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Hidden History: Baseball, Beer & Fire

One of the joys of studying history is stumbling across surprising stories. The tangents we go off on and the rabbit holes we fall down are what feed our curious minds. As the person who manages our social media, I’m delighted to be able to dive into these new discoveries on a regular basis. 

I spend a fair amount of time on our clients’ sites looking for history tidbits to share with our followers and to highlight the multitude of stories we all have to tell. HistoryIT’s metadata services combined with our Odyssey preservation software allow me to dig into an endless number of topics. I often learn something completely unexpected, like the evolution of women in the military through the lens of a sorority’s history or that colonies of puffins inhabit Maine’s coastline. 

This is how I stumbled across the story of Christian Heurich. Maybe it’s because his story involves beer or maybe it’s because he immigrated to the United States around the same time my family did, but my simple search for baseball-related photos made me want to explore so much more. 

Christian Heurich was born in 1843 in the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, aka central Germany. His father, an innkeeper, and his mother both died while Christian was a teenager. Following his parents’ deaths, he apprenticed at an inn, where he first learned to brew. He then traveled through Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria training with brewers along the way. (Yes, this is my ideal vacation.) In his early 20s, he moved to Baltimore to join his sister, like so many immigrants throughout history.

Christian started out small, working in various breweries as he traveled around the United States until he decided to settle in Washington, D.C. In 1872, Christian and a business partner bought a brewery, which he later became the sole owner of and renamed it Christian Heurich’s Brewery. As his business grew, the brewery relocated to a larger, less fire-prone building — a big deal for the time period. 

A Christian Heurich Brewing Company employee tends to a brew kettle. Image courtesy of DC History Center.

When prohibition began in the early 1900s, breweries and distilleries took a massive hit. Christian was able to quickly switch gears and expand his ice-making production capabilities to stay afloat. Christian Heurich Brewery was one of only two to remain in business after the repeal of prohibition. Thankfully, Christian’s two main brews made it through — Senate, a light lager, and Maerzen, a darker beer. Cheers.

Christian stayed very involved with brewery operations until his death in 1945. (Yes, he lived to be 102.) As Christian got up in years, his son Christian Jr. stepped in and took charge of managing the family business. He once stated, “people who drink beer are mostly sports wise.” While that is debatable, Christian Jr. leaned into his theory. In the 1930s they began to sponsor sports teams ranging from soccer to basketball, roller derby to baseball — they did it all. They created branded jerseys for teams like the Heurich Brewers, where my deep-dive journey began, and even built a basketball court on top of their brewery to host games. (Take note craft breweries of today!)

Christian Heurich Brewing’s sports marketing reached its height with an official sponsorship of the Washington Senators’ television and radio broadcasts. Christian Jr. had a suite of Senators items created with the Heurich Brewing and Senate beer brands included. However, when you went to a baseball game, you couldn’t actually drink a delightful German lager as it was a dry stadium until 1956.

That same year Christian Heurich Brewing closed its doors and Senate beer stopped flowing from D.C.’s taps. Not only that, but the brewery archives suffered a series of tragic fires (the threat is real, folks) and all recipes were lost. However, thanks to a few history and beer enthusiasts, the Heurich House Museum and Oregon State University’s fermentation science department Senate beer was saved. A Korean War lab report on Senate beer and Oregon State’s beer archives gave enough information for the team to recreate this refreshing beverage. 

So, during my next trip to Washington D.C. you’ll find me at a Nationals baseball game sipping on a Senate beer (because they got wise to alcohol sales revenue) contemplating the journey this brew went through, the people who impacted it along the way, and how a small search led to all this. And that is why making history accessible is so important. Because everyone deserves the chance to make unexpected discoveries.

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