The enthusiasm surrounding craft beer these days has some breweries putting odd ingredients in their batches, from beard yeast to oysters. Innovation can be exciting, but it inevitably comes with the backlash to seek something authentic. Breweries seeking to go old school might take note: There’s a recipe out there for a very authentic ale brewed and enjoyed by none other than George Washington himself.
The recipe is penned in Washington’s notebook, kept during the French and Indian War, writes Hillary Brady for the Digital Public Library of America. The original notebook rests in the collections of The New York Public Library and details the 25-year-old Washington’s daily life as a colonel in the Virginia Regiment militia. The pages include lists of supplies, "sundry things to be done in Williamsburg," outlines for memos and letters, and on the final page, a recipe for "small beer."
The term "small beer" refers to lower-quality, lower-alcohol content brews typically drunk by paid servants. Soldiers in the British Army probably also enjoyed small beer. The recipe is simple, as Brady transcribes it:
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall. 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 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.
Washington wasn’t the only founding father with a penchant for brewing his brew. Thomas Jefferson joined his wife Martha in making home brews and bottled his first batch at Monticello in 1812, after his presidency, reports "Chris" at Draft. James Madison may or may not have considered a national brewery, based on a proposition in a letter he received from an entrepreneurial businessman. And Benjamin Franklin's recipe for making spruce beer, writes Lisa Grimm for Serious Eats, has inspired modern imitations.
Though there was the brief period in U.S. history in which all alcohol was frowned upon (i.e., Prohibition), it seems that imbibing is certainly one of America’s longer-lived pastimes.