In March of 2011, Barack Obama became the first president to serve beer brewed at the White House. Although early presidents brewed their own beer at various points in their life, beer had never been brewed in the White House before.
The homebrewed White House Honey Ale was brewed, not by the president or first lady, but by the White House Chefs led by Cristeta Comerford, according to the Obama Foodarama blog, the “public portion of the digital archive of record about Obama Administration food and nutrition initiatives.” White House Curator Bill Allman told Obama Foodarama “we have no record of beer brewing at the White House.” Early presidents are the most likely to have brewed in the White House, since such skills “plied at [the presidents’] personal homes,” could have translated to the White House, according to Allman. The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia states that at that time “beer was ubiquitous” and “rural households brewed small quantities in their kitchens for their own use.”
The Jefferson Encyclopedia notes that Thomas Jefferson did homebrew, but only after he had retired from public life to Monticello. He brewed using malts bought from his neighbor William Meriweather and locally grown hops. Jefferson had grown hops in his garden in 1794, before becoming President, but there is no evidence he brewed at that point.
George Washington was known as a homebrewer and his recipe for “small beer” is held by the New York Public Library. The text of the recipe and pictures of Washington’s handwritten note can be seen at the Gothamist, here. The beer was made of bran, hops, and molasses. Washington never brewed in the White House because, as the White House’s history page notes, he never lived in the White House. John Adams was the first President to live there.
Although the honey ale brewed in the Obama White House may seem untraditional, Washington’s ale contained molasses, so colonial ales were not necessarily all grain affairs. Also the honey was sourced from the White House beehive, following in the tradition of using local ingredients. According to Obama Foodarama, Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass, who oversees the White House Kitchen Garden, may consider growing hops there.