Historic Homebrewing Class

We’ve recently started a historic homebrewing class at the Hill Center. The first class in late June was a huge success. It was a ton of fun to teach people about history while brewing and tasting a beer similar to what George Washington would have enjoyed. The bubbling homebrew kettle makes a great stand in for the fire around which we can tell stories about the past.

Afterwards, the Smithsonian Side Door podcast found out about what we do and our class. We served some historic beer and spoke to them briefly. That episode just published and we are truly honored to be featured on it with some beer history legends.

For any listeners who might be interested, we’re including our take on George Washington’s Small Beer Recipe. Mind you, our recipe was more of an attempt to recreate a small beer as consumed by the wealthier (especially women and children) at Mount Vernon and likely made by enslaved persons on the estate. GW’s earlier 1757 recipe was described in our class (and by others) as a marching beer or beer for troop use due to its very high molasses content and quick ferment period. Our recipe, with its higher barley content, is more recognizable to modern beer drinkers.

The recipe is designed for the homebrew novice, but all skill levels will enjoy brewing this historic beverage. If any of this sounds interesting, please consider joining our next class at the Hill Center on July 23. We’ll be talking about and brewing a Pre-Prohibition ale.

George Washington’s “To Brew A Small Beer”

Michael Stein and Peter Jones


  • 4 lb Light Dry Malt Extract
  • 1 lb flaked oats
  • .5 lb two row malt
  • 12 oz molasses
  • 1 total ounce of cluster hops


  1. Heat 3 gallons of water to 155 degrees.
  2. Add flaked oats and .5 two row malt in malt bag to water. Steep for 45 minutes.
  3. Remove grain bag. Start heating to boil. Add “first wort hop addition” .25 oz Cluster hops to kettle
  4. Stir occasionally as rise to boil. Add Dry Malt Extract. Note time of first boil.
  5. Add .25 oz Cluster hops 30 minutes after first boil.
  6. 45 minutes after boil- let chiller sanitize, add molasses.
  7. 55 minutes after boil, add .5 oz Cluster Hops.
  8. 60 minutes after boil, turn off heat. Add one gallon of water.
  9. Start chilling. Chill to below 90 degrees. Take specific gravity reading. Add water until you hit your desired gravity reading.
  10. Transfer to carboy, add yeast to wort (under 80 degrees, lower the better). Install airlock.
  11. Relax, Don’t worry, have a homebrew.
  12. Check fermentation after 1-2 weeks for krausen or lack thereof. Check gravity.
  13. Check gravity 3 days later. If the same, you can safely bottle.

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