“Beer and hockey go together, and that’s always been the case, whether it be the fans or the players,” Laughlin said in a phone interview last week. “That’s sort of been a common thread to all of this, so we’re pumped to continue to collaborate with these small local craft breweries for a great cause. I get beer out of it, too, so I love it.”
The primary assist for Laughlin’s transition from light lagers to hop-heavy hazies goes to his 36-year-old son, Kyle, who was more of a whiskey drinker until he attended graduate school at the State University of New York at Oswego beginning in 2013. As Kyle got swept up in the craft beer movement through a well-stocked store near campus, he started encouraging his dad to expand his palate.
Laughlin resisted at first, but finally took the plunge one summer after Kyle convinced him to pick up a case of Trillium, a New England farmhouse-inspired brewery known for its IPAs, on his way home from a hockey tournament he was coaching in Massachusetts.
“He said, ‘Hey, this stuff is really good,’” Kyle recalled. “It was kind of cool sitting and having a beer with my dad that wasn’t a Coors Light or something.”
Emboldened, Laughlin began trying other IPAs, and made mental notes of the specific hop varieties and styles he preferred. He loved his first taste of Aslin, which burst on the scene in Herndon in 2015. Through interactions on social media and a visit to the suite Aslin rented for a Capitals game a few years ago, Laughlin struck up a friendship with the brewery’s co-founder, Kai Leszkowicz.
“We pulled out our portfolio, measured a couple ounces of this, a couple ounces of that,” Leszkowicz said. “He tried everything straight and then he tried everything blended. Then I could say, ‘Here are all of the things that are common across the beers that you like, and here’s what a recipe might look like.’”
The result was Locker 18, a double IPA dry-hopped with Citra, Amarillo, Nelson and Simcoe hops. The name is a nod to Laughlin’s uniform number during his playing days with the Capitals from 1982 to 1988. Laughlin signed autographs and took photos with fans at a release party for his debut beer last February. A second, slightly different version of Locker 18 was released Monday.
Laughlin was sitting around a firepit with friends late last year when he first tried Astro Lab’s Fresh As IPA. He was so impressed that he emailed the brewery to ask where he could find it. A few weeks later, Astro Lab co-founder Emma Whelan invited Laughlin, his wife Linda and their daughter, Courtney, into the brewery for a tour and tasting. Whelan and Astro Lab’s head brewer, Matt Cronin, were into the idea of partnering with Laughlin on a beer to benefit his family’s foundation and soon, with Laughlin’s input, developed a recipe.
“Being a Brit, I’m not a huge hockey fan, so I guess I didn’t realize how big of a personality he is in the area,” Whelan said in a phone interview. “Now that we’ve gotten to know him, I can understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s such a fun character, and it’s for such a great cause, so it’s been a really fun project for us to work on. It’s been truly a family affair.”
On brew day, Laughlin, who is almost as in to learning about the brewing process as he is sampling the finished product, helped load the hops and remove the spent grain. Astro Lab’s taproom manager Tasha Martin, a huge Capitals fan, designed the cans for Wicked Wrister, a triple dry-hopped New England-style IPA. Laughlin autographed hundreds of four packs ahead of the beer’s release in late January.
Laughlin won’t have to go far for research and development of his third collaboration, which is tentatively scheduled to be released in May. Friends and Phish fans Billy Abbott and Henry Jager opened Pherm Brewing in December a short drive from Laughlin’s home. They were connected with the former Capital, who taught Jager in hockey school, through their distributor.
“After hearing that voice on TV your whole life, it’s pretty crazy to hear it echoing in your brewery,” said Abbott, who as a kid used to cut the lawns of Capitals players who lived in the area when the team practiced at Piney Orchard. Abbott has already started brainstorming recipes and potential names for Laughlin’s next beer.
“Biscuit in the Basket, Citra in the Biscuit,” Abbott said, referencing one of the signature phrases Laughlin has been known for since he started calling Capitals games for HTS in 1990. “Those are a couple we might use.”
For Laughlin, a complete craft beer convert who started packing an extra, empty suitcase on Capitals road trips to bring home local beers to share with Kyle, the collaborations have helped bring awareness to his foundation during a pandemic that has curtailed in-person charity events.
“It’s been something enjoyable in a weird year,” said Kyle, who has already put in a request for a couple of kegs of Locker 18 for his wedding in August and has been nudging his dad to give sours a shot.
“I’m not there yet,” said Laughlin, who this year will celebrate 40 years of marriage to Linda, who has responded well to treatment. “Every now and then I’ll pucker up, but after getting through this IPA stage that I love, I would think that is my next step. Sours and barrel-aged beers. You know, I may do a barrel-aged beer coming up. That’s going to be exciting.”