RICHMOND, Va. — Thomas Jefferson is renowned for his many interests, including architecture, horticulture and inventing gadgets.
Among the third president's lesser-known pursuits was making beer, and modern-day visitors to his mountaintop estate at Monticello can soon get a taste of the past.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation says it's working with Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet to offer Monticello Reserve Ale, inspired by what was produced and consumed regularly at Monticello. Brewing beer was among the plantation's important activities, and the drink was one of the "table liquors" served with meals, Monticello officials said.
Starr Hill's master brewer Mark Thompson will brew Monticello Reserve Ale using a combination of lightly hopped wheat and corn, as Jefferson did in his day. Local ingredients will be used, including some hops grown at Monticello.
"It's different from beers today," Monticello spokeswoman Lisa Stites said Thursday. "We wanted to make it a little more modern, too, so people would enjoy it."
Thompson calls the unfiltered wheat-style beer "very light on the palate with a clean finish," with citrus and earthy aromas.
The ale will make its public debut at the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center museum shop with tastings on Feb. 21. The ale will be sold at Monticello and Charlottesville-area restaurants.
Monticello's new beer-crafting efforts follow the restoration of many of the estate's operational areas, such as the downstairs quarters where slaves performed the daily house work and its beer cellar. Researchers are still working to determine the location of the actual brewhouse.
Jefferson's beer-making records date back to 1772, when his wife, Martha, oversaw periodic brewing. The enterprise produced 15-gallon casks of low-alcohol beer about every two weeks, then expanded its scale with some outside help.
According to records, Monticello's brewhouse was built by 1814, five years after he ended his presidency.
"I am lately become a brewer for family use, having had the benefit of instruction to one of my people by an English brewer of the first order," Jefferson writes in a letter in 1815 to another brewer, Joseph Coppinger.
The British beer maker, Capt. Joseph Miller, who was stranded in Albemarle County during the War of 1812, helped Jefferson improve the quality and quantity of Monticello's beer, according to Monticello officials. Miller introduced ale, which contained more alcohol and was better suited for storage.
Miller also trained slave Peter Hemings in the craft of malting and brewing. Hemings, who also was proficient in French cooking, continued the brewing tasks, making 100 gallons of ale every spring and fall, when malting and brewing conditions were best.
Jefferson's neighbors started asking for his ale recipe when they found out about Monticello's brewing operations, Monticello historians said. Some also asked to have their servants trained in brewing. Monticello historians also say that Jefferson offered fellow Founder James Madison a chance to have one of his servants attend the fall brewing in 1820 and the subsequent spring brewing "in order to perfect himself."
Jefferson also was an aspiring viticulturist and planted two vineyards at Monticello. He experimented with several grape varieties, but researchers say he likely wasn't able to cultivate them successfully for wine production.
The Monticello Reserve Ale follows the 2006 opening of a restored liquor still at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in northern Virginia. Washington was the nation's most successful whiskey maker after his presidency. By 1799, the year he died, the estate was producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year.
Starr Hill Brewery: http://www.starrhill.com/