By Megan Devlin
At 5 o’clock on a Sunday evening The Public Option is still waking up. Two baristas from a neighboring cafe share pints after a busy shift. Another couple strolls in and orders two cream ales, the most popular on the menu, according to The Public Option founder Bill Perry.
Perry opened The Public Option with his wife, Cathy Huben, in October 2015. To celebrate its second anniversary, the couple hosted a Halloween bash on October 28, with nearly 100 people flowing and out of the little Langdon Park brewpub nestled in the northeastern edge of D.C. Tavern regular and Heurich House advisory board member, Aaron DeNu, loaned his creative production skills for a second year to build projections of ghostly holograms glowing green and purples hues through The Public Option’s window sills and on its tavern walls. DeNu said The Public Option’s historic location in Langdon Park, a site of three major U.S. wars, as well as its proximity to the church that first documented the crazy acts of the 14-year-old ‘Exorcist’ boy, make the tavern all-the-more fitting a venue for a haunted Halloween party.
Gearing up for the colder season, Perry is excited for the early December release of a ‘winter special’ dark red ale made by Tony Wood, The Public Option’s Head Brewer. Wood, who worked previously at Tired Hands Brewing and DC Brau Brewing Company, has helped The Public Option hone its beer hallmark as being clean and clear with good body.
The Public Option’s 1bbl brewhouse is out back while eleven fermenters line the basement. Eight of these are always full of The Public Option batches and an occasional one or two aging recipes of other homebrewers and industry friends. The absence of temperature controlled fermenters keeps The Public Option beers exclusively ales, though Perry hopes future collaborations with other breweries might allow the tavern to feature new styles on tap.
Despite size limitations of the one-barrel system, Perry said that limiting hours of operation to four evenings per week and focusing on in-house production only give The Public Option flexibility to experiment with its beers. “We are free to modify batch to batch,” Perry said. “In the two years we’ve been open, there isn’t anything I haven’t changed.” This is demonstrated by his encouragement of tavern patrons to taste all eight offerings on tap. Perry always offers samples to new customers and regulars alike, namely because The Public Option consistently experiments with recipes, even for flagship beers.
Perry, previously a photo librarian for National Geographic, has been homebrewing since the early 1990’s. D.C. born and raised, Perry said the limited selection of craft beer options in the District at that time kept him brewing at home rather than patronizing the pubs. While never having been an official member of any homebrew clubs, he often acts as advisor to fellow homebrewers and passionate beer lovers who aspire to open breweries and taverns.
“A lot of people come into our space and think, gee, I could do that,” said Huben when describing the conception of The Public Option when she and Perry bought the building in 2009. She never imagined The Public Option would become what it has today, let alone the change in course it would have on her life. “I wanted to travel,” Huben regaled, “But I don’t regret any of it. Such a wide diversity of people come through our doors, along with neighbors who we never would have met otherwise. As you get older the world gets more insular, but just open a bar…” Perry quickly chimed in, “She’s a great teammate.”