For the first time in more than six decades, cans of beer from the Christian Heurich Brewing Company are returning to Washington, thanks to DC Brau, the Heurich House Museum and some dedicated beer historians.
Heurich was the largest brewer in Washington in the early part of the 20th century. The German immigrant opened his first brewery in 1873, and the Christian Heurich Brewing Company closed its giant Foggy Bottom facility in 1956. (Heurich himself died in 1945 at the age of 102.) We might wonder what the beer tasted like, but Heurich House Executive Director Kim Bender says a series of fires at the brewery destroyed most of its archives, including the recipes.
That misfortune didn't dissuade homebrewers Mike Stein, Joshua Hubner and Pete Jones, who reverse-engineered a version of Heurich's Lager Beer in 2013 after looking at the brewery's invoices for raw ingredients, researching Heurich's taste in beer, and making educated guesses about the recipe given the limitations of the day. They made a presentation about the beer to the staff of the Heurich House, who decided to have a 1,000-gallon batch made at DC Brau, with a recipe refined by head brewer Jeff Hancock. He decided to use Bavarian yeast and added both flaked rice and flaked maize to the body. "It's a fun little hybrid between pre- and post-Prohibition lagers," Hancock explains.
DC Brau released Heurich's Lager on draft during the 2013 DC Beer Week, selling it at the brewery and special events. Earlier this year, Hancock asked the Heurich House whether his brewery could brew the lager again – and, this time, release it in cans. "We enjoyed it so much the first time around," Hancock says, but the problem was that lagers sit in fermentation tanks for weeks longer than ales, which would tie up much needed production space. However, DC Brau has been steadily ramping up its capacity – Hancock says they're on track to brew close to 19,000 barrels of beer this year – which means that the lager could ferment "in tanks without holding up any of our other beers."
The can is based on a 1930s label from the Heurich House archive, but designed by artist Graham Jackson, who also did DC Brau's Solar Eclipse and Smells Like Freedom cans. "The cool thing about this is that it says it was brewed for the Christian Heurich Brewing Company by DC Brau," explains Heurich House's Bender. "We're bringing back the name."
The Heurich House, one of the best-preserved Victorian homes in America, frequently uses beer as a way to reach out to the public, whether it's at the monthly History and Hops gatherings, which bring beer lovers to the mansion for meet-and-greets and tastings with local brewers, or the annual Oktoberfest held in the house's garden. "Anything we can do to educate people about who Christian Heurich was, and his importance to this city, we're going to do that," Bender says. "The history of the beer and the existence of the historic beers are really important to us. We're trying to make history interesting to people, more than just walking through a museum as someone talks at you. [Heurich's Lager] is living history."
The official release of the beer is during a 1916-themed party at the Heurich House on Thursday, March 24, which features live jazz, hors d'oeuvres and DC Brau brews. Tickets are $100, which benefits the museum; a $150 VIP ticket includes an hour-long private tasting with the brewers.
After the party, DC Brau will sell Heurich's Lager at the brewery in cans and growlers during its regular public hours. Hancock says there will be around 150 cases of cans, but "It is by no means a large enough release to make it to all corners of the city." Translation: Try it soon, or you might be waiting for a while.
Bender says that the Heurich House, which owns the trademarks to the names of Heurich's brewery and beer, is open to collaborating with local breweries about recreating other Heurich brands in the future, such as Old Georgetown and Senate ales and Champeer Malt Liquor. "I think it will grow organically. But what's exciting about this is that the Christian Heurich Brewing Company is back."