Abraham Lincoln

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.

Half-Yard Ale Glass available at amazonThe 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 Mr. Beerincluded 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 President Beerbetween 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 George Washington's Taven Porterpictures 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.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 1

In the coming months I will be documenting my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, thanks to shows like A&E’s Biography and TFN’s Chefography it appears that the two most import elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Origin of Wannabe TV Chef

Wannabe TV ChefI guess it all started when I was about five years old. My maternal grandmother was down for a visit from her home in Spokane, Washington. My father and brother had taken my grandfather on some manly adventure that I was apparently too young to appreciate. I was left to the women of the house who had decided to prepare a large batch of biscuits for when the men returned.

I watched diligently as my mother sifted flour into a large bowl. She added a few other dry ingredients and finally buttermilk (ick!). She then set about stirring them together. My sisters had pulled out three medium sized cast iron skillets and began smearing bacon grease on the inside of them. My grandmother set the oven for 350 and they each chatted happily. Looking back it was a true Rockwellian moment.

Tired of feeling like the fifth wheel I whined my way into the kitchen. My grandmother took me under her wing most likely to spare the other girls from my childish banter. She set out a large clump of biscuit dough and showed me how to knead it into a would-be biscuit. She then produced a small iron skillet and together we greased and filled it with the mass of dough. I only made one biscuit that day compared to the dozens prepared by my mother and sisters but it was by far the biggest and that was good enough for me.

I could not wait for it to come out of the oven so that I could savor the biscuit I had made. I remember how golden the top was and I can still hear my mother telling me that I had to let it cool a little or I could burn myself. How did it taste? Beats me. It was like over 30 years ago. That is a long time to carry a memory. The important thing is that this one episode introduced me to the joys of the culinary arts.

As I grew older I grew bolder, at least in things gastronomic. When I was roughly ten I got a Presto Magic Burger Maker for a gift. This was the ultimate in freedom. A hamburger was my favorite meal and now I could have one whenever I wanted. It did not take long for me to discover the different burger flavors I could create by experimenting with the various spices in my mother’s cabinets. After that I began creating with my mothers leftovers, specifically a leftover roast was a favorite canvas of mine. I called what I created goulash. It started with cubed pieces of roast beef or pork simmered in barbecue sauce but soon I was braising meat in many strange liquid concoctions, most all of them fiery.

After high school and during college I worked a few restaurant jobs as a busboy, dishwasher, and sandwich maker. But it was after college that I was introduced to restaurant management. I became a manager trainee with Domino’s Pizza. I learned many things that I still keep with me today during those years with the country’s number one pizza delivery company. Chief among them is my love of ethnic food. I began a friendship with another employee, a dental school student from Syria. From him I first learned the flavors and spices of the Middle East.

To this day Mediterranean cuisine is one of my favorites. A few years later, while trying to earn a living as a musician in Nashville I found that restaurant work offered me the opportunity to make money while maintaining a flexible schedule for my musical endeavors. I ran a steak restaurant in a swanky neighborhood, worked as a line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant, a server at an eclectic mall eatery, a baker, and even a hot dog vendor at college basketball games.

At this time in my life I had friends from different parts of the world. I learned traditional Mexican food from an LA bass player, Indonesian food from an exchange student from Jakarta, African food from a tennis player raised in Nigeria, and tons of other recipes from watching cooking shows on cable. Graham Kerr, especially, had a significant influence on me.

In the 90’s I took a trip to Chicago that would have a profound impact on my life. Not only did I try real Chicago pizza but I also I learned of a cable cooking channel called the Food Network. Can you imagine my joy in finding a TV network just about food? It was like the mother ship had landed.

Soon I found myself engrossed in the creations of Emeril Lagasse, Ming Tsai, Bobby Flay, and the incomparable Wolfgang Puck. I learned of food trends and restaurant concepts and ultimately it all began to make since. I was meant to be a chef, specifically a TV Chef. I mean, why else would I have been given talent in both the entertainment field and the kitchen right? Destiny. Like Abraham Lincoln rising from poverty to become President, or Albert Einstein overcoming bad study habits to become the most important figure in physics, or a simple farm boy like Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi Knight. Destiny.

I have dedicated myself for the last four years to this goal. First, I wrote a cookbook. Next I began cooking in competitions, soon after I was writing cooking articles for magazines and online sources. Then I left my job at a car rental company to return to professional cooking. Now I am a full time food writer and I have created a web site entitle what else? WannabeTVchef.com

I am a foodie with a vision, a dreamer with a plan, and master of the spatula. I am Stuart Reb Donald, Wannabe TV Chef.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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