Farewell, Olde Heurich! A Comeback Ends
It's a sad day in Foggy Bottom and in all of Washington, a day to hoist one to the memory of the old brewmaster Christian Heurich, to the glory days when every American city boasted its own breweries, to the idea that each place deserved its own taste.
The Olde Heurich Brewing Company--successor to Washington's last surviving local brewery and maker of Foggy Bottom Ale, Old Georgetown and Senate beers--today announced its demise. (See president Gary Heurich's statement after the jump.) Olde Heurich--unlike the original Heurich, which closed in 1956 and had a massive plant on the site of what is today the Kennedy Center--did not make its beers here in the District. Rather, the beer was brewed on contract by a company in upstate New York, using the old Heurich recipes.
Throughout the 20 years in which he sold beer here, Gary Heurich hoped to build his company to the point that he could give the District a real live brewery right in the city once again. It never happened, but Foggy Bottom was as close to a Washington beer as we had in recent years (sure, there are plenty of microbrews at various local watering holes, and Virginians will make a strong argument for Old Dominion and other local beers, but Heurich was a direct link to one of the city's great heritage businesses.)
Gary Heurich's statement is a little bitter--he believes Washington owed his company and his product a bit more loyalty. 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. For example, the one decent concession stand at RFK Stadium in the early part of the Nationals' inaugural season last year was the brewpub stocked with Heurich beers.
This is a rough time for Heurich. I met him a few weeks ago at his grandfather's house, the fabulous Victorian mansion just south of Dupont Circle that Gary Heurich has spent much of his time and energy trying to save. The future of the Brewmaster's Castle remains very much in doubt, despite a heartwarming public response to Heurich's appeal for help in staving off the bankers.
Heurich loves history and especially the history of Washington and his family's business here. Christian Heurich, a German immigrant who would become the largest employer of Germans in Washington, lived to be 102, and for a good portion of his life, there were breweries dotted all around the city--nearly 20 in all. Despite Washington's reputation as a city that never had much industry, there was indeed a strong merchant class, and Heurich and his fellow brewers played the essential civic and cultural role that brewers have played in many American cities.
His house became a salon for musicians and business people. Christian Heurich had a chance at one point to buy a large piece of land that had been part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, and the brewer bought it for the sole purpose of donating it to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, making it a part of the historic preserve. The Heurich legacy lives on at Arena Stage, where one of the theaters is named the Old Vat, so dubbed because it was originally located along the Potomac where the old Heurich brewery stood.
Heurich brewery had its own gym at one point in its history; Red Auerbach played there with the Heurich factory team.
Gary Heurich plans to keep a hand in the beer business, but not here. Rather, he plans to open an inn up at Lake Champlain.
A brewery is not a charity; if consumers didn't buy Foggy Bottom, that's that. But I'll still lift a Foggy Bottom tonight in honor of Gary Heurich, and I'll make sure to keep one bottle in the fridge and save it for Opening Day.
On the jump: The statement from Gary Heurich.
Here's the statement from Gary Heurich:
It is with immeasurable sadness and disappointment that I inform you that, after 20 unprofitable years, The Olde Heurich Brewing Company has discontinued brewing operations, and will cease sales of its beers to its distributors, effective with the last of our shipments to our distributors in February.
These shipments will provide our distributors with up to one month's final inventory that will allow each of them and our retail customers time to plan transitions and arrange final purchases of what will now likely become an eBay item. Accordingly, I expect that Foggy will disappear from the market by the beginning of April.
It was with pride and a great sense of history that I
chose to resurrect my family's grand local brewing tradition in the
national capital area in 1986. My hope and inspiration was that it
would be supported accordingly so that we would be able to build a
brewery in Washington.
Though with a handful of wonderful exceptions for which I
am very grateful, sadly and unlike many other craft beer markets, the
Washington area's heritage beer seems to have been viewed more as a
commodity, and we never came anywhere near the sales needed to build a
As our predecessor, the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., learned
by the time it had to close in 1956 for similar reasons, the
Washington area is unique among major urban centers in its relative
lack of a hometown spirit, and as a native Washingtonian this is
something that is deeply and personally disappointing.
Certainly I could have chosen to do things differently and
embraced more forceful marketing methods, but given many other craft
beers' success without this, and though perhaps naively, it was
important to me that my beers be embraced and appreciated because of
their consistent high quality and intrinsic cultural and historical
importance, and not simply because of consumers' vulnerability to mass
Another disappointment and mea culpa is that I was rarely
able to focus exclusively on growing the beer business because over
the years other obligations and choices, similarly to my grandfather,
led me to pursue eleemosynary activities. But I cannot say that I
regret this, as they served a greater good, and are things of which I
While Olde Heurich, Foggy Bottom, our other brands, and
our beers will live on in a brewpub as part of an inn I am developing
on the shores of Lake Champlain, for the second and final time the
Washington metropolitan area will lose its heritage beer.
I want to thank you and all of our customers over the past
20 years who did embrace and support Washington's heritage beer, for
which I am personally grateful...I will always take heart and
reassurance from this that I did accomplish more than simply spending
a helluva lot of money to make sure I had great beers to drink!
Gary F. Heurich, President
The Olde Heurich Brewing Company
By Marc Fisher |
March 1, 2006; 2:41 PM ET
Previous: At Last! Trend Stories on the Decline of the Blog! | Next: D.C. Schools Total Reform Plan #477
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Kevin Rusch | March 1, 2006 4:26 PM
Posted by: Kye | March 1, 2006 5:01 PM
Posted by: Sam | March 1, 2006 5:21 PM
Posted by: Chuck | March 1, 2006 5:47 PM
Posted by: Rob | March 1, 2006 5:49 PM
Posted by: KCinDC | March 1, 2006 6:14 PM
Posted by: Mark | March 1, 2006 10:15 PM
Posted by: THS | March 2, 2006 12:43 PM
Posted by: Rob | March 2, 2006 1:42 PM
Posted by: Mark | March 2, 2006 2:10 PM
Posted by: Smimp | March 2, 2006 2:56 PM
Posted by: Jason | March 2, 2006 2:57 PM
Posted by: Kevin R | March 2, 2006 3:46 PM
Posted by: Jim | March 3, 2006 11:20 AM
Posted by: Alexander | March 3, 2006 11:26 AM
Posted by: Darryl | March 3, 2006 4:43 PM
Posted by: Kevin R | March 3, 2006 10:48 PM
Posted by: Thomas | March 4, 2006 8:51 AM
Posted by: Tina | March 4, 2006 12:45 PM
Posted by: Tom (TomMcFee@aol.com) | March 4, 2006 5:02 PM
Posted by: Fisher | March 5, 2006 9:06 AM
Posted by: Tom Warner | March 5, 2006 2:09 PM
Posted by: DC Bill 4th gen | March 5, 2006 8:13 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | March 6, 2006 10:57 AM
Posted by: Ed | March 6, 2006 2:23 PM
Posted by: Jennifer | March 7, 2006 1:23 PM
Posted by: chris squier | March 8, 2006 8:47 PM
Posted by: Jason Armstrong | March 29, 2006 10:21 PM
Posted by: Cool Daddy | May 19, 2006 12:48 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.