An Ode to Past and Present D.C. Breweries, in Honor of DC Beer Week

By Lisa Comento, Foodable Contributor

Washington Brewery's ad from 1796 | Credit: TheHillisHome/Google Books

Washington Brewery's ad from 1796 | Credit: TheHillisHome/Google Books

DC Beer Week in Washington, D.C. kicks off every August, and this year is scheduled for August 9th-16th. The D.C. metropolitan area has exploded over the past few years with new breweries opening up in and around the city. In order to appreciate today’s beer scene, it’s important to learn about the men who paved the way for present-day breweries.

Shortly after the country was being founded, breweries were also making a mark. Dr. Cornelius Coningham from England made history when he opened the first brewery in 1796 called the Washington Brewery, located southwest of the White House on what is now Constitution Avenue. Coningham partnered with James Greenleaf to run his brewery that was housed in a two-story stone building. An ad was found that they posted in the Washington Gazette advertising their table beer, strong beer, hops, grains, and whiskey. In those days, with only 1% alcohol, table beer was a common drink to wash dinner down. 

After Greenleaf went bankrupt in 1797, the partnership dissolved and Coningham moved his operation near Navy Yard to an 8-story brick building that had originally been built as a sugar refinery. This was the second brewery location, and operated from 1805-1836.

The district’s most famous early brewer is Christian Heurich, who founded the Christian Heurich Brewing Company in 1872. Heurich’s first location began in DuPont Circle until a fire in 1895 forced him to move his brewery to Foggy Bottom, where the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts now stands. 

Modern-Day Breweries in D.C.

Fast forward to 2009, when DC Brau was founded by CEO and Certified Cicerone Brandon Skall and President, Head Brewer, and Certified Cicerone Jeff Hancock. DC Brau was the district’s first operating brewery since 1956 when Heurich’s brewery closed. Since 2009, more breweries are emerging in the area, like Capitol City Brewing Company, District ChopHouse & Brewery, 3 Stars Brewing Company, Atlas Brew Works, Bluejacket, and Right Proper Brewing Company, along with others opening in nearby Virginia and Maryland. The newest addition being Hellbender Brewing Company, which opened last October. 

DC Beer Week 2015

In honor of DC Beer Week, a collaboration of nearly 20 nearby breweries came together at the District ChopHouse back in June to discuss the recipe for a beer called The Solidarity. They then each brewed the beer 16 days later. The Solidarity is an over 70% wheat, 5.8% ABV, 25 IBU, 2 SRM Saison with fresh-pressed lemon juice and three citrusy varieties of hops. 

On Tuesday, August 4th, Hellbender opened its doors for a media preview tasting of their Solidarity. Head Brewer and Co-Owner Ben Evans took us on a tour of the establishment and let us taste their newest Australian hopped IPA called the Chazzwazzer, named from a Simpson’s show reference. The subtle crisp notes of dried mango and pineapple were impressive.

“For me, home brewing started as both a creative outlet and a way to save money. On a production level, I love creating new recipes while still applying my scientific background to keep batches consistent,” Evans said.

Instagram, @dcbeerweek

Instagram, @dcbeerweek

Now with DC Beer Week underway, Suburbia located outside Union Market will officially kick off the week on Sunday, August 9th, hosting the region’s top 20 breweries, cideries and meaderies. Day-time events will include tastings, music from DJ-59, as well as a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 7th Annual DC Beer Week.

DC Brau is teaming up with Quarterdeck to host a crab fest on Monday, August 10th, from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., with all-you-can-eat crabs, $1 DC Brau beers, and $5 pitchers. (Tickets for the Crab Fest Extravaganza have already sold out.)

ChurchKey will make history on Thursday, August 13th at 4:00 p.m. by devoting all 55 of their draft and cask lines to local brews. This will be the largest and first-ever single tapping of DC craft beers. There is even talk of the local brewmasters being present for this historic evening.

Chris Van Orden, Co-Editor at DC Beer, began writing and promoting the D.C. beer scene in 2012. He has been an integral part of promoting the local beer scene and enjoyed being part of the growth. Each year, DC Beer partners with Scion in DuPont for their Blind & Bitter tasting that will include dozens of local brews. 

“I've been really impressed how quickly people have become well-versed in beer,” said Van Orden. “Not everyone needs to be an expert or obsess over every pint, but knowing even a few of the fundamentals — the basics of style, the importance of freshness — makes a huge difference. Also, the role that local breweries have played is fantastic. The public has rallied behind their hometown favorites, and the brewers never take that support for granted.”

For more information on upcoming DC Beer Week events, check DC Beer’s events page.