Independence Day is this week, and communities across the country will celebrate with parades, fireworks and cook-outs. Many of us will also commemorate the event with a selection of our favorite beers. So let us raise a glass to the liberty-minded men before us, and to the brewers who helped create some of America’s classic styles!
Maize and Persimmons
The unfamiliar plants and climate of the New World put new challenges on brewers, and has led to new and innovative types of beer. Historians generally agree that the first beer brewed by American colonists was in 1587, at the Roanoke colony in present day North Carolina. Because plain water was still considered dangerous to drink, beer was seen as integral to survival as access to food and shelter. But barley, a key ingredient in beer, did not grow well in the New World. These first beers were brewed with maize, including the green corn stalks, as well as oats, wheat and persimmons.
Pumpkin Beer—an American Original
One of the first beers brewed by the colonists was pumpkin beer. Pumpkins are native to America, and were an excellent source of fermentable sugars—particularly when barley was hard to come by. The pumpkin’s praises were even sung in what may be America’s first folk song, written in 1643.
If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no fault
For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips
The first pumpkin beer recipe does not call for any cereal grains at all, and so was probably more a wine than a beer.Over time, pumpkin beer has evolved from its 17th-century origins, and is now a popular fall seasonal release (perhaps because most brewers now choose to leave out the parsnips!)
Steam Beer—Gold and San Francisco
Steam Beer, now known as California Commons, was born during the frenzy of the Gold Rush. Unlike the long established breweries on the East Coast, the first breweries in California were built hastily, in response to the hoard of hopeful fortune hunters. They also lacked the access to ice—gathered and stored from the Great Lakes during the winter—that the East Coast breweries used to cool their fermenters. This lack of adequate refrigeration forced these warm-climate brewers to brew with the then-preferred lager yeast at warmer temperatures than normal. To cool their beer more quickly, the Western brewers used very shallow fermentation vessels, which exposed more of the beer to the air. This technique also caused the beer to continue a secondary fermentation in the barrel, which would cause a whistling sound when it was tapped -one of the proposed origins of the name.
American Ales—it’s all about the hops
The West Coast of the US is home to some of the finest hop fields in the world, including the amazingly fertile Yakima Valley (where Mendocino Brewing gets its hops). The Cascade hop,named for the Cascade Mountain range, was bred in the ‘50s and first released in 1971—setting the stage for the hoppy flavors that help define US craft beers. To many brewers, the Cascade hop is synonymous with American Pale Ale, which originated in the US around 1980. This robust, well-balanced hop still features in many American Ales today, and in its honor, Mendocino’s first 30th Anniversary Ale, a pale ale, will be a single hop beer using ONLY Cascade hops!
Born and bred in America, craft beer is testament to the innovation and spirit of American brewers. How will you make craft beer a part of your Independence Day celebrations? Let us know in the comments below!