Red Bear Brewing Co. has always had a certain appeal to the LGBTQ community. “We definitely have more straight people come in,” says Simon Bee, “but I would say [the crowd] is normally probably 20 to 30 percent queer, and probably half and half for events.”
For starters, everyone who walks up to the brewery’s large space in NoMa is greeted by a sign reading, “Diversity is delicious.”
“You walk in and there are gay flags everywhere, and a Black Lives Matter flag,” Bee continues. “It’s pretty obvious.”
And yet, only recently has the brewery, owned by three self-identified gay men — Bee, Cameron Raspet, and Bryan Van Den Oever — started reaching out to LGBTQ outlets. The occasion? Pitch its new line of hard seltzers, one with a name fully intended to be “a little cheeky” as well as evoke a knowing, amused response in gay customers.
Served in colorful cans designed by artist Alice Packard, Woof! is currently available at Pitchers and TRADE, as well as at Red Bear. Bee, the head brewer, explains the expansion into a line of hard seltzers.
“We wanted something light to contrast with our heavier beers,” he says. In fact, Woof! registers only 4.1 percent alcohol content and is 90 calories per 12 ounce can. It’s also gluten-free — all of which is in marked contrast to Red Bear’s line of beers. “It’s summery,” says Van Den Oever, the marketing and events director. “We want you to be able to enjoy it poolside in the afternoon.”
The hard seltzer line is just one way the company is growing. They’re also in the early phase of pursuing a far more direct route, searching for property that would work as a second location and production facility to help with the increasing demand for their products.
“Honestly, we have not been able to keep up with demand right now,” Bee says. “During the pandemic, we slowed way down. We had all this extra beer and we were still moving , but at about probably a third of what we normally move. As soon as June rolled around here, ‘Oh my God, it was crazy.’ We actually have sold more barrelage of beer in the last two months than before the pandemic.”
This summer’s spike in sales has registered as a relieving counterbalance to the prior 15 months’ struggle and uncertainty. “It was very stressful. I feel like I aged five years,” Bee says. “It was rough, but we persevered,” Van Den Oever adds. “If we weren’t a strong team, we would be done. But we made it through.”
At the moment, Red Bear is gearing up for a busy fall — while also working to replenish their standard brews on tap. “August is going to be kind of a catch up for us because we’ve been so low on our normal brands. We’re trying to really just fill our menu back out,” Bee says.
Van Den Oever, meanwhile, is planning a full slate of events, many to be hosted by resident drag queen Desirée Dik. This Friday, Aug. 6, sees the reboot of the first-Friday amateur drag competition Slay Them!, which will eventually crown one new queen the Red Bear Slayer 2022. The following Friday, Aug. 13, sees the D.C. debut of Insecuri-Tea: A Body Positive Celebration organized and hosted by Baltimore’s Hazel Derèon. There’s also the regular lineup of Drag Bingo with Dik, held every second and fourth Tuesday, and Trivia Night hosted by William and Neil every Wednesday.
By fall, Red Bear will also introduce two new flavors of Woof!, swapping out the current Blood Orange Ginger and Prickly Pear. One leading contender to bubble up next is what could be called the ultimate fall flavor fad.
“I personally want to do a pumpkin spice hard seltzer,” Van Den Oever says. Bee immediately scoffs at the idea, but ultimately concedes, “I am open to it. Part of the joy of doing a project like Red Bear is that we have the ability to experiment and do fun things. So why not?”
Red Bear Brewing Co. is located 209 M St. NE. Call 202-849-6130 or visit www.redbear.beer.
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