Mid-Atlantic Brewing News February/March 2015
George's Brewery: A Beer Fit For a President
By Rich Wagner
In 1773 young Robert Hare was sent off to America with £1500 to start a porter brewery, after having spent several years learning the “art and mystery” of brewing at his father’s porter brewery in Limehouse, London. Upon his arrival, he felt he should “get a measure of the colonies” by traveling, eventually proceeding to Niagara Falls. He then settled in Philadelphia where he went into partnership with J. Warren to establish what many believe to be the New World’s first porter brewery at Callowhill and New Market Streets (between Front and Second). It must have been an interesting time for an Englishman to be starting a brewery while a revolution was fomenting all around him.
On October 31, 1775 The Boston Evening Post advertised “a few dozen” quarter-casks of Philadelphia Porter, the first ever “imported,” but did not indicate the brewer. The earliest reference I have seen for it by name was in the December 5, 1775 Pennsylvania Evening Post when the proprietor of the Harp and Crown in Philadelphia’s Southwark neighborhood advertised that “…he will open Messrs. Hare and Company’s American Porter, and he intends to sell no other. He being situated in the centre of the ship and stave yards expects the Associators of Freedom to encourage American Porter as it deserves.” Two years later when the British occupied the city, Hare fled to Virginia and the Redcoats obliged by leaving his stock of the city’s best porter “much depleted.”
George Washington’s preference for porter is well documented. As early as 1760, Washingon paid £3.5s.3d a barrel for porter imported from England. Within the decade, he advocated an agreement to ban the import of British goods including porter and other beers.
Demonstrating his "Buy American" policy, Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette in January 1789: "We have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America: both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality.”
Following the great celebration of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and Pennsylvania’s ratification of the Constitution in July, 1788, Washington wrote to Clement Biddle: "I beg you will send me a gross of Mr. Hairs best bottled Porter if the price is not much enhanced by the copius droughts you took of it at the late Procession."
That spring, Martha Washington stopped off in Philadelphia on her way to join the President in New York, and entertained a host of dignitaries, including Robert Hare, who are said to have consumed10 bottles of Madeira, one bottle of champagne, 2 bottles of claret, 45 bowls of punch, 10 bottles of American porter, one bottle of Taunton Ale and 2 bottles of crab cider.
In 1790 Washington’s secretary wrote to a dealer, "Will you be so good as to desire Mr. Hare to have, if he continues to make the best Porter in Philadelphia, 3 gross of his best put up for Mount Vernon?” That October, Hare’s brew house caught fire for the third time in twelve years. On hearing of his plight, Washington wrote from Mount Vernon that he was sorry "on public as well as private accounts, to hear of Mr. Hares loss." Anticipating a shortage, he instructed his secretary to "lay in a pretty good stock of his, or some other Porter," which was readily supplied by another Philadelphia brewer, Benjamin Wistar Morris. Anticipating his return to Mount Vernon at the conclusion of his presidency, Washington requested a “groce of good Porter” to be shipped so it would be on hand when he arrived.
Hare’s brewery continued being part of Philadelphia’s storied past until 1817 - not a bad run for a brewery that was turning out porter before days of the Revolution. But beyond Hare’s legacy, the humble home of the nation’s porter would go on to become Gaul’s and then Betz’s brewery - remaining in production until 1880, marking a full century of successful brewing.