What Americans Boozed On Throughout History

Knocking back beer dates all the way back to some of the first European settlers in the New World. And while it doesn’t go along with the stereotype the Puritans were voracious beer drinkers. When the pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower, they packed the ship with more beer than drinking water. Pilgrims including the kids drank about a quart of beer each day of the journey.

Thought their beer didn’t have as high of an alcohol percentage as of today’s beer. The Puritans actually preferred their fermented drinking to the most likely contaminated water. The ale was so important to the pilgrims a beer shortage is believed to be what got them to land on Plymouth Rock instead of continuing south. With their beer supply dwindling the sailors sent the pilgrims out to find water.

To find out more about the invention of beer check our Did the Ancient Egyptians invent Beer?

A painting of the Mayflower ship and  a smaller boat carrying passengers.
Credit: https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/mayflower

Wine was associated with the upper class

When Europeans moved to North America they tried to reproduce European wine. But the native grapes created acidic wine that was impossible to drink. The grapes that the Europeans brought over and tried to harvest failed to grow in the harsher climates of the Eastern seaboard. As a result for centuries, the wine had to be imported from Europe. As with all imports, the high cost of imported European wine meant that only the wealthy Americans could afford to drink. By 1840 less than 3% of wines consumed by Americans were domestic.

But that all changed with the Gold Rush of 1849. When the Gold Rush blew up so did California’s population. Naturally, most of these settlers became miners. But when they had problems finding gold they changed careers. Some of the settlers who gave up chasing gold started growing grapes and founding breweries that popularized California wine. By the 1910s 90% of all wine consumed in the US came from California.

Rum – The favorite liquor for the Founding Fathers

While beer was the standard drink among the settlers the Founding Fathers preferred rum. Rum was pretty important among the elite founders. On his ride to warn of the British invasion Paul Revere stopped for a slug of rum. Rum was truly loved by the Americans. For years the sugar refineries dumped millions of gallons of molasses into the sea until they realized it could be made into rum. By the time of the American Revolution, each citizen downed an annual average of 4 gallons of rum.

People were willing to slay for whiskey

A drawing depicting two soldiers on horses talking to the protesters of the whiskey rebellion.
Credit: https://www.britannica.com/event/Whiskey-Rebellion

In 1794 George Washington sent Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton into Western Pennsylvania to make sure whiskey distillers paid their taxes. Hamilton leads a group of 13 000 militiamen who squashed the Whiskey Rebellion. During the Rebellion Pennsylvanians refused to pay these tax collectors ever tarring and feathering one of them.

The whiskey tax was so unpopular that some of the distillers actually threatened to declare independence from the fledgling US. During America’s early years whiskey slowly started to replace rum as to go to distilled alcohol. This is because the revolution slowed the imported molasses. And the new import duties raised prices everywhere. Lucky for Americans the surplus of corn from the Midwest made the production of whiskey dirt cheap.

Saloons mixed strychnine for a deadly drink

Old west saloons actually served up powerful alcoholic drinks to Sierra Nevada saloons called tarantula juice. A ghastly concoction of gin mixed with diluted strychnine. Because strychnine is an alkaloid tarantula juice probably produced an effect similar to meth. The erratic bursts of energy coupled with heavy alcohol consumption almost always resulted in violence.

Sailors ration of alcohol rid themselves of scurvy

It’s been documented that British sailors were known to drink as much as 10 pints of beer a day. But the warmer temperatures in the tropics ruined their beer. So the enterprising seamen turned to punch. Made from distiller spirits, fruit juice, and sugar with spices like nutmeg or cinnamon often added for flavor. Punch quickly became the most popular drink for sailors and eventually a favorite for Americans on land. Unlike other alcoholic beverages of the day its citrus juice helped protect against scurvy and packed them with calories needed to survive another day.

German immigration cause beer to boom

when more than a million Germans landed on American soil during the second half of the 19th century they brought a cold drinkable lager that gradually replaced the English ales. And the Germans didn’t just introduce new brewing methods. They even brought over new types of yeast to create their beer. Breweries thrived across the country until prohibition put many small brewers out of business for good.

The 1893 Chicago World Fair brought tequila to the US

An old black and white photograph showing the 1983 Chicago World Fair.
Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORFkbmHymdE

Distilling agave takes back centuries. But tequila didn’t become popular in America until the late 19th Century. In 1893 during the Chicago’s World Fair wealthy Mexican families introduced tequila to a new market. today Mexico exports 70% of its tequila with about 80% of those exports shipped off to the US.

Thanks to prohibiton Americans created Hooch

Prohibition went into effect on January 17th, 1920. But Americans kept drinking anyway. People simply turned to underground bars and bootleg liquor. Homemade alcohol also known as hooch was made up of horrific ingredients like rat corpses and rotten meat. Meant to imitate the flavor of barrel-aged alcohol. Americans mixed their hooch with anything that might take the edge off.

Americans loved cider until the teetotalers burned apple orchards

Cider was one of the most popular drinks. Many also claimed cider prevented fever, laryngitis, rheumatism, and colic. Unfortunately, cider’s glory days ended at prohibition. During the drinking ban, teetotalers burned apple orchards to the ground to ensure their fruit wouldn’t become cider. It took decades for hard cider to recover particularly because some cider apples went extinct.

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