Philly Beerscene August/September 2012

Factually Brewed

Rich Wagner Pours You History With Philadelphia Beer

By Patrick Ridings

The ability to distill facts for consumption presumably aided Rich Wagner in his previous profession. He worked as a high school science teacher; a job that often places a person in front of a disinterested audience who needs the information the teacher posesses. It is a difficult task that requires a lot of passion and skill on the teacher's part. Wagner also used his informative skillset and his passion in his non-academic pursuits as he visited, researched, wrote about, and guided tours at Pennsylvania's extant and extinct breweries. Now a full-time historian, he offers a cold glass of facts to a very interested group: Philly beer and history aficionados.

Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty, presents information culled from Wagner's research at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Mid-Atlantic National Archives, Temple University, other various Philly societies, trade magazines, and interviews. The book also uses photographs and drawings, some taken from collections belonging to the author and the descendants of Philly's pre-Prohibition brewing families. These images illustrate how the brewing, marketing, and presentation of beer affected the city and how the industry's prosperity ebbed and flowed from the 1700s to Prohibition, the 20th century, and beyond to the current craft beer resurgence.

Wagner doesn't just present beer lovers and history buffs with a chronological journey, but a geographical one as well. The trip starts at William Frampton's brewery at Front and Walnut Streets (c. 1683), ends with Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant's latest addition in 2012, and encompasses all the neighborhoods in between.

Even though Wagner retired from teaching, he still serves the role well. He provides accurate information meant to enlighten and hopes that his audience enjoys these details. And, if there's one thingbeer drinkers and amateur and professional historians love, it's trivia, and Wagner has offered plenty for everyone in Philadelphia Beer.