Lost Washington: Heurich Brewery

Heurich BreweryWashington’s most famous brewery was founded in 1872, when Christian Heurich moved to the city from Baltimore and, along with a partner, bought the bankrupt Schnell Brewery and tavern at 1229 20th Street, NW.

By 1873 Heurich had bought out his partner’s interest, and he became the sole manager of the struggling brewery until about 1877, when he began to expand his staff.

A good history on the Heurich Brewery can be found at Rustycans.com, The following is an excerpt from that site.

(Courtesy Historical Society of Washington, DC, #JO O060)

(Courtesy Historical Society of Washington, DC, #JO O060)

In 1894, workers started construction on the new, larger Heurich Brewery located by the Potomac River at 26th and D Streets, NW, that dominated the Washington waterfront for 68 years. The literal spark that initiated the construction of a new, fireproof facility was in 1892, when a fire caused by an explosion in the malt mill swept though the former structure.

Heurich Brewery Interior 1The new brewery was completed in 1895 with a capacity of 500,000 barrels annually with an ice plant that could make 250 tons a day.  While the new brewery buildings were being built, the old facility was used to age the beer previously brewed until it was ready for sale, reducing the disruption in business. Once the new brewery was ready, the original one was abandoned.  In 1897, Heurich added a bottling operation to the new plant.  In 1914, the old ice plant was turned into storage and a new ice plant was constructed.  Heurich produced ‘can ice’ intended for ice companies to deliver to homes, and ‘plate ice’ which was meant for large commercial refrigerators.

Heurich Brewery Interior 2Despite prohibition instituted in Washington in 1918 and not lifted until 1933, Heurich was able to maintain a business by selling hard cider for a short period, but ice sales primarily kept the business solvent – ice being the primary form of refrigeration at the time.

When prohibition ended, of the five breweries that had been operating in Washington prior to prohibition, only Christian Heurich and the Abner-Drury Brewery reopened and the latter only lasted two years.

Heurich Brewery Interior 3Sales peaked in 1945 at about 200,000 barrels, boosted in part by the legion of war workers that flooded into DC from 1942-1945.  Sales in the decade after the war went up and down.  Heurich tried different strategies to increase their sales.  They sponsored Washington Senators games on radio and TV for years, as well as local industrial league baseball and basketball teams.  They also began planning to build a new, more modern plant in D.C. off of 1st Street between Q, R, and S Streets in Southwest.  Promoting Old Georgetown helped and in 1954 sales began to climb.  In 1955, they introduced Heurich’s Lager. It quickly became a best seller, but the brewery was still losing ground to the big national brands.  Heurich Brewery Interior 4In January 1956, the board decided to close the brewery before they actually began to lose money.

The old brewing buildings remained standing for six more years.  A wax museum and a theater company used some of the facility.  In 1962, it was torn down to make room for entrance ramps for the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and for what became the Kennedy Center.  Christian Heurich had built his brewery well, however, as attempts to use dynamite to knock down the walls was only partially successful.  The ice house had a foot of cork between the walls for insulation, and they had to finally be destroyed with a wreaking ball.

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6 Responses to “Lost Washington: Heurich Brewery”

  1. […] Heurich. If you’re familiar with the D.C. area, the brewery was located near Dupont Circle at 1229 20th Street. And guess what, they had a gymnasium at that brewery where the basketball team practiced. Fun […]

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