Tag: DC

DC’s Lagers of Yore

Last week, multimedia reporter Martin Austermuhle covered a fascinating development on a Capitol Hill ‘Shotgun House’ which was built around 1850. The article is a quick read and beer is not the central focus but it’s worth excavating the article. We wanted to try to put the information from the article into the context of DC beer in the mid 19th and early 20th Centuries. The article states, in a caption, “the team of archaeologists found a variety of beer bottles, including a Schlitz bottle from 1911 and an ale bottle” supposedly from the 1850s. Though no mention is made of the provenance of the bottle or how that was determined.

Excavation of the historic residence was spearheaded by Ruth Trocolli who is the official D.C. archaeologist. Trocolli has traced back the house’s earliest resident as German immigrant Ernst Tungel, who purchased it in 1853. The house remained in the family for the next 40 years. When Tungel bought the house in 1853, brewing in DC was 62 years old. Andrew Wales and his wife Margaret, DC’s first commercial brewer, set up shop in 1791. Wales’ brewery was located in Alexandria, which was incorporated into the District in 1791.
Moving right along we ask you to ponder the years of 1853-1893. These were boom times for DC and DC beer. But they were also boom times for the nation and not necessarily in the sense of a bullish market. 1853 was eight years before the start of the civil war, and lest we forget a massive number of immigrants made up the union army: 177,000 German born and 144,000 born in Ireland according to these sources. More than a third of the city’s inhabitants today.
Mr. Tungel was German born and by the time Mr. Tungel’s property purchase turned 17, in 1870, Washington DC had 13 breweries. More than it has today.
Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, 1935-1967, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, 1935-1967, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
The quote that drew us in was Trocolli’s discussion of the house in its place and time:
 
“We’re finding out about German immigrant community that sort of flew under the radar. They had a brewery down the street, they were buying and selling property to and from each other, and they had their own institutions. This was the fringe of the city, it was still the country at the time, there were farms nearby. And we really don’t know much about this community,” Trocolli said.
It is unclear from the article which year or which brewery Trocolli is talking about. But to say there was “a brewery down the street” is irrefutable. But perhaps a more accurate statement would be ‘there were breweries all over town’ or ‘many streets led to breweries.’
George Beckert brewer and plasterer of Smithsonian Institute? Daily evening star. (Washington [D.C.]), 29 Aug. 1854. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress
George Beckert brewer and plasterer of Smithsonian Institution? Daily evening star. (Washington [D.C.]), 29 Aug. 1854. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress
It is difficult to find record but we know from Garrett Peck’s Capital Beer that Beckert’s Garden, a beer garden which also had a small brewery, stood on Fourteenth Street, NE between D & E Streets, SE from 1850-1859. This is likely the one Trocolli is referring to.
George Beckert brewer and buffalo-owner? Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 04 Sept. 1857. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
George Beckert brewer and buffalo-owner? Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 04 Sept. 1857. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Various owners brewed on the property up until its last iteration when it closed as the National Capital Brewing Co. in 1917. While Beckert’s name has largely faded from the history books, he is potentially the first lager beer brewer in Washington DC, and this is a BIG DEAL to brewers, cultural historians, immigration historians, German/American ethnographers, and any other person who believes the study of beer history and beer culture should be taken seriously.
National Capital Lager Beer in 1914. The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 12 Nov. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
National Capital Lager Beer in 1914. The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 12 Nov. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Further west was the Island Brewery which lasted until 1858 at Maine Avenue between 4-1/2 and Sixth Streets, SW.
Another brewery not quite two miles to the north at what is today Stuart-Hobson Middle School. It started as the Juenemann Brewery and lasted from 1858-1863. It then became the Mount Vernon Lager Beer Brewery from 1863-to 1886, it was Albert Carry’s Brewery until 1889, and then finally the Washington Brewery from 1889 to 1917.
Washington Brewing Co. Culmbacher lager. Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 25 April 1903. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Washington Brewing Co. Culmbacher lager. Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 25 April 1903. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
You’ll notice that many of these breweries closed in 1917. This was the year that prohibition was enacted in DC. Ask a dozen historians why prohibition happened and you might get a dozen answers. But we believe the following: xenophobia and the entrance of the US in WWI helped quash much of the beer drinking culture, both customs and regulations, prior to prohibition. In the easy-to-imagine  scenarios, many Americans feared Germans. Other xenophobic displays included mobs who “harassed anyone who opposed the war, especially those of German stock, but also socialists, pacifists, and conscientious objectors.” Though she may call herself dubious in the role of expert, we have to agree with Dr. J. Nikol Beckham that prohibition was always racialized.
Looking back at the ridiculousness of the temperance movement, we cede that the prohibitionists did get one assertion right: people in the early 20th Century loved to drink beer.
So much so that in 1915, according to source material, Washington, DC, brewed 169,973 barrels. According to another source this large quantity was brewed by only four breweries. And nearly all of it lager. Only one brewer is listed as making ale, and the owner of that brewery was a German immigrant no less! 1915’s number, 169,973 barrels, makes 2015’s number seem insignificant. 29,727 barrels were brewed in 2015. A quick bit of math shows that the 1915 brewers made 140,246 barrels more than DC’s modern day brewers.
It is unclear if the 1915 numbers include massive out-of-town breweries like Schlitz who were sending beer into the District to be bottled for District consumption. One bottling agent for Schlitz was Samuel C. Palmer.
Mike Cianciosi is a font of knowledge and has a great site which gives input as to what Palmer was bottling, amongst other things, cider, Belfast Ginger Ale, and Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co.’s Milwaukee Lager Beer.

Perhaps if the massive nationally-shipping breweries numbers were taken out it would look like a more fair fight between DC’s brewers in 1915 and 2015. But, the following ad states “Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. 3d & Randolph Place, N.E. Washington, D.C” yet there’s no evidence that an actual brewery which produced Schlitz’ lager in DC existed. It was most likely a bottling plant. Still, it is important to remember the massive influence lager beer has had, and fortunately continues to have, in our nation’s capitol.

Schlitz, brewed in the dark? Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 10 July 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Schlitz, brewed in the dark? Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 10 July 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Session 117: More, More, More…

1893 English, Scottish, and Irish imports? Oh my! Potentially Ireland's biggest brewer as well as another famous Pale Ale brewer listed as Blood, Wolfe & Co's Celebrated?
1893 English, Scottish, and Irish imports? Oh my!

The announcement:

I have always been obsessed with asking what happens next or what is still ahead instead of simply embracing what is in the present. Ever since I heard about Beer Blogging Fridays, I have been toying with the idea of hosting a Session to paint a collective picture of what the future related to beer will be like. This month, Beer Means Business has the honour to host The Session and to make this happen. The final picture of Beer Future will be based on what you think we will see MORE of. Over the last 10 years, numerous topics have been presented and the bloggers who discussed them expressed a rich diversity of perspectives or specific areas of interest. Therefore, I refrain from giving you further ideas or examples. There are no limits in time, space or nature either. I would like you to let your imagination free, and capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.

“When are we going to make future beer?” Bobby Bump asked me. All this focus on past brewers and ingredients long gone had brought him to this question. For now and for the foreseeable future Lost Lagers will keep brewing historic beer. The future holds more history and more beers brewed with ingredients and processes long gone.

To give context to Brewer Bobby Bump’s question, we had just finished brewing the last beer in the 1812 Project, a series of three separately-brewed ales, all made from the same recipe with varying amounts of fermentables to create an 8% ABV X Ale, 6% Strong Ale, and a table beer below 3%. These three distinct beers were then blended together to make a fourth beer, 1812 Project Porter. This was a beer reminiscent of the beers brewed two centuries ago in the District of Columbia.

I poured our beer for a sold-out audience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History at programming provided by the Food History Program.

And so when “new” beers of this ilk come around again centuries later, I like to follow and call attention to them when I can.

Speaking directly to Csaba’s question, “what’s next?” My answer is: what’s next is again. Or, what is past is prologue.

Currently that means enjoying the present moment watching the historical breath of styles increasingly represented. It’s hard to track this kind of growth in terms of historical accuracy. Certainly one can say “10 breweries brewed a Lichtenhainer in 2014, 12 in 2015, and 18 so far this year.” In a very true sense of the word this would show growth. But ultimately, it will take a true consumer trend to have a brewery feel a need to produce a Lichtenhainer every year, every month, or every week at their brewery to sate customer demand. And while a Virginia brewery won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal for it’s Lichtenhainer, I predict smokey, slightly tart ale WILL NEVER be a raging driver of American beer markets in the near future.

But I do think hops (their simplicity in one-ingredient name having an incredible ability to flavor beer) are still the future. But I also think malt is the future. Can these two survive together? How could they not?

I believe it will be a long time before the beer world thinks of malt as compelling as hops. Once brewers recognize that beer in 18-? (potentially as early as 1797) was hopped with 2-4 lbs per barrel, there will be as much tantalizing promise in resurrecting that old recipe/ingredient/means of production as the Jewish brewery owner did in Trois-Rivières. Indeed, they already have.

In the meantime I’ll leave you with this, American Handy-Book as all of us at Lost Lagers call it. A book of amazing help to beer historians. Go to page 795, and you will see the hopping rates or lbs of “Hops in Kettle per American Barrel.” So, American brewers, how about a London pale bitter with 2 lbs of hops per barrel? Or a Russian export with 3 lbs per barrel? Or maybe even a modest attempt at a Burton export ale with 4 lbs hops per barrel? Another request, that your barley be floor malted.

Finally, a modern comparative figure for hops per barrel that may be of assistance for non-brewers. Here is a link to understand how large these historic numbers are. A published homebrew clone recipe that is considered hoppy. By our calculations that is 2.5 lbs of hops per barrel (7.5 ounces hops per 5.5 gallon batch of homebrew).

The Session 115: The Role of Beer Books

Here is the announcement, in part on “The Role of Beer Books”, from Joan of Blog Birraire:

Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped develop their local beer scene. There’s also the -bad- role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.

In this world of misattribution, lack of legitimate sources, and not a fact checker in sight, it’s amazing anything is correct anymore.

But then, with longer-form formats like books it sets our hearts at ease to know there are beer historians like ourselves that take historical research VERY seriously. One of those historians is our good friend Garrett Peck. With this post we are writing to the theme of “books that helped develop their local beer scene.”

While Garrett’s 2014 book “Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C.” didn’t necessarily develop our local scene it did go above and beyond to document the history of the local brewing scene in our nation’s capital. In cataloging that long history of beer, DC’s scene does feel a new sense of legitimacy. For all of the “firsts” that our scene has experienced in the past 5+ years (first production brewery, first cidery/winery, first distillery), We still have an pre-prohibition OG history to celebrate.

DC is by nature a transient city. Representatives are re-elected. Representatives are unseated. New staffers come into town. There is the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and the Presidential Transition Act 2000. And every summer new interns, “hill rats” as they’re endearingly referred to, flood the district and look for cheap housing. Yet it seems every year affordable housing gets less and less. Gentrification some call it. Others call it ethnic cleansing.

Not to veer too far from beer, Garrett’s book is important because it has informed many brewing projects that are of the utmost import to us as beer historians. We have recreated beers that the historic Washington Brewery at Navy Yard produced in 1812. We have also recreated the lager of the largest-ever and most successful DC-brewery with a pre-prohibition style lager.

Garrett’s book asks big questions like “who was the first Brewer to make lager in Washington?” While this may seem trivial to the casual drinker it is of dire import to beer historians today. Brian Alberts, a PhD Candidate at Purdue University, is currently exploring the rise of lager breweries in the Midwest as a lens to explore how new German immigrants navigated the market revolution and dealt with assimilation into American culture.

While pre-prohibition style lagers gain popularity, and are generally indicative of a beer brewed with rice and/or corn, there were of course all-malt pre-prohibition lagers. Finally, pre-prohibition connotes a time as the genesis of lager brewing is not a monolith. The time frame of lager beer brewing is different in every state. Garrett’s research pinpoints the 1850s as the decade of the very first brewing of lager beer in Washington, D.C. And that means that a pre-prohibition lager in Washington, D.C. could be 160-years-old or 99-years-old at the youngest. The beer brewed in 1856 was called “lager” just as it was in 1917 (the last year of pre-prohibition brewing in Washington, D.C.) but it would be naive to think that the means of production like raw ingredients, brewing materials, and fermentation practices remain unchanged. Lager is not a monolith and neither should the brewing practices and flavor profiles of modern pre-prohibition lagers be all the same.

Garret’s book informs us that the District’s first brewers were immigrants. The first brewers in DC were Scottish, English and eventually German. His book does a fantastic job of documenting the earliest Brewers in DC. But perhaps the most important thing in Garret’s writing is the thirst it imparts to search for further answers to questions as important as “who brewed DC’s first lager?”

While I don’t want to give away Garrett’s book I will post what he writes in regards to his open-ended question:

A June 1856 article in the Evening Star noted that Joseph Davison, owner of the Washington Brewery, had brewed 20,000 gallons of lager the previous winter, meaning that he probably started in late 1855. Davison also advertised in the 1858 Boyd’s Directory that he was brewing lager in addition to his English-style ales.

Charles Gerecke advertised in the Evening Star in November and December 1856 that he was brewing lager at his brewery at Pennsylvania and Nineteenth Street. Gerecke then disappears from Washington’s historical brewing record. He was probably related to the Gerecke family that was importing lager from Philadelphia in the years’ prior, whose advertisements pop up frequently in that same newspaper. (Peck, 34)

It is likely that the first brewer of lager was not even a German, but an enterprising brewer of English ales. Certainly, the story of immigrants assimilating into American culture is classic, but so is the story of appropriating immigrant culture for financial gain. But this blip does not hide a much deeper German-American brewing tradition heralded by DC’s Christian Heurich, one of the longest brewing and most successful of his generation.

Very few people today equate DC as a beer town. But with a closer studying of the facts, DC as a brewing center does have deep historical roots. If indeed, DC’s first lager was brewed in 1855, that’s only 15 years after what is generally accepted as the first lager brewed in America. That distinction “first lager in America” belongs to John Wagner a Bavarian immigrant of Philadelphia.

So, America’s first lager was brewed in Philadelphia 176 years ago. And DC’s first lager was brewed 161 years ago. At least until another beer historian uncovers an earlier lager elsewhere (we’ll be looking).

DC’s first cidery?

As promised, more on cider in this post.

Our friends run ANXO, DC’s first post-prohibition cidery. This is an important distinction as it seems cideries existed in DC before prohibition, and even during prohibition.

The following link and snippet comes from an October 1st 1919 Evening Star article, which has turned out to be a treasure trove of DC history in regards to many things (never underestimate how racist America was until you browse century and nearly-century-old dailies).

An article from 1919 outlines the best cider apples and DC production of cider
An article from 1919 outlines the best cider apples and DC production of cider

 

The author states that the stand on Pennsylvania Avenue has been operating since 1884 and nothing but cider “passes over this bar.”

The variety Hughes Virginia crabapple is “the most wonderful cider apple in the world.” Winesap is also mentioned as desirable and indeed winesap and hughes crab are still prized by cider makers today.

If you don’t feel so inclined as to go to the original scan, here are some key points from the source:

“The cider market is being bulled…This sudden increased demand for cider may, or may not, be connected with the fact that the Senate has excluded non-intoxicating cider and wine from the long list of beverages banned…The back part of the establishment is a factory where fifty barrels of cider per day are turned out by steam power presses…Cider, made properly from this little red apple with the black spots has a peculiarly delicate flavor, and has the further peculiarity that it will develop 10 per cent of alcohol without a trace of acid. Of course, it need not be developed to that extent.”

The 50 barrels a day part is intriguing. Certainly the presses couldn’t have run continuously for a year. If they somehow did run every day for a year that would be an annual production of 18,250 barrels!

Peter and I are currently working on a book that details cider making in Washington, D.C. and the capital region. Is this the first cidery in DC? We certainly don’t think so but it’s been great fun to pull this thread. Details will come on further historical cideries as we conduct more research.

DC’s first winery?

Friends of ours have recently opened DC’s first post-prohibition winery, ANXO, and they have opened with a great reception and to much fanfare. Their wine is not from grapes but from apples. They are also DC’s first post-prohibition cidery. Cider is classified as wine by the Tax and Trade Bureau.

 

Xander's City WInery
A 1902 mention of Chris. Xander’s City Winery

The distinction of first post-prohibition winery is an important one as a century earlier a winery in DC won international acclaim for two of their wines, Claret and Port.

The ad comes from a 1902 Evening Star newspaper published on Saturday, September 20th.

 

More on DC cider in the next post.