The Mayflower took off from England on Sept. 16, 1620, bound for the area that is now New York City, on the journey that would lead to the founding of the United States of America.
Filled with just over 100 Pilgrims and their supplies, the vessel was blown north. As a rough voyage brought them closer to Plymouth Harbor, the Pilgrims decided to disembark and make a new life there.
One essential factor in their decision to land where they did?
They had run out of beer.
“We came to this resolution,” wrote future Plymouth governor William Bradford, “to go presently ashore to take a better view . . . or we could not now take much time for further search or consideration, our victuals being spent, especially our beer.”I abhor drinking water. Fish do nasty things in it.
One of the settlers’ first projects in the new world was the attempted establishment of a brewhouse. Little was accomplished at first, as fewer than half the Mayflower’s passengers survived year one and the grains they had brought from England either failed to grow or produced crops “not worth gathering.”
They were forced to drink water instead of beer — a significant and strange adjustment from their usual routine — but by the late 1620s, they had learned how to grow barley on American soil and adjusted their planting schedule accordingly.
The first shipload of hops arrived in 1628, and by 1630, beer brewing and consumption was a force in the colonies.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, the colonists viewed beer as a necessity for their fighting men, with each soldier receiving “1 quart . . . beer or cider” per day.When I was in the military, we also viewed beer as a necessity. But the brass didn't share that viewpoint.
Independence was won, but the war took a dire toll on the young nation’s brewing industry, which the founders realized would need to be rapidly revived to help boost the country’s economy and morale.
“It is to be hoped, that the Gentlemen of the Town,” said founding father — and, later, beer namesake — Samuel Adams, “will endeavor to bring our own beer into fashion again . . . so that we may no longer be beholden to Foreigners for a Credible Liquor.”
For all their legendary disagreements, the founding fathers supported the industry’s revival. Thomas Jefferson ... became a brewer in retirement. Benjamin Franklin — who is rumored to have once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” — spoke of its importance, as did others.
|Beer is as all-American as the Fourth of July and beauties in bikinis.|
By 1911, the US had overtaken Germany to become the largest beer producing nation in the world, with an output of 63 million barrels. Prohibition halted this growth, as some brewers found alternate revenue sources — Anheuser-Busch sold ice cream, and “Schiltz, Miller and Pabst turned to cheese, chocolate and other confections” — while many others closed for good.
While the beers, the people who make them and the way we prefer to drink them have changed, America’s love affair with beer is as passionate today as it was when the first settlers arrived here on the Mayflower.
“Take a glance at the drinking habits of the early colonial period or the Industrial Revolution,” Huckelbridge writes, “and one simple and undeniable fact emerges: America is a nation of beer drinkers. We always have been, to varying degrees, and we most likely always will be.”