On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower set sail for the New World on one of the boldest voyages in American history. On board were 102 passengers, including fifty-one Separatists and fifty-one “Strangers” – hired hands, indentured servants and others who came for their own reasons. The history books most remember such prominent figures as William Bradford, Edward Winslow and Myles Standish for their leading roles in the adventure. But it was a young hired cooper named John Alden who held perhaps the most important job – building and tending the wooden barrels which carried the Mayflower’s most precious cargo, thousands of gallons of beer that sustained the Pilgrims on their arduous journey to America.
Indeed, beer was the staple drink on board the Mayflower. Unlike water, which quickly spoiled when stored in the hold of ships, beer contained no bacteria, and the then-recent introduction of hops made it keep longer. It was also a terrific source of carbohydrates. Men, women and children drank beer daily, and sailors aboard the Mayflower received a daily ration of a gallon.
After sixty-five grueling days at sea, the Mayflower sighted land along the coast of Cape Cod. The ship headed south towards its planned destination on the Hudson River. But treacherous seas from the Polluck Rip off Monomoy Point forced the Mayflower to turn north and drop anchor at Provincetown. After several weeks of searching unsuccessfully for a suitable harbor on the Cape, the Pilgrims were cold, tired and, most importantly, low on beer. In their words, “we could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”
And so it was that on December 20, 1620 the Pilgrims chose the site for their new colony in Plymouth. Set on high ground and protected from the sea by the natural harbor, the plantation was easily defended and provided a commanding view of the bay and Cape Cod. There was also a great deal of land that had already been cleared and planted with corn by the native Patuxets several years earlier. Most important, the plantation contained a “very sweet brook” and “many delicate springs of as good water as may be drunk.” Today, we use that same water to brew our family of Mayflower ales.