What's the Best Training for a Politician? A Brewing Apprenticeship!

by: HorstDornbusch on 03-20-2004
Consider these famous and revered politicians:

Perhaps one of the best brewer-politicians known today is Samuel Adams, the man who lent his name to the best-selling craft beer brand in the world. Sam was born in Boston, the son of a merchant and brewer, and as an adult he was a brewer, businessman, and politician. Apparently, Sam was a good brewer, a lousy businessman, and a brilliant and successful politician. (Perhaps his brews had taught him too much honesty to make it in business!) Instead, Sam became one of the Patriot leaders in the fight against British colonial rule and a signer of the Declaration of Independence ... not bad for a stirrer of the mash!

George Washington, too, was a brewer long before he became a general and well before he became the first president of the United States. Old George, the "Father of the Country" was more of a hobby brewer than a professional, but his home brews were momentous by modern standards. He made 30 gallons at a whack, while most home brewers nowadays make only five-gallon batches. In 1754, he penned the following 30-gallon recipe for a "small" beer into his notebook (which is now in the Precious Book Department of the New York Public Library) ... an honest brew from an honest man:

"Take a large siffer full of bran [,] hops to your taste - boil these 3 hours. Then strain our 30 gall[o]n into a cooler put in 3 gall[o]n 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 in a quart of ye[a]st if the weather is very cold cover it over with a blank[et] let it work in the cask - Leave the bung open till it is almost done working - Bottle it that day [a] week [after] it was brewed."

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States (1800-1808), who served as secretary of state under Washington and who was the author of the Declaration of Independence was a brewer, too. Jefferson, however, unlike Washington, came to brewing relatively late in life. He was able to concentrate entirely on his service to his country instead of brewing, because his wife Martha was the initial brewster in the Jefferson household. Thomas had built her a complete brewery at Monticello, the couple's estate in Charlottesville, VA. Only after Martha's death in 1782, did Jefferson get more directly involved in brewing beer. He started growing his own hops from 1794 onwards, and he engaged an English sea captain and brewer, Joseph Miller, to teach him and a slave of his, Peter Hemings, the finer points of beer-making. About Miller, Jefferson wrote in 1815. "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's production was about 200 gallons of ale a year.

Germany, too, had a great brewer-leader, King Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia (1712-1786). King Frederick not only put Prussia on the political map through his military campaigns against a then-mighty Austria, he also composed concertos for the flute, debated philosophy in French with Voltaire, and painted in oil ... but he got his start in adult life as a fully-apprenticed professional brewer.

As a young lad, Frederick liked to withdraw to his study and indulge in his passion for poetry and philosophy, quite to the disgust of his coarse and tyrannical father, Frederick Wilhelm I, known to all as the "soldier king". The dislike between the two men was mutual, but king daddy had the power to impose his will.

To prepare his son for the crass world of politics and statesmanship, Wilhelm decreed that the crown prince better learn an honest profession first. So he sent the future sovereign off to Küstrin, a small town east of Berlin, on the Polish side of what is the present-day border between Germany and Poland. There the king bound the education of his son and future monarch over to a humble brew master.

Father Wilhelm himself was a consummate admirer of the brew and was eager to pass his more raucous passions on to the delicate young lad. "I order," wrote the king to the Küstrin brew master, "to give him all the necessary instruction in the brewing enterprise and to show him how to handle the brew, treat the mash, place the brew in the vats, put it in casks, and all the other things that need to be done, including how malt is prepared and how one can tell if it is good."

Young Frederick never forgot what he had learned in that brew house in Küstrin. He remained an ardent protector of the brewing industry throughout his reign. On one occasion, he decided that his Prussian subjects were consuming too much coffee, the importation of which was draining the kingdom's scarce monetary reserves. He simply forbade the importation of the bitter bean. His justification: "Every farmer and common man is now getting used to coffee. This has to be restricted so that the people become used to beer again, for this is in the best interest of our own breweries. It is my intention that not so much money leaves the country in exchange for coffee. By the way, your royal majesty himself has been raised on beer soup, which is much healthier than coffee. His fathers have known only beer, and this is a beverage that suits our climate."

Ben Franklin would have agreed. As Ben pointed out in his Poor Richard's Almanac: "There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking ... Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Now, that's a truth we can all "hold ... to be self-evident."
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