Thursday, March 02, 2006

Olde Heurich ceases operations

Olde Heurich

It is sad news to report. Olde Heurich , Washington, D.C.'s home-town beer, will no longer be brewed.

Good beer in the DC area was rare when Gary Heurich resurrected his family's brands in the mid 1980s, employing the F.X. Matt Brewing Company of Utica, New York to brew the beers under contract.

The original brewery, Christian Heurich Brewing, had survived Prohibition only to close in 1956, standing where the Kennedy Center now sits. The Arena Stage used the closed brewery's hospitality room as a performance space from '57 until 1962, calling the room the Old Vat. (It would be 36 years before another brewery was to open in Washington, D.C. - the Capitol City Brewing Company, a brewpub, in 1992.)

Thank you Gary Heurich for your efforts. Old Heurich: 1986-2006.

The morbid roster of shuttered local breweries grows: Founders, Virginia Beverage Company, John Harvard's, Degroens/Baltimore Brewing Company, Sisson's Restaurant and Brewery (first brewpub in Maryland), Brimstone Brewing Company, Bardo Rodeo, Dock Street, Wild Goose Brewing Company, British Brewing Company (first micro in Maryland), Globe Brewing Company, Potomac Brewing Company, Blue and Gold Brewpub, and yes, even National Brewing Company (not to mention Gunther and other casualties of the big boy beer wars).


Below is the letter from Gary Heurich in late February 2006.
It is with immeasurable sadness and disappointment that I inform you that, after 20 unprofitable years, The Olde Heurich Brewing Company has discontinued brewing operations, and will cease sales of its beers to its distributors, effective with the last of our shipments to our distributors in February.

These shipments will provide our distributors with up to one month's final inventory that will allow each of them and our retail customers time to plan transitions and arrange final purchases of what will now likely become an eBay item. Accordingly, I expect that Foggy will disappear from the market by the beginning of April.

It was with pride and a great sense of history that I chose to resurrect my family's grand local brewing tradition in the national capital area in 1986. My hope and inspiration was that it would be supported accordingly so that we would be able to build a brewery in Washington.

Though with a handful of wonderful exceptions for which I am very grateful, sadly and unlike many other craft beer markets, the Washington area's heritage beer seems to have been viewed more as a commodity, and we never came anywhere near the sales needed to build a brewery.

As our predecessor, the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., learned by the time it had to close in 1956 for similar reasons, the Washington area is unique among major urban centers in its relative lack of a hometown spirit, and as a native Washingtonian this is something that is deeply and personally disappointing.

Certainly I could have chosen to do things differently and embraced more forceful marketing methods, but given many other craft beers' success without this, and though perhaps naively, it was important to me that my beers be embraced and appreciated because of their consistent high quality and intrinsic cultural and historical importance, and not simply because of consumers' vulnerability to mass marketing.

Another disappointment and mea culpa is that I was rarely able to focus exclusively on growing the beer business because over the years other obligations and choices, similarly to my grandfather, led me to pursue eleemosynary activities. But I cannot say that I regret this, as they served a greater good, and are things of which I am proud.

While Olde Heurich, Foggy Bottom, our other brands, and our beers will live on in a brewpub as part of an inn I am developing on the shores of Lake Champlain, for the second and final time the Washington metropolitan area will lose its heritage beer.

I want to thank you and all of our customers over the past 20 years who did embrace and support Washington's heritage beer, for which I am personally grateful. I will always take heart and reassurance from this that I did accomplish more than simply spending a helluva lot of money to make sure I had great beers to drink!

Gary F. Heurich, President
The Olde Heurich Brewing Company
Washington, DC

Recently, some area'craft beer' drinkers have complained that Foggy Bottom wasn't the 'biggest' beer around, and have abandoned the brand for other choices, but the beers were solid, and came with with a noble heritage. Many here will miss them. More here.

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