A few Saturdays ago, I visited D.C. Brau Brewing Company, located on Bladensburg Road. Beer aficionados filled the small tasting room at the brewery, the scene vibrant and loud with conversation and laughter. D.C. Brau offers free tours and tastings of whatever beers they have on tap. Pretty awesome, right?
Started just over a year ago by friends and D.C. natives Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, D.C. Brau is the first commercial brewery to operate inside the District since 1956.
This fact shocked me. How on earth could this be possible? Especially for D.C., a city with such a rich history and culture. Determined to find an answer, I did some research.
In 1872, a German emigrant named Christian Heurich moved to Washington D.C. and opened Heurich Brewery at its first location on 20th Street, near M and N streets. He learned his brew master skills by working as an apprentice at inns when he lived in Germany. Pictured below is one of one of Heurich’s main brews, Senate Beer.
Due to his beer’s popularity, Christian Heurich later moved his brewery to a larger location in D.C. next to the Potomac River in 1894. Heurich Brewery produced beer in this location until sales began to decline in the 1950s. As a local brewer, Christian Heurich found it difficult to compete with larger, nationally produced brands.
In 1956, Christian Heurich decided to close his brewery to avoid a further loss of profit. His Dupont Circle residence, called the “Brewmaster’s Castle,” remains open for tours today (pictured, right).
The government eventually took over the old Heurich Brewery site in 1962, tearing it down to make way for a new bridge and performing arts center. You might know these two familiar D.C. landmarks – The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and The Kennedy Center.
Christian Heurich’s grandson, Gary Heurich, attempted to revive the brewery in the late 1980s, but he was unable to bring in enough profit to sustain its operation.
So, what was the problem? Were Washingtonians just not interested in having a local beer?
Enter Skall and Hancock.
Hancock, who had previous experience working in established breweries such as Flying Dog in Frederick, had always wanted to start his own. Skall, on the other hand, had previously worked as a manager for a wine importer based out of New York City.
Combining their skills, Skall and Hancock opened D.C. Brau in 2011. Although its location in the back of a Bladensburg Road strip mall may not be as grandiose as the former Heurich Brewery’s, D.C. Brau is a serious operation. Hancock is the brewmaster, while Skall handles the business and sales side of the brewery.
The brewery’s clever slogan, “Fermentation without representation,” is a play on D.C. license plates, “Taxation without representation.” The names of D.C. Brau’s beers hint at politics too, such as “The Public,” an American Pale ale, “The Citizen,” a Belgian Pale Ale and “The Corruption,” an India Pale Ale.
I have tried all three of D.C. Brau’s signature beers – they are rich with bold and complex flavors. The three regular brews are sold in silver aluminum cans that stand out among other beers at the grocery or liquor store.
Considering that the District did not have a brewery like D.C. Brau for over half a century, the laws towards sampling beer outside of grocery stores and other retailers were not up to date. Soon after opening their brewery, Skall and Hancock wrote a bill supporting on-site sampling of their beers by visitors. They hired a lawyer to lobby the legislation to the city council, where it was finally passed.
The free tastings and tours are offered most Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m at 3178 Bladensburg Road. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, D.C. Brau’s tasting room attracts an average of 300-500 visitors weekly.
Given that it has only been around for just over a year, D.C. Brau has enjoyed considerable success. This past year, the brewery won awards for several of its brews, notably The Public (silver for best American style pale ale at the L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition). In addition, D.C. Brau participated in the recent D.C. Beer Week, holding an all-you-can-eat crab festival at The Quarterdeck in Arlington.
I hope the brewery continues to do well. Hancock and Skall have definitely created a beer that the District can be proud to call its own.