Chr. Heurich Brewing Co.

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Chr. Heurich brewing co.

Born in a small town north of the Bavarian border of Germany in 1842, Christian Heurich grew up working in a tavern his parents operated.  When he was orphaned at the age of 14, he became a brewing apprentice and spent the next 10 years traveling around Europe and honing his trade.  In 1866, Heurich immigrated to Baltimore and continued his travels into the west and on sailing ships. In 1872, Heurich and his business partner, Paul Ritter, invested $1000 each to acquire the failing George Schnell Brewery, located on 20th Street NW between M and N.  At the time, the brewery was a one-room operation with a biergarten attached, and one of five in the city. The partnership dissolved within one year, probably because Heurich felt that Ritter was taking too much credit for the quality of their beer.

Heurich bought out Ritter and renamed the brewery Christian Heurich’s Brewery. Heurich also changed the style of beer produced by the brewery from weiss beer (a wheat based beer) to a barley-based lager style ale. He began brewing two style of beers, Senate Ale - a lighter, popular American-style beer - and Maerzen - a traditional German-style dark ale.  By 1873, Heurich was selling an average of eight barrels (and making about $100) per week. At first, Heurich’s beer was largely sold to the middle-class working people who lived in the neighborhood surrounding his brewery. He quickly began to market his beer to the growing hotel and restaurant industry in D.C.  Heurich was devoted to keeping his brewery equipped with the most modern technology. As a result, the original brewery on 20th Street underwent a series of expansions and updates. In 1878 he celebrated the expansion and modernization of the brewery with a party for 1000 people.


In addition to the expansion and rebuilding of the brewery, the 20th Street facility suffered a number of setbacks due to fire.  The first was in 1875, caused by a chimney spark, which ignited the roof shingles.  The second, in 1883, started in the horse stable by a worker who was smoking. The third fire in the stables severely injured a fireman.  The fourth, in 1892, started with an explosion in the malt mill and caused extensive damage to the main structure of the building, but kept the offices mostly intact.  After this final fire, the need for a fire-proof structure and increased capacity at the brewery led Christian to commission C.F. Tierney of New York to build a new facility in Foggy Bottom (on Water Street at 26th and D Streets, NW).  The new brewery was constructed from 1894 – 1895 and cost $400,000 to build.   Heurich opened to great fanfare and hosted a number of days for special guests including “German Day” and “Ladies Day at the Brewery,” where guests were served beer, frankfurters, and salads. The new brewery was built with a capacity of 250,000 barrels per annum and contained an ice plant with a daily capacity of 120 tons.


In its early days, the company brewed three lines of beer: Heurich Maerzen, an amber color malt and hop brew; Heurich Senate, a golden color brew made specifically for hotels and family trade, which became his most popular and most widely distributed brew; and, Heurich Lager, a light straw color brew that most closely resembled the traditional Czech-style lager beer and Heurich’s favorite).  Throughout the course of its operation, the brewery would go on to produce 13 different types of beer including: Old Georgetown, Heurich Bock Beer, Congress Lager, Sparkling Stock Ale, and Heurich Champeer (a blend of beer and champagne).


A British syndicate made repeated attempts to purchase the company from Christian Heurich, which he refused, saying that he wanted residents to control the brewery so that the companies’ profits would remain in the district.  This led Heurich to incorporate his brewery in 1890 as the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., the name it held until it was closed. Heurich’s Foggy Bottom brewery operated until 1917, when Prohibition began in Washington, DC. While the threat of Prohibition was looming, Heurich began devising plans to keep his business operating.  Although he was in his seventies, and could have gone into retirement at this point, Heurich decided to keep the ice plant at the brewery in operation and supplied ice to Congress and the Supreme Court. By the time that Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, Heurich was one of only two breweries in the city to remain. The second brewery, Abner-Drury, closed a few years later due to quality issues.


Heurich ran the brewery until his death in 1945.  He reportedly arrived at work every morning at 8:15am where he personally supervised the production of Senate beer. Upon his death in 1945, his son Christian, Jr., took over the brewery and ran it until 1956, when he eventually shuttered the company due to competition from larger breweries with national distribution. Christian’s grandson, Gary Heurich, revived the Heurich beer brand in the 1990’s. His company, The Olde Heurich Brewing Company, was built on the Heurich beer reputation, but it was contract brewed in New York and did not rely on Heurich’s original recipe for beer. The company distributed two different brews: Foggy Bottom Ale and Foggy Bottom Lager. It stopped operation in 2006.


There has been no other production brewery operating within the District until the opening of the D.C. Brau in 2011.