Step inside the ground floor of James Warner’s Brookland home and you’ll find yourself inside the current headquarters of City-State Brewing Company. Inspired by his love of beer (both drinking it and brewing it), Warner is hard at work founding a beer line – and a brewery – that celebrates the history and spirit of the District of Columbia.
We sat down with Warner in his office/brewing den for a chat about City-State Brewing Company: its origins, its aspirations, and its potential future as a brick-and-mortar brewery.
Where did your interest in brewing beer come from?
I always loved cooking and being in the kitchen, and I always had a thing for beer. I went to college in Scotland from 1994 to 1997, and the beer culture there really inspired me. It wasn’t like anything I’d found here in the United States. When I moved to D.C. in 2007, I got some brewing equipment someone was giving away, and a buddy and I went and made a batch of beer. From the time I made that first batch, I was obsessed. We were two total amateurs making a bucket of beer on a front porch – and we came out with something that tasted good and made people happy when we shared it with them.
What made you want to start your own brewery in D.C.?
After 17 years of public service, I wanted more control of my life and my future. I realized that D.C. was a place where it was relatively easy to become an entrepreneur, and watching DC Brau and 3 Stars succeed gave me the confidence to start a brewery of my own. Then the idea for City-State started to hatch. D.C. is one of the best places to be in the alcohol business in the country. You’re allowed to self-distribute your beer, and if you sign up with a distributor, it’s not exclusive. D.C. really gives you that freedom.
How did you get started building up City-State Brewing Company?
In 2014, I left government to devote myself full-time to building up the brewery. I’d never tried to start a business before, so I spend a lot of time just going out there talking to everyone I could and making connections to great people in the industry. I had money from the sale of a house on Sherman Avenue and put as much as I could into the project. I took a short apprenticeship at Glacier Brewing in Polson, Montana. I waited tables at Churchkey to learn what they were doing with beer, both in terms of the selection and the education of their servers and customers. In 2015, I got a job with Legends, one of the region’s leading craft beer distribution companies.
What’s your beer portfolio like?
Our beers are meant to be for everyone, not just people who know they like craft beer. We want to make beautiful, wonderful beers for everyone in the city. We’re planning to launch with a portfolio of five beers to offer people a range of tastes and characteristics. There’s Holy Go-Go, an abbey dubbel that’s our strongest beer; the Brookland, a tart saison; Equal Marriage, a dark wheat beer with notes of clove, banana, and cocoa; the Self-Determinator, a German-style lager; and our 8 Wards Independent Pale Ale, brewed with an ingredient for each of D.C.’s wards.
What’s the current status of City-State Brewing Company?
We’ve got just over half of the money I set out to raise, and that’s enough to put down a deposit on a location and on the brewing equipment (once we have the space). Every six weeks or so, I try to host tasting events for current and potential investors. Right now, we’re in talks with a landlord on a location in the District. The biggest question we get every time I make a pitch: Where will the brewery be and when will it open? Right now, the goal is to be open or almost finished with construction by December 2018. We’re still accepting investors, so if you want to be a part of City-State, please get in touch!
Learn more about City-State Brewing Company at citystatebrewing.com