City-State Brewing Co., a craft brewery, taproom, arts venue and event space located at 705 Edgewood Street Northeast, did things a little differently than some others.
“We had a label before we had a brewery,” says James Warner, owner of the D.C. venue. “In many ways, we built our brewery on the initial concepts of what the beers would be called and what the labels would look like.”
The trendy brewery will be celebrating Beer Can Appreciation Day on January 24 with some of its most popular featured cans released over the last year and specials available throughout the day.
The brewery champions the history and culture of D.C. and makes sure that its beer and labels celebrate the District’s legacy.
“We’ve made labels not only under City-State beer, but also collaborations with cultural figures in D.C., and our labels all try to help tell the story of the District and inspire people to the history and culture of D.C.,” says Eugene Barnett, D.C. native, general manager and D.C. sales manager for the company. “The variety of cans we have in the market, both the artwork and what’s in them, we feel is better than anything else in the city.”
The ideas for new cans start as D.C. references or as flavors, and the art unites them.
City-State’s previous can release, Super Siced!, is a black IPA that uses D.C. slang for “hyped up” and energetic street art on the can. Barnett conceived of the name and the beer.
“We try to figure out some history about D.C. for every new can,” Barnett says. “We wanted to make a tropical beer for the winter, which would be out of season but also out of character for us, because we prefer seasonal and regional flavors. We wanted to say more than just—‘here’s a guava IPA.’ Jay Feldman, our salesman, came up with Spoonbill, a pink tropical bird that was blown off course and landed in the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in 2021. The name instantly worked.”
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Other popular beers at the brewery include 8 Wards IPA, a citrusy West Coast style IPA; Lost Laws Pilsner, a crisp and light pilsner that salutes the civil rights heroes who used the Lost Laws of 1873 to beat Jim Crow in D.C. in 1953; and the Featherduster Hazy IPA, which references the D.C. legislature’s act of political protest — stripping their chambers “down to the last feather duster”—on the day Congress abolished it.
A steady favorite is Kingman Extra Stout.
“Kingman Island is a wetland preserve on the Anacostia, and where I learned that chicory and wild rice grow in the Anacostia,” Warner says. “I thought about those ingredients, and it sounded like a stout. It was a way to celebrate D.C.’s natural environment. There’s an egret and a dragonfly that are the symbols of the island on the can.”
Then there’s City-State’s partnership with D.C. icon, activist and go-go legend Anwan “Big G” Glover, on Big G’s Flavor from the Pocket, and on Big G’s Uptown Hard Mix cans. Big G is well known throughout the area for his go-go as lead talker of the Backyard Band, and his role as Slim Charles in HBO’s “The Wire.”
“He wanted it to be Commanders/Redskins themed, which is a big part of his identity,” Warner says. “He wanted it to be maroon and gold and he wanted to be featured in a football pose, and the idea popped to do ‘from the pocket — which references both football and go-go, where the pocket is the beat the band settles into and the lead talker engages the crowd.”
City-State’s label artist and art director work nearby the brewery, so the collaboration between the team is first-rate, with the end goal always being to have a great beer but one that elicits some thoughts, memories, and curiosity about the District.
“We don’t have anything on the cans explaining what the names are,” Warner says. “But for those who are curious, they can search about the subject, starting on our website.”