No wonder Festus acted goofy

Published 8:41 am Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Even though I enjoy an ice-cold brew every now and then, I don’t consider myself an expert on beer.

One question I needed answering was exactly who was credited with inventing beer. I was always under the assumption that “Miss Kitty” on the old hit TV show Gunsmoke had some sort of microbrewery in the back of the saloon. I was fairly sure of that fact based upon how goofy Festus acted all the time – I figured he was the one Miss Kitty hired as a taste tester. However, an online search revealed that the earliest records on beer date back some 4,000 years ago in the country of Sumeria, which is now Iraq.

One of the best beer lovers of all time was General, then later President, George Washington. It seems that the man who now graces our $1 bills had a taste for the “hops.” He was a regular customer at the old Bull’s Head Tavern in New York where his favorite was a “draught of ale.”

Not too long after becoming the first President of our young nation, he created a “Buy American” policy, a political decision that opened the door for the first domestic breweries. He also had his own recipe for homemade beer.

But yet it seems that old “Georgie” wasn’t the first American to experiment with making beer at home. It seems that the Virginia colonists may have ushered in this craze, now known as micro brewing, when in 1587 they conjured up an ale using corn.

When the Pilgrims first arrived in 1620, it seems they were forced off the ship by the seamen who piloted the vessels due to a shortage of beer onboard. Those seamen wanted to make sure they had enough brew to last them during their voyage back to England. The tradition continues as I’ve never met a Navy guy who didn’t love to slam down a cold one.

In North Carolina, the state’s first brewery opened in 1774 in Salem. One by one, beer breweries began to pop up all across our growing nation. For some strange reason, Milwaukee became the hot spot for beer manufacturers to open, the first belonging to Jacob Best back in 1844. Best later sold out to the Pabst Brewing Company. Five years later, August Krug opened another Milwaukee brewery, the predecessor of the Schlitz Brewing Co.

By 1850, there were 431 breweries across the nation, combining to produce 750,000 barrels of beer. Multiply that times the 31 gallons in each barrel, and Americans were consuming 23,250,000 gallons annually. Not bad considering the population of the United States back then was 23 million.

Two years later, perhaps the most famous brewery opened in St. Louis. That facility, opened by George Schneider, is now the home of Anheuser-Busch.

By the turn of the 20th century, there were 1500 breweries producing a combined 10 million gallons of beer annually. Only the strongest of that bunch would survive when the 18th amendment – prohibition of alcohol manufacturing – to the Constitution was put into effect in 1920. Thirteen years later, the 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment.

Some other noteworthy history concerning beer deals with the first 16-ounce can (introduced by Schlitz in 1954), the first all aluminum can (ushered in by Coors in 1959), and the “ring pull” can (1965).

Sorry to cut this column short, but I’ve got to run – it seems that I’m extremely thirsty!


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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