Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

“We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December.”

Those words from the diary of a Mayflower passenger are attributed to William Bradford who later became the governor of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The Mayflower’s original destination was the Hudson River but the overcrowded ship was running out of supplies, so after scouting around Cape Cod, they landed in Plymouth.

Beer was a mainstay of the diet back then because water was full of naughty micro-organisms and unsafe to drink, especially on board a ship. The Mayflower was loaded with casks of beer for the journey across the Atlantic. But dwindling beer wasn’t the only problem, with winter’s arrival they were also running out of time to build a settlement.

Did the Pilgrims have beer at the iconic first Thanksgiving with Native Americans? Beer romantics says yes, but beer historians say no. Given all the other challenges, building a brewery wouldn’t have been a priority yet, never mind having enough malted barley. But the beer at Thanksgiving myth lives on, and, frankly, I like it.

It’s more likely that first feast was accompanied by wine made from local grapes, and beer didn’t return until feasts in the years following. Modern day pilgrims to Plymouth can visit Mayflower Brewing. They just brewed their first seasonal, Thanksgiving Ale — a blend of American Strong Ale and English Old Ale that’s aged on American white oak. Maybe my dad will save me one to try at Christmas. Hint hint!  [Update: Dad came through; three bottles are waiting for me in Massachusetts. Thanks, Dad!]

There are plenty of blog posts suggesting the best wines for Thanksgiving – pinot noir is my favorite. Here are some suggestion for good craft beers.

If beer isn’t for you, Serious Eats has recommendations for another artisanal option — cider. With so many interesting seasonal beers appearing on the shelves in November, I find myself neglecting cider — an oversight I’ll have to correct. A trip to a good beer (and wine and cider) store might be in my near future.

Mayflower II in Plymouth Harbor

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