Perry’s Pioneer Pea Hull Beer of Madisonville

Bad Tom Smith Brewery in the 1927 Fifth Third Bank Building on the northeast corner of Madison and Whetsel in historic Madisonville.

Today, the prominent corner of Madisonville at Madison Road and Whetsel hosts only one historic building.  It’s a former bank of the art deco era, now housing the Bad Tom Smith Brewery.       Thankfully Madisonville is getting the financial support it has long needed and the other two corners are getting multi million dollar investment in housing and business.   That has sadly meant the demolition of a majority of its historic buildings along Madison road. It’s very appropriate the historic building on the corner now houses a brewery, given its pioneer ties to brewing and distilling.

The first structure on the northeast corner of the intersection was a log structure built in 1809, which opened as William Perry’s Tavern, a road stop during the early pioneer days of Cincinnati’s East Side.    Perry was from Kentucky and served to weary travelers, potash rum, corn whiskey and something called green pea hull beer.    Early accounts of the pea hull beer were that it could “really knock your eye out.”   Something tells me so would the potash rum and corn whiskey.    It sounds a lot like Bad Tom Smith’s mantra #badassinaglass.    It was all home made, and Perry was said to be his own best customer.    He lived in Madisonville for many years,  even holding several Columbia township offices, as many tavern owners did at the time.    But the prevalence and quality of alcohol in Kentucky called him back and he eventually left Madisonville for his old Kentucky home.

Shortly after his departure in 1830 a new structure, a two story frame tavern and hotel, was erected called the Goggin House at the prominent intersection.   It became the area stagecoach stop.    In the 1880s, that was replaced by a new structure for Maphet’s Grocery, owned by Timothy and Lon Maphet. It served as Frank Ferris Cafe for a bit, which served bonded whiskey, and it then housed Bainum’s Drug Store in the 1910s.    That was then then replaced by the brick structure that housed the Fifth Third Bank in 1927.    The bank vacated in 1982 and the building has not been consistently utilized until it was recently renovated for the Bad Tom Smith Brewery.

The northeast corner of Madison and Whetsel in about the 1890s as the Frank Ferris Cafe.

Lucky for us home brewers and weird food afficionados a basic recipe for Perry’s Pea Hull Beer survives and was printed during the 1959 Sesquicentennial Celebration of Madisonville in the Eastern Hills Journal.    It goes something like this:

“Pour six gallons of water on a bushel of green pea shells and boil the whole until the shells are insipid to the taste.  Pour off the water, which will be very sweet into a clean tub or keg and add a pint of yeast and two ounces of ground ginger.   Fermentation will soon take place and the beer will be fit for use.   Beer prepared in this manner is very clear, has an amber color, is pungent to the taste and has a fine head when poured into a tumbler.   One bushel of pea shells makes several dozen bottles of beer.   If not put in a cool place and corks secured by wire the bottles would burst with a loud explosion.   This beer so distilled (it was actually not distilled but fermented.   Chalk that up to lack of chemistry knowledge in one room schooling) made a spirit (again not a spirit, but a beer, but this was before taxably different categories of spirit , beer and wine) of the taste and color of whiskey, Perry’s account related.  He added, “In trying this any reader is on his own.”    Well that’s not an encouraging statement from the author!

This Madisonville concoction wouldn’t meet the regulations of the Germanic Reinheitsgebot purity laws, and probably wouldn’t appeal to the Germanic immigrants of the area, but beggars can’t be choosers I guess.    And Madisonville, having a plethora of mills placed strategically on the nearby Little Miami River, was more of corn whiskey country than beer country, like downtown Cincinnati was.   In fact, the area of Madisonville along Wooster Pike where the Frisch’s Mainliner is, was called Whiskey Hollow.

I am a homebrewer and although curious how a pea hull based beer with ginger would taste, I’m not sure I want to invest in an entire bushel.   I may just have to scale the recipe down a bit.    But I’d be happy to taste a pea hull beer made by Bad Tom or even at the National Exemplar.

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