After I had previously suggested that there was no requirement for the White House to "release" recipes for the President's favorite homebrewed beers, a few reversals hit me. First, in response to the online petition started on the whitehouse.gov web site requesting the recipes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Tweeted:
That was on August 23. Then, on August 29, President Obama staged an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit.com, where user silent1mezzo asked: "What's the recipe for the White House's beer?" The response: "It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty." Not surprisingly, Reddit's served overloaded during the session, but the transcript is available here.
The original idea was to release the recipes when the online petition reached the 25,000 signature limit that would earn an official reply. The deadline was September 17. It's likely the petition will remain stalled at 12,240 signatures, since Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and the Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives, shared the recipes Saturday on whitehouse.gov.
Under the obvious title of "Ale to the Chief," Kass relayed more of the story of how his staff got into brewing:
Inspired by home brewers from across the country, last year President Obama bought a home brewing kit for the kitchen. After the few first drafts we landed on some great recipes that came from a local brew shop. We received some tips from a couple of home brewers who work in the White House who helped us amend it and make it our own. To be honest, we were surprised that the beer turned out so well since none of us had brewed beer before.
As far as we know the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds. George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson made wine but there's no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House. (Although we do know there was some drinking during prohibition…)
Since our first batch of White House Honey Brown Ale, we've added the Honey Porter and have gone even further to add a Honey Blonde this past summer. Like many home brewers who add secret ingredients to make their beer unique, all of our brews have honey that we tapped from the first ever bee-hive on the South Lawn. The honey gives the beer a rich aroma and a nice finish but it doesn't sweeten it.
Also in the article is a YouTube video describing the brewing process:
They make beer the same way I do! Only difference is that my primary fermentation is still in plastic Ale Pails instead of glass. But I saw a few of those in the cellar. And for those who think they have a beef about "tax dollars being spent to make beer," the only stuff I saw that wouldn't already have been in the kitchen was a hydrometer, siphon, bottling wand, capper and some caps. Plus the Ale Pails and maybe some glass water cooler bottles. Maybe $100-200 that we've already been told came out of the President's pocket.
Without all the ado out of the way, here are the two recipes to be released:
White House Honey Porter
- 2 (3.3 lb) cans light unhopped malt extract
- 3/4 lb Munich Malt (cracked)
- 1 lb crystal 20 malt (cracked)
- 6 oz black malt (cracked)
- 3 oz chocolate malt (cracked)
- 1 lb White House Honey
- 10 HBUs bittering hops
- 1/2 oz Hallertauer Aroma hops
- 1 pkg Nottingham dry yeast
- 3/4 cup corn sugar for bottling
- In a 6 qt pot, add grains to 2.25 qts of 168˚F water. Mix well to bring temp down to 155˚. Steep on stovetop at 155˚F for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 2 gallons of water to 165˚F in a 12 qt pot. Place strainer over, then pour and spoon all the grains and liquid in. Rinse with 2 gallons of 165˚F water. Let liquid drain through. Discard the grains and bring the liquid to a boil. Set aside.
- Add the 2 cans of malt extract and honey into the pot. Stir well.
- Boil for an hour. Add half of the bittering hops at the 15 minute mark, the other half at 30 minute mark, then the aroma hops at the 60 minute mark.
- Set aside and let stand for 15 minutes.
- Place 2 gallons of chilled water into the primary fermenter and add the hot wort into it. Top with more water to total 5 gallons if necessary. Place into an ice bath to cool down to 70-80˚.
- Activate dry yeast in 1 cup of sterilized water at 75-90˚ for fifteen minutes. Pitch yeast into the fermenter. Fill airlock halfway with water. Ferment at room temp (64-68˚) for 3-4 days.
- Siphon over to a secondary glass fermenter for another 4-7 days.
- To bottle, make a priming syrup on the stove with 1 cup sterile water and 3/4 cup priming sugar, bring to a boil for five minutes. Pour the mixture into an empty bottling bucket. Siphon the beer from the fermenter over it. Distribute priming sugar evenly. Siphon into bottles and cap. Let sit for 1-2 weeks at 75˚.
White House Honey Ale
- 2 (3.3 lb) cans light malt extract
- 1 lb light dried malt extract
- 12 oz crushed amber crystal malt
- 8 oz Bisquit Malt
- 1 lb White House Honey
- 1 1/2 oz Kent Goldings Hop Pellets
- 1 1/2 oz Fuggles Hop pellets
- 2 tsp gypsum
- 1 pkg Windsor dry ale yeast
- 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming
- In an 12 qt pot, steep the grains in a hop bag in 1 1/2 gallons of sterile water at 155 degrees F for half an hour. Remove the grains.
- Add the 2 cans of the malt extract and the dried extract and bring to a boil.
- For the first flavoring, add the 1 1/2 oz Kent Goldings and 2 tsp of gypsum. Boil for 45 minutes.
- For the second flavoring, add the 1/2 oz Fuggles hop pellets at the last minute of the boil.
- Add the honey and boil for 5 more minutes.
- Add 2 gallons chilled sterile water into the primary fermenter and add the hot wort into it. Top with more water to total 5 gallons. There is no need to strain.
- Pitch yeast when wort temperature is between 70-80˚F. Fill airlock halfway with water.
- Ferment at 68-72˚F for about seven days.
- Rack to a secondary fermenter after five days and ferment for 14 more days.
- To bottle, dissolve the corn sugar into 2 pints of boiling water for 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into an empty bottling bucket. Siphon the beer from the fermenter over it. Distribute priming sugar evenly. Siphon into bottles and cap. Let sit for 2 to 3 weeks at 75˚F.
The "10 HBUs bittering hops" in the Porter recipe would refer to "Home Bitterness Units," a measurement of bitterness provided by calculating the amount of hops to add when it's Alpha Acid percentage is known. I am guessing Northern Brewer, or the American Centennial or Chinook as likely suspects, depending on what's in season.
Gypsum in the Honey Ale recipe (calcium sulfate) is used to adjust the acidity of the brewing water, and matches the mineral profile to that of other brewing locations, in this case, perhaps Burton-on-Trent England, to allow more hop bitterness to assert itself.
These recipes reflect a standard procedure for beginning homebrewers: boiling a few gallon using malt extract, then "topping off" the final wort (unfermented beer) with pre-boiled water to get to a five-gallon batch.
I followed up with a few bloggers and beer experts for their opinion on the recipe. Ray Daniels, founder of the Chicago based Beer Cicerone certification program, has been running numbers, and Tweeted that both recipes would yield 7% alcohol by volume. Two of these might get anybody yelling at an empty chair. The pound of honey would offer more fermentables, but it contains some antibiotic properties against yeast and a few sugars that won't ferment out leaving a sweeter taste. Ray figured 27 International Bitterness Units for the Honey Ale, probably on the high end of a Blonde Ale (think maybe Finch's Golden Wing), enough to let the sweetness show through. The Honey Porter would have 33-35 IBUs for more balance.
The bees in the White House Kitchen Garden would draw nectar from a variety of sources than those that make standard clover honey. One email to the Chicago Beer Society listserv suggested any honey cultivated in an urban area like Chicago would have a matching profile, which might have a slight effect on taste. The only other question might be, what about the original Honey Brown Ale from the 2011 Super Bowl party? Within a month, we should see some brewpubs offering their own "White House ReplicAles," and maybe a special category in homebrew competitions. Of course, a judge in that category would need a sample of the original to compare to, so Mr. President, please let me know when you'll be sending me those bottles.