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The differences were evident this past weekend, when each brewery hosted its Saturday tastings and take-home (growler) sales.
At DC Brau, it had the feel of a polished pop-up party, with lines out the door, tours of the fermenting tanks, food by District Buns, brisk merchandise sales and folks collecting voter signatures for local political petitions.
Chocolate City was a far mellower, almost family affair, with people hanging out on the couch against the brewery wall, tasting artisan ice cream, and fathers showing up to fill their growlers with their daughters in tow. It fit right in with Chocolate City’s overall vibe — the backyard barbecue of breweries.
Local breweries were longtime fixtures in major American cities in the years after the Civil War. But a combination of factors, including Prohibition, consolidation of brands and commercial and technological advances, slowly squeezed out the vast majority of breweries. That left only a few major labels standing, almost all of which are owned now by international conglomerates such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors.
Meanwhile, the home- and craft-brew explosion in the past 30 years opened the door for smaller breweries with strong local roots to expand, such as the Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams; Anchor Brewing, maker of Anchor Steam, in San Francisco; and Clipper City Brewing, maker of Heavy Seas, in Baltimore.
Washington was a latecomer to the scene, with no package brewery operations from 1956 until last year, according to the guys at DC Brau.
Beer and Baseball
Baltimore, Washington’s sister city to the north, has a deep, rich cultural history with beer, as laid out in entertaining detail by author Rob Kasper in his new book “Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing.”
Kasper, a former Baltimore Sun writer, writes that beer and baseball have long been intertwined in Charm City, dating back to the original Baltimore Orioles of the 19th century, who “played in the American Association, a circuit dubbed ‘the beer and whiskey league’ because so many of its teams were owned by brewers and distillers.”
That connection endured to the next incarnation of the Orioles, who, after moving from St. Louis, were owned by Jerry Hoffberger, who was also the owner of National Brewing Co. National Brewing was the home of a beer that endures in both Baltimore and Washington to this day, National Bohemian, or “Natty Boh.” It is now owned by Pabst Brewing Co. and brewed at a MillerCoors plant in North Carolina, according to Kasper.
Camden Yards, the home of the Orioles, is heavy on local beers or beers with local connections, such as Natty Boh.
The ballpark also pours Heavy Seas and just opened Dempsey’s Brew Pub at the park, named after longtime Oriole and 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey.
Kelly Zimmerman, marketing director at Heavy Seas, says the rebranding her company underwent three years ago to both increase Heavy Seas’ national presence and to get in the ballpark is paying off. “You’ve got Baltimore fans, drinking Baltimore beers. What’s better than that?” she asked.