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With Ruby Lager, what’s old is new again!

DC Beer’s fourth 10-for-10 collaboration produces a dark Czech lager with Red Bear Brewing Company.

A beer that hasn’t been brewed in DC since before prohibition, Ruby Lager, is now back thanks to Red Bear Brewing Company. This is the fourth in the 10 beers for 10 years series to celebrate DC Beer’s 10-year history with 10 new beers.

Using Czech malts and hops, Red Bear has produced an immaculate lager; crisp, clean, and refreshing. We are of course biased but don’t take our word for it, get to Red Bear and try it for yourself. It will be available beginning Friday, December 20, when Red Bear opens at 1:00 PM — but join us for the release party at 4:00 pm.

The history of DC and Ruby Lager

The historic Washington Brewing Company, at 4th and F Streets NE, made a beer much like this one less than a mile from where Red Bear now stands.

A photo of the Washington Brewing Company, where the original Ruby Lager was made.
The Washington Brewing Company at 4th & F St. NE, between 1910 and 1926. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

One of the beers Washington Brewing Company brewed was Ruby Lager, a Czech-style dark lager. Red Bear Assistant Head Brewer Eric McGowan said, “I love the idea of a dark Czech lager… I know you guys brewed a Dunkel with Barrett over at Chophouse but there’s always room in the world for more lagers.” Preach Eric, preach.

One shift that has occurred in American brewing is the meaning of the word “dark” in reference to beer. Today, dark is considered Porter or Stout colored, effectively a beer as close to black as possible. We thank San Francisco’s Anchor Porter, and many of the early American craft adapters of the 1980s, for this. However, in 1895, “dark” simply meant not pale or extra pale.

In 1895, The Washington Brewing Company described Ruby Lager as “Our New Brand.” Per and ad in the Washington Examiner (May 1895), “We have pleasure in stating that our new production is brewed from Imported Hops and the Finest Malt,” though it is unclear exactly where the hops and malt were coming from in 1895. 

In 1897, “Ruby” and “Champagne” lager were “made of pure Hops and Malt, properly aged, and are famous for their brilliancy and delightful flavor.” Ruby Lager was described as “heavy,” but that is likely in contrast to the other lighter beers available. 

In 2019, we used imported Czech Saaz hops. For McGowan, the finest malt is Weyermann® Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner Malt, which forms the base. We added splashes of Munich, Caramunich and Midnight Wheat. Bohemian yeast from local biologics Jasper Yeast and a fitting fermentation followed the collaborative brew day.

The Washington Brewing Company produced 36,000 barrels of lager in 1889, all of which was sold in the city of Washington — the equivalent of 72,000 kegs in one year! An advertisement in a British newspaper at the time indicated the brewery made a profit that year of “£18,500” or roughly $3 million in today’s dollars.

It’s should come as no surprise that the Washington Brewing Company was purchased by an English syndicate in about 1890, though the prior owner continued to operate the brewery.

A quote from the London publication reads:

American lager beer breweries possess great advantages over others, as thin light beer is the national drink of the United States, and suitable to the climate.

No wonder Ruby Lager was dark when all the light beer was thin! Come try Red Bear’s beautiful Ruby Lager. A new take on an old local. While the name remains the same, this beer likely would’ve made Washingtonians lose their heads in 1895. Look for, in the words of Simon Bee, Director of Brewery Operations, Founder, and Certified Cicerone(R), “Biscuity sweet malt with a hint of caramel and floral notes. Medium-bodied with a mild, crisp bitterness.”

Naz dravya!

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