The Harts of Trois-Rivières, QC, or Three Rivers as it was often called, were a founding family of Quebec under the new British Regime. Three Rivers is a small city on the St. Lawrence River half-way between Montreal and Quebec City.
The Harts are notable in Canadian history for another reason: their Jewish faith. They were the first Jews to settle in Quebec. Under the French regime, Jews were not permitted entry as the territory was barred to non-Catholics. It’s not part of the story here, but their Judaism continually impacted the Harts in various areas of public affairs. In the wake of British rule and the Quebec Act (1774), many British incomers, or others speaking English associated with them, established businesses in Quebec. The first Hart, Aaron Hart, came to Quebec c. 1760 with Jeffery Amherst’s forces and was a commissary officer, or possibly a civilian sutler (purveyor of goods to the Army on expedition).
Aaron’s business affairs were very successful, he was a retail goods merchant (hardware and other staples) who also imported and exported goods. He ended by acquiring extensive landholdings, including some lands formerly belonging to the French colonial aristocracy.
One of his sons was Ezekiel Hart who was born in Three Rivers in 1770. The Harts were Ashkenazi Jews, not Sephardic ones. Typically in this period, Jewish merchants coming to the New World under British auspices were Sephards because most Jews residing in England were. Aaron Hart was born either in Germany, or England to a father from Bavaria, accounts vary. But being Ashkenazi, he came to Quebec as a minority within a minority within a minority, one might say.
In December, 1796, Ezekiel and two brothers set up a maltings and a brewery in Three Rivers called M & E Hart Company. There is a reasonably detailed account of the brewery in this biographical entry on Ezekiel Hart. (My account is indebted to that entry, and others in the same Dictionary of Canadian Biography, for some of the information here). Ezekiel left the partnership some years later to focus on other businesses and it seems the brewery went out of business by the mid-1800s: information on its fate is sparse.*
Rather improbably, a recipe for their beer survives. You can read it here, preserved in the archives of the Quebec government. (Click where it states “voir les image(s)“). Various sources attribute a c.1800 to it, although the exact year is not known. In the historiography of early Quebec breweries, very little is said of this brewery, leading me to think it did not last more than ten or 20 years.* That, and the way manuscript is written – it appears scribbled on the reverse side of an invoice or ledger document – suggests to me it was written very soon after the brewery was established.
While more a series of simple directions, the document may constitute the oldest surviving North American commercial recipe for beer. One recipe known to be older is George Washington’s for “small beer” from the 1770s, however, that recipe is a domestic one I believe. John Molson in Montreal had been brewing for 10 years or so, so perhaps recipes exist in the Molson family archive, but I am not aware of any that have been published.
Returning to the Harts’ beer, we can draw at least the following from the recipe:
– it was all-barley malt, no sugar was used or other grains
– the malt was steeped for 2-3 days and turned regularly before being dried
– malt was kilned like this: “for pale malt, slow fire, for porter, a high fire” [got that?]
– the malt was mashed with water at 176-180 F for 30 minutes
– it was allowed to stand for two and a half hours
– it was boiled for 50 minutes
– 1/2-1 lb hops were added per minot. (A pre-metric French measure, a minot was about 39 liters. I calculate this as about two to four lbs hops per English barrel of finished beer, certainly in the range for common ale and porter of the day).
I’d infer the ale was “mild” – probably not long-stored and got the lesser amount of hops, while the porter was kept longer and got the larger amount, but this is speculative, and possibly the different additions depended on quality of the hops, or other factors.
There are directions for placing the beer in the “working tub” when cooled to 52 F, and then further directions for the cleansing which mention temperatures again. It’s a little hard to read, if anyone can do better to interpret it, please let me know.
The Hart Bros grew their own hops – quite successfully, it seems. Another source (see my recent entries) from later in the 1800s confirms that hops were grown in the Three Rivers area mid-century.
What has happened to the Harts, I mean the descendants? I don’t know other than that some moved to New York City at some point. The family had long had connections in New York State and Ezekiel was partly educated there. A Henry Hart, brother of Aaron, was established at Albany, NY, for example. One source suggests some Harts who stayed in Quebec intermarried and became assimilated into French Canadian society. Yet, another says that most of the descendants retained their Jewish faith to this day.
Ezekiel helped found a historic Sephardic synagogue in Montreal, so I’d guess some people there might know what happened to the clan. (Sephardic is not a typo, most Jews in town were Sephards then, so he went with the flow, to use our vernacular).
The descendants didn’t continue the brewing side for very long – perhaps other businesses were more profitable, or the English tour de main with beer trumped the Harts’. Another Hart had notable success though with rum. Lehman Hart, another brother of Aaron, founded a rum business in Penzance, Cornwall which later moved to London. It is famous to this day under the more familiar name Lemon Hart. (No, I didn’t make it up, it’s true).
But points to Ezekiel and his brothers for trying their hand at the more temperate beer. Their recipe, rude and hastily written as it surely was, shows they made something of value, it was real beer, not some factitious knock-off.
Note re images used: The image of Ezekiel Hart is available from Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, and was sourced here. The second image, of a handsome Victorian manse in Trois Rivières, QC, was sourced from this Quebec tourist site. Both are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Subsequent to writing the above, I noted that a 2012 book by Denis Vaugeois on the early history of the Hart family states that Dow Brewery of Montreal purchased the Hart Brewery from Moses Hart in the “1830s”. Moses was one of the brothers who had founded the business in 1796. The brewery lasted, therefore, at least a generation. It is possible hop culture was continued in the area after the sale, at least for a time. See this link for further details (in French) on the book mentioned and its author.