Colonial beer was by no means romantic. Ingredients were difficult to come by, infrastructure for transportation didn’t exist, and importing from England was unprofitable. So, beer was mostly brewed on plantations, but usually in very meager, small batches, such as Thomas Jefferson’s Plug Nickel brewed on his estate, Monticello, in Virginia.
Although his wife, Martha, brewed small beer every two weeks early on in their marriage and during his presidency, Thomas Jefferson got interested in brewing at his Monticello estate where he had planned to build a brew house. When a shipwrecked English brewer and expatriate, Captain Joseph Miller, ended up at Jefferson’s door in 1813, they both created a hoppy beer Jefferson referred to as “ale” because of it’s pale color. Because barley was difficult to cultivate in Virginia’s climate, Jefferson used Indian corn as a partial substitute.
Jefferson “wish[ed] to see this beverage become common.” Well, TJ, it’s more common than ever. So happy birthday and cheers to you!
Sources: Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher
View the Homebrew Recipes archive for past recipes posted to HomebrewersAssociation.org, as well as the Homebrewopedia for a wide selection of recipes, including past National Homebrew Competition winners.
Thomas Jefferson Plug Nickel | Specialty Beer
- 9 lb (4.1 kg) pale ale malt
- 2.0 lb (0.90 kg) Indian corn, ground to grits and precooked
- 1.0 lb (0.45 kg) biscuit/amber malt
- 2.0 oz (57 g) U.S. Fuggle, 5% a.a. (60 min)
- 1.5 oz (43 g) U.S. Fuggle, 5% a.a. (10 min)
- English Ale Yeast
- Original Gravity: 1.069
- Final Gravity: 1.026
- ABV: 5.7%
- IBU: 44
An infusion mash – 1 hour at 154° F (68° C) – will work as long as the corn grits are precooked (as you would rice), and it’s not likely that Jefferson and his English brewmaster were doing anything more complicated than this.
Note: Malted grain, mash efficiency, and bushel size (British is 40 pounds or 18.1 kilograms and American is 34 pounds or 15.1 kilograms) is uncertain based on records. The beers were likely in the 1.065 to 1.085 range. Hop rate was described as three quarters of a pound per gallon, or 6 to 7.5 ounces (170 to 213 g) per 5-gallon batch, which might translate to bitterness somewhere between 40 and 70 IBU.
A mini mash version can be brewed by reducing the pale malt to 2 pounds (0.90 kg) and adding 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of pale dry malt extract to the kettle in lieu of the missing malt.