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.