Monday, March 2, 2020

Whiskey in Early America

By Kristy McCaffrey

To the early settlers of America, alcohol was a necessity. While drinking was certainly done for pleasure, it was also used for health concerns. Water was notoriously unhealthy, particularly in settled areas where waste and drinking water intermingled. Even small children drank a mildly alcoholic thin beer.

Stills were used, and everything was thrown in, from wild berries to pumpkins. Favorites were pear brandy, applejack, and metheglin (a type of mead flavored with cinnamon, chamomile, and other herbs and spices).

In 1640, William Kieft, director general of the Dutch New Netherland colony, opened the first commercial distillery on Staten Island. He used corn and rye, making him the first whiskey distiller in the colonies.

As the Americas expanded, where you lived influenced what you drank. Farmers had easy access to grain alcohol. Urban centers imported brandy and wines, such as Madeira. The most popular drink, however, was rum, which was distilled in New England from molasses imported from British colonies in the Caribbean.

By the early 1800s, rum consumption had declined, and whiskey took its place. The explosion in production coincided with the influx of German, Scottish, and Irish immigrants, who brought a cultural knowledge of distilling with them.

Jacob Beam (born Jacob Boehm) was the son of German immigrants and the creator of the Beam distilling dynasty. He moved from Maryland to Kentucky, found fertile soil for growing corn, and was able to create affordable liquor for the masses.

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Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I never heard of metheglin before. What a strange name! Sounds like a good drink though. Your post is timely for me because husband and I spent part of Sunday afternoon at our local distillery for a sampling. We got educated on the differences between bourbon and rye among other things. I do indulge in a bottle of Jameson's about this time of year (and it generally will last us all year! though I do enjoy it. thanks for the post.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I saw your posts and had to laugh. We seemed to be on the same wavelength.

Julie Lence said...

It's always fun to step back in time to discover who made what and how they made. I'm not one for alcohol, but I do like the history and how some of those companies still exist today. Thank you, Kristy!