Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Brewing the Beer That Was

By William Brand
Wednesday, September 28th, 2005 at 7:52 pm in Uncategorized.

DENVER _ The opening session of the Great American Beer Festival is still a day away, but things are jumping here. I’ve just left a most interesting session. The assignment: Choose a beer that American patriot Benjamin Franklin would enjoy.
The idea came from the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary _ the non-profit commission, created by Congress, to honor Franklin’s 300th birthday on Jan. 17, 2006. The Brewers Association, the Boulder, CO-based America craft brewer organization, jumped on the idea. Five brewers across the country _ each with a reputation for research and brewing expertise _ brewed a sample barrel of beer, trying to be as true to Colonial America as possible. The beer had to be an ale, of course. Lagers weren’t brewing in America for another 50 years. It also needed to be quite strong. Head-knocking ales were popular in Colonial pubs.
So on this day, Ray Daniels of the Brewer’s Association assembled a panel of judges, including three well-known brewers, John Mallett, of Kalamazoo Brewing (Bell’s), Kalamazoo, MI, John Harris, Full Sail and Steve Bradt, of Free State Brewing, Lawrence, KS. Joining them was Nicola Twilley, director of Public Programming for the Franklin Tercentary.
In fact, Nicola’s husband, Geoff Manaugh, a poet, novelist and beerlover, came up with the idea to brew a beer. It was a great idea, Nicola said. Ben Franklin loved his beer. She’s not sure if the famous beer quote: “Beer shows that God loves us and wants us to prosper” was actually uttered by Franklin. “I’m still researching it, but it sounds like him,” she said.
Oh yes, the fifth judge was me, but mostly, I listened and took notes. The tasting was held at Wynkoop Brewing, the woodsy, jumping brewpub, founded by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper
The beers were:
— One. Came From Chuck Skypeck and Jiummy Randle, Bosco’s Squared, Memphis, TN. A medium brown, unfiltered beer with a lively head. It had a sweet nose with just maybe a bit of tartness and was 7.5 percent alcohol by volume. Chuck, who was there, said ingredients included 10 pounds of raw cane sugar. This was an ingredient that was commonly used in Colonial America as an inexpensive source of fermentables. Two of us loved this beer. I did and so did Geoff, who wasn’t a judge. But the experts didn’t like the sweetness. Hops were Cluster and Willamette.
— Two. Came from Tony Simmons of Brick Oven Brewing, Pagosa Springs, CO. This was a dark brown, 6.6 percent ale, made with barley, flaked corn (another inexpensive fermentable in Franklin’s day), Kent Goldings, the English hop, a variety of barley malts, including black patent and biscuit; 1.5 pounds of molasses, two percent of the fermentables, was added 15 minutes before the end of the 90 minute boil.
The beer had an off-note, slightly medicinal _ the brewers told us, it was phenols, a sometimes unpleasant byproduct, associated with some ale yeasts. But John Harris loved this beer. Putting aside the phenols, it was indeed a fine beer.
— Three. Came from Zac Triemert, of Upstream Brewing, Omaha,NE. Nicola, John Mallett and Steve Bradt loved this beer. It was a 5 percenter, made with pale malt, Gambrinus honey malt, wheat, roasted barley, Simpson’s Golden Naked Oats and molasses. Hops were Golding.
— Four was a very dark, 6 percent beer, Matt Van Wyk of Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor, IL. It was a blend of malts, Golden Naked Oats, and Chocolate Wheat.
— Five waas a 4.5 percent, very dark ale made with a large portion of molasses.Hops were perle and in a gesture to Franklin, who published a similar recipe, spruce branches were mixed into the mash.
This blog is becoming encyclopedic, so let’s cut to the results.
John Harris loved number two and eventually he brought the rest of the panel around. He blew away my phenol argument. This was Colonial Philadelphia, he said. Beer was made quickly, placed in wood casks and served in a tavern without benefit of refrigeration. An off-note or two was to be expected, he said.
The problem with Number three was it was too perfect; it was an excellent, very drinkable beer. Could it have been produced in Franklin’s day? That argument carried the day.
The winner was Brick Oven’s beer. The next step is for the Brewer’s Association to publish the recipe. Then, brewers everywhere will be encouraged to make it. A keg of the winning beer will be opened in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, 2006. Happy birthday Ben .

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