Does Washington Lack Hometown Spirit?
When Gary Heurich decided to revive Washington, DC’s brewing tradition 20 years ago, the eager 29-year-old with the handlebar mustache figured he would have his own brewery up and running by 1988.
But that dream kept receding further into the future as one unprofitable brewing year gave way to another. Heurich figured he needed to sell at least 20,000 barrels a year to make his brewery viable. He sold one-fifth that amount last year.
On March 1, Heurich announced he was shutting off the taps. He figured that his Foggy Bottom Lager and Ale—made at the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, NY,— would soon vanish from area outlets, and that the Washington Monument-shaped tap handles would reemerge as collectibles on eBay.
Heurich is the grandson of Christian Heurich, whose brewery on the Potomac turned out Senate Beer and Ale (and other brands) until it closed in 1956 and was razed to make way for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
A disillusioned Gary emailed his supporters, “As our predecessor, the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., learned… the Washington area is unique among major urban centers in its relative lack of a hometown spirit, and as a native Washingtonian this is something that is deeply and personally disappointing.”
Is DC a bad beer town? In 2004, District residents quaffed 30.9 gallons per capita, higher than Maryland (26.1 gallons), Virginia (29.3 gallons), New York (23 gallons) or Pennsylvania (29.3 gallons). The selection here is unparalleled: two establishments, the Brickskeller and Chevy Chase Wine & Liquors, offer over 1,000 brands. And DC has spawned a successful brewpub chain: Capitol City Brewing Co.
But Washington, DC is also, to a large extent, a city of transients who bring along their own beer loyalties. And Heurich, with his real estate dealings and many charitable endeavors, never had enough time to grow his beer business.
Heurich intended to move to upstate New York, near the shore of Lake Champlain, where he plans to convert an old pinewood barn into a brewpub and do some hands-on brewing. He leaves behind one triumph. The stately brownstone mansion his grandfather built, a.k.a. “The Brewmaster’s Castle,” has (so far) stayed out of the hands of private developers and remains open to the public, thanks in part to Gary’s efforts. The 31-room late-Victorian home (complete with suit of armor, hand-carved breakfast nook, chandelier and other luxurious furnishings) is well worth a visit after you’ve done the museum circuit. Check out www.heurichhouse.org for more information.
As we went to press, the Brewers Association (the Boulder, Colo.-based group that represents the interests of professional and amateur beermakers nationwide) was seeking to have Congress declare May 15 to 21 as American Craft Beer Week.
House Resolution 753, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York), would commend the craft brewing industry for “providing jobs, improving the balance of trade, supporting American agriculture, and educating Americans about the history and culture of beer while promoting the responsible consumption of beer as a beverage of moderation.”
As of mid-April, the bill was before the Committee on Government Reform, and had picked up 54 cosponsors. “Rep. DeFazio went on the floor and got 50 of his Democratic friends to sign in one day,” noted BA president Charlie Papazian at April’s Craft Brewers Conference in Seattle.
Come Back With That Keg!
The Washington, DC, area, which in recent years has survived terrorist attacks, a Beltway sniper, a serial arsonist and innumerable political scandals, is now being menaced by a keg thief. A bandit in a blue pickup truck is estimated to have snatched as many as 400 empty kegs from local bars over the last couple months, according to the Washington, DC, City Paper. The thief, it’s believed, is returning kegs to liquor outlets for the $10 to 20 deposit or selling them for scrap metal. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to post a reward.
Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, a long-time resident of Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to beer-related publications.