What Americans Boozed On Throughout History


[MUSIC PLAYING] Imagine a world without booze. Think about it. There’d be no Animal House. Thanks. I needed that. [CRASH] There’d be no most
interesting man in the world. Stay thirsty, my friends. Jimmy Buffett would have
nothing to sing about. And what would we
drink at a ballgame? But how did we get
from bland colonial ale to today’s hoppy IPAs
and hipster cocktails? Today, we’re going to find
out what kind of booze people drank throughout history. But before we get started,
this is a good time to subscribe to our
channel, Weird History. Leave a comment
and tell us who you text when you’ve been drinking. Now, open this freshness. Ah. Knocking back beer
dates all the way back to some of the first European
settlers in the New World. And while it doesn’t go
along with the stereotype, the Puritans were
voracious beer drinkers. When the pilgrims set
sail on the Mayflower, they packed the ship with
more beer than drinking water. A Puritan booze cruise, how fun. Pilgrims, including the
kids, drank about a quart of beer each day on the journey. Though their beer didn’t have
as high of an alcohol percentage as today’s beer, the
Puritans actually preferred their fermented drink
to the most likely contaminated water. This ale was so important
to the pilgrims, a beer shortage
is believed to be what got them to land
on Plymouth Rock instead of continuing south. With their beer
supply dwindling, the sailors sent the
pilgrims out to find water. After drinking from a fresh
stream on American soil, one settled Puritan
wrote, “I dare not prefer it before good beer.” No wonder the life expectancy
of these people was 40. When Europeans moved
to North America, they tried to reproduce
European wine. But the native grapes
created acidic wine that was impossible to drink. The grapes that the Europeans
brought over and tried to harvest failed to grow in the
harsher climates of the Eastern seaboard. As a result, for centuries, wine
had to be imported from Europe. Thomas Jefferson made
quite a name for himself in importing these
expensive European wines. As with all imports, the high
cost of imported European wine meant that only the
wealthy Americans could afford to drink. By 1840, less than 3% of
wines consumed by Americans were domestic. But that all changed with
the Gold Rush of 1849. When the Gold Rush blew up, so
did California’s population. Naturally, most of these
settlers became miners. But when they had
problems finding gold, they changed careers. Some of the settlers
who gave up chasing gold started growing grapes
and founding wineries that popularized California wine. By the 1910s, 90% of all
wine consumed in the US came from California. I am not drinking any– [BELL DING] Merlot. While beer was the standard
drink amongst the settlers, the founding fathers
preferred rum. That’s some rum, man. Dig it. Oh, yeah. Ay-ri, ay-ri. Rum was pretty important
among the elite founders. In Medford, Massachusetts,
Isaac Hall ran a distillery and sold rum that could make “a
rabbit bite a bulldog,” which we think sounds good? On his ride to warn of
the British invasion, Paul Revere stopped at Hall’s
house for a slug of rum. For sure, rum was truly
loved by Americans. For years, sugar
refineries dumped millions of gallons of
molasses into the sea until they realized molasses
could be made into rum. Although many called
it hot, hellish, and terrible or rough
and disagreeable, hundreds of thousands of gallons
soon poured into North America. By the time of the
American Revolution, each citizen downed an annual
average of four gallons of rum. If that doesn’t
sound like a lot, today’s Americans,
on average, only drink 2.33 gallons
of alcohol each year. [MUSIC PLAYING] In 1794, George Washington
sent Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton into
Western Pennsylvania to make sure whiskey
distillers paid their taxes. Hamilton led a group of
13,000 militiamen who squashed the Whiskey Rebellion. During the rebellion,
Pennsylvanians refused to pay these
tax collectors, even tarring and
feathering one of them. The whiskey tax was so unpopular
that some of these distillers actually threatened to
declare independence from the fledgling
United States. During America’s early
years, whiskey slowly started to replace rum as
the go-to distilled alcohol. This is because the revolution
slowed imported molasses. And the new import duties
raised prices everywhere. Lucky for Americans, the
surplus of corn from the Midwest made the production
of whiskey dirt cheap. In the 1820s, it only cost
$0.25 a gallon to make whiskey. Plus, whiskey was marketed
as a patriotic drink because it didn’t rely on
imports from the West Indies. Whenever you see a movie
set in the Old West, the saloon bartenders
always served up generic beer or whiskey. Bar keep, two whiskeys. But certain saloons
had bigger selections. Old West saloons actually served
up powerful alcoholic drinks to Sierra Nevada saloons
called tarantula juice, a ghastly concoction of gin
mixed with diluted strychnine. The name tarantula alluded to
more than the drink’s bite, which caused muscle spasms. [CRASH] Here’s how it was made. Bartenders would take
Carson Valley gin, which was a woodgrain alcohol
made from turpentine, oil of vitriol, rosin,
and essence of Laurel and mix it with diluted
strychnine, prussic acid, and tobacco oil. Because strychnine
is an alkaloid, tarantula juice
probably produced in effect similar
to Hells Angels meth with a 1976 San
Bernardino vintage. The erratic bursts of energy
coupled with heavy alcohol consumption almost always
resulted in violence. Local Nevada fiddle
player Dutch Nick Ambrose is said to have created
the drink in 1852 for hardcore cowboys,
prospectors, and settlers. Most saloons served up
tarantula juice in two tumblers, warning drinkers to
hold on to the second until the muscle spasms set in. The second dose of juice
would end the shakes. [SCREAMING] Fun times. [MUSIC PLAYING] The late 19th century
has been called the golden age of cocktails. New mixed drinks like the
Martini and the Manhattan were first invented
by bartenders. And Americans across
the country grew to love and appreciate the art
of creating exotic cocktails. Well, exotic for the time. Take the daiquiri, for instance. Invented by Jennings
Cox in the 1890s, the recipe included Bacardi
Rum, lemon juice, and sugar. The cocktail became
so popular, it soon became the drink of choice for
Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy. In the late 1800s, Jerry Thomas,
author of the first Bartender’s Guide, also turned cocktails
into an entertaining spectacle. Thomas invented the Blue
Blazer, a flaming cocktail that he allegedly made
with white rats sitting on his shoulders. The drink is no Flaming Moe,
but the visual of the white rats is a nice touch. [MUSIC PLAYING] It’s been documented
that British sailors were known to drink as much as
10 pints of beer a day. But the warmer temperatures in
the tropics spoiled their beer. So the enterprising
seamen turned to punch. Made from distilled spirits,
fruit juice, and sugar with spices like
nutmeg or cinnamon often added for flavor,
this punch quickly became the most popular drink
for sailors and eventually a favorite for colonial
Americans on land. The best part about this punch? Unlike other alcoholic
beverages of the day, its citrus juice helped
protect against scurvy and packed them
with the calories needed to survive another day. [MUSIC PLAYING] When more than a million
Germans landed on American soil during the second half
of the 19th century, they brought a cold,
drinkable lager that gradually replaced the English ales. And the Germans didn’t just
introduce new brewing methods. They even brought over
new types of brewing yeast to create their beer. Breweries thrived
across the country until prohibition put many
small brewers out of business for good. [MUSIC PLAYING] Distilling agave
dates back centuries. But tequila didn’t
become popular in America until the late 19th century. In 1893, during the
Chicago World’s Fair, wealthy Mexican families
introduced tequila to a new market. Tequila proved so popular
that bootleggers smuggled it across the Mexican border
during prohibition. Known as Tequileros,
the smugglers packed as many as 50
bottles of it per donkey to cross the border at night. Today, Mexico exports around 70%
of its tequila with about 80% of those exports
shipped off to the US. On a related note, it was
the World’s Fair in Chicago that gave Pabst beer
its blue ribbon. And they’ve been writing that
bit of publicity ever since. [MUSIC PLAYING] Prohibition went into
effect on January 17, 1920. But Americans kept drinking
anyway, because you know, it’s America. People simply turned to
underground speakeasies and bootleg liquor
to get their buzz. Of course, not everyone had
access to underground bars. So moonshine became a part
of American drinking culture for generations. Though the prohibition bureau
seized unlawful stills, that didn’t stop moonshiners. Homemade alcohol,
also known as hooch, was made up of
horrific ingredients like rat corpses
and rotten meat, meant to imitate the flavor
of barrel-aged alcohol. To get it down the gullet,
Americans mixed their hooch with anything that
might take the edge off. One of the more popular
hooch-based drinks was called The Bee’s Knees,
which included gin and honey. The Mary Pickford,
invented in the 1920s, blended hooch with
rum and red grapefruit juice, which doesn’t
sound that bad until you remember the dead rats. [MUSIC PLAYING] Have you ever had good cider? Chilled in a frosted
mug, it’s pretty great. American colonists
loved it, too. It was one of their
most popular drinks. It was so popular
in Massachusetts, the majority of
its citizens older than 15 drink an average of
34 gallons of cider and beer a year. John Adams even declared
cider a health beverage, starting each morning with a
full tankard of hard cider. Adams must have known something. He lived until 91, a testimony
to cider’s mighty power. Many also claimed cider
prevented fever, laryngitis, rheumatism, and colic. Unfortunately, cider’s glory
days ended at prohibition. During the drinking
ban, teetotalers burned apple orchards to the
ground to ensure their fruit wouldn’t become cider. It took decades for
hard cider to recover, particularly because some
cider apples went extinct. On March 22, 1933,
President Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison
Act into law, legalizing beer with an
alcohol content of 3.2% and wine of a similarly
low alcohol content. It wasn’t the kind
of hardcore moonshine that Americans had gotten
used to during prohibition. But it was a good
start in regard to the US government treating
Americans like adults again. So what do you think? Did anything good
come from prohibition? Let us know in our
comments below. And while you’re at it, check
out some of these other videos from our Weird History.

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