March brings two kinds of madness to town — basketball and beer — and while both involve dribbling, the latter makes a fine day trip for people of all fitness levels. Wear your Chucks, because you’ll be following the trail of Washington, D.C.’s love affair with beer over the past century.
The Brewmaster’s Castle
The elegant home of turn-of-the-century beer baron Christian Heurich (1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW) casts a massive shadow in Dupont Circle, pleasantly incongruous with its surroundings. Office buildings, embassies, residences and restaurants make this area a thriving enclave — not exactly the place you’d expect to find a 19th-century castle.
But Dupont Circle has changed a bit since its development in 1871. At that time the Army Corps of Engineers began work here in accordance with Pierre L'Enfant's plan, and during the decade that followed the area became a fashionable neighborhood for affluent Washingtonians.
Christian Heurich purchased the Schnell Brewery and Tavern at M and 20th streets in 1872 and turned it into the Christian Heurich Brewing Company, where he made beer and lived with his first wife, a servant and several employees. But when an explosion in the malt mill caused a huge fire, he decided to build a fireproof mansion to call his own in the tony part of town.
His Richardsonian Romanesque home was completed in 1894 and is now open to the public for tours and events. Heavy wood, mosaic tiles and faux finishes embellish rooms with 13-foot ceilings, and belongings reflect the eclectic German Baronial Renaissance taste of its owner.
When you enter the front hallway — replete with personal touches that include a full suit of armor — you get to know Christian Heurich, a German immigrant who arrived in America with just $200 in his pocket. This was a man who loved his family, his heritage and his beer.
A one-hour tour brings you through the main rooms. The most elaborate is the front parlor, with ornate furniture and celestial ceiling decorations. A nearby music room with hand-carved interior musicians’ balcony makes it easy to imagine an evening of entertainment with the Heurichs.
Guests taking a meal in the heavily oaked dining room — surrounded by parquet floors and carved wooden walls, ceiling, mantle and furniture — may have been joined at the table by Michael, a particularly creepy little doll that still resides on the sideboard. Mrs. Heurich superstitiously enlisted Michael to take a seat when a 14th guest was needed.
You’ll linger in a conservatory that’s still gorgeous by today’s standards, and then continue upstairs to see graciously appointed bedrooms. But the most interesting part of the tour may be the basement.
Here the bierstube is found, modeled after a German ale house. Its ornate wooden centerpiece is carved with creatures ranging from the romantic to the grotesque and adorned with beer steins. You half expect the St. Pauli Girl to appear, a sentiment shared by several on the tour. This room was originally Heurich’s man cave, but was later turned into the family’s breakfast room.
Heurich enjoyed state-of-the-art systems in his home — including central heating and cooling, an intercom and a burglar alarm — and the boiler room is a turn-of-the-century marvel of engineering. Most of the home’s eight bathrooms are in their original condition, and its 15 fireplaces have never been used — perhaps due to a more than healthy respect for fire.
The new brewery opened in 1895 where the Kennedy Center now stands. It produced over 500,000 barrels of beer a year, surviving Prohibition by garnering a contract to supply ice to Congress and the Supreme Court.
At the time of his death in 1945 Heurich had become the world’s oldest brewer. He departed this world at the age of 102 with words he lived by: “Practice moderation and drink Heurich’s beer.”
Christian Heurich’s final days are imagined in “The Brewmaster’s Castle,” a comic by writer Matt Dembicki and cartoonist Andrew Cohen, available for $4. Dembicki works nearby and was inspired to create the story after visiting the mansion and learning about Heurich.
Heurich House offers tours on Thursdays and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Admission is $5, cash or check.
Pizzeria ParadisoFast forward to Pizzeria Paradiso (2003 P St., NW), this century’s answer to the question, “Where can we go for pizza and beer?”
Over 200 brews and one cask ale, as well as a dozen drafts, are served at the correct temperature and in the proper barware. Neapolitan-style pizzas are baked at 650 degrees in a wood-burning oven that turns out some of the best pies in the city. Favorites include Margherita, Atomica and Quattro Formaggio, with dozens of toppings so you can make them your way.
The Bier BaronThe Brickskeller. The Brick. The epicenter of D.C.’s beer culture for five decades.
While the Brickskeller is no more, the Bier Baron occupies its former building on hallowed ground at 1523 22nd St. NW. The old Brickskeller was a pioneer in the local craft beer movement, serving up hand-crafted, full-bodied brews as early as the ’70s to an adoring audience.
To truly experience this piece of D.C.’s beer-loving history, bypass the newly renovated dining room and descend to the basement. The pub you’ll find is a genuine hole-in-the-wall, a beloved institution among the famous and as well as the infamous.
Aldrich Ames met Soviet operatives at the Brick, and then-owner Dave Alexander alerted the authorities when he recognized Aldrich’s photo on TV. Now the place has changed hands and the food’s been upgraded, but the emphasis on great beer is the same as it ever was.
Fifty rare draft brews, cask ales and over 500 bottled beers are offered from around the world, and $15 gets you six 4-ounce pours if you can’t decide. The Bier Baron is open ’til 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so take your time.
Elaine Jean is a writer with an incurable case of wanderlust. She and husband/photographer Paul are roaming the planet, starting in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn more about this and other day trips at www.roamingtheplanet.com.