Brett Robison is looking to build an empire and it starts with beer.
At Republic, a recently opened restaurant in Takoma Park, Robison, a 26-year-old bar manager, is working to become the “everything-but-wine professional.”
It begins with a mantra of anything wine can do, beer can do better — whether with cheese or fish.
Robison recently learned that he is now one of over 1,000 certified cicerones internationally — similar to a wine sommelier. It’s a title recognizing a deep understanding of beer.
“I’m a huge beer nerd,” Robison said.
He started a career in finance, gathering money to finance his dreams. Six months into the a New York City job, he realized that doing sales and trading computation was never what he wanted to with this life.
“I just didn’t enjoy the people. I didn’t get enough human interaction,” he added.
He decided to act on a long-term desire to go into the restaurant business.
And the logical thought processes from a finance background helped tremendously in bartending, Robison said. It’s not a total jump to go from mathematics to developing syrups for drinks, he said.
Zagat, a well-known restaurant guide, recently featured Robison as one of eight “up-and-coming” bartenders to watch in the Washington, D.C., area.
For that feature, Robison listed whiskey as his favorite spirit and said the cocktail of which he’s proudest is the “Primitive American” (Small’s American Gin, Catoctin Creek Rye Whiskey, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, lemon juice, sugar).
After leaving New York, he spent a year around a bar, a brewery and books. Robison lived at his parents’ house in the suburbs during what he jokingly calls his “sabbatical.”
“I had a full year of devoted study because there was nothing else for me to do,” he said.
It was a calculated move. Three years ago, Robison saw that the D.C. restaurant scene was “in the process of exploding” as people began living in the city rather than commuting. Living at his parents’ house in Virginia helped him get into the growing market of restaurants and bars around the metro area.
A self-proclaimed beer advocate, Robison is well-versed in brewing beer and even follows legislation affecting beer.
“[Montgomery County] is the only place in the entire world where I have to buy beer from the government,” he said, referring to the county’s control of alcohol sales, “and for, like, a beer advocate, that’s the worst imaginable thing.”
Margins of profit for beer are so low to begin with, Robison said, it makes it difficult when the government is in charge of the process.
“They don’t have any business being in this business,” he said. “You have a government monopoly operating in a private industry.”
Robison’s beer advocacy fits in at the restaurant, which only sells beer from local breweries.
According to Robison, he’s not the only nerd at the resturant. The entire staff “geeks out,” providing local, seasonal products with a menu that plays on the history behind Takoma Park. The entire feel of Republic is a laidback environment with local food.
“Everything awesome with zero pretension,” Robison said.
Bartending goes past the mixology of drinks, though, behind the bar where you’re a friend for whomever is sitting at the counter.
It’s why Robison wouldn’t say what his favorite drink to make is — it depends on who that person is.
“I like whatever makes you happiest,” he added.
All Robison asks: “Please tip accordingly.”