Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bocks, Brews, and Ale

Politics isn’t the only thing brewed in Washington. In 1873, German immigrant Christian Heurich purchased the old Schnell Brewery and Tavern on 1229 20th Street, NW and began the Christian Heurich Brewing Company. Within 10 years, he had become the largest brewer in Washington. After 3 accidental fires caused by sparks and malt explosions, Heurich moved his brewery to 26th and D Street (pictured above, now the Kennedy Center) in 1895, constructing the first fireproof brewery. Heurich relied heavily on German labor and artisans for the construction of the new brewery complex. The brewery featured living quarters for employees, a bottling factory, and an ice plant. At the same time, Heurich built a mansion for himself and his wife near Dupont Circle. Known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, the house is now open to tourists. The house features 31 rooms, furnished in the Victorian style.

Heurich became one of DC’s elite businessmen, the second largest landholder in the District (the first being the federal government), and the largest private employer in the area. The brewery maintained a continued presence in DC even during the prohibition years, when Heurich relied on the ice plant for income. After prohibition ended, Heurich successfully returned to the beer business, marketing his products under the Senate Beer label. Alas, low taxes which allowed for outside producers to dump cheap beer on DC and the growth of mass producers such as Budweiser and Pabst, led to the decline of the company. In an effort to boost sales, Heurich (who ran his brewery until his death at age 105) released a label called Old Georgetown Ale. Though this brew was met with short-term success, it was not enough to save the brewery. The board of directors opted to close the brewery before it started to see losses in 1956.

Amusingly, the government had a rather difficult time demolishing the brewery in the early 1960s. Heurich built the factory to be strong and withstand fire. Initial attempts to destroy it with dynamite failed. In the end, only a wrecking ball through the ice house walls, lined with twelve inch thick cork walls, succeeded.

Hasia R. Diner and Steven J. Diner, “Washington’s Jewish Community: Separate but not Apart,” in Ed. Francine Curro Cary, Washington Odyssey.

Rusty Cans, Christian Heurich.


  1. One small correction: the Kennedy Center didn't take up residence in the brewery. It was demolished years ago and the brand new K.C. was built in it's place.

  2. Thanks for the comment; it was a lack of clarity on my part! -Dana