Pilgrimage to Old William Penn Brewery

The American Brewer  Feb. 1940

Pilgrimage To Old William Penn Brewery
by Phillip Berkes, 1st Vice President, Master Brewers’ Association of America

During a driving rain and windstorm the entire District Philadelphia crowd made its pilgrimage to William Penn’s brewery, simply because a resolution was passed at the previous meeting to honor one of the earliest brewmasters of this country, who in 1682 brewed beer and ale which he believed to be a step towards moderation, and which he encouraged to be used by the early colonists to offset the excessive use of strong liquor.

This represented the first organized group that ever inspected this $200,000 reconstruction job covering William Penn’s brewhouse, malt house, stables, smoke shed, mansion, etc. on the banks of the Delaware River, from which point Mr. Penn maintained connections by boat to Philadelphia. The landing place and landscaping where 250 years ago the Quakers traded with the Indians is still to be completed but money has been spent lavishly on the buildings. Erected over the ruins of the original brewhouse, which was still complete in 1884, these buildings near Bristol, form a link in the chain of early American history and should be a Mecca to all men connected with the modern brewing industry.

But in spite of all efforts on the part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to adhere to historical details (undoubtedly accomplished in the buildings) there exists lots of room for argument for type and arrangements of equipment. Two Quaker prohibitionists explained to the master brewers the proper use of the various utensils, while the experts, among themselves, argued whether they looked at a water tank or mash tub or feed mixer. The good Quakers maintained that according to their belief William Penn could have only brewed for his own household, while Mr. Harley of the Industrial Foundation argued and quoted historical data that, “shrewd old William also brewed for commercial purposes; advertised and praised his own product, and as proprietary of Pennsylvania fixed the retail price of beer and subscribed its use in all tavern meals, as set forth in Section 37 of his Great Law”.

Colleague Bob Nevins of Reading believed that he recognized again the details of the old barley germinating floor and malt kiln; the type that was still in use in Scotland 75 years ago. While Joe Ortlieb maintained that it represented the sleeping quarters of the farm hands. At any rate it seems that serious study should be given to the whole matter of the lay-out and operation of Penn’s brewery, the use of the various utensils, and above all the possible creation of reproductions of equipment that should be installed. This, by the way, might constitute an ideal past time for some of the older members of District Philadelphia. 

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