Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Brewing Ben Franklin’s Beer

By William Brand
Wednesday, January 25th, 2006 at 1:08 pm in Uncategorized.

The article below was first posted on Sept. 28, 2005. I’m re-posting it for background on the Poor Richard’s Ale contest.

The Beer That Was

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 was 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? Maybe not. 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 .


From the Brewer’s Association:

Benjamin Franklin Descendents Help Select A Beer to Commemorate His 300th Birthday

Denver, Colo. • September 30, 2005 – Two award-winning brewers with ancestral ties to Benjamin Franklin joined with a member of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Commission and others this week to select a recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale—a beer for Americans nationwide to hoist in January to celebrate the 300th birthday of that famous first American.

The winning entry in the competition was brewed by Tony Simmons of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. His recipe for an Old Ale included both molasses and flaked corn—two ingredients that the judges deemed to be likely ingredients of a Franklin-era ale. The full details of Simmons’ entry are available by contacting Ray Daniels at

“The judges were looking for a beer that resembled one Franklin might have enjoyed,” said Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewers Association. “The winning recipe will be shared with breweries nationwide so that it can be available in every community.”

The winning recipe will be dubbed “Poor Richard’s Ale” and this recipe competition is the first part of a program to help celebrate the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth in January 2006 with a special beer. Starting next week, the recipe will be distributed to breweries around the nation and they will be encouraged to brew their own version of the recipe to be available to consumers at the time of the celebration.

Five Brewers Association members answered the call for entries in the recipe competition and their beers, plus descriptive information about the recipe and its ingredients were reviewed by a panel of five judges. The judging included a great deal of discussion between the brewers and the judges. The judges include:

Nicola Twilly, Programs Director for the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary.

William Brand, Oakland Tribune Staff Writer who writes “What’s On Tap,” a beer and cider column in the Oakland Tribune.

Steve Bradt, Brewmaster at Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence, Kansas and a member of the Brewers Association Board of Directors

John Mallett, Production Manager of Kalamazoo Brewing Co., Kalamazoo, MI

John Harris, Brewmaster at Full Sail River Place, Portland, OR.

Both Harris and Mallett are past winners of the Brewers Association’s Russell Scherer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing—and exclusive award given to one brewer each year. Both also believe Franklin to be a distant relative in their family tree.

The judging took place between 5 and 6:30 pm September 28th in the Presidential Dining Room of Wynkoop Brewing Company, 1634 18th Street (at Wynkoop) in Denver.

The Poor Richard’s Ale program has been undertaken by the Brewers Association in cooperation with the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a private, non-profit alliance established to mark the three-hundred-year anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. For more information, see

In addition to playing a key role in founding America, Franklin is credited with the oft-quoted phrase “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” That makes beer the logical beverage with which to toast this major anniversary of Franklin’s birth.

The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary is a private, non-profit alliance established to mark the three-hundred-year anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth (1706-2006) with a celebration dedicated to educating the public about Franklin’s enduring legacy and inspiring renewed appreciation of the values he embodied. The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary represents a consortium created in 2000 by the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the University of Pennsylvania. The consortium is supported by a $4 million gift to the nation from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Tercentenary’s projects will form the official national celebration for America’s first founding father to reach 300.

Based in Boulder, Colo., U.S.A., the Brewers Association (BA) is a not-for-profit trade and educational association for craft brewers. The Brewers Association was established in 2005 by a merger of the Association of Brewers and the Brewers’ Association of America. Visit the website: to learn more. The Brewers Association has an additional membership division of 8,000+ homebrewers: American Homebrewers Association.

The association’s activities include events and publishing: World Beer Cup®; Great American Beer Festival®; NBWA/BREWERS Joint Legislative Conference, Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®; National Homebrewers Conference; National Homebrew Competition; American Beer Month (July); Zymurgy magazine; The New Brewer magazine; and books on beer and brewing.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]