Thomas Jefferson

Reviving the Founding Fathers’ Beers

Last Thursday, Bo McMillan wrote a column in All About Beer magazine which featured “presidential beers” that have been revived by modern-day breweries. Perhaps the best-known beers are Yards Brewing Company’s “Ales of the Revolution”. Production began in 1999, after Philadelphia’s City Tavern asked Yards to brew a series of authentic colonial-era beers. Yards not only used the same ingredients as the colonials did, but also brewed the beers using bricked-in kettles and open flame. Ales of the Revolution are available at City Tavern, and at select stores in the Philadelphia area.

Starr Hill Brewing Company, located 30 miles from Monticello, is brewing an ale inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s notes on brewing. Jefferson used hops and grain grown at Monticello to brew his beer; and because barley was scarce, he used corn instead. Monticello Reserve Ale is the historical site’s official beer.

Robbie O’Cain, Starr Hill’s brewer, is working on an even more authentic version of what was served at Monticello when Jefferson lived there. Brewers of that time didn’t understand the fermentation process, and the original Monticello beer was likely a Virginia wild ale brewed from resident microflora.

Best and Worst Beer Presidents

Shortly before the 2008 election (more about that in a moment), beer writer Rick Lyke wrote a column about the best and worst beer presidents. The folks at All About Beer, where the column originally appeared, tweeted it earlier today in honor of Presidents Day.

Heading the “Best Beer Presidents” list is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who campaigned against Prohibition. He’s joined by Jimmy Carter, who signed a bill legalizing homebrewing; James Madison, who promoted beer as a healthier alternative to hard liquor; and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom brewed their own. Barack Obama, who won the 2008 election, revived the tradition of homebrewing in the White House.

Warren G. Harding, who supported Prohibition but flouted the law in private, tops the “Worst Beer Presidents” list. Others on the list include Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, banished alcohol from the White House; George H.W. Bush, who doubled the excise tax on beer; Woodrow Wilson, who was against Prohibition but failed to stop it; and Abraham Lincoln, who signed legislation creating the federal beer tax to raise revenue during the Civil War.

Mr. Jefferson’s Beer

In 1815, former president Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I am lately become a brewer for family use, having had the benefit of instruction to one of my people by an English brewer of the first order.” Nearly two centuries later, beer similar to what Jefferson brewed returns to Monticello, his plantation in Virginia. It’s lightly hopped and uses wheat and corn in the grain bill, and is brewed by Crozet, Virginia’s Starr Hill Brewery. Visitors to Monticello will be able to taste the new beer, called Monticello Reserve Ale, starting February 21, which just happens to be President’s Day.

Brewing beer was an important activity at Monticello, and was a staple of the Jefferson household. It was one of the “table liquors” served with meals. Records go back to 1772, when Jefferson’s wife Martha oversaw the periodic brewing operations. About twice a month, Monticello’s brewing operation turned out 15-gallon casks of small beer. Larger-scale brewing began during the War of 1812, when Joseph Miller, a British captain who was detained in Albemarle County, added stronger ale–which could be stored–to Monticello’s brewing operation. Miller also trained a slave by the name of Peter Hemings, Sally Hemings’s brother, in the arts of malting and brewing.

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