This is the week of the annual Savor Craft Beer Festival, which brings thousands of beer fans and brewers to Washington. That makes Saturday the perfect time to honor some of Washington's pioneering brewers at Congressional Cemetery with a glass of seasonal German maibock.
The occasion is the debut of the Brewers Tour, a new, self-guided walking tour for cemetery visitors, one of many themed tours available at the cemetery's front gate. The tour was created by local author Garrett Peck, who recently wrote "Capital Beer," a book about the history of brewing in Washington. The cemetery will celebrate the debut of Peck's tour with Maibockfest from 3 to 6 p.m.
Visitors will get all the maibock they can drink from Mad Fox, Port City and Capitol City Brewing Company. Peck will speak about his book and the history of brewing in D.C. Tickets ($25) and are available for purchase in advance as well as at the door.
Peck began the walking tour project last fall as an offshoot of the research he did on "Capital Beer." He selected 19 notable (or interesting) people buried at Congressional. Red Solo cups mark the headstones included on the tour. "Most of the city's brewers were buried here or at Prospect Hill, the old German-American cemetery on North Capitol Street," Peck says. "I'm sure there were many more people who worked in breweries buried here, but we just don't know."
The Brewers Tour brochure comes with a map and a number of illustrations, including the first known image of a brewery in Washington, the Washington Brewery. Peck's research established that the brewery was located near the Navy Yard, and a number of figures connected to that historic brewery are interred at Congressional. My favorite is the remarkably well-preserved slab marking the grave of John Collet, the second man to run the Washington Brewery. He died in September 1814, a month after the British burned Washington.
On the western side of the cemetery are the graves of George and Theresa Beckert, German immigrants who ran a brewpub and beer garden called Beckert's Park a few blocks away on 14th Street SE, a site now occupied by a Safeway. Peck believes George Beckert was the first to brew lager in Washington. After he died in 1859, Theresa ran the restaurant herself, but sold the brewery to her sons-in-law, who are buried next to her.
Of course, it's not all brewers: Peck's list includes the grave of Hattie Berkley, a 13-year-old girl killed in a collision with a National Capital Brewery delivery wagon in 1895, and George Rothwell Brown, a former Washington Post columnist Peck calls "the John Kelly of his day." Brown merits a place on the tour, Peck explains, because he wrote about beer, beer halls and breweries in his 1930 book "Washington: A Not Too Serious History."
Some people might find the idea of drinking beer in a cemetery to be unseemly, or lacking respect for the dead, but it's not seen that way at Congressional. "In the 19th century, this was a public meeting space," says Lauren Maloy, the cemetery's program director. "People would come here and have picnics." She has been trying to increase the number of events at Congressional beyond the traditional Halloween events, such as the Dead Man's Run 5K and the "Ghosts and Goblets" costume party. May 17's Graveyard Grub will bring food trucks to the cemetery's chapel for an afternoon of snacking and free tours.
Maibockfest, Saturday from 3-6 p.m. Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St. SE. (Entrance on Potomac Avenue SE.) 202-543-0539. www.congressionalcemetery.org. $25.