Starr Hill Brewery to Begin Brewing Monticello Reserve Ale

When you think of Monticello, the home of our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson, you probably think of Jefferson's many contributions to our nation – architecture, political thinking and many others. Do you think of beer, though? Well, it seems that Jefferson was a pretty avid brewer, in addition to his many other talents. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has partnered with Starr Hill Brewery to revive Jefferson's ale recipe and it will begin selling the beer at Monticello, as well as in area restaurants.

According to Starr Hill Brewery, the Reserve Ale is a bit different from what most people are used to today. That's to be expected, though – Jefferson worked with local ingredients. Starr Hill is doing this as well. They'll be using both wheat and corn, and they'll even use hops that are grown right on the plantation, just like Jefferson did in his day. The beer is unfiltered, but it offers earthy aromas, as well as citrus aromas. 

Don't rush out to Monticello just yet, though. The beer won't debut until the end of February, when the Foundation will have a tasting ceremony to celebrate the beer's release. Jefferson's best beer making exploits date back to shortly after his presidency, when he started his brewhouse in 1814. His first efforts seem to have met with little success, though, until he was helped by a brewer and ship captain, Captain Joseph Miller. However, Jefferson was actually brewing beer as far back as 1772, though it was a low-alcohol type and was made in very limited batches.

The location of Jefferson's brewhouse has not been determined yet, as there is still quite a bit of restoration work that needs to be done on the massive plantation. However, records do indicate that the brewhouse existed, and that Jefferson even trained one of his slaves to be the brewmaster – Peter Hemings. Apparently, Hemings became so good at his craft that others sent their brewers to learn under him.

Jefferson is not the only president to have dabbled in the alcohol trade. George Washington was actually one of the nation's most successful whiskey makers, and produced 11,000 gallons of the beverage per year by 1799. James Madison also brewed beer, or at least oversaw beer brewing on his property, according to correspondence between Madison and Jefferson that has survived to the modern day.

So, if you'll be visiting Charlottesville, Virginia in the next few weeks, you might want to plan a stop by Monticello – it's located just outside the city – and enjoy a sampling of truly presidential beer.

Posted on February 6, 2011 and filed under The Business of Beer.