Snallygaster, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's annual beer festival, has always been an evolving beast. It started (under a different name) as an Oktoberfest celebration in the parking lot of Arlington's Rustico in 2007, then moved to Navy Yard in 2012, growing in size in the ensuing years. Now, Snallygaster has a picturesque new home on the streets of downtown D.C. along Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
"To be honest, we didn't think it was possible," says Greg Engert, NRG's beer director. "It just seemed like a dream to get to do this ... in front of the Capitol. It's one of the most beautiful scenes in the city in general, so what better a backdrop for this massive beer festival."
The new location is just one of the changes for Saturday's event, which, unlike all-you-can-drink beer fests, is more like an expansive, outdoor version of ChurchKey. About 400 different beers will be on offer, many of which have never been available in the city before.
The other major change is the date: For its past six years in Navy Yard, Snallygaster has been held in September, with the day floating based on the Nationals' schedule (and kept out of October in case of playoff baseball). That happened to result in several years of rainy Snallygasters and, for the past two years, very hot ones. The move to October might pay off: The forecast for Saturday has temperatures in the 60s. "Beer-drinking weather," as Engert puts it.
The new location should also ease congestion for attendees getting into the grounds - with two entrances at either end - and make the space feel more cohesive, Engert says. In recent years, as Snallygaster expanded to three parking lots near Nationals Park, the festival started to feel disjointed and more sprawling. Now, "it's one long space you can travel through and still feel like you're in the same event," he says.
As usual, there will be lawn games, a kids area and local music (including Rare Essence and The Pietasters) to distract from the beer-drinking during the festival, which benefits nonprofit Arcadia.
Gone this year are the commemorative glass mugs, which have been phased out because the new site doesn't allow glass.
More than 30 of the 120-plus breweries at Snallygaster have never been at the festival before - slightly more than usual, Engert says. New buzzy breweries include contingents from New York (Interboro Spirits and Ales, Threes Brewing, Equilibrium Brewery and Grimm Artisanal Ales), the West Coast (The Rare Barrel, Monkish Brewing, Great Notion Brewing) and Maryland (Goonda Beersmiths, Cushwa). "We're always challenging ourselves to get even cooler, rarer and more intriguing new brewers," Engert says.
Rare beers are always the main draw at Snallygaster, and since those tend to go fast, the festival will now offer only 4-ounce taster pours of select beers. (Most beers will be available as 7-ounce or 14-ounce drafts; prices for pours vary - you pay with drink tickets that cost $1 each - but are generally in the range of what you'd pay at one of Engert's bars.)
There will also be cans this year, spurred in part by Engert finally getting Vermont's legendary The Alchemist to join the festival. That means you'll be able to get a full 16-ounce can of the brewery's highly sought-after Heady Topper, a double IPA many credit with starting both the hazy, juicy IPA craze and craft beer's push toward tallboy cans. (Don't worry about the festival running out early - Engert says they have plenty of cans.)
"It's a masterpiece," Engert says of Heady Topper, which is meant to be enjoyed straight from the can. "It is a classic beer that has inspired so many. It's still just as delicious and singular as it was and I still haven't had a beer that tastes like it - I don't even think other Alchemist beers taste like it."
There's perhaps no better place to put that claim to the test than at a beer festival with 400 other brews to choose from.Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Sat., 1:30-7 p.m., $40 in advance (includes 30 drink tickets), $15 admission at door.