​History of District Philadelphia

The City of Philadelphia has been a brewing center from its earliest days. Following his first visit there in 1683 William Penn wrote: "Our DRINK has been Beer and Punch, made of rum and water: our Beer was mostly made of Molasses, which well boyld, with Sassafras or Pine infused into it, makes very tolerable drink; but now they make Mault, and Mault Drink begins to be common, especially at the Ordinaries and the houses of the more substantial People. In our great Town there is an able Man [William Frampton], that has set up a large Brew House, in order to furnish the People with good Drink, both there and up and down the River. . [He has

built] a good Brick house, by his Brew House and Bake House, and let the other for an Ordinary" (Stanley Baron, Brewed in America). William Penn was instrumental in promoting a viable brewing industry in his colony.

 

In fact, William Penn had a bake and brew house at his country estate, Pennsbury Manor, located twelve miles up the Delaware River from Philadelphia. One of our oldest members is Charlie Lieberman, who graduated from brewing school in 1939 and recalls members of District Philadelphia taking a field trip to the bake and brew house at Pennsbury Manor shortly after it was reconstructed as a State Historic Site. Fifty-two years later Pennsbury Manor was outfitted with reproductions of seventeenth century brewing utensils and our current Secretary /Membership chair, Rich Wagner, interpreted the process and brewed several batches of ale there the old fashioned way.

It should be noted that in the Federal Procession of 1789 in Philadelphia, ten master brewers and seventy-two journeymen paraded, headed by Reuben Haines. Luke Morris carried banners with the brewers arms containing the mottoes: "Proper Drink for Americans," "Home-Brewed is Best."

Philadelphia's brewing industry experienced tremendous growth during the waves of German immigration in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, Bavarian brewmaster John Wagner brewed on Saint John Street, near Poplar, in 1840. District Philadelphia sponsored and dedicated a State Historic Marker there in 2001. Charlie Lieberman was on hand for the dedication and read his poem, The Brewers Yeast.

It is not known what sort of fraternity developed among the brewers in the early days, but according to the May 1911 issue of the Western Brewer, the Philadelphia Brewmasters Association held its Silver Anniversary Celebration at Schutzen Park, where each member and guest received a silver cup and "a handsome souvenir was presented to the ladies." Around that time there were close to hundred breweries in Philadelphia. There was even a neighborhood along the Schuylkill River called Brewerytown which was home to some of the nation's largest firms. You can read the proceedings from the 1890 MBAA Convention in Philadelphia and see the list of participants from Philadelphia who attended the Fifteenth National Brewmasters Convention in Philadelphia in 1903, and the one held there in 1908.

When prohibition came in 1920 there were about 40 breweries in Philadelphia, but there were only about a dozen survivors following repeal in 1933. The largest brewery in the city (and the state) was the C. Schmidt & Sons brewery in the city's Kensington section. Brewers from Schmidt's took the lead in being active and promoting MBAA District Philadelphia. Schmidt's 100th anniversary in 1960 was the subject of a Modern Brewery Age article which chronicled many of their technologic innovations. None the least of these was the use of computers. Past MBAA President William A. Hipp wrote a paper for the Technical Quarterly entitled "The Place of the Computer in Production Planning and Inventory Control" which he, Fred Ehmann and Cal Dyson, presented at the MBAA convention in San Antonio in 1964.

In 1966, fourth-generation brewmaster William M. Moeller wrote a four-part article on the history of the brewing industry in Eastern Pennsylvania for Brewers Digest to correspond with the MBAA convention in Philadelphia. District Philadelphia President Robert Bopp, brewmaster at Ortlieb's brewery was convention chair.

When Schmidt's closed in 1987, there were still three regional breweries in District Philadelphia: Strohs in Fogelsville, Yuengling in Pottsville, and The Lion, Inc. in Wilkes-Barre. The same year Ed and Carol Stoudt opened Pennsylvania's first microbrewery in Lancaster County. They and their brewers have been active in District Philadelphia ever since. In 1999 Yuengling built a new brewery three miles north of the original plant in Port Carbon. The Fogelsville plant was converted to other uses several years ago.

There are several retired members of District Philadelphia who are third and fourth generation brewmasters. At the MBAA 102nd Anniversary Convention, September 17-20, 1989 at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, Philadelphia, one such member, Charles E. Lieberman, received the 1989 MBAA Award of Merit. A description of his address and biography are reprinted from Speaker's Abstracts, Biographies and Poster Presentations.

Samuel Adams Brew House became Philadelphia's first brewpub in 1989, and since then craft breweries have continued the city's brewing tradition. Philadelphia is now home to three brewpubs and one microbrewery, Yards Brewing Company, which recently renovated the old Weisbrod and Hess brewery (closed in 1938). Hear a radio interview  with District Philadelphia Secretary/Membership Chair Rich Wagner entitled "The Philadelphia Brewery Tour Revisited" from The Milestones Radio Show.

Rich's website contains a wealth of information on the history of brewing in the Keystone State (http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com).

 

 

The Delaware Valley is currently home to over 40 craft breweries and District Philadelphia actively encourages these brewers to become involved the MBAA. Our challenge is to provide technical presentations and activities which will address the needs of the full spectrum of brewers, from those who work in large production facilities to those working in the smallest craft brewery.

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