The Breweries of Capitol Hill was the topic of a Preservation Cafe, September 17, 2014 from 6:30- 7 p.m. at Ebenezers Coffee House, 2nd & F Sts. NE. Garrett Peck, a journalist and historian, was the speaker for the September Preservation Café. Mr. Peck has written several books about the history of the District, including about the Civil War and Prohibition time periods. Garrett is on the board of the Woodrow Wilson House and the Arlington Historical Society, and is a member of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C.
Garrett’s presentation, titled after his latest book Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, offered a comprehensive look at the history and people involved in the local beer-brewing industry. The presentation also focused on several prominent Capitol Hill brewers and their buildings.
Brewing has been a fundamental part of the history and culture of Washington, D.C. Beer was a staple, and brewing made potentially dangerous water potable. The very earliest brewers in DC were UK immigrants making English-style ales and porters in the late 1700s. Coningham & Co. appears to be the first brewery on record in Washington, started by Cornelius Coningham and operated from 1796 to 1800 near the Navy Yard. Mr. Peck was involved in discovering the earliest location of the brewery building, currently a paved parking lot by the Navy Yard. Owing to Mr. Peck’s research, plans are in the works by the Yards Park developer to excavate and record the remains of the original structure before new construction fills in the paved lot.
A wave of Germans immigrants to DC in the 1800s led to the introduction of lager style beers. Albert Carry, a German immigrant, built and expanded the brewery that is now part of the Stuart-Hobson Middle School. A German-owned brewery was located in what is now occupied by the Safeway on 14th Street SE. Christian Heurich, another German immigrant, was at the helm of one Washington’s largest and longest-running breweries. In 1872, Heurich began brewing and by 1895, Heurich opened a new brewery by the Potomac River at 26th and D Sts, NW with a 500,000 barrel annual capacity. The brewery survived Prohibition by manufacturing ice. (Six major breweries in the Washington-area were closed by Prohibition; Heurich’s was the only one of them successfully reopened.) In 1956, with the rise of large national breweries and tastes changing to “lighter flavored” beers, the brewery closed. The brewery structure was torn down in 1962 to make way for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Today, there are almost no architectural remains from DC’s brewing past, but a renewed interest in locally-brewed beers has given rise to the creating of new breweries as beer is once again brewed in the District of Columbia.
Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington is available for purchase at Politics & Prose and Barnes & Noble bookstores, and can be ordered from Riverby Books (417 East Capitol Street, SE; 202-543-4342). Mr. Peck’s books can also be purchased online. Mr. Peck also organizes tours of the DC area and writes freelance articles. Garrett can be contacted via his website http://www.garrettpeck.com/.