Chapter IV. Brewing in Pennsylvania

In New Castle and Delaware River the Duke of York's laws remained in force until 1682, when they were superseded by the acts passed by Penn's Assembly. William Penn introduced brewing into Pennsylvania at a very early date. He built a brewery near his house at Pennsbury, and all his acts and ordinances indicate a decided preference for malt liquors. It was under his fostering care that the "infance industry" prospered for a time and made Quaker beer quite famous.

To the excellent quality of this beer and the abundance of it may be attributed the fact that brewing had not, at that time, gained a foothold in West New Jersey, the colonists there drawing their supply from the Quaker brewers in the adjoining Colony. Deputy Governor Gowen Laurie, one of the proprietors of West New Jersey, made an effort in 1683, to have a brewer sent to him from England. A malt house had already been established at Amboy, "but", wrote Laurie, "we want a brewer, and I wish thou wouldst send one to set up a brew house." The Swedish settlements on the Delaware seem to have reaped a sufficient harvest from the vines which they had planted to secure them an ample supply of wine.

It seems that all the colonists had conceived the idea that it would be very easy to make their new home a wine country, and it was but natural that the German settlers, by far the greater number of whom came from the Palatinate and the Rhine provinces famed for their wines, should have thought so. The seal of Germantown bears a bunch of grapes, among other symbolic devices, and the inscription "Vinum Linum et Textrinum"; but although the city became famous for its linen, its wine never amounted to much. Here, however, as in Philadelphia and all succeeding settlements, brewing prospered for a while.

When Penn assumed control of his colony, he probably found but a single tavern within its domain, i.e., The Blue Anchor, located at what is now known as Dock Street. The records show that with increasing population the number of taverns also increased, and early laws and regulations seem to indicate an excess of supply over demand. A law enacted in 1699 authorized the Governor to license taverns and suppress disorderly houses. Subsequently, other regulations, conceived in a spirit of paternalism, aimed at the fixing of prices and of the quality and quantity of food and drink to be served at taverns. From these regulations it appears plainly that beer was considered a regular and indispensable part of every meal, and this fact explains why brewing flourished in the early part of the colony's history.

Not all beers, however, were of the kind referred to before. Neither domestic malt nor hops could be procured in sufficient quantities to supply so large a demand and as a consequence the colonists fell back upon the manufacture of what might be styled a new kind of mead. We have it on the assurance of Penn himself that "molasses when well boiled with sassafras or pine infused into it" makes a very tolerable drink.

Beer drinkers probably preferred hops and malt, and when the short sighted policy of the lawmakers imposed exorbitant duties upon imported hops and malt before enough of these materials could be raised at home, and at the same time fixed the price of domestic malt beer and its quality at a rate which made the business unprofitable, brewing naturally declined, and in the logical course of things molasses was then transformed into rum or the latter article imported in the place of the former.

The evil effects of this policy must have become manifest almost instantaneously for as early as 1713 Governor Gordon deplores the decadence of brewing and the almost total discontinuance of the cultivation of hops and barley. After various futile experiments to remedy the evil the lawmakers in 1722 imposed a duty upon molasses, primarily to discourage the manufacture of rum, and enacted several laws designed to encourage the brewing of beer made of grain (not necessarily barley) and of hops. One of the principal inducements was the entire separation of the sale of beer from the liquor traffic and the exaction of a very low license fee from the keepers of ale houses. The use in brewing of molasses, sugar or honey was absolutely forbidden, and both the brewers and the brewing tavern keepers were compelled to give security ($500) for the faithful observance of the provisions of the act relating to permissible materials.

The law distinctly sets forth that one of its objects is to induce "the brewers to take special care to bring their beer and ale to the goodness and perfection which the same was formerly brought to, that so the reputation which then was obtained and is since lost, may be retrieved."

The same law directs that the proper officers in fixing the prices of commodities "shall allow higher prices than common to be taken for such beer and ale as shall excel in quality." Economically considered, the laws fixing the price as well as the quality of the commodity, frequently without regard to cost of raw material and labor and almost always without due consideration of the condition of crops and the market, was a serious error and the very text of the quoted Act seems to indicate that the lawmakers had begun to understand the far reaching effect of this blunder.

One other object of the law, as stated therein, was to encourage the cultivation of hops and of wheat and barley. We know that Pennsylvania ultimately became an important grain growing country, but we also know that partly as a result of such unwise legislation as has already been referred to, the surplus grain found its way into distilleries. Subsequent legislation, such as the act forbidding the sale of liquors, except beer, to iron workers within two miles of a foundry, or the one permitting only the sale of beer and cider on the muster fields of the militia, had little effect upon the drinking habits of the people, in many parts of the colony. In 1733, the Pennsylvania Gazette, dilating upon this condition of things, stated that Philadelphia women "otherwise discreet, instead of contenting themselves with one good draught of beer in the morning, take two or three drams, by which their appetite for wholesome food is destroyed."

Between the rum or molasses imported from the West Indies in the earlier periods and the subsequent spread of rural distillation, brewing had scarcely any chance of a healthy development; nevertheless, it continued to be practiced in the principal towns, particularly where the German element preponderated. It was an economic fallacy of the age that in grain growing countries agriculture could not possibly prosper without the distillery---a fallacy which prevailed in the northern countries of Europe and could not but find universal approval during the pioneer period of a new country where the means of transportation were exceedingly scant. In the rural districts the number of stills increased in proportion to their remoteness from the centers of civilization and in some parts whiskey actually took the place of money as a medium of barter, just as in a previous period rum had been the main stay of foreign commerce.

In 1790 there were no less than 5,000 stills in operation in the State of Pennsylvania, that is to say, one still for every 86 of the population. Long before this period public attention had been directed by public writers and speakers to the temperate drinking habits which prevailed in most of the German settlements, and naturally enough, on all such occasions, brewing was advocated as a means of promoting temperance.

In his "Account of the manners of the German inhabitants of Pennsylvania," Benjamin Rush dwells with particular emphasis upon the fact that these people, whom he praises for their probity, frugality, economy, love of liberty and country, commonly drink beer, wine and cider, and he makes this fact one of the principal arguments in favor of his famous temperance scheme. Many other writers then and thereafter coincided with him in this view; among them Tench Coxe who "considered it a fact strongly in favor of the industry, sobriety and tranquility of Philadelphia that its breweries (at the beginning of the nineteenth century) exceeded in the quantity of their manufactured liquors, those of all the seaports of the United States."

This may seem all the more remarkable on account of the growth of the distilleries after the abolition of the first Federal tax on spirits, brought about in a measure by the Whiskey Rebellion; but it will not in any way appear astonishing, if the character of the population of that city be borne in mind.

Philadelphia beer had retained its reputation for excellent quality even during the era of free whiskey, when brewing throughout the country seemed to be in the last stages of hopeless decline; but it must not be supposed that in even this city of beer drinkers the production kept anything like an equal pace with the increase of population.

Enough has already been said on this subject in the chapters on brewing in New England and more will be said in the two chapters on the decline of brewing and on the rise of lager beer to render unnecessary a more detailed account.

In 1810 there were in operation in Pennsylvania 48 breweries with an aggregate annual output amounting to 71,273 barrels; New York had only 42 breweries and an annual production of 66,896 barrels. The output of all the other States of the Union amounted to but 44,521 barrels. Pennsylvania remained in the lead during about 20 years, when it had to yield first place to New York. The marvelous growth of brewing in the West did not change the relative position of these two states in point of production, but it changed completely the status of the industry, as we shall presently show.

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