Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Four ways beer helped to start our nation

June 30, 2011 by NCC Staff


Editor's Note: The National Constitution Center's summer exhibition Discover the Real George Washington opens to the public tomorrow.  The General George's Beer Garden preview event tonight is sold out.

It probably won’t surprise you that our friends at the Yards Brewing Company have a fresh take on the meaning of “revolutionary ferment.”  As sponsor of this evening’s General George’s Beer Garden, they shared with Constitution Daily the following account of four ways beer helped to start our nation.

George Washington, Surveyor. Credit: Flickr photo by BuBBy

1. As relations with Great Britain became increasingly confrontational and the American Revolution began to ferment, patriots realized that they, too, must begin to ferment and forgo imports.  At the time, the country was heavily dependent on imported supplies of ale.  George Washington supported fellow patriot Samuel Adams’ call to boycott English products, which included one of his favorites, porter. Also on the boycott list: beer, ale and malt.

 2. Once the Revolution had begun Washington, of course, was named Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. For a time he made his headquarters in the home of George Emlen, just outside of Philadelphia. Given Washington’s appreciation of porter, he must have found it congenial  that Emlen was a commercial brewer and descendant of one of Philadelphia’s earliest brewing families. 

3. During the war, Washington made sure that soldiers were supplied with their rations of beer.  According to a 1775 pronouncement, every soldier in the new Continental army would receive a ration of “1 quart of spruce beer or cyder per man per day.” 

4. According to one account, in the years before he became president, Washington was a steady customer of Robert Hare, a Philadelphia brewer who was probably the first domestic manufacturer of porter. 

After the war, Washington’s attention turned from beer to whiskey. In 1797 at his Mount Vernon estate, he began making whiskey and soon built one of the largest distilleries in America. At its peak in 1799, it produced over 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey. It brought in so much money that it became one of Washington’s most successful commercial enterprises.

Washington's entrepreunerial streak is just one of many hidden aspects of his character revealed in  Discover the Real George Washingtonan exhibition created by Mt. Vernon and on view at the National Constitution Center through September 5. Throughout the run of the exhibition Constitution Daily will feature posts on Washington and his legacy.


Sign up for our email newsletter