With Thanksgiving just days away, I think a story about how beer was part of the reason why the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock is appropriate. Despite some naysayers, the tale of a beer shortage aboard the Mayflower in 1620 that lead to their being dumped in present-day Massachusetts has been circulating for years.
Believers point to a diary entry by an unnamed Mayflower passenger that reads, “We could not now take time for further search … our victuals being much spent, especially our beer ….” See, beer was used as a water supply because water itself was unsafe to drink. The beer-less situation, it seems, was dire.
According to legend, things soon went from bad to OMG-we’re-all-going-to-die-and/or-be-eaten-by-wolves serious. Passenger William Bradford was asked to negotiate with Christopher Jones, the masted carrack’s captain, for more beer. In his book, Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford wrote, “As this calamity fell among the passengers that were to be left here to plant, and were hasted ashore and made to drink water that the seamen might have the more beer, and 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.”
With no beer, things got real in the colony. As the weather grew more harsh, Jones relented, letting the Pilgrims back aboard the Mayflower for a while. By Christmas, though, all of the passengers’ beer supply was gone. A small amount of the crew’s supply was given to the passengers on Christmas Day, but before long, the wayfarers were sent ashore again, to fend for themselves.
The story of the thirsty Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock was seized upon by Anheuser-Busch just after Prohibition ended in the 1930s. When it became clear that stories of scurvy, dying Pilgrims and tyrannical captains didn’t exactly give consumers the warm and fuzzy needed to sell beer, the anecdote was embellished into a much more heroic yarn, becoming a staple of Budweiser’s holiday advertising.
There you have it – the narrative taken as fact as to how a shortage of beer forever altered the course of American history.
To pair beers with your Thanksgiving feast, try these:
Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest beer is a traditional variety of German beer also known as Märzen. It’s generally darker and stronger than traditional beers, with an alcohol content of about 6 percent. Characterized by medium to full body, malty flavor and a clean dry finish, Oktoberfest beers are particularly good with meat and poultry; indeed, a traditional menu at Munich’s Oktoberfest includes roasted poultry.
Dogfish Head Punkin, Southern Tier Pumking
In America’s early days, malted barley was quite hard to acquire; it had to be imported from England, so the malt was expensive, out of reach for lower classes, so colonists searched for other things to use as sources of sugar in their brews. Pumpkins were indigenous to America, and folks began using the plentiful gourds in brewing beer. Early pumpkin brews bear little resemblance to today’s brews, which generally skew more toward the pumpkin pie spices rather than the actual vegetable. Because of their sweet nature, pumpkin brews are perfect with desserts, like pumpkin and sweet potato pie. Thank goodness!