Since The Dawn Of Time...
Excerpted with permission from Will Anderson's The Great State of Maine Beer Book by Real Beer, Inc. for
personal enjoyment only. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
by any means without permission in writing from the author. Copyright 1996 by
Will Anderson. All rights reserved.
Beer - defined by Websters as "a mildly alcoholic drink made from malt, hops, etc." - has been around a long, long time. Over 4,000 years before the birth of Christ, the Babylonians enjoyed a beerlike beverage. Actually, beverages: they brewed 15 types of beer, including pale beer, dark beer, red beer, beer with a head, and beer without a head. The Egyptians called their beer "hek" and made it by crumbling chunks of barley bread into jars of water and allowing the mixture to ferment. For those unpleasant trips across the desert, only the fermented bread crumbs were brought along. When an oasis was reached, water was added and, viola, the result was instant beer. The Egyptians knew the health value of beer, too. Pharmacists of the day relied on 700 prescriptions, 100 of which contained beer. The Greeks, as well, liked their brew. Noted philosopher Herodotus wrote a treatise on beer in 460 B.C., while Sophocles had a diet he favored for moderation. Its mainstays were bread, meat, lots of vegetables, and of course, beer.
America has always been big on beer, too. On his fourth voyage to the New World, in 1502, Columbus discovered that the natives of Central America enjoyed a beerlike beverage made from maize (corn). He likened it to English beer. America's first "help wanted" ad ran in a London newspaper in 1609. It was for brewers to come to Virginia. And, speaking of Virginia, it was there that the Pilgrims intended to take up residence. But they settle for New England, in 1620, because supplies aboard the Mayflower were running low...most importantly their beer. A diary kept by one of those on board explained: "We could not now take time for further search of consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beere."
The Pilgrims had to overcome many a
hardship, not the least
of which was a lack of
barley. But perseverance
won out, as
evidenced by these
lines penned by one of
If barley be wanting to make into malt,
We must be content and think it no fault,
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut tree chips.
In 1613 Dutch explorer Adrian Block (for whom Block Island is named) erected several log houses at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, one of which was converted to a brewhouse...the first "brewery" in the New World. Nor did "New Worlders" take their brewing lightly. In 1640 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a regulation that "No one should be allowed to brew beer unless he is a good brewer," while New York, in 1655, ruled it illegal for anyone to brew beer for sale unless they possessed "sufficient skill and knowledge in the art and mystery of brewing."
Stone Street, in lower New York City, became the first paved street in America in 1657. Originally named Brouwer (Brewer) Street, its paving was necessitated by the breweries located on it: the breweries' delivery wagons, laden with beer, kept getting stuck in the mud.
George Washington had a great fondness for beer, especially porter. In fact, a recipe for making beer, written out in his own handwriting, still exists from 1757.
Famous early Americans who respected beer included William Penn (who had a brewhouse erected at his estate, Pennsbury), General Israel Putnam (who was, in real like, a brewer and tavern keeper from Brooklyn, Connecticut), Thomas Jefferson (who in an 1816 letter to a friend, discussed beer and stated "I wish to see this beverage become common.") , and James Madison (who expressed his hope that "the brewing industry would strike deep root in every state of the Union")
And, finally, America's first privately endowed college for women, Vassar, was founded by wealthy Poughkeepsie ale brewer Matthew Vassar in 1861. And to this day Vassar students pay him tribute by occasionally bursting into song:
And so you see, for old V.C.
Our love shall never fail.
Full well we know
That all we owe
To Matthew Vassar's ale!