From our founding fathers to the pioneers of our newer cultural beer revolution, these delicious brews have been there… and thankfully there are brewers out there who want to prove it!
Ah summer, it’s my favorite time of year. The time to kick back, relax and enjoy yourself. Its also the time to celebrate the 4th of July, our nation’s birthday. We get together with family and enjoy the things we typically think of as American; apple pie, baseball, and rock & roll. Well, here in the State of Independence, we can think of something else typically American: beer! I know, I know, beer was brewed long before Europeans settled North America. Hell, the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians even brewed their own beer, how can I call beer typically American? Well, the simple fact is that as long as there has been an America, there has been a deeply rooted beer scene. From our founding fathers to the pioneers of our newer cultural beer revolution, these delicious brews have been there — and thankfully there are brewers out there who want to prove it!
Imagine strolling through the city down to a local tavern and finding the familiar faces of George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. That’s exactly what people do every day at the City Tavern in center city since they teamed up with the folks at Yards to create the Ales of the Revolution series. These fine ales are based on the original recipes of the aforementioned founding fathers and are quite delicious. We decided to do a little investigation and headed down to the beautiful new Yards Brewery on Delaware Ave. to chat with owner Tom Kehoe. He helped explain to me the history behind the Ales of the Revolution in a little more depth. You see, General Washington’s Tavern Porter is pretty close to George’s recipe that he sent in a letter to his officers but it is the least exact of the Ales. While the original did call for a porter with molasses, it really used so much molasses that we might consider it America’s Original Malt Liquor and it helped extend normal rations for the army into incredible amounts of beer for the troops. Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale — while not being the strongest seller of them, still gets the most attention for Yards. Commissioned by the city of Philadelphia to celebrate Ben Franklin’s 300th birthday in 2006, this ale uses spruce for a flavor that is very different than what most beer drinkers are used to. In the early days of our country, hops were not always easy to find and our homebrewing founding fathers may have found other things to brew with that were more readily available and Ben Franklin drafted up this recipe to publish in a cook book. Taking the idea of readily available local materials one step further, Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale was based on Jefferson’s original recipe designed to display his self sustainability and independence through brewing using ingredients found and grown on his Virginia estate. This idea of self-reliance was very important to the founding fathers and to me it seems one that Tom Kehoe shares — not only would he like to see more Philadelphians drinking Philly beer, he made sure that his new brewery is greener than ever as well. With systems for recollection and recycling of hot water, glass and cardboard as well as using recycled concrete and wind power in the brewery, he’s helping lead the way with a greener, tastier local brew. When I asked about the performance of the Ales of the Revolution series compared to his other offerings he admitted that they had always been handcuffed by the limitations of the old brewery and that he hopes the new digs will help him brew more of the patriotic stuff.
Of course, most of us who’ve been raised in the Philadelphia area think of one thing when we think of patriotic brew and that’d be Yuengling — it’s so well known around here that if you just ask for “lager” in most bars, Yuengling Traditional Lager is what you’ll end up with. The current oldest continually operating brewery in America was built in 1831 on Mahantongo Street Pottsville, PA after a fire destroyed David G. Yuengling’s 3 year old Eagle Brewery. In fact, the recipes for both the Lord Chesterfield Ale and porter date back to 1829. Add to that the fact that Yuengling is now the 2nd largest American owned brewery in the United States after InBev’s acquisition of Anheuser-Busch and I don’t see how much more patriotic it can get. I headed up to Pottsville to take the tour and talk with Dick Yuengling, the fifth generation owner of the brewery and he let me know a couple interesting things. Like many breweries, Yuengling had to switch from beer production to “near beer” — what we might now call non-alcoholic beer — and other products such as dairy (naturally due to experience in refrigeration) during Prohibition. What I didn’t realize was that you could still buy their regular Porter at your local pharmacy. Well, you did need a prescription from a doctor so it might not have been the most convenient but it was there! When the prohibition on beer was lifted, Yuengling set out to deliver beer directly to President Roosevelt and their Yuengling Winner Beer was delivered on the same day that it became legal. Yuengling recently released a brand new spring seasonal beer in celebration of their 180th anniversary this year. This beer is brewed in a traditional bock style and is sure to please both craft beer drinkers as well as fans of the flagship Traditional Lager. When I asked about the new beer, Mr. Yuengling informed me that Yuengling had made a bock 40 years earlier but as local breweries competed to bring out their own bocks earlier and earlier — eventually around christmas time — it was decided to drop the bock to avoid any more of that craziness. Oh, and by the way, if you are wondering what a goat has to do with bock beer, it’s simply a german word for a male goat — similar to the english word buck. I also learned that while there are currently no plans for a summer seasonal from Yuengling, we can expect a new seasonal this fall but it hasn’t definitely been decided what we’ll see. Yuengling Oktoberfest anyone? To this day, Dick Yuengling credits much of the success of the brewery to the craft beer movement, people who were looking for good tasting beer and variety were able to find something they were looking for amongst Yuengling’s brews that they couldn’t find elsewhere and the company is growing ever faster since. In the past ten years, two new breweries have been added and Yuengling has expanded greatly. I think we can expect to see more and more good things from America’s Oldest Brewery in our future.
There are even more beers that pay homage to our homebrewing founding fathers, one such is Samuel Adams made by the Boston Beer Co — the largest American owned brewing company. While the real Sam Adams may not have made the tastiest brews (he apparently ran the brewery he inherited into the ground,) the Sam Adams line of beers sure do include some mighty tasty beverages. Not only are there the usual suspects you see everywhere, but contests are held annually for the best homebrew recipes from employees and the rest of us. Now that is beer by the people for the people! If you’d like to pick these up, look for the Longshot Competition winners cases. To prove that Boston Beer Company wants to stand united, last year they offered to sell their excess hops at cost to brewers that had trouble securing their own due to rising prices.
It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find why America is built on a foundation of beer, we’re a nation of beer lovers. From the days of brewing revolutionaries like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, all the way up to our new pioneers such as Kehoe, Yuengling and Koch we have had brave souls willing to dedicate their lives to the betterment of their country and their country’s brews. So crack open a Jefferson’s Tavern Ale, Yuengling Black and Tan, or Sam Adams Summer Ale and celebrate the birth of our nation in the same spirit that it was created in. Like the guys at Yards say, “Revolutionary Times Call for Revolutionary Ales.”