Some buzz around the beer news that the Coney Island / Shmaltz Brewing Company is brewing up a recipe of George Washington's beer for a charity gig... and a cheater version with roasted malts for those who might want to pretend. Here is the recipe entitled "To Make Small Beer" as set out by the Gothamist:
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 (sic) 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."
The recipe is in the New York Public Library's collection and dates from 1757 - when George was still a Loyalist and a couple of years before Jeffery Amherst's spruce beer from a couple of colonies to the north. Interestingly, each uses 3 gallons of molasses to thirty gallons of brew. The real difference is that George says hop to taste while Jeff boils seven pounds of spruce until the bark comes off. Neither look all that appealing. And I am not sure what George meant by the "Bran Hops." Is the sentence supposed to be "Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste" or is there a missing punctuation mark so that it would read "full of Bran - Hops to taste"? Or were "bran hops" something that meant something to someone somewhere?
This report suggested that the Washington beer would work out at 11%... hardly small beer. And Amherst states that his beer can be bottled to keep "a great while." I dunno. Were these desperate beers for desperate times? In a way, maybe they were the predecessors of commodity beer - a means to an end.