Sunday, March 29, 2015

Washington, D.C. news organization rewrites local beer history.

Washington, D.C. brewery, DC Brau, will celebrate its fourth birthday next month. It was April 2011, when the brewery would deliver its first ever keg of beer —The Public, a hoppy, yet firmly malted pale ale— to a local restaurant. And, a big celebration, that day became.

WTOP —a Washington, D.C. all-news radio station and website— honored the upcoming anniversary with a story that began:
It may be hard to believe, but just a short time ago, there were no breweries in D.C. There hadn’t been one since 1956, when Christian Heurich Brewing Company closed its doors.

But the District’s 50-plus-year dry spell ended four years ago, when friends Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock opened DC Brau. And the business ignited Washington’s brewing boom as others soon followed.

Well, yes to DC Brau, but hell, no, to that comment about "no breweries in DC [...] since 1956." It's just plain wrong.

Nearly nineteen years before DC Brau ever even began operations, the Capitol City Brewing Company —a brewery within a restaurant— would open, in August 1992, in downtown Washington, D.C., making it the first brewery to operate in the city, brewpub or otherwise, since the Heurich brewery shut down in 1956.

It would be a solitary one until a few years later when joined by Dock Street Brewing Company, John Harvard's, District Chophouse, and Gordon-Biersch. All were brewery-restaurants. Several of their resident brewers would go on to brew elsewhere, some still in the area, and some with great success.

Why ignore them?
  • Dock Street was a local offshoot of the pioneering Philadelphia brewery and brewpub of the same name that opened in the City of Brotherly Love in 1985. Its D.C. brewpub, located in the basement of the Warner Theater, would, unfortunately, remain open for only a year. (1996)
  • John Harvard's would then open in the same space, but would itself shutter just short of a decade later. (1997-2006)
  • The original Capitol City location at 12th & H Streets NW, is still open but only as a restaurant. In 2002, brewing operations were moved to the brewery/restaurant in the Shirlington district of Arlington, Virginia.
  • District Chophouse opened in 1997. Its Bourbon Stout might very well be the second-longest continuously brewed bourbon stout in the nation, after Goose Island's. 1
  • In 2013, Gordon-Biersch opened a second brewery/restaurant in the city, near to Nationals Park (in addition to its still open original location in what is now known as Penn Quarter).
Where in the world is Gordon-Biersch Navy Yard?

To gloss over the history and beers of these breweries solely because they were also restaurants (albeit without distribution) seems capricious. In fact, both Right Proper (opened 2013) and Bluejacket (opened 2013) — both mentioned in the WTOP article as new breweries— are themselves brewery/restaurants. 2

A look back at the beginning of D.C.’s beer boom

To be fair, at the end of the article, WTOP adds a qualifying comment. But it's appended with an asterisk, as if the reporter or her editor had added it, cover-your-arse-like, after the story had first been posted.
* While some restaurants/breweries were making beer in D.C. prior to 2011, there were no production breweries canning/kegging/bottling their beer for distribution/offsite sale.

This isn't the first time that the Washington, D.C. non-beer press has re-written local-beer history. Take for example, a July 2013 story in the Washington City Paper. The writer, in rooting for the quality of the 'food scene' in Washington, D.C., managed to explicitly 'disappear' all three brewpubs then operating in the city (District Chophouse and both Gordon-Bierschs).

Now, nothing against DC Brau. In fact, for me, just the opposite. I was there that day they first shipped beer in 2011, and I continue to enjoy DC Brau's beers today. I applaud their upcoming fourth anniversary 3 , and I wish them continued good fortune.

DC Brau in Falls Church

But "facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." 4 Whether writing on beer or something less profound, reporters for news organizations (and don't forget about us bloggers!) shouldn't be so cavalier.

As fact-checking assistance for any future local-beer story, WTOP, I offer this for the record: today, there are ten breweries in our Nation's Capital.

And, that's worth reporting.

UPDATE: I reached out to Rachel Nania, the author of the piece, for comment, via Twitter, and she responded:
I stand by my comments. Re-read those first two paragraphs of Ms. Nania's story, as quoted at the top of this piece. There's no "packaging brewery" modifier, and, in fact, there is none in the entire story until the conclusion, asterisked. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “A brewery's a brewery, no matter how small,” or even if it's in a restaurant.

  • In her piece, "A look back at the beginning of D.C.’s beer boom," Rachel Nania, editor of WTOP Living, does offer a good accounting of the many accomplishments of DC Brau, interviewing the two co-founders, Jeff Hancock and Brandon Skall.
  • 1 According to Greg Hall, the original brewmaster at Goose Island, the Chicago, Illinois, brewpub first made Bourbon County Stout in 1992 (!). The beer won an honorable mention at the 1995 Great American Beer Festival (there was no barrel age category yet).
  • 2 Right Proper has plans to open a separate production-only facility, while keeping the restaurant open.
  • 3 DC Brau will celebrate its 4th anniversary at the brewery, on Saturday, 4 April 2015. Details and tickets (required): here.
  • 4 DC Brau Quote by John Adams, later to be second U.S. president.

  • For more from YFGF:

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