Just 2 Hometown Players Made the Cut

Officials of local Capitol City Brewing say they hope to sell at the stadium.
Officials of local Capitol City Brewing say they hope to sell at the stadium. (Capitol City Brewing)
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By Greg Kitsock
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

When the Senators played at Griffith Stadium from 1911 through 1961, fans probably slaked their thirsts on such regional brews as Senate and Old Georgetown from the District and Nattie Boh and Gunther from Baltimore.

But local beermakers have been mostly shut out at Nationals Park.

A list of better draft beer selections, detailed by Post reporter Dan Steinberg on his blog last week, includes such international brands as Guinness, Bass, Peroni, Stella Artois and Pilsner Urquell as well as such domestic national brands as Coors Blue Moon and Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat (both in the Belgian witbier style, flavored with orange peel and coriander).

Home Run Ale (actually a generic red ale that Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing in Wisconsin makes available to select accounts) is a holdover from RFK. And Yuengling (presumably the Traditional Lager) is trucked down from the country's oldest brewery in Pottsville, Pa.

The list of high-end bottles includes a few more familiar names, including Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Pete's Wicked Ale, as well as the only local representatives thus far: Hook & Ladder Lighter and Backdraft Brown from the Hook & Ladder Brewing in Silver Spring. The last two are actually brewed at High Falls Brewing in Rochester, N.Y.

A few brands that were available at the old ballpark are no longer being offered. Redhook IPA has apparently been placed on waivers. Bare Knuckle Stout (a Guinness knockoff from Anheuser-Busch) and Widmer Hefeweizen are likewise missing in action. And Old Dominion Brewing in Ashburn, which commanded a few taps for its lager and ale at RFK last year, was nowhere to be found for the 2008 opener.

Tom Cizauskas, territory manager for Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore, said he tried to meet with Centerplate (the Nats' concessionaire) on numerous occasions between August 2007 and March 2008 before being given the brushoff. Noting that "we're less than 40 miles away as the crow flies," he expressed disappintment at the lack of local beer in the Nationals' park.

In all fairness to the Nationals, their director of business development, Catherine Silver, did try to recruit a local brewer, Capitol City Brewing. The original idea was for the D.C.-based brew-pub chain to operate a beer garden in an alcove on the left-field side. Centerplate would have been in charge of the food. Capitol City would have controlled eight taps, which head brewer Mike McCarthy was set to supply with his Kolsch, Hefeweizen, amber and pale ale. Capitol City beers also would have flowed from two beer carts elsewhere in the stadium, giving the local brewer 16 taps.

When it opened in 1992, Capitol City was the District's first brewery since the Heurich plant shut its doors in 1956. It would have been the perfect local quaff to accompany a half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl or a Five Guys burger. The deal foundered, according to McCarthy and Capitol City regional manager Mark Pearson, because Miller Brewing Co. -- a major sponsor of the Nationals -- objected to signs or banners bearing the Capitol City name.

Deprived of the opportunity to advertise, Capitol City management decided the venture wasn't worth it.

After the plan fell through, Silver offered Capitol City the opportunity to run a food stand on ground level behind center field. But the kiosk, said Capitol City President David von Storch, would have been accessible to only about 5,000 of the nearly 42,000 seats in the stadium -- and he was more interested in selling beer than food.

"We were looking forward to being the Nationals' hometown beer," Pearson said. "But we're the little guys, and they're the big guys," he added, alluding to the fact that Miller pumped out about 40 million barrels of beer last year while Capitol City produced 2,600.

Jeff Burrill, marketing manager for Miller, said his company and Anheuser-Busch had exclusive rights to use the Nationals' logo in their advertising. But he added that Miller otherwise had no objection to other breweries hanging signs in the park.

"It's interesting to hear that," answered von Storch, who said he was told that Capitol City could have no advertising beyond its name on tap handles.

McCarthy and Pearson had nothing but praise for Silver's efforts (she declined to comment) and said they hoped some future compromise would allow Capitol City to peddle its beers at the new park. McCarthy even raised the possibility of a beer festival on the stadium grounds, a spring counterpart to the Oktoberfest that Capitol City hosts each fall at the Village at Shirlington. But such developments will probably have to wait until next season.

Greg Kitsock's Beer column appears every other week. He can be reached at

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