Beer and Benjamin Franklin and Our Founders
No, he did NOT say it. Ben Franklin never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
What Ben Actually Said
What Ben did say was in a letter to his wife, where he marveled of the gifts from God and specifically noted that the rain falls on the earth to water the grape plant, which is then turned to a lovely fruit that becomes wine, adding that this must be proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Yes, They Did
But, that does not mean that Ben didn’t have his own love of beer. In fact, Ben Franklin brewed beer, as did several of the Founders of the United States of America.
Beer Brewing in the Time of Our Founders
The process of brewing beer in the time of Ben was no simple matter and relied heavily on precision and carefully recording efforts, temperatures and timings.
Hops and Grains, Beer’s Compelling Ingredients
At that time, beer was more than just a source of pleasure on Friday nights. Beer had its health benefits, as water was filled with pathogenic microorganisms and it even provided nourishment. For example, during the Mayflower voyage of 1620, when the beer ran out, that was when passengers also began to show signs of scurvy. Because of this, brew houses were among the first structures to be built by European settlers to the new world of America, following homes and churches.
Beer, Public and Private
Beer was a good business in the early days of America, but recipes varied wildly. Some gentlemen of means had a tendency to build private brewhouses to develop recipes to meet their own preferences. Other than the copper kettle, brew houses were constructed of wood, including most of the equipment and they grew their own hops and barley.
Founders Had to be Dedicated to the Craft
Brewers of the colonial time frame, cracked their malted barley and cracked it by hand and then steeped the grains in boiling water, a process they called mashing, which extracted the sugars from the barley. From there, Franklin and others from his time, took the mash and poured it into a sawed-off whiskey barrel, which acted as a sieve, filtering the sugary liquid from the grain. That liquid went back to a kettle or the copper for a 2-hour boiling. Next came the addition of hops, chilling the brew, and followed with sprinkling it with yeast. That final product then went into wooden kegs, which were placed in a cellar for three weeks to a month.
Ben’s Recipe, Translated
Beyond those basics, each brewer had their own favorite recipes and favorite brews. Benjamin Franklin was no exception. Their terminology was different at the time, but science has been able to decipher their recipes into ones that modern home-brewers can adapt to suit them.
The Recipe for Benjamin Franklin’s Ale (also called Poor Richard’s Ale):
Makes 5 gallons
Maris Otter (Low Malt0 = 8.5 pounds (59%)
Flaked Corn = 2.75 pounds (19%)
Biscuit (High Malt) = 1.75 pounds (12%)
Special Roast (High Malt) = 1.00 pounds (7%)
Black Patent (High Malt) = 2 ounce (1%)
Medium Molasses (not Blackstrap) = 4 ounces (2%) -add 15 minutes from end of boil.
Mash: 154 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until complete conversion
Whole Flower Kent Goldings (5.0% AA)
.50 ounce – 60 minutes
.75 ounce – 45 minutes
.50 ounce – 30 minutes
Boil: 90 minutes
English – White Labs 002 (Wyeast 1968) OR Scottish -White Labs 028 (Wyeast 1728)
And, just to further add to your colonial brew-making repertoire, below is the recipe George Washington used for his favorite brew and then a translation of it that fits the spirit of what George made, but adapts it to modern ingredients and palates. It has been reported that sticking strictly with our First President’s brew recipe results in a beer that most find undrinkable. Hence, the modernized version is included.
The Original George Washington Recipe:
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 or Week it was Brewed.
The Modernized George Washington Recipe:
Use a 10:1 ratio of hoppy boiling water to molasses. So to make five gallons of this brew, use five gallons of boiling water and half a pound of molasses. Pour the boiling water on the extract (molasses in this case), mix thoroughly and violently, and when it is cool enough, add a packet of ale yeast. Nottingham Ale Yeast would work fine for this. Instead of boiling the hops in the water, you can also just make it easy and put them in the fermenter with the molasses and pour the boiling water over all of it. Bottle or keg as usually.
Beer and Today’s Patriots
Thankfully, today it is far easier to brew beer and even first timers can be successful with the varying kits that allow a brewer to try his or her hand at making a gallon or two before committing to buying a lot of equipment and make large quantities.
It was time to correct the myth of Benjamin Franklin’s alleged beer quote and to tell of the fine American traditional beer brewing that was part of the lives of our Founders and their countrymen.
If you find yourself brewing a keg or tippling a pint, be sure to toast the Founding Families, who sacrificed so much to bring us freedom…and kept the art of brewing part of our American heritage.
-The Founding Project Admin Staff Writer
This article dedicated to DG, PJ and RK, who are part of the support behind The Founding Project…the TFP staff toasts you!
https://www.fi.edu/benjamin-franklin/7-things-benjamin-franklin-never-said http://realhomebrew.com/2012/07/02/homebrew-recipes-of-our-founding-fathers-george-washington/ http://realhomebrew.com/2012/07/04/homebrew-recipes-of-our-founding-fathers-benjamin-franklin/