The aroma inside a brewhouse is intoxicating. The warm, moist air is heavy with the fragrance of boiling mash, the bubbling porridge of water, malted barley and hops.
"God, I love the smell," says Gary Heurich, 28-year-old president of the new Olde Heurich Brewing Company, who plans to reintroduce the family name to Washington beer drinkers with a parade Wednesday from 4th and Pennsylvania N.W. into Georgetown.
The name became familiar to local beer lovers in the last century when his grandfather, Christian Heurich, first servedHeurich beer in 1873 in a smalltavern off Dupont Circle, but a brew with the family name has not been available since the mid-1950s.
arlier this spring, Gary Heurich was in the brewhouse of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company watching the first batch of his beer, Olde Heurich Amber Lager, being brewed. While the brewmaster gave orders to mix the ingredients and direct the flow, Heurich stood by nervously.
"The feeling really hit me -- that I was making Heurich beer -- when they dumped 500 gallons of warm water into the brew kettle with the malted barley," Heurich says. "I imagine it was like giving birth, all the waiting, the anticipation of three years of planning, and then being there while it's being created. For a brewer, there's almost a feeling of reverence and awe as you go through each successive step."
Copper kettles glistened with sweat from the boiling mash as the malted barley released its fermentable sugars into the soupy mixture called wort (pronounced wert).
Stainless steel pipes and valves clanged and pinged throughout the brewhouse as hundreds of gallons of warm water, wort and fermented beer flowed from tank to vessel in the passage from basic ingredients (water, malted barley, yeast and hops) to new beer.
The hot, sugary wort became beer in the fermentation tanks when billions of microorganic yeast cells converted the fermentable sugars into alcohol. After several days of fermentation, the yeast fell to the bottom and the beer was sent to storage tanks where it was aged and chilled for 2-3 weeks before the first tasting.
The fragrance and ambience of the brew house is enough to make brew lovers thirst for that first sip of cool, fresh beer. And no tour of a brewhouse is complete without drinking beer that just a few weeks ago was boiling in those mash tuns (casks), fermenting in tanks or flowing into lagering vessels.
"That's something wine lovers don't appreciate; beer is a much more complex beverage than wine," says Heurich. "There are 400 identified flavors in beer. Virtually everything you do in the brewery process gets translated into the taste -- how warm the water is when you add it to the brew kettle, how long you boil the wort, when you add the hops -- all the steps add subtleness and variety to the flavor of beer."
And now, 6,500 cases of Olde Heurich Amber Lager, that first large batch, fresh from the brewery, are in a local warehouse or available in District liquor stores and restaurants. Heurich hopes to be distributing in Maryland and Virginia within a month.
Heurich began introducing his beer at a few private parties in late April when a sample brew was available. One party was for the German Saegerbund, an orchestral society, one of many German cultural groups in Washington that Heurich's grandfather supported for many years.
"I was really nervous with all the Germans getting ready to try my beer. After all, this is a German lager, like the old beer that used to be brewed in this country before Prohibition and the megabreweries started lightening and weakening the flavor of beer," says Heurich.
The reappearance of Heurich beer has a local historical impact as well as cultural significance on the national level as the growing "microbrewing revolution" continues to sweep across the country.
As far as local history goes, it is the first time Heurich beer has been available in Washington since 1956, when the original brewery was closed because of labor problems and poor sales. At the time, the Heurich brewery occupied one of the most valued pieces of waterfront property in the District, across from Roosevelt Island. Six years after the brewery closed, it was torn down to make way for the Roosevelt Bridge, Kennedy Center and part of the Watergate Hotel complex.
The 30-year hiatus of Heurich in Washington coincided with the demise of regional breweries since World War II, as such conglomerate "megabreweries" as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Schlitz, Stroh and Pabst captured most of the market.
From a record 4,100 breweries in America in the 1860s and 1870s, the number of breweries declined to 1400 in 1919 just before Prohibition. After the drought of the "Noble Experiment" (1920 to 1933), only 750 breweries had reappeared by 1935. But the Depression, the invention of the steel can, brewery mergers, national advertising and the growth of megabreweries reduced the number of breweries to 80 in 1984.
While the number of national breweries was declining at the top, an interesting phenomenon was happening at the bottom. Beginning in the 1970s, "microbreweries," (small breweries that produce less than 10,000 barrels per year) mostly in California and on the West Coast, started appearing. They now total about 30, including several "brewpubs," such as the Manhattan Brewing Company and the New Amsterdam Brewery and Taproom, both in New York, and Buffalo Bill's Brewery and the Mendocino Brewery, in California, where beer is brewed on the premises of a restaurant or tavern.
The same "microbrewing and brewpub" revolution is going on in Canada, which boasts about 20 establishments. Half are in British Columbia, just across the border from Washington state, the home of six microbreweries.
Until this summer, Washington, D.C., was one of the few major American cities (Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles are others) that did not have a nearby microbrewery, although Chesbay beer from the Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company in Virginia Beach has been sold in Washington for about a year. However, until recently it was not widely available. It is now in local restaurants and liquor stores and distribution is expanding throughout the Washington area.
Heurich, who has been involved in real estate investment and management, postponed building his own brewery when he heard microbrewers talk about the initial capital investment (up to $1 million depending upon various factors) and the need to develop a market for the beer before building. When he made that decision, he hired Joe Owades, a retired former brewer who lives in California and consults with breweries all over the world. Owades' heart, however, is with the new cadre of entrepreneurs like Heurich who are leading the "microbrewery revolution."
"The phenomenon of the microbreweries is an expression on the part of consumers that they want different and better taste in the beers they buy and drink," says Owades. "The microbrewing movement has been expanding rapidly the last few years and it will continue to do so until there is a shakeout. Those who survive that shakeout will be the ones who are making the high quality beer that consumers favor."
Heurich's brewery is the latest example of "contract brewing" ventures developed by Owades, who also was involved with two other recently launched microbreweries, New Amsterdam Amber Beer and Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
Contract brewing allows a microbrewery to brew at an established plant and develop a market before investing in a brewery of its own. Owades' first contract brewing project was New Amsterdam, brewed by the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, N.Y. The recipe was chosen by Matthew Reich, the 34-year-old founder of the Old New York Brewing Company, with Owades' guidance.
Reich is a high energy, former Citibank lending officer, who spent two years developing a market for New Amsterdam in upscale Manhattan restaurants and another two years raising $2 million to finance his brewery. "The New Amsterdam Brewery and Taproom" opened last October in a renovated former railroad warehouse on West 26th Street. This spring, Reich switched production of New Amsterdam beer to his new brewery.
Reich has also been aggressively marketing outside New York. He brewed 9,000 barrels in 1985 (one of the largest amounts for a microbrewery) and his beer is carried in 22 states and Canada. New Amsterdam has been available in Washington since last year.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager (The Boston Brewing Company) is another microbeer in the Washington market. It had an auspicious introduction last summer as the surprise winner of the Great American Beer Festival competition in Denver, two months after it hit the market. And then, this past April, Samuel Adams Boston Lager made it into the White House.
When brewery founder Jim Koch was in Washington to announce the introduction of his beer to the nation's capitol, he remarked to a friend, while driving by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., "I want to get my beer in the White House."
The next day, Koch made a number of phone calls to the White House until he got an invitation to bring some over. Koch delivered it himself and conducted a tasting with the staff of Ron Jackson, White House food service coordinator. The staff was impressed and asked if he could provide some.
A few days later, the White House sent a truck to the local distributor and, according to a brewery spokesperson, 20 cases were picked up.
Koch, Harvard-educated, is another young (36) entrepreneur who switched lucrative careers (management consultant) and used Owades as his consultant to get into brewing. Koch, who also contracts brews at Pittsburg Brewing, is raising money to build his brewery at the site of an old brewery in Boston. He expects to be producing there by next year.
Like Reich and Koch, Heurich plans on building his own brewery after he has tested the local market and can build a plant to meet future capacity. He hopes to have it operational by 1988 or 1989.
Heurich spent three years traveling in the U.S. and to Europe talking to microbrewers, established brewers and consultants about his dream to reopen the family brewery. He was surprised how many people in the brewing industry remembered the family's name and reputation as Washington's oldest and largest brewery.
Heurich wants his brewery to be a showplace and museum. "In the old days, a brewery was more than a 'beer factory,'" he says. "It was part of the community; employes had their own tavern and brought their families to the brewery for special events. In my grandfather's brewery, there was a gymnasium for sports and recreation.
"I'll probably build a brewery with a 50,000-barrel capacity. I'm looking for an existing building in Washington -- preferably historical -- but if I can't find the right one, I'll build my own.
"I want something Victorian in style that will allow for a museum. I have an incredible amount of material -- pictures, posters, cans, bottles and records from my grandfather's brewery -- that I want people to see. There was a lot of Washington history tied to the old brewery and I want to share that.
"I also want neighbors to be proud that they have a brewery in their neighborhood. Take a look at Fritz Maytag's brewery (Anchor Brewing Company) in San Francisco. It's beautiful inside -- spacious, clean, with a hospitality room that looks somewhat like a saloon and decorated with brewery memorabilia. I love what he's done with his brewery."
Heurich will brew approximately 3,000-3,500 barrels in 1986, a significant amount for a new microbrewery, and expects to double production in 1987.
Heurich selected his recipe for Olde Heurich Amber Lager after sampling some 70 beers and beer flavors with Owades. It is made with American two-row malting barley grown in the Northwest and hops from Czechoslovakia (Saaz) and Washington state (American Cascade).
"The hop selection was crucial," Heurich says. "American Cascades are our finest domestic hops; it gives a pleasant aroma and the right bittering effect. Saaz hops are 'finishing hops' (added at the end of the boiling cycle) for the aroma that lingers.
"I was concerned about brewing beer that would go well with certain foods. It's excellent for seafood; I like to cook swordfish and boiled shrimp. People may have tried Budweiser to boil shrimp but there isn't much beer flavor after you boil -- it's boiled off. Not with my beer, a strong flavor remains with the shrimp."
Heurich is encouraged by the reception his beer has had so far in limited, unscientific exposure.
"The first night I had samples from the brewery, I called a few friends who have been following my venture. I just told them I was going to have a beer tasting. What they expected, I'm sure, was that I meant just Heurich beer.
"But what I did was pick up some other beers that I would classify as in the same league as my beer -- including Samuel Adams and New Amsterdam. I put out six beers, including two Heurich's; of the nine people, five picked my beer as their favorite. That made me feel great."
In other small samplings, Heurich says he heard comments that should make his banker feel relieved:
"Although I didn't do any scientific sampling, there were three things I kept hearing. First, everybody liked it's smoothness, it's very own taste. Second, those who don't even claim to like beer said they found it full of flavor and pleasant. And third, women loved the beer."
How would Heurich prepare someone who is about to try his beer for the first time?
"I don't want to make it a big deal just because they're drinking my beer; I just want them to give it a fair tasting.
"First of all, serve the beer at the right temperature -- I like it about 55 degrees, but certainly no lower than 45 degrees. Beer shouldn't be drunk ice cold or right out of the refrigerator. Cold temperatures numb the tongue's taste buds and the flavor of beer is lost.
"Second, pour the beer directly into the glass, not slowly down the side. Let the carbonation and aroma just explode out of the bottle. See that head froth up, then smell the beer.
"After you've had a good smell of the beer, take a sip, a small one, roll it around your tongue like you'd do with wine, and swallow it.
"Then keep taking small sips until you notice how many flavors the beer has. It's not one or two flavors, but many when you use superior ingredients and brew carefully.
"When you've had a sense of the aroma and taste of the beer, take a bigger swallow and just reflect on how good it all tastes. If it's a good beer, the flavors and tastes will last.
"It's a wonderful experience tasting beer this way -- almost as good as being in the brewhouse watching it being brewed."