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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
brewery.

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
marketing.

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
am proud.

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
Washington, DC

By Marc Fisher |  March 1, 2006; 2:41 PM ET
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Ok, so the guy brews a beer in upstate NY, charges just as much as any other microbrew, makes a beer that tastes just like any other microbrew refuses to market it "as aggressively" as his competitors, and he's bitter about our lack of respect for DC's brewing heritage? You can't drink "cultural and historical importance". Tough cookies, dude. I love beer, and I love DC, but I don't see any reason to drink a beer (that's not brewed in DC!) because its owner's grandfather brewed beer here. Take your righteous indignation-based business plan somewhere else and see how it works for you.

-kevin

ps quit whining about the concessions at RFK. If you don't like them, go to Baltimore. We have a baseball team. Isn't that enough?

Posted by: Kevin Rusch | March 1, 2006 4:26 PM

Perhaps he could've spent some time developing a better tasting beer...

Posted by: Kye | March 1, 2006 5:01 PM

Foggy Bottom was just not a good beer.

It failed because of that IMO.

Posted by: Sam | March 1, 2006 5:21 PM

Gary was kind enough to sponsor my band in the late 80's and early 90's; put up a Heurich, banner in exchange for a case of beer... we were young then and thought we'd "turned pro"! I'm sure there are many in the city who have stories about Gary's civic invlovement, and it's a shame to see him leave.

I like the beers. The Pils on a hot day at RFK will especially be missed.

Cheers, Gary!

Posted by: Chuck | March 1, 2006 5:47 PM

As a native Washingtonian, I take issue with the comment about "relative lack of hometown spirit." Foggy Bottom just wasn't that good, and when I did buy it in stores or bars, it often tasted past its prime. I don't think they did as good a job as other microbreweries at policing inventory with their distributors. I felt a twinge of regret hearing they're closing down, but not after reading Mr. Heurich's message. Goodbeurich.

Posted by: Rob | March 1, 2006 5:49 PM

I liked the ale, but too many places had only the lager, and sometimes they wouldn't even know what they had beyond "Foggy Bottom". In any case, how much hometown spirit can you have for something after it starts being brewed hundreds of miles away?

Posted by: KCinDC | March 1, 2006 6:14 PM

The ale was/is good. It's hard to play on local heritage w/a made in NY label.

Posted by: Mark | March 1, 2006 10:15 PM

As a relative newcomer, I'd never even heard of Foggy Bottom beer. Heurich's statement makes it clear why that's the case. It's a crowded market, and DC is not---like Pittsburgh, for instance---a real "home town" sort of place. Succeeding w/o marketing seems improbable, to say the least.

And, I have to say anyone who uses "eleemosynary" in what is meant to be a statement for the public is a bit too full of himself. Sort of indicates his lack of talent for outreach.

Posted by: THS | March 2, 2006 12:43 PM

I don't think Foggy Bottom or Gary Heurich deserve the harsh comments above.

Nor should points be counted against either for brewing the beers at FX Matt brewery in Utica, NY. I would imagine that for Gary Heurich, FX Matt had the closest connection to his own family's history, and would as such be the perfect brewer for his beers. It should be noted that Brooklyn brand beers do the same for _all of their bottled beers_. FX Matt also brews its own craft-beers under the Saranac brand, as well as Brooklyn, and still makes its Utica Club which I'm sure has a loyal following. If you're ever in Utica, take the tour of the 19th century mansion it's very similar in feel from the exterior to DC's own Brewer's Castle, something I'm sure reinforced Heurich's decision to go with them when looking for a contract brewer.

For me, Foggy Bottom was like Sam Adams: if I ordered it or bought a six-pack of it, I would know that I'd be getting a good beer, but I'd often pass it up for something I thought would be a little more interesting. And it may have suffered a bit from being one of the first in the market and not having a string of seasonals to keep things fresh (as Sam Adams does) and develop a loyal following.

Sorry to see it go, but I'll get a case and hold a wake for the beer.

Posted by: Rob | March 2, 2006 1:42 PM

It's not that I blame FB for brewing in NY, it's that the optics, and hence the marketing, weren't as good given that one claim to fame was "Washington's Oldest".

It was a good beer.

Posted by: Mark | March 2, 2006 2:10 PM

I can see I'm not the only person to lament both the loss of a local brewer and the beer's actual quality. Put simply, it wasn't good.

Posted by: Smimp | March 2, 2006 2:56 PM

The serious lack of marketing, not the quality of the product, should be to blame for Heurich's failure. I regularly brought home six-packs and ordered pints of Foggy at the bar, not because it was my favorite beer, but in support of D.C.'s hometown brewer. Unfortunately, there are far too many Washingtonians who have never even heard of Foggy Lager and Foggy Ale.

Posted by: Jason | March 2, 2006 2:57 PM

RE Foggy Marketing - Agreed. I don't think I ever saw a single ad for the beer. If that's what Heurich considered "overbearing marketing", I can't say I feel badly for the guy.

Posted by: Kevin R | March 2, 2006 3:46 PM

I wonder if those who think the beer wasn't good could explain exactly what wasn't good about them.

Posted by: Jim | March 3, 2006 11:20 AM

I have no feelings either pro or con for Old Heurich, but I can confirm that in the beer business, contract brewing has become a necessary evil. One effective bottling line alone can cost as much as your house/condo, and it's foolish to tie up that much money in something that may get used a couple hours a week at best. The economies of scale between the tiny brewpub that produces a couple hundred or thousand barrels a year and the monster industrial breweries that spill more than that in a week are extremely difficult to sustain. The old National/Carling brewery along the Baltimore Beltway met its doom because it had a potential capacity of 600,000 barrels--as opposed to Frederick Brewing's potential 60,000 barrels, or the typical Budweiser plant production of 2.2 million barrels a year. People asked me why some microbrewery didn't buy it; I told them it would be like buying a Goodyear Blimp hangar to store a bicycle.

And that Frederick brewery? Last I heard, brewing about 60% of that capacity, and that's with 40% or more of that being contract beers for other companies, and about another 30% being "local" mass-market beers (think a Cleveland version of "Natty Boh") for the Cleveland region being made by the Ohio company that bought Frederick Brewing! And what's the biggest selling Frederick-company beer? Chesapeake-Bay-themed Wild Goose--which they bought from its Cambridge, Md. founders after they overinvested in the plant and went broke! And there was a stir and buzz in the Cleveland region after the buyers of Frederick shifted production of the Ohio beers to Maryland--"It's a scam, no longer a local beer!" said the critics and several local alternative papers out there.

Those who want to pursue the real issues of craft beer (brewpubs and microbreweries) in the region further may want to pick up a copy of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, a bi-monthly craft-beer newspaper available free at better beer bars throughout the region. [Disclaimer: I'm the paper's Baltimore columnist.]

Posted by: Alexander | March 3, 2006 11:26 AM

I'll say this: Living in this town for 10 years I can say that Heurich is right...there is no hometown spirit! And if you disagree, chances are you still think that UVA and Va Tech are "locals".

Foggy Bottom as a beer was ok and I have to say I could go either way on it. But what's important here is the history. The next time you drive thru Foggy Bottom and see the Kennedy Center think of the brewery (the first all brick building in DC) and then look at Watergate and think back 50 so years and remember the Washington Electric and Gas Company and their huge tanks.

Our town has no sense of history and you can't deny that (Chinatown has already moved twice and is quickly being swallowed up by the "MCI Center" renaissance) it is always changing with the tide of Governmental power and that's that.

To Mr. Heurich: Thanks for the memories and the good beer. I, for one, wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.

Cheers!

Posted by: Darryl | March 3, 2006 4:43 PM

Well, from the brewing industry post above, creating a "local brew" sounds pretty hard. And it's true that there isn't much "hometown spirit" but let's face it, there's a much smaller percentage of residents here who are "in it for the long haul" than there are in other towns. DC's a great place (I'm a local myself) but when between 1/3 and 1/2 of the people with the disposable income to spend on craft beer are transplants from somewhere else (and are looking to go home in a few years), AND our most important local landmarks are national ones (smithsonian, capitol, etc...) it does make it hard to have a local identity. (Other than really loving RFK or Eastern Market or something quirky)

SO what do we do? I think if Mr. Heurich had been a little less of an "eleemosynary" guy and more of a "beer-makin'" guy, maybe he'd have gotten somewhere. Meanwhile, I'm gonna drink my crappy beer and watch some baseball from the cheap seats.

Posted by: Kevin R | March 3, 2006 10:48 PM

The snide reference to Gary Heurich's vocabulary (the use of the word "eleemosynary" - meaning charitable with familial connotations), and by intimation to Mr. Heurich's philanthropy, speaks to the commenter rather than to the object of his disdain. And it is not germane to the topic.

In the mid 1980s, the 'hometown DC' region was relatively devoid of good beer - as were significant swaths of the US. The microbrewery movement was still nascent. Gary Heurich was taking a large personal financial risk when he began 'contract-brewing' his beer at that time.

Yes, the issues of local support, quality control, and marketing, mentioned in Mr. Fisher's blog and posted comments are significant. Yes, bitterness is a quality prized in a brewer's product, if not his personality.

But if Mr. Heurich let some bitterness slip, maybe he can be excused. His family's industrial, cultural, and, yes, eleemosynary roles in DC's heritage have been gravely wounded.

Maybe Mr. Heurich could have devoted more time to marketing and promotion. But in the early days, I remember seeing him here, there, and seemingly everywhere, indefatigably flogging his beer, dixtinctive behind his handlebar moustache. (Maybe his shearing of that trademark was an augur.)

And maybe Mr. Heurich could have 'home-towned' the liquid by shifting production from Utica, NY to Frederick, or Ashburn, or Baltimore. Beer is so much more delicate than wine; its freshness is a quid pro quo guarantee of its quality (that is, if the beer is sapid to begin with!)

But maybe pigs should have wings, and maybe rain should be beer.

The fickleness of earlier beer-drinking generations twice hastened the demise of local breweries across the nation. The capriciousness of today's beer-geek generation may again do the same.

So long, Gary Heurich, and thanks for the beers!

Posted by: Thomas | March 4, 2006 8:51 AM

I know Gary personally and it upsets me the perception that he is someone who "is full of himself" because of his choice of words. He is one of the most down to earth and generous people I know. Since the day I met him, his passion was always the beer. The concession stand at RFK was built with Gary's own sweat and blood (a story better told by Gary). I think there was hope that the return of DC pride and passion for the Nationals would spillover to a hometown beer. People are wrong that think Gary did not take this business seriously or expected it just to happen because of his last name.

Posted by: Tina | March 4, 2006 12:45 PM

I hope Marc reads this. I have trying to figure out how to Email you directly. I am very interestrd in geting a copy of the picture of the old brewing plant.
I lived in Foggy Bottom during WW II about 3 blocks away from the old CH Building. My father owned and ran a Hotel at 2224 F St.
When the building was demolished, He would stop by the site and fill his truink with the old bricks and moved them to our family home. My wife and I got married in 1952 and built a home in Ashton, Maryland. (I really mean we built it our selves)
In 1958, there was a massive snow storm in the area. Our house did not have a fireplace. After the storm, I built a fireplace out of the old CHB bricks. This fireplace is still working and I used it last night.
I would very much like to obtain a copy of the photograph of the building to hang on my wall over the fireplace. Can any one help me.

Posted by: Tom (TomMcFee@aol.com) | March 4, 2006 5:02 PM

You can email me directly at marcfisher@washpost.com
And you can may be able to find that photo on the castle's site, www.brewmasterscastle.org
And if that doesn't do it, please contact the castle's excellent staff and docents at the phone numbers on their site and they can steer you in the right direction.

Posted by: Fisher | March 5, 2006 9:06 AM

I enjoyed reading about an important DC business. My granduncle often spoke about how much he enjoyed the great buffets along H Street NE circa 1900. Buying a glass of beer entitled you to a grand buffet. He and his buddies always made a round to the saloons on Saturdays for lunch until he got married.

I was also told a story about Anna Mohr and her four sons and two daughters who came from Germany in 1893 and purchased a 160 acre farm near Fairfax City, VA in 1901. The family raised chickens, but only in their spare time. Every morning the six Mohr children took the horse and wagon to Fairfax City, left it at a livery stable, and then caught the train to Georgetown.

There the boys worked ten hours a day at the Heurich Brewery, while the girls toiled for ten hours as maids for the the owner. Then they'd all take the train back to Fairfax City and board the wagon for the trip home.

The Mohr boys all worked for the Heurich brewery until they retired to live together at their family home near 12718 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA

Posted by: Tom Warner | March 5, 2006 2:09 PM

While reading of Mr Heurichs frustration with people apparently not grasping the history of his familys brands of beer over the years I can't help but wonder if he's overlooked some basic facts. I hear constantly that 95% of the folks living here now were born and raised elsewhere.
And many of those do not stay here for any length of time. Why would they know the history of D.C.? Or even care?

I'm was born and raised in D.C. until I was 4 years old. My family moved to the suburbs to be closer to my dads work. I still
consider myself a 4th generation Washingtonian.

There was a large segment of German folks in D.C. in the 1800s and in parts of Maryland as far as the Thurmont area.
Germantown harbored one of the men involved in the Lincoln assassination. My moms side of the family was distinctly German.
The newspapers of the day portrayed life as it was then and 7th St. N.W. was the home to many a fine German business,
including my relatives shops. German folks worked and partied hard back then. But I dare say most newcomers to D.C. would
know little of this today. Heurich beer was part of their lives back then and to others into the 1950s. The beer was okay and not expensive, from what I was told - I was too young then. I did run into a man back in the early 60s who said as kid in gradeschool, they toured the Heurich brewery much like I visited the zoo or dairy farm while in 2nd grade.

Newcomers and/transients would never know much about this as D.C. can't even keep its
own history museum open. To see many of these former residents today, visit the old Prospect Hill Cemetery on North Capital St.
Most of the old Germans are in there. But not Mr. Heurichs family - they're up the road in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Posted by: DC Bill 4th gen | March 5, 2006 8:13 PM

I am certainly very sorry to hear of the loss of Foggy Bottom and I agree that some people in this area do not know or care much about local history and culture. But there are many, many who do. I follow the beer industry more then most people and I agree that the Foggy Bottom brands were disappointing. I think a small local production brewery for Old Heurich would have captured not only the enthusiasm of many local patrons but more market share as well. It would have been a jumping off point to develop and expand the brand. Brooklyn Brewery does indeed have FX Matt product it's bottled beer and some of it's keg beer but it still runs a local brewery in the heart of Brooklyn. The brewery produces for immediate area, supports local events, runs tours and is a source of brewing pride for NYC. Gary Heurich seems like a good person and a strong Washingtonian but he said it himself - the beer business was not his focus - and it showed.

-Sean

Posted by: Anonymous | March 6, 2006 10:57 AM

I was just looking at a 1986 issue of City Paper which had the story of the original Heurich Brewery along with Gary's dreams.
At the end of the article Gary said "Sure there are risks, but I'd be mighty disappointed if I got to be 65 and realized I could've tried it, but didn't."

I remember your kick-off parade and the 1940 reprint of Heurich History.

I liked your 2005 Nationals - RFK concession but I could see the writing on the wall like when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for LA. And so it seems fitting and proper that the new $911M baseball stadium doesn't deserve the proud history you tried to preserve. Let's hope the fans don't also blow it again, this time with the Nationals.

Thanks Gary for trying and good luck with your upstate NY brewery and you still got 7 years to boot!! (Not even half-way to Christian's 101)...

Gemutlichkeit

Posted by: Ed | March 6, 2006 2:23 PM

Sad news! I did enjoy the Foggy Ale and will miss being able to get a Foggy at Nationals games this year. Good luck, Gary, and thanks for giving us some good beer, if only for a while!

Posted by: Jennifer | March 7, 2006 1:23 PM

Im sorry to hear of the sad news . Ive been to the brewmasters house many times with my grandfather who was a washingtonian and related to mr Heurich. My family owned Arlington bottling co and bottled Heurichs beer in the late 1800s Ive never meet Gary ,but heard alot about him .Thanks Gary for everything . Chris S

Posted by: chris squier | March 8, 2006 8:47 PM

profound table becomes standard corner in final: http://www.sho.com/ , slot can roll chair

Posted by: Jason Armstrong | March 29, 2006 10:21 PM

Screw everyone who either did not like the beer or had ill comments to say about Mr. Heurich because in all honesty it is easy to see that 1. you prob. drink bud or bud light and have no good taste in beer and 2. you obviously didn't know Mr. Heurich and the great man he was and the one you'll never be. Everyone else keep drinking good beers and support your local micro breweries! Peace

Posted by: Cool Daddy | May 19, 2006 12:48 AM

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