WASHINGTON — D.C’s brewing scene has exploded in recent years, giving craft beer lovers more options than ever when it comes to drinking local. But 100 years ago, there was pretty much just one label in town: Christian Heurich. And a new exhibit is diving into his legacy.
Heurich, a German immigrant, opened the Christian Heurich Brewing Company in 1872 and quickly became “the largest nongovernmental employer in Washington” with an expansive production facility along the banks of the Potomac River, where the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts sits today.
“He was a household name in Washington for about 83 years,” said Kimberly Bender, executive director of the Heurich House Museum — the former home of the Heurich family, located on New Hampshire Avenue in Dupont Circle.
Not only was Heurich’s beer served at bars and baseball games, but his brand was on coasters, bus ads and posters throughout town. The exhibit, titled “Home/Brewed: How the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co. Witnessed DC History,” will display more than 1,000 of these items from the time the brewery was in business (1872 to 1956, with a break for prohibition).
The exhibition’s collection is on loan from a private collector, Jack Blush, who accumulated the bottles, mugs and cans over 40 years. According to Bender, a fire at the brewery in 1938 wiped out its archives building, so much of the brand’s memorabilia was lost.
“I always thought it was very strange that we have every chair that they owned in this house and their vases and diaries and journals, but we didn’t have any paper left from the brewery, and then we figured out that this fire had happened,” Bender said. “That’s what makes this collection very valuable.”
Now, she is hoping the old bottles and other branded objects will help fill in gaps in the story surrounding one of D.C.’s most influential businessmen — and maybe even bring new stories to light.
“We’re trying to use it in a way of asking the city, really, to tell us what the brewery was to your family,” Bender said.
Since the announcement of the exhibit, one woman sent Bender four photos of her father, who worked as the window exhibition designer at the brewery.
“So we’re hoping for more of that, and then to use that to tell the story of Washington, D.C. because really [Heurich] was everywhere, and he would do things that reflected the tastes of the city at that time, and so it’s almost a mirror of Washington for 83 years,” Bender said.
Home/Brew opens to the public on Nov. 16 with a kickoff party from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Heurich House Museum. Visitors can also take in the show during the Heurich House Museum’s regular public tours and the planned Home/Brew Happy Hours.
Bender said with the help of a fundraising campaign, the intent is to purchase all 1,000 items in the collection from Blush and display them permanently.
There are also plans to relaunch Christian Heurich Brewing Company’s Senate lager for the first time since the brewery ceased production in 1956. Bender is working with the fermentation science department at Oregon State University to brew a historically accurate recreation.
“They will make pilot batches of the lager and then we will end up brewing it in Washington, D.C. next year in 2019, which also coincides with [the Heurich House’s] 125th birthday,” Bender said.
Final details on where Washingtonians can buy and drink Senate beer are still in the works, but Bender said the drink purchases will help the museum expand its collection, and in turn, better understand the District’s history during Heurich’s reign.
“[Beer] is the thing that connected Heurich to the city,” Bender said. “The house is really cool. The house has lots of intricate woodwork and is a time capsule and is really fun; and we talk about the beer a lot here and the brewery a lot. But this stuff is the actual stuff that connects him to the city. Otherwise, it’s just an old mansion.”