Exploring New England’s Craft Beer Renaissance
If you like beer, this is a great time to be living in New England. In fact, this has been friendly territory for beer drinkers for a long time — the Pilgrims first dropped anchor at Plymouth because they were running out of beer.
The American revolutionary Samuel Adams called on his fellow countrymen to brew and drink local beer as a way to “stick it to England.” And, more recently, after a brief downturn during the great recession, New England breweries are booming — growing in number and stature. Today there are some 200 breweries across the region, most of them small craft shops.
Lauren Clark, author of “Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day.” She tweets at @LaurenTheClark.
Who drank beer when the pilgrims arrived:
Lauren Clark: “Everyone, even the children. They would drink a weaker beer. It was really the only thing to drink at the time that the New World was settled. There was no coffee or tea yet. People didn’t drink juice or milk.”
On the Puritans’ position on beer:
LC: “The taverns were very important cultural and economic and political institutions. They were the center of civic life, so there would be a church and there would be a tavern. They’d often be right next to each other. The church was obviously where people met and worshiped, but the tavern was where they conducted business and politics before our institutions were built. The tavern served many purposes, including providing a reliable source of beer. The Puritans were definitely beer-drinkers. They were Englishmen and they loved their beer. The Puritans believed that if you made good beer available at a decent price then people wouldn’t be tempted by liquor.”
Why women were the principal brewers when America was settled:
LC: “It was a household task. Going back centuries before in Great Britain, women did the brewing. They were called Brewsters and they would brew for their families and sometimes they would brew commercially and that was true in the New World, too. We had housewives brewing beer for their families and there were also women like Sister Bradish of Cambridge who brewed beer for the Harvard students. She baked bread and she made penny beer. Some Harvard students would pay their tuition in barley and wheat — that’s how much of a staple beer was.”
On the renaissance of craft brewers in New England:
LC: “It really started in New England in the ’80s with people like the DL Geary Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, and also Sam Adams and Jim Koch, but we’re kind of experiencing a new wave in the last few years. It’s just been explosive. We have over 200 and counting breweries around New England. Many of them are very small and they’re serving really just — if not their one little pub where they’re brewing — then a very small area around their community.”
On the second renaissance of craft beer:
LC: “There’s a new generation of beer drinkers who grew up with craft beer. They know what an IPA is, they know what a stout is and they know what different kinds of hops are. Their palates are much more educated than the first wave of consumers during the first wave of craft beer.”
- “Early New Englanders were a resourceful bunch, says Lauren Clark, a resident of Somerville, and they brewed with whatever raw ingredients they could find. ‘That was what it was all about for the first couple hundred years. It was, Hey, we have a lot of molasses. Let’s make a beer out of that.’”
- “If you’re a fan of craft beer, you’ve mostly likely surrendered to the pull of the pilgrimage. Sometimes, to experience the most elusive, highly sought-after examples—those holy grails obtainable only at the source—you have to dust off a trunk full of growlers, purchase a tank of gas, and head toward the alluring bouquet of wort and hops.”
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