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.”
See? Learning history can be fun.
During the Pilgrims’ voyage, the beer shortage was “a source of stress for all aboard the Mayflower. Tensions had escalated considerably between the passengers and the crew because of it,” writes Huckelbridge.
The ship’s captain, Christopher Jones, thought he wouldn’t have enough beer for his crew on the way back. He kept it from the Pilgrims, causing tension, until he and his men took ill. Once he realized he’d need to stay in the colonies and recover instead of returning directly home, he became more generous and allowed the Pilgrims to share in the beer.
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.
I’ll be honest, there is a shortage of beer in my house as I write this post and it would be a source of stress were it not for the fact that I live in a country that learned early on to make the stuff relatively easy to acquire. I won’t panic unless I find the beer shelves at the store empty because other patriots shopped early.
American beer lovers live in–dare I say it?–heady times, with the number of breweries in the U.S. having more than doubled in just the last ten years. I can’t even keep up with the craft breweries opening in Los Angeles these days, much less the entire country. Much to the chagrin of my liver, however, I am trying.
Should you want to go hardcore history buff and make a vacation out of it, here is a list of the oldest breweries in America.
As you celebrate this glorious land’s independence this weekend, remember the debt of gratitude owed to every cold brew you reach for.
Once you can’t remember anymore, you’ve had too many.