Home Brew: Colonial Style

Never seen such an angry face on someone making beer... only in Jersey.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams… besides being our nation’s Founding Fathers, what did they have in common? They all rode horses. Bingo. But, the answer I was looking for was…. they all made their own beer. Even our colonial forefathers knew getting down home brew-style was awesome.

Here’s George Washington’s actual home brew recipe:

I don't know what bran is, and I don't want 30 gallons of beer, but this is pretty cool.

What it says:
To make Small Beer
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a 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 till 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[hole] open till it is almost done working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed

That recipe calls for some pretty funky ingredients, and some pretty funky brewing practices, but hey… those guys were making beer before anyone had any idea what Germ Theory was… in fact, historically speaking, those guys were making beer in the medieval tradition of brewing. You know, back when people brewed beer because their drinking water was full of crap, and monks thought spontaneous fermentation was a religious miracle. Can’t blame them for that. The Enlightenment had just kicked in… science was new to all these guys. Cut them some slack.

They did know about soaking grains in warm water to get beer… just like the “bran” called for in George Washington’s recipe. But, they were also throwing all kinds of stuff into their brews for something different and some unique flavors… whatever they had on hand… roots, pine needles, herbs, fruit, hops (yes, someone back in Medieval times randomly threw some vine’s flower cones into their brew one time and though, “man, this is good”… and that’s how hops made their way into beer). American colonists made their own beer the same way… with whatever they had on hand.

But, let’s fast forward a few hundred years to modern times. We have modern malts… modified like crazy to be more efficient and tastier. Our knowledge of yeast health and proper fermentation. And our knowledge of proper brewing practices to get good, clean, tasty beer. That’s what I want to bring to the table to produce an “in the style of” the beer colonists could have brewed.

Here’s my recipe:

5 lbs Maris Otter
.5 lb Crystal 60
.5 Victory
2.5 oz Debittered Chocolate / Caraffa II

Mashed at 152°F, 90 mins.

.5 oz Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ First Wort Hopped
.5 oz Cascade hops,  pellet, 5.5%AA @ 60 mins
.25 oz  Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ 20 mins
.25 oz Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ 7 mins

Fermentis S-04 yeast, ferment 2 weeks, room temperature in a wet swamp cooler.

I’m going to brew this Brew In A Bag-style (BIAB), which is an all-grain brewing method that works great in limited space and with minimal equipment… all you need is 5 gallon stock pot, and a paint strainer bag from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Then you just get your grains, hops, and yeast, and you’re ready to go. I’m not going to go into detail about my process, but read the link if you’re interested… I’ll probably do a “How To” BIAB at some point… but this isn’t it… yet.

Anyway… after primary fermentation is over (after about 7 days, or so), I’m going to add a spruce tea to the fermenting beer to give it a piney taste… similar to a colonial brew that would have used pine needles. The recipe should hopefully lend a bready, kind of malty taste to the beer, which is something I like to think colonial beer would have tasted like. The English strain of yeast will lend a little bit of a nice, fruity ale flavor… and heck, the colonies were English, right? It’ll be a little hoppy, but nothing overly bitter because I want the pine taste to come out. And… that’s pretty much it. I’m brewing it as I write this post… the wort is coming to a boil now. I’m not pretending to brew like the colonist did… but I’m hoping I’ll get something fun, and unique… which maybe… in just the littlest way tastes like the beer the colonists could have made. Cheers to that!

And some fun… video of some brewing at Colonial Williamsburg


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  1. #1 by sean on August 30, 2011 - 5:22 PM

    A quick note on the recipe above…

    I decided that, in addition to the pine tea, I’m going to add some oak flavor the brew, as well. I’m going to make a tincture of an ounce and a half of medium toasted American oak cubes in two cups of Jim Beam bourbon… let it soak at room temperature for a few days, then add to the fermenter on day 7. That should give a nice oak taste without actually having to age the beer on the oak cubes… or that’s the plan, at least.

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