'BEER IS living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Great quote, and Ben Franklin, the scientific tinkerer, publisher, author and patriot of the American Revolution, has long gotten credit for it. So what better way to celebrate the 300th birthday of Philadelphia's most famous citizen than to brew a beer in his honor.

Four Bay Area brewers, Alec Moss at Half Moon Bay Brewing, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Dave McLean of Magnolia, San Francisco, Emil Caluori at Steelhead in Burlingame and Shaun O'Sullivan, 21st Amendment, San Francisco, are each brewing "Poor Richard's Ale" following a formula chosen in a nationwide contest by the Brewers' Association.

The beer is to be tapped on Jan. 17, Franklin's 300th birthday. The trio are part of 99 brewers across the country who have made the beer and will tap it on the 17th.

Poor Richard's Ale is a curious mixture that includes molasses and corn, two fermentables that, according to some historians, were available and quite cheap in colonial America. This is a strong, dark beer with a nose of molasses and fermentation.

I know this because I was a judge in Denver at the Great American Beer Festival this past September, when the winning recipe by Tony Simmons of Brick Oven Brewing, Pagosa Springs, Colo., was chosen.

The idea came from the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary — the nonprofit commission, created by Congress, to honor Franklin's 300th birthday.


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Nicola Twilley, director of public programming for the Franklin Tercentenary, said the idea came from her husband, Geoff Manaugh, a poet, novelist and beer lover.

She's not sure about the quote, but she says history does show that Franklin loved his ale. The quote sounds like him, she says.

The Brewers Association, of Boulder, Colo., jumped on the idea and five brewers across the country — each with a reputation for research and brewing expertise — brewed a sample barrel of beer.

The idea was to be as true to Colonial America as possible. The beer had to be an ale, made with a warm-fermenting yeast; lagers weren't brewed in America for another 50 years. It also needed to be quite strong. Head-knocking ales were popular in Colonial pubs and with Franklin.

The winning beer had 6.6 percent alcohol by volume and a rough edge or two. That's to be expected, says judge John Harris, the prize-winning brewer from Rogue. Beer was made quickly, placed in wood casks and served in a tavern without benefit of refrigeration.

Each Bay Area version will be slightly different. Half Moon Bay's, for example, has less corn. Magnolia will have a regular version and another served from a cask on hand pump.

Blueberries at Busch?

We now move from the historical to the surreal. What in the world is happening in St. Louis, home of Anheuser-Busch and the American Budweiser?

They're experimenting with blueberry ale; they made a prize-winning marzen, a pumpkin ale and a 10 percent holiday special called Celebrate.

A couple of days before Christmas, I tasted another: Front Range Harvest Hop Ale. Not exactly a "wet hop" ale, like some West Coast brewers are making these days, with hops minutes or hours off the vine. But it was made with fresh, spicy Saaz hops from its Elk Mountain, Idaho hop estate, that had not been kilned (dried). Malts were two row-pale barley, and caramel.

It was made at A-B's Fort Collins, Colo., brewery and is available here on tap only at the Fairfield A-B brewery. You have to do the brewery tour first, which is painless and interesting. Call (707) 429-7595.

Everyone else on the same tour went for Bud Light. Not me.

Front Range was served with no fanfare, ice cold out of a keg, pushed by CO2 into a plastic glass. I let it sit for 10 minutes to warm up. It had a pleasant nose, gentle spice, malt and a hint of apples. The taste was smooth, no big malt taste, no hop rush, gentle and smooth and very drinkable.

It reminded me strongly of Elk Mountain, the first all-malt ale that Anheuser-Busch brought into taverns a decade ago: the same, smooth, well-blended qualities.

Elk Mountain arrived without any publicity. Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News, and I tracked it down at a chain restaurant in Oakland. He called it "Stealth Beer," a great name that stuck.

Will we see Front Range around again? Let's hope so. But hey, notch up the hops a bit. You'll have a winner.

Places to go

Moving on to the stony and sublime, mark your calendar for these amazing events:

-Bruce Paton, the executive chef at Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, who is gaining a national reputation for his beer dinners, says the first dinner of the year is Jan. 27, featuring the prize-winning beers of Schooner's Grille & Brewery, Antioch. $65. E-mail bpaton@cathedralhillhotel.com or call (415) 674-3406.

- The Bistro Double IPA Festival is Feb. 11, beginning at 11 a.m. (Think double hops, double malts, double alcohol from a regular India pale ale.) The Bistro's at 1001 A St. in downtown Hayward.

Proprietor Vic Kralj promises about 50 or more, hopefully including famous Double IPAs from Three Floyds in Munster, Ind., and a contribution from Dogfish Head of Milton, Del.

A reader, Tim White, adds that another will be Urthel Hop It. This is brewed in Ertvelde, Belgium, by Van Steenberge for a Dutch brewer, De Leyerth. It's a huge, golden beer: 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, hidden in a stunning, silky maltiness. Details: http://www.the-bistro.com.

- The Toronado Barleywine Festival begins Feb. 18 and continues until the beer is gone. Proprietor David Keane says there will be at least 50 of these strong, head-knockers. Toronado's at 547 Haight St., San Francisco. http://www.toronado.com.

Like strong beer? Don't miss any of these events. But come with a designated driver.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. — world classic; — outstanding; — excellent; — good; — average.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.