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3 beery facts you didn’t know about the Founding Fathers

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Beer has always commanded a special place on the American palate, but its relationship with our nation’s architects may be closer than you think. Here are three facts you didn’t already know about beer and the Founding Fathers. I guarantee these will either entertain or bore your friends during this Fourth of July holiday.

Jefferson learned to brew after his presidency
After stepping down from a life of public servitude, Thomas Jefferson applied his mind to the art of making beer, which had previously been an undertaking of his wife, Martha. Using locally grown hops and malts purchased from his neighbor—and studying “The Theory and Practice of Brewing,” written by Englishman Michael Combrune in 1804—Jefferson bottled his first batch of beer at his Monticello estate in 1812. Yay for homebrewing!

Madison almost created a federal brewery
“Father of the Constitution” James Madison briefly entertained the idea of creating a federal brewery, upon the suggestion of New York City brewer Joseph Coppinger in 1810—Coppinger believed the institution would create better standards for malt liquor and curb the growing popularity of spirits. Jefferson eventually got wind of this, and wrote to Coppinger in 1815:

“I have no doubt, either in moral or economical view, of the desirableness to introduce a taste for malt liquors instead of that for ardent spirits. The difficulty is in changing the public taste and habit. The business of brewing is now so much introduced in every state, that it appears to me to need no other encouragement than to increase the number of consumers.” A century later, things changed.

Washington kept a beer journal
Well, sort of. One of the most famous beer recipes around is George Washington’s instruction for making small beer. Here it is, word for word:

“Take a large sifter full of bran hops to your taste—boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 gall. into cooler put in 3 gallons molasses while the beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the cooler. Strain the beer on it while boiling hot let this stand til it is little more than blood warm. Then put in a quart of yeast if the weather is very cold cover it over with a blanket. Let it work in the cooler 24 hours then put it into the cask. Leave the bung open til it is almost done working—bottle it that day week it was brewed.”

In related news, check out the Ales of the Revolution series from Yards Brewing in Philly. They include Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale (based on a Ben Franklin recipe); Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale (inspired by a T.J. recipe); and General Washington’s Tavern Porter (from the General’s own recipe book).

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