History's Mysteries: First Female Brewer in D.C.?

By Michael Stein, Educator, Author, Historian

Who was the first recorded female brewer in the District of Columbia? A tricky question to answer.

Who was the first female brewer in Washington, D.C., after prohibition? This one proves even trickier.

According to Garret Peck's Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C., the first female brewer in D.C. history appears one year after the end of the Civil War. Peck writes that Catherine Baumann is listed "as the first woman brewer in Washington" in Boyd's Directory. He goes on to write "whether she actually brewed is questionable, given that she soon put the brewery up for auction." Baumann had inherited the brewery from her late husband, as she was the executor of his will.

Over 150 years ago, D.C. had its first recorded brewster. Whether Catherine Baumann brewed or not, she was listed as one. We know thanks to the research of Daniel Tana, Program Manager at the Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, that the 1860s was a time when even the spelling of the Baumann name varied.

According to Tana's The Last Call: Preserving Washington's Lost Historic Breweries, Paul Baumann was also written as "Paul Bowman" in the years after his brewery was first listed in 1858. Baumann's brewery stood at 21 East Capitol Street, near today's 1st St. NE just blocks from the Capitol building.

Perhaps then it is no surprise that his wife, Catherine, as both Tana and Peck refer to her, is listed as "Katharina" in the 1867 Boyd's Directory. By 1860 Baumann had another brewery at 504 D Street SE. That location is now a modern residence between 5th and 6th Streets SE, about a block from Hank's Oyster Bar Capitol Hill, 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, where you can enjoy beers from Guild members Atlas Brew Works, DC Brau, and Right Proper.

So it's been a century and a half since D.C.'s first recorded female brewer, but what of D.C.'s first brewster post-prohibition?

I reached out to some of the most knowledgeable, historically-interested brewers in the area. My request was simple, who was the first female brewer in D.C. since 1933?

Barret Lauer, Head Brewer of the District Chophouse, replied, "So was Kristi technically a D.C. Head Brewer since they are brewing in VA? I think we would have to give that honor to Megan Parisi?"

Gordon Biersch Navy Yard Head Brewer Travis Tedrow followed up with "Barrett you are correct, no actual Cap[itol] City brewing in D.C. proper when Kristi took over." So this ruled out beloved brewster Kristi Mathews Griner on the technicality that when she was Head Brewer for Capitol City her work took place in Virginia. So was the title holder Megan Parisi, Bluejacket's first brewer?

Mad Fox Brewing Company CEO, Bill Madden, set the record straight, though he could not remember the last name of the mystery woman, and simply remembered her as Daria. "I last saw her at the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston in 1996 I believe. Yes, she did brew and everything else we did on that 10 HL system at the original Cap City."

Madden was unable to remember her name but thanks to an earlier D.C. brewster in Parisi, we were able to identify D.C.'s first female brewer since prohibition:

"Through a bit of sleuthing I managed to get her name, Darrah Bryans. I asked Megan Parisi at Sam Adams about her, she contacted Jodi Andrews who was brewing at Boston Beer Works in the mid 90's time-frame. Darrah Bryans went from Capitol City in 1995 to Doemans Academy in Germany to Brew Moon on Harvard Square. That is as far as I can go on finding more about her, not much written on the individual brewers back then and she may have gotten married and changed her name."

And so it is solved: Darrah Bryans was D.C.'s first female brewer since prohibition. Catherine, or Katharina, Baumann, was D.C.'s first documented female brewer pre-prohibition. At least until an enterprising beer historian turns up another document from the Civil War era!

Darrah Bryans (photo credit Restaurant-Hospitality.com)

Darrah Bryans (photo credit Restaurant-Hospitality.com)