5 Ways Beer Shaped America
Posted on March 26, 2014
It was ol’ Honest Abe who said “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
In a nation where new breweries pop up faster than celebrity scandals on TMZ, America’s obsession with beer was anchored long before the words “United States” were ever uttered. Read on to understand the wide-reaching effects of beer’s influence on our nation:
The New World’s First Brewery
In 1609, residents of the New World were thirsty, running out of beer, and apparently too busy colonizing to make more. So, they did the sensible thing and put a few “help wanted” ads for American-based brewers in London newspapers (craigslist would not be invented for another 383 years). And by 1612, Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen—heroes, really—had the first American brewery up and running on the lower tip of New Amsterdam, now modern-day Manhattan. The brew house even provided the birthplace of Jean Vigne, the first nonnative American born in the colony, who grew up to be a brewer himself.
Mayflower Stopped Because of a Beer Shortage
The original plan for the Mayflower was to sail to the Virginia Colony, colonize, and live out their days as happy New Worldians. But like most of my college parties, they called it quits a little early because of a dwindling supply of beer. This, my friends, was the beginning of a butterfly effect of circumstances that eventually led to us eating a roasted turkey every November.
Upon landing at Plymouth, Captain Christopher Jones kicked out the Puritans and Separatists aboard the Mayflower to ensure ample beer supplies for the return journey to London. As passenger William Bradford put it, “We were hastened ashore and made to drink water, that the seamen might have the more beer.” It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
“Laugh all you want, but this was no small matter,” said beer history blogger Lisa Grimm in Serious Eats. “Water aboard ship was likely to become brackish and potentially deadly, while beer remained drinkable.”
We all know the story from here. Still, it’s fun to imagine: What if the Mayflower hadn’t run out of beer?
Having beer for breakfast doesn’t make you an alcoholic—it just means you’re old-fashioned. Take it from historian Peter G. Rose, who explained that during colonial times, having a pint in the morning was a healthy substitute to the less-than-sanitary choice of water.
“Beer was safer,” said Rose in Hudson Valley Magazine. “It was a sensible thing to drink beer because in beer making you’d use boiled water.”
Greg Smith from BeerHistory.com goes on to say the calories and carbs packed in a pint of beer provided the up-and-go needed to get though the day.
“Seldom did anyone pass on the opportunity to down an ale. It was both the nourishment and refreshment common throughout that period’s long work days,” said Smith.
Origins of “The Star Spangled Banner”
Turns out Francis Scott Key was inspired by a little more than a tattered flag over Fort McHenry when he penned “The Star Spangled Banner.”
If I’m being honest, the original version’s pretty good, but it’s definitely lacking in the patriotic imagery of explosions department. However, that still doesn’t take away the fact our national anthem was birthed from old British dudes tossing back ales in crowded London pubs.
George Washington Had His Own Brewery
Beer has always held a special place on the American table, beginning with George Washington’s.
“Beer was a favorite drink of George Washington,” said historian Mary V. Thompson. “Both beer and porter were among the beverage choices offered during a Mount Vernon dinner.”
Our first president was a proud beer lover who is said to have habitually drunk from a silver pint glass at meals. He even ordered more than 400 bottles of porter before the Revolutionary War to keep that pint glass topped off.
Though it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who quipped “What America needs now is a drink” after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Washington was the first presidential beer advocate. Not only did he house a brewery at his Mount Vernon residence, but he made sure everyone around him—even his servants—had at least a quart of beer a day.
Historians even unearthed Washington’s small beer recipe from an old journal of his. Though it’s not as snappy or complicated as Barack Obama’s Honey Porter, it proves that democracy and brewing have been, and will be, presidential mainstays.