As a self-proclaimed beer nerd, I’m always interested in all things beer. So, when Kim found me Beer in America: The Early Years, a book on the history of beer, I was intrigued. Admittedly, I’ve never really thought much about the history of beer; I generally assumed it’s just evolved from its beginning as the oldest fermented beverage on earth to what it is today without much fanfare. However, after reading this book I found that there is actually quite a bit of history to the evolution of beer in America, and the fact that it played an important role in the formation of our fledgling nation is really exciting.
Beer in America begins during the colonial period of American history, outlining the important role that beer played in the foundation of the new British colonies in the New World. Often, one of the first buildings built in new colonies was a brew house, as the stores of beer brought over in ships were typically low after the long voyage across the Atlantic. Therefore, small brew houses began to proliferate throughout the new colonies, and as the colonies grew, so did taverns along with beer production to serve the high demand of the colonists. Often, this demand was due to the fact that many viewed water as a source of sickness and contamination, which was a view that was carried over from Europe, where this was definitely true. However, despite the fact that clean sources of drinking water were prevalent in the New World, this theory continued for decades and beer reigned supreme.
After this early colonial beer history lesson, Smith discusses the importance of beer in forging our nation’s independence. He stresses the importance of taverns in the colonies, which provided a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty and noted revolutionaries such as Sam Adams (of course he needed to be included if we’re talking about beer!) and Ben Franklin. Additionally, taxes such as the Stamp Act and Intolerable Act both heavily taxed and attempted to blockage shipments, especially beer, to the colonists. This stressed the already oppressed colonists, and eventually lead to the Revolutionary War. Aside from this revolutionary history, Smith also discusses the expansion of several breweries after the war ended, as well as brewery technology used at the time.
I’ll freely admit that I was a bit skeptical at Smith’s original statement that beer was one of the crucial elements of the original settling of America and her freedom from England. How could such a simple beverage hold such power? However, after reading the book I found that its power lies in its ability to bring social connections together. The taverns that were a fixture in all of the colonies became the meeting places of the revolutionaries; liberty and freedom from oppression were discussed over a couple of pints. Beer provided the social freedom for the colonists to freely speak their opinions and join forces. It’s no accident that one of the most successful breweries today is named after one of the most influential proponents of liberty in early America. In reading this book I gained a greater appreciation for the power and influence that beer had in shaping our history, and that only increased the interest that I have in it as a subject. Cheers!
4 out of 5 stars