Between Terminals A-East and B
From its early molasses and ales, Philadelphia has been at the forefront of American brewing since the 1600s. When William Penn came to Philadelphia in 1682, Philadelphians were already making homemade beer -- molasses infused with pine or sassafras. One year later, in 1683, the first barley crop was harvested and the city’s first ale brewery opened. During the late 1700s, America’s Founding Fathers discussed the country’s two most important documents -- the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, while drinking the city’s finest ale in Philadelphia taverns. John Adams wrote to his wife in Boston, “I drink no cider, but feast on Philadelphia beer.”
Ale was the popular choice of beer for more than 150 years. And, it was said, that Philadelphia’s ales rivaled those made in England. Then, in 1840, the German immigrant John Wagner first introduced lager to Philadelphia and America. It was such an important milestone in beer brewing history that an historic marker has been placed where Wagner’s home-brewery once stood. It reads, “Birthplace of America’s First Lager Beer.”
With the introduction of lager, Philadelphia became a boom town of breweries. Many of the city’s breweries were clustered together and the area became known as Brewerytown. At its peak, there were more than 94 breweries within city limits and another 100 in the surrounding areas.
Then, in 1920, Prohibition became law and devastated the brewing industry. For 13 years, the country remained dry. It wasn’t until Americans turned against Prohibition and its negative effect on the economy and jobs, that in 1933, alcohol was again legalized.
From 94 breweries prior to Prohibition, there were only 15 that remained in Philadelphia. More than a decade later, the country entered World War II and rationing ensued which made it even more difficult for breweries to survive. In 1948, while breweries continued to close, Ortlieb’s brewery was expanding and Schmidt’s became the first brewery in Philadelphia to produce one million barrels a year. Nationwide, there was competition from super-sized breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, and Schlitz. Eventually only 2 breweries -- Schmidt’s and Ortlieb’s remained in the city until Schmidt’s purchased Ortlieb’s in 1981, leaving Schmidt’s as the sole Philadelphia brewery until it closed in 1987.
It was the first time, in more than 300 years that there were no breweries in the city of Philadelphia.
At the same time, there was a revival of home brewers who pioneered the desire for high quality beer that was unique, flavorful, and innovative. This was the beginning of microbreweries, craft brewers, and brewpubs in Philadelphia and throughout the United States. Today, from the city to its surrounding suburbs, regional breweries are creating a wide variety of internationally award-winning beers. The Philadelphia area has once again established itself as a region known for its brewing excellence.
In celebration of the region’s beer brewing legacy, past and present, is the annual extravaganza known as Philly Beer Week – 10 days of events planned to highlight the area’s diverse beer scene, its world-class breweries, taverns, and its rich beer culture and history.
Philly Beer Week
America’s Best Beer-Drinking City
May 31 – June 9, 2013
Special thanks to Dale Van Wieren and Lawrence Handy Jr. for contributing their collections to the exhibition. Both are members of the Eastern Coast Breweriana Association, www.eastcoastbrew.com