The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Brewing and Freemasonry

I was recently invited to give a talk at Freedom Lodge No. 118 in Lovettsville, Virginia and then at my mother lodge about brewing and Freemasonry. Freedom Lodge was a fun lodge to visit and afterward we went to a new brew pub a few doors down.

Here is the text of my presentation. Anyone who wants to use this presentation is welcome to. Just let folks know where it came from.

Brewing is truly alchemy. This is as good as the mystery of how to turn lead into gold. The way brewing works is really quite simple. Beer consists of four basic ingredients:

  • Water
  • Malted barley (or malt extract)
  • Hops
  • Yeast

The process of making beer is simple:

  1. Soak malted grain in hot water to extract the sugars (mashing)
  2. Rinse the grain (sparging) to wash out lingering sugars
  3. Boil the collected liquid, called wort
  4. Add hops and other flavorings
  5. Cool the wort and add yeast
  6. Let it ferment for two weeks and transfer it to a secondary fermenter (Note: most of the fermentation takes place during the first five days or so, and the rest of the fermentation time is simply for clarifying and for the yeast to do the last 80% of its job.)
  7. Let it clarify for two weeks or until it looks clear enough. A dark beer like a porter may need less time to clarify because you will not see the cloudiness that might be in it. Of course, you can see it in the bottom of a bottle if you package it too early, so it is still good to let more of the particulate fall out if you can wait a little longer.
  8. Bottle or keg the finished beer.

This is the basic method of making beer. You can add a lot of extra steps if you want to make a very specific type of beer that requires lots of extra steps. You can also add various exotic flavoring ingredients, such as honey, rosemary, spruce tips, or even bacon. No joke.

The real keys to great brewing, other than having great ingredients and proper methods, are only three: sanitation, temperature control, and time. Beer, especially in its infancy, is a sugary solution and a great growth medium, so proper sanitation is essential. Sanitation will prevent bacteria and other beasties from growing in your beer and allow only your yeast to grow. Temperature control is important because yeast likes to be comfortable and different yeasts like different temperature ranges, and usually rather narrow ranges. Having the right temperature will set up the best environment for your yeast to prosper. Time is important because your beer needs to age. Unlike wines, whose flavors might develop and become better over the span of many years, beer usually hits its peak within a year of being made, and sometimes much sooner than that. All the same, a beer that is two months old is likely to be more palatable than one that is two days old.

Beer is classified under two principle denominations: the ale and the lager. The difference is that ales use ale yeast and lagers use lager yeast. Clear enough for you? Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures, perhaps 60-75 degrees, while lagers are fermented at temperatures around 35-60 degrees. Functionally, that makes lagers harder to brew at home because you need to control the temperature in a range below that which is comfortable.

There is a true overlap between Freemasonry and brewing. As we know, our members come from every part of society, from kings all the way down to lowly writers and photographers like myself, who are typically regarded as pariahs and whose only possible form of social outlet could be a charitable group like Freemasonry. Some famous Masonic brewers include:

  • Alexander Keith, whose beer you might know if you travel to Canada. Bro. Keith was PGM of Nova Scotia under British authority in 1840; under Scottish authority in 1845; and was Grand Master of Nova Scotia after reorganization in 1869.
  • John Molson, Master: St. Paul’s Lodge, Montreal; PGM, Lower Canada 1826 of Molson Brewery (the beer is much better in Canada);
  • George Washington was Master of Alexandria Lodge.
  • Benjamin Franklin was Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania.
  • Frederick G. Yuengling, second generation, and Frank G. Yuengling, third generation operators of the Yuengling Brewery. (D.G. Yuengling, founder, is not known to have been a Mason.) Frederick was a member of Pulaski Lodge No. 216 in Pottsville, PA. Frank’s membership was probably the same lodge, but I could not ascertain it for sure. Pulaski Lodge still works and meets on the third Mondays.

Operative masons, in fact many tradesman and craftsmen, have a tradition of marking their work, which was similar to signing it, before there was widespread literacy. In fact, this is still a common practice in some trades. Wor. Rolf Pemberton of Columbia Lodge told me of a case when he was in Asheville, NC for an extended period and met many of the local craftspeople who were Masons, more especially Royal Arch Masons, who had adopted this old tradition for themselves. Potters, woodworkers, and other artisans who were members of the Craft signed their work with their marks. The local artisan brewers put their mark on the labels of their bottles. For more information on marking your work, I highly recommend joining a Royal Arch chapter. As a Mark Master you learn a good bit about marking your work.

On the topic of marking your work, there is an interesting overlap between one of our more revered Masonic symbols and that of the brewing trades. We are all familiar with the Mogen David or Seal of Solomon – the six-pointed star whose presence we associate today with Judaism and Israel. It is also a symbol of the brewing trade, having its roots in southern Germany. Known as the Bierstern (beer star) or brauerstern (brewer’s star), it was once commonly seen painted on a keg, and its use for this purpose goes back to the 1500s. The true meaning of the symbol is not entirely known today but is thought to refer to the six main ingredients of beer: water, grain, hops, yeast, malt, and brewer. (1)

If you study alchemy, you might find that the Star of David represents a union of the four basic elements – fire, air, water, and earth. All four of these elements are required to make beer: fire to boil the liquid; air for oxygen, which is required for fermentation; water, which is the primary ingredient of beer; and earth, from whose dusty loins spring the vegetable constituents of beer, namely grain and hops. (2)

Although there is an overlap in symbolism, it is unlikely that there is any real connection between the Star of David as seen in Judaism and the Brewer’s Star. (3) In fact, this symbol is found in a number of religious and philosophical traditions whose origins are diverse.

All this brewing is fun stuff. It is good for the soul to create something physical, something you can touch and appreciate in a tactile way. However, there are moral lessons to be learned here as well.

The hydrometer is an instrument used by operative brewers to test specific gravity, from whose numbers they derive the alcohol content in percentage form. But we, as speculative brewers, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of testing the temperance our inner spirits to ensure that our mirth and merriment be kept within due bounds.

The mash tun is an instrument used by operative brewers to extract the sugars, thereby isolating the fermentable ingredients in beer, but is used for the more noble and glorious purpose of extracting the goodness from our hearts and generosity from our spirits for us to share with society and each other.

Brethren, I thank you for your time this evening and thank you for inviting me to talk.


  • Neil Hall-Roberts says:

    Hi Alice,
    I think that I read in one of your posts that you are not yet a Freemason. Is that still true or did I miss read it?
    You have gained a great deal of knowledge in your young life, is it from doing a lot of travelling or from research? Either way we do appreciate your contributions, long may it continue. If you do any contacts to me, please call me Neil as Mr Hall is far too formal. Neil.

    January 18, 2015 at 10:36 am

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