Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Tasting Bay Area Ben Franklin Ales

By William Brand
Wednesday, January 25th, 2006 at 3:14 pm in Uncategorized.

WE NEEDED AN ICY WIND blowing off the Delaware River and a thick haze of pipe smoke hanging on the ceiling of a Philadelphia, PA. tavern. It would have been perfect for a proper 300th birthday toast to Ben Franklin with four ales made in the style of Colonial America, circa 1706 by four very creative brewers: Alec Moss, of Half Moon Bay Brewing, Emil Caluori, of Steelhead Brewing, Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment, San Francisco and Dave McLean, Magnolia, San Francisco.

But alas, here we were on the California San Mateo Coast, basking in the sun on a 75 degree January day on the patio of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. In fact, it was so bright and warm that we moved our toast inside to the bar.

OK, the atmosphere was a bit off. But believe me, Ben Franklin, the thought was there and so was the beer.

This was an impromptu thing: It was the culmination of a year-long quest to produce an ale similar to one Mr. Franklin might have quaffed in his favorite Philadelphia tavern while fomenting plans to drive King George and his Redcoats out of the colonies.

Don’t know the story? I’ve posted three articles below this posting, two of mine, published in the Oakland Tribune and one from the Brewers Association’s Ray Daniels, the guiding spirit behind Poor Richard’s Ale. The recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale can be found here.


Alec Moss with a sample
of his Poor Richard’s Ale.

Alec Moss arranged the tasting and invited me and Jay Brooks of the Celebrator Beer News to sip along – which we did with great enthusiasm. Each of these brewers is noted for creativity. They don’t brew a recipe: they interpret it.

So, when we lined up samples of the four Poor Richard’s ales, we had one very dark beer, one dark with reddish highlights, one tawny copper brew and one lighter copper beer.

The Ben Franklin Beers, left, ale by Emil Caluori of
Steelhead, second from left, beer by Shaun O”Sullivan,
21st Amendment, third from left, beer by Dave McLean,
Magnolia and right, beer by Alec Moss, Half Moon Bay
Brewing.

Half Moon Bay Brewing: Alec’s was dark with a reddish tone. He used Brer’ Rabbit molasses, but cut the amount of corn in half. He also substituted Briess Special B malt – a dark caramel malt that gives Belgian abbey ales part of their toffee taste. It was 6.8 percent alcohol by volume. Taste was slightly sweet with a real hit from the molasses in the follow. Like the aftertaste of a fine cigar, one brewer said.

21st Amendment: Shaun said he decided not to use molasses at all. The beer was a dark copper, the color coming from the variety of malts. Hops were Goldings, an English hop that had become popular in the colonies in Franklin’s day. Sean’s was unfiltered with a delicious malty nose and a taste of fruit. Like the others, it had a smooth, drinkable taste.

Magnolia: Dave made two batches, one a cask ale that was served in the pub on a handpump and sold out in a day. The other, which we tasted, was the darkest beer of the four. It was 6.6 percent ABV. Even a non-brewer like me could catch the molasses in the nose. Finish was smooth, again with that definite cigar note from the molasses.

Steelhead: Emil’s was the lightest in color. But that was deceptive. At 6.8 percent ABV, the aste was full and rich and sweet. “Meal in a glass,” Emil said. He was right. I’d drink this one any day.

Fact is, I’d be happy to have any one of these in my hand right now.

Here’s the good news, each brewer made a good supply and it’s still possible to sample each one. They’re on tap at the pubs. For addresses, click on the links above or read the articles posted below.

And cheers, Ben Franklin. We would have loved to share a pint with you and find out how many pints it took to get the idea about flying a kite in a lightning storm. Don’t know that one: Check out this link.

The Ben Franklin Brewers, left-right, Shaun O’Sullivan,
Dave McLean, Emil Caluori and Alec Moss.

Photos by William Brand

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