Celebrate the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth on January 17, 2006 by hoisting a specially brewed pint of Poor Richard’s Ale at a brewery near you. On September 2005, at the Great American Beer Festival, a panel of experts selected Tony Simmons’ recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale. Formulated to resemble a quaff that Franklin himself might have enjoyed and brewed in small batches by independent breweries nationwide, Poor Richard’s Ale offers the perfect beverage for toasting a man some call “The First American.” Consumers can find locations serving the pleasantly “malty, corny, and slightly nutty” ale by going to www.poorrichardsale.com. And home-brewers can have a go a brewing a batch themselves by using Tony’s recipe below.
Ben Franklin’s favorite type of beer could have been similar in gravity and strength to the modern version of an Old Ale (1.060 to 1.086). Franklin’s own writings refer to, “the type of strong, harvest-time ale, or October ale.” Yet, his regular drink couldn’t have been excessively strong because he was known to have intellectual discussions in Taverns while, “lifting a few pints of ale,” and Franklin felt (along with many of the time) that ale was a healthful tonic if consumed in moderation. In researching the era, I believe that due to the high cost of imported hops and the documented hop shortages in Colonial America, the hopping rates would have been appreciably less than that of Old Ale and more comparable to a Strong Scotch Ale.
Ben Franklin’s beer drinking preferences were developed before the earliest documentation, in 1771, of spiced or flavored commercial recipes that included pumpkin, parsnips, and spruce. Although Porter was popular in England during Franklin’s life, the first Porter brewery in Colonial America did not appear until 1775 and the style was not readily available during the war years. Finally, Franklin’s favorite beer could not have been a lager since it was only first brewed in America in 1840 (well after Franklin’s death.)
Historic documentation strongly suggests that Colonial recipes used a combination of malts - ‘Low’ (pale malt) and ‘High’ (darker malts.) For authenticity, I recommend using either English floor malt or Maris Otter for the base of “Low Malt.” I then suggest the addition of Biscuit, Special Roast, and a touch of Black malts to approximate “High Malt.” Other, more specialized malt combinations could be combined. However, my recommended grist bill provides an authentic flavor and is specifically designed to accommodate most any size craft brewery.
Because of the high cost of imported malt along with the unreliability of local barley crop harvests, brewers at the time often used adjuncts. Both molasses and corn were quite popular in Colonial ales and well documented in Franklin’s time. As the ‘Ale Purity Tax’ and ‘Molasses Act’ were ignored in the Colonies, molasses (the most popular sweetener of the era) was used extensively. However, since modern appreciation for the characteristic molasses flavor is limited at best, I suggest using a medium or dark grade molasses and keeping the amount to less than 3% of fermentables for optimum flavor. The corn used in Colonial times was most likely cracked local maize. For a modern interpretation, I suggest using ‘Pregelatinized Yellow Corn Flakes.’ They are readily available, do not require milling, and can be added to the mash without first using a cereal cooker. I suggest using approximately 18-20% corn in the grist composition.
Eighteenth century texts say to, “Bring your water to a boil and put it into the mash tun.When it has cooled enough that the steam has cleared and you can see your reflection in the water, add your malt to the tun." In my experiments, this translated to a mash temperature of approximately 154F. This mash temperature is supported by both Noonan’s recipe for an 1850 Scottish ale and Daniels’ recommendation for an Old Ale.
I suggest Kent Goldings as they were “discovered” in the 18th century and proved extremely popular for brewers both in England and abroad. By comparison, Fuggle hops were not bred until the 19th century. And, regionally grown hops from the Americas had very inconsistent harvests and also did not become widely available until the 19th Century.
For yeast selection, little is mentioned about of commercial ales of the time. Where something is referenced, it is usually in regards to some ‘house’ flavor. A modern yeast equivalent would be to use a low-to-moderate attenuation English or Scottish yeast strain.
My recipe for ‘Poor Richard’s Ale’ is a well-rounded, moderately strong ale (6.6% ABV). It has a medium copper to light brown color, depending on the variety of molasses. I recommend using a medium or dark molasses (about 60% sucrose) versus Blackstrap molasses. While Blackstrap might be slightly more authentic, it can easily overpower both the aroma and flavor profile.
Poor Richard’s Ale has a complex aroma with a pleasant malty, corny, and slightly nutty character, enhanced by a slight molasses-spiced undertone that adds an almost fine tobacco-like quality. The flaked corn will lighten the body and provide a nice counterbalance to the malt flavors. Hop bitterness and flavor are designed to be medium-low. The molasses will add an additional level of spiciness/bitterness that will compensate for the lower IBU level (providing an impression of more bitterness than a typical Strong Scotch Ale.)
The choice of yeast and fermentation temperature could provide for some interesting and complimentary fruity esters (e.g. plums, raisins or dried fruit). However, I have opted for a fairly clean fermentation to allow the unique flavors of corn and molasses to stand out.
It gives a good indication of an authentic Colonial style ale. Enjoy!
OG: 1.068 (suggested range = 1.060 – 1.086)
FG: 1.018 (suggested range = 1.014 – 1.030)
IBU: 27 (suggested range = 25 – 35)
SRM: 17 (suggested range = 12 – 25)
BU/GU Ratio: 0.39 (Strong Scotch Ale = 0.41 from AOB Style Guidelines & Daniels)
Ingredients for 5-gallons all-grain: (Assuming 63% efficiency)
Maris Otter (‘Low Malt’) = 8.5lbs. (59%)
Flaked Corn = 2.75 lbs. (19%)
Biscuit (‘High Malt’) = 1.75 lbs. (12%)
Special Roast (‘High Malt’) = 1.00 lbs. (7%)
Black Patent (‘High Malt’) = 2 oz. (1%)
Medium or Dark Molasses (not Blackstrap) = 4 oz (2%) – 15 minutes from end of boil
Mash: 154 F for 45 min or until complete conversion
Whole Flower Kent Goldings (5.0% AA)
0.50 oz. - 60 min
0.75 oz. - 45 min
0.50 oz. - 30 min
Boil: 90 minutes
English - White Labs 002 (Wyeast 1968) OR Scottish – White Labs 028 (Wyeast 1728)
Gregg Smith – Beer in America The Early Years – 1587-1840
Ray Daniels – Designing Great Beers
Randy Mosher – Radical Brews
Ray Daniels & Jim Parker – Brown Ale
David Sutula – Mild Ale
Terry Foster – Porter
Gregory Noonan – Scotch Ale
Fal Allen & Dick Cantwell – Barleywine
Clive La Pensee – The Craft of House Brewing
Stephen Harrod Buhner - Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers
Association of Brewers' 2004 Beer Style Guidelines
London and Country Brewer (1736 & re-released 2005)
Archaeological study of Curles Plantation on the James River in Virginia (1699 to 1840)
Dan Mouer Report - Associate Professor Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University
http://www.ushistory.org (history of Benjamin Franklin & George Washington)
http://www.classiclit.about.com (autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)
http://www.authorsdirectory.com (biography of Benjamin Franklin)
http://www.hops.co.uk (history of Hops)
http://www.homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/aa021102a.htm (history of Molasses)