they should be, but they won't always be the dominant part.  They will coexist with the others, as they do on many beer lists now (I think I have as many German drafts as Belgian currently at Rustico...).
Silver Spring, MD
Thank you for taking my question. Congratulations on such a great restaurant. Rustico is tops in the DC area for beer geeks like myself. I am a 27 year old working on Capitol Hill, having a bit of an early life crisis. After growing tired of the partisan atmosphere on the Hill, I’m beginning to wish I had gone down a different path with my career. Over the last couple years I’ve started homebrewing and become a dedicated beer geek, and now find myself continually reading all the industry publications, planning vacations around breweries and festivals, shopping multiple times a week for the newest craft brew, and just find wishing I had started working in a brewery out of college! Having no experience in the industry, I am willing to start at the bottom and work hard in a brewery, for a distributor, or a fine beer restaurant such as Rustico. How does a knowledgeable beer geek get started working towards their beer dream?
Good question.  I stumbled upon this and discovered my passion.  Since you already know yours, you can look into interning at a brewery part-time (no pay, hard work, but ideal for learning).  You could try to pick up some shifts at any number of venerable beer spots.  If you get serious, look into brewing school.  Steve Parkes, head brewer at Otter Creek in my college town of Middlebur, Vermont, runs an excellent school up there in the Summers.  What is better that idyllic VT in July? Also the Siebold institute in Chicago is THE school for brewing.  Check it out.
Vienna, VA
What do you drink when you're not drinking beer - like a favorite cocktail?
I love wine and have been getting into more and more.  Working on Rustico's wine list with Chef Morales and GM Jason Asher has been enlightening and has proven our commitment to being beer forward, wine friendly.  As far as cocktails go, I simply belly up to the bar at Eatbar in Arlington and let resident mixmaster Gina Chersevani work it. She's mixing up some cocktails for our drink list at Rustico now and we will debut them soon.  And she's doing my DC cocktails as well. Check her out.
Shaw, DC
So I've always wanted to get into beer, but have always been kind of daunted. Is there a good beginners guide? Like an Idiot's Guide to Beer?

The book I love is Brewmaster's Table by the American don of Beer and Food, Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garret Oliver (who will be in town soon at the National Geographic doing a tasting on Italian beers). This is the book I issue to each server and bartender at Rustico because it has a nice intro on beer basics and then moves into more specific notes regarding the myriad styles of beer.  Of course, it then focuses on what Chef Morales and I spend our days "experimenting" on: Beer an Food.  Apart from our genuine fascination with this concept it provides an nice excuse to have a mini-pop at 2pm...

Oh and read absolutely anything Michael Jackson, the Bard of beer, has written.  His words and presence assisted me in the same way the Brickskeller did; I incidentally met him and drank with him at the Brick on a number of occasions.  He passed in September, sadly.

Alexandria
Best summer beer. Preferably one I can get tonight, at a bar, after work, since it's gorgeous out. Help!

I know this is self-aggrandizing but...Rustico's patio is open, we have an exclusive beer for the discerning drinker that is called Eggenberg Naturtrub, and I will be bartending. Done.

Naturtrub is refreshing as hell, but because it is unflltered, it has a more robust mid -palate flavor.

VA
Can you please explain why a restaurant that has over 300 beers only has 2 men's toilets?

Don't break the seal.

Also, we have women's toilets...women drink beer too. 

Midd Alum!
Hey Greg, As a Midd alum please tell me you stock at least one of the amazing Vermont beers, especially Otter Creek, right in Middlebury itself. What about Long Trail? Magic Hat? How do they compare with the other domestic micro-brews out there?
I have the entire line of Otter Creek beers because they are great, stand by beers and that what we drank at our keg parties. I was spoiled. We carry #9, but think it is ok.  People know it and it is a nice intro to VT beer.  Longtrail, sadly, is unavailable south of NY...I am working on it.  Oh and Otter Creek sends me cask beer frequently...Wolaver's Pale on cask reminds me of real British cask ale. Enough said.
Bethesda
Where do you shop for your beer when you're just buying for yourself? Whole Foods? Which retailer has the best beer selection?
Whole Foods on P St. is getting really great.  I am fortunate to live near there and down the street from Cairo Liquors, which has probably been doing good beer as long as anyone in retail.  The tradition is Chevy Chase Liquors, the BRickskeller of retail.  Recently I've fallen for De Vinos on 18th St. because they have nice domestic microbrews, excellent wines, a clean and nice-looking store, and great service.
Alexandria, VA
I have noticed that Rustico seems to be staffed by people from The Land of Misfit Toys.
Nahem is the creature to which you refer.  He actually was the model for the Mad Elf found in the TRoeg's portfolio.
Alex, VA
I had a great dinner at Rustico the other night but I was shocked to notice on my way out that you appear to have hired not only a panda but a PENGUIN as well????

Yes our Sous Chefs are a panda and a bear.

Thus, we will be doing Zoofari again this year; we're locking them in their cages while Chef and I purvey fine vittles and fine beers. 

Alexandria, VA
First, I love Rustico. I live right down the street and we have been there a bunch of times. My question: out of all the beers out there, what criteria do you use to choose the specific ones for the restaurant?

Thanks for your compliment.  I take into account that the beer is craft-brewed and delicious, and then I work to incorporate beers of all different styles and flavors (in order to give something to all palates and to have a larger resource for food pairing) as well as locales and price points.  Obviously I'm always hunting for the newest and most exotic finds.  2 new drafts this week reflect this...Wintercoat Double Hop from Denmark (interpretation of English IPA) and de Glazen Toren Cuvee Angelique (a classic Belgian ale style, revived for this brew).  

It's getting close to quitting time so I wanted to thank you all for chatting this morning and wanted to let you know of 2 major events coming up.

1. Larry Bell, President and Founder of Bell's brewing company is coming to Rustico Tuesday May 13th to speak at a 6 course dinner prepared by Chef Morales and paired to Bell's beers by yours truly.  Larry hardly ever does these events anymore and he is simply one of the best speakers on beer (and most anything really) out there.  Tix are going fast.  Dinner at 7pm.  $79 plus tax and gratuity.  One-time only kind-of-event. 

2  That Friday and Saturday, SAVOR, DC's biggest food and Beer Expo will take place at The Mellon Auditorium .50 breweries with their brewers, owners and reps will be there to talk about great beer and great food.  Breweries we can't get out here like Port Brewing and Full Sail and Pelican and on and on will be there.  Educational Salons, Tastings, it is incredible.  I'm going to all 3 sessions between the 2 days.  Join me! beertown.org/events/SAVOR 

Thanks again.

Greg Engert

Beer Director

Rustico

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Posted at 06:00 AM/ET, 04/15/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Chats