Monday, 23 August 2010

Ale and Porter Brewing in Philadelphia in 1859

Here's an extract about brewing in Philadelphia, published in 1859. Thanks to Gary Gillman for pointing it out to me.


"Beer," says the author of the " Picture of Philadelphia, in 1811," whom we have before quoted, "was brewed in Philadelphia for several years before the Revolutionary war; and soon after peace, the more substantial Porter was made by the late Mr. Robert Hare. Until within three or four years the consumption of that article has greatly increased, and is now the table-drink of every family in easy circumstances. The quality of it is truly excellent : to say that it is equal to any of London, the usual standard of excellence, would undervalue it, because, as it regards wholesome qualities and palatableness, it is much superior; no other ingredients entering into the composition than malt, hops, and pure water. A fair experiment has shown, that even so far back as 1790, Philadelphia Porter bore the warm climate of Calcutta, and came back uninjured. In 1807, orders were given by the merchants of Calcutta, after tasting some of it taken out as stores, for sixty hogsheads. Within a few years Pale Ale of the first quality was brewed, and justly esteemed—being light, sprightly, and free from that bitterness which distinguishes Porter."

The reputation of Philadelphia Ale has but strengthened with the lapse of years; and at the present time the Malt liquors made in Philadelphia take precedence in every market in the Union. The qualities for which they are distinguished are purity, brilliancy of color, richness of flavor, and non-liability to deterioration in warm countries—qualities, the result in part of the peculiar characteristics of the Schuylkill water—in part of the intelligence, care and experience of our brewers, conjoined to the use of apparatus possessing all the best modern improvements made in England and in this country."
"Philadelphia and its manufactures" By Edwin Troxell Freedley, 1857, pages 192-193.

A few points to note. This is first I've heard of an American brewer exporting beer to India. Especially as it was Porter, the export of which to India has been greatly overshadowed by Pale Ale.

"There are now nine extensive Brewers of Ale and Porter in Philadelphia, viz. : Masset, Collins & Co., Frederick Gaul, Robert Smith, W. .C. Rudman, Robert Newlin, Gray & Staley, Dithmar & Butz, W. B. Taylor, and James Moore. The oldest Brewery in this city is probably that upon the corner of Sixth and Carpenter streets, which was built about one hundred years ago, by William Gray, a native of Philadelphia. The most noteworthy Brewery is probably that belonging to Massey, Collins & Co., situated at the northwest corner of Tenth and Filbert sts.; it was originally erected by the farmers of Chester and Delaware counties, Pa., and purchased from them by the Brewers' Association of Philadelphia ; they subsequently sold the establishment to M. L. Dawson, a member of the Association, and whose ancestors had been prominent Brewers for a period of eighty years. Poultney & Massey, the predecessors of the present firm, in the year 1855, greatly enlarged the buildings, which have recently been increased by the present owners. The buildings, as now erected, form a hollow square of one hundred and fifty feet each way, making an extent of buildings of six hundred feet, seven stories in height, with extensive cellars and vaults underneath the whole, eighteen feet in depth, which are furnished with large vats containing from two hundred to four hundred barrels each, and sufficient for the storage of ten thousand barrels of Ale and Porter. Their Brewing Apparatus has been put up within the past three years, of the latest and most approved description ; comprising large Mash Tubs, capable of brewing nine hundred bushels of malt daily; boiling Coppers heated by means of steampipes; large Coolers, and Refrigerators, and Fermenting Tuns, the capacity of the latter being forty-five thousand gallons. Attached to the Brewery are malt-houses, which are designed for the malting of one hundred thousand bushels of barley. From seventy-five to one hundred men are employed about the establishment. The firm is extensively engaged in the manufacture of Pale and Amber Ales, and Porter, for draught and bottling; Brown Stout, and XX Ale, for all the markets upon the coast, from Maine to Louisiana, also for the numerous markets of the West Indies and South America.

The greatest cleanliness is required in this establishment; every cask returned to the Brewery being unheaded, scalded, and scrubbed with hickory brooms by hand; and lime is used frequently to purify the utensils.

The capital invested in the Brewing of Ale and Porter is $1,500,000, and the annual product exceeds one million of dollars."
"Philadelphia and its manufactures" By Edwin Troxell Freedley, 1857, pages 194-195.

I particularly like that a typical range of beers is given: Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Porter, Brown Stout and XX Ale. Not very different from what a London brewer would have produced at the time. Though there's no indication of the strength of the American versions.

From later adverts, I'd noticed that Pale Ale, Porter, Stout and XXX Ale were standard products of American Ale breweries in the period leading up to prohibition. I've often wondered exactly what XXX Ale was like. I had Ballantine's XXX when I lived in the USA in the mid 1980's. By that time, it was very pale and not particularly distinctive. I'd love to know what it had been like a century earlier.

Here's what Ballantine's (the largest Ale brewery in the USA) beers were like post-prohibition:

Ballantine beers

Year Beer Style package Acidity FG OG Colour ABV atten-uation
1939 India Pale Ale IPA bottled 0.07 1018.6 1075.2 16 7.39 75.27%
1939 XXX Ale Ale bottled 0.07 1014.9 1056 9 5.34 73.39%
1939 XXX Ale Ale canned 0.07 1014.5 1056.2 11 5.42 74.20%
1939 XXX Porter Porter bottled 0.08 1018.8 1059.6 1 + 13 5.29 68.46%
1939 Brown Stout Stout bottled 0.10 1021.9 1074.6 1 + 8 6.86 70.64%

Whitbread Gravity Book

The gravities are much like those in Britain pre-WW I.


Ed Carson said...

In this book:"A hand-book of industrial organic chemistry: adapted for the use of ..." By Samuel Philip Sadtler(1900)Pg 197 (, there are several charts that indirectly compare American and European beer.

Arctic Alchemy said...

In Bethlehem a scant 53 miles north of Philadelphia , Porter was produced on a smaller scale in 1790, this is the first records I have of the drink locally, and was remarked as some of the best porter available from Albany NY, to Salem North Carolina. Gravity readings are generally assumed to be in the 1.060's based on the pounds per barrel.

Gary Gillman said...

Ballantine XXX is still made, and is a good product. I would prefer if it was all-malt, but it is still pretty decent.

The name is a sign of history, in this case quite literally since a Ballantine XXX existed in the 1800's and 1900's.

In Canada we still have a Molson XXX, and I am sure I have seen similar nomenclature for Molson and certainly other Canadian ales in ads of 100 years ago. To me it tastes like a high-test lager, and probably is not like it was 100 years ago, but I like the history represented by the name.


Thomas Barnes said...

You'll note that the Calcutta order was for just 60 hogsheads (c. 120 barrels). Less than one ship-load of beer. That's hardly a take-over of the India beer trade!

I also wonder how much influence the "Pennsylvania Dutch" (actually, descendants of Rhineland Germans and German-speaking Swiss) they had on the Philadelphia brewing trade? They likely would have been ale brewers, too, but there might be subtle differences.