Fifty-six years is a long time between pours.
However, until this past Tax Day, Washington, D.C. had gone nearly three score years without its own production brewery.
A production brewery packages beer in kegs, bottles and cans for off-premise consumption (as opposed to a brewpub, which, in Washington at least, sells beer by the glass strictly for onsite consumption).
Just two production breweries opened in this city after Prohibition. The Abner-Drury Brewery at 24th and G Streets NW, producer of Old Glory, lasted only until 1938. The site today is blacktop.
A few blocks away stood the Christian Heurich Brewing Co., on ground currently occupied by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Its Senate, Old Georgetown and Christian Heurich Original Lager beers ceased to exist after the brewery closed in 1956 and was demolished six years later.
DC Brau is on the opposite side of the city, a few blocks from the Maryland border in the Northeast neighborhood of Lincoln Park. The brewery occupies 6,700 square feet in a warehouse that once served as a newspaper depot for the Washington Times. A chain-link fence and the tracks for the MARC train separate it from nearby residents.
Partners Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock have a single beer for sale as of this writing. The Public is a strong (6 percent alcohol by volume) pale ale containing three types of hops: Cascade, Centennial and a new variety called Falconer’s Flight. The bright amber brew has a hint of grapefruit up front and a long, lingering finish that’s dry and slightly floral. “Some people have said it’s too close to an IPA,” notes Skall, “but you’ve got a lot of hop-centric pale ales like Dale’s Pale Ale on the market.”
The Public’s coming-out party at Meridian Pint on April 15 was a rousing success. “We went through 15 kegs in seven-and-a-half hours,” comments Sam Fitz, Meridian Pint’s beer manager. “That totals 2,000 pints. We had a line out the door from 5 until 11 p.m.”
So far, The Public is available in kegs only. However, a mountain of unlidded red-and-silver cans (178,000 in all) sits in a corner of the warehouse, waiting for Skall and Hancock to fire up their five-head automatic canning line. Skall hoped to begin canning during Easter weekend and said he might have six-packs in stores in as little as two weeks.
Other beers in the planning stages include The Corruption, a genuine IPA; The Citizen, a pale ale fermented with a Belgian yeast for “a nice fruity character”; and a single-batch-only porter.
So far, Skall and Hancock have placed their beer in about 50 restaurants throughout the Washington area and in northern Virginia. Pondering the initial enthusiasm for a local brew, I wonder: Did Gary Heurich quit the business too early?
Heurich, the grandson of brewery founder Christian Heurich, tried to revive the family business in 1986. He contract-brewed his Foggy Bottom Lager and Ale (and a shorter-lived porter and wheat beer) at the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y. Heurich had grand plans for his own brewery. But he was never able to grow his business past a few thousand barrels a year and couldn’t justify the expense of construction. He quit the beer business in 2006, moving to upstate New York where he’s been renovating the historic Split Rock Farmhouse on Lake Champlain into a bed-and-breakfast.
Meridian Pint’s Fitz notes one major difference: DC Brau brews at its own brick-and-mortar facility. He speculates that local beer aficionados, after sampling the best that other cities like Philadelphia, Seattle and San Diego have to offer, are eager to try a brew that was actually manufactured in their hometown.
Also, Skall and Hancock have access to social media like Facebook and Twitter that didn’t exist back when Heurich entered the beer business. “They’re very adept at filling a place with their people,” comments Fitz.
Will DC Brau continue to pack them in? On April 20, Meridian Pint featured 14 beers on tap from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., including its new abbey beer, Ovila. But the biggest seller of the evening, Fitz states, was DC Brau’s The Public, as patrons drained two additional kegs.
Washington, D.C., incidentally, might have more production breweries than brewpubs by the end of the year. Ben Matz of Chocolate City Brewing Co. was looking at an opening two to three months down the road, and Dave Coleman of 3 Stars Brewing Co. was talking about a November premiere. Meanwhile, the Capitol City Brewing Co. branch near Union Station was set to close this summer (it lost its lease), leaving Gordon Biersch and the District ChopHouse as the only brewery/restaurants in the city.