American Breweriana Journal July/August 2007


Colonial Brewing From Coast to Coast


By Rich Wagner


It all started out innocently enough when I volunteered to put up a hop trellis in the herb garden at Pennsbury Manor, a reconstruction of William Penn's country estate on the Delaware River. River in Bucks County, PA. I had been fascinated by an earlier visit to the Bake and Brew House at this historic site, but, as an avid homebrewer, I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd be brewing a batch of beer there­ but that's exactly what happened!

 PHOTO: Caption. (Rich Wagner) Colonial brewer with the tools of his craft. (Greenbank Mill, DE)

The curator  had some  tubs and other implements  made  for  a brewing program and asked if I'd like to interpret the process. I eagerly agreed and embarked on an assignment which was, as they say, easier said than done. In the fall of 1991 I conducted several brewings and fermented the wort in wooden tubs. It was the first time in hundreds of years that any beer had been brewed at Pennsbury Manor and  gave testament to Penn's vision of a thriving brewing industry in the Commonwealth.


Since that time, I've delved into the history of brewing in our country and even found a self-taught cooper to help me construct a brewing system of my own out of two bald cypress logs. In 1993 I used it to make thirty gallons of homebrew and then loaded everything, including the finished product, into a trailer and traversed the Oregon Trail doing brewing demonstrations along the way as part of the trail's 1501h Anniversary. My family appeared at the Oregon Brewers Festival for three days and brewed beer the old-fashioned way alongside the Oregon Brew Crew, the local homebrew club that was set up with their state-of­ the-art homebrewing system.


Over the years we have enjoyed the opportunity to open a window into the past and show people how our ancestors made a potable beverage that was a nutritious staple of their diet. The History Channel even featured the brewing system as part of their Time/ab 2000 series hosted by Sam Waterston in a segment entitled "Beer and the Mayflower."


Most recently we brewed at the Camden County Historical Society's site, "Pomona Hall," another country estate just across the river from Philadelphia. As luck would have it the director's husband is a homebrewer, so we gave him the wort at the end of the day's demonstration, and he fermented the batch and served "Pomona Ale" to volunteers at Christmas time.


Videographer Jeff Linkous even documented the event and posted his production on You can see the video and read more about colonial brewing by visiting

PHOTO Caption. Anna Wagner displays ingredients: milled malt and hops.

PHOTO Caption. Ed Wagner stirs the wort as hops are added. (Hecklerfest, Harleysville, PA September 1995).


Illustrating the Process

PHOTO Caption. Setup at Mercer Museum's Fold Fest. (Doylestown, Bucks County May 2007)

1. Heat water in the copper.

PHOTO Caption Building fire to heat water in the copper. (Greenbank Mill, DE)

PHOTO Caption Water heating in the copper.

2. Add milled malt to the mash tun.

PHOTO Caption. Rich adds milled malt to the mash tun. (Mercer Museum Folk Fest May 2007)

3. Bale heated water into the mash tun and use mash rake to stir the mash.

PHOTO Caption. Rich with mash rake at Mercer Fold Fest May 2007. (Mercer Museum Doylestown, PA)

PHOTO Caption. Ed Wagner stirs the mash. Goshenhoppen Festival (East Greenville, PA September 2006)

PHOTO Caption. Anna Wagner uses mash rake to stir the mash in the mash tun. (Greenbank Mill)

4. After the rest, raise plug on mash tun and let wort drain into receiving tub below.

5. Bale hotter water from copper to mash tun keeping 1" of water covering grain bed.

PHOTO Caption. Rich uses the baler to transfer hot wort from the receiver to the copper. (Greenbank Mill, DE September 2006)

6. When all the water from the copper has been used up, continue draining mash tun and bale wort from receiver back to copper.

PHOTO Caption. Rich lifts the mash plug to drain the wort into the receiver. (Washington's Crossing State Park October 2003)

PHOTO Caption. Wort is transferred to the copper using a “baler.” (Washington's Crossing State Park October 2003)

7. Add hops when wort comes to a boil in the copper.

8. At the end of the boil, use sieve to strain hops from the wort.

9. The wort must then be cooled quickly which would have been accomplished through the use of a "coolship," a large shallow pan made of copper.

10. When "blood warm" the wort would be added to a fermenter and the yeast pitched in.

11. After primary fermentation of several days, the beer would be added to a sealed vessel and permitted to continue secondary fermentation and aging for about one month at which time it could be served.

PHOTO Caption. Showing how the staves are arranged around the head of the funnel. (Washington's Crossing, Bucks County, PA)

PHOTO Caption. “Brewster” Anna Wagner taps a keg. (Greenbank Mill, DE September 2006)

Related Articles

Wagner, Rich. "Bringing Colonial Brewing and Malting to Life." Zymurgy. Summer, 1989.

Wagner, Rich. "The Making of a Colonial Brewer." Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. Dec. 2003/ Jan. 2004.

The Making of Pomona Ale – Historic Brew Fest Project Produces Real Beer.” Camden County Historical Society Communicator. Spring/Summer 2007.

Bostwick, William. The Brewer's Tale (A History of the World According to Beer). W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. NY. 2014. Note: a portion of one chapter includes interview with Rich Wagner re: colonial brewing.


Flickr Collection “Brewing the Old Fashioned Way.”