When we think of craft beer, we often think of the interesting pubs and tap rooms we currently find across the U.S. However, the industry itself was established as early as the 1600s, when Dutch and English settlers were first colonizing the land. Dutch immigrants were the first to notice that New York had outstanding ground for producing the necessary crops for their trade and old maps of New Amsterdam denote a surprising number of breweries in that time, showing that yes, we’ve always loved craft brews.
Brew-your-own was the common practice of the time and the majority of the beer produced was stored in wooden kegs, much like it is cured now. Even such famous figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known for brewing their own beer and the variety of flavors was an outstanding range for the community.
Breweries did not change much over the years and data for periods from the 1600s through the early 1800s shows that there was not a large increase of decrease of popularity overall. During the Civil War era, much information was lost about the actual numbers of breweries, due mainly to the devastation across the country caused by set fires and fighting.
That is not to say that there were no successful brewing companies in those early days. A brewery founded in New York by James Vassar was widely popular and showed great success. Vassar eventually handed the operation over to his sons, who continued their father’s traditions and earned quite a large following. Although the brewery was lost to a fire in the early 1800s, it was rebuilt in 1811 and continued to produce outstanding brews that largely satisfied the public’s tastes. In fact, the popularity of the brew grew so much that by 1860 Vassar was producing 30,000 barrels per annum and supported a workforce of fifty employees, quite a feat for the era.
Vassar is now more widely known for the college of the same name, whose main contributor was Matthew Vassar. The only remaining son, he donated a vast amount of the breweries earnings to the college in the hopes of providing a good future for the youth of the community. His hopes were certainly further reaching than he could have ever hoped for, as students find success from that college to this day. The majority of those students take part in the traditional college revelry, likely never realizing that their institution was founded on funds from the same drink they enjoy so much on the weekends.
In volume two of the series, we will continue further into the history of the industry, moving on to the mid-1800s and exploring the number of breweries that began to pop up all over the U.S. Feel free to check back as we will be sure to link to the next volume here as well as posting it publicly in our journey! In addition, keep your eye out for news of West Palm Beach Brewery & Wine Vault as we make our way to our early 2017 official opening!