President’s Day – a Celebration of Beer
Most Americans are aware that founding father Samuel Adams was a brewer. In fact his brewery is still going strong today. But many don’t know that most of America’s early Presidents were craft brewers including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The entire tapestry of Colonial America and the revolution it spawned was woven in beer halls. Virtually every important event in American history leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence took place in a pub. Let’s face it, to pick a fight with the most powerful and vicious empire in the world requires the kind of courage that only comes from a bottle.
In the early days of New World colonization New England winters were too cold and too lengthy to grow the grapes necessary for wine making and we had yet to discover the rich volcanic soil and perfect climate of Napa Valley. Additionally the area was settled mainly by the beer drinking English and Netherlanders who brought their centuries old brewing techniques with them.
Fermented drinks have served a crucial part of mankind’s evolution. It is no overstatement that without the invention of fermentation humans may not be here. After all, water has only been a dependable source for hydration for around a hundred years. Prior to that drinking water was a crap shoot. Remember, rivers are nature’s restrooms. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.”
In the early days of America, industry was haphazard. The corporations and conglomerates that dominate our economy now did not exist then. That included large breweries. As a result most townships and many homes had their own brew houses. Washington’s Virginia homestead, Mount Vernon, had its own brew house and Washington had his own signature recipe:
“To Make Small Beer: Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. — Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Molasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask — leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.”
Thomas Jefferson (3rd President) loved his ale and his wife, Martha, brewed beer at Monticello. Jefferson once opined, “Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the tempter, cheers the spirit, and promotes good health.” Likewise his predecessor in the White House, John Adams, also considered his favorite drink to be Abigail Adams’ home brewed ales and ciders. Adams was a sharp cookie having begun studying at Harvard at the age of fifteen where his daily breakfast was said to be nothing more than bread and beer.
James Madison (4th President) was so enamored by beer that he actually proposed the establishment of a national brewery and the appointment of a new cabinet member, the Secretary of Beer. You can’t make that kind of stuff up. But the party ended with James Monroe (5th President) who was puritanical in his notions towards alcohol, a major bone of contention between the President and his youngest son. Willie Monroe was known at Oberlin College for his epic drinking escapades.
Throughout the years other Presidents have had their own stories regarding beer. Abraham Lincoln (16th President) once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Upon the repeal of Prohibition, Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President) was quoted saying, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”
Ulysses S. Grant (18th President), a legendary drunk, once lived in St. Louis, Missouri at a place now known as Grant’s Cabin. Grant’s Cabin was purchased by August A. Busch of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company and today is a popular tourist destination annually hosting some 24 million guests who come to see life as it used to be, drink free beer samples and have their pictures taken with the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales. No discussion of Presidents and beer would be complete without mentioning the acrid brew marketed by the bungling brother of Jimmy Carter (39th President) known aptly as Billy Beer. And who can forget President Obama’s embarrassing “beer summit?”
So what has become of those old beer recipes our founding fathers used to forge this mighty nation? Thankfully Yards Brewery in Philadelphia has started a line of premium craft brews they call Ales of Revolution which feature the original recipes enjoyed during the founding of our nation including George Washington’s Tavern Porter, Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale and Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale.
Additionally Starr Hill Brewery has recently announced the launch of Monticello Reserve Ale, the official beer of Monticello. They have planned a free tasting for the launch this Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 21, 12 p.m.- 3 p.m. The tasting will be held at the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center Museum Shop. The ceremony will feature the tapping of the very first keg followed by free tastings.
So if we celebrate New Year’s with champagne why not slam a pint for President’s Day? It’s like patriotic or something. I know I will be spending part of this three day weekend attending the Top of the Hops Craft Brew Festival in Biloxi, MS and I encourage you to do your civic duty by responsibly enjoying a cold one as well.
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” Benjamin Franklin.