There are many fine craft breweries scattered throughout Pennsylvania’s Americana Region in the 21st century. But, beer has been brewing in Reading and Berks County for a long time. Since, in fact, more than a dozen years before the United States declared independence. Historians pinpoint 1763 as the year that beer making was introduced in Reading.
Henry Eckert’s small brewery was located on the east side of Fourth Street between Franklin and Chestnut streets. It was a fairly humble operation, but substantial and successful enough that it continued to thrive although it changed hands several times, and the beer kept flowing there to and through the Revolutionary War. In fact, its brewmaster in 1776, John Spohn, served as a captain in the Colonial army.
It was recorded that at the height of its production, around 1796, the brewery produced three types of beer: Strong, sold at six cents a quart; Middle, at three cents; and Small, at one cent a quart. Townsfolk could fill up their own buckets, pots, or other containers at the brewery or imbibe on the premises.
That first known brewery in Reading ceased operations in 1827. But, many more would follow. As the 19th century continued, Philadelphia became the epicenter of beer brewing in the United States and Pennsylvania was the leading producer of beer. Soon, Reading was to take its place, as we learn in this detailed History of Brewing, as written by O. Henry Hellstrom in the January, 1942, edition of “The Historical Review of Berks County,” the quarterly journal published by the Berks History Center. (Used with permission – The History of Brewing provides an account of the Reading’s re-emergence as a brewing town, starting with Frederick Laurer. Laurer was a prosperous brewery owner, who took over his father’s brewery in 1835, and made beer until his death in 1874.)
Today, local craft breweries carry on the area’s beer tradition. This weekend, the Berks Brewers Guild will debut McKinley’s Prosperity Stout at Reading Fire + Ice Fest, January 18-19. Guild members, Broken Chair Brewery, Chatty Monks, Oakbrook Brewing Company, Saucony Creek Brewing Company and the 1787 Brewing Company collaborated on the production of McKinley’s Prosperity Stout. It will be served by Saucony Creek Brewing Company at the festival. Proceeds will be used to help in the restoration of the William McKinley in City Park. It sits next to the Frederick Lauer monument on Perkiomen Avenue. Be sure to sample the beer, and raise your glass to honor the beer-making tradition of Berks County.
Article by Charles J. Adams III