History collides with local beer at the Brewmaster’s Castle


Guests at the Heurich House’s monthly beer tasting converse in the historic conservatory. (Photo by Craig Hudson/For The Washington Post)
May 9, 2013

One hundred years ago, Christian Heurich was Washington’s king of beers. He owned Washington’s largest brewery, the Christian Heurich Brewery, which stood on the site of the Kennedy Center. Sales of Sparkling Stock Ale and Senate beer paid for a large mansion on New Hampshire Avenue south of Dupont Circle, which was known as the Brewmaster’s Castle.

Heurich and the second of his three wives filled the home with such modern amenities as fireproof walls, electricity and central heat and decorated it with large paintings and gilded furniture.

You have to think Heurich would approve of his house being used to raise a glass to the area’s best brews. That’s what happens at the Heurich House Museum’s monthly History and Hops happy hours. A local brewer serves three of its beverages and answers questions while docents lead guests on tours of the house every 20 minutes or so. (You have to go on a tour in order to sample one of the beers.)

“Craft beer is such an important part of D.C. right now,” said Heurich House Executive Director Kimberly Bender. “It makes sense to celebrate local beer in a house that was built by local beers.”

Of course, it helps the house, too. “House museums aren’t doing very well right now,” Bender admits. “Our normal tour concentrates on the decorative arts and the family, but these focus on the beer.”

If the promise of delicious local beer gets more people through the door to check out the German axioms painted on the walls of Heurich’s personal bierstube, or his personal meat smoker, then so much the better. The Heurich House is a hidden gem of Washington.

Last month’s event, which featured beers from Alexandria’s Port City Brewing, had a large number of first-timers. “We knew about Port City,” said Carrie Fox-Meyers, “but we’d never been [to the Heurich House].” Her sister, Kim Fox, had never heard of it. Their husbands are avid homebrewers and suggested the sisters might want to check out the event. “I like history, and I like beer,” explained Fox-Meyers, who works in IT for the State Department. “I like the aspect of drinking beer in a historic location.”

They enjoyed beers in the ornate conservatory, near two Port City taps, surrounded by a gorgeous tiled floor, a burbling water fountain and stained glass windows. They may have come for the beer, but the siblings came away impressed by the house. “I can’t believe this exists in this area,” said Fox, an environmental consultant who lives in Alexandria. “You’d never know the history from the outside.”

The series began in February with DC Brau — appropriately, Bender said, because it was the first production brewery in Washington since Christian Heurich’s closed. This month’s event will feature Bluejacket, the forthcoming brewery from the creators of ChurchKey.

For me, the highlight of last month’s event was talking to Jan Evans Houser, Christian Heurich’s granddaughter, who lived in the house as a girl. A board member of the Heurich House Foundation, she attends events to mix with the crowd and answer questions about her grandfather and day-to-day life before World War II. She held court in the “secret garden” behind the house, discussing anything guests wanted in a friendly, forthright manner.

Her tales were enough to make me forget that my glass was running low. Good thing there’s always plenty of beer in the Brewmaster’s Castle.

History and Hops

Heurich House Museum, 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-429-1894. www.heurichhouse.org.

Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $30, which includes beer and finger food. Tickets are limited; advance purchase required.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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