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Monticello brews Jefferson–inspired ale

Lisa Stites

A revolution is brewing in the artisanal beer world, inspired by the taste of Thomas Jefferson and what was brewed historically at Monticello. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, in collaboration with Starr Hill Brewery, announces the launch of Monticello Reserve Ale, the official beer of Monticello.

The media is invited to a tasting preview, Thursday, February 10, at 11 a.m. in the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center Museum Shop. Starr Hill Monticello brews Jefferson–inspired ale. Brewery Master Brewer Mark Thompson and assistant curator Justin Sarafin will be available for interviews following presentation of the beer. Tastings will also be provided.

The public is invited to a free tasting to celebrate the launch of Monticello Reserve Ale, Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 21, 12 p.m.- 3 p.m.– in the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center Museum Shop. The launch will include the tapping of the first keg. Free tastings will be provided.

Monticello Reserve Ale is inspired by what was produced and consumed regularly at Monticello. It is made from a combination of wheat and corn, lightly hopped.

Brewing beer was an important plantation activity at Monticello. Beer, one of the “table liquors” served with meals, was a staple of the Jefferson household. Records go back to 1772, when Jefferson’s wife Martha oversaw the periodic brewing operations, producing 15 gallon casks of small beer – beer with low alcohol content – about every two weeks.

In 1815, Jefferson writes in a letter to Joseph Coppinger (himself a brewer):

“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.”


Larger scale brewing began with the appearance of a British brewer detained in Albemarle County during the War of 1812. Captain Joseph Miller improved upon the quality and quantity of Monticello beer, introducing ale, stronger beer suited to storage. While at Monticello, Joseph Miller trained the enslaved Peter Hemings in the arts of malting and brewing. Hemings – a brother of Sally – carried on the brewing operations, making 100 gallons of ale every spring and fall.

Jefferson wrote in 1821 that he had “no receipt for brewing,” doubting “if the operations of malting and brewing could be successfully performed from a receipt.” Using ingredients grown on the Monticello plantation, Jefferson’s brews varied based on the grains that were available at any given time, including barley, and larger quantities of corn and wheat. At Monticello, about three-quarters of a pound of hops were used for every bushel of malt.

Monticello Reserve Ale will be sold in 750ml bottles and served on tap at local restaurants. It will be brewed and bottled locally by Starr Hill Brewery LLC, in Crozet, Virginia, by Master Brewer Mark Thompson. Starr Hill has won 14 prestigious awards for its craft beers.

Presidents’ Day Tasting
Monday, February 21, noon to 3:00 p.m. 12:15 p.m.
Tapping of the first keg, free and open to the public

Related article from the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia:

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