In school everyone studies the many exploits of George Washington: commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, Founding Father, first president of the United States of America, and a renaissance man extraordinaire. Mount Vernon, outside of Washington DC, was his estate and a working farm. At one time he was the largest whiskey producer in America. Today you can buy representations of some of his spirits at Washington’s distillery and gristmill. You can get rye whiskey, peach brandy, and if they have it, apple brandy.
He was also famous for an insane eggnog recipe that featured whiskey, rum, brandy, and sherry. I cannot tell a lie: this man could drink!
Less known is that Washington also made beer. He was our commander-in-chief and home-brewer-in-chief. Now let’s be clear: home-brewed beer of the eighteenth century wasn’t like home-brewed beers of today. In the twenty-first century we have precise instruments, industrial-grade materials, and modern technology that make the home brewing process much more precise and semi-professional than it was centuries ago. That said, our first president did brew beer, and the recipe for that beer still exists.
At the New York Public Library, Washington’s hand-written recipe for beer still exists. It goes like this:
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 Melasses (sic) 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.
This was known as a “small beer,” which means it had a lower alcohol content, and was perhaps a lesser-quality beer than other brews. Keep in mind that before modern water purification technology, people quenched their thirst with low-alcohol beer and wine. The process of making alcohol purified the water. Even kids used to drink beer (of the low alcohol variety) because it was better than putrid water that was likely full of bacteria, viruses, and God knows what else.
Now, Washington was by no means the only Founding Father who brewed beer. Thomas Jefferson bottled his first batch of beer in 1812 at his home at Monticello, and Benjamin Franklin was known for making a spruce beer.
This year, in the midst of a feisty election, Blue Point Brewing Company in New York has decided to reproduce Washington’s beer with 30 barrels of “Colonial Ale.” Dan Jensen, Blue Point’s brewmaster, told a local Fox affiliate, “We tried to utilize the ingredients that they would’ve used at the time.”
To create the beer, brewmasters used corn, oats, some wheat, and white molasses syrup. The result is hoppy beer with toffee and caramel undertones, as well as a ‘little bit of just citrus, piney character on the end from the spruce tips,’ Jansen told Fox5. The brewers said that the only real difference between today’s version and that of 1757 is the modern equipment they used to make it.
Blue Point is debuting their Colonial Ale at Hofstra University for the first presidential debate. There are no plans now for this beer to be available at your local grocery or liquor store, but if you’re lucky enough to be headed to the hospitality tent at the debate, be sure to grab a glass of Blue Point’s recreation of the beer our foremost Founding Father brewed himself.
Next week: Oktoberfest!