Justin Cox, the founder and CEO of Atlas Brew Works, really likes beer. A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, he became a self-professed “beer nerd” after drinking his first “non-crappy” macro lager while an undergrad at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He eventually moved to the DC area and received a law degree from George Mason University in 2009 – honing his microbrewery skills between exams.
Cox began entering his beers in competitions, and started to win awards. His passion for brewing grew while his interest in his day job at the General Services Administration waned. As he puts it, “I decided to open a brewery to avoid being angry at myself when I was older for not giving it a try. The name Atlas came from the brewery’s proximity to the Atlas District, and then, generally, I just like the short and strong name.” And he provides a non sequitur with a snide smile, “I also like to answer questions about how we manage to produce the best beer in DC and still be extremely good looking.”
Atlas Brew Works opened in 2013, and the rest is history. The brewery hosts a portfolio of 16 brews, ranging from the ever-popular District Common Lager to the more eclectic Silent Neighbor Pumpernickel Stout. Six brews are available year-round and another 10 are available seasonally.
You’ll find an eclectic set of drawings on Atlas beers, including one of John Hancock’s pen, a nod to the brewery’s past as the drawing was included on the can of Atlas’ first draft beer.
But Atlas goes beyond brewing good beer, as it has a strong environmental ethic to its work. Since 2015, the Ivy City location has been powered by a 68 kW solar array located on the brewery’s roof that was installed by DC-based Solar Solution.
According to Cox, “We decided to go solar for a few reasons. One is to keep in with our environmental stewardship ethos, but it also makes good business sense. There is a financial benefit to cheaper green energy. Oh, and, by the way, we did not pay for the solar installation in beer, though the guys did spend a lot of time checking out our production system.”
While Atlas is proud of its solar-powered beer, it also employs other green practices. Atlas beer is packaged in 100% recyclable aluminum cans. As these cans weigh significantly less than bottles, Atlas uses less fuel in its beer distribution system. Atlas also reclaims the water from the brewing process, and it donates the spent grains from brewing to local farmers for animal feed and compost. The grains come from many places, including Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, but the majority is grown in the American Midwest. You can buy Atlas beer in reusable glass growlers – either their own or even one from another brewery. Just make sure they’re clean before you bring them in.
Atlas’ good green ethic is paying off. It will soon be opening a second venue, a brewery and tap room at 1201 Half St. SE. The opening date is pending due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to Cox, “We’re fortunate. People in DC and in the great DC area really enjoy our beer! We put a lot of effort into creating, brewing and marketing our beer, and the response has been great. We’ve been looking for a new production home as we outgrow our Ivy City space. We came across this Half Street location in Capitol Riverfront. As big DC sports fans ourselves, a location just outside Nats Park and not too far from Audi Field was just too good to pass up.”
The Half Street brewery and tap room will be just that, a 10-barrel brewhouse along with a large bar and pizza kitchen. While the roof lacks the space for solar panels due to the size of the building’s mechanical systems, the site will eventually have solar panels installed over the awning and a solar canopy over the patio space. According to Cox, the Half Street location will get the remainder of its electricity needs from offsite renewable wind and solar sources.
Atlas Brew Works is still operating despite the coronavirus. While the brew pub itself is not open to the public, in line with DC’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) recent regulations, Atlas’ Ivy City brewery is offering onsite pick-up of cans and draft beer growlers. It is also providing delivery in the Ivy City, H Street, Trinidad, Carver/Langston, NOMA, Capitol Hill and Kingman Park neighborhoods (see https://www.toasttab.com/atlasbrewworks/v2/online-order#!/order). Gift cards are available: https://www.toasttab.com/atlasbrewworks/giftcards.
As of this writing, Atlas is taking orders from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and making deliveries in batches between 4 and 6 p.m. Note that customers must show a valid 21+ ID to the driver and meet them curbside.
Cox notes, “We are open! The best thing about running a brewery is that we always have plenty of delicious beer on hand, and we’re doing what we can to make sure our customers have access to it. It’s a great feeling to make a tangible product that people enjoy, and see your dreams come to fruition and be enjoyed by others.”
How does Atlas brew such good beer and still be extremely good looking? Once the current coronavirus restrictions are lifted, tours will be available at the Ivy City location on most Saturdays at noon, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., staff time permitting. Stop by and find out for yourself – and buy a beer made from solar power!
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also the chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.