Author: Gregg Smith Publisher: Siris Books, 1998 ISBN: 0-937381-65-9 Cloth, 6 x 9, 325 pages, illustrations Price: $16.95 ($23.95 Can.) Gregg Smith's narrative is a lively retelling of early American history. It portrays beer as a major player, and brilliantly reconstructs the cultural and political context out of which it rose.
One of the most important but little-known aspects of early American history is the role of beer in our country's founding and formative years. This definitive account of beer's impact on people and events that shaped the birth of a nation will astonish readers.
Beginning with the pre-colonial era and ending with America's emergence as an industrial power, this book is a fresh and swiftly flowing adventure. Among his many surprising revelations are the reason the Mayflower really landed at Plymouth; our first prohibition; brewing in the colonies; George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as homebrewers; and forging the Constitution after hours over beer.
Gregg Smith is a well-recognized historian and author of numerous books including The Beer Drinker's Bible. In 1997 he won the Quill and Tankard Beer Writer of the Year Award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers. He lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
What others are saying about Beer in America: "'Beer in America makes an intriguing filter through which to view our nation's history and an enjoyable read besides. Smith is to be commended." ~Ale Street News "Beer in America is the best book on the history of American beer and brewing in print today." ~HappyHours.com Magazine Introduction The Dawn of American Beer Swinging gently on its anchor line, the ship was nearly silent in the predawn light. The low groaning of the rigging and the soft lapping of waves against the hull were the only sounds. Taking it in was a solitary figure, silhouetted in the light of an oil lamp. The shoreline, becoming more visible as the minutes passed, offered a strange combination of hope and fear.
The first one awake, the expedition's leader had finished breakfast before coming on deck, bringing with him only what remained of his morning drink. It was the drink that had him concerned, for on drawing his morning beer he had seen how perilously low the ship's supply of ale had dwindled.
At first light the small boats would be loaded and begin the process of shuttling the newcomers and landing their provisions. There was no thought of any delay, they needed to get ashore and begin brewing their own beer. On the previous evening, when the ship had arrived in the small harbor, the company of immigrants agreed on the priorities for construction of community buildings; a brewery was near the top of the list. The leader hoped the brewery would be functional before the meager supply they brought with them ran out. After all, beer was a necessity.
This scene was repeated many times from the late 1500s to the early 1700s in colonial North America. Small wooden ships crisscrossed the Atlantic, ferrying newcomers to an unspoiled land. They all had different reasons for making the trip. Some came for freedom of religion, speech, or philosophical beliefs. Others making the difficult passage were driven by political motives, and still more came for economic opportunities. A number were fleeing families, and a few were fleeing the law. Their reasons for leaving the relative security of Europe for an unknown land were certainly diverse, but most of them had one thing in common: they drank beer.
To comprehend the cultural importance of beer requires an understanding of its role in civilization. Beer and society have been inseparable companions for thousands of years. Literally, the two have gone hand in hand. When people first settled together they were motivated to do so by a common cause: the thirst for beer. All the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs the colonists brought with them to North America were the result of society's millennia-old marriage with beer. Indeed, drawing a fresh mug of ale was, at that time, as indispensable as drawing a breath.
More than a mere cultural habit, beer drinking evolved into a healthful practice. Brewers have to boil water to make beer, thus killing the microbes that imperil health. In Europe, fouled drinking water placed city dwellers in peril; those who used the fetid supply regularly developed serious health problems. In England, Parliament tried to enact laws against pollution, but it was too late to prevent widespread disease. Nearly every supply was horribly tainted.
True enough, the pristine streams running through the virgin forests of the new land were pure and clean, but still, the settlers simply wouldn't drink the water, because they brought with them frightening memories of their homelands' deteriorating water supplies. There, rivers and streams were becoming the equivalents of flowing dumps.
By the mid-1400s the bias against drinking water in Europe was deeply ingrained. Sir John Fortescue wrote of the English peasants: "They drink no water unless it be . . . for devotion." Settlers in the Americas lost sight of the fact that European beer drinking, and avoidance of water, was driven by fear of pollution; they simply didn't trust it. No amount of reasoning about the safe supply running in the rivers of the New World could make them drink it. Luckily they knew of a safe alternative: beer.
For settlers, one of the most precious cargoes their tiny ships held was beer. It was more than a comforting reminder of the homeland, more than a bottle of liquid bread. Beer was healthy nourishment. Each new ship would anchor off the coast and passengers would spend their last night aboard going over the plans for a new community. At dawn they would venture ashore and start to hack an existence from the wilderness. Obtaining food and shelter was high on the priority list, and in virtually every North American settlement one of the first buildings constructed was a brew house.