Beer is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of the Star-Spangled Banner. That the 1,260-square-foot flag was sewn together on the floor of a Baltimore brewery, however, is reason enough for some local beer and history enthusiasts to clink mugs to the grand old flag's bicentennial during a historic beer tasting event on Monday, Aug. 25 at Right Proper Brewing Company.
Over the past several months, homebrewers Mike Stein and Peter Jones have worked with seven D.C. and Maryland breweries to create beers commemorating the 200th anniversary of the siege of Fort McHenry. There, on September 14, 1814, the fort's victorious defenders hoisted the same tattered garrison flag that now hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The event, immortalized by Francis Scott Key, signaled an important step on the road to American independence.
This is not the first time Stein and Jones have combined their interest in history with beer. Last year, they unearthed records that helped two local breweries recreate vintage recipes — an 1895 Berliner Weisse by Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewing Company and a lager from Washington’s long-defunct Christian Heurich Brewing Company by DC Brau.
Participating brewer Tom Flores, who has crafted colonial- and Civil War-era beers at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, wanted to see as many records as the duo could provide. Then, considering historically accurate ingredients and methods, he created a brew based on two English beers: 1812 Barclay Perkins Brown Stout and 1778 Felix Calvert Double Brown Stout.
Others, like Right Proper's Nathan Zeender, took a more interpretive approach. His contribution, called "The Invisible City of Bladensburg," references the battlefield defeat in 1814 that led to the burning of Washington by British troops, as well as a favorite song by guitarist John Fahey. Loosely based on a traditional "ship’s beer," it features fresh spruce tips (to prevent scurvy) and was open-fermented, just as it would have been 200 years ago.
Other beers conceived for the occasion include a gruit by Baltimore’s The Brewer’s Art (bittered with rosemary instead of hops) and two low-ABV British table beers: one by DC Brau using Fuggles hops and another by Baltimore’s Oliver Breweries featuring Goldings hops and malt from England’s centuries-old Thomas Fawcett & Sons malt company.
Another, a strong ale based on an 1812 advertisement from the Washington Brewery -- the first brewery established in D.C. -- is one in a series of beers on which Stein and Bluejacket beer director Greg Engert are collaborating.
Finally, Union Craft’s Anthem Golden Ale, a five-percent-ABV cream ale with wheat, oats and corn, is a modern take on the classic American style. The beer was released independently in March in tribute to the penning of the Star-Spangled Banner.
All seven beers will be featured during the 1814 Historic Beer Event at Right Proper in Shaw. Tickets are $35. Rather than being seated for a stuffy lecture, attendees will be free to roam among stations to speak with the brewers and taste each beer with a series of small, period-themed dishes. Chef Robert Cain’s menu will include cornmeal johnny cakes with roasted pulled pork; ham and rice croquettes with spicy tomato sauce; an oyster stew with benne wafers; and a savory and sweet corn pudding.
“We wanted something buttoned-down enough that it wouldn’t be a beer fest, but highbrow enough that people could engage,” Stein explains. “These are beers for the sake of history, not a gimmick.”
Right Proper Brewing Company, 624 T St. NW (Metro: Shaw-Howard University). 202-247-6274. www.rightproperbrewery.com. $35.
Tammy Tuck is a beer enthusiast and freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @Tammy_Tuck.