Historic travelers can quench their thirst with a flood of Civil War-themed brews.
From Minnesota to Maine to Virginia, a curious intersection of Civil War history and beer brewing is taking place.
Heritage tourism is a driving force marrying beer and the Civil War. Since small independent craft brewers often struggle to compete with the large national brands for retail shelf space, and packaging and distribution can be very expensive, many small breweries have embraced a business model whereby the brewery becomes a destination, complete with tasting rooms and on-site sales. It’s an approach that has given rise to beer tourism in many parts of the country.
After touring the battlefields around Fredericksburg, Va., for example, you can drop into Spencer Devon Brewing for a Sunken Road Belgian Blonde or a Fighting 69th Irish Stout. Follow up a hot day on the fields of Gettysburg by stopping by Battlefield Brew Works—the perfect place to refresh your spirits with a Lincoln Lager, an Irish Brigade Brown Ale or a Bobby E. Lee Double IPA. Drive north to Hagerstown, Md., after a visit to Burnside Bridge and Bloody Lane and try Antietam Brewery’s General’s Golden Ale or Little Mac IPA.
More Civil War battles were fought in Virginia than in any other state, and in the past five years the number of breweries in the Old Dominion alone has tripled. There’s not a battlefield in Virginia that does not have a brewery nearby, many of which have adopted names or labels that pay tribute to historical events, as well as notables who passed through their communities 150 years ago. Tin Cannon Brewing Company, for example, located just a few miles from Manassas, explains its name as an “ode to…an area of tremendous Civil War history.” In Spotsylvania County, Adventure Brewing Company, which has two locations in Fredericksburg, operates a restaurant named “Lee’s Retreat” after the momentous events that happened nearby. Adventure also produces a very popular Stonewall Stout, the slogan for which is “One Taste and You’ll Say…‘I’d Give My Right Arm for a Stonewall Stout.’” Jackson, however, lost his left arm, proving that not all brewers are historians.
Center of the Universe Brewing Company, outside Richmond, released Crazy Bet Imperial Amber Ale with a label bearing the likeness of notorious Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. “Like ‘Crazy Bet,’ this Imperial Amber is sweet upfront and bitter at the end. We think she’d like it!” reads the label.
Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby’s visage graces The Ghost of the 43rd American Pale Ale by Three Notch’d Brewing Company in Charlottesville, Va. The Corcoran Brewing Company in Purcellville, Va., produces J.E.B. Stuart Stout—only fitting, as Corcoran is situated close to where Stuart screened the Army of Northern Virginia’s march to Pennsylvania during 1863 cavalry fighting at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville.
Breweries in other states have also incorporated Civil War references into their labels. In Wilmington, N.C, a major Atlantic point of entry for Confederate blockade runners as well as home to Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Ironclad Brewery offers its own Cape Fear Defender India Pale Ale. The logo of Union Pizza and Brewing Company of Fergus Falls, Minn., features Ulysses S. Grant in uniform—but you also can opt for a glass of their Jeff Davis Porter to enjoy with your slice of pie. America’s 16th president gets a nod from two locations: The Lincoln Brewing Company of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., and Lincoln’s Beard Brewing Company in Miami, Fla. Burnt Hickory Brewery in Kennesaw, Ga., offers its patrons Fighting Bishop Belgian Trippel and Old Wooden Head Imperial India Pale Ale, in honor of Confederate Generals Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood.
Brewers have also collaborated with historic sites and museums. A partnership between the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and breweries in Frederick, Md., exemplifies this tasty intersection of tourism and history. When the Civil War Sesquicentennial commenced in 2011, the museum worked with Brewer’s Alley Restaurant and the Monocacy Brewing Company to create a limited edition series of beers commemorating the war’s anniversary.
The museum’s staff researched historic recipes and provided them to the brewers, who massaged them into beers that they bottled and sold locally. “Together with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, we set out to tell an interpretive story through beer,” said a Brewer’s Alley representative. The first release occurred in 2012, with Antietam Ale, followed in 2013 with three additional brews: Proclamation Porter, First Draught and Gettysburg Wheat. Bad Old Man Ransom Ale, released in 2014, sported a label featuring Confederate General Jubal Early, who threatened to burn down the city of Frederick unless he received $200,000 ransom during his 1864 invasion of Maryland. Sesquicentennial Ale capped off the series in 2015. That partnership benefited both the brewery and the museum, with proceeds from beer sales going to support the museum’s interpretive programs.
As breweries increasingly become tourist destinations, we’re likely to see even more cooperation between historic sites and brewers. Perhaps there’ll also be a “Beers for Battlefields” collaboration, to benefit battlefield preservation as well as thirsty visitors. In the meantime, whenever you visit your favorite battlefield or site, take time out to look for, and maybe sample, what’s being served locally.
When he’s not working as a historian and cultural resources manager at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, you can often find Eric J. Mink quenching his thirst at a nearby craft brewery.