DC Beer
Cream Ale.png
Uncategorized

Examining the History of Milds in DC

Wanting to bookend May the following article does just that, the same way we opened in the first week of May by writing on Mild Month in the US. So we're closing May out with another article about Mild. We've set our dials on the wayback machine to show how Mild was covered in the Washington press over 150 years ago. We'll also highlight Mild's historical and contemporary descriptions. In The National Republican from 1861, mild ale shared a page with cream ale, stock ale, and lager beer. Even back then, Mild Ale was keeping quite the company.
 
While all of these styles have been brewed in DC in the 21st century, it seems lager has fared the best in terms of popularity and how similarly it is still brewed. Many DC breweries produce lager year round, and it can be found at the District's brewpubs as well. Continental versions of the product are pouring at beer gardens as we speak, and cans and bottles from various producers in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, are plentiful on the market. The same cannot be said for Cream Ale, Mild Ale, or Sparkling Ale.
 
Just to situate the reader and provide some context, here is what was happening in DC in 1861, courtesy of the Library of Congress:

"With the outbreak of hostilities in April 1861, it became necessary to begin preparing the defenses of Washington, DC. In 1857, Albert Boschke, a German born civil engineer, published his Map of Washington City, District of Columbia, seat of the federal government: respectfully dedicated to the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of North America which showed, for the first time, the location of every structure in the city as of the publication date."

Checkout Boschke's 1857 and 1861 map of the 'ten mile square' here

1861 is also a date of great import as it was the first year Robert Portner began operating in Alexandria. He and his business partner Frederick Recker, had ventured down from New York while Portner visited a cousin of his stationed, as so many Union soldiers were, in Alexandria. As Garrett Peck writes in his book Capital Beer: "The two friends decided to buy a grocery store at King and St. Asaph streets, a store they named Portner and Recker. It opened on September 2, 1861. (The store is now the site of Columbia Firehouse, 109 S. St. Asaph Street.)" The grocers sold beer from New York and by 1862 a brewery was born. "The Portner and Company brewery opened on the northeast corner of King and Fayette streets and brewed almost 2,000 barrels of beer during the war." Peck goes on to write, "In the decades after the war, Portner would become the largest brewer in the South."

Inside the contemporary boundary of the District, John Kozel, a German immigrant from Wurttemberg, operated a small brewery at Ninth and M Streets, NW. In 1861, he moved to a larger facility at 43 N Street, NW. Kozel's advertisements list his as  a lager and weiss beer brewery. Ernst Loeffler (ad below) also ran a brewery and "pleasure garden" nearby on the corner of New York Avenue and First street. On the same page as Barclay & Perkins mild ale and mild porter is "Cream Ale" from Philadelphia, and Loeffler's "lager beer."

In the 1860 Census, Loeffler was listed as a "lager beer brewer" so not much for Washington mild ale! It is of interest to beer historians that both English mild and Washington-brewed lager shared the same copy space. The following text is taken from Loeffler's ad in the Republican:

Pleasure Garden

"Ernest Loeffler takes this method to announce to his friends and the public generally that he has opened his garden, on the corner of N.Y. avenue, and First street, for the reception of visiters for the season. Music on Mondayand Thursday evenings, and sacred concerts on Sunday evenings. He has always a large supply of refreshments, wines, liquors, &c. Also, the very best lager beer from his own brewery. He also furnishes lager beer to persons throughout the city. A bowling alley and gymnasium have been fitted up for the accommodation of visiters. May 24."
The next reference to mild ale, also appearing in the The National Republic, comes on July 13, 1861, in a small piece on "the late count Cavour" who visited the "Barclay and Perkins's brewery out of curiosity to see the place where Marshal Haynau was flogged." Flogging of the "Habsburg Tiger" aside, the the Italian Prime Minister's bender was reported in The National Republican:
 
"He was so delighted that he could not refuse the hospitality of the sturdy brewers, who pressed upon him the various kinds of malt liquor. He began with mild porter, and went up to the strongest stout; then renewed the attack on mild ale, and finished with XXXX. All went well enough while he was in the cool vaults, but, like many other people who have gone over this remarkable brewery, when he came into the open air he saw three or four broughams (carriages) instead of one."
Surely it was not the mild porter, nor the renewed attack on mild ale, that did the Prime Minister in.
 
Though the mild ale was not brewed in Washington, the next account was published in a Washington paper. It is also interesting to note that in the 1861 paper there is not only a mention of English mild and DC lager, but also, Cream Ale and Sparkling Stock Ale from Philadelphia:
 
Cream Ale! Cream Ale! The subscriber has the pleasure of informing the public that he has become sole agent for the sale of Martin's Justly Celebrated Cream Ale, appreciated by all who have tried it as a nutritive, delicious, wholesome beverage. He has also been appointed sole agent for the sale of Bergler's Philadelphia Sparkling Stock Ale.
Thanks to these brewers we can now enjoy a quality mild in DC and throughout the country. Though its worth mentioning that if we put our brewers today to historical standards, nearly every beer on the market would be mild, at least in the historical sense. That is because Mild Ale was typically turned around in 3-4 weeks. We seldom see stock ale, or a beer released on our market that has been aged for 6-12 months. When we do, it tends to be a big deal, or at least something the brewer wants you to know about. 
 
Of course historically mild was very different than the mild we have enjoyed in May. As is the case with nearly all beer styles, they change over time. Although Mild Ale has changed quite a bit from 1861 to today, lager has fared well and is rather historically accurate in 2015. The same can be said for Cream Ale, which though not brewed as faithfully to history as lager is, is brewed in a similar style. But sparkling stock ale? I'd love to see a DC Brewer recreate that in the style of Philadelphia Sparkling Stock Ale or the Sparkling Ale as it was made by the Arlington Brewing Company of, you guessed it, Arlington, Virginia. Hopefully you'll have a chance to enjoy a well-made local mild over the next three days. And hopefully we'll see more cream ale and a Sparkling or even a Sparkling Stock Ale pop up around town.

Related posts

DCBeer Releases SAVOR 2018 “Can’t Miss” Beer List

Bill DeBaun

EPIC Beer Dinner at Fire Works Pizza 6/21

Michael Stein

Port City to release ONE: First Anniversary Stout

Andrew Nations

Leave a Comment

Sign up now for the Weekly Pour!

Get the latest news, events, and info about what's happening in craft beer in the DMV delivered directly to you every week!