Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Help save a 19th-century archaeological piece of Washington D.C. & Alexandria Virginia brewing history.

Help save a 19th century archaeological piece of the brewing history Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia. (Alexandria was once part of Washington, D.C.) Donate to the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology toward their efforts to preserve and restore a wooden beer barrel of the long-closed Washington Brewery Company.

On Wednesday, 9 April, the City of Alexandria is holding its annual Spring2Action Campaign, a day-long fundraiser for city-wide charities. As part of that campaign, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology is looking for supporting funds. To donate to the restoration fund, go to this link, today or tomorrow (Wednesday). The Alexandria Archaeology Museum will match up to $1,000 in donations.

The barrel was recovered during an archaeological investigation at the site of the Shuter’s Hill Brewery in 1993 - 1994 in advance of the construction of the Carlyle complex in the 2000 block of Duke Street. "The barrel was excavated from a subterranean passageway that led from the brewery to the beer cellar,” said Paul Nasca, an archaeologist and collections manager at Alexandria Archaeology, which runs a small but illuminating museum on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory (105 N. Union Street #327). "The passage and cellar contained 7-8 feet of water when first exposed during excavation. It’s because of this wet environment that the barrel was so well preserved.”

The beer barrel is itself a bit of a mystery. A quarter the size of a standard 32-gallon barrel 1, it is stamped W.B.C. WASH.DC, or the Washington Brewery Company, Washington, D.C. <...>

Alexandria Archaeology dates the barrel to the Washington Brewery that operated from 1889 to 1917. (There were six Washington Breweries that operated at seven different locations in DC’s history; this particular location is now the site of Stuart Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill). The Shuter’s Hill Brewery opened in Alexandria’s West End in 1858, and was the first Alexandria brewery to produce lager.

—Washington, D.C. historian Garrett Peck, at DC Beer.

UPDATE: Ruth Reeder —Education Coordinator for the Office of Historic Alexandria/Alexandria Archaeology— told me that the campaign raised $1,770. "We still can’t believe it." Thank you to all who supported the effort. Now, barrel restoration and preservation begins.

  • 1 In modern beer-making, a barrel as a physical container, wood or otherwise, doesn't exist. Rather, it's a measure of volume, at 31 gallons (not the 32 gallons mentioned in the excerpt above). A standard U.S. beer keg is 15.5 gallons, or half a barrel; there are other proportionately smaller sizes as well. These days, actual wooden barrels used in beer-making usually come from the whisk(e)y or wine worlds. Whiskey barrels contain about 53.8 gallons. Wine barrels from, or styled after Bordeaux, hold 59 gallons; Burgundy style barrels contain 60 gallons.

  • The photo above is of of Paul Nasca —an archaeologist and collections manager at Alexandria Archaeology Museum— holding the Washington Brewery Company barrel head. The photo was published at the original story on the fundraising campaign, posted at DC Beer.
  • Garrett Peck has recently published a book on the history of brewing in Washington, D.C.: Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C..

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