Americans love beer. We love beer so much — chugging an estimated 6 billion gallons a year — that brewing and drinking has actually become a part of out culture and business for many.
In 1996, the Brewers Association of America counted 1,149 breweries across the country. Last year, the number hit over 4,000. But while people love to sip it, chug it and even home brew it, few people really know the history of beer in America.
In his new book The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink, author Dane Huckelbridge charts the fascinating history of America’s relationship with beer and its evolution along with the country.
Here are some surprising facts about the history of beer in America from the book.
The Mayflower stopped at Plymouth Harbor because they were out of beer
When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it held 100 passengers, a crew and a sizable amount of small beer. Small beer is lower in alcohol than the typical brew. It was better to bring beer on long voyages in those days because the hops preserved the liquid for longer. Water tended to be polluted from the start, and if it wasn’t, it eventually get that way. Bad weather sent the ship off course, leaving the voyagers at sea for longer than expected. Way off course and low on rations, the Mayflower docked in Plymouth Harbor to load up rations, specifically beer.
Puritans made beer from just about everything
In an effort to meet the demand of high consumption, the Puritans tried just about every way to make beer. They used anything they could get their hands on including walnut-tree chips, pumpkins and the branches of spruce trees. “Sprucing” beer became so popular, it became part of New England custom for years. The beer appeared in countless cookbooks and brewing manuals well into the 1800s.
Native Americans had beer and the brewing process was super gross
Upon his arrival, Christopher Columbus noted that the Native Americans had two distinct alcoholic beverages — one made from maize and the other from maguey. Each tribe had their own version of beer. The Mayans had balche (made from tree bark and wild honey) and the Matacos and Chorotis drank algoroba beer. Most of the brews were made from corn that was chewed prior to fermentation. Yes, chewed.
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George Washington was good at being a leader but terrible at being a brewmaster
One of the Founding Fathers couldn’t find the right way to make a good beer. Washington tried many times but failed at making his own beer. Nonetheless, Washington was a huge fan of beer, and was a big proponent of Philadelphia porter. He even gave up his favorite wine for it.
Thomas Jefferson was a “beer nerd”
Jefferson spent his retired life tinkering with different ways to make beer without barley. He spent a year trying to hunt down a copy of The American Brewer & Maltster manual. He befriended the author in an attempt to learn everything he could about the brewing process.
Adolphus Busch made insane money selling beer
Adolphus Busch was the German-born co-founder of Anheuser-Busch with his father-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser. At the time of his death in 1913, Busch was worth an estimated $60 million dollars. According to the inflation calculator, $60 million dollars in 1913 equals about $1.4 billion today. Busch was so rich he bought his own private train to get from town to town. HIS OWN TRAIN!!
For even more beer facts, check out The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink.