Since opening in Shaw in December 2013, Right Proper has crafted more than 100 beers—from obscure historic styles to more familiar hop-forward and malt-driven brews.
Unlike most breweries, nearly half of Right Proper’s offerings clock in at 5-percent alcohol or less, and these small beers are as flavorful as their higher-gravity counterparts. The secret? An intense focus on yeast, the ingredient closest to the hearts of co-founders Thor Cheston and Nathan Zeender. Zeender uses his own yeast strains developed in-house to create families of beers that have a distinctive, identifiable character.
Right Proper takes the brewing process one step further than most: Its production brewery, which opened in Brookland in December, houses three 45-hectoliter oak wine casks (called foudres in French) inoculated with a house culture of wild yeasts and bacteria. A tribute to the days when beers were produced in only wooden vessels using natural airborne yeast, foudres allow beers to continuously develop in character and depth.
Right Proper’s first foudre offering, Ornithology, is a prime example of what the brewery is about. To make it, Zeender ages Ornette, his wheat-based grisette-style beer, in white wine casks for four to six weeks. The reimagined 3.9-percent alcohol brew is bright, earthy, and faintly funky with a dry, oaky finish. It’s simultaneously delicate and complex.
Many Right Proper beers are meant to be revisited as they evolve over time, showcasing how live yeast changes a beer as it ages. Devotees of the brewpub’s “Vintage Tuesdays,” which feature kegs aged several months or even a year, understand this transformative power firsthand. Like Belgium’s Orval brewery, one of Zeender’s inspirations, Right Proper will soon start bottling to allow for the same experimental conditioning.
With a focus on primitive beer styles and methods, and a proclivity for naming beers after obscure British authors or Shirley MacLaine movies from the 1960s, the Right Proper approach to brewing has a creative intellect that elevates the work without pretension.
Beyond the beer, both the brewpub and the production brewery tasting room offer a cozy, inviting ambiance that departs from the more typical sports bar or warehouse vibe. The brewpub has a cheese counter, the tasting room has a bathroom piano, and each plays host to events ranging from fondue and trivia nights to pet adoptions and talks with war correspondents. There’s truly something for everyone. But it’s Right Proper’s vision, unapologetic individualism, and the depth of its beers that set it apart.