City Paper is not for tourists
As we were sipping on beers at Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, Carrie pointed out the faded poster behind me. It promoted a brewery named Olde Heurich Brewing Co., which, according to its exquisitely detailed illustration, looks like it was located somewhere near Washington Harbor. Carrie thought it would make a good blog post.
She was right.
Turns out that Olde Heurich, according to this history, was actually located in the spot now occupied by the Kennedy Center. The brewery was “the most successful and the largest of the more than twenty that operated in the nation’s capital during the late 19th Century.” Its founder, Christian Heurich, was an early adopter of pasteurization or, as he and his savvy marketeers liked to call it, “pure” beer.
Olde Heurich (pronounced “HI-rik”) somehow survived Prohibition and, over the course of its 83-year history, marketed 13 different beers, including ones under the Senate and Old Georgetown brands. It even developed its own malt liquor in 1949, which the official company history called an “elegant and upscale product.” Time hasn’t been so good to malt liquor’s reputation.
But the beer business was obviously good to Christian Heurich — and maybe not so bad for his health, either. He ran his brewery until his death at 102 in 1945. His son couldn’t keep the business afloat as the major breweries started gobbling up market share, and Olde Heurich closed in 1956. Its buildings were razed in the early ’60s to make room for the Kennedy Center.
But here’s the part I didn’t realize: In the ’80s, the founder’s grandson, Gary F. Heurich, resurrected the Olde Heurich company with the goal of bringing brewing back to the District. He failed in that mission, but Gary Heurich did market some fairly successful beers, each brewed in Utica, N.Y., under the Foggy Bottom label.
Alas, the grandson’s dream blew up in 2006. The Post‘s Marc Fisher laid out the sad demise of the once proud company:
Gary Heurich’s statement is a little bitter — he believes Washington owed his company and his product a bit more loyalty. “The Washington area is unique among major urban centers in its relative lack of a hometown spirit,” he wrote, “and as a native Washingtonian, this is something that is deeply and personally disappointing.”
Certainly, Heurich played his part in fostering civic life in Washington. And, in fact, many people here showed some love in return, not only by buying his beer, but also by pushing it as a distinctly local item. The first concession stand at RFK Stadium to feature local items in the early part of the Nationals’ inaugural season last year was the brewpub stocked with Heurich beers.
But as many beer lovers said this week, the idea that people should buy Foggy Bottom simply because of its heritage doesn’t fit well with our capitalist system. Heurich agrees: “As a fifth-generation Washingtonian, I have the constitutional right to be disappointed,” he said. “I would never ask anybody to buy my beer just because we’re local. If you don’t like it, don’t drink it. But all things being equal, support the local team.”
The ironic part is that Gary Heurich may have been ahead of his time. Brewing is now returning to the District.