WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
To say that our nation’s feelings about newly inaugurated President Donald Trump are mixed would be a severe understatement. And while some may be considering ignoring President’s Day this year in protest, here are four very good reasons to observe the holiday — The City Tavern’s “Ales of the Revolution”: “George Washington’s Tavern Porter,” “Thomas Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale,” “Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Ale,” and “Benjamin Franklin’s Tavern Spruce Ale.”
The City Tavern — located in Old City Philadelphia — was originally built in 1772 to be “’a large and commodious tavern’ that will be worthy of Philadelphia’s standing as the largest, most prosperous city in the colonies.” It hosted many famous historical figures through the years, including George Washington and Paul Revere, but the building was razed in 1854 after a large fire heavily destroyed the roof in 1834. In 1948, Congress authorized Independence National Historical Park to preserve certain important buildings and sites of significant national importance, including the site of the original City Tavern. The rebuilt City Tavern opened in time for the Bicentennial in 1976, and in 1994, Chef Walter Staib won Congressional authorization to take over and operate the City Tavern. https://www.citytavern.com/city-tavern-timeline/
According Chef Staib, during his research in 1994 to recreate an 18th century menu with immaculate detail, “I discovered that George Washington brewed his own beer and was fascinated! I knew we had to make this historical ale a part of the City Tavern experience. We purchased the recipe for the Washington Porter from the New York Library Department, and then we found several ale recipes from Thomas Jefferson manuscripts at Monticello. Soon after we started testing recipes.” Staib explained, during a phone interview, that initially he worked with Dock Street Brewery and Carol Stoudt of Stoudt’s Brewery to develop the recipes, but it was not until Yard’s came about that they got things going. Staib recalls, “This was back when Yards was based out of a garage in Manayunk — I would personally pick up the beer in my old Volkswagen — the good old days!”
The first beer released was the “Thomas Jefferson 1774 Tavern Ale.” Described by the Yards website as a “…powerful and complex golden ale…to recreate this recipe, [Yards] employ[ed] honey, rye and wheat, just like the beer brewed at Monticello.” The “George Washington Tavern Porter” was released soon after, and was designed based on “a letter from the General to his officers during the war, Washington’s recipe employed molasses to aid fermentation and give rich caramel notes to this robust, roasty ale. The recipe reflected his admiration for Philadelphia-style porters, especially those brewed by Robert Hare (whose original brewery stood just blocks from where ours is now). Our Tavern Porter, inspired by Washington’s, is dark, smooth and complex with just a hint of dried fruit in the finish,” according to http://yardsbrewing.com/ales.
Originally named “Poor Richard’s Spruce Ale,” “Benjamin Franklin’s Tavern Spruce” was “based on Benjamin Franklin’s recipe, written while he was the ambassador to France. This beer made with very little hops, has a caramel color, dark molasses hue, a hint of spruce and a dry finish,” states http://yardsbrewing.com/ales. Staib explained that it “started off as a holiday beer, but when we took it off the menu we had so many disappointed customers that we made it a full-time staple of City Tavern!”
Finally, the “Alexander Hamilton Federalist Ale” is the newest in the Ales of the Revolution line. Described by Yards, “In the style of the common man’s ale, this pale ale is brewed with Pilsner malt, crisp and hoppy with citrus flavors and aromas.” http://yardsbrewing.com/ales/ The Federalist Ale is currently only offered at the City Tavern.
The best way to try the Ales of the Revolution is to go to City Tavern and enjoy them paired with Chef’s Staib’s menu; he recommends “One of our finest parings is the Tavern Lobster Pie with the Thomas Jefferson Ale. The subtle flavors of lemon and honey in this ale balance perfectly with the sherry cream sauce in our Lobster Pie. The sweet molasses flavor of the George Washington Porter balances wonderfully with the savory profile of our New York Steak and Shrimp. The Porter also pairs very nicely with the richness of our Martha Washington Chocolate Mousse Cake. “
Staib says, “Most customers order our Ales of the Revolution sampler, so that they can try all four. Afterwards, the Thomas Jefferson Ale is the most popular with the George Washington Porter a close second.” He describes the reactions of his patrons as “Amazement and admiration that such great men in the political realm were also experts in creating beer! I’ve had many customers tell me that our ales helped them discover that they enjoy porters or spruce beers. We also have numerous European customers that visit City Tavern for the historical atmosphere. They are always surprised that American beers can be so great, and they are more shocked when they see that the recipes date all the way back to Colonial America!”
If you can’t get to the City Tavern before President’s Day, you can still try three of Yards’ beers — the Washington Porter, Jefferson 1774 Ale, and Franklin Spruce — in bottles in an “Ales of The Revolution” variety package at your local beer distributor.