What the Colonists Might Have Quaffed

Written by Greg Kitsock for The Washington Post

Yards Brewing Co.’s Ales of the Revolution are beers with a history chaser. The Philadelphia microbrewery, which opened in 1995 in a building the size of a toolshed and now occupies a former skateboard rink, has attempted to replicate the brews our Colonial forefathers would have downed while talking sedition in wayside taverns.

General Washington’s Tavern Porter takes its cue from a home-brew recipe, preserved in the New York Public Library, that Washington jotted down while he was serving in the Continental Army. It calls for fermenting a “small beer” from molasses, evidently a more common ingredient than barley in that era.

Yards President Tom Kehoe compromised, beginning with a base rich in dark, heavily roasted malts, then adding four pounds per barrel of baking molasses during the second fermentation. The sugar-rich molasses kicks up the alcohol to 7 percent by volume, but enough residual sweetness remains in the beer to balance the sharper, coffeelike flavors.

Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale presented a bit of a dilemma, Kehoe says. Jefferson brewed extensively at Monticello, but in his voluminous records he never recorded a complete beer recipe. Rather, he left the fine details to a slave named Peter Hemings, brother of the more famous Sally Hemings.

Kehoe scoured our third president’s farm records and “used whatever was available at Monticello in formulating the beer.” In addition to barley, Tavern Ale is brewed from 30 percent wheat (a major crop at Monticello), plus small amounts of corn, oats, rye and honey. At 8 percent alcohol, it’s more potent than the porter. “They made them strong back then to hide their mistakes,” Kehoe says with a laugh.
Continue reading “What the Colonists Might Have Quaffed”