By Marty Jones
As throwback craft beers go, it’s hard to top Poor Richard’s Ale. Debuting in 2006, it was created by Pagosa Brewing (Pagosa Springs, Colorado) founder Tony Simmons in honor of the 300th birthday of America’s founding father (and brewer/inventor), Benjamin Franklin. “My goal,” Simmons says today, “was to create a recipe for a beer like those that Franklin brewed in the early days of the nation.”
But this retro beer was also a modern-day trailblazer. Promoted heartily by the Brewers Association to its roughly 1,400 members of the time, the beer was brewed by over 100 craft brewers across the USA, making it the most widely brewed “collaboration” beer of its time. These brewers simultaneously tapped their versions of Poor Richard’s on January 17, 2006, for a fermented “Happy Birthday” to Franklin. The American Homebrewers Association also encouraged its members to brew Poor Richard’s Ale versions.
And while Franklin’s inventiveness is now legendary, Simmons cites Ben’s somewhat unsung efforts with beer as some of his most important. Simmons points out that America’s brewers counted on ingredients shipped in from England before the American Revolution. “But when you’ve just declared war with your malt and hop supplier,” he notes, “you have to find new ways to make beer. So the beers of the time were some of the first examples of ‘American Ingenuity.'”
To re-create that zymurgical creativity, Simmons built a recipe with additions of corn and molasses (two Colonial staples and brewing adjuncts in the 1700s) and a small amount of English hops that fell somewhere between an Old Ale and a Strong Scotch Ale.
Sixteen years later, Simmons still makes the beer at his charming brewpub in southwest Colorado. “It’s still one of our biggest year-round sellers,” Simmons says, “and it’s our best-selling dark beer. It’s a great tasting beer, and people love the story and history behind it.”
Dry Dock Brewing Continues the Tradition
Dry Dock Brewing Company (in Aurora, Colorado) appears to be the only US brewery that has continued to brew and release Poor Richard’s Ale each year on January 17. History and taste are the reasons why Kevin DeLange, Dry Dock co-founder (along with Michelle Reding), keeps making the beer. “I have a master’s degree in history,” DeLange says proudly. “So I loved the research and the idea behind the beer when it came out.” Dry Dock had been open for just a year when the Poor Richard’s project came about, and the recipe fit with Dry Dock’s focus. “I’m a big fan of English ales,” he says, “and the beer lined up with the types of beers we were making.”
Why has he continued to make it for 16 years? “It’s a very nice beer, and the story behind it is fascinating,” De Lange says. “It’s slightly sweet and nutty, and the corn lightens the body and makes it very drinkable. The molasses provides toasted grain notes to the nose and flavor, and it adds a spicy bitterness that fills the space where hops would be if you had them on hand.”
Simmons also likes the beer’s historical backstory and flavor and its significant, conversation-friendly ABV. “Franklin,” Simmons says, “was a fan of beers that you could have a few of while discussing philosophical topics — like the Revolution.”
Make your version of Poor Richard’s Ale with the recipe below, courtesy of Dry Dock Brewing and its allied homebrew shop, The Brew Hut. To learn more about the beer’s conception and the research behind it, visit BenFranklin300.org.
Poor Richard’s Ale Recipe
This homebrew recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale comes courtesy of Dry Dock Brewing Company.
- Yield: 5 US gal
- Original Gravity: 1.060
- Final Gravity: 1.019
- ABV: 5.2%
- IBU: 23
- SRM: 20
- Efficiency: 72%
- 7.5 lbs. Maris Otter
- 2.5 lbs. Flaked Corn
- 1 lb. Heritage Medium Crystal
- 12 oz. Biscuit Malt
- 2 oz. Carafa 1
- 3 oz. Molasses @ 10 min.
- 0.50 oz. US Golding hops @ 60 min
- 0.50 oz. US Golding hops @ 45 min
- 0.50 oz. US Golding hops @ 30 min
- 2 packets of White Labs WLP 002
Mash grains with 3.7 gallons for 60 minutes at 155°F. Sparge with 4.7 gallons of 168°F water, collecting a total of 6.7 gallons. Boil for 60 minutes. Add .50 oz of US Golding hops at 60 minutes, 50 oz. of US Golding Hops at 45 minutes and .50 oz. of US Golding Hops at 30 minutes. Add Molasses at 10 minutes. Chill wort and ferment in primary for a total of 14 days at 67°F. Complete fermentation, bottle and enjoy!
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Marty Jones is a longtime craft beer journalist, promoter, and publicist. He lives in Denver, Colorado and helps Dry Dock Brewing with its flag-waving efforts.