Patriotic Ales Teach American History with a Quaff
Gadsby’s Colonial Tavern Showcases Yards Brewing Co’s “Ales of the Revolution” in Old Town Alexandria with a Tasty History Course from the Founding Fathers
Yards Brewing Company shared beer’s revolutionary roots last Friday night by introducing Ales of the Revolution to guests at a memorable historic beer dinner in colonial Alexandria, lending a festive glow to a cold January night.
Hosted by the renowned eighteenth-century colonial inn - Gadsby's Tavern Museum - the four-course dinner and pre-dinner tasting was resonant with memories of struggling new generations of Americans that beer has soothed and restored.
Departing after midnight, I could almost hear the muffled sounds of hoofbeats breaking the silence of Old Town’s empty streets during a sudden flurry of snow that quickly blanketed the moonlit scene of our emerging nation’s premiere house of hospitality where political, business and social life once thrived. Standing proudly on the lot at the corner of Royal and Cameron Streets is a modern tribute to architectural preservation where you’ll find that twenty-first century nostalgia for the past warmly mingles with reverence for the history of the origins of American patriotism and democracy.
Gadsby's Tavern is after all one of a few surviving watering holes that can boast, without fear of contradiction, that George Washington sipped here, though one might be thought irreverent to refer to our prominent General as a common frequenter of ale houses.
If our country's first president had attended the beer dinner there Jan. 20, he would have doubtlessly discovered some familiar quaffs in Yards Ales of the Revolution that feature the handsome mugs of our founding fathers on the bottle labels and are actually ales based on the recipes brewed in the Revolutionary Era.
Tom Kehoe, the jovial president of Yards Brewing Company of Philadelphia (founded in 1994), was on hand to make sure there was no lingering bitterness about true-blue American brews one-upping jolly old English ale.
“We found our recipes from colonial era sources and basically tapped everyone we knew for further information in creating the series of Ales of the Revolution,” Kehoe
He noted that General Washington's Tavern Porter revival came from his recipe for small beer that was found in the NY Public Library.
“Our sweet porter was fashioned after the dessert beers that were made for him [Washington] at different taverns and at Mt. Vernon where he retired and then had the porters brewed on his estate. He would have just so many barrels made and keep what he needed sending the remainder out to officers and troops in the field during the Revolutionary War on horseback. Along with the barrels he would send molasses and oats so when they finished half a barrel off the front lines they could refill them with the ingredients, let them sit, go back into battle and return to celebrate with a full barrel that had gone through a secondary fermentation,” noted Kehoe.
Gadsby’s executive chef Klause Keckeisen used the Tavern Porter in preparing the dessert course apple crumble topped with porter-toffee sauce, featuring its nice balance of coffeelike roast and softer cocoa flavors as both ingredient and pairing choice.
George Washington lived eight miles away from Gadsby’s in his Mt. Vernon estate. He also had a townhouse up the road from what was described as the finest public house in America where he was not only a frequent guest, but celebrated his birthdays with Mrs. Washington in 1798 and 1799. The General is said to have given his last military command at the front door of the late eighteenth-century establishment, and took his last meal in public near the fireplace in the back dining room of the Tavern before his death in 1799.
Not to be outdone, Gadsby’s hosted a lavish inaugural banquet for President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. But we could sure feel his presence in Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale, with a strength of eight percent alcohol by volume. The recipe for this full-bodied malty ale with lots of caramel sweetness up front was originally brewed in Jefferson’s time to weigh in at thirteen per cent ABV. It was written down by Peter Hemings, brother of Sally Hemings (Jefferson’s slave and also said to be the mother of several of his children), whose other brewing secrets were held as tight-lipped as the legendary Jefferson family genealogy. If it weren’t for the fact that this ale was served early in the evening we might have had to declare a four-day weekend. You can learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s brewing traditions here
“Also, as part of the series we wanted to create a beer for Ben on his 300th birthday. The Philosophical Society in Philadelphia had a book on food that had Franklin’s recipe in it and we gave it a go with some modification upgrades…,” said Kehoe.
“Every spruce beer I’ve ever tried before we compiled our recipe for Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale tasted like Pine Sol to me. Even our original batch did when we were using essence in the mix before deciding to go to an organic orchard near Philadelphia and grab some of the real thing – twigs, needles and sprigs – which we then steeped into the end of the boil like we would any beer. We used the spruce instead of the hops, which is what they used to do all the time before hops got introduced in England. They would use whatever spices available to balance out the sweetness,” he added.
And although you could literally taste the robust sprucing in the main-course pairing, it flowered no noticeable nose on first pass, and the beer certainly had the sweetness of the added molasses on the palate making it interesting though doubtfully sessionable.
“It has rosemary characteristics to it, creating a great marinade because of the acidity in this beer that tenderizes the meat,” said Klaus Keckeisen executive chef at Gadsby’s Tavern.
Keckeisen marinated the Colorado organically raised lamb main course in the Yards Spruce Ale along with garlic, shallots, rosemary, and thyme for twenty-four hours. It was then pan seared and traditionally finished in the oven. The mouth-watering piece de résistance was plated with equally delicious French beans wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, and crushed red potatoes scrumptious enough for any Irishman (like me).
And Keckeisen knows a thing or two about the Irish having lived several years of his 30-year career working in County Kerry near Caragh (Cearthach) in a small 20-room country estate (part of a three chain hotel), and the former country home of Gordon’s Gin founder.
“I loved it in Ireland. The new owner was German and he knew the likes of me not wanting to take orders from anyone. I was a rebel all my life, always needing to make my own decisions like the patriots of the revolutionary ales, so he gave me a free hand to do things as I saw fit,” he said.
Chef Keckeisen also ran a sprint of tasty European cooking assignments including a stint in Switzerland and a full-blown apprenticeship in his homeland of Germany near Markdorf and the Lake of Bodensee, on the Isle of Mainau, a small island owned by a Swedish count. He also found time for the Bahamas before landing in Old Town where he presided over the kitchen and eclectic atmosphere of the popular Alexandria culinary gem Café Europa beginning in 2001 until he sold it in 2006.
In between, he opened the JW Marriott in downtown Washington, DC, where he spent nineteen years, followed by a thirteen-year run at the Gateway Marriott in Crystal City. He shows no signs of slowing down while putting in six-day weeks at the Tavern, where he now specializes in “colonial comfort food.” Keckeisen says he likes to “apply modern twists to the eighteenth-century recipes I have researched, turning them into dishes more appealing for modern tastes.”
“While marinating the lamb Klaus kept coming up to get more and more beer,” said Gretchen Bulova, director of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and the adjoining Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
“We’re going to have to get him a barrel keg for the kitchen like they have at City Tavern in Philly,” she laughed.
Walter Staib, owner of the historically replicated colonial City Tavern in Philadelphia, commissioned the Ales of the Revolution from Yards on tap in 2000. (They were first bottled in 2003). Staib featured the brewery in his twelve-part PBS series “A Taste of History” that spotlights Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, Monticello, and Historic Rittenhouse Town in Philly. Look for it in repeats from time to time on public broadcasting here in Virginia.
“Beer was an important part of tavern drinking in the 18th century, and it is an honor to provide fine beer for our 21st century guests, especially the Ales of the Revolution. It provides a unique opportunity to learn about our history through period-inspired food and beer brewed from our founding father's recipes,” said Bulova.
The site known as Gadsby's Tavern (www.gadsbystavern.org) consists of two buildings, a (circa) 1785 tavern and the 1792 City Hotel named after Englishman John Gadsby, an entrepreneur who leased the buildings and operated them as tavern keeper from 1796 until 1808 and was once known as the richest man in Washington, DC.
Threatened with demolition in the early twentieth century, the Gadsby Tavern buildings were saved and preserved by the American Legion, Post Twenty-four. Today, the City of Alexandria continues their preservation and interpretation through Gadsby's Tavern Museum and by leasing the restaurant space to modern entrepreneurs like chef Keckeisen.
Gadsby's Tavern Museum is open to the public, offering tours and public programs showcasing the historic two buildings. The heart of many a private party is the Museum ballroom, while the Tavern itself has seating for eighty.
“Gretchen wrote a wonderful article giving a great history of Gadsby’s for Arts & Architecture magazine that I highly recommend,” said Chuck Aldrich, past president of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Society (and table mate). She [Gretchen] is the wife of fellow dinner guest David Bulova of the Virginia House of Delegates. Also seated at the head table was Alexandria resident Cathy Zarat, fashion designer specializing in historic preservation, museum restorations and appraisals.
Gadsby’s will be recreating Washington’s 1799 birthday celebration on February 18 with “a cocktail and beer soirée that includes dancing, a period dinner, two more hours of dancing and desserts,” according to Liz Williams, assistant director of Gadsby’s Museum and Tavern.
In addition, the Tavern will be running a special St. Valentine’s menu on Cupid’s night, February 14, with surf-and-turf fare, finishing off with a killer cherry strudel finale (just in time for President’s Day), possibly along with some cherry beer, kriek lambic and red-colored cocktail surprises in store. View the St. Valentine’s menu at http://www.gadsbystavernrestaurant.com/html/specialsv.html.
The nightly Tavern Dinner Menu could not be more exquisite with Chef Keckeisen back in town. The Tavern also caters to a bustling lunch trade, in addition to The Tavern Sunday Brunch.
All of the Yards Ales of the Revolution are available in six-packs for sale in the Gadsby’s Museum Gift Shop. You can also find them on tap, along with flagships like Yards Extra Special Ale, at nearby restaurants Jackson 20 and Pizza Paradiso in Old Town, as well as several additional spots in Arlington.
Yards is a 24,000-barrel-a-year brewery with the current capacity to grow to 50,000 plus and is serviced by Virginia distributor Hop and Wine. You can also find democracy’s true drink of choice at many other establishments in Philly, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and hopefully Washington, DC in the not-so-distant future.
Read more beer columns written by Noreen Burns here.