1776 Porter

If I could go back in time and brew a beer, I would go back to 1776. With what I have learned from the brewing technology of today and using what was available back then, could I brew a beer that would cause my American forefathers to raise a frothy mug of my brew and cheer?

Well, I brewed just such a beer as if I had jumped into a time machine and gone back in time to 1776. I called it my “1776 Independence Porter” and I personally classify it as an “American Colonial ale” since there is no current style classification for the beers brewed by Colonial Americans in their homes.

I sure realized in a hurry how spoiled I am to modern conveniences. I did not have propane, a thermometer, digital scale, or my high-tech stainless brew system (which I now appreciate more than ever).

It took much longer and entailed a lot more labor than what I have become accustomed to. I had to cut up a substantial pile of wood for roasting the grain, cereal mashing the ground corn, heating water and boiling the wort.

Roasting the grains

I burned down a pretty large pile of firewood to get a good bed of coals. I then took about 2 lbs. (0.9 kg) of American 6-row malted barley and put it in an iron pot, which was set on the bed of coals. I continually stirred the grains with a small wooden paddle. I did not measure time or temperature, but continued to roast the grains until they were the color I desired.

The mash

I used a small 3-gallon (11.4-L) pot and heated up about 21/2 gallons (9.5 L) of water on the coals. I heated up the water until it was starting to steam just to the point of obscuring my reflection, then I poured the water into a large pail containing my grains and oats.

From my understanding, the way they judged the water temperature when brewing back then was by the amount of steam. I had read somewhere the process was to: “Bring your water to a boil and put it into the mash tun. When it has cooled enough that the steam has cleared and you can see your reflection in the water, add your malt to the tun.” So, I basically used the same principle.

The cereal mash

After I had my grains mashing in, I gelatized the stone-ground corn before adding it to the main mash. I added 2 lbs. (0.9 kg) of stone-ground, all-natural corn, water and a handful of malt in the same iron pot in which I roasted the grain.

I set the pot on the coals and continually stirred the gruel until it had come to a boil and then boiled for about 20 minutes. You need to stir it continually to avoid scorching. I then poured the boiling corn mash into the pail with the main mash. I stirred it in and covered it and let it mash for another hour and a half.

The sparge

We all know that you will be leaving a lot of sugar in the grains if we don’t at least rinse the grains. I guess that is why they could only expect about 40% efficiency. If I could have stayed longer I would have made a false bottom out of hammered copper and had a much better efficiency. Instead, I just strained and rinsed the grains. My efficiency was only 57%, but I am extremely happy with the resulting wort.

I ended up with about 5 1/2 gallons (20.9 L) of wort in my brew pot before I started the boil. All the locals (back in 1776) laughed at me for making such a small batch of beer. They said they brew a barrel or two at a time. Before long
the wort was boiling away and I started adding the hops. I added pure molasses the last 15 minutes of the boil. When the boil was done I removed the pot from the coals. I covered the pot and let it cool overnight.

The next morning I woke up in the here and now. I transferred the wort to my fermenter and pitched my yeast. I took a gravity reading for my record, which was 1.062 and then I added distilled water until it was 1.042. The wort really tasted great.

I fermented it at about 70 ºF (21 ºC) for one week in the primary and two weeks in the secondary. I must admit, it was an enjoyable experience, imagining I was brewing back in 1776 with and for our forefathers. Several members of my local brew club (Golden Triangle Homebrewers Club, in Texas) stopped by during the process, which always helps make a great day brewing even better. After the beer was in the carboy and starting to bubble, I went and hugged my stainless 3-tier brew system, then sat down with Captain Ron (my dog), rubbed his ears and told him about my adventure.

The final beer was malty with a crisp roasted coffee flavor that blended nicely with a hint of molasses. It was very rich and robust with just a hint of smoke flavor in the mix. Without diacetyl or fruity esters, the beer was very clean. Hop bitterness balanced the sweetness, leaving just enough sweetness to blend with the roasty flavor. I am sure ole George would have helped me put away a few pints of this brew.

1776 Porter Recipe


  • 7 lbs. American 6-row
  • 2 lbs. American 6-row roasted over an open fire


  • 2 lbs. Ground Corn
  • 2 lbs. Oats
  • 6 oz. All natural molasses


  • 2 oz Halerteau 60 min boil
  • 1 oz Haterteau 15 min boil
  • 1 oz Haterteau 2 min boil


  • Wyeast 1026 British cask Ale yeast
Issue: November 2006