A nation founded on beer is a strong republic indeed. It’s well known by now that the Mayflower pushed ashore a little early, at Plymouth in 1620, because the parched Pilgrims had run out of their staples, “especially our beere.” And everyone around here knows that founding father Samuel Adams was a brewer. Well, so were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. (Can you even imagine George W. Bush home brewing?)
Just like he did last fall with his celebratory 375 Colonial Ale, Sam Adams founder Jim Koch has journeyed into Boston’s past, coming back with a quartet of styles, brewed using antiquated techniques and ingredients, that taste much like beer did back in the day. Way back.
Consider George Washington Porter, a still-popular style amped up almost beyond recognition with the strong sapor of the licorice that’s used in the brewing process. Murky and brown-black, smacking strongly of its proprietary hand-smoked malt, it’s earthy and rich and, somehow, evocative of times long past.
The James Madison Dark Wheat Ale pours a robust cloudy mahogany, with a rich foamy head fit to be blown off across a tavern floor. This one’s a little sweet and smoky, too, thanks to malt that was hand-smoked over red and white oak from Virginia land once owned by Madison — exactly what he himself would have used.
Now, the 1790 Root Beer Brew is a love-it-or-hate-it drink, for sure. Root beer did not come across its name by accident. Once upon a time, it was predominantly an alcoholic drink, and this one, reeking of sassafras root bark, blackstrap molasses, licorice, and the sharp snap of wintergreen, is what it used to taste like. It’s an interesting conceit, though it might be a mite too medicinal to really enjoy.
But the Traditional Ginger Honey Ale is delicious. Pouring a gorgeous light yellow with glints of orange, complementing its lemony and wildflower-honey sweetness with the spicy tang of ginger, it’s light but richly flavorful. I’m not the only one who likes the style. According to the thirsty historians at Boston Beer Company, “Thomas Jefferson and his wife brewed 15 gallons of ginger beer with fresh lemons and honey every two weeks for daily consumption.” They sure don’t make presidents like they used to.
Available in most fine liquor stores for $9.99 for four 12-ounce bottles.