Brewing beer in America dates to the colonial communities established by Dutch and English settlers from the mid-16th Century. Importantly, the colonial communities quickly recognized that the terrain and climate of the present-day New York were useful for brewing beer and growing hops and malt, which are part of the essential ingredients for brewing beer. Notably, beer played a prominent role in the day-to-day lives of Colonial Americans. Colonial Americans consumed beer in the home for nourishment and refreshment. Besides, it was also consumed in taverns as a measure of conviviality and imbibed in celebrations such as weddings, christenings, and funerals. The sheer levels of drinking vessels that survives today attests in accordance with the widespread popularity of the intoxicating brewing of beer between the mid-16th Century and late-18th Century in colonial America. During the era, drinking water could be hazardous to one's health. As a consequence, people resorted to brewing beer, which was considered safe and even nutritious in terms of health. However, the overuse of beer was not encouraged. In addition to hops and malts, Colonial America transformed other farm produce such as barley, wheat, corn, and oats into beer brewing. Back then, beer was a beverage that was enjoyed by all levels of society, including young and old. Whereas beer was an essential beverage enjoyed by the colonial communities in America, this paper discusses beer in Colonial America between 1550 to 1789.
According to Hieronymus (2016), a 1660 map of New York indicates twenty-six breweries and taverns, which is a clear suggestion that brewing beer was popular in Colonial America. The produce and sale of beer were profitable since the society in that era preferred drinking beer to water. Beer was considered safe and nutritious as opposed to water, which its consumption resulted in health complications from water-borne diseases. Despite the early popularity of beer, Hieronymus (2016) argued that other alcoholic beverages such as wine grew in importance, and by the early 18th Century, several of them had commercially eclipsed beer. A study conducted by Hieronymus (2016) indicates that between 1650 and the civil war, brewing beer in Colonial America changed a great deal. Both production and consumption remained an essentially local affair. Brewing beer became part of the Colonial American culture, and beer consumption circulated well amongst the residents. Fundamentally, nearly all the beer was stored in, and then served, in the wooden kegs (Hieronymus, 2016). While there were many breweries in the colonies, it remained common for locals to brew their beer. In actual fact, several American founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson brewed their beers (Hieronymus, 2016).
The introduction of hops in the late sixteenth century resulted in a change in the definition of beer and ale. By 1600s beer became a malt beverage with hops. At the same time, ale became a malt beverage brewed without hops. The distinction continued for about 200 years (Hieronymus, 2016). During the time, fines were charged on those who put hops into ale. Over time, the preservation of hops won favorable flavors for brewing beer. During the eighteenth century, the brewing of beer had become part of Colonial American's culture. Beers started varying in strengths and also tastes. The first wort was delicate in taste and flavor. As time went by, in the course of the eighteenth Century, taste and flavor of beer started improving.
Among the brewed drinks consumed in Colonial America, beer enjoyed the most considerable popularity. In his trip to Florida in 1669, Edward Ward described the beer as the comforter of the American souls, and the promoter of their mirth. Beer was recognized as a potently strong drink. Beer was the most popular drink in Colonial America and was a central player in the Atlantic trade, which brought slaves to the North American colonies from the western coasts of Africa. Beer was highly valued, and it was a local brew that colonist could even make their beer. Beer further gained its popularity after the revolution that was fueled by the influx of Scotch-Irish immigrants to the new nation (Hieronymus, 2016).
The American founding fathers during Colonial America were also brewers. They not only concocted declaration of independence but also devised ways to brew beer. For that reason, therefore, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among these enterprising Americans. Following the presidency, Washington's Scottish farm manager John Anderson urged him to start a brewing business. Rightly, Anderson assured Washington the business would be an extremely profitable investment (O'Prey, 2018). Before 1780, Washington had the largest brewery in Virginia (O'Prey, 2018). At the same time, Jefferson also plotted his venture in beer brewing, with much less success. To many Americans, local and home brewing of beer were routine. As mentioned by O'Prey (2018), hard cider was one of the most common beers. Peasant farmers who could not afford to purchase expensive wines and other alcohol resorted to brewing household beers. Ciders, peaches, and other local brews were common amongst the locals. Although home brewing of beer was common, preferences and practices widely varied across classes and regions. In New England and the Middle colonies, alcohol was seen as a male activity. Women were the main brewers of beer at home and in the Chesapeake (O'Prey, 2018).
O'Prey (2018) attested that drinking beer in eighteenth-century America was a communal recreation. Under most circumstances, people preferred drinking in public taverns rather than in the homes. Taverns were popular gathering places that were licensed for the entertainment of travelers and strangers (O'Prey, 2018). Besides, businesses and political meetings, public and private celebrations were also carried out in taverns. Taverns also provided lodgings and served meals to travelers. However, their primary occupation was the provision of beer for refreshments. Beer was served in wooden kegs passed from one drinker to another with little concerns for hygiene. To share a wooden keg signified conviviality among friends and strangers as well. A variety of beers were offered in taverns with prices posted as directed by the colonial courts and quantities regulated by the standardized formulations required of all tavern owners. At the same time, the attempts to establish vineyards in Colonial America were significantly disastrous to beer. In view of that, it necessitated the importation of wines from Spain and highly popular fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira (O'Prey, 2018). Despite the anticipated price variation between wine and beer, the expensive European wines were enjoyed by founding American leaders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin (O'Prey, 2018).
For the most part, the affluent afforded fine silver vessels from which they were served and drunk their beer while in their homes. Ordinary people used tankards and wooden kegs for drinking beer in large numbers. As stated by O'Prey (2018), tankards were cylindrical in form, with sturdy curved handles with the steady molded baseband. Evidently, regional differences existed in the design of tankards in comparison to most silver forms. To give an illustration, for instance, tankards made by New York Silversmiths had broader bodies and flatter covers than those that were made in New England. Over the course of the eighteenth Century, tankards that were used in drinking beer grew taller and more tapered. Occasionally, in the event of a successful business venture or in the presentation of gifts to mark special occasions, beer used to be served in tankards.
Beer brewing was appreciated as a form of heritage in Colonial America. Beginning in 1550 and later in 1789, beer brewing transitioned in tastes and flavors, therefore, attracting different consumers. Colonial Americans consumed beer in the home for nourishment and refreshment. Despite having different breweries in the colonies, locals continued to brew their beers. Americans founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also brewed and consumed beer. The affluent used fine silver vessels in drinking beer while the ordinary people used wooden kegs and tankards. For the most part, people preferred drinking beer in taverns as compared to homes. Apart from serving beers, taverns provided additional services such as meals and lodgings for travelers and visitors. Drinking beer in wooden kegs and tankards signified conviviality among friends and strangers as well. In Colonial America, brewing beer was routine
Hieronymus, S. (2016). Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer. Brewers Publications.
O'Prey, M. (2018). Beer in Maryland: A History of Breweries Since Colonial Times. McFarland.
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