The History of Breweries in Washington, D.C.
DC Beer Week in Washington, D.C. kicks off every August and this year is scheduled for August 9th-16th. The D.C. metropolitan area has exploded over the past few years with new breweries opening up in and around the city. In order to appreciate today’s beer scene it is important to learn about the men who paved the way for present-day breweries.
Shortly after the country was being founded breweries were also making a mark. Dr. Cornelius
Coningham from England made history when he opened the first brewery in 1796 called the Washington Brewery located southwest of the White House. Conignham partnered with James Greenleaf to run his brewery that was housed in a two-story stone building. An ad was found that they posted in the Washington Gazette advertising their table beer, strong beer, hops, grains, and Whiskey. In those days, with only 1% alcohol table beer was a common drink to wash dinner down.
After Greenleaf went bankrupt in 1797, the partnership dissolved and Coningham moved his operation to near Navy Yard to an 8-story brick building that had originally built as a sugar refinery. This was the second brewery location and operated from 1805-1836.
The district’s most famous early brewer is Christian Heurich who founded the Christian Heurich Brewing Company in 1872. Heurich’s first location began in DuPont Circle until a fire in 1895 forced him to move his brewery to Foggy Bottom where the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts now stands.
Modern Day Breweries in D.C.
Fast forward to 2009 when DC Brau was founded by CEO and Certified Cicerone, Brandon Skall, and President and Head Brewer, Jeff Hancock. DC Brau was the district’s first operating brewery since 1956 when Heurich’s brewery closed. Since 2009 breweries such as Capital City Brewing Company, District ChopHouse & Brewery, 3 Stars Brewing Company, Atlas Brew Works, Bluejacket and Right Proper Brewing Company along with others opening in nearby Virginia and Maryland. The newest edition being Hellbender Brewing Company that opened last October.
DC Beer Week 2015
In honor of DC Beer Week, a collaboration of close to 20 other area breweries came together at the District ChopHouse back in June to discuss the recipe for the same type of beer called The Solidarity. They then brewed the beer 16 days later. The Solidarity is an over 70% wheat, 5.8% ABV, 25 IBU, 2 SRM Saison with fresh pressed lemon juice and three citrusy varieties of hops.
On Tuesday, August 4th Hellbender opened their doors for a media preview tasting of their Solidarity. Head Brewer and co-owner, Ben Evans, took us on a tour of their establishment and let us taste their newest Australian hopped IPA called the Chazzwazzer named from a Simpson’s show reference. I was impressed with the subtle crisp notes of dried mango and pineapple.
“For me, home brewing started as a both a creative outlet and a way to save money. On a production level, I love creating new recipes while still applying my scientific background to keep batches consistent,” Ben said.
Now with DC Beer Week underway, Suburbia located outside Union Market will officially kick off the week on Sunday, August 9th hosting the regions top 20 breweries, cideries and meaderies. Day time events will include tastings, music from DJ-59 as well as a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 7th Annual DC Beer Week.
DC Brau teamed up with Quarterdeck to host a crab fest on Monday, August 10th from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. with all you can eat crabs, DC Brau beers for $1 and pitchers for $5. Buy your tickets here for this Crab Fest Extravaganza.
ChurchKey will make history on Thursday, August 13th at 4:00 p.m. by devoting all 55 of their draft and cask lines to local brews. This will be the largest and first-ever single tapping of DC craft beers. There is even talk of the local brewmasters being present for this historic evening.
Chris Van Orden, Co-Editor for DC Beer, began writing and promoting the DC beer scene in 2012. He has been an integral part of promoting the local beer scene and enjoyed being part of the growth. Each year DC Beer partners with Scion in DuPont for their Blind & Bitter tasting that will include dozens of local brews.
“I’ve been really impressed how quickly people have become well-versed in beer. Not everyone needs to be an expert or obsess over every pint, but knowing even a few of the fundamentals – the basics of style, the importance of freshness – makes a huge difference. Also, the role that local breweries have played is fantastic. The public has rallied behind their hometown favorites, and the brewers never take that support for granted,” Chris said.
For more information on upcoming DC Beer Week events check DC Beer’s events page.