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Beer and Brewing in Colonial America

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Beer and Brewing in Colonial America

History 1301 - TR 8:00am

25 October 2011

Beer and Ale, and other beverages based on malted barley, has been in North America since the very first ships arrived filled with settlers dreaming of a new life on unknown shores. It has been at various times since a vital food staple, social drink of the people, safe alternative to possibly contaminated drinking water due to its boiling during manufacture, and the vilified drink of drunkards, usually all at the same time. Beer and Ale have played a vital part in the history of early Colonial America, and is truly the drink on which colonial America was built.

Beer and Ale then was much the same beverage then as we drink now, and it first came aboard the ships which ferried settlers and soldiers to the new shores of England's colonies in wooden barrels. Indeed, most ships at that time had a copper (barrel maker) aboard to care for them and the water barrels of the vessel. One ship of the time, the Arbella, is known to have carried over 10,000 gallons of English beer to the American colonies in 1630 alone. (McWilliams 543) The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock though it had been bound for Hudson Bay, in part because of poor navigation and weather effects, due to its dwindling beer supplies aboard the vessel. When put ashore, the Mayflower settlers brought with them barley, hops and equipment to brew their own beer as soon as they settled, which was fortunate as the Mayflower sailors did not leave them any. (Mittleman 6)

Brewing had, over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries in England, undergone a major paradigm shift from do-it-yourself in the home homebrewing operation to a Guild ran system of increasing sophistication, with brewing itself becoming a craft demanding training and skill. Ale and beer production became more economically viable to produce on a commercial level with dropping grain prices and advances in the brewing art resulting in greater efficiency of alcohol production from grain bills. Also, its widespread popularity with people of all social classes in England helped to exponentially fuel its popularity. It was this level of technical skill and ability that Colonial authorities tried to plant in the Colonies from their start, but where largely unsuccessful. In 1637 in Massachusetts Colony, comprehensive laws were passed to curb a swiftly growing number of brewing endeavors, including licensing fees to be a commercial brewer in the amount of £100, to be intentionally restrictive. (McWilliams 543) Due to the frontier nature of the 1630's Colonies, with the lack of a reliable transportation infrastructure, casks to ensure beer did not spoil enroute, and reliable couriers. In 1639, the beer laws were rescinded due to their unenforceability and transferred to local towns to govern. Due to this and the day to day realities of life in the Colonies, brewing became simpler and decentralized and it was more than 20 years before any larger then local village brewing, called Ordinaries, ventures arose. Brewing, and beer in general, was more popular in the northern colonies then southern due to beers inherent danger of spoilage in the south's hotter climates, where rum was a larger staple. Still, brewing maintained a steady and daily presence in the vast majority of Colonial American's lives, north and south, with it mostly being done in home for family consumption, including children by women brewers mostly as a course of their daily duties.

Beer and Ale is, in the context of the Colonies, one and the same item. Ale is produced by yeast that thrives in slightly warmer temperatures and over a large temperature range, and was harvested and dried to be reconstituted for fermenting later batches. Lagering, cold fermenting and conditioning of beer in temperatures of 50 degrees or less was not much done at that time due to its much more temperature restrictive nature and would not take hold in America until the large influx of German immigrants in the 1800s, Lagering being a primary style characteristic of German and Austrian brewing. Hops, malted barley and other grains, where are grown



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