A seemingly permanent fixture in the Washington, D.C., liquor landscape, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill has been one of the area’s most famous liquor stores since 1949. In business for more than sixty years, its legacy goes back even further, with many of its vintage spirits and wines dating to long before Schneider’s of Capitol Hill opened its doors.
Genderson began brewing illegal booze in a bathtub
One Big Family
The history of Schneider’s dates back to 1915, to before Prohibition altered the landscape of alcohol in America forever, when Rubin Genderson purchased a bar known as Walter’s, which primarily sold locally brewed beer. His family lived above the bar and the early years of business were positive. But in 1917 Prohibition came into effect in the nation’s capital—prior to the national ban in 1920—and everything changed.
Genderson began brewing illegal booze in a bathtub above the store, selling non-alcoholic beer to keep the authorities off his back. Eventually, Rubin moved into another line of work, leaving the days of legal and illegal liquor behind him. But his son Abe took up the family trade in 1949, with the help of his father-in-law Max Schneider.
Schneider’s, as it became known, was an instant hit and grew into one of the biggest alcohol retailers in the area. In those early days, the two owners and two other family members were the only staff working in the store. Today Schneider’s hires a staff of experts to keep the store up and running.
These experts include general manager Joe Prebble, who oversees overall operations. Prebble has worked at Schneider’s for over a decade and has been a familiar fixture; both customers and employees alike have enjoyed his easy-going communication skills. He has the enviable job of tasting many of the wines and spirits that come into the 20,000 square-foot storeroom. His assistants include Terry Brown (wine manager), Richard Bobrow (spirits manager), and Tristan Walton (beer director).
Thousands of different wines, spirits, and beers
The Online Cellar
Schneider’s is the owner of the prominent cellar.com domain, essentially making its distinguished collection the Internet’s wine cellar and liquor cabinet, a public showcase that everyone has access to. Thousands of different wines, spirits, and beers—from low-cost, unpretentious brands to the rarest bottles in the world—are stocked.
Most bottles can be bought by the case, and all are imported with the input of Schneider’s staff, who travel the length and breadth of the globe to source the best booze, before giving it the once-over to ensure that the product inside the bottle is the product advertised on the outside.
Schneider’s is a family business. It has all of the charm of an independent retailer, with the scale and the variety of a chain. This combination is what has helped make Schneider’s one of the best destinations for quality spirits in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. It offers the care and attention to detail that comes with a family business, but with the competitive prices and sheer size that comes with a bigger retail outlet.
Schneider’s has a large selection of the finest Scotch whiskies. These range from popular 12-year-old Speyside single malts like Aberlour and Balvenie to Lowland malts like Auchentoshan Three Wood, to Highland classics like Dewar’s. If you like your whiskey old and rare (and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) they have a very rare, limited edition 200th Anniversary Johnnie Walker Blue, a 25-year-old Macallan, and a 30-year-old Highland Park. Other premium spirits in the Schneider’s collection include:
2008 Midleton: A release of Midleton, Very Rare, that is now getting quite hard to find. It shows that Irish whiskey should not be overlooked and is a great option for both drinkers and collectors. This particular Irish malt, at almost $500, is the most expensive in the Schneider’s collection; it was produced by the same distillers that own the popular Jameson brand, and this particular bottle is said to be one of the most extraordinary they have ever produced.
Courvoisier Erte #8: This rare Cognac will set you back a cool $3,000 per bottle. But in return, you’ll get a taste that is unrivaled and an experience that every Cognac connoisseur can appreciate. The Courvoisier Erte Collection contains eight bottles, each with its own unique flavors, and each in its own distinct presentation box.
Black Tot Last Consignment: Described as a “piece of liquid history,” this is not only one of the rarest bottles of rum in the Schneider’s collection but one of the rarest in the world. It is the last official consignment of British Royal Navy rum, which ended a tradition that kept the crews of one of the world’s most powerful fleets fuelled for hundreds of years. It was produced in 1970 and comes in a beautiful presentation case.
Fransac 70: This is one of the oldest items in their collection, a 70-year-old Cognac in one of the most beautiful bottles ever to hold this exquisite spirit. This drink has been described as “balanced” and “complex” by the distiller, with flavors including “mushroom, old leather, and tobacco.”
Schneiders’s wants showcase the very best of America’s earlier and more recent history
The US drinks market hasn’t enjoyed the sort of global recognition that premium European drinks have. It doesn’t have hundreds of years of history behind it, which is why many collectors shun US brands. Even in the early days of an independent United States, the country’s richest drinkers preferred to import spirits from afar, rather than trust in locally produced stock.
The history of US distilling may not be as extensive, but after the difficulties of prohibition, the development of a host of unique flavors and techniques has led to American spirits like bourbon, rye whiskey, and even single malts increasingly gaining respect around the world. And Schneider’s is one of the retailers looking to bring these spirits to the fore, to showcase the very best of America’s earlier and more recent history.
Most of the Schneider’s American stock is post-Prohibition, including a 16-year-old straight rye whiskey from Cooper Spirits and an incredibly rare Van Winkle Family Reserve produced by Sazerac. There are also limited-edition versions of some of the world’s favorite American spirits, including Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.
Schneider’s actually has more spirits from the United States than they have from France, Italy, and Ireland put together. They also have a special collection of California wines, Canadian whiskes, Mexican tequila, and Caribbean rum.
If you ever need an excuse to pay them a visit, then that should be it.