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The Founding Beer Brewers

Though the early English settlers of North America relied primarily on the importation of English beers, the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam relied primarily on local breweries instead of importing beer from the motherland. New Amsterdam was the first and largest brewing center of the New World and continued to be so even after it was sold to the British and became New York. Philadelphia was the second major brewing center of the New Colonies and started to rival New York in the late 17th century. In fact, many of our founding fathers were brewers.

George Washington was a devout beer lover. In particular, he was fond of the dark, English-style brew known as porter, and always demanded that an ample supply of it be kept on hand at Mount Vernon, his Virginia estate. One of Washington’s first acts as commander of the Continental Army was to provide a daily ration of one quart of beer to each of his soldiers. Even when funding for the war got tight, Washington fought to keep this ration for his troops, believing that it helped morale.

But long before the Revolutionary War, Washington had published a recipe for beer. Washington’s brew would now be considered an “extreme” brew–coming in at around 11% alcohol by volume. The average domestic beer today contains about 4.5% to 6% alcohol.

Washington also made beer a patriotic issue several times. In 1770, he joined a movement that called for a boycott on heavily taxed British beer. Then, in 1789, he promoted the buy of American-brewed beers by saying he would only drink porter brewed in the United States.

Washington wasn’t the only founding father who loved his beer. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry encouraged legislation to promote the American brewing industry. Although Jefferson was known more as a wine lover, he also brewed ale and once wrote: “Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.” Ben Franklin left behind maybe the best quote when he said, “Beer is proof that God likes us and wants us to be pleased.”

Beer brewing has a long established history in America. If you are a home brewer or choose to become one, you will be following in the footsteps of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other patriots who founded our nation. That’s pretty excellent company to be in, don’t you reckon?

Seamus McGillicuddy writes about home brewing techniques and recipes at his blog thebeerbrewingblog.blogspot.com/ The Beer Brewing Blog.

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