In 1774 the first Continental Congress was convening, America was starting to take shape, and one beer was all the rage in Philadelphia: Mr. Hare’s Porter. To say this beer was popular is an understatement. Many of the attendees of the Continental Congress enjoyed a pint or two of the porter regularly, but George Washington and John Adams were the beer’s biggest fans. Washington was such a fan that during the Revolutionary War he would regularly send for the beer to be shipped to wherever he was at the front. Washington even tried to recreate the brew himself when he retired to Mount Vernon, though he was never able to exactly copy it.
The porter, and Mr. Hare, seemingly came out of nowhere and exploded in popularity at dramatic speed. Thanks to an impending war, and a desire to stop buying English goods, Robert Hare went from brewer to socialite in mere seconds. It’s a quintessential American tale: make a product people demand and follow your product’s rise to riches – that rise might even involve a stint in politics if you’re lucky.
Robert Hare arrived in Philadelphia in 1773 with the desire to follow in the footsteps of his English father by establishing a brewery. At the time, traditional English porters were a popular drink in the colonies, but those brews were still being made in England and shipped over. Hare saw an opportunity. With colonists beginning to desire American products instead of continuing to line the pockets of the English, Hare crafted a true English porter stateside. Most history records indicate it was the first porter ever made in the United States, and it was a hit from the first brew.
The founding fathers were craving English beer, but as they wouldn’t be caught dead supporting the Crown, Robert Hare’s porter was the perfect solution. Many of the United States’ Founding Fathers were famous for enjoying the beer — frequently — during the first and second Continental Congress, but John Adams loved the beer so much he wrote his wife Abigail about it (see the original letter here).
I drink no Cyder, but feast upon Phyladelphia Beer, and Porter. A Gentleman, one Mr. Hare, has lately set up in this City a Manufactory of Porter, as good as any that comes from London. I pray We may introduce it into the Massachusetts. It agrees with me, infinitely better than Punch, Wine, or Cyder, or any other Spirituous Liquor. — John Adams to his wife Abigail Adams on September 29, 1774
But no one was as big a fan of the porter as the first President, George Washington. Washington loved it so much, he’d often request the porter be waiting for him at his home in Mount Vernon when he’d return during a break from governing.
Will you be so good as to desire Mr. Hare to have if he continues to make the best Porter in Philadelphia 3 gross of his best put up for Mount Vernon? as the President means to visit that place in the recess of Congress and it is probable there will be a large demand for Porter at that time. — George Washington’s aide Tobias Lear to Clement Biddle on June 20, 1790
This success made Robert Hare a rich man. He married into the well-off Willing family and this connection launched him into Philadelphia society, allowing him to begin a career in politics. In 1789, Hare was elected as a representative to Pennsylvania’s state continental congress, and he would eventually become chair of the Pennsylvania Senate.
Hare would leave a lasting political legacy, but his mythical porter – that for a period of about ten years was all anyone seemingly wanted to drink – all but disappeared in 1790, just as Hare was getting his political career started. During that year, Hare’s brewery suffered a major fire and all was lost. It seems after the fire, Hare turned his attention to politics, and Washington and his fellow politicians found other porters.
With the fire, the recipe was lost, but based on descriptions written about the beer, as well as considering the other types of porters made around the same time, some homebrewers have attempted to recreate it – after all, it’d be pretty cool to taste a beer Washington, Adams, and the rest of our Founder Fathers were drinking when they signed the Declaration of Independence.
Here’s the recipe for Hare’s Porter from The Homebrewers’ Recipe Guide:
- 3 ½ Pounds Amber Malt Extract
- 3 ½ Pounds Dark Malt Extract
- 1 ½ Cups Molasses
- ¾ Pound Crystal Malt
- ½ Pound Black Patent Malt
- ¼ Pound Chocolate Malt
- 1 ½ Ounces Northern Brewer Hops
- 1 ½ Ounces Cascade Hops
- 1 Package American Ale Yeast
- ¾ Cup Corn Sugar
Place crushed crystal malt, black patent malt and chocolate malt in water and steep at 155 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove spent grains, add malt extracts, molasses and Northern Brewer hops, and boil for 1 hour. Remove from heat, add Cascade hops, and let steep for 10 minutes. Cool wort and pitch yeast. Ferment for 10-14 days. Bottle, using corn sugar. Age in bottle 10 to 14 days.