Beer and sea glass bottles in Wilmington, Delaware

The 12th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017  and Sunday, September 24, 2017 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware along the revitalized Christana River waterfront.     Wilmington is a city in Delaware on the Christina and Delaware rivers. Downtown’s early-20th-century DuPont Building is part of the local DuPont family legacy, which is also evidenced at the Hagley Museum. Those grounds include the 1802 DuPont gunpowder works and the family’s Georgian-style home. The Old Swedes Church, between the Christina River and Brandywine Creek, is from 1698.  European settlement had begun with the arrival of the Swedes and Dutch in the 1630’s and were the first European settlers in the Delaware Valley.

This year the North American Sea Glass Festival is excited to take place in one of the first locations in the United States to brew and bottle beer.  Why is this fun fact relevant to our festival?   Because as all sea glass collectors know, beer bottles and their colors, clear (white), amber and green are still plentiful to find and still makes sea glass collectors happy to find, even if they are considered sea glass common colors.

Here’s some interesting information and excerpts from Delaware Beer History about the history of beer (and bottling!!) in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Brewing began in Delaware with the arrival of the first sizeable European settlement.  Shortly after establishing a trading fort, Fort Christina, at present day Wilmington in late March 1638, Swedish and Finnish settlers immediately began making preparations to grow barley and locate hops for brewing beer.  Beer was a staple of the European diet in the 17th century, as it was recognized as the healthful alternative to drinking water.  Back in their native homelands, water supplies were often polluted and unsafe for drinking.  Of course, they had not yet discovered that boiling  during the brewing process killed bacteria.  Ale was consumed throughout the day by men, women and children, though the latter two groups tended to be served drink with a lower alcohol content.”

Bavarian-Luxburger label (John Medkeff collection)

Skip ahead a few hundred years and prohibition stopped beer operations in America.  However, one of Delaware’s beer pioneers, Carl H. Eisenmenger maintained ownership of Wilmington’s Bavarian Brewery at 5th & DuPont Streets.   “Eisenmenger, who understood that Prohibition would likely soon be a reality, had began brewing a ‘near beer’ cereal beverage as early as 1918.  In 1919, the Bavarian Brewing Company officially changed its name to the Peninsula Products Company, Inc.  The company continued with its Quex ‘near beer’ product and added a line of soft drinks.  After an initial surge in business, the venture ultimately failed and, in 1925, Peninsula closed its doors for good.   Eisenmenger, who maintained ownership of the 5th & DuPont property, rented the complex to other soft drink companies and businesses.  He temporarily withdrew from the beverage industry but would return again to revive brewing operations after repeal of the 18th Amendment.

When Repeal came in April 1933, Eisenmenger immediately formed a stock company and began working on plans to revive the brewing business.   Delaware granted Bavarian-Luxburger the state’s first post-Prohibition brewery license on September 1933.  After securing a Federal brewing license a few weeks later,  the company began production.  On November 27, the first cases of bottled Bavarian Beer finally left the plant.”

Read more Delaware Beer History here>

After the North American Sea Glass Festival, meander along the Christina waterfront to find modern day craft brewers to quench your thirst, such as Iron Hill Brewery, located a short walk from the Chase Center on the Riverfront.

View a map of the Wilmington Riverfront here>

Hartmann and Fehrenbach Brewery, had its origins with the “Father of Lager Beer in Delaware”.  The year 1890 also saw the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewing Company expand their operations into bottling,  which were beautifully embossed with the company’s logo, the mythical winged stallion, Pegasus.

While other regions in America have been better known historically as centers of beer production, few have been brewing as long as Delaware brewers.  For nearly four centuries, First State brewers have been producing high quality, award-winning ales and lagers.  Explore the state’s fascinating and, until now, largely unknown brewing history on this site and in the pages of the book Brewing in Delaware by John Medkeff, Jr.

More fun facts about beer history and how to date bottles:

“Until the late 1800s, most beer was sold in kegs since bottled beer had to be consumed quickly or it would spoil. But the advent of pasteurization in 1876 made it safe to bottle fermented products, and along with America’s growing rail system, the bottled-beer industry boomed.

In the early 1890s, Congress passed taxes on bottled beer, along with legislation allowing companies to bottle their brews onsite and bypass an archaic process of barreling, transporting, and packaging their drinks into bottles elsewhere. Prior to this action, beer bottles often featured a bottling credit on them in addition to the name of the brewer, which is one way to date a beer bottle. While early beer bottles came in a variety of glass colors, including brown, blue, green, and clear, the first American bottles were made from ceramic stoneware. This style was often used for dark beers like porters and stouts or non-alcoholic drinks like root beer or ginger ale.

Since bottling was costly, many early containers were embossed with a company’s name to help ensure their safe return, although this didn’t deter bootleggers from reusing them. At the time, many would-be brewers made their products out of their homes and used their bottles for multiple beverages, so some of these embossed bottles never even included the word “beer” on them (the brewer’s company and city names were all a customer needed to know). As these fledgling enterprises grew into mature companies, though, phrases like “Brewing Co.” were added. Less common embossing features included a company’s phone number and graphic icons like animal mascots. William Painter’s invention of the single-use “crown cap” in 1892 sealed the deal for mass-produced beer bottles. The innovative design, with its crimped edge and cork lining, overtook some 1,500 different styles of bottle stoppers used prior to 1892. The crown cap also led to more uniform, machine-made bottles.” – Collectors Weekly

Have you found old bottles, beer, soda, liquor, medicines?   The body of a bottle has an assortment of characteristics or diagnostic features that can assist a person trying to date or at least tell a more complete story of a given bottle.  Learn how to date your bottles on the Society for Historical Archaeology website here>

Happy hunting!

Excerpts in this post from Collectorsweekly.com and DelawareBeerHistory.com 

Find out more about the 2017 North American Sea Glass Festival in Wilmington, Delaware here>

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