The Brewers' Bulletin December 14, 1990
Penn's Purity Brew
By Charlie Lieberman
How beer was made in early America has always been fascinating to history buffs and other inquisitive minds. Since the recent rebirth of the small brewer, whether called boutique, mini, micro, craft or pub, many of the primitive brewing practices of the "good-old-days" are equated with a recreation of the good old natural flavor. This piece, however, is about early American brewing procedures. It does not roll out the barrel of arguments on "flavor."
The many visitors to the imposing home of the father of our country on the Potomac downstream from the Capitol City Washington have seen the Mount Vernon brewhouse. Also, the classical colonial mansion of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia has a room for mashing and fermenting. Apparently no respectable colonial estate would be without this facility.
This fall I received an invitation from "The Pennsbury Society" to be a visiting guest at Pennsbury Manor, the home of the Quaker William Penn, to witness the making of beer in the Manor's brewhouse.
Most of the vessels and equipment were normally on display for visitors. The "formula" was supposedly that of "Billy Penn himself." Rich Wagner was convincing in his role as brewmaster to both "thee and thou." His attire as well as the décor were all authentic.
Rich is a school teacher who, as an avocation is a brewery historian. He has gained respect and acclaim with his home brews, publications and guided bus tours of by-gone brewery sites in Eastern Pennsylvania.
The founder of the Quaker State, William Penn (1644-1718) built the original home on the Delaware River upstream from the cradle of democracy, "The City of Brotherly Love," Philadelphia. The settling of this wooded land (Penn's woods) was regarded as a "Holy Experiment." Generousities like paying the Indians for land, respect for treaties, and freedom of religion were included in the charter of this Commonwealth which would become the Keystone State when the Constitution was signed by the original thirteen colonies.
Although this homestead is not as impressive as Mount Vernon, it has spacious, well kept formal gardens and the customary row of satellite sheds and outbuildings, yes, including a brewhouse. During this visit, a huge formidable, ocean tanker moved slowly up the river toward one of the docks near Trenton, N.J. where John Ruhl, Brewmaster at Champale, Inc. used to view the river from his brewery office. The hunk of steel in this ocean going tanker brought back our realization that the sylvan tranquility around the Manor was an era long gone.
Another reminder of today's lifestyle is blatantly thrust upon you as you approach this rural setting. You have to drive by at least two high, well landscaped "trash mountains." Even though these landfills were designed according to government specifications, the wells in this area, including the Manor, are contaminated at least to the extent that the iron content is above specs. Hauling water added to Wagner's toil.
Back around 1939, the year I was accepted as an Active Member of MBAA, District Philadelphia, the District made a formal presentation to this historical location. I did not attend the ceremony, but with apologies to the many others who participated, two friends of mine that took part were Arthur Hipp, Brewmaster at Schmidt's and father of the very accomplished Bill Hipp now Treasurer of the MBAA; and Phil Berkes, Brewmaster at Adam Scheidt in Norristown, Pa. As was Bill Hipp, Berkes was a President of MBAA (1941-45).
Now back to the brew. Several days before Wagner mashed-in, the wooden mash tun had to be soaked. I am familiar with this primitive equipment as I worked with a sizable wooden, combination mash-lauter tun with rotating agitator and brass false bottom at the Widman Brewery (1933) in the Historical Moravian City of Bethlehem, Pa. Rich talked to me and other brewers before he took on this project.
Penn's mashing vessel consisted of an open wood staved tub about 6 ft. in diameter and 3 ft. deep. It has a hole in the center of the flat bottom. An elongated plug also serves as a handle to facilitate opening and closing this outlet. A wooden paddle is the mixing device. My "gross mutter" stirred mash with a paddle in the old Lieberman Brewery in Allentown. Adding hot water brought the ground barley malt up through the proper temperature sequence.
When converted and settled, the plug was pulled up allowing wort and some grains to flow from the outlet. The mash-tun is elevated so a small tub can be placed underneath. Over this tub a homespun flax cloth catches the entrained grain. These solids are dumped back into the mash.
The wort was boiled in three coppers over wood fires. Hops were introduced in a sack similar to a tea bag. This allowed discretion in the time of removal from the boiling wort.
Before hop pellets and extracts were commercially available and brewers were trying to remove the harshness caused by prolonged hop wort contact, there were a variety of techniques and equipment applied to accomplish this. In the 1930's through the 1940's at Horlacher's in Allentown we had a rather large cylindrical screen arrangement that fitted into the outlet at the bottom of a conventionally designed, jacketed, copper kettle. This screen held back the hop bracts and particles of hot trub. The relatively clear solution of hot wort was discharged and pumped up to a rectangular steel tank above the baudelot cooler. There was no hop jack or hop separator.
Hop removal at the Gulf Brewing Co. in Houston was through a Montejus. This is a large, closed, cylindrical, steel tank with an internal sieve arranged to retain the spent hops. To reduce contact time, I tried shutting off the steam to the kettle's percolating coils for several minutes before dropping the wort to the Montejus. This allowed most of the spent hops and trub to settle in the bottom of the flat bottom kettle. Although this reduced contact time considerably, one could question the effectiveness. Along with other modifications, however, we were able to produce "Pale Dry Grand Prize Beer" as advertised (1949…). Comparing experiences with Hans Baker, an astute Master Brewer at Schaefer's in Brooklyn, I followed many of the practices they used to produce "Schaefer Pale Dry" in the 1940's.
While exploring the abandoned first brewery in Honduras at La Ceba, Helmut Lutz, head Brewmaster at Cerveceria Hondurena, and I climbed up an unused part of the building and found a rusted rectangular tank about 6 ft. deep with supports for a false bottom about 2 ft. above the solid bottom. This tank was located above the site of an open pipe wortcooler (Baudelot). The copper tubes, dispersing trough and collecting pan were long gone. The tank served as both hop jack and hot wort tank. The relatively high false bottom showed that brewers in those days were already conscious of "contact time."
Conventional design for breweries operating in the 1930's had a hop jack below the kettle. This allowed pumping the clear wort up to a "coolship" or hot wort tank and from then on utilizing gravity. A strong back and weak mind were required to shovel the spent hops, trub, and entrained liquid out of the hop jack. There was little help from gravity. I was one of the guys who did this, and at three different breweries, namely; Widman, Bethlehem; Southern, Norfolk, VA; and Neuweiler, Allentown (1933-36). The hop additions were more voluminous in those days and at Neuweiler it was doubled for Stock Ale.
Incidentally, for further authenticity, Rich Wagner planted and harvested hop vines in the Manor's spice gardens. Another feature of this historical site is a collection of farm animals who plodded their way into this brewing rejuvination by enjoying a feast of wet spent grains.
Getting back to the equipment, the wooden fermenting vat required a lining. A hot "mammut" coating was applied. This was a common procedure for several years after repeal of Prohibition (1933 through the 1940's). Wagner deserves an accolade from the Brewing Industry for his adventurous activities. He has demonstrated how malt beverages were a part of our culture from the time of the revered first settlers.
The Genesee Brewing co. supports a unique tourist attraction some twenty miles south of Rochester- an interesting complex of the homes built by the first citizens to live in the upstate New York region, along with replicas of indigenous village shops and museums. It is no surprise that an early American brewery is included. Instead of pipes, wooden troughs were used to move the wort.
Similar troughs were used in a brewery claimed to be the first in the New World. This facility was built in the 1500's. The conquistadors must have valued their beer. This brewery is part of a Mission in the old section of Quito, Ecuador. Guillermo Moscoso, now with Anheuser-Busch, was the Plant Manager and Brewmaster at Cerveceria Andina S.A. in Quito, 9,000 ft. elevation and sitting comfortably right over the equator, where a pressure cooker is necessary to properly boil the hopped wort.
Guillermo took me to see the ancient brewery, but the prelate with the key was not there, so agile Guillermo climbed through a window. Although I had managed to extend him in a tennis game when the balls bounced abnormally high, I lacked the bounce to get up through the window, so "Ing. Moscoso" boosted me up and through.
He told me how each year he made a brew with this crude array of equipment. Dignitaries of the city took part in the ceremonies that he orchestrated as head Brewmaster of the region.
As I am sure others have, I suggested to the Genesee Brewery executives that a similar project would be fitting at the "Genesee Village" using their authentic equipment. Legalities are among the several reasons for not doing this.
Interest in bits and bites of history has more followers than is possibly realized. At least adult Americans show a respect for our country's early development in contrast to the frustrations caused by our governing body today.
I don't know how, but Tom Pastorius, President of the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. might find some advantageous connection with the experience at Penn's homestead in the eastern part of the state. Tom?
References to historical places and events is not new to beer manufacturers. In San Antonio, Texas, for instance, Lone Star has the Buck Horn Tavern" and Pearl has "Judge Bean's Law West of the Pecos."
I trust that I made my point that historical references can be valuable without introducing the argument over "flavor." Rich Wagner's Quaker impersonation was peaceful and rewarding.