Most people remember from school that the Pilgrims were hyper-Christians that hated fun, had a great Thanksgiving that didn’t at all involve genocide and then went crazy killing witches in Salem, Massachusetts.
But they also loved beer. In fact, they began colonizing Plymouth Rock — instead of their original destination 200 miles from where they had contracted to settle — because they needed to make a beer run.
As tempting as it might be to say the Pilgrims were actually just party animals wanting to stay half drunk all day every day because YOLO (though some of them were), needing to stop and brew beer was for scientific reasons. And survival.
Before people discovered safe methods for storing fresh water, the safest way to avoid an extremely painful death from contamination was boiling water and fermenting it into beer or other intoxicating liquors. A New York Times article quotes Richard Fferthorne (a Brit who traveled to early Virginia) as saying, “He complained that whereas back in England people grew fat and healthy on strong beer, in Virginia they had to make do with water, which weakened those who drank it.”
Drinking beer isn’t only more fun than drinking water, but a couple hundred years ago, it was also safer and a big reason why humans still exist today.
This was particularly true for sailors, because of the difficulties in storing clean water on the boat. Most water onboard ships was brackish and untrustworthy. People would originally stay drunk all of the time because it was a safe way to avoid dying a horrific death from water born illnesses such as typhoid and dysentery.
An even juicier aspect of the fateful beer run was the Pilgrims were forced into it. Captain Jones, captain of the Mayflower, needed more beer for his journey home. And since the settlers hit Massachusetts in the middle of December, neither the captain nor crew wanted to brave the elements to make the beer run. They were eventually forced off the ship to brew the beer.
Some of the Pilgrims even died during the run since they had to spend a couple of weeks on shore brewing in the brutal cold of winter, which created serious rifts between captain, crew and settlers. One of the crew members was even quoted as saying about the captain, “one in his sickness desiring but a small can of beer, it was answered that if he were their own father, he should have none.” Which is basically old-school phrasing to say they wouldn't give this asshole a can of beer even if he was their own child.
Yet the beer of lore is hardly what we consider craft today. While most beer is brewed with wheat and barley now, the Pilgrims had to settle on brewing with corn. Lisa Grims, a beer history blogger says, “In fact, corn was used from the beginning of English settlement for brewing, both at Jamestown and Plymouth; barley crops often failed, and the cost of importation (even after the settlers stopped dying in such alarming numbers) was prohibitive.”
The fruit of their run was something worse than Keystone Light, and they had to drink it or they would die.
Essentially, near 400 years ago, the Pilgrims had become like fraternity pledges to nature, the ocean, and Captain Jones. Though the apparent party lifestyle wasn’t by choice, but chosen by science. Nature hazed them into alcoholism, and if they couldn't keep up with drinking more beer than water, they’d die of cholera or some other terrible disease.
So that’s fun.