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Heurich Lager: Homebrewer turns history detective

Tuesday - 8/20/2013, 5:52pm  ET

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Heurich's Lager is ''part of the Heurich House Museum's continuing efforts to honor the legacy of Christian Heurich, to preserve and maintain his historic home, and to promote local Washington, D.C. history and culture,'' DC Brau says. (Courtesy DC Brau)

Stein describes his journey to brewing

Megan Cloherty, WTOP reporter

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WASHINGTON -- The palatial Victorian mansion on New Hampshire Avenue and 20th Street in Northwest is home to more than just a piece of D.C.'s beer history - it is also an inspiration for its future.

Aside from being one of the best preserved Victorian houses in the country, the Heurich House Museum served as ground zero for DC Brau's latest creation, Heurich's Lager. It was recreated by homebrewer and amateur historian Mike Stein, who pored through historical records and receipts from the Heurich Brewing Company's 83 years of production.

"My interest was to recreate an indigenous beer to D.C. that had been made so long ago that people had forgotten about it," he says.

When Stein first moved to the city in 2006, he was already aware of Christian Heurich Brewing Company's legacy as the largest and longest operating brewery in D.C. Founded in 1872, the brewery housed 500,000 barrels and became so popular that a wait list was created for customers.

Stein was also intrigued by the idea of Washington as a brewing capital, something residents and visitors might not even know.

"Before Prohibition, D.C. had many breweries, as many as 10, and as many as a dozen in different times during the 19th century," he says.

German immigrant Heurich started fermenting beer at a time when the city itself was in transition. Refrigeration and electricity were still new, Stein says. Heurich's Dupont Circle home reflects the height of innovation at the turn-of-the- century with its indoor plumbing, elevator shaft, hot water heater and a combination of gas and electric lighting.

mansion

The Christian Heurich House Museum, also known as The Brewmaster' Castle, located in NW, Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Heurich ran the Christian Heurich Brewing Company until his death at 102.

"I tried to find out what I could about the brewery, and I was really shocked that a brewery with several hundred employees wouldn't have any recipes," he says.

Immigrant communities tended to closely guard their brewing secrets, he says. Traditional Eastern European beers were especially difficult to research because the recipes were not meant for outside eyes.

"Nine times out of 10, if I could find a recipe, it was very similar to another one that I found, and that was all malt, water, hops and yeast," Stein says.

A self-described history buff, Stein dug further into pre-Prohibition records and found that many beers used ingredients like corn and rice. He also used turn-of- the-century advertisements that highlighted the process behind each beer. Some mention that a lager was aged for four months, for instance, or that it was extra hoppy.

When those resources were exhausted, Stein turned to the Library of Congress for old newspaper clippings and to the National Museum of American History for old receipts. There, he found notes on using everything from engine oil to grits.

Stein especially enjoyed seeing Heurich's signature on some of these records.

"I knew I was on the right path once I started seeing that," he says.

Once the raw ingredients were in place, Stein looked at recipes from other old American breweries like Dixieland Brewery or even Rolling Rock to recreate a pre- Prohibition beer. It took almost two years of home brewing for Heurich Lager to finally surface.

The final product is "a lager with ale characteristics," Stein says.

"It's 7 percent alcohol, so once you down a liter of it, you're going to have that warming glow," he says.

Heurich Lager is also a bit sweet, probably because of the corn, and a little spicy thanks to the Saaz hops, a tribute to Czech beer. This type of hops isn't quite as bitter as American hops, but it does have a "dankness, like being underground," Stein says.

Stein presented the beer to the Heurich House Museum earlier this year and the response was overwhelming.

"None of us really knew what to expect," assistant director Rachel Jerome tells Washington City Paper. "We were like, 'This is surprisingly good!'"

When it came time to distribute his creation, Stein says DC Brau was an obvious choice.

"They are the legacy of Christian Heurich -- the first production brewery to open since the Heurich brewery closed its doors in 1956," he says.

DC Brau debuted the lager Aug. 12. It is a limited edition run and can be found throughout the city at the following bars: Argonaut, Boundary Stone, Clydes of Gallery Place, Granville Moore's, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, Meridian Pint, Birch & Barley, Churchkey, Evening Star Cafe, Rustico, Vermilion, Old Ebbitt Grill, Pizza Paradiso, Poste, Quarterdeck, RFD, Ripple, Scion, Sixth Engine, The Pinch, World of Beer in Arlington and Ellwood Thompson Natural Market in Richmond. Call for availability.

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