Beer in Baltimore – Two and Half Centuries of Sudsy Brews


The Natty Boh man atop Natty Boh Towers.

Baltimore is a city known for its breweries and is not afraid to show it – driving into the city on Route 95, travelers are sure to see the mustachioed Natty Boh man winking at them from the top of Natty Boh Tower.  National Bohemian beer, for which the Natty Boh man was named, was first brewed in Baltimore by the National Brewing Company in 1885.  Baltimore’s love affair with sudsy brews goes as far back as the mid-eighteenth century.  The first brewery began operation in Baltimore in 1748; since that time, over 115 breweries have operated in the city (Arnett et al. 1999:274).

In 1983, the newly-formed Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted an excavation at the site of the former Clagett’s Brewery, at the corner of President and Lombard Streets.  Thomas Peters opened the Baltimore Strong Beer Brewery in 1784, locating his operation along Jones Falls to take advantage of the water available for brewing the ales and beers, for carrying away brewery waste products and for constructing a wharf for export of his products.  The brewery operated under as many as ten owners (including Eli Clagett) until 1880, when the property was sold to the Maryland Burial Case Company (Akerson 1990).


Two of the malting tiles found at the Clagett’s Brewery site.  The tile on the left shows the malting floor surface side, while the tile on the right shows the underside, with the deep cell structure.

In addition to discovering the foundation of the brewery’s malthouse, and the on-site brick townhome and privy of Peters and his family, a number of artifacts related to the brewery operations were discovered during the 1983 excavation.  Several dumps of nineteenth-century bottles, surely used for the brewery products, were uncovered.  More unusual were over three dozen perforated unglazed ceramic tiles used as flooring for the malting kiln.  Manufactured in Bridgewater, England by two different companies in operation in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, each tile measures one-foot square and contained 1600 small holes (Bromwich 1984).  These holes allowed hot air to enter the drying room from the floor below, preventing the sprouted barley from growing so that it could be used to produce malt (Comer et al. 1984).

tiles detail

Detail of one of the tiles, showing the stamped mark of the Hammill Company, in operation in Bridgewater, England, between 1866 and 1883.

Machine-made malting bricks, like the ones found at the Clagett’s Brewery site, began to be produced in the  mid-nineteenth century (York Archaeological Trust 2015).  Although this 1892 illustration of a kiln house of a brewery does not show the tile floor (which is covered with grain), it clearly shows the process of heat drying the barley.

kiln house

Lithograph from an 1892 publication of the F. A. Poth Brewing Company of Philadelphia (Mueller 1892).  The kilns are shown on the ground floor, with the floors of drying barley above.

In 1850, Clagett’s brewery was producing as many as 10,000 barrels of English ale and heavy beer annually.  There is no evidence that he was aging (or lagering) beer at his business.  With the arrival of immigrants from Germany beginning in mid-century, a number of breweries producing light German-style lagers opened in the city.  An examination of the 1869 Sasche Map of Baltimore shows at least fifteen breweries in the city, clustering along Belair Road and in Canton (Sasche 1870). Some of the breweries had beer gardens and gazebos for the enjoyment of customers.  The brewery industry remained vibrant in Baltimore until Prohibition began in 1920.  Today beer production appears to be making a comeback in Baltimore, with a number of craft breweries operating in the city and a craft beer festival taking place in early November of 2018.



Akerson, Louise.  1990  Baltimore’s Material Culture: 1780-1904; An Archaeological Perspective.  Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Technical Series No. 4.  Ms. on file, Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

Arnett, Earl, Robert J. Brugger, and Edward C. Papenfuse.  1999  Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore.

Bromwich, David.  1984  Letter addressed to Charles Cheek, dated April 5, 1984.  Somerset County Library, Taunton, England.  In BCUA files at MAC Lab.

Comer, Elizabeth Anderson, Charles Cheek and Elizabeth Hartley.  1984  The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig:  Excavations at an Eighteenth-Century Industry.  Draft report on file at MAC Lab.

Mueller, A. M. J.   1892  Souvenir Album.  F. A. Poth Brewing Company, Philadelphia.  Avil Printing Company.

Sasche, E.   1870  E. Sachse, & Co.’s bird’s eye view of the city of Baltimore, 1869. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.

York Archaeological Trust.  2015  A Guide to Ceramic Building Materials.  Web based report 2015.


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