Archie, an Historical Ale with a Twist!

By Emerson Baker

When Butch Heilshorn at EEB was contacted to brew a special beer for the Celtic Festival at Warner House, (Saturday 8/6, noon – 6pm) he knew I’d be interested. I really enjoy helping Butch develop modern takes on historical ales, so I was thrilled at the thought of doing one to commemorate the 300th anniversary of this wonderful historic house museum in Portsmouth.

Warner House is one of the finest examples of early Georgian architecture in the U.S.
Warner House is one of the finest examples of early Georgian architecture in the U.S.

Warner House was built by Archibald MacPheadris, a successful Scots-Irish sea captain and merchant who moved to Portsmouth as early as 1714, but began construction on his fine brick mansion in 1716. While we wanted to go with an historic ale, we were presented with a twist by the Warner House. The site is famous for its Warner House teas – so would it be possible to include tea in the ale? According to Tom Hardiman of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, tea actually was an historic ingredient in ale and as always, Butch was excited to work his magic with an unusual ingredient. And as we would find out, tea has a fascinating history as well.

If we were going to use tea, we wanted it to be the type of tea they would be drinking in Portsmouth in the eighteenth century. So we asked an expert, Jonathan Blakeslee, the owner of Portsmouth’s own White Heron tea house. He told us about a variety of teas coming to the Americas from China at that time. Most teas in colonial America were types of black tea, which maintained its flavor during the long voyage from China to America better than the more delicate green teas. (This is actually an interesting parallel to English India pale ale. It was highly hopped so it would hold up during the long hot voyage from England to India.) We settled on organic Lapsang Souchong, a smoked black tea carried by White Heron that was popular in the eighteenth century as well as today.

From left to right: Butch, Jonathan, and Alex pose with White Heron's Lapsang Souchong tea. We drew upon an eighteenth-century recipe for the basic ale, found in a manuscript “receipt” book (what today we call a cookbook) by archaeologist Dan Mouer. He found it when he was researching the Curles Plantation on the James River, in eastern Henrico County, Virginia. The recipes in it were developed by several generations of Jane Randolphs who lived there, but the recipe for “Good Ale” is listed as coming from their relative Mrs. Cary. Here it is:

Professor Baker tending the hops.Take 3 Bushels malt 1/2 high & 1/2 Pail dry’d let your water boil then & put into your Mashing tubb, When the Steem is gone off, so as you may see your face; then put your malt, & after mashing it well then cover it with a blanket, Let it stand 2 hours, then draw it off Slow, then boil it three or four hours, till the hops curdles. When boiled Enough, cool a little, & work that with your yest, & so put the rest of your wort in as it cools, which must be let in small Tubs, let it work till your yest begins to curdle then turn it up & stop your Barrel when it has done working; Note to Every Bushels malt a Quarter of pound of hops.”

Fortunately Dan is not just an excellent archaeologist but a talented home brewer, who helped interpret the recipe and then brewed it himself. It is a simple recipe, consisting of half “pail” (or pale) malt, and half “high” (or high colored, presumably brown) malt. Technically this is a recipe for an English brown ale, a malty brew that is mildly hopped. In addition to brown malt we used two row malt, along with Maris Otter. These are traditional pale malts that would have been used in the eighteenth century. Given Archibald MacPheadris’s origins we decided a Scotch ale would be appropriate. Also, Scotch ales are known for having a smoky quality, so this fit perfectly with smoked tea. So we also added a touch of smoked malt and used a Scotch ale yeast. Falconer’s Flight and Cascade hops were added per the recipe: a quarter pound of hops for every bushel of malt. In truth, in the eighteenth century brown ales would have resembled a Scotch ale, for all ales were boiled over a wood fire that gave them a smoky quality.

Jonathan Blakeslee steeping the ale with his tea.Jonathan Blakeslee joined us at the end of the boil, to steep our brew with two pounds of White Heron’s Organic Lapsang Souchong (making our two barrels of beer also half-strength tea). Thanks to Jonathan for his assistance in this project and for teaching us so much about the complex and fascinating world of tea.

Once the tea was brewing the EEB bunker was filled with a delicious malty, smoky and tea-like aroma. We hope you will enjoy the final product. So, raise a pint of Earth Eagle’s Archie and toast Archibald MacPheadris and the 300th anniversary of the Warner House!

*Hand over your Celtic Fest ticket stub to EEB on 8/6 or 8/7 and receive your first pint of Archie for half price!