We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish breweries, ensuring domestic beer is top quality.
Your Boston brew tour is going to take you all over Boston, introduce you to plenty of new breweries, and allow you to sample dozens of beers. Distracted by all the fun, you might not have the chance to ponder how it all got there. What is the history of beer in the city of Boston? Has it always played an important role? Have there always been such epic Boston brewery tours? Don’t worry; we’ve got you! As you might tell from it’s current brewery scene, Boston has a rich beer history…beerstory?…We’ll work on that. From the very beginning beer has played an important role in Boston’s story, and consequently our whole nation’s history, as the fight for independence ensued during the Revolutionary War. But more on that later. Right now, let’s start at the beginning.
When you think about the Mayflower, what comes to mind? Pilgrims? Thanksgiving? Seasickness? How about beer? On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower set sail with about 100 passengers and barrels and barrels of beer. Beer was a much safer option than water and sustained the crew and passengers on their Transatlantic journey. As mishap after mishap came up, prolonging the Mayflower’s travel time, tension arose between the crew and passengers as beer was running low and rations were getting smaller and smaller. By the time they arrived in Plymouth, the captain cut off the Puritan adventurers and at first, left them to fend for themselves and care for their sick without beer, while the crew recuperated on the ship. After realizing his crew was also in bad shape and that they’d have to stay in Plymouth for a while before they could make the journey back, Captain Christopher Jones had a change of heart and told the Pilgrims they could come to the ship and get beer for their sick. America’s first beer run. Unfortunately, they faced a pretty harsh New England winter and only half of the settlers survived it. The half that did survive owed it to the Native American’s who took pity on them, sharing food and teaching them to grow corn, but also they owe it to beer, or so we’d like to think.
The poor unfortunate Pilgrims had to switch to water for a number of years, until they learned to grow barley in the late 1620’s; in 1628 the first shipment of hops arrived. Now they were able to brew their own beer again and if that wasn’t enough, in 1630 the ship Arbella arrived with 10,000 gallons of beer and plenty of malt (suddenly I want to name my first born Arbella). Beer brewing was seen as a domestic chore the way cooking is. Beer was brewed by women called Alewives who would serve their beer to their family but many of them would also sell some of their batches. One of the most famous Alewives was Sister Bradish who was both a baker and a brewer. Barley and hops were still not the easiest ingredients to come by so many beers were brewed with innovative flavoring agents such as oats, wheat, pumpkin, parsnips, and popularly, spruce.
As time passed and the colonies grew, beer was being brewed more abundantly and was a regular part of life. The first commercial brewery got its license in 1634. Opened by Robert Sedgewick it was located on the harbor as sailors were frequent patrons. It was even normal for beer rations to be part of the work day. For example, a typical ship crew was allotted one quart each per day. Ben Franklin wrote about the typical drinking habits of the printing press employees stating that they would have a pre-breakfast pint, a pint at breakfast, a pre-lunch brew, a beer at lunch, one more in the afternoon, and then of course, a pint after work. It was the same in academia too. John Harvard, benefactor of Harvard University was a beer enthusiast. His legacy called for beer and ale to be served in the main hall. A decent ration of beer for students was dictated through most of the 18th century. The school even had it’s own brewery. The growth of beer was soon followed by a growth of party poopers though, and the first Blue Laws started cropping up including limits on ABV and disallowing the serving of alcohol after 9pm. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like any of the laws discouraged libation enthusiasts. Bostonians love their beer.
Due to grain shortages, caused by Mother England’s heavy taxation and regulation of it (but more on that later), beer began to have some stiff competition. People living more rurally and not in the heart of Boston, were unable to get imported beer, and turned instead to making cider. Farms always ended up with an excess of apples, more than they knew what to do with, and this put them to good use. Some Caribbean colonies were owned by the British and had very successful sugar crops. This meant there was plenty of incoming sugar and more importantly, molasses. This leant itself well to rum production which became a popular beverage during the beer shortages.
These beer shortages didn’t go unnoticed and certainly ruffled some feathers. There was a riot in Boston Harbor as beer lovers (and maybe some bread lovers too) protested a ship headed south, stocked full of grain. There was only so much people could take and soon there were rumblings about breaking ties with England and their tyrannical chokehold on grain, and thus beer production (they had some other qualms as well, I’m sure). The beloved tavern played an important role in the early days of the revolution. Samuel Cole opened the very first tavern in 1634, aptly named Cole’s Inn. After that, they popped up everywhere. The Green Dragon was the meeting place tavern for Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and the Son’s of Liberty as they plotted their exit plan from the Motherland.
And thus the Revolutionary War began but beer didn’t stop being important. The Massachusetts Provincial Council set the daily rations for Boston troops in 1775 and among bread, beef, beans, and milk, the soldiers were allotted one quart of “good spruce or malt beer”. After the war and independence was won, the newly United States began to see larger scale beer production. In Boston, beer brewers were exempted from taxes for a while to encourage more beer breweries and discourage spirit consumption. Boston Beer Company (not affiliated with the current Boston Beer Co.) was the biggest brewery in the country distributing as far as New Orleans. Also up there was Haffenreffer Brewery which was opened by German immigrants and thus brewed German style beer. Both breweries survived Prohibition but never fully recovered, finally teetering out in the early-mid 1900’s and leaving Massachusetts brewery barren. After that Boston had to rely on imported beer or domestic big beer companies for the most part. Luckily, in 1986 times began a-changing when Harpoon Brewing obtained Brewery Permit No. 1 and shortly after Sam Adams Brewing followed suit.
Boston has been the heart of (arguably) two of our nation’s most important revolutions: the American Revolution and the craft beer revolution. It’s apparent all over the city with our historic sights and abundance of craft breweries and bars, or should I say, taverns. Boston’s beer selection is now beyond our Founding Father’s wildest dreams, not to mention the Pilgrims. We feel honored to be able take you around on our Boston brew tour, in a city with such rich beerstory (I’m going to make this word catch on). So, what are you waiting for? Go book your tour now!