Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions for Historic Research

One of the joys of having my parents visiting at the moment is the extra excuse to get out of town at weekends and see some of Virginia's famed historic sites. The weekend just gone, we did exactly that, driving east to visit Williamsburg and Jamestown.

Jamestown is the site of the first permanent English colony in North America, while Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, and is most famous today for the open air museum which revives the colonial era just before the American Revolution. Both are very interesting, in their way, but both left me with a fundamental question - what did these English colonists and their descendants drink?

Imagine if you will, walking from the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, down Duke of Gloucester Street and passing some 6 or 7 taverns as you go and not seeing a single reference to the brewing of beer in the colonies. In fact, if we bring our trip to Monticello into the equation, I have only seen one reference to brewing at any of these sites - a small info board in the beer cellar at Monticello, which has spurred some research on my part because I am not sure that it is entirely correct, but we will return to that at some other point.

But the question remain, what went into colonial era beer? Obviously to answer that question, which I intend to do eventually, our jumping off point has to be brewing in Elizabethan and Stewart England, as the beer brought over with the colonists would have been whatever was available where their ships were fitted out. So now I need to set out and discover what Elizabethan beer was all about, and how the colonists adapted their culture in light of the different ingredients available to them, especially when thinking about grain.

So many questions, I just hope I can find many of the answers, after all, brewing in America goes back beyond Yuengling, even if they are "America's Oldest brewery".


  1. Velky,

    See if you can get a copy (hard to find) of "Real Beer and Good Eats" (Knopf Press 1992) by Bruce Aidells (most famous for sausage) and Denis Kelly. Interesting stuff on history of beer and food in American taverns and bars (17th and 18th century mostly)-GeauxT

  2. I've been interested in brewing in Colonial Era America for some time (did some historical re-enacting in that time period). For a start, contact this individual: Richard Wagner, from Hatboro, PA. He does demos with reasonable facsimiles of equipment hand made for this purpose (
    Also, the website of the Pennsylvania Brewery Historians has info (
    Lastly, BYO magazine had an article by a VA archeologist who uncovered a recipe in the Curles Plantation on the James River in Henrico County, although I have serious reservations about the author's interpretation of the recipe's historical processes (



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