Philly’s Franklin finall gets his due

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OVER the years, brewers have made beers in honor of presidents and authors and birds and bees. St. Nicholas has dozens of beers in his honor, and there are beers named after St. Bridgid, St. Patrick, St. Arnold and even pious St. Rogue. Sam Adams has an entire brewery with his name. Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Jim Jeffords, Madonna and Billy Carter all have beers named in their honor.
Even the 700 Level at old Veterans Stadium has its own beer.

And now, a mere 300 years after his birthday, Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin finally gets his. Franklin, of course, was known primarily as a thinker, not a drinker.

He practiced moderation (“Early to bed . . .”). He wagged his finger at co-workers at a London print shop, calling them “great guzzlers of beer. ” They, in turn, mocked him as the “water American. ”

But in spite of his occasional temperance, a beer honoring ol’ Ben is only fitting because he’s credited with possibly the best-known quote about our favorite quaff:

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy. ”

More than two centuries have passed since he was laid out in a crypt at Christ Church in Old City, but Ben’s quip lives on.

The quote appears on T-shirts and posters and coffee mugs and books. For 9 bucks you can buy a thong with the quote. The Grey Lodge in Mayfair has it memorialized on handmade ceramic tile in its stylish men’s room. Run the quote, or a variant of it, through Google and you come up with more than 67,000 references.

“It’s only fitting that Franklin gets a beer to commemorate his 300th birthday,” said Ray Daniels of the Brewers Association, which held a competition to develop an honorary Poor Richard’s Ale this week at the Great American Beer Festival. “He’s credited with this quote that is so well known. ”

Craft brewers across the country were invited to develop a beer that represents the type of beer that would have been consumed during Franklin’s day.

That could’ve been a dangerous proposition because, historians believe, colonial Philadelphians were likely drinking a lot of beer of, let’s say, questionable origin. One of his favorites (see adjoining recipe) was reportedly made with essence of spruce.

Sadly, no Philadelphia brewers competed, largely because they were asked to make an entire test batch – an expensive proposition for most.

No matter, it looks like the judges – including representatives of the city’s Franklin Tercentenary Committee – picked a winner: an old ale crafted by Tony Simmons of Brick Oven Brewing in Colorado.

Simmons argued that Franklin had referred in his writings to “the type of strong, harvest-time ale, or October ale. ” To me, that sounds like an Oktoberfest. But Simmons correctly noted that lager wasn’t brewed in America till the 1840s, well after his death.

It wouldn’t have been too strong, Simmons said, because of Franklin’s views on moderation.

But surely it would’ve been well-made. Among the goals of his famous Junto, an intellectual group formed to study “useful” sciences, was the production of better beer for the colonies.

The beer wouldn’t be too hoppy; America in the 18th century suffered from a severe hop shortage. Simmons proposed using English Kent Goldings because they were discovered about that time, Malt was expensive, he noted, so the grain bill would’ve been supplemented with adjuncts, like molasses and corn.

Fermentation is a bit dicey because commercial production of yeast didn’t begin until the 1860s. Instead, brewers used their own, largely undocumented yeast strains. Simmons will play it safe and use an English or Scottish yeast strain.

The result, the brewer says, is a “well-rounded, moderately strong” (6.6 percent alcohol by volume) ale.

I haven’t gotten a taste of it yet, but Simmons described it as having “a complex aroma with a pleasant malty, corny, and slightly nutty character, enhanced by a slight molasses-spiced undertone that adds an almost fine tobacco-like quality. ”

The Brewers Association hopes commercial brewers will knock off their own version of Simmons’ recipe in time for Franklin’s 300th birthday on Jan. 17, 2006. I’d love to see one of our region’s brewpubs give it a shot.

After all, as Franklin noted in another of his notable quips, “There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking. ”

By the way, no one is positive Franklin ever wrote those words about beer and God. Historians have never found it in any of his papers.

A spokesman for the Franklin Tercentenary Committee assured me that its accuracy is possible. After all, she said, there’s ample evidence that “he enjoyed beer and sociability when the long day’s work was over. ”

But, she conceded, “He may or may not have said it, we do not at this time have written proof that he did. ”


Tonight – Authors A’Plenty, featuring local beer scribes Lew Bryson (“Pennsylvania Breweries”) and Duane Swierczynski (“Big Book O’ Beer: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Greatest Beverage On Earth”), at the Grey Lodge (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair). Ask them to put down their pint and sign your damn book. 6 p.m. No cover. Info: 215-624-2969.

Tomorrow – Winslow Township Lions Club Oktoberfest at the Waterford Fire Company (320 Southard Ave, Waterford Works, N.J.) German food, beer wine and Austrian horn music by the Stratton Mountain Boys. Tix: $30. Beer pours: noon-7 p.m. Info: 856-692-5700.

Sunday – Hurricane Katrina relief benefit at Dawson Street Pub (Dawson and Cresson streets, Manayunk). Live music featuring Chris Kasper, Jeremy Hollis, the Garry Lee Trio, Flat Possum Boys, Matt Lafferty Band, Off Duty Super Heros, Scott Siligpini, the Mark Furman Band, Joe Becton, Garry Cogdell, Dark Horse and the Teddy Royal Trio. Music from 2-9 p.m., with pints of Yards Philly Pale Ale and raffled brewery gear. Donation: $5. Benefits American Red Cross.


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