Six hours before the start of the new year, the Senate was about to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff and longtime staffer Patrick Mullane was getting ready to leave the Hill for beer. It’s just that it’s taken a few months to get the kegs tapped.
Mullane and his business partner, Ben Evans, started Hellbender Brewing Co. in January, another in a growing line of respected craft breweries in Washington, D.C.
Hellbender’s first brew, Never Mind the Bollekes, is being released in collaboration with Lost Rhino Brewing Co., in Ashburn, Va. The name is a play on the Belgium beer glass, as well as the punk icon Sex Pistols album “Never Mind the Bollocks.” It will be tapped May 29 at Penn Quarter’s Iron Horse Taproom.
“Our equipment is coming, at least in part, from a manufacturer in Belgium, so we had taken a tour over there,” Mullane said. While in Belgium, the brewers drank many beers.
“One thing we really noticed is that they make a lot of [Belgium-style] ambers and pale ales that don’t get a lot of play here in the U.S. They are everywhere over there,” Mullane said. “They are just so good. A lot of flavor. It’s just nice to have a red kind of amber color. You don’t see as much of those here.”
When Evans and Mullane got back stateside, they hooked up with Lost Rhino’s co-founder, Favio Garcia.
“[Evans] was very precise in what he wanted,” Garcia said of Evans’ plan for the debut ale. The final recipe, which Garcia said was brought to life by Evans and microbiologist Jasper Akerboom, marries a pair of prominent hops from the Pacific Northwest with a Belgian yeast strain.
“There’s a lot of Willamette [hops] in there,” Garcia said, adding that a finishing touch of Sterling hops adds some earthiness to the borderline brown ale and the expressive yeast gives it a hint of fruit.
According to Garcia, the debut Hellbender brew took about a month to produce and was scheduled to be kegged (about 40 barrels’ worth) on Thursday. Hellbender will distribute 25 kegs in the city, across eight or nine bars, including Mullane’s old Hill-side haunts Lounge 201 (now 201 Bar) and Capitol Lounge. Lost Rhino will pull the rest in Ashburn.
The Scientist and the Wonk
Evans was a research scientist at the University of Maryland specializing in microbiology when he met Mullane.
“We met through ... this is typical Capitol Hill,” Mullane said. “I played softball for years with his now-wife.”
The two guys started talking beer. “We just hit it off and started brewing together,” Mullane said. Some time later, Evans, a serious amateur brewer with some professional experience, was ready to try his hand at starting a craft brewery.
“[Starting a brewery] was something I was interested in, but I never honestly considered pulling the trigger on something like that, and then [Ben] brought the idea to me after he was comfortable with my ability as a brewer,” Mullane said. “I was game from the get-go.”
That was in 2010. Since then the friends/brewers/business partners have been perfecting recipes, pounding out a business plan and attracting investors, financing and all the other things that go into starting a business.