News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Beer Activist Chris O’Brien

This week, for our Wednesday blogger fix, we knock back a few cold ones with beer blogger Chris O’Brien, local author and beer activist.

Chris O'Brien at Franklin's in Hyattsville.
Photograph by Chris Leaman

Silver Spring author and blogger Chris O’Brien started the Beer Activist blog five years ago when he was living in Ethiopia and working on his book, Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World. He wanted a way to organize his thoughts about the environmental and social impacts of the corporate beer industry.

For his book, published in 2006, Chris traveled all over the world researching local brewing traditions, even working for a time as a brewer at the Zululand Brewing Company in Eshowe, South Africa. His conclusion: You can change the world by having a (locally brewed, organic) beer. He explains how and why below.

Chris is director of the Responsible Purchasing Network at the Center for a New American Dream and part owner of Seven Bridges, a store and online retailer selling organic brewing supplies and equipment for homeroasting coffee. He’s currently working on his second book, due out in a year, that looks at how to find a just and sustainable cup of coffee.

We ordered a round with the beer activist and picked his brain about all things brew-worthy. He let us in on local spots with great beer selections, where to go for tasty beer and food pairings, and his foolproof hangover cure.

Best way to drink beer and save the world:
“Make some organic beer in the kitchen and invite your friends, family, and neighbors over to help drink it. [Learn how here.] Brewing organic beer at home dramatically reduces the three biggest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions related to beer: the inefficient refrigerators at retail stores, the manufacturing of single-use glass bottles, and the fossil fuels used to grow conventional barley.”

Local spot with best beer selection:
“I live in Silver Spring, so my ‘local’ is the Quarry House. For a dive bar, they have an amazing beer selection. Franklin’s is a little farther away in Hyattsville, but it’s the best—and maybe only—place in the DC area where you can drink a beer brewed on the premises while browsing an exceptional selection of domestic craft beers available for carryout.”

Best local brewery:
“I know brewers at most of the local breweries, so this is a toughie. For atmosphere, Franklin’s is easily my favorite. Sit at the upstairs bar, and it’s a sure bet someone will strike up a friendly conversation. On the other hand, Bethesda’s Rock Bottom Brewery has an award-winning brewer, and Mike McCarthy at Capitol City brewed one of my favorite beers produced in the region, a Flemish-style ale called SourPuss. Oh, but then Gordon Biersch brews the best Hefeweizen around. And that’s just the brewpubs! The production breweries in the area are great, too. Currently, I’m excited about the Oxford Organic Raspberry Wheat from Clipper City.”

Favorite bar for beer tastings:
“I had a great tasting last time I visited Rustico in Alexandria. They offered three tasty tapas paired with three beers. Between two of us, we ordered three of those flights for a total of nine different morsels of food and nine small servings of beer, and we enjoyed what was probably the most delightful beer/culinary experience we’ve ever had in the DC area. But I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Brickskeller, which routinely hosts tastings with the world’s greatest brewers as guest speakers.”

Best beer-selection tip for beer virgins:
“Go to a place with a good tap selection and ask for a small taste of a few beers. Choose the one you like the best!”

Favorite beer that comes in a can:
“Locally, I don’t know of any craft beer being canned. Sly Fox up in Pennsylvania cans a few of their lagers, and I just saw Old Chub available at Franklin’s. Old Chub, a Scottish Ale from Oskar Blues Grill and Brewery in Lyons, Colorado, is the beer that started the current canning revolution in craft beer—and an outstanding Scottish Ale it is.”

Best beer-related date idea:
“Teach your date to homebrew! Or, for the nonhomebrewers in the crowd, go for a bike ride to a nearby brewpub. Most of them are pretty easy to access from bike paths. The exercise, plus a few beers, really gets good energy flowing. If the date goes well, you may need that energy.”

Favorite food accompaniment for a glass of beer and best place to get it in the area:
“Bread and cheese are my favorite everyday pairings with beer. For a taste of Washington’s finest dining experience on the cheap, go to CityZen and get their cheese-and-beer pairing. Ask if their sommelier, Andy Myers, can come around and describe the pairing for you. He is a true master.”

Most exotic beer you’ve ever tasted:
“This question is too hard. I’ve traveled the world seeking exotic brews, from Ethiopia to Vietnam. I will say this much: I once had a homebrewed concoction in South Africa called ‘the backbone of a puppy.’ ”

Last brew you drank:
“A homebrewed IPA my neighbor gave me before dinner last night.”

Draft or bottled?
“Beer is a fresh product just like bread, so if I was given a bottle and a draft of the same beer, I would always choose the draft.”

Grocery chain with the best beer selection:
“Montgomery County has one of the most arcane and oppressive beer-distribution systems in the country—it is a county-controlled monopoly. As a result, beer selection suffers tremendously in this county, and there is no obvious rhyme or reason as to which grocery stores sell beer. The Whole Foods down the street from me in Silver Spring isn’t allowed to sell beer, but in general, the other Whole Foods in the region have top-notch beer selections.”

Favorite nonbeer alcoholic drink:
“Scotch. The peatier the better.”

Best hangover cure:
“Water. Aspirin. Sleep. In that order.”

Finish this sentence: “If I could name a beer, it would be called . . .”
“The Organizer. I read somewhere that ‘getting organized’ used to be a euphemism for intoxication. But the term is also associated with activist organizers who coordinate protests and build movements. I like the idea of being an organizer, wielding a good beer in my clenched fist.”

Favorite fall beer:
“I’m eager to try the new organic pumpkin ale coming out this fall from Otter Creek-Wolavers.”

Favorite local food or drink blog besides your own:
“Tom Cizauskas, formerly the southern-region salesman for Clipper City and now representing Select Wines in the Northern Virginia area writes an entertaining blog called Yours for Good Fermentables.”

Next week in the Blogger Beat, we head to Logan Circle for a little neighborhood therapy with the husband-and-wife duo behind the blog 14th & You. Check back on Wednesday to find out the hidden shopping, eating, and drinking gems in this Northwest DC neighborhood hot spot.

Earlier interviews:
Culinary Couture
Capitol Hill Barbie
All Blogger Beat interviews

Have a favorite local blogger you’d like to hear from? Send an e-mail to

More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Society Photos