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Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Recreating Historic Batches at ‘Ales Through the Ages’ Conference

(Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

WILLIAMSBURG — Craft beer aficionados will have a unique opportunity to learn more about the colonial history of the fermented beverage this November at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s (CWF) “Ales Through the Ages” conference

Ales Through the Ages, from Nov. 11-13, will feature beer historians and published authors from all over the country as guest speakers. In addition to the scholarly lectures, the conference has collaborated with Alewerks, Precarious Beer Project, and Virginia Beer Company to recreate historic beer recipes for guests to enjoy at the conference’s receptions.

“The British have always been beer drinkers because England’s a little too far north for growing a good wine grape,” Colonial Williamsburg’s Master of Historic Food Programs, Frank Clark, said in an interview with WYDaily. “So beer was a huge part of the culture at the time. That’s something that I discovered when I started doing the research as an apprentice, just how important beer was. People wrote songs about it, they wrote plays about it, and they drank it every day, often for breakfast. It was very much an integral part of the life of the Englishmen. As Americans who started off as Englishmen, they brought that love of beer with them and very quickly started making their own versions of beer here.”

The conference is offered both in-person and virtually. Virtual conference guests will be able to watch the scholarly lectures live as they take place at the Colonial Williamsburg Art Museum. The limited-run beer will only be offered at the in-person conference receptions. However, the participating breweries have decided to brew larger quantities and may have decided to bottle and sell them for a limited time, Clark told WYDaily.

The 3 unique historical batches are:

  • Alewerks Brewing Company — Mary’s Pumpkin Sweet Potato Beer — The brew is using an 18th-century inspired recipe that was published as a way to avoid buying English ale. As the revolution arrived in the colonies, many started to boycott English goods — including beer. The recipe uses an 18th-century variety of pumpkin called the sweet potato pumpkin.

    “We’ve taken some of that and put it into the mash, and we’ve taken some of it and reduced it to what is called, ‘Pumpkin molasses,'” said Clark. “It’ll be unique for a pumpkin beer because it wouldn’t use any spices. Most of the pumpkin beers are really more about that pumpkin spice that some of us love and some us dread this time of year. This one will have no spice addition. So you’ll actually taste the pumpkin.”
  • Precarious Beer Project — Queen Annes Illegal Smile — A Porter that uses birch sugar and licorice root. These ingredients were actually banned by Queen Anne in the early part of the 18th century but were used anyway despite the risk of paying fines. 
  • Virginia Beer Company — Brown Ale/Sour — A Brown Ale that would have been exported to the colonies in the 18th century.

    “We’re using some Virginia funk in there,” said Clark. “This is going to be kind of a sour beer because it’s going to be aged. It’s actually aging in whiskey barrels right now. It was brewed back in the summer, and it’s been aging and fermenting with a bacteria called Brettanomyces which is going to add a really dry, sort of sour flavor to the beer. It was something that was in a lot of beers 200 years ago because they didn’t know how to get rid of it. Beers that were aged for long periods often developed a Brettanomyces character to them.” 

According to CWF, in-person registration is $275 per person and includes access to lectures, the welcome reception, and the Saturday lunch. The virtual-only registration is $100 per person and includes access to lectures through the conference streaming platform. Both in-person and virtual-only registration includes a seven-day ticket voucher to Colonial Williamsburg’s Art Museums and Historic Area, valid for redemption through May 31. 

Pete Brown, a beer historian, journalist, and published author, will give the conference keynote address — “The Highs and Lows of Researching Beer History” — sponsored by the Virginia Beer Museum.

Travis Rupp, a beer archeologist from the University of Colorado, will talk about beer from the ancient world. Stan Hieronymus, a well-known home brewer, author, and publicist, is scheduled to talk about hops and Martyn Cornell will be talking about the origins of Pale Ale.

“We have Marc Meltonville, who is coming over from England. A food and drink historian who works for the royal palaces, talking about Tudor Brewing,” said Clark. “And we have a modern maltster who’s making an 18th-century malt for us, Andrea Stanley from Massachusetts.”

A full list of speakers and bios can be found on the event’s website.  

“Beer goes way back, it’s probably the oldest man-made beverage. Well, beer or wine, there are some fights amongst the scholars about that,” said Clark. “It goes way back to ancient Sumeria and Egypt. It’s always played an important role in mankind’s life. I think that’s one of the great things about this conference. It helps you to realize, beer isn’t just something new that you have after you mow the lawn. Beer has been with us just as long as we’ve been humans in groups. It’s a very important beverage in that sense.”

CWF is offering special room rates at Colonial Williamsburg hotels for in-person conference registrants, and all registrants will have access to the main conference lectures via the streaming platform through Dec. 31. 

For more information on Ales Through the Ages, visit CWF’s conference webpage.

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