With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to create a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
It’s taken us two-and-a-half years to get here alphabetically, but we’re finally in the home stretch as we detail our 48th addition to this series, the home of our website and our democracy, Washington D.C. And yes, the District of Columbia is not a state, yet it’s the only US territory that’s on the Brewers Association’s Sales and Production stats page. And we probably should have alphabetically listed this under the D’s, but we also might drink a bit too much, so there’s that…
D.C. ranks 22nd in total population (roughly 680 thousand residents) and isn’t ranked alongside states by population density, though it does house 12 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 6 since 2011) who are represented by the D.C Brewers Guild. The territory ranks 49th in total breweries (of 51 total) and 22nd in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.
Like most of the Eastern Seaboard, the roots of brewing in what’s now the nation’s capital, run deep. While the D.C. area saw it’s first brewery in 1770 (Andrew Wales Brewery in Alexandria), the first brewery technically in the modern day District was founded by Cornelius Coningham in 1796. Situated along the Potomac River, just southwest of the White House on what is today Constitution Avenue, Coningham’s endeavor occupied what was previously a sugar refinery. Unfortunately his brewhouse didn’t last long, ultimately closing up shop in 1810.
While the internet is rife with a claimed history that includes President James Madison proposing a “National Brewery” and a “Secretary of Beer” to Congress in 1809, sadly, this appears to be a myth.
There were two prominent breweries that formed the foundation of D.C.’s brewing history pre-prohibition. The first, Robert Portner Brewing Company (aka Tivoli Brewing) which opened in 1869 and was technically Alexandria based, was known for popularizing the Pilsner style in the region. As the largest brewery in the Southeast before Prohibition, they set in motion a brewing boom in the DMV region.
The other prominent operation, founded by Christian Heurich in 1872, was working with a 500,000 barrel capacity before the end of the century. After an extensive amount of brewing at the Schnell Brewery and other locations, The Christian Heurich Brewing Company eventually opened their own facility in 1895, also along the Potomac near the intersection of 26th and D Streets NW. Apparently the only brewery left in town by 1939 – surviving Prohibition with an ice business, it eventually shut down in 1956 as the national brewers began to control market share.
The first craft brewery and brewpub to open in Washington D.C. was Capital City Brewing Company in 1992, though their brewing operations have since moved to Arlington, VA. They’ve also garnered more GABF medals than any other brewery established in DC with 3. The oldest existing brewpub in the city is the District ChopHouse & Brewery open since 1997. The first outright production brewery and distributor of packaged beer in town is D.C. Brau. Opened by Jeff Hancock and Brandon Skall in 2009, they’ve tripled their production over the last year, are the capital’s largest craft brewer and the only other brewery in DC to win medals at GABF with 2.
Three Washington D.C. Breweries We Like That You Should Check Out
Bluejacket (Navy Yard) – Known for a propensity toward experimental and culinary inspired beers, Bluejacket and The Arsenal restaurant and bar, have been open since 2012. In that time, they’ve created over 260 distinctly unique offerings from their delicious fruited berliner weisse The Jam to their bold Mexican Radio Spiced Milk Stout. If you consider yourself a beer nerd and haven’t been to Bluejacket’s beautiful space yet, this should definitely be your first stop in town.
Right Proper Brewing (Shaw, Brookland) – Opening their first location in the Shaw Neighborhood in late 2013, Right Proper prides themselves on the small batch (5 bbl) artisanal brews that accompany their Southern comfort cuisine. They too have been busy creating all manner of beer varieties, over 170 in all, including a diverse selection of excellent Saisons, Berliner Weisses, Wild Ales and other classic European styles. While they might be the youngest of breweries listed here, they’re certainly not to be missed for the one-of-a-kind experience that both their locations offer.
3 Stars Brewing (Takoma Park) – One of the most established breweries in The District, 3 Stars Brewery and Urban Farmhouse taproom have been in operation since 2011. Founded by Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey, they’ve twice been named DC’s best local brewery and have created over 90 different varieties. Stand-out offerings include their rye barrel aged Imperial Coffee Porter “Desolation,” their impressive selection of Double IPAs, and a number of creatively crafted Saisons. You’ll find something for every palate here and certainly walk away with a smile on your face.