Great Moments in American Beer History

There is something undeniably American about the philosophy of drinking a beer. It's the everyman's drink to be enjoyed during backyard celebrations, or baseball games, or while watching moon landings, or simply as a reward for finishing mowing the lawn. It's a beverage ingrained in our national ethos, passed around by intramural softball champions and Super Bowl winners alike. To hell with apple pie: beer is what makes America gleam.

In honor of the Fourth, we've compiled some of our favorite moments in American beer history. Swap them at your holiday BBQ. Pass them along to your favorite bartender. Shout them out while watching fireworks. Because knowledge is power, and as a man named Abraham Lincoln once said: "If given the truth, [the people] can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts -- and beer."

Native Americans were making beer long before European settlers arrived  

Archaeologists have discovered fragments of pottery that prove that ancient Pueblos were brewing beer in New Mexico as far back as the 13th century, more than 300 years before Spanish settlers arrived in the area. The brew was made using corn, similar to a weak beer tribes in Arizona and Mexico made called tiswin. Thanksgiving, it seems, was much more fun than the old paintings let on.

America's first public brewery opened in 1612 in New Amsterdam

Even though colonists in Virginia had been making beer for personal use for years, it wasn't until Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen opened their doors in New Amsterdam that a public brewery stood on North American soil, right at the southern tip of Manhattan. As perhaps what you could call a pretty good omen, the first brewer ever born in the New World (and purportedly the first non-Native American male born in New Amsterdam) was delivered right in the brewhouse. There's no record on what eventually happened to the brewery, but most believe it was priced out of the neighborhood by a chain drugstore.

Mayflower II
Replica of the Mayflower II in Plymouth, MA | Flickr/Jennifer Macauley

The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because they were running out of beer

Anyone who has been through primary school has learned the story of the Mayflower, and anyone who has picked up a history book since has learned that the actual events were pretty different than the kid version. One huge difference? The Pilgrims themselves actually had plans to sail south to Virginia after landing on Cape Cod, but were forced to land at Plymouth Rock as they were running out of vital supplies, chief among them being beer.

The founding fathers were big on beer in both their personal and professional lives

Does it really come as a surprise that there was beer on the minds of the architects of the United States? At a time when drinking water was a risky proposition, brew was considered a safe alternative to death by dysentery. George Washington insisted his continental army be permitted a quart of beer as part of their daily rations during the Revolutionary War (and luckily for them, Congress agreed and upheld the request).

But even outside of troop sustenance, George Washington was known for both buying beer (kind of ironically, it was often English porter) and using homebrewing as a means of providing their households with beer. According to the Mount Vernon Historical Society, there was a recipe written in his handwriting discovered on the last page of a notebook he kept.

Thomas Jefferson, always the showboat, went even further with his devotion to homebrew. After retiring from public life to Monticello, he quickly developed an interest in producing his own beer, right down to roasting his own malts. Naturally, word spread and his brew became so popular that the sitting governor of Virginia and sitting President James Madison both requested his recipes (to which he replied, "No way, Jose," or something similar in his Jeffersonian wit).

James Madison
Portrait of James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816 | The White House Historical Association/Wikimedia

James Madison tried to make beer a federally official thing

Leave it to ol' One-Upmanship James Madison to try to take the beer spotlight from the rest of the founding fathers! Early during his first term in 1809, he proposed the creation of a national brewery to ensure the country had a reliable supply of beer for the masses. He even proposed to have it overseen by an appointed Secretary of Beer who would sit on his cabinet. Of course, this may have less to do with his love for beer and more with the fact that he was trying to 1) protect the domestic beer market by undercutting imports with tariffs, and 2) make beer more popular than whiskey, which he found to be a huge drag on families and society in general. In any case, it didn't matter: party-pooper Congress rejected his idea, denying it from ever taking off.

The oldest bar in the country predates the actual country itself by over a century

Long before craft beer bars were in vogue, or before we had really delved into the idea that "hey, maybe the British aren't so great," someone in Rhode Island got the idea to open a tavern. And that's why in 1673, the White Horse Tavern in Newport opened its doors and became an active participant in early American history. Colonial councilmen gathered here, charging their beer- and spirit-fueled lunches to the public treasury, while Hessianic mercenaries (or German soldiers paid to police the British colonies) drank nearby. And it was run by a pirate for while! These days, the German mercenaries are long gone, but it does serve crazy-good seafood and kick-ass local beer.  

In the 1980s, a beer-drinking goat was elected mayor of a town in Texas

Perhaps as proof that people are willing to vote for anyone with a schtick, the small town of Lajitas, TX once elected a beer-swilling goat as their town's leader in the late '80s. Henry Clay was famous for taking a long-neck bottle of Lone Star beer from tourists, upending it in his own mouth, and spitting the bottle to the ground when it was finished. He was viewed as a firm-yet-benevolent leader by his people until he was killed by his own son in a heated act of jealousy.

obama beer

President Obama is the first to brew his own beer in the White House

Since George Washington never actually lived there, and since every president in between was more a "bodega run" kind of guy, President Obama's homebrew program marks the first time a sitting president has made his own beer in the White House. Public interest in the brew has been intense ever since he got a homebrew kit for the kitchen during his first year in office... so much so that two lawyers actually requested the recipes be made public under the Freedom of Information Act. And they won! If you want to make your own batch of White House Honey Porter or Honey Ale, you can find them right here.

2015 was literally the biggest beer year for America, ever

You might've guessed it, but this whole craft beer thing has really been booming in the US of A. Beer is selling like proverbial hotcakes, if hotcakes were something people actually bought and liked. 2015 saw the first time that the number of active breweries surpassed their pre-Prohibition high mark. This might not sound too shocking until you consider it took over 142 years (since 1873!) to accomplish this, which is around the time Betty White was born.

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Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in NYC, a newly minted Certified Cicerone, and nothing else. Follow him: @zmack.