While the early brewing process was crude, by Jefferson’s time it had become more advanced. In one of his recipes Jefferson brews a ginger and honey ale (perhaps the reason the modern president was drawn to honey ale as well).
“I thought it sent a great message that [the president] used honey from the White House beehives,” says Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams.
The Jefferson link to the Obama beer is a nice touch, and the use of local honey fits with the attitude of many craft brewers. The timing of when to add the honey during brewing in the White House recipe seemed unusual to us. This was confirmed by Harpoon’s chief brewer Al Marzi. “One concern I have with the recipe is that honey can be a very tricky ingredient to use, and they are adding it in the boil,” says Marzi. “In my experience the honey will ferment all the way out and leave little or no flavor or aroma, and you can end up with a very dry beer.”
You would think that the word “dry” would not be associated with beer, yet a dry beer lacks the depth of flavor that many of the world’s best beers possess.
It was time to taste our handiwork. Once you pop off the caps, the beer pours a beautiful amber with a thick, white head. There’s a decent crispness from the hops, and the flavor is sweet but well balanced. The honey was indeed muted; adding it during fermentation would have given the beer more depth — as Marzi predicted, our brew is a little dry — but it’s an entirely pleasant drinking experience.
Maggiolo, the Cambridge retailer, says that more than half a dozen customers have come into his shop asking for ingredients to make the White House recipe. Some have been shy about sharing their intentions during campaign season. “Brewing shouldn’t be about politics,” says Maggiolo.
The White House beer is a good brew, though it’s unlikely to inspire any commercial success. In an e-mail, Butcher writes that he has no plans to brew the honey ale, but adds that “more and more people are discovering and enjoying hand-made beer with more flavor,” which undoubtedly could only be good for all brewers.
The president’s beer might not put artisans out of business, but it’s certainly good enough to accompany a simmering pot on a chilly night.
Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.