New Wave Of D.c. Brews Draws From Tradition Going Back Centuries (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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New Wave Of D.C. Brews Draws From Tradition Going Back Centuries

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and despite this -- I don't know -- indecisive weather, technically it's spring. So happy spring, everyone. May you one day be able to stash away your snow boots and your parka and may that one day be relatively soon. Now, here at the show we've definitely come down with a case of what I guess you could call Spring Fever. All this warm then cold then warm, sunny then snowy then sunny stuff has a feeling -- I don't know -- a little wild.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:44
So today we're doing away with our usual thematic approach to the program, and brining you one of our Wild Cards shows. And this time around we're dealing out a hand that has a little bit of everything. Like a new bill that would prevent hard-working residents of Washington, D.C. from being ripped off.

MR. ARI WEISBARD

00:01:00
They would have the right to go in front of this administrative law judge and present their case. And argue, you know, this is how much I was offered. This is how many hours I worked, but I was only paid this amount.

SHEIR

00:01:10
We'll also visit Chincoteague Island and check out the newest theater company to hit Virginia's Eastern Shore.

MS. LEXI HUBB

00:01:15
There are lots of older retirees here. And I've actually conformed some plays -- with permission from playwrights -- to make them, you know, the senior generation.

SHEIR

00:01:24
Plus, we'll unearth some urban streams, investigate a legendary curse and we'll find out if our long awaited Silver Line is set to open any time soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:01:34
This is just a far cry from where we were six months ago when everybody was saying, oh, we're going to get this in January, then maybe we'll -- February or March for an opening.

SHEIR

00:01:57
But first, let's talk beer. Since 2011, the Washington area's been experiencing quite the beer -- and beer-brewing -- renaissance. Bill Stewart, of Bardo Brewpub in Northeast D.C., has referred to this resurgence as Beer 2.0. Why 2.0? Because as local historian Garrett Peck will tell you, D.C. already experienced Beer 1.0 a pretty long time ago.

MR. GARRETT PECK

00:02:20
It's interesting to see in D.C., everybody in recent memory forgets that we had this lengthy brewing past that went all the way back to 1770.

SHEIR

00:02:28
And that's the subject of Peck's new book, "Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C." I recently met up with Peck at quite the headily historic location in Southeast, D.C.

PECK

00:02:40
We're between the Nationals Ballpark and the D.C. Water Pumping Station. And it's a big parking lot. And this was the site of the Washington Brewery. This was on the coastline when it first opened up, and then gradually all the land south of here -- essentially about a block further south -- has all been infill. But when the brewery first opened up in 1805, it was right on the water itself. It had a wharf and everything.

SHEIR

00:03:02
An English doctor named Cornelius Cunningham opened the place, and it continued brewing beer all the way until 1836. But lest you think that was the end of The Washington Brewery…

SHEIR

00:03:12
Now, the Washington Brewery, you have a little section in your book, called One Brewery, Seven Locations.

PECK

00:03:17
Yeah.

SHEIR

00:03:18
It's got like seven different homes.

PECK

00:03:19
Yeah, the Washington Brewery was this quintessential name. Cunningham founded the very first one, and the very last Washington Brewery was in the 1990s. There was a very short-lived contract brewer that had picked up the name. But other than Christian Heurich, who is our best known brewer in D.C., it's certainly the longest lasting brewing name. But they were different companies and they were all a bunch of different locations.

PECK

00:03:39
It was such a great name that one brewery would shut down, there would be a couple years gap, and then suddenly someone else would rename their brewery as the Washington Brewery, because the name had credibility.

SHEIR

00:03:48
You write in your book the first brewery in the District is actually not in the District, it's in Alexandria. Can you tell us about it a little bit?

PECK

00:03:53
Sure, yeah. The very first brewer was named Andrew Wales. And he started brewing in 1770, in Alexandria. And of course, Alexandria then gets incorporated into the District of Columbia in 1791, which makes Wales then the first brewer in the District of Columbia. Not the first brewer in the city of Washington, but rather in the greater District of Columbia.

SHEIR

00:04:13
Moving forward in time we've got the Civil War. How did the Civil War affect brewing here in Washington?

PECK

00:04:18
The Civil War was really a boom time for brewing in Washington. You know this is now this huge garrison in Washington. So all these little brewers all decide they're going to open up shops. So the city practically exploded with breweries during the Civil War. The Civil War then, I think, becomes this fundamental moment in American drinking history, because before the war, Americans, largely -- especially American men -- were drinking whiskey. But after the war, now they're drinking lager beer.

SHEIR

00:04:40
So what then ushered in what you call in your book the gilded age of beer in Washington?

PECK

00:04:45
The gilded age started really in the 1870s. And by the way, you can thank brewers for the invention of air conditioning and ice-making machinery. And that came about largely because of Robert Portner, who was the big brewer in Alexandria. And he was quite an innovator. Once you had this machinery invented, though, you could start to brew lager year round, and not just in the winter time. But what that meant, thought, is that you had to have the capital to be able to afford all this machinery.

PECK

00:05:10
So that very quickly squeezed out all the family brewers. So, you know, this gilded age, Industrial beer emergence. So by the 1890s, there are six big breweries in the D.C. area. In Arlington, Va. -- back then it was Alexandria County. It was the Consumers Brewing Company, which became the Arlington Brewing Company. In Alexandria you had the Tivoli Brewery, which was Robert Portner's brewery.

PECK

00:05:33
In Foggy Bottom you had the Christian Heurich Brewing Company and Abner-Drury Brewing Company. And then on Capitol Hill you had the Washington Brewery -- there's that name again, and then the National Capital Brewery, each able to brew at least 100,000 barrels of beer per year. And Christian Heurich of course was the largest of all the brewers. He had half the capacity in the city alone.

PECK

00:05:55
His brewery could brew 500,000 barrels a year. So the other breweries kind of ganged up against him and tried to force him to raise the price of beer because they're all being squeezed out by his capacity in the market. This was, by the way, called The Beer War of 1904, and it lasted for a couple more years. I think it just finally just petered out. You know, they were faced up against a much larger nemesis by that point, which was the Temperance Movement, which was starting to really squeeze the saloons and squeeze the brewers.

SHEIR

00:06:20
Yeah, you write in your book -- and I’m going to quote you here. "Nothing so threatened American brewers as the Temperance Movement." So can you give examples of how local brewers were so threatened by what was going on?

PECK

00:06:30
Well, first off, their main outlet for selling beer were beer gardens and saloons. And, of course, on an annual basis when the beer garden or saloon would renew its license, they would have to go before the Board. And of course, there would be a member there of the Anti-Saloon League to challenge them. And, yeah, most of the breweries were simply just shut down entirely. I mean only two of them actually emerge from Prohibition, Christian Heurich and Abner Drury Brewing Company.

PECK

00:06:52
And Abner Drury closed within a couple of years, they just couldn't make it financially. Christian Heurich managed to stay open all the way until 1956. Heurich himself had died in 1945, just before his 103rd birthday, which is pretty amazing. And his family continued on brewing for another decade or so and the brewing market was really petering out then, the local brewing market.

PECK

00:07:14
Just the national beer market, you know, Budweiser and Pabst and Schlitz had really taken over the national beer market. And little guys then -- Heurich is not a little guy, he just couldn't compete against the national breweries, now.

SHEIR

00:07:24
So again, here we are right by the National Stadium, at parking lot basically, which once was the site of brewery. What are some other sites around town that people might be surprised when they visit, wow, there used to be a brewery here.

PECK

00:07:35
Yeah, the Tivoli Brewery, which was Robert Portner's brewery, that is the site now of the Trader Joe's on Washington Street, in Alexandria. And this, by the way, surrounding it are three (unintelligible) buildings from the brewery. Two different bottling plants and an ice factory. They've been repurposed for other needs, including one is a condo now.

PECK

00:07:55
Other places that are kind of surprising, if you go to Capitol Hill, Stuart-Hobson School, that was the Washington Brewery in the 1890s, all the way up until prohibition. Also, the Safeway, on 14th Street Southeast, that was the National Capital Brewing site.

SHEIR

00:08:11
So let's talk about beers return to Washington. Things kind of went away as soon as the Heurich stopped brewing. So when did things kick back up again?

PECK

00:08:19
That brewery closed in January 1956, and then we went 55 years until another brewery opened up. We did get brewpubs, by the way, in 1992. David Fonstorck opened up Capital City. And his original site is still open. That's the one on New York Avenue, at the Greyhound terminal building, you know. But it wasn't all way until 2011 that Port City opened up, followed shortly by DC Brau. And then you've got Three Stars, and Chocolate City, and so on.

PECK

00:08:42
And we've had this wonderful flurry of production breweries and brewpubs. So essentially, in less than three years' time, it's been a wonderful avalanche or cascade of beer. And it's been also really cool to see how much Washingtonians have really embraced local beer now. And, for the book, "Capital Beer," I literally had to draw the boundaries at the original 100 square miles of the District of Columbia, just because there are so many breweries now, outside of the city. Especially out in the suburbs. And this largely because of real estate. It's cheaper out in the suburbs. Right. So we are not starved for choices any more. It's a good problem to have, you know.

SHEIR

00:09:16
Garrett Peck is the author of "Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C." You can hear him read from the book at Politics and Prose on March 22nd. For more information and to see a timeline of the many, many, many breweries involved in D.C.'s sudsy past, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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