Thursday, March 16, 2006

Great Beers of Belgium

Recently, at the Washington, D.C. pub - R.F.D. - I was fortunate to participate at a beer tasting and signing for Michael Jackson's new edition of Great Beers of Belgium.

Host Bob Tupper began with a gracious introduction of Michael Jackson that reaffirmed, in my mind, why Mr. Jackson has been so important to the 'cause' of good beer, if you will.

Jason Oliver of Gordon-Biersch (Washington, D.C.) brought his Keller Pils, an excellent example of such - slightly sweet with a bracing finish, golden with a slight veil owing to its unfiltered nature.

Oliver noted that casked beer - ale or lager - is simply beer that is put in a cask. It's how a brewer prepares the beer that makes it keller bier - or its ale cousin, cask-conditioned "real' ale.

Jackson noted that the kellerbier style is found in Germany only rarely, and then only in the four northern Bavarian counties called Franconia (a name derived from the name of its ancient conquerors, the Franks). By his reckoning, Franconian brewers are more experimentally adventurous than those in the rest of Germany.

Jackson was getting thirsty by this point, and noticing that the rest of us had received their samples, he bent close to the microphone and asked, "Am I going to get a beer?"

Brief notes on the beers and their presenters:

  • Brewers' Art (Baltimore, Maryland)
    Steve Frazier, Volker Stewart.
    Sublimation Ale Abbey Blonde
    Deep golden. Pale malt, Perle hops, EK Goldings hops. Frazier noted that he prefers hops with savory and floral aspects rather than the U.S grapefruity. "Exercise in restraint." Soft with hint of spice.

  • Capital City (Washington, D.C./Arlington, Virginia)
    Mike McCarthy, new Director of Operations.
    Best Bitter
    Simpsons pale ale malt and "Naked Oats" malt. First Gold hops - dwarf hop (tangeriney). Strong phenolics (anise).Orange hue, hazy

  • Gentry Hamp, a brewster and co-owner of a 3 month old brewery in Georgia - the Savannah Brewery. She "loves the aroma of yeast" and worked at Mordue near Newcastle. Jackson mentioned the unique Geordie accent of area. She uses Brewlab yeast. She brought a cask-conditioned version of her Best Bitter brewed from Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter (premium malt imported from Great Brtiain) and torrified wheat. She told us that the cask was not showing as well as she had wanted it to.

  • Old Dominion (Ashburn, Virginia)
    Chris Frasier.
    Imperial Pils Spring Brew

  • Clipper City Brewing (Baltimroe, Maryland)
    Thomas Cizauskas.
    Loose Cannon
    Firkin of "triple-hopped" IPA, also 'dry-hopped' in cask, with Centennial hops.

  • Sweetwater Brewing (Virginia)
    Dean Lake, assistant brewer Colin.
    Belgian Brown with ginger.

  • Southampton Publick House (New York)
    Charley, assistantt brewer. (Phil Markowski was not here; referred to as "the ghost.")

    Abbey Double
    good, full flavor but balanced; not overweening body.

  • Dogfish Head Brewing (Delaware)
    Andy Tveekrem.
    Burton Baton
    Homage to Ballantine's special employee-only beer - brewed big and aged in wood. Very alcoholic. Uses a derivative of Ringwood yeast. Cinnamon, graphite, and 'biting into a branch' oak

  • District Chophouse (Washington, D.C.)
    Barret Lauer.
    Bourbon Oatmeal Stout
    The grist comprised oats and a small measure of peated malt. Finished, aged 4-6 weeks in Virginia Gentleman oak casks.

  • DuClaw (Bel Air, Maryland)
    Bo Klemp.
    Naked Fish
    Chocolate Raspberry Stout.
    When hearing of the ingredients - hazelnut, praline, chocolate, coffee, and more, decadent to that effect. Jackson bleated: "I love it when you talk dirty."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Old Dominion Brewing Company NOT sold

Update: In June 2006, this purchase offer was rejected. No comment or explanation was offered by the principals. An earlier offer by Anheuser-Busch has apparently been reinstated, and, as before, seems to be on track.


It's been several months since my September 2005 posting about a pending sale of a "major regional mid-Atlantic brewery." At that time it would have been improper for me, working for a competitor, to have posted the name of that brewery.

Several reputable sources had told me that Anheuser-Busch had tendered an offer to the Old Dominion Brewing Company in Ashburn, Virginia. President Jerry Bailey rejected the offer, hoping for a buy-out rather than the minority interest that A-B had offered.

And counter offer was indeed tendered and accepted on Tuesday, 28 February.

Here is what has been posted to DC-Beer and to Old Dominion's website, as of this morning, had not posted any official comments.

Old Dominion Brewing Company has Sale on Tap
7 March 2006. Ashburn, VA

Old Dominion Brewing Co., the Washington D.C. area's first microbrewery, announced today that the company will be sold. Old Dominion President Jerry Bailey reports that the company's Board of Directors has agreed to terms with Old Dominion Director of Marketing Terry Fife and business partner Kip Olson. Upon completion of the sale, Olson and Fife will assume management duties of Old Dominion. Bailey will remain with the company in a part-time capacity.

Kip Olson has been a Managing Partner at the Capital Grill in Tysons Corner, VA since 2000. Prior to that, Olson was with the Clydes Restaurant Group for 12 years.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

more on Heurich's demise

Marc Fisher writes a blog for the on-line edition of the Washington Post. On 3 March 2006, he posted an entry about the demise of the Olde Heurich Brewing Company. There were several posted comments in response - some trenchant, some not, and some snide.

Below, I've copied the ultimate paragraph of one such post followed by my reply to it.

I think if Mr. Heurich had been a little less of an "eleemosynary" guy and more of a "beer-makin'" guy, maybe he'd have gotten somewhere. Meanwhile, I'm gonna drink my crappy beer and watch some baseball from the cheap seats.

Posted by: Kevin R | March 3, 2006 10:48 PM
The snide reference to Gary Heurich's vocabulary (the use of the word "eleemosynary" - meaning charitable with familial connotations), and, by intimation, to Mr. Heurich's philanthropy, speaks to the commenter rather than to the object of his disdain. And it is not germane to the topic.

In the mid 1980s, the 'hometown DC' region was relatively devoid of good beer - as were significant swaths of the US. The microbrewery movement was still nascent. Gary Heurich was taking a large personal financial risk when he began 'contract-brewing' his beer at that time.

Yes, the issues of local support, quality control, and marketing, mentioned - in Mr. Fisher's blog and posted comments - are significant. Yes, bitterness is a quality prized in a brewer's product, if not his personality.

But if Mr. Heurich let some bitterness slip, maybe he can be excused. His family's industrial, cultural, and, yes, eleemosynary roles in DC's heritage have been gravely wounded.

Maybe Mr. Heurich could have devoted more time to marketing and promotion. But in the early days, I remember seeing him here, there, and seemingly everywhere, indefatigably flogging his beer, distinctive behind his handlebar moustache. (Maybe his shearing of that trademark was an augur.)

And maybe Mr. Heurich could have 'home-towned' the liquid by shifting production from Utica, NY to local breweries in Frederick, or Ashburn, or Baltimore. Beer is so much more delicate than wine; its freshness is a quid pro quo guarantee of its quality (that is, if the beer is sapid to begin with!).

But maybe pigs should have wings, and maybe rain should be beer.

The fickleness of earlier beer-drinking generations twice hastened the demise of local breweries across the nation. The capriciousness of today's beer-geek generation may again do the same.

So long, Gary Heurich, and thanks for all the beers!
[ Text of Heurich's farewell ]

POSTSCRIPT (16 April 2006):

A few weeks later, I met up with Gary Heurich at the Hard Times Cafe in Bethesda, Maryland.

Proprietor Greg Hourigan was throwing his annual Spring Beer Tasting and had invited Gary to pour us his last brews and talk on the his last 20 years of beer in DC. (Hourigan had been one of the first to offer Heurich on draft in the area.)

Gary's presentation was short, and pithy, and funny, and sad. We stood up at the conclusion and applauded. And it was fitting that Bob Tupper was there as well that evening - a final meeting between two godfathers of good beer in our area.

More Photos.

But there was even more history and convergence that evening.

Old Dominion Brewing Company's Montgomery County territory manager, Paul Askea, was there to present that brewery's spring offering.

Paul was full of spring in his step. Dominion was about to be purchased by two in-house employees from long-time owner Jerry Bailey, averting a sale to Anheuser-Busch. And Paul was to gladly return to the company he loved. As we now know, that was not to be.

'Hoppy' Jeff Wells was there, and he too was saying goodbye. For 5 years, Jeff has been an uber-saleman of good beer in our area, specifically promoting the beers of the Global Brewers Guild. Jeff will be opening his own beer bar in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn, New York City in 2007.

In foreground: Gary Heurich looking at bottle
of his Dad's beer in pristine condition.
Jeff Wells looks on.

More on Heurich's demise.

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.