The Story of Beer dates back 10,000 years, to the origins of civilization and Pennsylvania has played a central role in illuminating that story. Dr. Solomon Katz, anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has suggested that the reason people gave up the nomadic life and settled in one place was to be able to brew beer; Patrick McGowan at the University of Pennsylvania Museum has been a central figure in determining what went into early beers.
William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, began his successful diplomatic efforts with the local Native Americans by gifting them with a barrel of beer. He also granted land to Pennsylvania’s first brewer, William Frampton, in 1684 and Penn built his own brewery on his estate in Pennsbury.
The first brewery west of the Alleghenies was built in 1765 at Fort Pitt, which is now the Point in Pittsburgh. Apparently, the soldiers appealed to their officers, saying that if they must stay in that god-forsaken place, they should at least have beer, and the officers relented.
The Story of Beer in Pennsylvania closely reflects the Story of Beer in America. The role of immigration in the Story of Beer is one example. Beer historian Rich Wagner makes the case that John Wagner brought the first lager yeast to Philadelphia in 1840 and was the first in the U.S. to brew lager beer. By the mid-19th century, English ales were giving way to German lagers. German immigrants fled turmoil in Europe, with many bringing family receipts with them and establishing breweries here. By 1790, 33 percent of Pennsylvania’s population was German. Anti-immigrant feeling would ultimately contribute to the banning of beer during prohibition, but in the 1870’s Pennsylvania had as many breweries as it does today, with less than a third of the current population.
Antiimmigrant feeling may have been a factor in the demise of the Benedictine Monastery brewery in Latrobe, PA, when it was burnt down in a suspicious fire after locals objected to monks from Germany “corrupting” the townspeople by selling them the surplus beer that the monks made.
While Prohibition theoretically shut down all breweries in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country from 1920 to 1933, creative activities enabled some breweries to survive Prohibition, with many stories from that era yet to be told.
From the collection of Chip Echnoz
Regional breweries remained an integral part of their communities in the middle of the 20th century. Breweries were often an important part of their respective communities’ identity, as well as a source of relatively high paying employment. But the distribution networks, marketing efforts and cost efficiencies of the national brewing corporations eventually led to the demise of most regional breweries throughout Pennsylvania and the country as a whole. Pennsylvania is fortunate to still have surviving regional, family owned breweries, including Yuengling—the oldest brewery in America—in Pottsville and Straub in St. Mary’s.
The beer renaissance in Pennsylvania got going in the 1980’s.
- In 1985 Jim Koch contracted with the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh to produce Sam Adams beer.
- Dock Street Brewery was founded by Rosemarie Certo and Jeffrey Ware in Bala Cynwyd, PA, in 1985
- Tom Pastorius introduces “Pennsylvania Pilsner” at the City Tavern in Philadelphia on June 23, 1986
- Adamstown’s Stoudt Brewing Co. begins operations in 1987; founded by Carol Stoudt, the first female brewmaster since prohibition.
- In 1989, Tom Pastorius opens the first “tied house” (brewery with pub) in Pennsylvania since Prohibition
Today, Pennsylvania’s beer scene is vibrant, with over 300 breweries and many more under development. Pennsylvania ranks first in the nation in the number of barrels of craft beer produced per year, at 3.9 million barrels. Average annual consumption of 12.9 gallons of beer per adult ranks second in the country and yields nearly $5.8 billion in economic impact for the state. Furthermore, Pennsylvania breweries earn numerous awards each year and are seeing a rise in positive media coverage. Now is the time to tell the story of Pennsylvania beer.
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