A little bit about the history of beer in the District...

From the Founding Fathers to industrious immigrants to our 21st century brewers who broke an unimposed 55-year dry spell, Washington, DC has a long (albeit sometimes interrupted) history with brewing.

Coningham & Co. appears to be the first brewery on record in Washington, DC. The brewhouse was started by Cornelius Coningham and operated from 1796 to 1800.

George Washington was not only a fan of porters but also a firm believer in the quality of American craftsmanship: “Indeed we have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America: both those articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality.” - George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette; January 29, 1789

In 1809, James Madison wanted to form a national brewery and appoint a Secretary of Beer to the presidential cabinet. Congress did not agree.

Later, in 1858, George Juenemann was an immigrant from Prussia who operated a brewery. It is likely that Juenemann's was the first brewery to produce "lager beer." Albert Carry, an immigrant from Hechingen, Germany, purchased the brewery from the Juenemann family in 1886, but quickly sold it in turn to a group of investors who changed the name to The Washington Brewery.

Christian Heurich was an immigrant from Thuringia, Germany who was at the helm of one Washington's largest and longest-running breweries. In 1872, Heurich partnered with business partner Paul Ritter to rent the Schnell Brewery and began brewing. In 1895, after years of success and changes in location, 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. By 1939, The Christian Heurich Brewing Company seems to be the only remaining brewery in Washington, DC. After his death in 1945, Heurich's son, Christian, Jr. takes over the business. But with the rise of large national breweries and tastes changing to "lighter flavored" beers, the brewery is less able to compete. In 1956, the board decides to close the business while they can still turn a slight profit and not take a loss.

The brewery was torn down in 1962 to make way for the new Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

On November 1, 1917 (more than two years before national Prohibition) DC was rendered dry by Congressional action. One of Franklin Roosevelt’s first acts after taking office on March 4, 1933 was to sign the Cullen-Harrison bill. This altered the definition of “intoxicating” in the Volstead Act to exempt 3.2% ABV beer. After the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. on April 7, 1933, the White House was “thanked” with a flood of beer from grateful breweries.

So what has happened since the last package (bottling) brewery shuttered their kettles in 1956?

  • October 1957: Felix Coja opens the Brickskeller.

  • 1992: Capitol City Brewing Company becomes the first brewpub to open in the city since Prohibition.

  • 2011: DC Brau is the first package brewery to begin brewing and distributing beer within the District since 1956.

For more on some of the breweries in our areas today, click here!