Madison: Tax Imports, Build a Domestic Beer Industry
James Madison was elected as the 4th president of the United States in 1808, crushing Charles Cotesworth Pinckney by 64.7 percent to 32.4 percent. He was reelected for a second term by beating DeWitt Clinton. During his time in office, the United States fought Great Britain in the War of 1812.
Before he became president, Madison was credited as being the “Father of the U.S. Constitution” after promoting the concept of three separate branches of government. The amendments to the Constitution that he authored in 1789 became the Bill of Rights.
While serving in the House of Representatives, Madison proposed the first bill ever designed to tax and regulate alcoholic beverages. Normally, this might get him nominated for the list of Bad Beer Presidents, but the congressman from Virginia did so for two basic reasons. The new country was in tough financial shape and needed a source of steady revenue. Alcohol consumption in the fledgling nation was fairly high, in part because safe drinking water was often hard to come by. Madison also wanted to give domestic brewers and distillers a leg up on foreign competitors.
Madison believed the Tariff Act of 1789 would encourage “the manufacture of beer in every State in the Union.” The new tax on imports was levied on ale, porter, beer, rum, spirits and wines, along with key raw ingredients shipped into the country such as malt and molasses.
Jefferson: America’s First Wine Connoisseur and a Homebrewer
Thomas Jefferson was elected as the 3rd president of the U.S. in 1800, beating incumbent President John Adams by 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent. He had lost the election to Adams four years earlier. Jefferson would win reelection in 1804, beating the Federalist candidate Pinckney.
Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the first U.S. Secretary of State. While serving as Minister to France from 1785 to 1789, Jefferson developed an expertise regarding wine that ranks him as perhaps the top oneophile to ever occupy the White House. Most people believe that wine was his one and only beverage, but beer was a staple for Jefferson.
During the War of 1812, Jefferson petitioned the government to grant Englishman Joseph Miller citizenship. Miller was a brewer and Jefferson wrote, “He is about to settle in our country, and to establish a brewery in which art I think him as skilful a man as has ever come to America. I wish to see this beverage become common instead of the whiskey which kills one third of our citizens and ruins their families.”
Miller would help establish a brewery at Monticello and, in an 1815 letter to Joseph Coppinger, Jefferson reports, “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.” In fact, slave Peter Hemings learned how to brew under Miller’s guidance.
Washington: Father of Our Country and Home Brewer
George Washington was elected in 1789 as the first president of the United States, beating John Adams by 93 percent to 7 percent. He was reelected in 1792, again over Adams. Washington was a military man and a politician, which would suggest he enjoyed a drink every now and then. Records indicate that English-style porter was his drink of choice and that it was regularly stocked at Mount Vernon.
Washington was also a homebrewer, but in those days the scale was much greater than it is today for most enthusiasts. Beer production had to be at a level that could satisfy a household, including family, guests and servants.
A 1754 recipe for a 30-gallon recipe for small beer in a personal notebook of Washington’s, now housed at the New York Public Library, reads: “Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran, Hops to your Taste.—Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask—leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working—Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.”