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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tap Handle #616: Hellbender Brewing - Red Line Ale

Tap size:  12"
Rarity:  less than 10 seen
Mounting:  internal 3/8" nut

This tap comes to the Museum courtesy of Ben Evans, Head Brewer and President of Hellbender Brewing. Produced for the opening of their taproom, Hellbender has since switched to a different tap design featuring wood branded with the brewery's logo, but fortunately Mr. Evans was intrigued by the Museum concept and was able to locate one of these scarce three-sided taps for me. Featuring a Hellbender Salamander clinging to rocks, with recessed ovals at the top for beer labels and the brewery name sculpted down one side, Evans perfected the tap with a researcher from the National Zoo. "I was sending the head researcher the proofs back and forth," Evans said. One detail that needed to be perfected was that the Hellbender has four toes in the front, but five in the back. The tap is absolutely gorgeous, with the huge salamander being the most striking feature. Due to the three-sided nature of the tap, I wasn't able to capture the brewery's name, beer variety, and salamander all in one shot, although you can see its toes, jaw, and the tip of its tail curling around the base. The paint appears to be airbrushed, giving the tap a high-end artistic look. Very few of these were ever made, so I expect they will not appear much, if it all, on the secondary market.

The Eastern Hellbender is the largest salamander in North America, and the third largest in the world. That may not sound impressive until you realize these nocturnal amphibians reach up to 2.5 feet in length and three pounds in weight. They can grow large enough to eat a small kitten. Luckily for kittens everywhere, Hellbenders prefer to eat mostly crayfish and some small freshwater fish. Hellbenders are now endangered or threatened in many states. Fortunately, captive breeding programs are underway throughout the mid-Atlantic, Ozarks and Ohio River Valley to restore this species to its natural habitat. While you may still find Hellbenders in the wild within 60 miles of D.C., you don’t need to go any farther than the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. to see these amazing creatures up close. The lizard-like amphibians, according to myth, are born of fire and impervious to flames. They are truly "The Last Dragons". Check out the brewery's website to see an HD video of these incredible creatures.

Click through to read more about Hellbender Brewing, their Red Line Ale, and to see more photos of this captivating tap...

Hellbender Brewing Company was founded in 2013 in Washington, Washington D.C. by Ben Evans and Patrick Mullane. Evans was a former wrestler, microbiologist and neuroscientist who had moved to the area to conduct clinical research at the University of Maryland. His interest in brewing had previously developed while working at a craft beer bar in Delaware, and then he "interned" at Iron Hill Brewery. In contrast, after working in the world of nonprofits, Mullane became a congressional aide. During his early time as an aide, which did not pay very well, he started bartending to make ends meet, which turned him on to craft beers and then led him to start home brewing in 2005. In 2007, Mullane crossed paths with Evans, whose girlfriend played on Mullane’s softball team. One night when Mullane brought one of his homebrews to a party, Evans was hooked, and the two men discussed beer all night. They started homebrewing together, which lasted almost four years, until they began to entertain the idea of starting a brewery.

In 2011, Mullane and Evans began raising the capital for Hellbender Brewing, with the name chosen from Evans's childhood fascination with the salamanders, which he felt had a local connection without being too obvious. The experience Evans brought with him from Iron Hill helped attract investors. By the end of 2012, the Hellbender Brewing Company had reached its fundraising goal. Within five months, it had secured the requisite additional loans from a financial institution. In 2013 Evans visited at least fifteen properties before he found the right one, a warehouse that would allow for a large tasting room in addition to the brewing equipment. However, when trying to obtain a building permit, delays began piling up thanks to outdated city regulations, lost applications, and five separate licenses that were required by the city (not including the health inspection).

Meanwhile, Hellbender was paying rent and utilities for the property, plus the interest on its loans, without any revenue coming in. As a result, Mullane and Evans had to go back to investors for another round of funds. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2014 that Hellbender was able to begin construction of the brewery. Just as Hellbender was nearing production, it ran into another snag when it was discovered that the brewery’s boiler was coded for a different region than its skid. The end result was another four-month delay and an additional $30,000 in costs. The two co-founders had quit their jobs to start Hellbender. To pick up some form of income, Mullane worked at a wine and cheese shop, while Evans coached wrestling. Both had saved up some money, but it was their spouses who shouldered the brunt of the financial responsibility during this stretch.

The brewery consisted of a typical 17-barrel brew house with two primary fermenters, but what really made Hellbender unique was the purchase of a Belgian-made hammer mill and mash filter system that turns grain into a flour-like powder, requiring less grain, water and energy. When Evans first heard about the filter, a post to the Brewers Association eventually put him touch with the Alaskan Brewing Company, which used a larger version of the Meura system. Evans quickly realized the desirability of the technology, and then in a stroke of good luck, discovered Meura was entering the U.S. market with a smaller scale model that Hellbender could actually afford. They made the decision to become the second brewery in the United States to acquire the system. Evans and Mullane traveled to Belgium at Meura's expense. The two had recently made the first payment, so the Belgian company flew them across the Atlantic to brew on its pilot system and observe breweries using it on a larger scale. During this time both men sampled and developed an interest in Belgian beers.

The partners had served home-brew at the annual Brew at the Zoo beer festival, but their first commercial beer was brewed in collaboration with Lost Rhino Brewing, a Belgian-style pale ale called Never Mind the Bollekes. Hellbender then opened with a line-up of three flagship beers: Red Line Ale, Bare Bones Kölsch, and Eft IPA, with three seasonal offerings on deck - a hefeweizen, a saison, and a pumpkin ale. But relatively quickly, the brewery phased out the Eft IPA when they realized it had a seasonal nature. With only the two fermenters, they had to streamline their process, focusing on the saison, with plans to bring the kölsch back when they had more capacity. The Red Line became a fall and winter seasonal. With the surging popularity of its saison leading the way, Hellbender turned the corner financially after landing an account across the entirety of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group.

The brewery focuses on environmental friendliness and sustainability in a variety of ways. In addition to the highly efficient mash filter, Hellbender partners with local farmers who take their spent grain and use it as livestock feed and compost. They also trade cheese for beer with the farmers, and have beer and cheese pairing events at the brewery. Hellbender held an event with the National Zoo to raise money for an endangered salamander exhibit. Evans, his dad, and some friends also started a small hop farm in upstate New York in 2010 that grows 15 varieties of hops; after the fall harvest, Hellbender uses the hops for one-off beers. The furniture in the tasting room was built from leftover wood from packing crates, while the beautiful curly maple bar in the tasting room was crafted over about 100 hours from a piece of salvaged barn wood.

Hellbender’s grain comes from Wisconsin, and all of the ingredients for their flagship beers are from North America, They have an in-house microbiologist quality control lab, which grows single colony yeast to precisely replicate batches. It is also where Evans does his testing analyses. To prevent Hellbender beers from tasting similar, which can happen in both microbreweries and breweries alike, they switch up yeast strains. Currently, Hellbender sells kegs, growlers, tasting flights and pints in their tasting room, but Evans and Mullane are looking to expand into selling cans, and setting aside funds for more fermenters. Special one-off beers are offered as tasting room exclusives.

Hellbender Red Line is a full-bodied American red ale that showcases a deep ruby red color and rich toffee aromas. Generous doses of late addition American hop varieties add floral notes with hints of orange and citrus. It has a big body, but finishes light and refreshing. Originally one of the company's flagship beers, Red Line Ale is now a fall seasonal.

Ratebeer Weighted Average:  3.02 out of 5
Beer Advocate:  no score

Hellbender Brewing Company
5788 2nd St NE
Washington, Washington DC 20011

Source Material
Hellbender Brewing website

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