Thursday, October 1, 2015

George Washington Ordered Growlers?

A few weeks ago a buddy of mine heard a rumor that George Washington had included "growlers" in the list of supplies for his troops. Wanting to find out if there was any truth to this he wrote to the VP of Historic Preservation and Collections at Mount Vernon. Being good folks that they are, they delivered to him a 10-page document relating to George Washington and beer. Alas, there does not seem to be any documentation of him ordering growlers but there were some interesting bits included in the document.

"Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste.-Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Galln. into a Cooler  put in 3 Galln. Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather draw the Molasses into the Cooler & Strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot let this stand till it is little more than Blood Warm then put on a quart of Yest [sic]  if the weather is very Cold cover it over with a [Blanket?] & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask-leave the bung open till it is almost done working- Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."1

Regarding the above recipe, "Washington was probably a bachelor when he wrote down the above recipe; perhaps he had to concern himself with this task, as well, until he found a wife."2 This was because, "Brewing was generally done either by a housewife herself or under her direction by the butler or another servant and was undertaken every two weeks to once a month."3

Beer may have been a common beverage consumed by all - adults, children, servants and slaves - but that doesn't mean George was drinking it out of just any old vessel. "Special glasses were purchased for serving beer throughout Washington's lifetime.  In 1755, his rather spartan bachelor quarters were cheered by the addition of a "Beer Glass and Pepper Box."  He received twelve "beer glasses, Mugs &ca" from England in 1757, which were augmented with a dozen beer and cider glasses ordered in 1760.  Two sizes of white enameled beer glasses arrived in 1763, while another six were ordered in 1765, with the injunction that they be "handsome."  Three years before the Revolution, Washington placed an order for six more "Neat and fash[ionabl]e Cut Beer Glasses," which he specified were to match a set of decanters.  Still more were purchased on April 6, 1795 and December 19, 1796, presumably for the table in the executive mansion."4

Thanks to my friend, Leafy, for passing this on to me and huge thanks to the Mount Vernon staff for pulling it together. That concludes today's history lesson. Now get to happy hour and impress your friends with your new-found knowledge.

1 George Washington, “To make Small Beer,” [1757-1760] (manuscript, New York Public Library; typescript, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
2 Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, 17
3 Paston-Williams, The Art of Dining, 220; Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, 17; Dorothy Hartley, Lost Country Life (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1979), 192-193
4 Ledger A, 2/1/1755, 19a; Orders & Invoices, 8/1757, 9/1760, 4/1763, and 9/1765; George Washington to Robert Cary and Company, 7/15/1772, The Writings of George Washington, 3:92.

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