Jefferson on beer

The restored beer cellar at Monticello.

Did Thomas Jefferson have a special recipe for beer? If so, maybe someone could use it and make a fortune. But as Monticello’s executive vice president Ann Taylor informed us, it’s not quite that simple.

“The answer, in a nutshell, is that Jefferson did not have a specific written recipe for beer,” says Taylor.

Indeed, when Former governor James Barbour requested Jefferson’s recipe for his ale in 1820, Jefferson responded:

"I have no reciept [sic] for brewing, and I much doubt the operations of malting and brewing could be successfully performed from a reciept. If it could, Combrune's book [Michael Combrune's Theory and Practice of Brewing] on the subject would teach the best processes: and perhaps might guide to ultimate success with the sacrifice of 2. or 3. trials. . . .”

Jefferson went on, “We are now finishing our spring brewing. If you have a capable servt. and he were to attend our fall brewing, so as to get an idea of the manual operation, Combrune's book with a little of your own attention in the beginning might qualify him."

Jefferson began brewing beer at Monticello in 1814, after having his slave Peter Hemings trained in the art by Capt. Joseph Miller, an Englishman who stayed in the County during the War of 1812. That fall there was a brew house on the grounds and Jefferson began malting his own grain. However, while Monticello historians have recreated Jefferson’s beer cellar, they haven’t yet figured out where the brew house was located or what it looked like.

1 comment

Great stories about Monticello. Glad I stumbled on your mag and blog. Thanks for getting a quote about Jefferson's non-recipe. I have waged many a historic beer battle regarding some of these "colonial" brews from "authentic" recipes.

How would I cite your blog in something I am putting together for my site about colonial beer?