Fourth of July – Celebrate Early American Beer History

The Fourth of July is about more than fireworks. As Americans we should use this day to remember the brave patriots that fought for our independence. This is a great day to think about our founding fathers and spend at least a moment considering the kind of beer they drank.

Of course we should remember that Native American tribes brewed beer in North America long before Europeans arrived. They used maize, sap, honey and other ingredients to ferment beery concoctions. Under no circumstances should we think that transplanted Europeans were the first brewers on this continent.

That said, when European settlers arrived in the New World beer was an important consideration. Our forefather’s boots had barely hit the soil when they decided that they needed to start brewing beer. Here are some dates, facts and events from early American and United States beer history.

1587 – Sir Walter Raleigh founds the Roanoke colony – the first English colony in what was to become the United States. It is reported that they made beer in Roanoke. Sadly, the colony was unsuccessful due to the “disappearance” of the colonists. That’s why the Roanoke colony is often referred to as the lost colony.

1607 – First successful English colony is founded in Jamestown, Virginia.

1609 – The first “Help Wanted” advertisement appears in a London newspaper looking for brewers to relocate to the American colonies.

1612 – Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen establish the New World’s first known brewery on the southern tip of what is now Manhattan Island.

1614 – The first non-native American baby is born at Block and Christiansen’s brewhouse.

1614 – No, seriously. In 1614 the first-ever non-native baby recorded to have been born in what was to become the United States was born in a brewery.

1620 – The Mayflower lands at Plymouth. An entry in the diary of one of the passengers explains the unplanned landing: “We could not now take time for further search…our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.” That is why they landed in Massachusetts instead of continuing south to a warmer destination.

1629 – John Smith happily reported that the Jamestown colony boasted two brewhouses.

1660 – Early-Colonial America’s brewing capitol was the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (which would eventually become Manhattan). By 1660, the colony needed ten breweries to service its population of 1,600. One brewery for every 160 people. Small breweries or thirsty people, you decide.

1683 – William Frampton builds the first brewery in Philadelphia. By 1793, Philadelphia became the top beer-producing city in the newly formed United States.

1685 – William Penn writes: “Our beer was mostly made from molasses which well boiled, with Sassafras or Pine infused into it, makes tolerable drink; but now they make [it from] malt…”

1754 – George Washington enters a beer recipe in his notebook.

1768 – Thomas Jefferson begins construction of Monticello. Original blueprints call for the construction of a brewery and a beer cellar.

1770 – With a well-established brewing industry in place, George Washington and other patriots argue for a boycott of imported English beer. The Boston Tea Party could easily have been the Boston Beer Party.

Throughout their lives, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison exchanged many letters that referenced beer and the brewing process.

1775 – Revolutionary War measures by Congress include rationing one quart of Spruce Beer or Cider per man per day.

1789 – President Washington presents his “Buy American” policy indicating he will only drink Porter made in America.

1790 – Fire destroyed George Washington’s favorite brewery. He sent them a letter requesting that they send him any of the beer that survived.

1810 – This year, 132 breweries in the United States produce 185,000 barrels of beer. Population of the country is  7 million.

1829 – David G. Yuengling opens a brewery in Pottsville, PA. It continues today: the oldest operating brewery in the United States. The Yuengling family still owns the brewery.

*Information compiled from too many sources to list.


  1. Hutch, if each brewery were producing just one barrel per week, maybe so. I have no idea what a brewery in colonial America would look like. Probably not too fancy or big in 1660.

  2. Kendall, let us all thank Ninkasi and Gambrinius that the Boston harbor event has remained associated with tea. Can you imagine the cringing if the media kept talking about the beer-partiers pushing another election further to the extreme?

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