Beer, Plymouth Rock & The Pilgrims—The Real Story
Posted by Bob Skilnik on November 14, 2007
One of the interesting things I’ve learned while donning the cloak of an author is
my love of research. Unfortunately, falling under the spell of a good story or three
that has ever so slightly the remotest connection to your main topic can lead to a
manuscript that most publishers will take a scalpel to. The economics of getting
published in today’s market often means writing a lean story, just enough to keep
the reader interested, but not so many pages as to bring down an entire forest for
an 800-page opus. While working on Beer & Food: An American History, I found so
many interesting and often odd ball stories to tell, ones that might have peaked
the interests of beer geeks, foodies, and even the weekend historian. But publishing,
dear readers, is a business, so many stories never made the aftermath
of the editorial cut.
Since the release of my seventh book, I’ve posted a few of these cutting room floor
stories that have rubbed against the grain of some popular bits of American beer folklore.
Not surprising to me, I’ve been chastised by a number of critics who just know I was
wrong when I explained that Ben Franklin never had an infatuation with beer as he did with wine.
I guess living in France for so many years can do that to people, even old Ben.
“I doubt the veracity of Bob’s research,” said one poster on another beer blog,
even while admitting that he had no evidence to contradict my story of Franklin’s
love of wine, not beer. Even corroborating evidence supported by a computer word
search by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary that proved that Ben was writing to
his friend, Andre Morellet about wine (“Behold the rain which descends from heaven
upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a
constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”) and NOT beer, was
“He’s pushing a new book, so what do you expect?” chimed another armchair
I went a few rounds with fellow bloggers and the Brewers Association in April, 2007
about the true date of National Prohibition on December 5, 1933. Despite the fact
that 36 states had to vote on the repeal of the 18th Amendment—the first time
that U.S voters ever had a hand in the institution of a new amendment to the
Constitution, voting for the 21st which nullified the congressionally-originated 18th
Amendment, too many weekend historians insisted that April 7, 1933 was the true
end of Prohibition. April 7 allowed those states that wanted to, to ignore the
Volstead Act and bring back “light wines” and beers with an alcohol by volume of
no more than 3.2%. It did not bring back hard spirits, full-bodied wines, or even
bock beers, but to this day, there are some who insist that April 7, 1933 was the
end of Prohibition. Of course, if that was so, what was the whole purpose of the 21st
It’s a bitch when facts get in the way of a good argument, especially concerning
beer and all its folklore.
So I was a bit hesitant to write about another popular bit of U.S. beer folklore—beginning
with the silly notion that the “Pilgrims” chose to land at Plymouth Rock because they
had run out of beer.