Friday, August 06, 2010


While Scottish and German brewers fight to see who can produce the most potent beer in the world, a microbrewery in Philadelphia is reviving some of the gentler, but still distinctive, potables of the American past. Yards Brewing Company has launched its series of "Ales of the Revolution" with George Washington's Tavern Porter, a 14-proof brew inspired by one of Washington's own recipes. The Washington Post described the beverage as a mixture of "sharper, coffeelike flavors" and "residual sweetness," the latter flavor resulting from the molasses infused into each barrel.

Beer, of course, has been an important drink since the development of agriculture 11,000 years ago, but in late-colonial British North America it usually took a back seat to harder alcoholic beverages. The Anglophone elite preferred imported heavy wines, like port and Madeira, while farmers and laborers enjoyed hard cider and spiritous liquors, particularly rum distilled from West Indies molasses. David McCullough noted in 1776 that the early Continental Army consumed a prodigious amount of ordinary rum, plus cherry rum and flip (a "mixture of liquor, beer, and sugar" [29-30]), while their commander purchased "cider, brandy, and rum by the gallon" (42). I suspect, though, that if they'd had access to 110-proof beer they would have consumed it by preference, whether or not the bottles were stuffed into the carcasses of squirrels and stoats.

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