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I may as well take one glass: Drink and Drinking in America

Drink and Drinking in America

IN the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, colonial Americans made and drank beer and hard cider, but rum was also produced and heavily consumed in the colonies. From the English-controlled Caribbean islands, the coastal colonies of New England and New York imported enormous quantities of molasses, a cheap by-product in the sugar refining process, and distilled it to make rum. The American Revolution disrupted the molasses trade and, after the Revolutionary War, westward expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains put an end to the domestic run industry. With fertile land settled and crops like corn, rye, wheat, and barley readily available, American alcohol production and consumption shifted to whiskey. Distilleries flourished. In Tennessee alone, there were over 700 licensed distilleries by the end of the 1800s.

Meanwhile, large numbers of Germans immigrants began arriving in the United States in the early 1800s and many established regional breweries. And at mid-century, wine and especially French wine became an increasingly common feature of American dining.

UNDOUBTEDLY, for many Americans a practical knowledge of making various alcoholic beverages was a matter of oral culture and tradition, but this knowledge was also available in and derived from printed books. And in glancing at American books on distilling, brewing, and wine- making we see in rough outline the history of tastes and our changing preferences in drink.

title page of practical distiller, old and stained

The Practical Distiller, or, An Introduction to Making Whiskey, Gin, Brandy, Spirits, &c. &c.

Samuel McHarry
Harrisburgh [sic], Pennsylvania, 1809

McHarry’s Practical Distilleris one of the earliest American books on distilling spirits. It was preceded by Michael Krafft’s American Distiller, published in 1804 in Philadelphia, and it was followed in 1810 by Robert Gillespie’s A New Plan for Distilling, published in Baltimore.

close up of title page every man his own brewer

Every Man his Own Brewer

Samuel Childs
London, 1798

Samuel Childs’ book was initially published in 1790 and saw over a half dozen editions by 1805. It was published in Philadelphia in 1796 and, thus, available to American brewers. Some of the information in Childs’ book was “borrowed” for The Complete Family Brewer, published anonymously in Philadelphia in 1805.

book cover of complete practical distiller

The Complete Practical Distiller

M. Lafayette Byrne (1826-1903)
Philadelphia, 1853

This 1853 work on distilling spirits by Byrne followed his Complete Practical Brewer of 1852.

title page of vine-dresser's manual

The Vine-Dresser’s Manual

Charles Reemelin (1814?-1891?)
New York, 1856

Without long-established vineyards or winemaking traditions, Americans learned viticulture by travel to Europe and through books—specifically, books concerned with grape cultivation and winemaking in America. Such was Reemelin’s Vine-Dresser’s Manual, a comprehensive, profusely illustrated, and clearly written book.